The Prayer Box Friday, Aug 22 2014 

41TttRQOgELToday was a day I should have gotten everything on my list completed and ended the day with a satisfied feeling of accomplishment. Instead I sat down to start a book, thinking I would read just a few pages to get the feel for this “new-to-me” author. What a surprise when the dryer buzzer went off and I had to force myself to put the book down long enough to switch the laundry loads. It was the only planned task I accomplished.

Lisa Wingate drew me into her story with characters real enough to live in my neighborhood and she placed them in a setting I did not know. But after this story I feel as if I’ve been there and I want to return. The creaky house is so real I could smell the dust and mold and the breeze from the sea smelled of salt and marsh grass while sounds of the gulls echoed in my mind.

Tandie is running from a destructive marriage, hoping to find a safe place for herself and her children. She returns to the one place she was happy, the shores of the Outer Banks. Her grandparents are gone, but the sea and the isolation are just what she needs to heal.

But when her elderly landlady dies, Tandie agrees to clean out the piles of a hoarder-wanna-be while the legalities are taken care of. She really has no choice since she doesn’t have money to pay the rent and she has no where else to go. During the process of filling trash bags she is distracted by noises upstairs in the bedroom of the deceased. Going in search of the cause she finds a black cat and boxes of letters.

The letters open a window into the reclusive landlady and reveal a hunger in Tandie for a life she has never thought possible for herself and her children. But to have that life she must grow beyond the story her past wants to write and believe she is able to be more.

The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate was published in 2013 by Tyndale. Her next book is due to release in the fall of 2014 and is titled The Story Keeper. I can hardly wait.

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Police suspense Saturday, Apr 14 2012 

I recently met Janice Cantore at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference in California. She is a quiet, trim woman who did not seem to be more than a nice person you would meet in line at the grocery store. Meeting her did not in any way prepare me for the action packed, suspense-filled book I read with her name on it.

Reading her bio gave me a glimpse into her credentials for writing this story of a police officer in big trouble. She was after all an officer herself for over 20 years on the Long Beach police force. She has the training and the resources to make this very authentic. But that experience didn’t gift her as a storyteller. And only a gifted storyteller could weave personal experience and fictional backdrop so well.

The heroine of the story is Detective Carly Edwards who is put on the juvenile force after her partner shoots an unarmed man. Carly is trying to get her old job back as a detective and prove she’s still a good cop. She’s also putting her personal life on a new track after her divorce from fellow officer Nick. He’s trying to prove he’s a changed man.

In the middle of this drops friend and undercover cop Jeff with a bombshell that something is terribly wrong at the Las Playas police force and city government. He looks like he’s gone over the edge and sounds crazy with his accusations, but there is just enough in his story to make Carly think there might be something to his story. Enough to promise she’ll keep her eyes open. But his warning to trust no one haunts her as she tries to uncover the truth.

The suspense is kept strong throughout the story and danger is everywhere, not only for Carly, but for her mother, ex-husband and the witnesses she interviews. The shifting truth points to a widespread evil.

This is the first in The Pacific Coast Justice Series. If you like Ms. Cantore’s writing and storytelling, there will be more to follow. Published by Tyndale House Publishers in 2012. Her next novel is set to be released in the summer of 2012 and is titled Abducted.

Shadows on the Sand Thursday, Apr 5 2012 

I have read Gayle Roper books before and enjoyed them. So I wasn’t surprised when I found myself reading this one and enjoying the story. It helped to pass the time waiting for my flight, the time in the air, and time waiting for the shuttle to take me almost home. Of course I was turning pages as fast as my eyes could read to figure out who the villain was and was going after next, so time disappeared with my surroundings. As the story unfolded and the flaws in the main characters came to light I felt as if they were people I already knew. You know, someone who had a real life, not a fairy tale beginning.  

Greg is a former police officer who left the force after his wife and two children are killed by a car bomb meant for him. After three years drowning in his sorrow he is beginning to surface.

Carrie ran away at sixteen, with her ten-year-old sister to the only place she knew her mother wouldn’t look. Seaside. The small beach community seemed a safe haven and was for many years. But Carrie is now grown and owns a cafe catering to the locals and summer tourists. When one of her dishwashers turns up dead, her sixteen-year-old waitress disappears, and a cult, The Pathway, seems to have strings reaching from Arizona to the East Coast, Carrie and Greg try to figure out what is happening.

