Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review of "Unrivaled" by Siri Mitchell

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review: I always look forward to new releases from Siri Mitchell, and enjoy revisiting her past novels. "Unrivaled" captured my attention on a few levels: the author; the cover, which reminds me of "Downton Abbey"; and the unique focus of the plot. Mitchell brings intriguing facets of history to life in her historical fiction novels.  In "Unrivaled," she focuses on St. Louis, Missouri and the candy industry. The historical detail is rich and layered, offering insights into St. Louis society in the early 1900s and the candy-making process. I learned interesting facts about each, while being entertained by the two main characters, Lucy and Charlie. 

"Unrivaled" is a more light-hearted read than Mitchell's latest novels, with humor and fun creating a delightful recipe. Lucy and Charlie are both strong-willed but likeable characters, who fight each other in the candy business while fighting a mutual personal attraction. Their schemes to outdo the other's candy company often create humorous situations. At the same time, Lucy's actions in particular can be exasperating. She becomes so focused on achieving her goals, that she is blinded to the impacts her actions have on others and the fact that her behavior is something that she would usually condemn as unjust. Lucy's suffers from the classic flaws of pride and prejudice. She ultimately exhibits growth, but her transition is gradual and most evident at the very end of the novel. As I entered the second half of the novel, I found myself hoping that Lucy's inner growth would become more prevalent.

Lucy led a sheltered childhood, while Charlie lived in near poverty with a single mother. By telling the story through the perspectives of both Lucy and Charlie, Mitchell allows readers insight into both characters emotions and motives. Charlie is more open-minded and empathetic than Lucy, but he has his own inner struggles with forgiveness and pride.  Despite a slightly tainted past, it is clear Charlie desires love, genuineness  and fairness. Behind the veil of society functions, candy making, and business battles, the messages of love, truth, and forgiveness make themselves evident to Lucy, Charlie, and readers.  

"Unrivaled" is another enjoyable treat from Siri Mitchell. The plot is inventive and flavorful with Mitchell's signature elements of history, detail, and well-developed characters. "Unrivaled" offers a harmony of lightness and depth, making it a wholly enjoyable read.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of Bethany House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Summary from Bethany House: Lucy Kendall returns from a tour of the Continent, her luggage filled with the latest fashions and a mind fired by inspiration. After tasting Europe's best confections, she's sure she'll come up with a recipe that will save her father's struggling candy business and reverse their fortunes. But she soon discovers that their biggest competitor, the cheat who swindled her father out of his prize recipe, has now hired a promotions manager--a cocky, handsome out-of-towner who gets under Lucy’s skin.

Charlie Clarke's new role at Standard Manufacturing is the chance of a lifetime. He can put some rough times behind him and reconnect with the father he's never known. The one thing he never counted on, however, was tenacious Lucy Kendall. She's making his work life miserable...and making herself impossible for him to forget.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review of "Catch a Falling Star" by Beth K. Vogt

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: The phrase "Catch a Falling Star" evokes the image of ideal childhood dreams, something to which we can all relate. In her novel, Beth Vogt introduces readers to two characters whose lives have taken different paths than they envisioned.  Kendall and Griffin find themselves in their mid-thirties, wondering what will become of their dreams, their plans, and their lives. Vogt clearly conveys their struggles and doubts, allowing readers to understand and empathize with both main characters.  Though their specific circumstances differ from those of readers, the topics are relevant and applicable on a personal level.

I enjoyed “Catch a Falling Star” and its message, but I had trouble connecting with the characters.  There is a strong undercurrent of tension between Kendall and Griffin from their first meeting, which continues through the novel.  Usually I enjoy verbal exchanges between two characters who are clearly meant for each other.  In this instance, I found Kendall to be a bit abrasive and quick to jump to assumptions.  As the plot progressed, more of Kendall’s personality is exposed to reveal a softer side, which I found more likeable.

Jeeps also play a significant role in the plot. I couldn’t connect with the Jeep devotion shared by Kendall and Griffin, and there were comments and discussions about Jeeps that I didn’t really “get.”  The Jeep element did add some uniqueness and quirk to the novel. 

The Colorado scenery was one of the “stars” of the novel.  Vogt’s descriptions of Pike’s Peak and Colorado Springs left me longing to take a trip to Colorado. Vogt mentions the view from Kendall’s home and office several times, and her vivid details truly painted a picture in my mind.     

