Friday, April 30, 2010

The Memory Thief by Rachel Keener

book cover

The Memory Thief
by Rachel Keener

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Center Street
First Released: 2010

Source: Won from the publisher during one of their Twitter giveaways.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
"Burning down Black Snake trailer was easy. The hard thing was walking away, when what I wanted most was to watch it die... "

When Angel sets fire to her childhood home, it isn't the end--it's the beginning. Left with nothing but a few memories in her pocket, Angel escapes into the fields of tobacco, the only place she has ever felt safe. Hidden by those green-gold leaves, she sets out for the mountains and the woman she believes lives there. Angel will do whatever she has to until she finds her. She longs to empty her pockets, hand over the answers to what became of her, and whisper, "This is my story."

As Angel journeys toward the mountains, Hannah is struggling to tell her own story. The daughter of missionaries who follow the rules of a small and strict religious sect were modesty is prized above all else. Wearing floor length polyester skirts and never cutting her hair, Hannah is forced to live a separate life from her peers until the summer her family moves to James Island, South Carolina. Slowly, Hannah begins to escape the confines of her strict upbringing, and soon makes a choice that will forever change the course of her life.

As these two women's paths connect, Hannah's past will prove to mean everything to Angel's future.

The Memory Thief is a general fiction novel about two (well, actually, three or more) women who have to deal with the results of abusive childhoods. Hannah and her sister grew up with a mother who controlled every aspect of her daughters' lives in the name of her love for Hannah. Angel and her sister grew up with indifferent parents who were usually drunk, physically abusive, had affairs, and encouraged them to steal.

The novel was full of pain and disappointment. It did this in a very well-written way, but just don't expect something light or happy. It did have a satisfying ending.

The characters were complex and realistic, and they dealt with realistic problems. The world-building was excellent, bringing the story alive in my imagination. The pacing was very good and so was how the author slowly revealed how the two stories (told in alternating chapters) came together at the end. Symbolism was subtly woven into the story.

There were some vague references to the "Christian sect" that Hannah's family belonged to and to their attending several churches (where the focus was on how different these people acted than those at her own church). It wasn't "preachy."

Sex was vaguely implied. There was some "he cussed" style bad language and a very minor amount of actual cuss words. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Things go missing in Carolina. That's what Hannah would remember most about her time there. It started easy, even sweetly, with small things like words. The wasteful parts, whole syllables, disappeared around her. Charleston became Chah'stun. Hurricane became her'cun. Yankee was Yank, only spoke with a snort. Hard g's were an insult. Good manners required a softer tongue.

Comfort went missing next. Hannah's first hour in Carolina left her sweating in a way no powder-soft deodorant could help. Poor Yank, dressed in stinging polyester. That night, after swatting away palm-sized mosquitoes, she walked to the water and stuck her face close enough to feel its mist. Sucked in her breath like a newborn ready to yell out a first cry.

Her family arrived with one suitcase each. Father's was everything expected. Clothes, maps, sketches of bridges, and Bibles. Mother's was nearly the same. But underneath her clothes and soaps and Bibles was a small wedding picture. The one where her husband reached under her veil and pulled her out for the kiss.

Hannah had been given the smallest suitcase and told to keep it light. But clothes weren't a challenge. Gray and khaki ankle-length skirts, gray sweaters, long-sleeved blouses, and a few pairs of pleated kool-lots--shorts that were so loose they looked like skirts and fell the required eight inches below her knees. She dug through her nightstand drawer, searching for anything else she might need. There were pictures of her and her friends at Bible camp. Flowers dried and pressed into an album page. A folded-up two-inch triangle torn from a magazine page she found loose in a shopping cart. It hid the checklist: Top Ten Ways to Know a Guy Likes You.

Hannah's mother scanned the contents of her suitcase, pulled out a white shirt and replaced it with a yellow one. Then she handed Hannah a trash bag and told her to clear the junk and organize her mess of books.

Read more from chapter one.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for the copy of Disaster Status by Candace Calvert. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying this book at your favorite bookstore!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn

book cover

by Robin Jones Gunn

Trade Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Multnomah
First Released: 1995

Source: Won in a twitter giveaway held by the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
Jessica ran from her past...but can she hide from love?

