Monday, August 26, 2013

Review of "Bleeding Heart"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Reading a novel by a new author is always an exciting prospect. Sometimes the excitement fades and disappointment sets in; other times the pages reveal a fresh voice full of promise. "Bleeding Heart" is a promising debut, and Amber Stokes treats readers to a poignant tale of heartache and healing.  As the title and synopsis suggest, broken hearts are the central focus, so this is not a traditional light-hearted romance. The plot is unpredictable, and Stokes takes risks by incorporating some tragic events that will leave readers emotionally shaken.  Five battered characters make a heavy load for one novel to carry, but "Bleeding Heart" is successful. Stokes intersects the lives of each character in a story centering around Sally Clay, while giving each individual a unique source of pain and different ways of coping. 

The ending of "Bleeding Heart" is more hopeful than completely happy. Hope balances the pain that is present in the novel.  Sally, in particular, represents healing and forgiveness.  Although her story is sad, it is ultimately uplifting. Stokes depicts two kinds of bleeding hearts throughout her novel, both a human's broken heart and the actual flower. She shows readers that hearts can become darkened and bitter, but those hearts that allow love to heal them can become as beautiful as a bleeding heart's blossom. The cover captures the overall essence of "Bleeding Heart" - the peace and beauty that arise when a heart heals from devastating wounds. 

 Although the subject matter of "Bleeding Heart" is heavy, I did not feel burdened by it.  The novel is an engaging and worthwhile read that reminds me of Alison Pittman's "Crossroads of Grace" series in the non-formulaic plot and the portrayal of soiled doves on the road to redemption.  Amber Stokes shows undeniable talent for crafting a touching and memorable story, and I hope that "Bleeding Heart" is just the beginning of many more novels. 

I received a complimentary ARC copy of this book from Amber Stokes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. 

Summary from the Author: Five bleeding hearts. One profound journey. 

Summer 1886

Sally Clay’s livelihood has been snatched away, but in its place arises an opportunity to escape from her sordid past and an unrelenting, unwanted suitor. Boarding a train with a heartsick rancher and an enigmatic miner, she leaves Virginia City behind and heads to Northern California, waiting for the chance to make right what went wrong three long years before.

But the road to revenge is far from smooth. Sally soon learns that the jagged pieces of a broken heart can far too easily wound the hearts of others – and hers isn’t the only heart that’s broken. Tragedy and fear dog her steps as she flees from the redwood forests to the high desert and back again. Will her bleeding heart ever find a way and a place to heal?

A desperate soiled dove. Three men who come to care for her. One man determined to claim her. 

All on a journey that will show them what true love really involves.


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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review of "When Mountains Move"

Rating: 5 Stars
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Review: Julie Cantrell's debut novel, "Into the Free," left a lasting impression on me and created an enduring connection to Millie's story.  "When Mountains Move" begins where "Into the Free" ends, and Millie's pain and questions about her future are immediately refreshed.  Both novels have an weightiness that make them powerful and meaningful reads that I will revisit. Cantrell does not shy away from heavy subjects that will grab the hearts and attention of readers. "When Mountains Move" focuses primarily on the emotional and physical wounds inflicted on Millie by one man's evil deed.

After reading the story of Millie's childhood and teenage struggles, I wanted Millie's future to be smooth and bright - gently rolling hills rather than rocky mountains.  It is clear from the beginning of the novel that Millie's path to happiness will not be easy.  It is hard to believe that Millie is just seventeen and bearing such heavy burdens that quickly transition her from girlhood to womanhood.  Cantrell portrays Millie's thoughts and feelings in rich detail, making her character even more gripping. The pain and doubt that weigh Millie down are raw and tangible.  Told from first person perspective, it is easy to share Millie's questions about her marriage, her past, and her future.  The questions pulled me deep into the plot and kept drawing me back until all was resolved.  But still, the emotion of the novel lingers; and I am glad that Cantrell did not choose to give Millie a predictable and gentle journey to peace because the message would be lost.

"When Mountains Move"  takes Millie out of the cultured south and into the untamed wilds of the Rockies. Cantrell uses the mountains symbolically to compliment the course of the plot.  The imagery of two mountain peaks mentioned at the beginning and end of the novel is particularly memorable and brings Millie's journey full circle from bleak and desolate to strong and shining with promise.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook through Net Galley. 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 David C. Cook: It is the spring of 1943. With a wedding and a cross-country move, Millie's world is about to change forever. 

If only her past could change with it. 

