Friday, April 29, 2016

Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

 I really like this well plotted novel. It's an intriguing mystery, a heart tugging exploration of family relationships, and a penetrating look at small town morals.

I like the plot. The novel starts with Allie getting out of prison, having served ten years for voluntary manslaughter. She had been convicted of killing the high school football coach. Allie had had a young child when she entered prison. Caroline had been placed in the care of Allie's parents and then her sister, Emma. Emma had strong ties to Caroline and now with Allie getting out of prison, all that might change. Allie had always declared her innocence and now that she is free again, she aims to find the real murderer.

I like how the plot develops. As a character thinks of an event from the past we are taken there. Little by little the events leading up to the murder are revealed. And the real murderer? I was surprised.

The characters were well developed. I could really feel Allie's desire to see her daughter, her daughter who was so unsure about meeting her mom after all these years. A daughter who was being shunned at school because her mom was a convicted murderer now back in town. Caroline's experiences were agonizing. And then there is Emma. McNeill did a great job of revealing all the aspects of Emma's personality as the novel progressed.

This is a great novel about family and small town relationships. It is a graphic tale of the lengths people will go to get what they want, whether it's a winning football team or another to take the punishment for a crime they committed. I highly recommend it.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. You can read other reviews here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Laura McNeill was a television news anchor for CBS News affiliates in New York and Alabama. She has a master's degree in journalism from Ohio State University and is working on a graduate degree in interactive technology at the University of Alabama. She lives in Mobile, Alabama with her family. You can find out more at http://lauramcneill.com.

Thomas Nelson, 400 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mars...with Venus Rising by Hope Toler Dougherty GIVEAWAY

Mars with Venus Rising Hope Toler Dougherty

This novel is a straight forward Christian romance. It is an easy read with no confusing plot twists nor thought provoking social issues.

Penn is a twenty six year old high school teacher living in Mars, Pennsylvania. (Yes, there really is the town north of Pittsburgh.) She is studying hard to pass the CPA exam with thoughts of getting a career boosting job in the city. That's until John shows up riding his motorcycle.

There are some good themes running through this novel. One is that tragedy does not have to define our life. Penn was severely scarred psychologically by the untimely and tragic death of her parents and brother nearly twenty years ago. She has let that tragedy define her all these years. She would have continued that way except John helps her face her biggest fear when circumstances force her to do so.

Another theme is correcting childhood impressions that might be defining us. Penn reconnects with a childhood friend who helps her work through some wrong perceptions and insecurities from around the time of her family's death.

The characters in this novel did not grab me. Penn had lost her parents and brother nearly twenty years ago and had been raised by two aunts. (They are great-aunts, I think, since Penn's grandfather is brother to the women.) I did not find Penn to be a strong character. She is plagued with fears, many originating in her family's untimely and tragic death. Penn seems to be immature for her age. At one point in the novel she “pouts.” It is not until forced to do so that she actually confronts her major fear. Her aunts, though elderly, seem to be almost childish. They giggle and do little dances. I can see why Penn did not develop into a mature and strong woman. My favorite character was John. He is compassionate and patient beyond expectations.

The development of the plot is straightforward. I was a little disappointed in the initial setting up of the characters and plot. I was a little unsure that Penn was actually a high school teacher until well into the book. I never did find out what she taught. Penn and John do small town things like go to a parade, fireworks, and a professional baseball game. There were some interesting events in the book, such as making a paper bag floor. (I had to look that up and people really do that.)

I appreciated the creative use of language by the author. There is also a strong Christian message. Penn relies on her faith when forced to face her fears.

I recommend this novel to those who are looking for an uncomplicated Christian romance. It would also help to like an emphasis on the ruminations of the characters rather than action. Don't miss the great recipes at the end of the book.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Hope Toler Dougherty has a Master's degree in English and taught at East Carolina University as well as York Technical College. Before writing novels, she published nonfiction articles and topics ranging from gardening to writing apprehensions. She and her husband live in North Carolina. You can find out more at http://hopetolerdougherty.com/.

