Friday, May 27, 2011

Unbridled Hope by Loree Lough

Book Three in the Lone Star Legends Series

Life is a dream come true for Callie Roberts—until her worst nightmare ruins the fairy tale. A steamboat boiler explosion kills her parents, her older brother, and her beloved fianc√©. It also deafens her younger brother and leaves Callie with a scar from cheek to chin, a haunting reminder of the tragedy for which she was partly responsible. To put the past behind her, she settles in Eagle Pass, Texas, and launches a business that takes off.

The same is hardly true for the Neville family, whose nearby Lazy N Ranch is struggling. Micah volunteers to go to Lubbock for fresh seed, but his offer is not without an ulterior motive. A letter he mistakenly intercepted leads him to believe that his cousin Dan is in trouble. And Micah intends to set things right.

It's a shock to everyone when Micah returns with not only the seed but also a baby boy in tow. But he'll do anything to protect Dan's honor, even if it means pretending to be the father. He can handle the gossip and glances just fine, until he meets Callie and learns the meaning of love at first sight. Will the misguided decisions these two have made keep them apart, or can they face the truth about each other–and themselves–and discover a love they never could have imagined?


My Review:
The book sent to me is not the finished novel and is therefore, difficult for me to review. Chunks of the storyline were skipped. Characters are briefly introduced and not heard from again. A mine explosion occurs, and a rescue takes place, all in the space of a few pages, leaving many loose ends.

Thank you to FirstWildCard and Whitaker House for my copy.

And now, the first chapter:

December 1887

On the Brazos River near Sweetwater, Texas

Raw, unrelenting wind whistled across the deck boards, scattering newspapers and rattling the cleats as the steamboat chugged toward its next major stop, Clear Fork. Callie cupped her elbows, wishing she’d thought to grab her shawl. She’d never liked weather like this, for it reminded her too much of the bitter Baltimore winter of ’85 that had nearly killed her mother and had prompted her father’s decision to move the family west. Ever since, Callie had begun every day with a prayer for her mother and ended by asking God to ease the ache of homesickness.

In time, the Lord had answered her first prayer, restoring her mother to robust health. The second He’d granted in the form of a young seminary graduate who’d been hired to entertain guests with the soothing sonatas of Beethoven and Bach. And, just as the sunshine dispels the nippy mists from the river, the music of Seth’s love had turned her longing for Maryland into a dim yet melodious memory.

Tonight, her beloved beau would give his final performance for the tycoons, high rollers, and politicians who gathered nightly in the grand salon. His final because, in twelve short hours, Callie’s father, a chaplain and owner of the Maybelline, would pronounce him and Callie man and wife.

Heart throbbing with hope and excitement, she hurried toward the jackstay, the secret meeting place where Seth had first confessed his love. Her fingers throbbed, too, from sewing fifty-two satin-covered buttons up the back of her full-skirted gown and from attaching a feathered headdress to her long, lacy veil. Callie smiled, knowing the discomfort would vanish the instant she saw Seth smiling at her from the makeshift altar where he would become her husband.

Sadly, the gown would not fit inside her valise. What a pity she wouldn’t be able to save her beautiful dress for the daughters she and Seth might have! She imagined a bright-eyed young woman with her papa’s dark eyes and her mama’s diminutive stature, walking down the center aisle toward her intended in the little church in Eagle Pass, Texas, where Seth’s dream of shepherding a flock of his own would come true, and he would eventually unite his own daughter with her soul mate.

Still, she took comfort in knowing that her hours of hard work had not been in vain. She said a little prayer for the senator’s wife, who’d agreed to pay a handsome sum for the gown and veil—and for Callie’s eternal silence. “Lord, help the poor woman keep secret the fact that her daughter will be married in a used—”

“Talking to yourself again?”

She stifled a tiny squeal. “Jonah Everett Roberts, you frightened me half to death!” How a boy of her brother’s height and weight managed to sneak up on her at least once a day, she’d never know. Raising one eyebrow, she rested a fist on her hip. “Say, what are you doing out here, anyway? Didn’t I hear Papa ask you to sweep out the saloon?”

