Monday, August 22, 2016

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

I’ve long enjoyed reading Jim’s books, so I was excited to see this new one.

Let’s begin with the summary:

What if there was a place where everything wrong in your life could be fixed?

Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.

When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.

Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.

But the journey will become more treacherous with each step Jake takes.

And now, my review:

I savored this book. I was hooked from the opening pages and by the middle of chapter two I was enthralled. Jim didn’t save the “good stuff”—revelations for readersuntil the end, but peppered takeaway throughout.

One of the themes in the story is the ability to be objective about ourselves and see our identity through the haze of lies or fears we believe about ourselves.

Jake Palmer is a corporate trainer. He holds seminars on “reading each other’s labels” and finding out “what’s in your bottle.” But what the author did was address the universal hunt for our own identities. Who are we, as individuals? And what stands in our way from seeing ourselves as we truly are and then living in that reality? Occasionally others see us better that we see ourselves. They see our strengths and abilities more clearly than we do.

Sometimes toxic shame gets in the way. (Toxic shame is shame for who you are; basic shame is feeling badly about what you’ve done.) Jake grew up being told from authority figures, whom children tend to believe without question, that he wasn’t enough. This story is about him coming to grips with that lie because ironically the whole time he’s been coaxing people out of their hiding places into being who they truly are, he’s been hiding.

Another universal theme: people can get tangled up in regrets. These paralyze us and hold us in one place, preoccupying our time and energy. We sometimes want to go back to a certain moment and change it, and the fact that that’s impossible doesn’t keep us from ruminating on what we’d do differently or berating ourselves for not doing something differently in that moment. Those regrets and ruminations can be based in something we did, or something others did to us. That entanglement can hold us captive for years, even our whole lives, keeping us from living out our destinies or seeing our worth. The hook in this story is the promise of a place where Jake could go where what was wrong in his life could be made right. He could get back what he’d lost.  

The author, like life, presents readers with a choice: keep hiding or face our stuff and learn to move forward without shame. But there will be a fight, and the choice to do battle is only the first difficult thing to overcome.

I’ve come to expect Jim’s work to include the supernatural, which this novel does around the mysterious corridor and person he finds there. I also loved the Superman references; the NW lake setting; the Narnian references, the friendship group; the affirmation-based story; the psychological study; the battle to choose hope; and the call to discover, embrace, and walk in our true identities.

This was one of my favorite reads this year. A life-changing novel that will stick with readers long after they finish.

Highly recommended.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

If Ever I Would Leave You by SMW

If Ever I Would Leave You by Susan May Warren

This is the prequel (and it's a novella) to Susan May Warren's Montana Rescue Series, which launches with book one, Montana Skies, in October, 2016. Read on for information on how to get this prequel/novella FREE.

What a fun, bite-sized story! But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

Let’s begin with the summary:

In this book, you’ll meet billionaire Ian Shaw and his lovely assistant, Sierra and experience the event that threads through the entire series…the disappearance of a young woman in the middle of the massive mountainous forest and the start of PEAK Rescue.

And now, my review:

I’m always up for a new SMW series! She paints such strong descriptions I felt like I’d been dropped into the story. One of the things I’ve noticed with Susie’s book is she presents believable characters, each with his/her own distinctive voice. Her teen girls sounds like teen girls, and her boys, like boys. Same with the main M/F characters. I also easily (naturally) believe their motives as they walk out the story. (Even if I don’t always like what they do. :))

I wanted to follow these characters further, and we'll get to do that in the first book in the Montana Rescue series, Montana Skies, releasing October, 2016.

One of the themes in this story of searching for a lost person was that of hope and how hope can be cruel, especially when it doesn’t deliver. I think readers who’ve been waiting on and hoping for something in their own lives will relate with this. I certainly did.

I’ll post my review for Montana Skies closer to release day. Until then, read on, friends.