Pelican Book Group, 344 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Wages of Sin by Nancy Allen

This thought provoking novel provides a look at the legal system in a rural Ozark county. It is not so much a thriller as it is an exploration of personalities and court proceedings.

The plot centers around the death of a pregnant woman and unborn child. She had been beaten to death by her boyfriend, high on drugs. Witness to the murder was the woman's six year old child, Ivy. When the man confesses to the murder, a conviction seems secure. The county prosecutor decides to go for the death penalty. When her first choice as co-counsel declines to participate, she turns to assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold. The two do not have a friendly relationship and their personalities flare as the case moves forward.

I like a novel that, while being a good novel on legal procedure, also gives me much to think about. The major issue in this novel is the death penalty. The prosecutor views this crime as so horrible that the death penalty is appropriate. It's still in place in Missouri. Her first choice for co-counsel is totally opposed to such punishment and refuses to work on the case. That aspect of the novel made me think again of my own view on the death penalty.

Another issue the novel highlighted was the responsibility of the police in cases of domestic abuse. There had been previous police calls to this couple because of violence yet no action had been taken. That made me think about the whole issue of domestic abuse and how effective the police are in preventing further harm to battered women.

And yet another issue concerned the relationships between the residents in the county. Some had lived their whole lives there and many alliances had been formed protecting those breaking the law. That can pose a serious problem in the legal system when individuals charged with convicting or defending a person have long standing ties to the accused.

I enjoyed reading this novel set in the rural south. The characters were well developed. My favorite was Ivy, a girl who had seen way too much of life at her tender age. Still, she was a survivor. The setting was well done. As a northerner, I was a little shocked at the behavior and language of some of the characters. I trust Allen has given us a realistic view of life in that area.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy being taken through a legal procedure including court drama. There is a little suspense but the majority of the novel deals with personalities and how young Ivy is handled. The main characters are all women so I am not so sure if men would like reading this novel.

A note to my regular blog readers: there is a sex scene in this novel as well as vulgar language and swearing. While I did not appreciate the sex scene, I did feel the language was appropriate to the characters and the plot.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Click here to view the 'The Wages of Sin by Nancy Allen' Tour Participants.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Nancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She has tried over thirty jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. This is the third book in her Ozarks mystery series.


Book Details:

Genre: Legal Thriller, Crime Published by: Witness Impulse Publication Date: 04/26/2016 Number of Pages: 320 ISBN: 0062438751 (9780062438751) Series: An Ozarks Mystery, 3rd | Each is a Stand Alone Thriller Purchase Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble Goodreads
I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

We find out what happens when a northerner marries a southerner in this cozy mystery. It is part of a long series of mysteries featuring Faith Fairchild. I have not read any of the others but did enjoy this one.

Sophie, a friend of Faith's marries into a wealthy southern family living in Savannah. It was interesting reading how Sophie tried to adjust to southern ways. Some in her husband's family made life tough for her. I liked her as a character. While we are kept informed on Faith's life up north, she doesn't enter the actual mystery of the book until the very end.

There is a little excitement early in the novel when Sophie discovers a body in a wardrobe. She calls the police but when they finally arrive, the body is gone. That is the beginning of a mystery that runs through as an undercurrent in the novel. It is not until the end that we find the meaning of it all.

Page reveals in her Author's Note that place is almost as important as character and plot in her novels. That really shows in this mystery. It is all Savannah, the houses, the restaurants, the food, and the people. I learned lots of history of the area including some about buildings, the Civil War, and the underground railroad.

And with a novel set in the south is southern food. The meals described sound luscious. Page has added some recipes at the end of the book so readers can enjoy a few of the foods described in the novel. The Sweet Potato Pie with Caramel Pecan Sauce sounds decadent.

This novel flows easily, much like life in the south. The book is much more about southern living than it is about a mystery. I recommend it to readers who enjoy a novel about a place much more than a mystery.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Click here to view the 'The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page' Tour Participants.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. Her novel The Body in the Snowdrift won the Agatha Award for best novel in 2006. She has also been nominated for numerous other awards. She and her husband live in Lincoln, Massachusetts and Deer Isle, Maine. You can find out more at www.katherine-hall-page.

