Thursday, August 09, 2018

New Bell Elkins Mystery Hits Me Right in the Feels

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bone on Bone, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Bell Elkins mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

After insisting on serving a jail sentence for killing her abusive father, Belfa "Bell" Elkins has paid her debt to society but lost her job.  Although she's been fired and disbarred, Bell retains her loyalty to her "small, poor, done-in county" (34).  When a local banker is murdered, she can't help looking into the case.  With Rhonda Lovejoy—Bell's long-time friend and successor—and Jake Oakes—a former deputy sheriff who's reluctantly adjusting to life as a paraplegic—by her side, she's determined to figure out who killed Brett Topping.  As the usual suspects fall by the wayside, however, Bell will have to look uncomfortably close to home to find the murderer.  

While Bone On Bone (available August 21, 2018), the seventh installment in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, isn't as unique as some of its predecessors, it's still a poignant, compelling novel full of everything I love about this series.  Keller excels at bringing Acker's Gap, a worn-out Appalachian town, to life in all its problems and pleasures.  While some of the Bell Elkins books rely more heavily on plot, Bone On Bone is definitely about the characters.  I always love our understated hero and it was fun to get to know her and her compadres even deeper.  Although the killer becomes fairly obvious in this one, the book's finale still caught me by surprise—and hit me right in the feels.  Now, I really can't wait to see where this series goes next!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bell Elkins series, including A Killing in the Hills; Bitter River; Summer of the Dead; A Haunting of the Bones [novella]; The Devil's Stepdaughter [novella]; Ghost Roll [novella]; Last Ragged Breath; Evening Street [novella]; Sorrow Road; and Fast Falls the Night)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Bone On Bone from the generous folks at Minotaur (a division of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan).  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fascinating New HERstory Book Brings Women's Civil War Contributions to Light

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If you were asked to name women who made important contributions to the Civil War—on either side of the conflict—who would you list?  Clara Barton is the one who comes quickest to my mind, followed by Harriet Tubman.  After that ... um ... I got nothing.  Of all the thousands of women who served, sacrificed, and risked their lives to help with the war effort, it's natural that many of their names and deeds have been lost to time.  It's astounding, though, that certain women—all of whom performed unique, impressive, and courageous actions—are not household names.  

Perhaps that will change with the publication of Marianne Monson's newest book, Women of the Blue & Gray.  A follow-up to her Frontier Grit (2016), this volume features a wide cross-section of females who aided the war effort as spies, soldiers, scouts, nurses, doctors, abolitionists, cooks, political activists, reformers, revolutionaries, and more.  The women were wealthy, destitute, educated, illiterate, married, single, widows, mothers, childless, white, black, Native American, and so on.  What they have in common is incredible stories, most of which I hadn't heard before.  If you, like me, are not familiar with the many contributions made by women during the war, I urge you to pick up this book.  It makes for fascinating reading.

Although I found all of Women of the Blue & Gray engrossing, some sections interested me more than others.  I love that Monson includes "Further Reading" lists with every chapter.  That way, I can delve on my own into the subjects that interested me most (women disguising themselves as men to serve beside their husbands, brothers, and fathers for instance).  The book's concluding chapter, "Pathways to Peace" is an especially touching finale, discussing efforts made after the war
to promote forgiveness and looking forward instead of backward. 

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed Women of the Blue & Gray.  It's interesting, engaging, touching, and inspiring.  I'm passing it on to my 16-year-old feminist daughter, who I know will be just as awed as I was by the incredible stories within its pages.

(Readalikes:  The chapters on women disguising themselves as men in order to fight in the Civil War remind me of I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe. I'm sure They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook is also similar, although I haven't read it yet.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Women of the Blue & Gray from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Christian Novel Surprisingly Raw, Authentic, and Moving

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In a time of grief and heartache, an unlikely friendship provides strength and solace.

After leaving her son's grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband's hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start.  Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways.