To get a FREE copy of Susan’s prequel—If Ever I Would Leave You, see her website:
(The e-book was free at the time of this writing.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Almost Like Being in Love by Beth K. Vogt

Let’s begin with the summary:

Winning an all-expenses paid Colorado destination wedding might seem like a dream come true for some people—but Caron Hollister and her boyfriend Alex Madison aren’t even engaged. How is she supposed to tell him she’s won their wedding and honeymoon when he hasn’t asked her to marry him? Being “perfect for one another” seems like the absolute best reason to get married. But what if their supposedly faultless relationship is merely a safe place to protect his secrets and a way to keep their families happy? After quitting her job, Caron accepts her best friend’s offer to visit Colorado. She needs to catch her breath. Who knows, maybe visiting the destination wedding site will make a future with Alex seem like a reality.

Kade Webster just landed the biggest deal of his life with his company, Webster Select Realty, participating in the Colorado Springs Tour of Homes. He never imagined he would run into the woman who broke his heart—Caron Hollister—right when his career is taking off. Seeing her again, Kade can’t help but wonder why Caron walked away from him years ago, leaving him with no explanation. When Kade learns his home stager won’t be able to help with the Tour of Homes, he vaults past all the reasons he should stay away from Caron, and offers her a temporary job helping him on the project. This time, their relationship is purely business.

Spending time with Kade has Caron questioning everything. The man intrigues her—at times infuriates her—and reminds her of what she lost. Has she been settling for what everyone expects of her? Just because others believe she and Alex are an ideal couple, does that mean they should get married? And how can Caron say “I do” to one man when she’s wondering “what if?” about another?

And now, my review:

At first I wasn’t sure what to think of this story’s heroine. She’s an adult who comes across in the beginning of the story more like a teen who is coming of age in a way. She has a very complicated relationship with her father, and I couldn’t blame her for having mixed feelings about him. As a reader, I found him very unlikable. But he’s not a main character, so I was happy to follow the other characters through the story. 

The heroine struggles with needing her father’s approval, but doesn’t realize that as a fallible human, he can’t give her what she needs.  She’s trying to find her identity, which again, struck me as coming of age, not a full-grown adult’s tale. And she seems very weak where her father is concerned. This wore on me as a reader, but I was so hooked on the story, I kept reading.  

I liked the author’s sense of humor and the way she weaved her strong subplots in with the main plot. Her main characters were well-developed, and I cared about what happened to them.

I felt the story question resolution ended the story long before the novel wrapped up, so I skimmed a bit near the end.  I wish the author well, but I would have preferred to see the romance wrap up after the subplots did. Then, I feel readers could rejoice in the heroine’s success in resolving her personal issues and her finding her HEA. As is, I kept thinking the story should already be wrapped up and for some reason the HEA wasn’t as satisfying. (Perhaps for reasons named above.) 

All that said, I will definitely read this author’s next book. I enjoy her writing as a whole, and she’s one of the authors I follow in regards to next releases.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

An Elegant Façade by Kristi Ann Hunter

An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter

I enjoy Kristi Ann Hunter’s writing. So, I couldn’t wait to read this one for review. She is an author to watch!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has worked tirelessly to seal her place as the Incomparable for her debut season. At her first London ball, she hopes to snag the attention of an earl.

With money and business connections, but without impeccable bloodlines, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere. When he first encounters the fashionable Lady Georgina, he’s irritated by his attraction to a woman who concerns herself only with status and appearance.

What Colin doesn’t know is that Georgina’s desperate social aspirations are driven by the shameful secret she harbors. Association with Colin McCrae is not part of Georgina’s plan, but as their paths continue to cross, they both must decide if the realization of their dreams is worth the sacrifices they must make.

And now, my review:

When I read Book One in this series, A Noble Masquerade, where we were first introduced to Georgiana (the heroine of this book), I didn’t think there were any redeeming qualities in this younger sister. She was rude and judgmental, superficial and selfish. But this book gives us a look inside her world, her heart, and we do find redeeming qualities there.

