Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart

The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart

I'm always curious whenever Jim releases a new book.

Let's begin with the summary of his latest, which released today:
Toren Daniels vanished eight months back, and his wife and kids have moved on—with more than a little relief. Toren was a good man but carried a raging temper that often exploded without warning. So when he shows up on their doorstep out of the blue, they’re shocked to see him alive. But more shocked to see he’s changed. Radically.

His anger is gone. He’s oddly patient. Kind. Fun. The man he always wanted to be. Toren has no clue where he’s been but knows he’s been utterly transformed. He focuses on three things: Finding out where he’s been. Finding out how it happened. And winning back his family.

But then shards of his old self start to rise from deep inside—like the man kicked out of the NFL for his fury—and Toren must face the supreme battle of his life.

And now, my review:

Jim's uses a bit of the sci-fi genre as a backdrop for exploring our spiritual lives. I spent a lot of the book asking, what is Jim trying to say?

The setup that the MC disappeared makes for a great story opening where he reappears in the lives of his loved ones. The emotions are palpable, though at times confusing as we try to make sense of the story world.

Once again, the author makes readers think, or perhaps rethink is the better wording. He explores dying to one's self and what that truly means. There are a few villains in this story, and they are formidable. I could relate with the hero's battles, and I believe readers will see themselves in the story to some degree. And the resolution will leave readers pondering. The final message is strong and clarifying.

The opening confused me. He's free, but he continues to battle his demons. The many questions I had at the beginning kept me reading, and the book read fast.

The main character regrets bullying his family. He himself was bullied as a child. The cycle continues. I think readers will find this believable and possibly relatable. I liked Quinn. He was a good ally. And the portrayal of his friendship with the MC was well-written.

Overall, I recommend this novel. It's "outside the box" as are Jim's other novels. And it'll get you thinking.

Note: There are several instances of "man" language in this novel, grouping both genders into male nouns, which isn't preferred.
I'm looking forward to book two and hoping since it's about a woman we'll see that less. I also noticed a lot of references to "black" as evil. I think we have to be careful of using black to equal evil. There's a subtle underlying message we should avoid, just like with the "man/men" language I mentioned above.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

Let’s begin with the summary:

Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.

Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.

Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life—and love—outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?

And now, my review:

We are immersed in the restaurateur/foodie world while we read this novel. Lots of jargon I’d never heard, but it was obvious the author knew her story world and her heroine’s field. That said, sometimes the narrative was difficult to follow because of the exclusive language.

The main character was hard to like. (Can’t call her a heroine since she wasn’t heroic toward others often enough, especially from the beginning.) She didn’t act noble until we were well into the story, so I found myself reluctant to root for her. I did like how she went after her dreams and worked very, very hard. That’s true to life and respectable.

The main male character’s climbing world was well-researched too. I liked him sooner because he seemed more noble. Though he’d have to swallow his pride, he was determined to obey what he felt God directed. This element kept me reading, especially when I found secular components later.

Some aspects of this story were so vivid, so representative of our times—the essayist with strong opinions, the snowball effect of social media, the power of the same to upend a person’s current life. The precariousness of stability in the social media age.

Though I often found strong prose, at times I felt the author focused scenes on lesser elements, which made my interest lag. Part of my disinterest was due to the cold protagonist.

I did like the obvious feminist leaning of the protagonist’s worldview. She works in a male-dominated field, yet she is competent, successful, visionary. She doesn’t bash men, which makes her heroic, even though she took flack for that stance. The fact that her love interest believes in equality as well only makes him more noble and likable.

There were some elements that made me double-check the publisher’s name: the reference to certain male body parts, one-night stands, and the mention of of main characters participating in eastern religion practices, etc.

The chemistry and banter between the romantic pair was lots of fun!

I would have liked to see the male character explore psychology in more areas of his life, like his parents’ decisions, for example. That choice may have been a missed opportunity, or it may have been intentional, given word count restrictions.

One more tip for readers—don’t read this book while dieting, hungry, or fasting. 😉

The romance really worked here. The secular elements were jarring. The heroine sometimes struck me as juvenile and unlikable, and I would have liked to see a stronger character arc for her. Well-developed story world and immersion into the foodie scene made the book stand out.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

I love these characters! In this story, (Montana Rescue series, book four), we get to see the PEAK team travel, putting their resources to use away from the usual Montana setting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Billionaire Ian Shaw can have everything he wants—except a happy ending. Or at least that's what it feels like with his fortune recently liquidated, his niece, Esme, still missing, and the woman he loves refusing to speak to him. In fact, he doubts she would date him even if they were stranded on a deserted island.

Despite her love for Ian, Sierra Rose knows he has no room in his life for her as long as the mystery of his missing niece goes unsolved. The only problem is, Sierra has solved it, but a promise to Esme to keep her whereabouts secret has made it impossible to be around Ian.

When the PEAK chopper is damaged, and Sierra lacks the funds to repair it, Ian offers a fundraising junket for large donors on his yacht in the Caribbean. But the three-day excursion turns into a nightmare when a rogue wave cripples the yacht and sends the passengers overboard. Shaken up and soaked to the bone, Ian finally has a chance to test his theory when he and Sierra do indeed find themselves washed up on a strange, empty shore.

It will take guts and gumption for the PEAK team to rescue the duo. But it will take a miracle to rescue Ian and Sierra's relationship.

And now, my review:

From this series's prequel (which is a Kindle FREEBIE), entitled If Ever I Would Leave You, I’ve been hoping we would get back to Ian and Sierra's story. This book takes us there. Please, if you haven't yet, read this free prequel. Then, you'll have the background for Troubled Waters, and really, for the rest of the series.

