Friday, August 31, 2012

The Guest Book by MaryBeth Whalen

At our little cabin in the northwoods we have a cabin journal in which we capture the special moments of each trip.  We encourage others who visit the cabin to write in the journal, too, even the little ones.  Sometimes they draw pictures.  Throughout the entries there is a kind of back and forth communication, even a little campfire cooking rivalry.  If someone else has been at the cabin since we were there last, both my husband and I will check the cabin journal right away after we unpack to read the latest news (which is very silly because we've usually talked to those people directly and already know the important stuff). 

In The Guest Book by Marybeth Whalen, young Macy had that same eager anticipation to check the guest book of the beach cottage she and her family rented for their annual vacation.  It all started the summer she was five and she, encouraged by her father, drew a picture of some shells in the guest book.  The next summer she found another picture had been added by a boy who also left behind a photograph, but not his name.  Over the next ten summers drawings went back and forth and a secret friendship was forged.  Then when a teenager, Macy received a note that she should go to a particular pier at a certain time and they would finally meet.  Instead Macy convinced her mother to leave the beach house early and that they should not return next summer.

Why didn't Macy meet her secret friend?  How can an innocent childhood game still affect the now 26 year old woman?  The answers to those questions are the heart of Whalen's contemporary novel.  For now I will say that Macy, her mother, and her older brother all are emotionally stalled because of the father's death which happened that year when she was 15.  Life has gone on, Macy has become a single mother, brother Max has "settled" into a life of partying and destructive behavior, and mom has built a shrine of memories to insulate her.  A crack of change appears when mom suggests that once again the whole family travel to the same beach house for two weeks.

Then the first night at the beach, Macy, who has simply buried God with her father, prays a single prayer - that God will finally reveal who the childhood artist is.  Seemingly like miracles, three possibilities appear, each interested in the adult Macy, and she in him.  But a larger lesson comes with the possibility that none of them is the childhood friend -- the lesson that we all have an Artist to our lives.  Do we recognize the strokes of His brush, the shape of His clay?  Are we willing to accept his creation within us?

With the side stories of brother Max and mom, this is a book that offers something to more than just young romance readers (although that is still the target audience).  This book was published in July and I was given an e-copy for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.  Secular publishers always seem to have a list of "beach reads" for the summer months.  For Christian fiction readers, this title would be a good vacation read.  Since it is now Labor Day weekend, I can only hope that maybe you have some late, late summer vacation time for some light, but meaningful reading.  If not, perhaps you'll want to read this in the depths of January/February when you can only dream of sand beaches.

If you want to learn more about MaryBeth Whalen, her website includes a blog.  I love when authors open their homes and creativity to their readers.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Have you thought about your library lately?

I still belong to a library list serve and get daily emails about all kinds of news about libraries, literacy, and books. Recently the daily email was a link to this information about libraries along with an invitation to post the information. I've decided to post it as food for thought.

FIND A LIBRARY NEAR YOU

Libraries in WashingtonLibraries in OregonLibraries in CaliforniaLibraries in IdahoLibraries in NevadaLibraries in MontanaLibraries in WyomingLibraries in UtahLibraries in ArizonaLibraries in ColoradoLibraries in New MexicoLibraries in North DakotaLibraries in South DakotaLibraries in NebraskaLibraries in KansasLibraries in OklahomaLibraries in TexasLibraries in AlaskaLibraries in HawaiiLibraries in LouisianaLibraries in ArkansasLibraries in MissouriLibraries in IowaLibraries in MinnesotaLibraries in WisconsinLibraries in IllinoisLibraries in MichiganLibraries in IndianaLibraries in OhioLibraries in KentuckyLibraries in TennesseeLibraries in MississippiLibraries in AlabamaLibraries in GeorgiaLibraries in FloridaLibraries in South CarolinaLibraries in North CarolinaLibraries in West VirginiaLibraries in VirginiaLibraries in PennsylvaniaLibraries in New YorkLibraries in MaineLibraries in New HampshireLibraries in VermontLibraries in VermontLibraries in MassachusettsLibraries in Rhode IslandLibraries in ConnecticutLibraries in ConnecticutLibraries in New JerseyLibraries in DelawareLibraries in MarylandLibraries in New Jersey
FIND YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY
INFORMATION INTEGRATED
WITH GOOGLE MAPS

DATA SOURCE: IMLS
Thank you to StateStats.org for providing this infographic and other free web guides and tools.

