Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: "Love's Rescue" by Christine Johnson

Rating: 3 Stars

Review: "Love's Rescue" is a seaside romance written to carry readers away to the sweltering Florida Keys on waves of intrigue and emotion.  I enjoyed this book, but it didn't leave a lasting impression on me.  The novel caught my attention at the beginning, both in the prologue and through the first few chapters when the perils of life at sea and in the historic Florida Keys are brought to life in vivid detail. From hurricanes to shipwrecks, Christine Johnson showcases Key West in a historic light.  The snippets of Key West and seafaring history were highlights of the novel.  

There was potential for "Love's Rescue" to venture into deep emotional waters.  The plot dips into topics like physical disability, slavery, and deceit just enough to add interest to the plot, but it never ventured as far below the surface as I hoped. Likewise, there were a few characters who I wanted to know better, especially Elizabeth's brother, Charlie. Elizabeth is a heroine that is both likeable and frustrating.  There were many times that I wanted her to follow her heart rather than the guidance of others.  Rourke is a stand-out character, and definitely a hero that readers will find dashing and romantic. 

"Love's Rescue" is a pleasurable read set beside the alluring and tempestuous ocean.  Johnson promises more romance and adventure as the "Keys of Promise" series continues.    

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell 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 Revell: Can a girl enamored with the adventurous seas ever be content with the tame life of a Southern belle? 

When her mother dies, Elizabeth Benjamin heads home to Key West, determined to transform herself into the perfect Southern belle her parents always wished her to be. But nothing goes according to plan. Her brother resents her, the servants do not obey her, and Rourke O'Malley, the dashing man she vowed to forget, refuses to relinquish his hold on her heart. Worst of all, it becomes painfully obvious that her father is not the man he appears to be.

As family secrets come to light, Elizabeth is faced with a difficult choice: to perform her duty and abandon her dreams, or to leave her life of privilege behind to chase the man her father sees as little better than a pirate.

From the first emotional page, author Christine Johnson throws you into a world of impossible choices, hidden desires, and heart-melting romance in the steamy South.

Review: "Hearts Made Whole" by Jody Hedlund

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: One of my favorite childhood books was about a lighthouse keeper's daughter tending the light for her father.  Jody Hedlund's "Hearts Made Whole" reminded me of that book and quickly pulled me into its pages.  I love that the Beacons of Hope series is comprised of unique stand-alone novels, with the common connection of a handmade cross that is passed from one character in need of hope to another. Another common thread is Hedlund's seamless incorporation of historically-inspired people and places into a work of fiction.  

"Hearts Made Whole" offers an ideal balance of pain, romance, and  suspense. The characters face daunting prejudices and challenges that create an interesting and engaging plot. Hedlund's character development is full of strength and depth. All of the characters, both main and secondary, good and bad, fill their roles to perfection. One of the most pivotal characters is Ryan Chambers, a Civil War veteran who suffers from physical and emotional ravages of battle.  His story is one to break and warm hearts, and he is the perfect protagonist for a novel titled "Hearts Made Whole." Caroline is a strong, yet vulnerable, female lead.  It is refreshing to read about a female taking on what was considered a man's job.  So often we see the male lead rescuing the female, but in "Hearts Made Whole," Ryan often depends on Caroline's strength. Through both Caroline and Ryan, Hedlund shows the healing power of faith and love.  

The "Beacons of Hope" series conveys messages of hope to readers.  "Love Unexpected," and "Hearts Made Whole" are the first two full-length novels in the series, preceded by a novella, "Out of the Storm."  Although they are all set in Michigan lighthouses, their plots are unique.  "Hearts Made Whole" is my favorite in the series so far.  My level of emotional connection with the characters and their stories was strong and my attention never waned as I read about Ryan and Caroline's defeats and triumphs.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through Netgalley. 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: 

1865, Windmill Point, Michigan

Can She Forgive the Hurting Man Who Costs Her the Role She Loves

After her father's death, Caroline Taylor has grown confident running the Windmill Point Lighthouse. But in 1865 Michigan, women aren't supposed to have such roles, so it's only a matter of time before the lighthouse inspector appoints a new keeper--even though Caroline has nowhere else to go and no other job available to her.

Ryan Chambers is a Civil War veteran still haunted by the horrors of battle. He's secured the position of lighthouse keeper mostly for the isolation--the chance to hide from his past is appealing. He's not expecting the current keeper to be a feisty and beautiful woman who's angry with him for taking her job and for his inability to properly run the light. When his failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he's in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he's unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Caroline feels drawn to this wounded soul, but with both of them relying on that single position, can they look past their loss to a future filled with hope...and possibly love?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: "On Shifting Sand" by Allison Pittman

Rating: 5 Stars

Review:  I could almost feel the sting of dust particles as I read Allison Pittman's newest release "On Shifting Sand."  Novel after novel, Pittman proves herself more than adept at creating plots that will impact readers into the depths of their hearts.  Every aspect, from the history to the setting to the characters, is created in fully-developed detail.  I never know what path one of Pittman's novels will take, but I know that I will always find history, pain, depth, hope, and faith along the way.  