He frowned. “I’m waiting for the green flash,” he said, taking a bite of an apple.

Not that again, she thought. “Well,” she said on a sigh, “if that’s the cause for the holdup, you’ll never get the job done, because the sun went down more than an hour ago.”

“Humpf. Leave it to little miss stick-in-the-mud to spoil the moment for a boy.”

“Boy, indeed. Papa says when he was sixteen, he worked as hard as any man on the family farm, and that his folks never had to remind him to do his chores.”

Jonah swallowed a mouthful of fruit. “Yeah, and he also says that if I’m patient, I’ll see the green flash, eventually.”

Callie couldn’t count the number of times she’d heard the same assurance. In fact, she’d heard so much about the elusive emerald flare, which was visible only under precise atmospheric conditions as the sun disappeared into the horizon, that she’d wished a time or two for the patience to believe in the phenomenon, herself.

But wishing wouldn’t get her any closer to the jackstay and her darling Seth. “Your tactic might work on Mama and Tim,” she said, giving his shoulder a playful shove, “but I see it for what it is: a ‘clever’ way to shirk your responsibility—”

A thunderous roar set the deck to quaking beneath their feet. Please, Lord, not the boilers! she thought as a second deafening blast threw her and Jonah to the floor. Instinct made her grab his collar and drag him under a heavy table, where she covered their heads with a tablecloth. Shards of glass and splinters of wood rained down as a third explosion rocked the steamer.

Choking smoke closed in around them as flecks of glowing ash floated down like fiery snowflakes. With its shallow keel and inch-thin hull, the Maybelline’s flimsy design assured swift river travel—and guaranteed that it would sink swiftly, too.

If that happened, it would be her fault.

If only she’d stoked the boilers like she was supposed to, instead of handing the job over to Tim! She’d seen the vacant “I don’t understand” stare in her older brother’s eyes enough times to recognize it for what it was, yet she’d ignored it to gain a few minutes more with Seth.

Callie scrambled forward with one objective: to make sure that Tim, her parents, and her beloved Seth had survived.

“Wait!” Jonah hollered.

“You’re safer right here,” she said, meeting his frightened eyes. “I know you’re scared, Jonah. I’m scared, too.” Using a corner of her apron, she dabbed at the blood dribbling from both of his ears. “But you need to stay here, before you’re hurt even worse.” She gave him a little shake. “If the steamer starts taking on water, I want you to make your way to the riverbank. Once you’re there, find the biggest tree and stay put. Do you understand?”

His confused expression mirrored the one that had long seemed frozen to Tim’s face. But their older brother had been slow from the day he was born, unlike Jonah, who could solve arithmetic problems without the aid of slate and chalk. She blamed Jonah’s expression on fear and scrambled to her feet. Why did both her brothers turn to her for comfort and support, when she was younger than both of them?

On the heels of a frustrated sigh, she scooted out from under the table. “Lord, watch over him,” she prayed as she raced along, darting between rivers of blue-orange fire that snaked and coiled across the deck and dodging the witch-finger flames that flared from each cabin window. When a fierce groan sounded from above, she crooked her elbow to protect her eyes and looked up. The breath caught in her throat when she saw the tallest of the three fat smokestacks teeter as it gave way to the gluttonous fire monster gnawing at its wooden moorings.

Callie barely gathered her wits in time to sidestep it. If only she’d thought to gather her skirts, too. The heel of her boot caught on a fold of muslin, slowing her escape by a mere fraction of a second. She was already falling when a grapefruit-sized lump of glowing coal slammed into her right temple.

“Sweet Jesus,” she prayed as dizziness overwhelmed her “Keep…them all…safe.”

For the second time in as many minutes, her prayer was interrupted, as she slipped into the dark unconscious.

Two years later~October 2, 1889

The Lazy N Ranch, Eagle Pass, Texas

The sweet-smelling envelope was addressed to “M. Neville.” At least, that’s what Micah had thought at first glance. But the message inside the envelope didn’t make a lick of sense. So, he studied the addressee a second time, and a third, before realizing that the fanciful M was, instead, a D. Guilt at reading his cousin’s mail was quickly overshadowed by concern at the nature of the message. Dan had already lived two lifetimes’ worth of misery in his twenty-eight years.