Delilah's eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother's pain, never allowed for a moment to forget that she is responsible for her brother's death.  When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma's house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted.  Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation.  But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions.  Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness.

Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.*

As you can probably surmise, The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts tells a beautiful, touching story about the power of friendship, forgiveness, and faith.  Although technically a Christian novel, it's surprisingly raw.  There's no sap, no preachy-ness, just a gut-wrenching honesty that gives the story a refreshing authenticity you don't usually find in religious novels.  With an Amish background, Younts uses her inside knowledge to create Plain characters that come alive just as much as their non-Amish counterparts.  In fact, all her story people are complex and sympathetic, with struggles that are relatable and real.  Although this is a character-driven novel, Younts doesn't skimp on plot.  There's plenty going on in the story to keep the reader engrossed.  All of this, coupled with the author's vivid, engaging prose, combines to weave a lyrical, memorable tale about grief and grace, suffering and salvation, fear and faith.  I loved The Solace of Water and recommend it highly to anyone who's looking for a novel that's uplifting and hopeful while remaining honest and true. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

  
for violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Solace of Water from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
*Plot summary from publisher

--

For more reviews of The Solace of Water, please follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking on the links below:

Monday, July 9th: @hollyslittlebookreviews
Tuesday, July 10th: What is That Book About – author Q&A
Wednesday, July 11th: Write Read Life
Thursday, July 12th: Jenn Blogs Books and @jennblogsbooks
Friday, July 13th: Books & Spoons
Monday, July 16th: @createexploreread
Tuesday, July 17th: The Book Diva’s Reads – author guest post
Wednesday, July 18th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Thursday, July 19th: All of a Kind Mom
Monday, July 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 24th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 25th: Splashes of Joy
Thursday, July 26th: The Christian Fiction Girl 
Friday, July 27th: Time 2 Read
Saturday, July 28th: Fiction Aficionado – author Q&A
Monday, July 30th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, July 31st@girlandherbooks
Tuesday, July 31stBloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Wednesday, August 1stGirl Who Reads
Thursday, August 2nd@novelmombooks
Thursday, August 9thPatricia’s Wisdom
Friday, August 10thOpenly Bookish

Friday, July 27, 2018

In-Depth Examination of 1888 Tragedy Empathetic, Fascinating

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"A safe and carefree childhood was a luxury the pioneer prairie could not afford" (269).

With scorching temperatures blazing across the world right now, it's hard to believe things will ever cool down.  It's even tougher to imagine that in just a few months people will be flooding social media sites with pictures of towering snow piles, foot-long icicles, and slick, impassable roads.  Just as the news is now reporting deaths due to the fiery heat, soon it will feature stories about people hurt and killed due to freezing winter weather.

The Children's Blizzard (2004) by David Laskin reminds readers of just how unpredictable and nasty winter weather can get.  Both fascinating and heartbreaking, the book revisits the blizzard that whipped across the American prairie in January of 1888, freezing hundreds of people and animals to death, some of them in just minutes.  Because the worst of the storm hit right at the time school released, many of its victims were small children who became lost in a blinding whiteout while trying to find their way home.  

Laskin describes in heart-wrenching detail how the epic blizzard was a "perfect" storm of erratic weather patterns, under-educated forecasters, and unprepared pioneers.  He talks about the settling of the prairie by immigrants lured to the area by fanciful promises that glossed over the harsh realities of living on the unforgiving prairie.  Many pioneers, for instance, froze to death inside their homes simply because of lack of fuel, little food, and structures that weren't equal to the task of keeping the deathly chill at bay. 

Thoroughly researched and well-written, The Children's Blizzard makes for engrossing (albeit horrifying) reading.  It offers an empathetic, in-depth examination of the titular event, which is made even more personal by true stories of the people who lived through the blizzard, suffering the kind of shock, injury, and loss that can never be forgotten.  It's a gripping volume, which I recommend highly to anyone who's interested in reading about wild weather and our shocking vulnerability in the face of its immense, awe-inspiring power.

