Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

Product DetailsSara J. Henry returns with a solid second novel, again featuring Troy Chance, a free lance reporter working in Lake Placid. A COLD AND LONELY PLACE happens several months after the successful LEARNING TO SWIM. As the novel opens, Troy is set to write a feature about an ice palace being built on the lake and has  gone out to take photos of the men cutting ice blocks for the build. In an instant the festive mood changes when a body is seen in the murky waters under the ice.  Quickly the body is identified as Tobin, an off and on again boyfriend to Jessamyn, Troy's only female roommate. Tobin had been missing for several weeks, but no one had been alarmed about the disappearance.  Lake Placid had many temporary residents, and Tobin seemed to be the drifter type.

Then, Win, Tobin's sister arrives to claim the body, decides to stay while toxicology reports are completed, and quickly strikes up a friendship with Troy.  Bit by bit, Troy is drawn to Tobin's life story.  Like she had always assumed, he was the son of a rich family who had chosen to abandon that lifestyle in favor of the road, but quickly Win's memories and Troy's decision to write a series of articles about Tobin leads her to a much more complicated, and more sympathetic view of the young man.  While her new knowledge changes her views about him, nothing brings her closer to knowing how he died -- accident, suicide, or murder.

Sara J. Henry set a great foundation for a series in the debut novel LEARNING TO SWIM.  There, she established Troy's loner, but caring, personality, giving her just enough quirks to be interesting.  All of that continues in this second novel.  Lake Placid, its tourist element, and great winter sports venue again play a strong role.  And of course, Troy's large house with its wide array of roommates adds a fresh spark to the stories.  When I checked Sara J. Henry's website, I did not see any advance notice or mention of a third novel, but I certainly hope that we have a continuing series in the works. With no mention of a third novel's publication date, I fear I may be waiting more than a few months and that is disappointing.  Still, I would rather to see quality, well written stories told a wide space apart rather than rushed novels which fail to deliver what they promise.  Continue writing Sara J. Henry; I am ready to see how Troy's story unfolds.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Like A River From Its Course by Kelli Stuart

Like a River from its CourseKelli Stuart's WWII novel LIKE A RIVER FROM ITS COURSE, set in the Ukraine as Germany invades and then occupies the Soviet country is drawn from hundreds of true stories of hardship, brutality, and suffering heard from survivors as she visited the Ukraine. Fifteen years of research and study went into this book.  Over seventy years after the war, the stories, while painful to retell or hear, also tell of resilience, courage and kindness which can never be forgotten.  I believe Stuart has done a remarkable job of blending the essence of those remembrances she was privy to into a powerful novel.

A river's course can be calm and peaceful, even sluggish, almost stagnant, but then a powerful, unexpected storm can transform the water into a dangerous flood of obstacles, dangers, and rapids.  The  1941 Nazi invasion of the Ukraine changes the lives of Maria Ivanovna, her family, and others, just as a river course changes.  Life under Soviet rule has never been easy, but the Nazis bring instant new hardships -- no food, fuel or work.  Even worse is the uncertainty, the cruelty, and the all out intent to kill every Jew.  Soon Maria finds herself the one of the Ukranian non-Jewish youth sent to Germany to be laborers, virtual slaves, sent there to work to keep the German war machine functioning.  When Germany is finally defeated, and the war winds down, and surviving laborers attempt to find their way back to the Ukraine, the Soviet Red army vows to treat them as traitors.
As I read this novel, the utter inhumanity of both the Nazis and later the Red army was unbelievable.  How could anyone hate so easily and commit such atrocities?  How could anyone have the strength to endure and survive?  As the stories unfold, clearly one sees that for all the evil, there is an awful lot of good, and it is those tiny acts of goodness, courage, and compassion that lead to survival, redemption, and forgiveness.  Maria's story, along with her father's, her brother's, as well as their Jewish neighbors, and another young teenager Luda Michaelevna will add another layer to your understanding of WWII.  Equally powerful is the side story of a young German officer who sees his role in the submission of the Ukranians as his one chance to win his father's (a high ranking Nazi) favor.  His eventual disillusionment and failure is a story of suffering just as clearly as Luda's and Maria's stories.