Irreparable Harm by Randy Singer

Recently I listened to the audio version of Irreparable Harm by Randy Singer, a legal thriller with a bioethical dilemma.  First published in 2003, the topic of cloning may now seem a little dated, but overall the story still had interest.  Mitchell Tahlor is a recent law school graduate whose unsuccessful job hunt ends him up working for Bill Davenport, The Rock, an alcoholic ambulance chaser.  Soon after starting his not-so-dream job, Mitchell is asked to be local counsel for a case that challenges the future of 10 fertilized embryos. 

Dr. Brown, dying from AIDS developed years before from a contaminated needle prick, and his wife had chosen in vitro fertilization after her hysterectomy.  Maryna, a Cambodian immigrant, is the surrogate mother.  On his own, Dr. Brown makes the decision that he does not want the 10 remaining embryos used for anything other than research for an AIDS cure.  In his will he leaves the embryos to GenTech, a biotech company on the forefront of AIDS research.  Shortly after, Dr. Brown dies and his widow Cameron finds out that the baby Maryna is carrying has Downs Syndrome.  The original contract signed by everyone allows the pregnancy to be terminated if "defects" occur. 
Cameron now wants the remaining embryos so that she can seek another surrogate and another chance at a "perfect" child.

Very quickly, Mitchell finds that his Christian beliefs will not allow him to represent Cameron, especially after he learns that the remaining embryos may have been developed from cloned cells, developed before the federal ban.  Then he meet Maryna, who having already bonded with the baby, does not want an abortion, but also fears deportation since she is here illegally.  Despite the fact that Cameron is the daughter of Mitchell's boss, The Rock, Mitchell decides to represent Maryna.

This story is packed with twists that totally surprise the reader.  For now, it will suffice to say that there are enough selfish villains  to populate multiple novels, each with a personal evil plan.  I was able to listen to this book as I sewed, traveled, and walked.  In that capacity, it was an okay time filler, but I don't think I would have been as interested if I had read the print version.  I've read other medical thrillers and this seemed to have too many contrived twists.  How could so many greedy, amoral people end up in the world of medicine?  My recommendation would be to check out other Randy Singer books, read some reviews, and then make your selection.  I am sure you'll find one that you will like better than this one.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Talks with Liz Curtis Higgs


Liz Curtis Higgs is a successful author of both Christian historical fiction and nonfiction.  Her series, based on Ruth, but set in 18th century Scotland is a true gem.  I've reviewed those books in the past, so if you're interested check under her label on the side.   The titles to the series are
Here Burns My Candle and Mine is the Night.  I am on Liz's e-letter lists and recently I recieved a note from her that she was having a LIVESTREAM CHAT about her new nonfiction Bible study of Ruth.  When I went to the LIVESTREAM site, I found that WaterbrookMultnomah Christian publishers had several "chats" with Christian authors archived, including several others with Liz Curtis Higgs.

I've heard Liz speak and she is phenomenal!! The same dynamic personality comes through on these chats.  I listened to the archived one which explained her research for Here Burns My Candle and Mine is the Night.  Here is the link to that chat.  I also started to listen to the live one about her new nonfiction book The Girl's Still Got It,  but I had to leave on an errand.  I will finish by watching the archived version soon.

