Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Sweet By and By - Sara Evans & Rachel Hauck

It's not often you run across such a well-written, "heart-hitting" story. Bravo, Sara and Rachel. Let's begin with the back cover copy.

Here's the summary:

A redemptive story from multi-platinum recording artist Sara Evans, cowritten with Rachel Hauck.

Jade Fitzgerald left the pain of her past in the dust when she headed out for college a decade ago. Now she's thriving in her career and glowing in the light of Max Benson's love.

But then Jade's hippie mother, Beryl Hill, arrives in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, for Jade's wedding along with Willow, her wild younger sister. Their arrival forces Jade to throw open the dark closets of her past--the insecurity of living with a restless, wandering mother, the silence of her absent father, and the heart-ripping pain of first-love's rejection.

Turns out Beryl has a secret of her own. She needs reconciliation with her oldest daughter before illness takes her life. In the final days leading to the wedding, Jade meets the One who shows her that the past has no hold on her future. With a little grace, they'll meet in the middle, maybe even before that sweet by and by.

And now my review:

The prose pulled me into this touching and meaningful tale. Chockfull of universal themes, it’s hard to put down. Jade’s relationships are central the story, and readers will likely see their own relationships mirrored there. Jade’s rapport with her mother is strained. Jade raised her sister and resents her mother for her absence in their younger years. Jade’s fiancé wants to leave the past behind, but naively so. What of the truths about each other that will affect their future together? They’ll have to delve into their yesterdays in order to begin their tomorrows.

Jade struggles to correctly frame her past. She learns how to be honest about her role in her own life, where she influenced the relationships and decisions. I could relate with some of Jade’s trials. As I read, I questioned my own position on my past. Jade can’t move on until she 1) correctly perceives the incidents of her past, 2) experiences forgiveness and 3) is healed. There is a lot of wisdom in that list, a good combination with universal themes for this first novel by Sara Evans. I appreciated Rachel Hauck’s wordsmithing, right from the beginning. It’s a hard-earned skill by most writers. Especially making it look easy, like Rachel has done.

My favorite aspects, though, were the supernatural elements. The Jesus encounter was delicious, and expressed in an unapologetic way. I long to see more of that in Christian fiction.

Tackling some tough issues with the perfect blend of honesty and humor, The Sweet By and By is a powerful and poignant read.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beguiled by Deeanne Gist & J. Mark Bertrand

I'm breaking from my usual women's fiction/romance reading to bring you a romantic suspense review. This one drew me because of the authors who teamed up to write it.

First, the summary (including a bit of backstory on how the story came to be):

When novelists Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand first met in a Houston critique group, they never expected where friendship would take them. She wrote romance; he wrote crime novels. But growing respect for each other's work culminated in the decision to try blending their talents into this wonderfully engaging story merging romance and mystery. Rylee Monroe walks dogs in old-money Charleston, a part of the city recently targeted by a daring thief. Logan Woods works the crime beat for the local paper but dreams of a life as a nonfiction writer. When the string of robberies takes a strange twist, Logan sees the making of a once-in-a-lifetime book that seems to circle around this charming, eye-catching dogwalker. But pursuing the truth means ignoring that he seems to be falling for her. And what is she hiding in her past that could crack the story wide open?

And now, my review:

When two people with strong gifts in their genre team up, you get a solid novel. That's what Beguiled is. I will admit it took a while for me to get into this book. Generally, I move on if this happens; I'm glad I didn't give up on this one. The romance is worth it. The suspense kicks in and you read swiftly through the pages. Deeanne's skill in writing romance shows through the characters actions. You believe in the hero's desire to put aside his own fears and protect the heroine. And I appreciated how the suspense kept me engaged, as well. I've mentioned this before in my reviews -- I rarely have the opportunity to read male authors' works. Whenever I do I notice a commonality, especially in suspense. Short, packed prose. So, as I read it, I enjoyed guessing which areas were more influenced by Mark or Deeanne. Hope they collaborate again. Great book.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Guest Author: Allie Pleiter

I'm pleased to welcome my friend Allie Pleiter to Net's Book Notes today.

The Inspiration Behind Easter Promises
by Allie Pleiter

Misery loves company. Especially when it’s one-to-one. The most compelling love stories involve two people taken to the edge of their coping. On a spiritual level, I have always believed the end of our ropes is holy ground where God makes the biggest (but most painful) improvements to our souls. Emotionally, it is where two hearts no longer have the energy to resist each other and love has its best chance to break through.

Now, just add the sheep.

No, really. That’s what I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back it up six months or so when a local sheep farm I know sent out an email. They were asking for prayers because they were facing a surprise population explosion of lambs. The work, it seems, of a particularly . . . um . . . romantic ram who took his job description a little too seriously. As a knitter and a romance writer, I found the story absolutely priceless. So when Steeple Hill came to me asking to write an Easter story to wrap up my beloved Kentucky Corners series, well, it didn’t take long for my muse to put two and two together. Or, in this case, one control freak librarian, one grieving widower veterinarian, and four very pregnant sheep. I’ve recounted this premise easily a dozen times in the past three weeks, and I still giggle about it.

We love stories because stories unravel all around us (no knitting pun intended). They’re hiding in everyday conversations, email newsletters, newspaper stories, that funny look the guy at the bus stop gave you. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, your love of story can always enrich your world.

Or, in my case, put a little fleece in your fiction.