“Catch a Falling Star” is a steady-paced, enjoyable read with romantic tension and central themes of faith and love to resonate with readers. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of Howard Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Summary from Howard Books: Successful career gal Kendall Haynes is tired of wishing on stars for a home and a family. Can God’s dreams for her be even better than her own?

What does a girl do when life doesn’t go according to her plan? At thirty-six, Kendall Haynes has seen some of her dreams come true. She’s a family physician helping kids with severe allergies and asthma achieve more fulfilling lives—a childhood struggle she knows all too well. But are Kendall’s dreams of having it all—a career, a husband, children—nothing more than a childhood fantasy? God says He knows the plans He has for her—why can’t Kendall figure them out and be content with her life? 

Griffin Walker prefers flying solo—both as an Air Force pilot and in his personal life. But a wrong choice and health problems pulled him out of the cockpit. His attempts to get out of “flying a desk” are complicated by his parents’ death—making Griffin the reluctant guardian of his sixteen-year-old brother, Ian. How did his life get so off course? Can he get his life back on track…or has there been a divine plan all along?

Catch a Falling Star reminds readers that romance isn’t just for twenty-somethings and that sometimes letting go of your “wish I may, wish I might” dreams is the only way to embrace everything God has waiting for you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review of "Forsaken Dreams" by MaryLu Tyndall

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Review:  After reading nearly all of MaryLu Tyndall's previous novels, I eagerly anticipated the release of her new series, "Escape to Paradise."  The fist book in the series, "Forsaken Dreams,"  begins with the introduction of the major characters aboard a ship escaping  the ravaged and war-torn South and bound for Brazil. This setting is one that has not been featured in any post-Civil War novels that I have read, and it offers a unique perspective.  Each passenger has his or her own reason for leaving their home and heading to the wilds of Brazil, a  land which has been touted as "paradise."  Some characters seek freedom,  peace, and  a fresh start; while others are motivated by greed or revenge.  I was intrigued by the background and possible motivations of some of the characters aboard the ship, especially that of a former politician who seems to be enveloped by a sinister cloud.   

Unfortunately, I was less intrigued by the two main characters featured in this novel.  Although readers witness snippets of each of the main passengers' lives aboard ship and their possible backgrounds and motivations, MaryLu Tyndall reveals the pasts of war widow Eliza Crawford and Colonel Blake Wallace in "Forsaken Dreams."  Eliza and Blake feel an immediate bond and camaraderie when they meet, but their mutual attraction is soon tested through their equally haunted pasts.  As is characteristic of each of Tyndall's novels, she masterfully sets the scene of danger and adventure at sea and creates a plot that is engaging and action-filled.  Unlike her past novels, I did not feel that the characters of Eliza and Blake were as multi-dimensional. While they are both likable characters and their relationship was realistic in some ways, I felt inexplicably detached at times. Perhaps the introduction of numerous characters that will likely be featured in upcoming novels detracted my attention.  I sometimes found myself more interested in the other personal stories instead of Eliza's and Blake's. 

The forces of good versus evil are apparent throughout "Forsaken Dreams," and I am intrigued and motivated to read the next book in the series.  There is no doubt that MaryLu Tyndall is a talented author who writes stories with unique settings that offer powerful messages of love, forgiveness, redemption, and peace.  

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of Barbour Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Summary from Barbour Publishing:  Embark on a seafaring adventure in a brand-new series from bestselling author MaryLu Tyndall. After witnessing the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, Colonel Blake Wallace is eager to leave his once precious Southern homeland for the pristine shores of Brazil and the prospect of a new utopians community. Widow Eliza Crawford seeks passage on Wallace’s ship harboring a dirty secret—and a blossoming hope for a fresh start. But will dangers from the sea and from man keep them from the peace and love they long for?

Review of "Broken Wings" by Shannon Dittemore

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review:  "Broken Wings" is the anticipated second novel in Shannon Dittemore's "Angel Eyes" trilogy.  Dittemore employs more powerful imagery in "Broken Wings" and digs deeper into the celestial realm of angels and demons.  There are scenes that I can only describe as chilling, and sometimes I had to limit my reading to the daylight hours versus bedtime. From the first scene, set in the dark depths of Abaddon, a sense of foreboding begins to thread its way through the pages. The forces of evil are stronger and more prevalent, but the heavenly forces also make their presence more visible. The once quiet town of Stratus is soon a battlefield in the war of good versus evil.  Lurking danger and lingering mysteries drive the plot forward until an ending that leaves me anxious for the final novel in the series.  