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy MysteryPublished by: William Morrow Publication Date: April 26th 2016 Number of Pages: 256 ISBN: 0062439502 (ISBN13: 9780062439505) Series: Faith Fairchild Mystery Purchase Links: 
Amazon Barnes & Noble Goodreads
Book Excerpt:
Her limbs were frozen in place as she stared down at the man, a dark shape
against the rich colors of the Oriental carpet on the floor. It was impossible to believe. A
body in the wardrobe?
She opened her mouth, took a deep breath, but couldn’t make a sound. And then
as if a starter’s gun had gone off, she tore down the stairs and found herself in the
kitchen, staring at a door she knew was locked. Just as all the doors were.
Her phone! She looked down at her bare legs. The phone was in the bedroom.
She’d taken it out of her skirt. The skirt she was about to hang in the wardrobe. The
wardrobe where the dead man had been. Waiting for her to open the door.
Think, Sophie, think! She snatched the landline receiver from the counter,
punching in 9-1- 1, turned the lock, and wrenched the door open, stumbling into the cool
night air. Relief started to flood over her until she realized the killer could be hiding
behind the stacks of lumber and bags of cement that filled that garden at the back of the
house. Quickly she darted to the path surrounding the house and the gate beyond. She
pushed down on the handle; it opened easily.
There was no front yard, only a small patch of ivy with a cast iron planter at the
foot of the stairs leading to the front door. Gloria had filled the urn with red cyclamen,
evergreens, and pinecones. Sophie moved across to the square and stood under a
streetlight. No cars were passing and no one was on the sidewalks, although lights were
on in most of the houses.
Her call was picked up. Listening to the voice on the other end saying “this call is
being recorded,” Sophie struggled to clear her throat, finally gasping out, “There’s a
dead man in my bedroom. He’s been stabbed.”
The remarkably calm-sounding woman on the line responded by asking Sophie’s
name, the address, and if she was still inside the house. Sophie answered, her voice
getting stronger. Her heart began to slow and her mind began to clear.
“Can you confirm the identity of the dead man?”
“No, I don’t know.” Her thoughts swirled again. Who was he? One of the crew
working on the house? She was almost positive she had never seen him before, yet it
had all happened so fast she hadn’t gotten more than a glimpse of his face.
“There is a squad car in your area and will be with you immediately,” the
dispatcher said. “Are you alone?”
“Yes,” Sophie answered. “I’m alone.” Very alone.
But not for long.
Two police cars, lights flashing, pulled up. Officers wasted no time rushing into
the house—through the back when Sophie told them she thought the front was locked.
A female officer took Sophie into one of the cars and put a blanket around her. Sophie
hadn’t realized she was shivering until she felt the warmth. She was able to answer
questions—her name again and a description of the deceased—“At least six feet tall.
Heavyset. Long dark hair. Greasy. Dark clothing. Maybe jeans.” She closed her eyes,
trying to see it again. Not wanting to see it again.
“Can you describe the weapon?” The officer was busy taking notes.
“A knife with a long, thick black handle. I couldn’t see the blade. It was . . .”
Sophie felt her throat close and stopped.
“That’s fine. You’re doing just fine, honey. Is there someone we can call?
Family?”
Sophie almost laughed. An hysterical sort of laugh. Her accent had betrayed her.
The question mark after “family” could have been drawn in the air with neon it was so
vivid. She wasn’t from here.
“My husband is in Atlanta working. This is my mother-in- law’s house.”
Neighbors had gathered a safe distance away from the action. Sophie could see
them in small knots speculating on what piece of Savannah news was unfolding. She
was overwhelmed with fatigue. The fatigue that had haunted her since the night of the
party. She wanted Will. Will, her husband, her beloved. And she wanted him now. Tears
gathered in the corners of her eye and blurred the surreal scene outside the squad car
window.
The door opened and the officer who had been the first to take off for the house
slid next to Sophie.
“Mrs. Maxwell?”
Sophie wiped her eyes with her hand and sat up straight, clutching the blanket
around her. “Yes?”
“You did say that the man fell out of the wardrobe in the bedroom at the top of
the stairs in the front of the house?”
“Yes, I was putting my clothes away and he . . .” Her voice gave out again for a
moment, but she regained it. “He came tumbling right out and I could see he was dead.”
The officer’s voice softened. “There’s no one in the house, dead or alive, darlin’.”