(Readalikes:  Although I haven't read any other books about The Children's Blizzard, I've heard good things about I Survived the Children's Blizzard, 1888 by Lauren Tarshis.  I'm also reminded of other books about weather-related tragedies, including The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter 

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 19, 2018

If You Find Me Haunting, Heartbreaking, and Hopeful

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Hidden deep in a Tennessee national forest, 14-year-old Carey Blackburn and her younger sister live in a rotting camper with no electricity, no running water, and little supervision.  A bi-polar drug addict, their mother flits in and out of the girls' lives.  Her frequent absences are nothing new, but this time, she's been gone longer than ever before.  With almost no food in the camper, Carey is starting to panic.  How will she keep Nessa fed, let alone safe from all the dangers that surround them in the dense, isolated woods? 

When two strangers show up at the camper, Carey grows even more alarmed.  One of them is her father, but that doesn't mean she can trust him or his social worker companion.  Despite her misgivings, Carey is forced to leave the only home she's ever known.  Thrown into a world full of unfamiliar people and mind-boggling middle-class comforts, she's lonely, confused, and way out of her element.  As she tries to make her way in her strange, new present Carey must also come to grips with some shocking truths about her past.  Including the one she holds deep, deep inside her troubled soul.

As you can tell from the intense jacket art, If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is not a light read.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, it's a haunting, heartbreaking novel that's achingly raw and emotionally wrenching.  It's also a lyrical, hopeful book about family, fortitude, and forging bravely ahead despite past hurts.  Sharp, but nuanced, If You Find Me tells a powerful story that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, violence, depictions of underage drinking/partying, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Second Casey Duncan Mystery as Engrossing as the First

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Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for A Darkness Absolute, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, City of the Lost.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

When homicide detective Casey Duncan needed a place to hide, Rockton took her in.  Although she's grown used to life in the secret, off-the-grid town hidden deep in the Yukon, Rockton still lobs constant curve balls to remind her how inhospitable her new digs can be.  A resident with cabin fever going AWOL surprises her, but her subsequent discovery of a woman held captive inside a cave stuns her.  Residents of Casey's new hometown are not exactly known for their mental stability, but still, who would do such a thing?  The victim cannot identify her abductor, so it's up to Casey and Sheriff Eric Dalton to apprehend him.  As the investigation heats up, the duo must ask themselves if their perp is a Rockton local or if they need to widen their search to include an even more sinister group—outsiders.  Hunting for the mysterious man will reveal even more secrets about Rockton's history, its purpose, and its people, including the always enigmatic Eric Dalton.  The more Casey learns about the town, the more she questions if her safe haven is really safe at all ...

After devouring City of the Lost, I plunged right into A Darkness Absolute, the second book in Kelley Armstrong's engrossing Casey Duncan series.  Like its predecessor, the novel offers an exciting, adrenaline-fueled read.  With an intense, atmospheric setting; complex, intriguing characters; and a twisty, compelling plot; it's got everything I love in a thriller.  The series has a dark rawness to it that makes for disturbing reading at times, but overall, it's a riveting and addicting series that will leave you clamoring for the next installment.  And the next.  And the next.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Casey Duncan series, including City of the Lost and This Fallen Prey; also reminds me of the t.v. show Lost—if it were set in a snowy forest instead of on a tropical island)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Creepy, Compelling Our House Chills Me Right to the Bone

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Fiona "Fi" Lawson has had enough of her husband's infidelity.  Bram's latest betrayal has thrown her life into a tailspin, but she refuses to let it completely uproot those of their two young sons.  Even she can admit that while Bram has failed as a spouse, he's an engaged, loving father.  He deserves to be in the boys' lives.  In order to provide the kids as much stability as possible, Fi and Bram agree to a "bird's nest" custody arrangement.  The children will remain in the family home, while the parents take turns living there with them.  