They are helped in the mystery and in their deepening awareness of each other by the locals and their tweeting network. Who knew tweeting could be used to solve crime? It is a great set up for a series of mysteries in this sometimes sleepy community. The book cover includes the phrase “A Seaside Mystery” which raises my expectations this might be the beginning of a fun series with quirky town characters and a romantic location.  I want to know more about these people and meet more of their friends and neighbors.

The last book I read from Ms. Roper was set in Amish country. This was a fun surprise departure and shows her versatility and gift for story in any genre.

A Memory Between Us Wednesday, Mar 14 2012 

Historical romance can be seen by critics as an easy read for the beach or long trips on planes, but not to be taken seriously. Not too much to keep track of and there is always a happy ending. Not true about this one, unless you’re half asleep.

Sarah Sundin has set her Wings of Glory series in the middle of World War II and the action doesn’t let up as the characters do their jobs every day in this danger filled setting. Nor is it an easy read. The realism of the battles, detailed descriptions, injuries and death involved in war are captured by her gifted storytelling.

In A Memory Between Us the main characters are fighting the enemy as well as their own personal battles. Major Jack Novak is a pilot, constantly in danger as he and his fellow pilots fly bombing missions over Nazi Germany. Lieutenant Ruth Doherty is a nurse caring for the injured on English soil. She is the oldest of a family of orphans and must send all her money home to care for her siblings scattered among family.

But there is a secondary battle. Ruth has a past she has to keep hidden at all costs to keep her job. And Jack has to decide between fulfilling his father’s expectations and what he is drawn to. He is fighting his pride, she her fears.

There is plenty of action and detailed flight action to interest the adventurous, enough medical scenes to bring out compassion and a very intriguing story with many surprises and twists to keep the pages turning.

Ms. Sundin’s great uncle was a pilot in the Air Force and must have ignited her imagination. This book is well researched and I couldn’t find any fault with how she interspersed the truth with the fiction.

A Memory Between Us was published by Revell in 2010. Blue Skies Tomorrow was published in 2011. She has a new series starting in 2012 called the Nightingale series. With Every Letter will be released this year and is also set in the Second World War era.

If historical romance is your type of reading, you will surely enjoy Ms. Sundin’s work.

Tomorrow We Die Monday, Feb 13 2012 

The back cover of this book says it is an “Adrenaline-laced suspense” and I would agree. Not something I should have read thinking I could roll over in bed and go right to sleep.

I don’t read much suspense these days and I don’t know why. This story caught and held my attention the whole way.
 
The main character is a paramedic in the town of Reno, Nevada. That part is autobiographical, since the author is a paramedic in Reno. As a firefighter and paramedic, Mr. Grady is able to give realism to the character and the action in the story. Part of the adrenaline rush is his description of victim and patient triage. I felt I was on the streets of Reno, watching the real thing as I rapidly turned pages.
 
The story while peppered with true-to-life action is also a rollercoaster ride on it’s own. Jonathan Trestle is a 26 year-old paramedic with just one month left to work for a private ambulance company, and then he’s going to medical school. His dream to be an emergency room doctor is going to happen. But on a run to a “man down” he is drawn into a mystery. The man comes back from what appears to be death and hands him a paper to give to someone named Martin. After he’s rushed to emergency and put in CCU, he checks himself out of the hospital.  Jonathan decides to track him down to return the paper that has chicken scratchings. The man is dead at his door.
 
Jonathan then tries to find Martin to fulfill the dying request. When he finds Martin, he also is dead. Jonathan is arrested, after all he’s on scene at the death of two men. Knowing this could ruin his chances of entering medical school, lose his full-ride scholarship and send him to prison, he has no choice but to figure out what’s going on.
 
The action never slows down, even though we are given a look at Jonathan’s private world. This includes his father’s alcoholism and meeting an old girlfriend. The ending is as exciting or more so than the rest of the book.
 
Tomorrow We Die by Shawn Grady was published by Bethany House in 2010. I look forward to reading more by this author. His latest book is titled Falls Like Lightning and was published in 2011.

Words: a novel Wednesday, Feb 8 2012 

Words: a novel by Ginny Yttrup

I’ve had this book for almost a year, but couldn’t seem to pick it up. It was written by a woman I met several years ago at an intensive workshop for writer’s with a manuscript in progress. We worked and rewrote and critiqued and listened to our group mentor for three days. Then we left for our homes around the US and continued to write. My manuscript still isn’t finished, but she completed hers and it was published in 2011. The story is a difficult one. It made me cry and get angry and hurt and yet I couldn’t put it down. I think I needed to read this story, but at the right time.