Often I am totally frustrated with technology and certainly with the typical media, but it is nice that computers and advanced technology have allowed us to connect with those authors and others whose interests match our own.  If you've got time, check out Liz's chat and get to know her better.  You might see some other authors you know and have wondered about.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy

Ollie (Olivia) Paras is the top assistant to the White House Executive chef, but probably only for a few more days.  When Chef Henry retires, one of two things will happen.  One, Ollie's dream will come true and she will be selected as Henry's successor.  Two, her nemesis and cooking show star Laurel Anne will win the honors and most certainly will dismiss Olivia.  As the book progresses and Ollie gets herself deeper and deeper into an international mystery, a future at the White House seems less likely.  Everything seems beyond her control.  She never intended to see an intruder run across the White House lawn and she CERTAINLY didn't plan to hit him with a skillet, but as readers will learn, Ollie is a short, dynamo who acts when action is needed.  Repercussions, such as her boyfriend's Tom reaction come later.  Later, when Olivia is sure that she is being followed by an international killer known as the Chameleon, Secret Service agent Tom walks a precarious line between protecting his girlfriend and following procedures.

Ollie wants to follow Chef Henry's wisdom that those in the kitchen are only concerned with the "state of the onion" leaving the "state of the union" to others, but you just know when there is a special reception to honor two middle east leaders who have finally made a peace agreement that there will be problems and Ollie won't be hiding behind her apron.  This entry into the mystery genre reminds me of Diane Mott Davidson's series with Goldy the caterer.  Both have mates in law enforcement, both are short in stature but big in courage, and their stories are told with light humor. 

If you are a reader of light mysteries, you may want to try Julie Hyzy's entry.  Of course, Olivia continues her mishaps at the executive mansion in more books.  (Let's hope the real White House kitchen only faces mysteries and disasters of the food type!)  I checked this title out on my Nook through the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium. Yeah for libraries!!  This was such a popular title that I was on a waiting list for several months, but I have so many books to read, I just put my name on the holds lists and read things when they come in.  Actually, it is like getting a surprise for that day!

Keep reading friends. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Deposit Slip by Todd M. Johnson


When Erin empties her father’s safe deposit box after his untimely death, she doesn’t expect to find anything of value. All of his adult life, he had scraped to keep his small Minnesota farm, often having to borrow funds for the next the crop. So Erin is totally unprepared to find a tattered deposit slip to an unknown account hidden at the bottom of the box. Dated several years before, the slip has more zeros than her mind can grasp – is it really over 10,000,000 dollars? How did he get that much money? Why didn’t he tell her? Where is the money? Her questions all lead to the local bank who swears there is no money, no account with those numbers, but Erin wants answers and when trying to hire a lawyer brings threats and intimidation, Erin looks to Twin City lawyer Jared Neaton in desperation. Unknown to Erin, Jared is actually a hometown boy. He left Mission Falls right after high school, wanting to escape the shame of his father’s embezzlement conviction, and he’s never looked back. However, his recent attempt to leave a big name law firm for his own practice has been rocky. Lately, he’s several steps BEHIND the bill collectors. His office assistant Jessie is sure he needs a few surefire cases with clearly defined fees, so she is not pleased when Jared takes off for Mission Falls and another hopeless case. This legal thriller offers all aspects that a good thriller should – backroom deals with unidentified villains, myriad of suspects, an irritable judge, and of course, courtroom confrontations and dangerous chase scenes. I think that even readers of secular legal thrillers will enjoy the pace and details of this story. Christian readers will hone in on the reconciliation story between Jared and his father. This story is not a flashy, quick fix put in the book to make it “Christian,” but a quiet revelation of a man living out his opportunity for forgiveness. I have a list of reasons why I like this book—
1. Plenty of suspense
2. Jared’s maturation
3. Realistic rural setting but with detours to other places
4. Jared’s father and his story
5. Doesn’t have one of those quick, one night stand’s that so many thrillers do
6. And the FINAL REASON, I think the ending hints that there will be more Jared Neaton books!!
To learn more about Todd M. Johnson, check out his the profile on his website.