Jessica Morgan wants desperately to forget the past and begin a new life. She chooses a small, peaceful town tucked away in Oregon’s Willamette Valley as the place to start over—Glenbrooke. Once there, Jessica conceals her identity from the intriguing personalities she meets—including the compassionate firefighter who desires to protect her and the jealous woman who wants nothing more than to destroy her.

Will Jessica’s deceit ruin all hope for the future? Or will she find a deeper peace that allows her to stop hiding the truth from those who love her most of all?

This heartwarming bestseller, book one in the Glenbrooke series, introduces the fascinating people of Glenbrooke in a compelling tale of romance and spiritual truth.

Secrets is a contemporary, sweet romance novel. This novel had the most romantic car accident scene I've ever read. I'm half in love with Kyle, myself.

The characters were engaging, and the world-building and pacing were very good. The theme was about the burden of keeping secrets and what that can do to your life. Enough hints were given early on and throughout the book that I had a general idea of what Jessica's secret was, so I wasn't disappointed by it. (Generally, I've found that "hidden until the end" secrets rarely live up to the expectations that have been built up.)

There were several Christian characters, and their faith made a meaningful difference in their lives. A character who was a cultural Christian did decide to pursue a personal knowledge of and relationship with Jesus, but this came about more from her daily interactions with the Christian characters than their "preaching" at her.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Jessica Morgan gripped her car's steering wheel and read the road sign aloud as she cruised past it. "Glenbrooke, three miles."

The summer breeze whipped through her open window and danced with the ends of her shoulder-length, honey-bond hair.

"This is it," Jessica murmured as the Oregon road brought her to the brink of her new life. For months she had planned this step into independence. Then yesterday, on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, she had hit the road with the back seat of her used station wagon full of boxes and her heart full of dreams.

She had driven ten hours yesterday before stopping at a hotel in Redding, California. After buying Chinese food, she ate it while sitting cross-legged on the bed watching the end of an old black-and-white movie. Jessica fell asleep dreaming of new beginnings and rose at 6:30, ready to drive another nine hours on her birthday.

I'm almost there, she thought. I'm really doing this! Look at all these trees. This is beautiful. I'm going to love it here!

The country road meandered through a grove of quivering willows. As she passed them, the trees appeared to wave at her, welcoming her to their corner of the world. The late afternoon sun shot between the trees like a strobe light, striking the side of her car at rapid intervals and creating stripes. Light appeared, then shadow, light, then shadow.

As Jessica drove out of the grouping of trees, the road twisted to the right. She veered the car to round the curve. Suddenly the bright sunlight struck her eyes, momentarily blinding her. Swerving to the right to avoid a truck, she felt her front tire catch the gravel on the side of the road. Before she realized what was happening, she had lost control of the car. In one terrifying instant, Jessica felt the car skid through the gravel and tilt over on its side. Her seat belt held her fast as Jessica screamed and clutched the steering wheel. The car tumbled over an embankment, then came to a jolting halt in a ditch about twenty feet below the road. The world seemed to stop.

Jessica tried to cry out, but no sound came from her lips.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Motherhood is Murder by Diana Orgain

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Motherhood is Murder
by Diana Orgain

Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
First Released: 2010

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Review copy offered by author and sent from publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
First-time mom Kate Connolly may have found the perfect work-from-home mommy job: private investigator. After all, the hours are flexible, she can bring the baby along on stakeouts, and if you're going to be up all night anyway, you might as well solve some crimes...

Nights out are hard to come by for new parents. So when Kate’s new mommy club, Roo & You, holds a dinner cruise, she and her husband leave baby Laurie with Kate’s mom and join the grown-ups for some fine dining on the San Francisco Bay.

But when one of the cofounders of Roo & You takes a fatal spill down a staircase, the police department crashes the party. Suddenly every mom and her man has a motive. Armed with a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating and the help of her PI mentor, Kate’s on deck to solve the mystery--but a killer’s determined to make her rue the day she joined the first-time-mom’s club...

Motherhood is Murder is a humorous "who-done-it" mystery. It's the second novel in the series, but you don't need to have read the first book to understand this one. Though I don't think reading the books out of order spoiled anything in the first mystery, I'd suggest reading the books in order for maximum enjoyment.