Soon after the break of day, Bump will become Millie's husband. And then, if all goes as planned, they will leave the rain-soaked fields of Mississippi and head for the wilds of the Colorado Rockies. As Millie tries to forget a dark secret, she hasn't yet realized how drastically those past experiences will impact the coming days. 

For most of Millie's life, being free felt about as unlikely as the mountains moving. But she's about to discover that sometimes in life, we are given second chances, and that the only thing bigger than her past is her future.

Review of "Elusive Hope"

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Review: Mary Lu Tyndall leaves the ship deck behind in favor of the Brazilian jungle in "Elusive Hope," the second novel in the "Escape to Paradise" series.  Tyndall captures a unique segment of history when Americans settled in the wilds of Brazil to create a "new" south following the Civil War.  The historical elements and the scenery of the jungle were my favorite aspects of "Elusive Hope."  A connection to the characters never completely developed and the symbolism of evil became oppressive.  

Both Magnolia and Hayden are characters in need of redemption; so they have their fair share of flaws. In the cases of these protagonists, I found myself annoyed by them for the majority of the novel.  Between Magnolia's self-indulgence and willful ways and Hayden's flirtation and scamming, I found myself hoping they would change their ways sooner rather than later.  They grew on me towards the end of the novel, but it was a little too late for my personal taste.

Tyndall focuses on the pervasiveness and power of evil, and uses imagery to convey its presence in the colony of New Hope. Her portrayal of dark forces demonstrate her skill as an author, and I do not doubt that she will draw a wide range of emotions out of her readers.  I found the evil element to be too disturbing and slightly "witch-crafty."  The dark mist that preceded troubling visions for the colonists never failed to send chills up my spine.  While this shows that Tyndall's descriptions are powerful, it was a turn-off for me. 

I have always enjoyed MaryLu Tyndall's novels, and I have a some of the her other series on my bookshelf. "Escape to Paradise" may not join the collection, but many readers will find excitement, romance, mystery, and a message of faith in "Elusive Hope" and its sister novels.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Books through Net Galley. 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 the Author: Falling in Love Was Never Part of Their Plans

On the shores of Brazil, their Confederate friends are seeking a Southern utopia. But Hayden Gale and Magnolia Scott have different plans. Hayden is out for revenge and vows to keep pursuing his father—at any cost—whom he blames for his mother’s death. Magnolia is looking for a way out. . .and a way back home after her father insists their family escape the South following the Civil War. As the fledgling colony of New Hope struggles to survive, they both seek to use the other for their own purposes. Falling in love was never part of their plans.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review of "Glittering Promises"

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review: "Glittering Promises" marks the conclusion on a three novel tour of Europe, courtesy of Lisa T. Bergren. I felt well-acquainted with Cora, Will, and their travel group.  The dynamics between Cora, the Kensingtons, and the Morgans are already well-established by the beginning of "Glittering Promises." Cora's Grand Tour has been a journey of self-discovery, and the previous two novels have paved the way for the decisions she faces in the conclusion.  Everything comes to fruition in this final leg of the journey - Cora's place in the Kensington family, her new-found status as an heiress, and her relationship with Will and Pierre. Bergren offers a satisfying ending with the suspense, danger, romance, and beautiful scenery that make all three novels "must-reads." 

Although I enjoyed the characters and their stories in the Grand Tour series, the scenery is what I will remember most. Bergren is a competent tour guide, highlighting some of the most beautiful areas of Europe and their unique histories.  The series is almost like watching a travel show or movie, so realistic and vivid are the descriptions. "Glittering Promises" ventures into the Italian countryside, the ruins of Pompeii, and the iconic city of Rome. Even during slower points in the novel, the imagery supports and complements the plot and maintains the pace. 

After reading "Grave Consequences," I wondered how the love triangle between Cora, Will, and Pierre would be resolved.  Would I be left feeling sorry for someone's heartbreak?  The situation is resolved in a way that I did not expect.  While there is a touch of regret in the turn of events, there is an overriding sense of rightness and happiness, befitting the ending of a series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook through Net Galley. 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 David C. Cook: Lisa T. Bergren's popular Grand Tour series concludes as Cora Kensington journeys farther into Italy, wrestles with a terrible ultimatum from her father, and comes to terms with the Father who will never fail her. 

America's newest heiress must decide if her potential fortune is rationale enough to give up her freedom and all that God is leading her toward. And when her newly-discovered siblings are threatened with ruin, her quandary deepens. Then as Cora nears Rome, more journalists are track the news story of the decade-"Copper Cora," the rags-to-riches girl-and want to know more about her family and the men vying for her attention. Meanwhile, a charming Italian countess decides that if Cora isn't going to claim Will's heart, she might just try...


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