I received a review copy of this book from Bethany House publishers.  All views expressed are my own.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock

Eleven year-old Roz (Rosalind) Anthony and her family have come to Mills River, Illinois to start over with the help of her grandfather and his new wife.  Settling in the new home and into a new job, all Roz's mother wants is a chance to put the memories of her abusive husband behind her and an opportunity to keep her children safe.  Roz's teenage brother Wally views the past and his probable future with a disdain and contempt that is typical of teenagers.  And baby Valerie is too young to realize all the changes that have happened, so it is only Roz whose heart is aching for the old life in Minnesota, the life with dad in it.  Or at least, she wants that life if she can erase the bad parts, so when she learns that her father has followed the family to Mills River, she agrees to keep his prescence a secret.  He promises that he has changed and will soon show the whole family the new sober person he's become. 

Roz is a wonderfully developed character with the true heart and insight of a child.  Her innocence and fragility play off Wally's sharp edges and mom's numbness.  Shortly after moving into their Mills River house, Roz finds an elderly woman on the porch. Tillie and her husband built this house fifty years previously and she lived in it until a fall forced her into the nursing home.  Even though her son has sold the house, Tillie sees the home as hers and doesn't want to leave. Since the family needs help caring for baby Valerie, Tillie moves in.  It is Tillie's faith and optimism (along with a genuine concern for the well being of America's future) that sustains this family through the months ahead.

Not only did Promises to Keep win a Christy Award, it was also chosen a Top Ten Historical Novel of the Year by Booklist magazine.  Tatlock's realistic portrayal of life in the early 1970's is certainly why the awards were given.  She captured the thoughts and concerns of life then, not just the outer trappings of clothes or fads.  At one point, Tillie voices her concerns about the country's future, a speech I am sure that was given in many older households in the 1970's.  However, it is Tillie's final comment that the peace-seekers will never know peace as long as they mock the only one who can truly give peace which makes her aside translate into an important truth for all times.

As I've already said, the richness of Roz's character comes in part from its contrast to the older, wiser Tillie.  Another dimension to Roz comes from her growing relationship with Mara, a young black girl in her school.  The 1970's setting with an integrated school, but not a fully integrated community, provides another authentic historical layer to the story, but more important the girls' friendships demand that there be more "promises to keep."  I leave you with the task of reading this title: get to know Roz and Mara and their secrets.  You'll be warmed by their youth and optimism, you'll worry about their possible disappointments, and you'll cheer as they mature with the help of good people God has placed in their lives.

 Check out Ann Tatlock's website to learn more about this book and her other writings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Road to Grace by Richard Paul Evans

The story of Alan Christoffersen who began a walk in the Pacific Northwest after the untimely death of his wife and the devasting loss of his advertising business continues in Road to Grace, the third book in this moving series by Richard Paul Evans.  Known for tugging at readers' heart strings, Evans does it again as we see Alan try to move past his agonizing grief by pushing his body further and further across America's west into the heartland states.  As he meets strangers who open their homes and their pasts to Alan, he opens his heart to their stories, but never quite applies the same compassion and gentleness to his own hurt.  Three characters will especially move you to thought in this segment of the journey.  First is Alan's mother-in-law who shows up in Montana and follows Alan on foot despite his repeated screams that she go away.  Alan's heart is hardened against the woman since she had abandoned his wife McKale years before, but the mother will not go away/  Finally Alan must hear her story.  Later, when traveling alone again, Alan meets (I won't spoil it and share the circumstances of the meeting) an older Polish man, who is a Holocaust survivor.  His simple lifestyle and appreciation of each moment in each day will make you stop and review your own life.  Finally the third interesting person is a young mother. grocery store clerk by day and Emeril wannabe by night, who invites Alan for supper.  Each person has an impact on Alan, but unfortunately his emotional state and now his physical condition remain weakened.
Tragedy and accidents always seem to be close by Alan, and this book ends with a huge surprise, making readers anxious for the fourth book  

I was fascinated by the combination history/travelogue that narrator Alan provides as he walks from Montana through South Dakota (Wall Drug, Badlands, Corn Palace), and finally into Missouri (Hannibal and Mark Twain country).  Made me want to travel, although I'll chose wheels, not athletic shoes. I actually listened to this novel on cd and it was an awesome way to pass the time while canning tomatoes and doing some sewing projects.  Since the story is told in first person narration, it is ideal for the audio format.  I would say this was my favorite of the series so far and I will definitely finish the series.  If  you are new to Richard Paul Evans, or just want to catch up on all his writings, check out his website

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber has begun another northwest Pacific series with her new book The Inn at Rose Harbor. Jo Marie Rose never married until in her thirties, then had only brief months with husband Paul before his death in Afghanistan. Despite warnings that the bereaved should make no monumental life changes while grieving, Jo Marie feels Paul is guiding her decision to buy a B and B. She renames the place Rose Harbor Inn and sets to preparing the place for her first guests, Josh Weaver and Abby Kincaid.