Micah shook his head and said a silent prayer for Dan, who’d shouldered a burden of self-blame ever since his twin sister had died tragically at the age of thirteen, even though nobody held him responsible. Guilt and remorse, along with the whiskey used to numb the emotional pain of his loss and the physical torment of a bum leg suffered in a stampede, had managed to turn the once shy, gentle boy into a man hell-bent on self-destruction and prone to angry brawls. About once a year, Dan had summoned the strength to shake his addiction, but, all too soon, self-loathing would lure him back to the bottle. Fourteen months into the latest stint of sobriety, Micah had begun to notice signs that made him fear things were about to take another ugly turn, but then, praise God, Levee O’Reilly had come to town as the new schoolteacher. She’d taught her students reading, writing, and arithmetic, all the while teaching Dan to value his own life.

The two had married, and their relationship seemed solid and strong. But now, something like this? Micah glared at the single sheet of scented ivory paper on which, with a few well-chosen words, the writer had implied a dozen sinister things, any one of which could start the dominos toppling in Dan’s life yet again.

Slumping onto the edge of his bed, Micah read the letter a fourth time. Maybe he’d underestimated his cousin’s ability to stand strong, even in the face of this woman’s spiteful threats. He had a lot more to live for now, though. Maybe this woman wanted to destroy him, once and for all.

Micah would not take that chance. For one thing, Dan had always been his favorite cousin—a statement in itself, since there were dozens in the Neville clan. For another, Dan had protected him more times than Micah could count. As a youngster, he’d been puny and timid and had spoken with a lisp, just the sort of stuff that invited the taunts of the bigger, older boys. But, without fail, Dan would always put a stop to it.

Eventually, Micah’s front teeth had grown together, eliminating the lisp, and his body had grown, too. At six feet three inches, and with two hundred and twenty pounds of raw muscle, Micah’s size alone would have discouraged any bully. But by the time the Neville men had embarked on the trail drive of ’86, Dan’s determination to defend Micah had become so ingrained that he hadn’t thought twice about maneuvering his horse between his cousin and a bevy of gun-blasting rustlers. Dan had laughed off the bullet in his shoulder in exactly the same way he’d laughed off every swollen knuckle, bloodied lip, and black eye endured to protect Micah. “You’ve done me a favor, cousin,” he’d said, gritting his teeth as Cookie dug out the slug, “because certain ladies like a man with scars!”

Had the author of this letter been one of those ladies?

Micah harrumphed. “A female, maybe, but I’d bet my horse she’s no lady.” Scooting closer to the night table, he turned up the lantern and leaned into the golden light to read those ominous closing lines yet again:

…at two o’clock on Friday afternoon, the fifteenth of October, I will be at the train station in San Antonio, Texas. If you choose not to meet me there, I shall have no alternative but to bring this very urgent matter to the attention of the authorities.

Most sincerely yours,

Pauline Eden Devereaux

“Urgent matter”? A dozen possible scenarios flashed in Micah’s brain, none of them good. Under ordinary circumstances, Dan wouldn’t squash a beetle under his boot, but there was nothing ordinary about the way his personality changed once a few pints of whiskey burned in his veins. If he was drinking when he ran into this woman….

Micah got to his feet and started pacing. He didn’t want to believe that Dan was guilty of any offense. The more likely story, he told himself, was that this Pauline character had gotten wind of how many acres made up the Lazy N Ranch and hoped to weasel a few hundred dollars in exchange for her silence about whatever matter she seemed to believe might interest the authorities. And, since the family never discussed their troubles beyond the closed door of Uncle Matthew’s office, she had no way of knowing how steeply their profits had dropped due to anthrax, weevils, droughts, and storms.