Sierra Dawn is an artist in the Santa Cruz area of California. We learn that she is frozen in guilt due to the loss of her daughter twelve years ago. Her baby died a few days after she was born because Sierra was a drug addict during the beginning of her pregnancy. Since the death of her baby she’s been clean, but she can’t forgive herself. On the anniversary of her daughter’s death she heads to the cemetary and then up to a mountain to think. Is it time to let go? How can she? Is her mother and friend Ruby right to think she can ever forgive herself? What about God? Does He really still love her?

On the mountain she sees what looks like a ghost, a girl about the age her daughter would be if she had lived. Is she crazy? What would a child be doing up here on the mountain alone?

Meeting Kaylee in this story is the hard part. She is a ghost in some ways. No one seems to care for her. She’s thin, barefoot, tangle-haired and afraid: not of the woods or even of Sierra, but something haunts her. And she has the vocabulary of a scholar that doesn’t fit her setting. But only in writing, because Kaylee can’t talk.

As Sierra gets to know Kaylee’s story and then tries to help her, we are shown a world that shouldn’t exist. The author describes so vividly the internal feelings and thoughts of this young girl who is being abused, that the reader can’t help feeling her pain and despair. It is an insight that won’t be shaken easily. It might help some who have lived this or spur others to get involved in this issue. But you will certainly be thinking about it in a new way.

The craftsmanship of writing excels and is one of the best written works I’ve read in a long time. It is an unusual topic for a Christian novel and is not the fluffy read that some may be looking for. Having worked with abused kids by volunteering for Royal Family Kids Camp I would suggest that anyone who works with this group might consider reading this book as a peek into the world of child abuse.

Words: a novel is written by Ginny Yttrup and published by B&H Publishing Group in 2011.

H2O the Novel Wednesday, Jan 4 2012 

Published by LivingInk Books and released December 7, 2011. This is co-authored by Austin Boyd and Brannon Hollingsworth. If you’ve never read speculative fiction before, this might be a good place to start. I could sense the terror of her experience and couldn’t put the book down until I finished.

Imagine your life, if touching water sent you into an uncontrollable state of visions and blackouts. This is the journey Kate Pepper finds herself travelling. As a successful business woman, she is not equiped to handle the dangerous place Seattle becomes to her. One of the wettest cities in the US is now her nightmare. She comes down with this disease or psychosis (she’s not sure which) suddenly, in the middle of a stress filled evening with her boyfriend/boss before a work related event. As things escalate she is in danger from raindrops, spills, splashes and water everywhere. She finds she can’t shower, wash her hair, brush her teeth, clean house or any of a kazillion things that involve pure water. Coffee and other liquids don’t seem to bring on the attacks, but it is a matter of experimentation to find what she can and can’t do, with terrifying results when she’s wrong.

Along the way she gets hints of hope only to reject where she thinks it is leading. She also crashes her motorcycle, loses her job, ends up a hermit in her Seattle condo with only short trips to the local coffee shop to connect with her lifeline: coffee. She has one trusted friend on the internet: someone who goes by WRKRJC.

Kate is dysfunctional in relationships and she has a a dark secret that comes out in the process. By the end of the book there is hope what she’s going through is leading her to healing.

There are a few things that don’t work if you’re familiar with Seattle, but in general these two guys from Alabama do a pretty good job. They have the tech skills to make the computer info believable and must be coffee addicts to know so much about the different blends.

Elvis Takes a Back Seat Friday, Dec 23 2011 

My mother was a huge (read rabid, stalker type) Elvis fan. So, when I saw this title I had to read it. I don’t know if she would like it, but I thought it was great.

The book starts with Claudia McIntosh cleaning out her house  a year and a half after her husband’s death. Family and friends have encouraged her to clean out the house and stop holding on to all the useless things, and get on with her life. A free spirit aunt, one of her husbands best friends and his teen-age daughter all come to help when she tries to sell things at her garage sale. But as boxes are opened and memories spill out, it isn’t so easy to let go. Not even of the three foot bust of Elvis that’s been bannished to the attic for years. When the box is opened, a note from her husband falls out and asks that Claudia return the bust to its rightful owner in Memphis, at Faithland. No one’s sure that the medication didn’t fog his mind and he really meant Graceland.