Like Jo Marie, both Josh and Abby bear the scars of grief. Josh has returned to his hometown only once in the twelve years since his graduation. That was for his step-brother’s Dylan’s funeral. At that time, even grief could not reconcile Josh with his emotionally distant step-father. Now his step-father Richard is in cancer’s last stages. With no family except Josh, Richard is refusing help from neighbors and hospice. Not even sure he wants to be there, how can Josh help ease Richard’s physical pain, and perhaps re-establish an emotional connection? After his first night at the inn, Josh apprehensively meets Michelle, a former neighbor who he remembers as always having a crush on Dylan. Hopefully she can be the needed buffer between Richard and Josh.

Abby Kincaid is also cautiously returning to the childhood home she fled years after a tragic accident took her best friend’s life and forever changed her own. Living as far as possible from Oregon, she has been able to build a career, but remains distant from family and friends. Now she has returned for her only brother’s wedding. Wanting to be part of the happy day, but needing to give herself personal distance and seclusion, she has decided to stay at the inn instead of the large hotel which will be site of the wedding. Abby believes that a chance meeting with a former classmate will ignite old memories and renew accusations of blame, but could it possibly be an opening for new beginnings?

It may seem depressing that all three main characters are dealing with the after effects of death, and Josh is facing another death, but this is a hopeful book. Jo Marie begins a new life while honoring her husband’s memory. I am sure she is a cornerstone to the series and her story will continue in future books. Josh and Richard are forced to look at their past mistakes and the emotional hurts both have buried rather than share. Abby will be given the opportunity to forgive her youthful self and to face those who still blame her for the accident. Like most Macomber books, readers will like the main characters and the story will flow. However, weaving multiple stories in this type of novel always means characters are lightly sketched, not deeply developed. Macomber devotees may not select this as their all-time favorite, but they will be pleased that there is a new series with its promise of upcoming additions.

Check out Debbie Macomber's website to read her blog and learn news about all her books.  Knitting fans remember that Debbie is the queen of knitting!!
I received an e-copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dry as Rain by Gina Holmes

Central Wisconsin, like much of the Midwest, is in the midst of a record=breaking drought. Only recently have we received needed rains; and for some farms and gardens, it is too little and too late. As I ran from my car to a building during a recent rain shower, a 80 year old friend said to me, “ Isn’t this rain wonderful? Don’t you just want to stand in it and soak it up?” That joyous recognition of rain’s true importance amidst the driest of dry times is the idea behind Dry as Rain, Gina Holme’s new contemporary novel. Eric and his wife, Kyra, began married life deeply and passionately in love, but now twenty years later, divorce seems inevitable. As Eric became more obsessed with his job, Kyra became more distant and cold. As Kyra become more distant and cold, Eric became more flirtatious with other women which fueled Kyra’s jealousy. When she discovers an email to Eric’s young female co-worker, Kyra asks her husband to leave.


It is at that point the novel begins. Eric is bunking with his buddy Larry and is sure that divorce is the next step. Still placing primary blame for the situation on his wife, he crosses the line with a one night stand, regretting it as soon as he wakes. He has finally done what his wife always believed he was capable of doing. Ironically, within hours he receives a telephone call from a doctor that miraculously gives him a second chance, appearing almost like an oasis in the desert. Kyra has suffered a concussion in a car accident which has left her memory impaired. At the accident scene, she mistakenly believed her husband was dead and was overwrought. When medical professionals could show that he was alive and not even at the scene, she calmed down. However, according to the doctor, she now seems consumed with the notion that she and Eric are deeply in love, living a most perfect life. Since she has no physical injuries, Eric needs to get his wife and care for her until her memory returns. Eric is a mix of emotions. Has he been given a second chance with his wife? Certainly she will learn of the one night stand and the charade will be over. His friend Larry suggests that he come clean immediately and confess it, but Eric can’t do that. Instead he clings to each day that his wife believes he is the loving, caring husband that he should have been all along. At the same time, he cannot stop himself from partially revealing to Kyra that she has been distant and cold for years.