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Monday, April 25, 2016

Close to You by Kara Isaac

I liked so much about this novel, where do I begin? The characters were extremely well crafted. The dialog was snappy. The setting piqued my interest. The plot was well designed. That Isaac is a gifted wordsmith was evident throughout the novel.

I really liked the way Isaac set up the characters and pitted them against each other. Allie is a tour guide in New Zealand. Granted, it is an upscale tour company but that does not do justice to her PhD from Cambridge. A degree she was putting to use as a happily married university lecturer – until her husband's first wife, the wife he was still married to, came in during a lecture and caused a fuss. She's off men right now, weary from the two year legal battle to have that disgusting marriage annulled.

Pitted against Allie is Jackson. He's visiting with his great-uncle, a Tolkien buff. He's hoping to butter up his relative so he'll invest in Jackson's new endeavor. That way he'll be able to pay the investors who lost money in his previous business, the one that went bankrupt when his girlfriend stole his business secrets. Not only is Jackson off women right now, he is sure Allie, “a snarky tour guide with a fake degree,” is not even worth a look.

With the wonderful way the characters are set against each other, the novel is off to a great start. The snappy dialog between Allie and Jackson is entertaining. Isaac shows her skill in filling in the necessary back story of both characters as the plot progresses. The idea of a three week upscale tour is a wonderful setting for all kinds of adventures in New Zealand, from boating to orienteering. And Isaac's prose is delightful. For example, opening eyes become “gray orbs appearing underneath sparse eyelashes.”

Besides being very entertaining, the novel gives us some issues to think about. One is regarding occupations, as tour guides are often seen as inferior by others. But my favorite is that of parental expectations. Allie's mother had quite high expectations for her daughter – ones that just did not fit Allie's personality. And Jackson suffered from expectations he thought his parents had of him when, in fact, they had none.

I highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy a well crafted Christian romance. The characters, plot development, setting, all of it is superb. It would be an added plus to be a Tolkien fan as there is much about his works in this novel. This debut novel is very good and I look forward to more from Isaac.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Kara Isaac is an award winning writer, pastor's wife, mom of two preschoolers, and public servant. She lives with her family in Wellington, New Zealand. You can find out more at www.karaisaac.com.

Howard Books, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Silence in the Dark by Patricia Bradley

I felt this romantic suspense novel got off to a rough start. It opens in Mexico with lots of action. Bailey, from Logan Point, is a missionary there, teaching school to children and Bible to village women. She's getting ready to accompany one of her young students, Maria, to the U.S. to see her grandparents when there is an attempted kidnapping. A suspenseful escape occurs with the aid of Bailey's ex-fiance who just happens to come on the scene at the right time.

The action then moves to Logan Point. The central part of the novel deals with Bailey and Danny, the ex-fiance, thinking about the future and worrying about the present. There is much discussion about Mexico, a ceramic factory, gun running, and a nefarious Mexican drug cartel. After this rather long interlude the novel ends with renewed suspense.

I found much of the novel confusing. There are many characters introduced early on, owners of manufacturing plants, both in Mexico and the U.S., uncles of Maria, and more. One is never sure who the good guys and bad guys are. The characters are good at telling conflicting stories and we don't know who to believe. It was not until the near end that all of the characters kind of fell into place. Bailey herself was having trouble understanding it all as halfway through the novel she says, “I'm visual, so I've been trying to see what's going on as a big picture – like a jigsaw puzzle – but I'm having trouble fitting all the pieces together.” I know exactly how she felt.