I received a copy of LIKE A RIVER FROM ITS COURSE from Litfuse and the publishers for my honest opinion.  I highly recommend this book and place it as one of  the best I've read this year.

Read on to learn more about the author and book.

{MORE ABOUT LIKE A RIVER FROM ITS COURSE}

Like a River from Its Course(Kregel, June 2016)
An epic novel exposing the ugliness of war and the beauty of hope
The city of Kiev was bombed in Hitler’s blitzkrieg across the Soviet Union, but the constant siege was only the beginning for her citizens. In this sweeping historical saga, Kelli Stuart takes the reader on a captivating journey into the little—known history of Ukraine’s tragedies through the eyes of four compelling characters who experience the same story from different perspectives.
Maria Ivanovna is only fourteen when the bombing begins and not much older when she is forced into work at a German labor camp. She must fight to survive and to make her way back to her beloved Ukraine.
Ivan Kyrilovich is falsely mistaken for a Jew and lined up with 34,000 other men, women, and children who are to be shot at the edge of Babi Yar, the “killing ditch.” He survives, but not without devastating consequences.
Luda is sixteen when German soldiers rape her. Now pregnant with the child of the enemy, she is abandoned by her father, alone, and in pain. She must learn to trust family and friends again and find her own strength in order to discover the redemption that awaits.
Frederick Hermann is sure in his knowledge that the F├╝hrer’s plans for domination are right and just. He is driven to succeed by a desire to please a demanding father and by his own blind faith in the ideals of Nazism. Based on true stories gathered from fifteen years of research and interviews with Ukrainian World War II survivors,Like a River from Its Course is a story of love, war, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.
Kelli Stuart

{MORE ABOUT KELLI STUART}

Kelli Stuart is the coauthor of Dare 2B Wise and has written for several brands including Disney, American Girl, and Short Fiction Break. She has served as editor-in-chief for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild and as a board member for the St. Louis Women in Media. In addition to her writing, Kelli has spent twenty years studying Ukranian culture. Kelli lives in Florida.
Find out more about Kelli athttp://kellistuart.com.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry

PictureTroy Chance impulsively decides to jump off a moving ferry to rescue what she believes was a small child thrown overboard from a ferry passing in the opposite direction.  Not stopping to rationally weigh her options or even to yell for help and assistance, Troy finds herself (not a strong swimmer) struggling to keep the spot in the water she thinks is the spot the child went under in her sights, swimming as fast as she can as the two boats continue their paths in opposite directions.  Miraculously she does rescue the boy and gets both of them safely to shore.  Seemingly in shock, the small frail boy does not speak and Troy again makes a decision based on heart, not head, as she wraps the boy in her own gym clothes retrieved from her car in the harbor parking lot and drives for home.  When it is apparent that police are not looking for him, nor are there any frantic parents making public requests to find a missing child, Troy tells herself that she does not want the boy to spend the night in foster care, so she tucks the frail child into bed, believing she will go to the authorities in the morning.  But when the boy speaks (in French) saying that he and his mother had been kidnapped months earlier and that he believes his mother is now dead, Troy knows that the sight of the boy being thrown overboard was not a mistake.  Thinking that even the father would be a suspect, Troy sets off to determine the boy's identity, locate the father, and then judge for herself whether she should return the child.

Sara J. Henry has created a lovable, fresh character in Troy Chance.  Single, but in a relationship that is stalled, Troy is comfortable in her own skin.  That said, she still has some esteem issues.  She knows she is not the weekly manicure, latest fashion, perfect make up type.  And don't ever think that she will put on a pair of those shoes with pointy toes and 4 inch heels -- it isn't happening. Once a reporter for the Lake Placid paper, Troy now free lances writing sports articles, promotions, and such, work she can do from anywhere as long as she has access to a computer and a memory stick.  She's purchased a large rambling house which she shares with several boarders, currently all male.  While that situation may raise eyebrows, Troy is perfectly satisfied with the arrangement, saying that female roommates are more demanding, always expecting friendships to develop, when she just really wants to be left alone.