The novel was well-written and fast-paced. The world-building was excellent and brought the story alive in my imagination. Kate and her family & friends were engaging and interesting. The characters were realistic, through most didn't come across as particularly deep (which is fine for a humorous novel). There was a lot of "first-time mom" humor.

Due to the whole up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-feeding-the-baby motherhood thing, Kate was often scatterbrained and sometimes drew the wrong conclusion in the heat of the moment. It was a clever mystery, but I did have the who and how figured out halfway through the mystery--long before Kate, though she beat me to the why.

There was some swearing (primarily the OMG type) and a very minor amount of mild cussing. There was no sex in the novel. Overall, I'd recommend this novel was well-written, fairly clean reading. New mommies and moms with young kids will probably enjoy this novel the most.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
To Do:
1. Buy diapers.
2. Make Laurie's 2-month check.
3. Find good "how to" book for PI business.
4. Find dress for dinner cruise.
5. Ask Mom to babysit.
6. Exercise.

I stared into the bathroom mirror and wondered how I’d failed to bring a hairbrush along on the San Francisco Bay dinner cruise. I ran my hands down the length of my mop, trying to tame the frizzies. If I put a little water on the problem, would it help or make it worse?

The door to the restroom flew open. Sara, one of the moms from my new mommy group, appeared. She looked worse than I did. Her lipstick was smudged and her hair had the volume of a lion’s mane.

“Oh my God! Kate! I didn’t know you were here.” She took a step back toward the door, then hesitated, looking like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

She was so prim and proper at dinner. Probably doesn’t like to be seen looking so rumpled, but hey, if you can’t look bad in the ladies room then there’s no safe haven.

Sara ran her hands along the front of her black cocktail dress, which was wrinkled and wet, then squinted at her reflection. She jumped into action, grabbing a paper towel and fixing the smeared lipstick. “Your husband’s been looking everywhere for you. The captain’s called an ‘all hands on deck.’”

“My hands too?” I asked, wiggling my fingers under the faucet to activate the automatic water flow.

Sara scrunched her mouth in disapproval.

“I guess I’m not up on ship rules,” I said to her reflection.

“Everyone has to go back to their tables, now!” She grabbed another paper towel and frantically scrubbed at the wet section of her dress.

I stopped fussing with my hair and shifted my gaze from Sara’s reflection to Sara.

If everyone was supposed to be back to their tables, what was she doing here?

“Why?” I asked.

“There’s been an accident.”

Goose bumps rose on my arms. “What kind of accident?”

“Helene fell down the back staircase.” Sara motioned me toward the door. “Come on, come on.

Read more from chapter one.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Giveaway: Disaster Status

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I enjoyed Disaster Status by Candace Calvert so much that I want others to have a chance to read it. Though I'm having a hard time convincing my hands to let go, I'm going to give away my review copy.

You can learn more about the novel by reading my review.

This contest is for USA and Canada residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me to win DISASTER STATUS by Candace Calvert."


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement. I'd be fun if you also included why you're interested in reading this novel.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on April 28, 2010 on this blog.

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your mailing address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within four days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Disaster Status by Candace Calvert

book cover

Disaster Status
by Candace Calvert

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
First Released: 2010

Author's Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Review copy from the author.

Back Cover Description:
Charge nurse Erin Quinn escaped personal turmoil to work at the peaceful California coast. But when a hazardous material spill places Pacific Mercy Hospital on disaster status and stresses staff, she’s put to the test. And thrown into conflict with the fire department’s handsome incident commander who thinks her strategy is out of line.

Fire Captain Scott McKenna has felt the toxic effects of tragedy; he’s learned to go strictly by the book to advance his career, heal his family, and protect his wounded heart. When he’s forced to team with the passionately determined ER charge nurse, sparks fly. As they work to save lives, can they handle the attraction kindled between them . . . without getting burned?

Disaster Status is a suspenseful medical drama that will appeal to both men and women. A hazardous material spill brings together two people whose coping mechanisms--picked up from their parents and grandparents--threaten to destroy any chance of a lasting relationship.

While there is a romance (more than one, actually), the author went beyond the "romance formula" to deal with deeper issues. No one else has ever made me shed a tear over a dying goldfish. (Read the story, and you'll understand. The author has a great fondness for symbolism, and she skillfully weaved it into this story.)