We also get to follow Jess and Pete’s story, which is another reason I love this series—the threads of secondary characters keep us hooked. It’s also a good reason to read these novels in order, which I highly recommend doing. Here’s the list:

Montana Rescue series, titles and release dates:

Prequel: If Ever I Would Leave You (9/15/16)
Book One: Wild Montana Skies (10/18/16)
Book Two: Rescue Me (1/31/17)
Book Three: A Matter of Trust (7/2017)
Book Four: Troubled Waters (1/2/18)

[Note: These links are for the Kindle versions. You’ll find my reviews of these books on this blog (Net’s Book Notes).]

Now, back to my thoughts. 
There are so many good things to like about this book! I loved the dynamic between brothers Pete and Sam. I loved the characterization, overall, but especially Susie’s male POVs. (points of view) At difficult points, we see their brokenness, in believable ways. So well done. Though the novel’s level of peril got to me a little bit (because there is a lot of it here), I enjoyed the ride. And oh, the romance! Every couple we focused on had their own romance going, which was so much fun.

Ian is a once-wealthy man who has trusted in his wealth and his own ability to control life, he thinks, to get him through. That’s why the loss of his niece eats him up, I think. (see the prequel) He tried his best to control her future, and his efforts didn’t work. Readers may relate with trying to control their lives out of a sense of fear. Ian has skid marks from past relationships, feeling abandoned, and he’s got a fatal flaw (this control issue) that needs to go. But his persistence and drive make him respectable, and I rooted for his success. He’s also broken, especially as his journey gets rough, and I felt for him.

Sierra sees herself as second rate. She’s interpreted her life’s events as evidence for that belief. She’s stronger than she thinks and her adventures in this story, including her romance with Ian, will unravel her lie. I loved rooting for her and watching her bravely take on the challenges in her path.

I loved that Susie included herself in this story, incognito! (Read the book to find her.) And I loved the escape of sailing and revisiting summer weather this January while I read. Jesus is present in this story in a way I don’t recall in Susie’s earlier books, and I loved that!

One of the novel’s themes was how life is not easy. Trusting God is hard and even when you do, bad things happen. But how we respond to those times is what counts. That’s a relatable theme. Susie encourages readers to choose faith, another theme.

Troubles hit these characters over and over on their way to the book’s conclusion. I held my breath and cheered and cried. Every emotion. I laughed aloud a few times and delighted in this journey.

Looking back at my highlighted in the Kindle ARC version, I think I’m going to want to read this one again. So much to enjoy!  

I loved this novel and highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren

Let’s begin with the summary:

Champion back-country snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he's remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana's rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can't seem to find his footing—or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him.

Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret—one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track.

When Ella's brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park's most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn't so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he'll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain.

But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder—and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella's secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other—even when disaster happens again?

And now, my review:

This book is about Gage, but I loved getting to learn more about Ty. He’s kind-hearted and compassionate.

Okay, back to Gage, the main hero of this Montana Rescue series novel. He’s likable and competent. You trust that if he’s sent out to rescue someone, he’ll bring them safely home. That’s reassurance you’ll need as the story gets more and more intense. Getting to ski with Gage was fascinating. He has something to prove, and Susie slowly reveals his secrets to the reader. Love how she did that. Gage’s heroism flows from a few things—past regrets and this need to prove himself to the world. He’s calm, though, and mature.

Senator and attorney Ella Blair is a likable character as well. She has some past regrets that she'll need to overcome. As I read her story, I felt she was more believable as an attorney than a senator, but that may be because we didn't spend much time on her senator role. I loved that she was a strong and competent snowboarder. The perfect match for Gage and someone we could respect.

Like when I read Susie’s smokejumper books, and I felt as if I was breathing in the smoke and coughing on the fumes, while I was reading this wintertime novel, I could almost smell the snow and feel the powder surround me as I swished down a slope. The descriptions take you right into the experience with the characters. Gage’s skiing expertise was so well written. He’s a champion freerider, and the first scenes in the book were extremely well penned. The wording was so technical, I wondered for a moment if someone else had written them. Some of the phrases were foreign to me from start to finish. Then, when I read Susan’s Author Note, she makes it clear she’s been a life-long skier. She knows this topic.

There were many profound statements, some relational, and some spiritual—about how God sees us versus how we see ourselves, especially when it comes to feeling worthy of being rescued. God doesn’t require us to be worthy, but we require it of ourselves.  This novel included themes of rescue, forgiveness, secrets, God’s love, mercy, and trust. Also, there’s a theme of believing in yourself and how when others do, their faith in us encourages us to see ourselves differently.

I had a tough time, now knowing this world, believing that a tent without a fire inside, could be warm enough in the temperatures she described for people to camp in. Or how a stove would work inside a tent, without a way to vent the fumes outside. Perhaps a little more explanation would be helpful.

Another concern was that Ty meets someone, and she and he both experience an immediate attraction. No surprises so far. But what didn’t quite click is why he was drawn to her after that initial attraction. Without giving away spoilers, she has a career that threatens the team’s members, so it wasn’t believable that he would continue to pursue her when that became apparent. We could use another strong element that draws him so we believe that he would let her into his life and therefore close to the team.

But overall, I relished this story. I have Susie’s next book in this same series (Troubled Waters) on my Kindle, ready for me to keep enjoying these characters. Can’t wait to get back to it!

Highly recommended! I love this series, which I recommend you read in order. Otherwise, you may be lost. There are a lot of great characters to track.