While this book probably is considered a mystery or suspense, it is so much more, mostly because Troy is a much more developed character than you usually find in this genre.  I don't know if that depth of character will carry into the second Troy Chance novel A COLD AND LONELY PLACE, or if this time spent on her character was the first step in establishing a series, but whichever, Sara J. Henry has done a stellar job in character development.  Secondly, I liked the pace of the novel -- brisk but not rushed or frantic. Of course when Troy  goes off to find the father and finally the authorities are alerted, she is considered a suspect herself, but that does not stop her from continuing to solve the mystery of the boy Paul's abduction herself.  While there is suspense to all this, it does not become a chaotic chase  with illogical bits of "daily life" thrown in.  Instead Henry tells it much like I think it would happen if such a kidnaping had actually happened.  The father and boy try to settle into a new version of normalcy while dealing with the psychological trauma of the boy's time in captivity.  Troy is valued as a rescuer, but must return to her own life, despite being unwilling to just walk away from the unsolved mystery.  The police, both in Canada and in the US, do not want to let the case drop, but really do not have neither information nor resources to do much other than wait.

While visiting the author's website, I learned this interesting side note, the author herself once lived in Lake Placid, worked as a reporter there, lived in a large home with many roommates, and like Troy had a dog named Tiger.  Bookclubs all over have selected these novels for club reads, meaning I can confidently assume that others love the quirky Troy Chance as much as I do.

I obtained a copy of Sara J. Henry's first suspense novel from our library system and already have on my to read pile the second book, A COLD AND LONELY PLACE.  I am delighted I have found another suspense author I like, someone who can tell a great story, but does not have to lace it with sex or profanity.  My only regret is that once I finish the second book, I will need to wait until she publishes a third.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman

Product DetailsThe multi-generational story of a grandmother, mother, and daughter found in Viola Shipman's debut novel THE CHARM BRACELET is one of finding reconciliation, love, and self.  When Arden, a work alcoholic single mother trying to earn enough money to meet the next college tuition payment for her daughter Lauren, receives a call about her 70 year old mother Lolly's health, Arden decides she needs to make a trip to Scoops, MI and visit mom.  What starts out to be a Memorial Day weekend visit becomes a life changing time of re-connection, shared dreams, and new starts for all of them.  Arden and Lauren learns that Lolly has developed MCI, mild cognitive impairment, which has started to affect her ability to work and live on her own.  Lolly, whose outlandish dress and wigs, and even her notoriety as the ice cream lady as the tourist town's fudge shop, has always embarrassed Arden, takes her diagnosis as an opportunity to share her slice of life wisdom with the two people she loves most. Using her beloved charm bracelet, started years ago by a mother who died too young, Lolly tells story after story, each one delivering a heart warming message.  Bit by bit Arden begins to see her mom in a different light, and granddaughter Lauren gains courage enough to share her dreams with the two older women.

Using various charms as symbols for the lessons is quite effective, but it also seems a bit contrived at times.  At times Lolly seemed to see an actual power in the charms, not a symbolism, and I did not care for that.  I did like the simple backdrop of the Lake Michigan shore and the nearby smaller Lost Lake.  While I am more familiar with the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, this Michigan setting was just as appealing.  I could close my eyes, see the Northern Lights along the shoreline, and then smell the fresh fudge as tourists flooded  the candy shop.  Like many other books and movies, that contrast between the slower pace of small town and big city Chicago is sharp and life-defining. Too often writers make the small town setting too idyllic, Shipman wisely has shown that  while Scoops/Lost Lake bring the women closer together, it is not a place that entirely protects them from loss or pain.   Perhaps the greatest lesson or main theme of the book is summed up in  Lolly's words as she watches her daughter and granddaughter experience the Northern Lights on a warm May night, "The amazing beauty of life and family... if only we take the time to see it and cherish it."  The book also makes such an important point that one's stories -- our loves, our disappointments, our heart aches, our victories, our faith, each helped make us who we are, and if we wish to be remembered, then we must share the memories that define us.  Whether it be a journal, photo albums, recorded messages, face to face talks, or taking a road trip together, we should share with our families before it is too late.