The novel was very well-written and was more polished than Critical Care, the first novel in the series. You don't need to read Critical Care to understand this book, and you can read Disaster Status first without spoiling your enjoyment of Critical Care.

The world-building was excellent. The details about the town and the ER brought the story alive in my imagination without slowing the fast pacing. The tension remained high throughout the story.

The likable characters were complex and realistic, and they faced realistic problems. It felt like this story really could have happened. I liked that the main characters were better people for having met the other and their strengths and weaknesses forced the other person to grow.

The main characters were Christians who were struggling with their perceptions of God and what God wanted from them. While this will probably appeal most to Christians, the novel wasn't preachy and I don't think non-Christians would be bothered by the religious content.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of "he swore" style bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, clean novel. I honestly don't think you'll regret giving Disaster Status a try.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Fire captain Scott McKenna bolted through the doors of Pacific Mercy ER, his boots thudding and heart pounding as the unconscious child began to stiffen and jerk in his arms. He cradled her close as her small spine arched and her head thumped over and over against his chest. “Need help here. Seizure!”

“This way.” A staff person beckoned. “The code room. Someone page respiratory therapy stat!”

Scott jogged behind a trio of staff in green scrubs to a glassedin room, laid the child on a gurney, and stepped back, his breath escaping in a rush of relief. He swiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead and tried to catch a glimpse of the girl’s face. He’d swept her up too fast to get a good look at her. Now, with merciful distance, Scott’s heart tugged. Six or seven years old with long black braids, frilly clusters of hair ribbons, little hoop earrings, she looked disturbingly pale despite her olive skin. Her dark eyes rolled upward, unfocused, as the ER team closed in to suction her airway, start oxygen, and cut away her flowered top and pants.

The alarms of the cardiac monitor beeped as a technician attached gelled electrodes to her tiny chest. Thankfully, the seizure ended, although saliva—foamy as a salted garden snail—still bubbled from her parted lips.

Scott inhaled slowly, the air a sour mix of illness, germicidal soap, and anxious perspiration. He thought of his nephew, Cody, lying in a pediatrics bed two floors above.

The ER physician, a vaguely familiar woman, gestured to a nurse. “Get an IV and pull me some labs. I’ll need a quick glucose check and a rectal temp. Let’s keep lorazepam handy in case she starts up again. What’s her O2 saturation?”

“It’s 98 percent on the non-rebreather mask, Dr. Stathos.”

Leigh Stathos. Golden Gate Mercy Hospital. Scott nodded, recognizing her—and the irony. She left San Francisco. I’ve applied for a job there...and everywhere else.

“Good. Now let’s see if I can get a medic report.” Dr. Stathos whirled to face Scott, her expression indicating she was trying to place him as well. Her gaze flickered to his badge. “Oh yes. McKenna.

Didn’t recognize you for a second there. So what’s the history? And where’s the rest of your crew? Are they sending you guys out solo now?”

“No. But no crew. And no report. I was here as a visitor, until some guy waved me down in the parking lot. I took one look at this girl and decided to scoop and run.” Scott nodded toward a woman crying near the doorway. “That could be family. They were in the truck with her.”

“Seizure history?”

“Don’t know. My Spanish isn’t the best. I think they said ‘sick’ and ‘vomiting,’ but—”

One of the nurses called out for the doctor. “She’s starting to twitch again. IV’s in, and the blood glucose is good at 84. No fever. How much lorazepam are you going to want? She weighs about 20 kilos.”

Read more from chapter one.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Forget Me Not by Vicki Hinze

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Forget Me Not
by Vicki Hinze

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah
First Released: 2010

Author Website
Publisher's Book Page

Source: This was book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah.

Back Cover Description:
Crossroads Crisis Center owner Benjamin Brandt was a content man—in his faith, his work, and his family. Then in a flash, everything he loved was snatched away. His wife and son were murdered, and grief-stricken Ben lost faith. Determination to find their killers keeps him going, but after three years of dead ends and torment, his hope is dying too. Why had he survived? He’d failed to protect his family.

Now, a mysterious woman appears at Crossroads seeking answers and help—a victim who eerily resembles Ben’s deceased wife, Susan. A woman robbed of her identity, her life, of everything except her faith—and Susan’s necklace.