Dry as Rain was a finalist for the 2012 Christy Award for Standalone Contemporary Fiction and is a good example of Christian fiction that moves beyond the safe preconceived boundaries of plot and character. Told from Eric’s point of view, we see a man who believed he was a Christian, but has done nothing for years to live that way. Instead he has armed himself with a myriad of excuses for his appalling behavior and thoughts. After his wife’s accident, he wants to start over, but only on his terms, sure that any confession and remorse on his part would again plunge his wife into divorcing him. Two side stories add depth to the novel. One is Eric’s relationship with his long-time friend Larry and the other is Eric’s role in his 19 year old son’s life. This is not a novel of cute little towns with church committees and teas; it is a realistically drawn look at a marriage destroyed not just by infidelity, but by a succession of decisions to not be loving and supportive. It is a dark tunnel, or if you will, a drought. Some may ask , “Is there a light at the end?” Others may ask, “Is there a saving rain?” I recommend reading it for your own answer.

I checked Dry as Rain out from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium for my nook. Right now I would rank it as one of the best Christian fiction books I’ve read this summer, a nice break from romances and historical fiction.  I would also recommend Gina Holmes' earlier book Crossing Oceans.  Check out her website for more information about her books including discussion questions and the author's insights.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Love in Disguise by Carol Cox


Love in Disguise, Carol Cox, 978-0-7642-0955-0

 The wild west setting of Arizona Territory where the promise of wealth from the silver mines is tarnished by a couple lawless desperadoes makes this novel reminscient of a Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers movie. It is not a hero on horseback or even the town marshall  who is hot on the trail of the bad guys, but rather the newly famous Pinkerton detectives, or at least one of their operatives.  Just hired and desperate to prove herself, Ellie Moore arrives in town in disguise ready to snoop.  When circumstances push her into assuming two different character roles, will she be able to keep her real identity secret?  Sure that her true self is as dull as most of the town's graying buildings, Ellie forges ahead, not realizing that her unforgetable turquoise eyes and caring, empathetic nature shine through each disguise, especially to silver miner Steven Pierce.

Having Ellie assume two different roles (older Lavinia and younger Jessie) was an interesting plot twist for author Cox to use.  In my eyes, it could have easily plummeted to comedic silliness, but Cox manages to avoid that will some skillful planning and just enough intrigue to keep the story moving ahead.  Beneath the action of Ellie trying to solve a mystery while disguised as not one, but two different women is  her own personal mystery of finding her true self.  An afterward by the author makes an interesting comparison to each of us.  We assume various roles as mothers, daughters, career women, etc.  Despite our talents and successes (or failures) within each of those roles, our true identity lives with the King, a lesson that both Steve and Ellie have the opportunity to discover.

Check out Carol Cox's website to learn more about her writing and other books.  And again I must congratulate Bethany House publishers for developing such a wonderful cover.  Rich in color and intrigue, it begs that readers touch and then read this title.  I am so glad that I was able to read a print copy of this book, rather than an e-version.