THE CHARM BRACELET, which has quickly become a best seller in Europe and here in the US, is the first in a series of "heirloom" novels that Wade Rouse is writing under the pseudonym Viola Shipman.  Each book features a heirloom; this one Lolly's charm bracelet.  The next novel features an antique trunk; each story is inspired by Shipman's (Rouse's) own extended family.  I enjoyed Shipman's writing enough that I plan to read the next novel.  I obtained a copy of this novel from our library system. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mermaid Moon by Colleen Coble

Mermaid Moon (A Sunset Cove Novel Book 2)Colleen Coble again lives up to her reputation as a master of suspense and romance in MERMAID MOON, the latest addition to the Sunset Cove series.  The coastal Maine setting has just the right feel for a summer beach read, and although reading THE INN AT OCEAN'S EDGE first would be a good idea, it is not necessary.  But then,if you do, you'll read each so fast it will seem like one seamless read.

Mallory Davis, a single mom of a fourteen year old, has not returned to her childhood home Mermaid Point since she fled there fifteen years earlier, but when she receives a cryptic phone call from her father which ends in silence, she immediately seeks help from Kevin O'Connor, her childhood boyfriend. Now a game warden, Kevin often helps the sheriff in the small Mermaid Point community, and he rushes to Mallory's dad's boat to find him dead.  Within hours, Mallory's home is invaded and when she travels back to the island, so is her father's home, making the two consider that foul play may have caused her father's death.  As they begin to investigate, more questions arise than are answered.

Kevin convinces Mallory and her daughter to stay in Mermaid Point where he can protect them, and as the two try to unravel her father's last phone message, the pair reconnect and try to put aside past hurts.  Coble says in an afterward she wanted to write a novel about second chances and the book offers not only Mallory and Kevin's second chance at love, but there are several subplots that which also feature second chances.  As always Coble's tale moves ahead at a fast pace, but not one that rushes frantically from one place to another.  Readers have the time to process what is happening and to make predictions; then they will want to hurriedly read on to find the truth. I enjoyed MERMAID MOON and look forward to Coble's next novel in the series.  I received a copy of this title from Book Look for my honest review.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron

The Ringmaster's Wife (672x1024)In the early 20th Century, despite the upcoming popularity of movies, the most exciting entertainment was live.  Just imagine the thrill of a circus train arriving in the wee hours of the morning and a flurry of men and animals working seamlessly to erect sideshow tents, animal shelters, and then the most impressive big top.  Only hours later, calliope music fills the air as exotic animals parade through the town.  Who could possibly stay home when you could see acrobats flying, trick horses magicians, colorful clowns, and more? As one character in Kristy Cambron's THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE points out within hours or perhaps a day all will be packed and gone, leaving behind not a trace, not even an advertising poster.  Was it but a dream?

Talented and award winning Christian author, Kristy Cambron has selected the magical world of the most famous circus -- Ringling Brothers-- for her newest novel.  Combining her brand of meaningful fiction, Cambron weaves a story of a spirited English lady who leaves behind the promise of a titled marriage to follow her horse to the greatest show on earth, along with a speculative look at the lives of the real life John and Mable Ringling.  Rosamund cannot bear to be parted from her horse, a special gift from a brother, now deceased.  More than that, she cannot bear to think of a life as dutiful wife in an arranged marriage, so when Colin Keary offers her the opportunity to train her horse for the next season of Ringling shows, Rosamund leaves England behind.  Soon the sights and sounds of the circus and its winter headquarters in Sarasota, FL are more like home than the estate she left behind.  Not much factual information is known about how Mable and John Ringling met and married, but Cambron has chosen to build on what is known about each's personality.  Mable was known for her quiet, but generous ways, and this is shown in her interactions with Colin and later Rose (Rosamund's new name).  As the story flashes back to the days when Mable and John met, Cambron appropriately paints Mable as an adventurous, but also cautious woman whose dreams took her away from the safety of the farm.  The lavish home Ca d'Zan which the couple built in the 1920's in Sarasota, FL is the setting for the initial meeting of Rose and Mable, as the Ringlings entertain some of America's most famous for the Christmas holidays.