The connections between the two women mount, exceeding coincidence, and to keep the truth hidden, someone is willing to kill. Finding out who and why turns Ben and the mystery woman’s situation from dangerous to deadly. Their only hope for survival is to work together, trust each other, and face whatever they discover head on, no matter how painful. But will that be enough to save their lives and heal their tattered hearts?

Forget Me Not is an enjoyable romantic suspense novel. The romance was handled well, though I didn't really feel like Ben was (yet) someone wise for any woman to get involved with romantically. The world-building and pacing were very good, and the suspense was high throughout.

The plot was complex enough I had to read the whole book to understand what was going on. It was sometimes difficult to follow due to the relatively large number of people with competing goals and shifting allegiances combined with the author not clearly stating people's motives until near the end of the novel.

I really, really liked the Susan-look-alike character--how she dealt with the situation and how her deep, abiding trust in God was portrayed. The other characters were interesting, but we didn't learn much about most of them (or their motives) until near the end of the novel.

Many of the characters were Christians and their faith was a meaningful part of their lives and vital to how they dealt with a crisis. The novel wasn't preachy, and I don't think non-Christians would be offended by the faith elements.

There was no sex and no bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Friday, October 9

"It's a bad business decision."

Behind the wheel of the red Jaguar, she checked her rearview mirror, uneasy at being where she shouldn't be after dark. "Maybe"--she braked for a traffic light--"but it's a good heart decision."

The man on the phone grunted his true feelings; his words proved far more diplomatic. "I understand that position on some of your ventures, like your work building the children's center, but I don't understand it on this. We're talking about a run-down beach house three states away, with exorbitant taxes and insurance, that you never visit. Retaining it isn't logical."

Her aunt Beth had loved that run-down beach house, and they'd spent almost twenty wonderful summers together there. But maybe you had to grow up orphaned and denied the privilege of living with your last blood relative to understand the value of that.

"It's in hurricane country and eighty feet from the gulf," she told her financial advisor. "Of course the taxes and insurance premiums are outrageous."

Two blocks ahead, a jazz funeral ambled down St. Charles Avenue. Bluesy music floated on the night. Not wanting to intrude, she flicked her little finger, tapping on the blinker, then turned at the corner and headed out of the French Quarter.

Her uneasiness grew. There had been some police presence in the Quarter. Where she was headed, there wasn't apt to be any.

Read the prologue.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Too Close to Home by Lynette Eason

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Too Close to Home
by Lynette Eason

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Revell
First Released: 2010

Available April 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Source: I received this book as a free review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
The FBI has a secret weapon. But now the secret's out.

When missing teens begin turning up dead in a small Southern town, the FBI sends in Special Agent Samantha Cash to help crack the case. Her methods are invisible, and she never quits until the case is closed.

Homicide detective Connor Wolfe has his hands full. His relationship with his headstrong daughter is in a tailspin, and the string of unsolved murders has the town demanding answers. Connor is running out of ideas--and time.

Samantha joins Connor in a race against the clock to save the next victim. And the killer starts to get personal. Too Close to Home ratchets up the suspense with each page even as love blossoms in the face of danger.

Too Close to Home is a fast-paced romantic suspense novel. The characters were likable and realistic, and the romance was very nicely done and realistically awkward at times. The world-building was good, but in a few places I questioned if the police, FBI, or EMS really would do things that way in real life (like an ambulance taking away a dead body when wounded living still needed help).

The suspense was high, but I didn't really enjoy it in the first part because the main characters kept doing foolish things that put them in danger (like they tried to get the killer to come after them and Samantha was nearly killed at her home, yet she went to stay with her sister without taking any security precautions). But this wasn't a problem in the second part. Also, the bad guy in this novel was clever, and the case was very interesting.

The killer was one of the point of view characters and the author didn't try very hard to conceal his identity, so I realized who he was a long time before our heroes did. While this did create some suspense, it also made me frustrated that our heroes took so long to pay attention to the clues that were now especially obvious to me.

There were several Christians in the novel. Christians were portrayed realistically, with both the good and bad shown. The character's beliefs were worked in as a meaningful part of their lives. I really liked how this was handled. The novel wasn't preachy, and it didn't settle for the pat answers for evil and suffering but went deeper.

There was no sex and no bad language. Overall, I would recommend this novel as enjoyable, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
"Wake up, partner," the voice rumbled in his ear as Connor Wolfe's sleep-drugged mind struggled to keep up. "We've found another body. In a dumpster behind the BI-LO off East Main."