There was only one way to know for sure, and that was to take a trip to San Antonio to meet this femme flimflammer face-to-face. He didn’t know what excuse he’d cook up to put himself there, or how he’d squash her scam, but Micah knew this much: he intended to defend Dan for a change.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley

Faith Morgan Mysteries

Faith Morgan, former policewoman and newly ordained priest in the Church of England, is visiting the village of Little Worthy, Winchester, to look around the parish where she is about to start her ministry. But within an hour of her arrival to the sleepy village she witnesses the sudden shocking death of a fellow priest during a communion service.

One of the first police officers at the scene is Detective Inspector Ben Shorter, Faith's former boyfriend. They had been inseparable until Faith's sense of calling led her to question his drive for convictions, seemingly at any cost.


My Review:
This was a difficult book for me to read. Perhaps it is because the author resides in England and therefore uses terms that caused me to hesitate and translate. For instance, a "bonnet" is not an item worn on the head; rather, it is the trunk of a car. Although this authenticates the work, interruptions like this cause the plot to drag.

I found the characters flat, not at all fleshed out. I could not envision how Faith and Ben ever survived a long-term romance, as they are so dissimilar. I'm not familiar with the Church of England or its vicars, so it surprised me to read about Faith using profanity and drinking hard liquor.

Perhaps it's me. You may find it just the cup of tea for you. Read a chapter and decide for yourself.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Monarch Books for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins

Torn from the front lines of medical debate and the author's own experience with Lyme Disease, Over the Edge is riveting fiction, full of twists and turns—and powerful truths about today's medical field.

Janessa McNeil’s husband, Dr. Brock McNeil, a researcher and professor at Stanford University's Department of Medicine, specializes in tick-borne diseases—especially Lyme. For years he has insisted that Chronic Lyme Disease doesn't exist. Even as patients across the country are getting sicker, the committee Brock chairs is about to announce its latest findings—which will further seal the door shut for Lyme treatment.

One embittered man sets out to prove Dr. McNeil wrong by giving him a close-up view of the very disease he denies. The man infects Janessa with Lyme, then states his demand: convince her husband to publicly reverse his stand on Lyme—or their young daughter will be next.

But Janessa's marriage is already rocky. She's so sick she can hardly move or think. And her husband denies she has Lyme at all.

Welcome to the Lyme wars, Janessa.


My Review:
If you like learning while reading a gripping suspense story, this book is for you! The characters are well-formed, the plot is a real page-turner, the mystery holds the reader in suspense throughout the novel until the stunning finish, and important lessons are taught.

Through the reading, I learned about a disease I had only before heard about: Lyme. Brandilyn Collins has lived with Lyme disease and knows it first hand. She proves herself an excellent teacher as well as top-notch author. She includes her extensive research, by incorporating it into this engrossing tale. Fittingly, May is Lyme Disease Month.

Folks, be sure to read this one!

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and B&H Books for my copy.

If you would like to read the prologue, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fade to Blue by Julie Carobini

An Otter Bay Novel

Suz Mitchell is the determined dreamer we should all be and won't allow her ex-husband Len's jail sentence to ruin their young son Jeremiah's life. An accomplished artist, she moves with her child across the country to California's central coast and lands a sweet job restoring priceless paintings at the historic Hearst Castle overlooking the ocean.

To her utter surprise, a serious old flame, Seth, is also now working at Hearst and jumbles the dreams inside Suz's heart. While sorting out the awkwardness of their past split and current spiritual differences, a repentant Len shows up eager to restore his family.

Suz must learn to let God be the true restorer of all that once seemed lost.


My Review:
Here is a contemporary Christian fiction about a talented artist struggling to make a new life for herself and her four-year-old son. Suz moves to California after her ex-husband cheats on her, goes to prison, and divorces her. She moves in with her bachelor brother, and regains her ability to enjoy life. As in all good stories, the plot thickens when the creepy ex gains his release and looks her up.

I learned a good bit about Hearst's castle and the business of restoring its valuable art.

However, I easily figured out the inevitable twist at the end of the story. Perhaps because the characters are rather expected; the good ones are totally without flaws. Nevertheless, the plot makes for a nice read.