My favorite part of the book is a realization Bailey has. While in danger near the end of the book and at the end of her rope, so to speak, she realizes she cannot control God. She cannot control what He is going to do and can only trust. “It surprised her how freeing that realization was.” That's a good lesson for us all.

Another thought provoking issue in the book concerned Bailey being in Mexico in the first place. Had she really felt the call of God on her life to be a missionary or was she running away from what she couldn't face back in Logan Point? A reading group could have a good discussion on that topic.

This novel is a good romance novel with suspense at beginning and end. It could be read alone but would be best enjoyed as a sequel to the previous books in the series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Patricia Bradley is a published short story writer and is cofounder of Aiming for Healthy Families, Inc. Her manuscript for Shadows of the Past was a finalist for the 2012 Genesis Award, winner of a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award, and winner of a 2012 Touched by Love Award. She lives in Corinth, Mississippi. You can find out more at http://ptbradley.com/.

Revell, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig

How can one woman get into so many crazy situations? Juliet must find the real killer when her best friend Pete is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.

This is the second adventure for the Java Jive manager but it reads well on its own. We get a glimpse into the high society of Nashville in this novel as Juliet and Pete are dating siblings with wealthy backgrounds. Juliet gets into all kinds of dangerous situations as she tries to penetrate the lies and schemes of that decadent society.

I like Juliet. Her friendship with Pete shows a high degree of loyalty. She is willing to take all kinds of risks to prove him innocent. As the novel and her investigation progresses, she comes in contact with some pretty dangerous guys. Her quick thinking pays off repeatedly. And when it doesn't, Ryder, the detective she broke up with, is there to protect her.

There is a twist at the end as Juliet confronts the murderer. I did not see that one coming, and neither did Juliet. It made for a surprising and suspenseful end to the novel.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy the style of Stephanie Plum novels. There is about the same amount of craziness, sexual liaisons, and bad language. There is not quite as much laugh out loud humor but there are funny scenes. Fardig's writing style is good but there was no prose that was particularly excellent nor dialog I would describe as especially clever.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Caroline Fardig is the USA Today bestselling author of the Java Jive Mysteries series and the Lizzie Hart Mysteries. Her Bad Medicine was named one of the “Best Books of 2015” by Suspense Magazine. She's been a school teachers, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay at home mom. She lives in her small hometown in Indiana with her husband and their two children. You can find out more at http://www.carolinefardig.com/.

Alibi, 289 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Core Christianity by Michael Horton

Do you know what you believe about God, life, the world and why? Horton wants to make sure you do.

This book is sort of a very readable exploration of general systematic theology. He explores the story of Jesus, the meaning of the trinity (heresies and creeds), God's attributes, the Bible as God's Word, man's condition (radical depravity), how to understand the Old Testament, the future, and our calling now.

Horton writes from a distinctively Reformed view. He emphasizes that God speaks to us through his Word and those called by God to study and proclaim his Word. (70) He emphasizes the complete fulfillment of the land promises based on Joshua 23:14. (109) In fact, Horton writes, “...God kept his promise to Adam and Eve, Abraham, and David.” (114) He discounts all after-death experiences. “...[T]hey are not reliable sources of information about life and death.” (148-9)

Horton tackles some serious questions. He does not give any pat answers, saying that some of these issues are beyond our ability to comprehend. (64) For example, of the problem of a good God and evil in the world, he writes, “...there's no philosophical resolution to the problem of evil – from our vantage point here and now...” (66) He acknowledges that there are some issues Christians will just have to continue to face. (62)

I recommend this book to those who are interested in knowing what they (should) believe and why but have not read much in the way of theology. This is a very readable book and would not scare off those new to understanding the concept of theology. Horton does a good job of explaining why it is important to read books like this one. He writes, “...to know what you believe and why lies at the heart of your Christian experience, worship, and everyday living.” (21)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Michael Horton is the author of over thirty books and is host of White Horse Inn, a nation-wide radio broadcast. He is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He lives in Escondido, California, with his wife and their children.

Zondervan, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.