He shifted the phone and glanced at the clock.

The number 2:08 glared at him. Great. Just the way he wanted to start his Monday morning.

"Be right there." He hung up and closed his eyes for a brief moment before gathering the energy to swing his feet to the floor. Two hours of sleep. Well, he'd gone with less. However, at the age of forty-two, he seemed to feel the lack a lot more than he did ten years ago. Shaking his head to fling off the fog of interrupted sleep, he headed for the shower, wondering if he should wake up Jenna, his sixteen-year-old daughter, or just hope she slept through the rest of the night.

He settled on leaving her a note. Fifteen minutes later, hair still damp, he directed his unmarked Ford toward the crime scene. His partner, Andrew West, would meet him there.

First a cop, then a homicide detective with SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Connor had seen a lot in relation to crime, but this case had him by the throat and wouldn't let go. Six disappearances and now three dead bodies--and very limited evidence. The first girl disappeared sixteen months ago. When the second victim disappeared two months later, speculation ran rampant. Were the vanishings related?

Read more of chapter one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Miss Fortune by Sara Mills

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Miss Fortune
by Sara Mills

Trade Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
It's 1947 and Allie Fortune is the only female (and probably the best) private investigator in New York City. But she's kept awake at night by a mystery of her own--her boyfriend disappeared in the war. Allie is haunted by not knowing what happened to him but also fears finding out the worst.

Her work is a welcome distraction, and she's just been hired by a client who isn't telling the whole truth. Mary Gordon's claims of innocence don't fit with her ransacked apartment, being shot at, and the two Soviet agents hot on her trail.

Meanwhile the FBI is working the case because a legendary and mysterious treasure has gone missing...again. The only catch for Allie is her new "partner" Jack, an attractive, single agent who knows how to make her smile.

As Allie and Jack chase after the gold, they must contend with the Soviets who also want the priceless treasure back--after all, they stole it fair and square.

Miss Fortune is an enjoyable historical mystery/suspense novel set in 1947 in New York City. It was fast-paced and had a clever mystery that kept me guessing until the end. In general, the world-building was very good and the historical detail was nicely mixed into the action. The characters were fun and interesting though they didn't quite strike me as realistic. Also, one of Allie's (and Jack's) actions at the end didn't make a lot of sense and was never really explained. It seemed done solely so the bad guy could explain everything he'd done. It was a funny scene, though.

About a third of the book was flash-backs to how she met her now-missing boyfriend and showed why she's so attached to him. Despite this background, I was a little irritated by Allie's inability to love anyone except her missing boyfriend--though her feeling of guilt did make it somewhat more realistic.

There was a major historical mistake that was critical to the story (though I doubt most readers will care). Allie was in a car that crashed at high speed, and she should have died...except she had a seat belt on. But seat belts weren't invented yet.

Most of the novel had no religious content. Allie rejected God because He let her boyfriend disappear from her life. However, after encountering a Christian woman who'd just lost her son to murder, Allie started thinking about praying again and about what the woman had (briefly) said about God. I'm not sure if non-Christians would be bothered by this content or not.

There was no sex, and I don't recall any bad language. The mystery was a good one and I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
August 8, 1947

Two thirty in the morning and it was sweltering. The whole city was wrapped in a greyish blanket of twilight and haze. The windows in my apartment were open, but there was no breeze, not even a stir of air to ease the heat.

I should've been sleeping, working out in dreams what troubled my soul. Instead I sat curled into the windowsill of my apartment, staring down at the streetlight, waiting for daybreak. And the stillness made me crazy.

Twelve blocks away, lying on the desk in my second-story office, was a file that could change my life, and it terrified me.

Maybe I should have burned it when it arrived in the mail. Maybe if I'd just touched match to paper, I could have slept tonight.

Maybe, but I doubt it.

Instead, I was wide awake and had to know.