We begin this book, as the author’s note tells us, with a bit of overlap of Book One. At first, I didn’t mind this. I enjoyed seeing these happenings from Georgina’s perspective. But as this overlap continued for about a third of the book, I found myself experiencing déjà vu and wanting more from the story. As the author promises, we do get to dig deeper into Georgina’s world following the overlap, and since I was hooked, I devoured this novel.

Georgina is rather unlikable. And I think she realizes she comes across as harsh and unkind. Perhaps this is partly why she hides, beyond the secret she keeps. So for a while into the story, she is unapproachable. I loved watching her transformation as the truth, and unconditional love, set her free.

Colin. What a fun hero! In Book One, he’s a bit of a clown, but we find his deeper layers in this book too. He’s humble, and competent in business. And he sees past Georgina’s façade to the woman within. And wonder of wonders, he likes what he sees. He doesn’t judge her, but calls her to honesty, to come out from behind her façade. Will she do it?

I found a few POV missteps within the story, but to be fair, I read the ARC (advanced reader copy), so these may have been weeded out by the final version. Of course, Regencies are less stringent on purist POV than other genres, so perhaps this was intentional.

There were several places within the story where I laughed aloud. That makes for a fun read. 

As to whether you could read this book without having read Book One first, yes, I believe you could and not be too lost. The overlap helps, and this book focuses directly on Colin and Georgina. 

Great read!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin is my favorite WWII-era novelists! Here’s a review of her latest.

Let’s begin with the summary:

One Plucky Female Pharmacist + One High-Society Naval Officer = Romance—and Danger

For plucky Lillian Avery, America's entry into World War Ii means a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. The challenges of her new job energize her. But society boy Ensign Archer Vandenberg's attentions only annoy--even if he is her brother's best friend.

During the darkest days of the war, Arch's destroyer hunts German U-boats in vain as the submarines sink dozens of merchant ships along the East Coast. Still shaken by battles at sea, Arch notices his men also struggle with their nerves--and with drowsiness. Could there be a link to the large prescriptions for sedatives Lillian has filled? The two work together to answer that question, but can Arch ever earn Lillian's trust and affection?

And now, my review:

Every time I pick up one of Sarah’s novels, I know I’m in for a well-researched, layered story. This one did not disappoint. The heroine is a multi-layered woman who believes lies about herself. (As we all do.) She feels broken and has never felt precious, or cherished. Her disability has helped shape her, but she’s also developed some outmoded coping mechanisms that will need to change. She’s so used to rejection she can’t imagine being treated any other way. This feeling of not be “cherishable” is a theme for her. I think readers will relate, especially women. We want to feel valuable and worth cherishing. I also feel readers who suffer disabilities or disfigurement will relate with her. She has to deal with the horrified expressions of others as she goes about her daily tasks. Anyone who’s had visible scars will relate with how this feels and the heroine’s reactions to those interactions.

The hero is misunderstood as well. He’s from a wealthy family and as a man of faith, he’s determined not to let himself become someone who uses money to manipulate people. He fears becoming this way.

I love, love, loved the theme of Jesus as the Anchor of our souls!! I’ve used this imagery as my tagline for my author website and business cards for years. Sarah brought up this imagery in several different ways, all of them relatable and satisfying.

Another aspect I really appreciated, beyond the author’s honest/real treatment of her heroine’s disability, was her development of a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) thread for the hero. Archer is a man of faith and prayer, but does that automatically mean his PTSD is healed? No. Does he automatically receive peace when he prays about his circumstances? Not always. I loved that approach because I believe it’s true to life. The author’s balance of faith and difficult situations, and the process of growing and learning and healing, was so well done. Sarah excels at writing this balance, and combined with her amazing research, these elements make for a great read every time.

This is the second book in the Waves of Freedom series. I appreciated having read the first in the series, and I recommend you do too, if you haven’t. But I believe readers could follow this story without having read the first book.

Five stars for this latest Sarah Sundin WWI historical. Great read! Highly recommended.