Set during the Dust Bowl, "On Shifting Sand" brings the period of history to life.  Although the Dust Bowl is a topic I remember learning about in history classes, I never realized how significantly the people who lived through it were affected. Pittman doesn't spare readers from the loss and suffering that defined the Dust Bowl.  The dust is as much a part of the story as any character, always present with a sense of foreboding.

Nola Merrill's self-destruction is as constant as the dust storms that plaque her community.  Her sins accumulate like the dust, and it is hard to witness her decisions. The burden of her choices weighs heavily on Nola, and heavy on readers as well.  Pittman digs deep into the the topics of betrayal and adultery.  As readers, we watch Nola choose to break her marriage vows.  Through her, we witness the strong temptation to sin and the equally strong guilt that accompanies that sin.  Anyone looking for an idealized, happy read won't find it in the pages of "On Shifting Sand."  What Pittman delivers is heart-breaking, but so much more memorable and powerful for its directness.  Nola's story is not sugar-coated, nor does it end with a tidy epilogue of perfect lives.  When I finished reading the last page, I hoped to read more about Nola and her family. It seems like their story could continue for at least a few hundred more pages. Though readers may be left contemplating the future of Nola and her family, "On Shifting Sand" closes with a promise of hope and forgiveness of all who seek it, and those are promises that will endure longer than any story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers 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 from Tyndale House Publishers: Long before anyone would christen it “The Dust Bowl,” Nola Merrill senses the destruction. She’s been drying up bit by bit since the day her mother died, leaving her to be raised by a father who withholds his affection the way God keeps a grip on the Oklahoma rain. A hasty marriage to Russ, a young preacher, didn’t bring the escape she desired. Now, twelve years later with two children to raise, new seeds of dissatisfaction take root.

When Jim, a mysterious drifter and long-lost friend from her husband’s past, takes refuge in their home, Nola slowly springs to life under his attentions until a single, reckless encounter brings her to commit the ultimate betrayal of her marriage. For months Nola withers in the wake of the sin she so desperately tries to bury. Guilt and shame consume her physically and spiritually, until an opportunity arises that will bring the family far from the drought and dust of Oklahoma. Or so she thinks. As the storms follow, she is consumed with the burden of her sin and confesses all, hoping to find Russ’s love strong enough to stand the test.

Tyndale's Author Q&A: 

1. What inspired you to write On Shifting Sand?

This is always the hardest question to answer. I loved writing about the dynamics of marriage with my Sister Wife series. But then, a story of a marriage needs conflict, and I’ve yet to see a CBA novel really tackle the idea of adultery in a way that showed it to be a conscientious, willful sin, disassociated from the circumstances of the marriage, or the relationship between the husband and wife. Too often, it was a backstory to justify a divorced character. Or it was a series of close calls, but never fully realized. I wanted to portray it as sin. Pure and simple, but unique in the fact that it reaches beyond the sinner, and carries with it a risk in confession. And then, I wanted to write a story that follows through a journey of restoration—not simply coming back to Christ, but coming back to life. It took a bit for all the pieces to come together, and so many of them weren’t discovered until I was buried in the story. More than any of my books, inspiration for this story came bit by bit.

2. The story is written from the perspective of Nola Merrill, who finds herself in an adulterous relationship. Why did you decide to write the story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator?

I think we are all unreliable narrators in our own lives, especially when it comes to facing our sin. We justify our sin, proclaim ourselves victims, assign blame and downplay responsibility. We can bury ourselves so deeply in guilt, we’re blind to the idea of redemption, so we ignore what God tells us about confession and grace and mercy. We lie to ourselves the same way Nola lies to herself—and, thereby, to the readers. I have no doubt this character will make readers uncomfortable. She made me uncomfortable. They are going to be frustrated with her choices, disappointed by her actions, but I’m OK with that. I think Nola is the realest character I’ve ever created.

3. Why did you decide to set the story during The Dust Bowl? 

When I knew I was going to write a story about adultery, I was determined not to have the adultery resulting from any shortfalls in the characters’ marriage. No neglect, no alienated affection—none of the usual internal problems that might lead a wife to make the choices Nola makes. I needed an external enemy. The Dust Bowl gave me that. The circumstances made it impossible for a woman to fulfill her traditional role of keeping a clean home. The poverty of the Depression made it difficult for her to feed and care for her family. All of that chips away at Nola’s sense of self-worth, and makes her vulnerable to anything—or anyone—for validation. However, it wasn’t until I was in the middle of writing the story that I realized the real power of these storms. The dust and the wind becomes the voice of Nola’s unconfessed sin. It tortures her and follows her. The more photographs and film footage I saw, the more desolation and hopelessness I saw. It was a time and place in desperate need of rain, just as any sinner is in desperate need of Jesus Christ, the Living Water. The setting of the Dust Bowl took on a dimension greater than I imagined at the outset, and grows over the course of the story—just as the storms themselves did.


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