Breaking the stillness, I rose. It took only a moment to dress and get ready for the day. No need to fix my long hair; like so many other nights, my head never touched the pillow. I buttoned the last buttons on the wasp-waisted suit jacket, smoothed down the matching grey skirt, and grabbed my black felt hat from the hall table. I positioned it at an angle and jammed the hat pin through to anchor it, then took a quick peek in the mirror. Dark circles under my eyes notwithstanding, I looked all right. No different than most of the women in this city, but in my line of work I knew exactly how deceptive appearances could be. I walked out the door, closing it with a soft click.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hand of Fate by Lis Wiehl, April Henry

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Hand of Fate
by Lis Wiehl
with April Henry

Hardback: 321 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2010

Author Website

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
When the host of a popular Portland, OR radio talk show is murdered, the Triple Threat Club—a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent, and a journalist—must narrow down the lengthy list of suspects who wanted him dead.

Outspoken radio talk show host Jim Fate dies tragically and dramatically when poisonous gas fills his recording booth while his show, “The Hand of Fate” is on air. In the ensuing panic, police evacuate downtown Portland, leaving FBI Special Agent Nicole Hedges trapped in a high-rise building.

Crime reporter Cassidy Shaw is the only journalist brave enough to report from the scene as chaos overtakes the streets. And federal prosecutor Allison Pierce must rescue a child separated from her family even as she escapes the danger herself.

In the days following Fate’s murder, these three colleagues and friends team up to piece together the not-so public life of Jim Fate in order to uncover the stunning truth of who killed him—and why.

Hand of Fate is the second novel in this well-written, fast-paced detective mystery/suspense series. The novel is perfectly understandable without reading the first novel in the series, but it will probably still be more enjoyable if you start with the first book, The Face of Betrayal.

The characters were realistic and interesting, and they struggled with realistic personal troubles even as they worked to solve the case. The world-building about the city and the jobs was excellent. It felt like this story really was happening somewhere--or, at least, that it could happen. The level of detail never slowed the fast pacing.

It was a clever mystery. I was a bit surprised that they overlooked an obvious odd point to the crime until the end, but noting it earlier probably wouldn't have changed their course of investigation. The only downside to the mystery was that the authors are already following a pattern, so I knew what to expect and figured out the killer (though not why) before they did. On the other hand, the suspense was handled better than in the first novel, and that kept me turning the pages with interest.

One of the main characters (and a few minor ones) were Christian. Their faith affected how they lived their lives and dealt with a crisis, but they weren't pushy about it with others. I wouldn't really label this a "Christian book." I think both Christians and non-Christians would really enjoy it.

There is no sex, and I don't recall any bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this novel as well-written, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
KNWS Radio
Tuesday, February 7

Jim Fate bounced on the toes of his black Salvatore Ferragamo loafers. He liked to work on his feet. Listeners could hear it in your voice if you were sitting down, could detect the lack of energy. He leaned forward, his lips nearly touching the silver mesh of the mike.

“Can massive federal spending and a huge new layer of government bureaucracy really make the United States a better, safer place? Or is it a matter of simply enforcing the food safety laws the states already have on the books? For more than a century, our food safety system has been built on the policy that food companies—not government—have the primary responsibility for the safety and integrity of the foods they produce.”

“So what are you suggesting, Jim?” Victoria Hanawa, his cohost, asked. “Are you saying we just let more Americans die when they buy food a company couldn’t bother to keep clean?”

She sat on a high stool on the other side of the U-shaped table, her back to the glass wall that separated the radio studio from the screener’s booth. To Jim’s right was the control room, sometimes called the news tank, where the board operator worked his bank of equipment and where one or more local reporters joined him at the top and the bottom of the hour.

“What I’m saying, Hanawa, is that activists are seizing on the latest salmonella scare to further their own goals of increasing the power of the federal government. They don’t really care about these people. They only care about their own agenda, which is to create a nanny state full of burdensome, unworkable, and costly regulation. And of course the federal government, being the federal government, believes that the only solution to any problem is adding another layer—or ten—of federal government.”

While he spoke, Jim eyed the two screens in front of him. One displayed the show schedule. It was also hooked up to the Internet so he could look up points on the fly. The other screen showed the listeners holding for their chance to talk. On it, Chris had listed the name, town, and point of view of each caller. Three people were still on the list, meaning they would hold over the upcoming break. Now a fourth caller and a fifth joined the queue.

Read more of chapter one.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Greater Love by Robert Whitlow

book cover

Greater Love
by Robert Whitlow

Trade Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
The Tides of Truth series follows one lawyer's passionate pursuit of truth--in matters of life and the law.