Enthusiastic but slightly untidy mother of two, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction. An avid knitter, harp player, and non-reformed chocoholic, she spends her days writing books, doing laundry, running carpools, and finding new ways to avoid housework. Allie grew up in Connecticut, holds a BS in Speech from Northwestern University, and currently lives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. The "dare from a friend" to begin writing eight years ago has blossomed into a career that includes numerous public speaking engagements, two books on parenting; BECOMING A CHIEF HOME OFFICER and FACING EVERY MOM'S FEARS, and now novels for Steeple Hill. She is the mother of two children and, most recently, a Havanese dog named Bella.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Christian Fiction Releases: March, 2010

Here is the list compiled by ACFW of new Christian fiction releases for March, 2010. Happy reading!

1. A Distant Melody, Wings of Glory, Book One by Sarah Sundin An historical from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Allie is promised to a man she doesn't love, but a B-17 pilot captures her heart--will she honor her family's wishes or take a chance on love? (Watch for my review here on Net's Book Notes.)

2. A Woman Called Sage by Diann Mills An historical from Zondervan. A woman bounty hunter fights bitterness and revenge to find the killers of her husband.

3. Beaded Hope by Cathy Liggett Women's fiction from Tyndale. A moving story about women helping women and lives changed across continents, inspired by a non-profit organization of the same name.

4. Beguiled by Deanne Gist and J. Mark Bertranda> A suspense/mystery/thriller from Bethany House. A dog-walker and a journalist pursue a thief (and each other) in atmospheric Charleston. (Watch for my review here on Net's Book Notes.)

5. Cowboy Protector by Margaret Daley A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Love Inspired Suspense. When Hannah Williams comes to help Austin Taylor with his injured daughter, she draws him into an intrigue that threatens their relationship--and their lives.

6. Dead Reckoning by Ronie Kendig Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Abingdon. Trapped by a terrorist plot in Mumbai!.

7. Disarming Andi by Elizabeth Goddard A Contemporary Romance from Heartsong Presents. Contractor Andi Nielsen has another chance to discover what ís hidden inside the missile base she was hired to remodel. Is she prepared to detonate her feelings for the new owner?

8. Fatal Burn; Big Sky Secrets, Book 2 by Roxanne Rustand A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Love Inspired Suspense. In Montana's wide open spaces, danger and love are waiting....

9. Forget Me Not, Crossroads Crisis Center series, Book 1 by Vicki Hinze A Contemporary Romance from Waterbrook-Multnomah. Someone's robbed her of her identity and goes to great lengths to convince her she's someone else; someone who wants her dead.

10. Gold in the Fire/Light in the Storm by Margaret Daley A Romance from Love Inspired. Stories of love and loyalty

11. Groom in Training by Gail Gaymer Martin A Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired. Friends, Four-legged Friends and Love.

12. Kansas Courtship, After The Storm, No. 3 by Victoria Bylin An Historical Romance from Love Inspired. Dr. Nora Mitchell came to heal the town of High Plains. She stayed to heal Zeb Garrison's heart.

13. Katie's Redemption, The Brides of Amish Country by Patricia Davids A Romance from Love Inspired. A young woman returns to her Amish roots but can she find her way back to her faith.

14. Katy's New World, Katy Lambright Series by Kim Vogel Sawyer General Fiction from Zondervan. An Old Order Mennonite girl holds to her convictions while attending public high school.

15. Liberty's Promise by Amber Stockton An Historical Romance from Heartsong Presents. Feel the heartbeat of a chaotic new country through the lives of three Pennsylvania women who seek to know to whom they can entrust their hearts.

16. Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon by Miralee Ferrell A Romance from Summerside Press. A schoolteacher must choose between a man from her past and one who could be her future, while risking her reputation to rescue two runaway orphaned children.

17. Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa by Melanie Dobson A Romance from Summerside Press. A widowed father and his young daughter find healing and hope in the communal Amana Colonies.

18. Morning's Refrain, Book 2 in Song of Alaska series by Tracie Peterson An Historical from Bethany House. Adventure and Romance in 1800's Sitka, Alaska.

19. Once in a Blue Moon by Leanna Ellis Women's Fiction from B&H Publishing. Faith is the first step to soaring.

20. Romance by the Book by Myra Johnson A Contemporary Romance from Heartsong Presents. A shy young woman's crush on her favorite romance author leads her to the man who will finally claim her heart.

21. Scattered Petals by Amanda Cabot An Historical from Revell. Tragedy broke her spirit -- will love mend her heart?

22. The Captain's Lady by Louise M. Gouge An Historical from Steeple Hill. Torn between love and duty, American Patriot James Templeton must deny his heart to help win his country's freedom.

23. The Easter Edition by Robin Shope A romance from White Rose. Bridal shop owner Carol Horn feels she will never find a love of her own until a new pastor comes to town, turning up by accident at her mother's funeral.

24. The Family Way by Michelle Levigne A romance from Desert Breeze Publishing. Pregnancy brings their shaky marriage to the breaking point, and Lisa and Todd must rediscover their love, their faith, and what true marriage means.

25. The Mockingbird's Call by Diane Ashby and Aaron McCarver A Romance from Barbour. Amelia Montgomery, torn between her family's traditions and her own convictions against slavery, must also choose between her duty and her heart as she works for the Underground Railroad.

26. The Promise of Morning, Book 2, At Home in Beldon Grove series by
Ann Shorey An Historical from Revell. When loss drives them apart, can their faith bring them back together?