Dittemore's characterization of fear was particularly powerful in "Angel Eyes."  Fear remains a tangible and pervasive weapon of evil in "Broken Wings." Through Brielle's eyes, Dittemore shows how quickly fear can overtake and paralyze us and spread to others.  We are all engaged in our own personal battles with fears, but the "Angel Eyes" trilogy shows it in a new perspective.

Like with "Angel Eyes," I found myself pulled into the lives of Brielle and Jake and the challenges surrounding them. Dittemore adds new dimensions to Brielle's relationships with her father and Jake. There is more insight into Brielle's background and her deceased mother. While some questions are answered, new mysteries arise, awaiting a resolution in the next book. Brielle's faith is new and definitely tested in "Broken Wings."  Although Brielle is gifted with Celestial vision and has witnessed the glory and power of angels and the decay of demons, she still questions God's ultimate plan.  Her doubts make her a real and relatable character; and the reader can learn with Brielle that even humans with "broken wings" can fight against the negative forces in the world. 

I highly recommend "Angel Eyes" and "Broken Wings" to young adults and adults. They are equally engaging reads with romance, action, and depth.  

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of  Thomas Nelson. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Summary from Thomas Nelson: Angels with wings of blade. Demons with renewed sight. And a girl who has never been more broken.

Brielle has begun to see the world as it really is, a place where angels intermingle with humans. But just when she thinks she’s got things under control, the life she’s pieced together begins to crumble.

Her boyfriend, Jake, is keeping something from her. Something important.

And her overprotective father has turned downright hostile toward Jake. Brielle fears she’ll have to choose between the man who’s always loved her and the one who’s captured her heart.

Then she unearths the truth about her mother’s death and the nightmare starts. Brielle begins seeing visions of mysterious and horrible things.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s been targeted. The Prince of Darkness himself has heard of the boy with healing in his hands and of the girl who saw through the Terrestrial veil. When he pulls the demon Damien from the fiery chasm and sends him back to Earth with new eyes, the stage is set for the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

Brielle has no choice. She must master the weapons she’s been given. She must fight. But can she fly with broken wings?
Read an Excerpt:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review of "Vanished" by Irene Hannon

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: Exciting and fast-paced, "Vanished" by Irene Hannon grasped my attention at the beginning and didn't let go until the very end.  I don't gravitate to suspense and crime dramas in books or on television, so "Vanished" was somewhat of an introduction to the genre.  Hannon offered an addictive combination of mystery, romance, and characters with interesting backgrounds.  With the exception of a few crime terms and acronyms that were new to me, I was able to easily follow the plot.  The mystery was not complex, but there was enough intrigue to keep me turning the pages.  For readers who like heart-pounding suspense, "Vanished" may be a bit too light and tame, resembling a Hallmark Channel mystery rather than "CSI."  I found the degree of suspense to be ideal for my tastes, and there were moments that I found particularly tense. This was the first novel that I have read by Irene Hannon, but it will not be my last.  "Vanished" was a nice diversion from the novels that I usually read.  I look forward to reading future installments of the "Private Justice" series and discovering Hannon's other novels. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Summary: A tenacious reporter. A skeptical PI. And a secret that will shatter lives.
Reporter Moira Harrison is lost. In the dark. In a thunderstorm. When a lone figure suddenly appears in the beam of her headlights, Moira slams on her brakes-but it’s too late. She feels the solid thump against the side of her car before crashing into a tree on the far side of the road.
A man opens her door, tells her he saw everything, and promises to call 911. Then the world fades to black. When she comes to, she is alone. No man. No 911. No injured person. But she can’t forget the look of terror she saw on that face in the instant before her headlights swung away. And she can’t get anyone to believe her story-except maybe a handsome ex–homicide detective turned private eye, who reluctantly agrees to take on the case.
As clues begin to surface, it becomes obvious that someone doesn’t want this mystery solved-and will stop at nothing to protect a shocking secret. ~ Baker Publishing


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