As the storm clouds gather, Tami does her best to weather the growing turbulence in every area of her life.

She can't decide if she should take a job with a large law firm or a smaller one. Which will best let her serve God through her law practice? And she's committed to courting one man to see if they're suited to each other, but she's increasingly attracted to another man who loves her. She's no longer sure she's made the right decision. How can she determine which one is right for her?

And Tami's new case is anything but simple. When she first meets her prospective client, she immediately knows the rough young teen is lying, guilty...and utterly terrified of something beyond the charges she's facing. What she doesn't realize is just how far reaching the effects of the case will go. Or how close to home the deadly results will hit. For by the time the storm breaks, someone close to Tami will have paid the ultimate price.

Through it all, Tami will experience greater sacrifice, greater friendship, and greater love than she's ever known.

Greater Love is Christian legal fiction and is the third book in the series. I strongly suspect that people who have read the first two novels will find this a more emotionally satisfying book than those of us who haven't. By this novel, the two guys who want to marry her have already done their heroics that gained her affection and things were pretty bland in their interactions. The heat level was something like 0.5 out of 10. Also, since Tami otherwise kept to her highly conservative upbringing, her willingness to go to a very different church with a woman preacher and follow her advice like it was infallible doesn't quite make sense without reading the previous novels where they met. So start with Deeper Waters if the series sounds interesting.

While there were moments of suspense, the main focus of this novel was Tami's decisions about which firm to work for after passing the bar and which of two very nice but very different guys she should marry. So the pacing was more along the lines of a general fiction rather than a suspense novel.

The world-building for the setting and overall ambiance of the lawyer's trade was excellent. I had expected more details of the day-to-day work involved in being a lawyer since the author is a practicing attorney, but any details not directly related to the Jessie case were hardly mentioned.

The characters were varied and interesting and a somewhat odd group. I liked Jessie a lot. Tami was a very earnest, talented, want-to-do-what's-right person. These traits sometimes made her indecisive and surprisingly willing to do whatever the most convincing person told her was the right thing to do. Also, I should note that while she grew up in a very, very conservative household and church, she never looked down on others for doing things differently.

While definitely a Christian novel, it wasn't preachy. The characters' faith simply played out in their everyday decisions. Tami frequently prayed (usually "she prayed" rather than actual words to the prayers). She expected God to clearly tell her what to do in the big situations (like in picking a job or a husband). It kind of bothered me that she went against God-given common sense and a lot of good, sound advice to follow the "word from God" for her by a prophetess friend. I was a bit surprised by her willingness to let others "hear God" and make decisions for her rather than coming to peace with God herself about them.

There was one or two instances of "she cursed" style bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, clean reading--but I'd suggest reading the first two novels in the series first.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Through the window I could see a few brown leaf stragglers clinging to limbs of an oak tree. Powell Station was in the Appalachian foothills so snow wasn’t uncommon in November, but it rarely fell until after the middle of the month. I rolled onto my side and pulled the quilt up to my chin. I was glad to be home, among my family, spending a few days in the daily routine of life.

I slipped out of bed so as not to wake the twins, Ellie and Emma. After retrieving the morning eggs, I joined Mama in the kitchen. Our diet was high in cholesterol, but there wasn’t a carton of soft drinks on our property, and honey from hives behind the garden was our favorite sweetener.

Mama and I had worked together in the kitchen from the time I was old enough to be trusted at the stove until I left for college. When I returned home, familiar patterns returned without effort and we moved about efficiently without getting in each other’s way. I loved meal preparation. There was a sense of fulfillment in fixing hot, delicious food for the people I loved. Daddy claimed my scrambled eggs were fluffier than cotton candy at the county fair.

Daddy and Bobby came inside and washed their hands at the garden sink beside the rear door.

“It’s a glorious morning!” Daddy exclaimed to Mama. “Do you know why, Lu?”

Mama smiled. We all knew the answer.

“Because we’re here together,” Mama replied.

Daddy dried his hands and kissed me in the usual place on top of my head. He grabbed Ellie by the shoulders.

“Which one are you?” he asked, peering into her blue eyes.

“Daddy, you know!” she answered with a quick smile.

Daddy kissed her on the right cheek. Emma came up for a kiss on the left cheek. Daddy grabbed Mama and squeezed her waist.

Read more of chapter one.