It's an unusual situation, but one that works surprisingly well—until the day Fi comes home from a trip to find strangers moving into her home.  With Bram and the boys nowhere in sight, Fi's sure she's the victim of some grand prank.  As the hours drag on with no answers, however, she begins to realize just how thoroughly, how shockingly, how viciously, she's been betrayed.

As a mystery/thriller nut, I've read about all kinds of mind-boggling terrors being enacted on ordinary, unsuspecting people.  Some are too fantastical to be believed, while others are so simple, so plausible, that they chill me right to the bone.  Such is the case with Our House by English author Louise Candlish (available in the U.S. August 7, 2018).  Its premise hooked me as soon as I read it because, really, what could be more horrifying than having your beautiful, safe, valuable home yanked right out from under you?  It's a disturbing thought, one that fuels this compelling novel, causing the reader to burn through its pages trying to figure out what happened and why.  The answers aren't as complex or twisty as I wanted them to be, but I still found the hunt for them engrossing and entertaining.  Despite a depressing end for characters who aren't all that likable in the first place, overall, I enjoyed Our House.  It's convincing and creepy in a way that had me questioning my husband about who actually owns our houses ...

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Our House from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Moose is Back and Better Than Ever in Newest Alcatraz Adventure

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Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Al Capone Throws Me a Curve, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Alcatraz novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

While Moose Flanagan's friends believe his living situation on Alcatraz is the coolest thing ever, Moose just thinks of it as home.  The Island might house an inescapable prison, where some of the country's most notorious criminals are locked up, but it's not like he rubs shoulders with them in the chow line.  As unique a hometown as Alcatraz might be for a kid, it's still just a community with the same kind of mundane problems that plague any other place.  Of course, not every boy gets a helping hand now and then from the likes of Al Capone, but still ... Moose is just an ordinary kid.

It's the summer of 1936 and Moose has only one thing on his mind—baseball.  He desperately wants to make the high school team.  When his batting skills fail to impress the team's captain, Moose is offered a deal.  If he can bring the captain an impressive souvenir from the Rock, Moose is in.  It's an impossible task, but Moose has to try.  

Moose's big plans are thwarted by his usual nemeses, Natalie and Piper.  Although Natalie is four years older than Moose, her "special" condition means she can't be left alone.  The last thing on earth Moose wants to do is drag her to the mainland baseball diamond every day, but he's left with little choice.  He can't keep her out of trouble if he can't see her.  Unbelievably, the warden has asked him to keep an eye on his daughter as well.  Although Piper's pretty, she's also a mischievous, danger-loving whirlwind who's not afraid to sell out anyone who gets in the way of her scheming.  

All Moose wants to do is play baseball, but he's got two troublesome girls to watch over, a souvenir to procure, and a possible prison riot to worry about.  Before he knows it, he's up to his chin in problems.  When Natalie disappears at the worst possible time into the worst possible place, Moose is terrified—not just for his high school baseball career but for his very life ...

It's been five years since Gennifer Choldenko published an Al Capone book and man, have I missed Moose Flanagan!  He's an ordinary kid, yes, but one who possesses a heart of gold.  If you haven't gotten to know this understated but unforgettable character, you need to go back and read the three books that come before Al Capone Throws Me a Curve.  They're all atmospheric, entertaining, and exciting.  As is the newest installment in this excellent series.  Al Capone Throws Me a Curve brings back all the characters I fell in love with in the previous books and throws them into a new adventure that's even riskier than those that have come before.  With an intriguing setting, sympathetic characters, and lots of action, this book will keep readers young and old entertained from beginning to end.  I can't recommend the series highly enough.  I adore it.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Alcatraz series, including Al Capone Does My Shirts; Al Capone Shines My Shoes; and Al Capone Does My Homework.  It also reminds me of The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, scenes of peril, and brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Propulsive Secret City Thriller Engrossing and Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although Casey Duncan's seen plenty of crime in her two years as a homicide detective, it's the murder she committed while in college that haunts her the most.  As deserving as the victim may have been, he was still the son of a powerful mobster.  While Casey was never charged for the killing, a recent attack reminds her that she will never be truly safe.    