I was given a copy of this title by Bethany Publishers for review purposes.  All opinions are my own 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Echoes of Titanic by Mindy Starns Clark and John Campbell Clark

Kelsey Tate's great grandmother Adele survived the sinking of the Titanic and later became a legendary success in the man's world of investment capital. Now it appears that her great granddaughter is destined to follow in her footsteps until, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking, the Tate Investment Firm and its historic legacy are challenged. At a public reception to honor Kelsey, a stranger who claims to be a distant cousin screams out that Adele was not Adele but actually her cousin Jocelyn who had also been on the ship. If his tale proved to be true, then the Tate fortune would not belong to Kelsey's family alone, but why, if Jocelyn had survived, would she have assumed the other's identity? Why had Kelsey never heard such a tale before? The outburst at the business reception creates a publicity nightmare for the company and before Kelsey can begin to find any truthful answers, her longtime mentor Gloria is found dead, an apparent suicide. Did she have something to do with the cousin's appearance? If so, why? Hindered by by her own father's inability to communicate after a stroke, Kelsey must piece together a one hundred year old mystery in time to stop a hostile takeover by a competitor initiated just hours after the headlines send Tate stock into a tail spin. Mindy Starns Clark is one of my favorite Christian thriller writers. The plots are solid, the action fast, the characters compelling, and the underpinning of faith issues believable. Partnering with her husband on the Titanic story line paid off. The Adele/Jocelyn chapters were interspersed with the contemporary mystery with just enough revealed to keep both story lines suspenseful. I usually have mysteries totally figured out midway through, but not in this story. It wasn't until the last pages that I was sure of Kelsey's great grandmother's real identify, and the villian ( or is it villians?) was a total surprise. Plenty of well developed red herrings to keep my mind going. Check out Mindy Starns Clark's website to find out about her mystery series, her Amish fiction, and her stand alone books.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren

My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren was a finalist in the 2012 Christy Award in the Contemporary Romance category and also in the ACFW (Voice of Christian Fiction’s) Carol Awards. Part of the Deep Haven series set in Lake Superior’s Minnesotan north shore, this novel should appeal to a younger audience. Underpinning the action and the romance are some mighty tough issues, but the author handled them well. Issy is the voice behind the popular radio show/webcast known as My Foolish Heart. Little do her fans know that the romance expert is a PTSD victim who survived a car accident that took her mother’s life, left her father on a ventilator, and sentenced her to the safety of her childhood home. The talk show is her connection to the outside world. When a caller invites Miss Foolish Heart to her out of state wedding, Issy begins to wonder if the small recovery steps she’s taken are too little. Before it’s too late, could she actually resume a normal life? Could she find romance instead of directing others? Unfortunately, a courageous attempt to go solo to the grocery store turns disastrous when she encounters a stranger whose burned appearance startles her and thrusts her mind back to a vision of holding her dying mother in her arms. Caleb Knight has come to Deep Haven to teach high school and to coach their legendary football team, but it is not until his arrival in town that he learns that he must compete with a former hometown star for the position. Burdened with the competition, Caleb decides to delay allowing others to know about his time as a military medic and his resulting artificial leg. Racked with daily pain and focused on his new team, Caleb doesn’t make the best neighbor, and actually irritates the cute brown haired lady across the way so much that she pounds on the door one night demanding that he mow his lawn and keep his dog out of her flowers. You guessed it! Issy is the neighbor and Caleb is the stranger in the grocery store that triggered her panic attack. To complicate things even more, Issy’s father was the football coach that no one could beat, and certainly, no one can replace him. There is a secondary plot revolving around best friend Lucy, her struggling donut shop, and the return of her old flame, Sebastian, or the Sebanator as his former teammates called him. Despite being apart for a decade Lucy and Seb both nurse emotional wounds that they struggle to keep hidden from others. Even with its obvious plot predictability, this novel has strong elements. Lucy’s care of her PTSD friend is admirable and I liked the gusto with which she tackled her financial problems. Both Caleb and Sebastian are not too romantically drawn, but instead are realistic mixes of strengths, weaknesses, new goals, and past mistakes. I was a little disappointed that the town of Deep Haven and its Lake Superior setting did not have a strong voice in this novel. I like the setting to have a true influence on the tale, and this didn’t deliver, despite Susan May Warren’s actual home in Northern Minnesota. The under-25 audience of Christian fiction readers will like this title. Possibly others who like contemporary stories will too; for me, it was a mix of plot predictability and intriguing characters. Susan May Warren has written numberous novels, both contempary and historical fiction. Check out her website for previews and news. Susan May Warren's website