I live only 40 minutes from Baraboo, WI, the original home of the Ringling Brothers, and the winter home of the circus until 1918.  When I learned that Cambron's new book would feature the Ringlings, I had hoped that Baraboo would be part of the story, but the main circus story takes place between 1926 and 1929, and Baraboo is not part of the backdrop.  That omission does not detract from this glamorous and yet heart warming story. In reading, THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE, I wonder if we who are too young to have experienced the great days of the circus, wild west shows, and vaudeville may have missed an exciting part of America's history.  Thank you Kristy Cambron for showing us a glimpse of that world and for making it a positive story.  I received a copy of THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE from Litfuse for my honest review.

The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron

The Ringmaster's Wife (672x1024)In the early 20th Century, despite the upcoming popularity of movies, the most exciting entertainment was live.  Just imagine the thrill of a circus train arriving in the wee hours of the morning and a flurry of men and animals working seamlessly to erect sideshow tents, animal shelters, and then the most impressive big top.  Only hours later, calliope music fills the air as exotic animals parade through the town.  Who could possibly stay home when you could see acrobats flying, trick horses magicians, colorful clowns, and more"As one character in Kristy Cambron's THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE points out within hours or perhaps a day all will be packed and gone, leaving behind not a trace, not even an advertising poster.  Was it but a dream?

Talented and award winning Christian author, Kristy Cambron has selected the magical world of the most famous circus -- Ringling Brothers-- for her newest novel.  Combining her brand of meaningful fiction, Cambron weaves a story of a spirited English lady who leaves behind the promise of a titled marriage to follow her horse to the greatest show on earth, along with a speculative look at the lives of the real life John and Mable Ringling.  Rosamund cannot bear to be parted from her horse, a special gift from a brother, now deceased.  More than that, she cannot bear to think of a life as dutiful wife in an arranged marriage, so when Colin Keary offers her the opportunity to train her horse for the next season of Ringling shows, Rosamund leaves England behind.  Soon the sights and sounds of the circus and its winter headquarters in Sarasota, FL are more like home than the estate she left behind.  Not much factual information is known about how Mable and John Ringling met and married, but Cambron has chosen to build on what is known about each's personality.  Mable was known for her quiet, but generous ways, and this is shown in her interactions with Colin and later Rose (Rosamund's new name).  As the story flashes back to the days when Mable and John met, Cambron appropriately paints Mable as an adventurous, but also cautious woman whose dreams took her away from the safety of the farm.  The lavish home Ca d'Zan which the couple built in the 1920's in Sarasota, FL is the setting for the initial meeting of Rose and Mable, as the Ringlings entertain some of America's most famous for the Christmas holidays.

I live only 40 minutes from Baraboo, WI, the original home of the Ringling Brothers, and the winter home of the circus until 1918.  When I learned that Cambron's new book would feature the Ringlings, I had hoped that Baraboo would be part of the story, but the main circus story takes place between 1926 and 1929, and Baraboo is not part of the backdrop.  That omission does not detract from this glamorous and yet heart warming story. In reading, THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE, I wonder if we who are too young to have experienced the great days of the circus, wild west shows, and vaudeville may have missed an exciting part of America's history.  Thank you Kristy Cambron for showing us a glimpse of that world and for making it a positive story.  I received a copy of THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE from Litfuse for my honest review.