Diana Berry, Casey's best friend, has finally separated from her abusive ex-husband.  When he shows up unexpectedly, leaving Diana bruised and beaten, Casey decides enough is enough.  For both her and her BFF.  Diana knows of a place for people like them, people who need to disappear.  It's not easy to get into Rockton—a secret, off-the-grid town in the middle of nowhere—but Casey knows how to investigate a murder and Rockton's just experienced its first one.  The town needs Casey almost as desperately as she and Diana need it.  

It's only when Casey arrives in the Yukon that she realizes just how cut off Rockton is from the rest of the world.  In a town of 200 people, all hiding from something ("The women are mostly running from bad choices in men.  The men are mostly running from bad choices in life" [175].), Casey and Diana could be in a whole different kind of trouble.  Between the women's enigmatic new neighbors, their local murderer, and the extreme, punishing climate in which they suddenly find themselves, there are myriad ways they could disappear—never to be seen again.  The more Casey investigates Rockton's first murder, the more secrets she uncovers about the town, its residents, and her place in this strange new world from which there is no escape ...

I picked up City of the Lost, the first book in the Rockton series by Kelley Armstrong, on a whim.  Locked-room type mysteries always intrigue me, especially when they feature isolated locations in inhospitable climates.  This novel fit the bill, with the added bonuses of sharp prose, a propulsive plot, and flawed, complex characters whom I soon grew to care about.  Although it's dark and gory, City of the Lost is also engrossing and enjoyable.  It reminds me of the t.v. show Lost (sans the supernatural elements), if it were set in a snowy wilderness instead of on a tropical island.  Needless to say, I rushed right out to grab the next two books in the series.  I simply have to know what happens next in the very intriguing town of Rockton.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Lost and of the other books in the Rockton series, including A Darkness Absolute and This Fallen Prey)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, July 06, 2018

Compelling Memory-Loss Thriller Still Only a Ho-Hum Read

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It's been two years since the car crash that killed David Hall and erased Jane Norton's memory.  A traumatic brain injury, leading to amnesia, has stolen the last three years from the 17-year-old.  Although Jane can recall events from childhood, she can't remember high school, her father's death, or the "accident" that killed David, her best friend's boyfriend.  The police have what appears to be a suicide note, written in Jane's handwriting, but she can't fathom why she would have been in a car with David, let alone with the intention of ending their lives together.  It makes no sense.  Nothing does for Jane, who desperately wants to remember the one event no one will let her forget. 

When anonymous threats start appearing on social media and at David's grave site, Jane thinks it must be a sick joke.  Someone calling themselves "Liv Danger" claims to know what happened that night.  They also warn that "All will pay."  When idle threats turn into sinister action, Jane knows only she can stop Liv Danger from going any further.  Wracking her shattered brain for clues, the teenager becomes more and more confused.  What really happened the night of the accident?  Jane knows the answers that could stop the violence and maybe even clear her name are hiding somewhere in her head.  Can Jane force them out before it's too late?  Or will Liv Danger get the revenge they're so desperately seeking?

I enjoy a psychological suspense novel that leaves me feeling off-kilter and keeps me guessing what is real and what is not.  Blame by Jeff Abbott does that, which is why I kept reading the novel despite its flat, unlikable characters and its increasing nosedive toward the far-fetched and melodramatic.  Whatever else it might not be, Blame is certainly compelling.  I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen.  Still, the novel's disappointing, eye roll-worthy finale bugged and overall, the story just did not feel very satisfying.  Although Blame has gotten lots of positive buzz, for me, it ended up being only a ho-hum read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other psychological thrillers featuring main characters with memory loss, like Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware; Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey; The First Wife by Erica Spindler; and Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, depictions of underage drinking/partying, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Alaskan Romantic Suspense Novel a Better-Than-Expected Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A decade ago, Bailey Craig left tiny Yancey, Alaska, behind forever.  With a hard-earned reputation for being rebellious and easy, she had to flee in order to start over.  Now known as religious and serious, the 28-year-old college professor still has no intention of ever returning.  It's only when her beloved aunt dies in a plane crash that Bailey even considers it. As she reluctantly boards a plane bound for The Last Frontier, she vows to stay not one second longer than is absolutely necessary. 