So her Aunt Rae, Ivy (friends teen-age daughter) and Claudia head to Memphis in a red vintage Cadillac with the Elvis bust in the back seat. The road trip is a mixture of funny scenes and unraveling secrets. How did her husband get Elvis? What’s really bothering Ivy? And what is her aunt hiding about the past? Did I mention that Aunt Rae knew the real Elvis? Claudia has to deal with memories of her husband and her mother (who died five years earlier) while keeping everything and everyone together on this road trip.

I felt like I was on the road trip, especially when the waitress asked if they wanted “sweet tea”, something my southern Grandmother couldn’t live without. All the chapter titles are Elvis song titles and I was surprised how many I recognized thanks to my mother’s obsession.

This book is written by Leanna Ellis and published by B&H Publishing Group in 2008. Because I enjoyed this one so much I also picked up “Once In a Blue Moon” by the same author. I’ll be blogging about that one soon.

Reinventing Leona Sunday, Dec 18 2011 

Lynne Gentry has written a novel about the world she knows well. Pastor’s wife. The setting is a small Texas church in a middle-of-nowhere town. The story starts by introducing Leona and her pastor husband on a typical Sunday, except it doesn’t stay that way. Her husband walks to the pulpit starts his sermon and falls dead. Leona has been a pastor’s wife for 30 years and has given all her time to her family, church and church ministry. Not only does she lose her husband, but the life she has known most of her life.

Living through the funeral is harder than anything she has ever done. She has a mother that thinks she should have never married a poor preacher and wasted her education and life. A son who doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps, but finish his law degree so he can have all he never had as a PK. And a daughter who is working her way through med school and has put a wall up to keep her mother out of her life.

As depressing as this book should be, given this plot, it isn’t. There are moments that brought tears to my eyes, but there are places I laughed out loud. Ms. Gentry has some wonderful insights into small church dynamics and has drawn from that to create funny and true to life characters. The church members might be found anywhere and a few, I was sure I’d met locally.

Leona’s best friend is outspoken and says what she thinks about everything and everyone. Leona’s mother is hateful and a burden in Leona’s worst hour, but by the end I saw beneath the bitterness and ended up understanding her even if I really still didn’t like her. And the evil elder, who wants her to get a job and replace her husband with a younger model only two weeks after his death is the perfect bad guy for this story.

Ms. Gentry stays away from cliche’s and keeps a light touch on her characters. Her writing flowed well and I didn’t find any glitches, you know the things that make you think there’s been a mistake. I would read her next book without hesitation and expect a wonderful time.

This book was published in 2011 from Tyndale House.

Nobody’s Child Friday, Dec 16 2011 

Nobody’s Child by Austin Boyd and published in 2011 through Zondervan is unique to me in that it is the first novel dealing with bio-ethics that I’ve read. The issues raised, both morally and legally, make this novel a rollercoaster of a read. It is possible this is the beginning of a series of books dealing with such issues since the cover also sports the heading The Pandora Files.

Mr. Boyd writes a great story and shows compassion to the people on both sides of this issue, while pointing out the dark side and showing how the profiteers abuse both power and desperation to line their pockets. There is a resource guide in the back of the book if the reader wants to know more after reading this book.

Laura Ann has a terrible secret, that she feels no one in her conservative, gossipy, judgemental small town will ever forgive. She fights to keep this secret and to learn trust in God for her daily needs. But, she also has an unrelenting opponent in her uncle. He wants the family farm left to her at her father’s death and is not above using any means possible to get it. If he finds out her secret, he might be able to use the information to succeed.

She also has Ian, who wants more than just friendship with her. But, will he forgive her decision and still want to marry her. He keeps saying they are in this together, and he has her back, but he doesn’t know what he’s getting into. He knows she’s holding something back, and he can’t seem to get past the wall she’s erected.

Laura Ann has strong feelings for the land of her ancestors, history, and those she loves, including her new friend Sophia McQuistion. Meeting Sophia becomes both the answer to her moral questions and the tearing down of her carefully constructed protective wall.

The story is written with a love of language and some of the passages are descriptions drawn by someone who loves this area of the country. That being said, I did wish a couple of times for the story to move along, especially in the first half of the book while all the plots were being established. But, the last half of the book raced to the finish. I would recommend this book and look forward to seeing what come’s next in The Pandora Files.

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