Discussion questions are included.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and B&H Books for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Betty White: If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't)



My Review:
Who doesn't love Betty White? Why, I remember watching Life with Elizabeth and The Betty White Show in the 1950s--many years ago! I remember when she and Allen Ludden were together on his Password show. They later married in 1963.

She still prefers to be called Mrs. Ludden--her married name, and she offers the reader many other incites into her interesting life and career. The book is easy to read, with short chapters, and it's loaded with pictures.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Lightkeeper’s Ball by Colleen Coble

A Mercy Falls Novel

Olivia seems to have it all, but her heart yearns for more.

Olivia Stewart's family is one of the Four Hundred--the highest echelon of society in 1910. When her sister dies under mysterious circumstances, Olivia leaves their New York City home for Mercy Falls, California, to determine what befell Eleanor. She suspects Harrison Bennett, the man Eleanor planned to marry. But the more Olivia gets to know him, the more she doubts his guilt-and the more she is drawn to him herself.

When several attempts are made on her life, Olivia turns to Harrison for help. He takes her on a ride in his aeroplane, but then crashes, and they're forced to spend two days alone together. With her reputation hanging by a thread, Harrison offers to marry her to make the situation right. As a charity ball to rebuild the Mercy Falls lighthouse draws near, she realizes she wants more than a sham engagement-she wants Harrison in her life forever. But her enemy plans to shatter the happiness she is ready to grasp. If Olivia dares to drop her masquerade, she just might see the path to true happiness.


My Review:
Set in California, at the turn of the century, the reader gleans information about the various fears and opinions with the upcoming Halley's Comet, the future of airplanes, and the proper place for a woman.

There are some errors that make the reading bumpy. The protagonist, Olivia Stewart, decides to hide her identity and be known as Lady Devonworth. The framed photograph on Eleanor's dresser of Eleanor and her sister, Olivia, was taken just three months ago, yet no one in the household staff seems to recognize Lady Devonworth. How could this be? Another mistake happens in the cemetery, when Olivia states that she is unaware that Harrison's mother is alive; yet, the day before, she hears Harrison tell Katie that his mother came to watch him fly. Although these might be small items, they do cause this reader to stop, blink, and flip back pages to reason it out.

However, the suspicion of a murder and several attempts on Olivia's life succeed by causing a desire to read on and see what happens next.

Thank you to Audra Jennings at B&B Media Group for my copy.

If you would like to read a bit, click below.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

40: A Novel by Travis Thrasher

Nine months shy of his 40th birthday, freelance music producer Tyler Harrison has started to experience horrific hallucinations. At first, he thinks it's just the stress of his job, but the hallucinations continue until they culminate at the three-day concert in Chicago, Lollapalloza, which he is covering for work. There he is approached by an older man who tells him that he's going to die on his fortieth birthday.

The man claims to be an angel named Matthew, and even though he gives Tyler enough evidence to convince him he's telling the truth, he doesn't know what to do with the information.

Tyler's underlying doubt and confusion about Matthew's prediction turn to anger, both at God and those around him. As he begins to exhibit destructive behavior, he befriends Ellis, an internationally known DJ. Tyler is scared that he really is about to die. He's scared for his sanity. He's scared that if he does die, he's not going to Heaven. He also soon becomes scared of Ellis, who is wild and opens up a door of temptation to Tyler.

As Tyler begins falling in a downward spiral of fear and confusion, he reaches out to a pastor he met, Will, and tries to right his wrongs with some of the important people in his life in a desperate attempt to find peace before his 40th birthday.


My Review:
This is not your grandma's Christian fiction. The protagonist, Tyler Harrison, uses profanity and drinks to excess. In addition, he makes some foolish choices. The plot, set in Chicago and written in a disjointed fashion, demonstrates the confusion of Tyler, a thirty-nine year-old man who is told by an angel that he will die within the following year. He sets out to find out more about this prophecy. That's where confusion reigns.

There are many references to music and today's world that I did not understand. I think that a thirty-something person would get these references much better than I. I must admit, I found myself totally confused, but then, I am a grandma.

Note: contains profanity. Discussion questions included.

Thank you to Sarah Reck at Hachette Book Group for my copy.