It's been over ten years since Bailey broke Cole McKenna's heart, but he's never forgotten her.  When fate (divine intervention?) brings her back into his life, he's more than a little intrigued.  It's obvious Bailey is not the girl he used to know.  And the woman she appears to have become?  More than a little enticing.  Does Cole dare take the risk of trying to get to know the new Bailey?  Or is that just a sure-fire way to get his heart stomped all over once again?  

When Bailey and Cole are enlisted to help investigate the suspicious deaths of two deep-sea divers, their battered hearts will get a second chance to find healing in the last place they expected to find it ...

Romantic suspense really is not my thing, but in looking for a book set in Alaska for the Literary Escapes Challenge, I came across Submerged by Christian fiction author Dani Pettrey.  With an intriguing premise and lots of positive reviews on Amazon, the novel seemed worth a peek.  And you know what?  It turned out to be a better read than I expected.  Pettrey's prose doesn't exactly sparkle, but it's capable enough.  Her characters are likable, even though there are too many to keep track of and none of them are all that developed or original.  The mystery at the novel's core isn't overly exciting, but it kept me reading.  Yes, the plot got clumsy and far-fetched, but all in all, Submerged is not a bad read.  I especially appreciate its clean content as well as its uplifting messages about forgiveness, faith, and a person's ability to change despite past troubles.  While I probably won't continue with this series, I did end up enjoying Submerged overall.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Submerged from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Intriguing New Mystery Series Opens With a Smasher

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New York City, 1910—Jane Prescott excels at fading into the wallpaper.  Serving without being seen is practically part of her job description as a lady's maid for the wealthy Benchley family.  That ability comes in handy when Norrie Newsome, a notorious playboy who's engaged to one of Jane's charges, is brutally murdered at a house party.  No one is more strategically placed to look into the killing than Jane, a woman who is always around but never really noticed.

Callous, spoiled and often cruel, Norrie's public admirers abhorred him in private.  Any number of people, then, could have decided to kill the obdurate young man.  Who did end his life?  Was it his spurned lover?  The humiliated victim of one of Norrie's pranks?  Or a stranger outraged by a devastating tragedy at a mine owned by the Newsomes?  With so many suspects, finding the real murderer won't be easy.  With the help of Michael Behan, a handsome tabloid reporter, no-nonsense Jane will solve the case.  Even if she has to risk everything—her job, her reputation, even her own safety—to do it.

I always enjoy an intriguing murder mystery, especially when it's set against a colorful historical backdrop, and narrated by a tenacious sleuth.  A Death of No Importance, a debut adult novel by YA author Mariah Fredericks, is no exception.  While most of the story's characters are unlikable, Jane and Michael are both complex and engaging, adjectives that also describe the mystery they're attempting to solve.  All of these elements combine to produce an entertaining novel that I quite enjoyed.  I'm excited for the next installment (Death of a New American, April 2019) in this alluring new series.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly and of Jennifer Ashley's Below Stairs Mysteries [Death Below Stairs; and Scandal Above Stairs])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

(possibly R)

for language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Death of No Importance from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press.  Thank you!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Life-Affirming Medical Memoir a Powerful, Inspirational Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a healthy woman who had experienced a normal pregnancy only a year and a half ago, Carol J. Decker had no reason to expect that anything would be different with her second.  Despite having some flu-like symptoms, she entered the hospital on June 10, 2008, expecting nothing out of the ordinary.  Instead, she was rushed to the ER, where an emergency C-section was performed.  Even then, Carol could not have imagined how profoundly and irrevocably her life was about to change.

The 33-year-old mother had contracted an infection which turned into sepsis.  As toxins invaded every part of her body, Carol fought desperately for survival.  Although she ultimately won the war, she endured months of excruciating pain, humiliating helplessness, and overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Left with permanent blindness, painful skin grafts, and three amputated limbs, Carol couldn't imagine how she could possibly go on.  How could she fulfill her roles as wife, mother, and productive citizen without sight?  Without legs?  Without an arm?  Wouldn't it have been better if she had just died on the operating table? 

In Unshattered, Carol J. Decker describes not just the agony of fighting sepsis but also the victory of choosing to live a life of beauty and joy, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.  As a narrator, she eschews sentimentality and banal platitudes, employing a raw candor that smacks of honesty and hard-won wisdom.  While Decker doesn't pull any punches, she does focus on the greatest lesson she learned from her experience:

"I began to weigh the thought of tragedy versus destiny.  I could not control the tragedy that befell my life, but I could control my destiny.  It was mine to determine by the choices I made.  I chose to believe I could lead a purposeful life." (quote from page 156 of an uncorrected proof)

An inspiring, life-affirming book about hope, faith, and triumphing over challenges, Unshattered is a short but powerful read.  I highly recommend it for anyone who needs a reminder that, no matter what might befall us, living one's best life is about choice, not chance.

For a touching teaser, click below:



(Readalikes:  Um, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for descriptions of medical procedures that might be too graphic/scary for young readers

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Unshattered from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you! 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Newest Karen White Novel As Atmospheric and Warm-Hearted as the Rest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After being humiliated as an 18-year-old, Larkin Lanier fled her Lowcountry home for New York City, vowing never to look back.  Although the women who raised her have kept in touch, their pleas for her return have fallen on deaf ears.  When Larkin receives news that her mother—a free-spirited painter—has gone missing, however, she knows it's time to go back to Georgetown, South Carolina.  At 27, Larkin is a slim, successful businesswoman, not the awkward, overlooked girl she once was, but she's still leery about returning.  She'll stay in the South only long enough to do what needs to be done, then return as soon as possible to her lonely life in the Big Apple.

When Ivy Lanier is found in the ruins of her family's burned-out plantation home, injured and unconscious, Larkin fears the worst for her mother.  As she lingers in the hospital, unresponsive, Larkin can't help but wonder what the older woman was doing at Carrowmore.  Ivy seemed to have been looking for something, but what could she possibly need from the crumbling shell of her former home?  When Larkin questions Ceecee—the 77-year-old woman who raised both Ivy and Larkin—the old lady acts cagey and suspicious.  What is Ceecee keeping from her?  Ivy was trying to tell Larkin something before her accident, something about the past.  Only Ceecee and Bitty, her grandmother's childhood friends, know the truth and it just might be the truth that finally sets Ivy free.  Desperate to wake her mother up, Larkin will stop at nothing until she uncovers the truth about a trio of friends and the secrets that have bound them together for the last fifty years.

I'm always up for a Southern family secrets novel and no one defines the genre quite like Karen White.  Although I like some of her books more than others, I appreciate her atmospheric, warm-hearted stories, and always look forward to a new one.  Dreams of Falling takes place in a typical Lowcountry setting populated by quirky folk who value family, friendship, and foiling nosy attempts to sniff out the skeletons in their closets.  The tale oscillates between narrators and time periods, which makes both the plot and the cast a bit confusing at times.  While I loved Ceecee, Bitty, and some of the other fringe characters, the three women at the novel's core didn't appeal to me at all.  The Darlingtons (Margaret, Ivy, and Larkin) are a selfish, fickle, unlikable lot, which made it tough for me to care what happened to them.  Despite my reservations, though, I found Dreams of Falling compelling and, overall, enjoyable.  It's not my favorite of White's many novels, but it definitely kept me reading.

(Readalikes:  other novels by Karen White as well as those by Dorothea Benton Frank, Joshilyn Jackson, and Anne Rivers Siddons)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, innuendo, and (non-graphic) references to sex and prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Dreams of Falling from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
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