Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Big 5-Oh! by Sandra Bricker

The Big 5-Oh! by Sandra Bricker will release in February, 2010, but I couldn't wait to share my thoughts on this fun book!

Here's the back cover copy:

Olivia Wallace has a birthday curse . . . or so she thinks. It was a broken heart on her 16th, a car accident on her 21st, pneumonia on her 30th, and a fall down a flight of stairs on her 35th. There were Ohio blizzards on her 38th, 39th, and 40th; and six days before her 45th, she lost the love of her life to a heart attack. Numbing grief stole that birthday and a couple more to follow and, on the morning of her 48th birthday, she received the call she’d dreaded ever since losing her mom so many years ago…she was diagnosed with stage-3 ovarian cancer. The doctors didn’t hold out a lot of hope, but Liv survived and maintained her faith. Months of surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed.

But now, as her 50th birthday creeps up the icy Ohio path toward her, her hair has grown back, her energy level is up, and she is officially cancer free. It makes her nervous. After everything she’s gone through, Liv hates the idea of driving on icy roads and returning to work as an O.R. nurse in a local Cincinnati hospital.

Her best friend Hallie knows just the thing to break Liv out of the winter doldrums, while providing a safe haven of warmth, sunshine, and a time to regroup: a holiday in the Florida sunshine!

And now, my review:

This is the second Sandra Bricker novel I’ve read. The first was her fantastic Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas out through Summerside Press. (Read my review here.)

Sandie’s books are fun. While reading The Big 5-Oh! I recall laughing aloud when I was in no mood to laugh! That’s what good fiction does—takes you away from your circumstances and lets you have fun. She made me enjoy myself even against my will. (Thanks, Sandie!) I appreciated one of her themes—that even tough circumstances can be used by God as He works behind the scenes in our lives. That's been very true for me.

There is a shortage (in my opinion) of romantic comedies. Sandie’s books help fill the void. And readers of any age will enjoy it, I feel, because I’m a ways out from 50 (thanking God since I’m so not ready) and I enjoyed this novel. Quirky characters, alligators, and lots of fun await readers of this novel.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Healing Sands by Nancy Rue & Stephen Arterburn

Close your eyes and recall the sand of a beach or desert. You run your fingers through the sand. What’s it feel like? Gritty? Scratchy? Because Nancy and Stephen’s books are so real, you may find some of the story elements a bit abrasive, but only because it’s sand paper that smoothes away imperfections.

That’s one of the reasons I love their Sullivan Crisp stories—these are life-changing books.

Okay, first things first. Here’s the back cover copy:

Her life was spinning out of control. A mix of anger and emptiness defined her. Desperate for true peace, she headed to a place of rest - the healing sands.

Ryan Coe feels lost - her marriage is over, her kids are living with their dad, her God-life is silent, and her patience is practically non-existent. To top it off, her once exciting job as a photojournalist has been reduced to taking pictures of enchilada festivals and B-level actors. But when she arrives at the scene of a crime and sees her son's face through her zoom lens, her world crashes. Her only mission - to find out who really did this and why they framed her.

But before she can help anyone. Ryan's got to get her anger in check. She turns to Sullivan Crisp's Healing Choices clinic, but even that doesn't go according to plan. Quirky and unusual don't even begin to describe Sully and she soon realizes that he isn't the quick-fix therapist she was hoping for. Between his unorthodox counseling and a group of women who are the first real friends she's had in a long time, Ryan begins to realize it's not control she's for, but something much more powerful.

And now, my review:

At first, I wondered about the naming of a female lead as “Ryan.” Sure, a lot of names can go both ways, but not this one. Not for me. Until I read on and discovered the very poignant characterization element the authors were trying to get to here. You’ll have to read the book to find out. :-)

When I read a book, it’s impossible to not dissect it. I study novels. So, as a writer, I have to say Nancy’s skills are amazing. Plotting move swiftly along. Characterization makes you care for her characters. There were mystery elements in this novel, and I loved gathering clues to solve the crimes. The use of two different POVs is great—first person for Ryan and third whenever we’re with Sully. That takes skill to carry off. Nancy excels.

I related with Ryan in some areas, though not all. The main theme in this book is anger. And though I couldn’t relate entirely to Ryan’s rage, I found myself in the pages anyway.

If you’ve read any of this series before, I have a question for you: What’s not to love about Sullivan Crisp?? All the scenes of therapy, or even Sullivan’s own life thrown into the books, are rich with helpful meanings. And I never felt preached to, though the final summation scene did seem a touch forced. Generally, though, because I have an interest in psychology, I just ate up the scenes between Sully and Ryan. They're so well crafted and chock full of insights.

The authors included themes on parenting and marriage, legal issues, and other mental health concerns besides rage. Their spiritual theme of surrender to God will speak to believers as well. Readers will find something of interest to them; they’ll learn something and be challenged, all in the context of a fantastic story well penned.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stretch Marks by Kimberly Stuart

Kimberly Stuart's book Act Two was such an enjoyable, funny read, that I was very interested in reading her novel Stretch Marks.

Let's start with the back cover copy:

Mia is a granola-eating, sensible shoe–wearing, carbon footprint–conscious twenty-something living in a multicultural neighborhood in Chicago. Her mother, Babs, is a stiletto-wearing Zsa Zsa Gabor type who works as an activities hostess on a Caribbean cruise line … and if you guessed there’s some tension there, you’d be right. Factor in an unexpected pregnancy and Mia’s idealistic boyfriend—Lars is such a visionary he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage—and the mother-daughter relationship is, well, stretched very thin. As is Mia’s sanity when Babs shows up to … help.

Actually, Mia has a whole neighborhood of quirky characters who want to help, including her BFF Frankie, a magenta-haired librarian; Silas, the courtly gentleman of indeterminate age who lives downstairs; and Adam, proprietor of the corner grocery store where Mia shops. But it’s Adam—endearing, kind, possessed of a perfect smile and impeccable Persian manners—who ultimately charms Babs and rescues Mia from more than one mother-induced meltdown. Could it be that Mia and Babs might actually be able to get along?

With Kimberly Stuart’s trademark irreverent humor and a surprising and satisfying take on romance, Stretch Marks is an authentic but tender story about family, grace, and the importance of a good grocer.

And now my review:

Kimberly’s earthy, New Agey, vegan, yoga-practicing heroine demands attention from page one. The author paints one comical scenario after another as she unwraps her heroine’s journey.

Some of Kimberly’s humor may offend readers. The book’s back cover copy describes her humor as “irreverent.” Unfortunately, though I wasn’t highly offended, I also didn’t find any endearing LOL moments.

But after reading Zora & Nicky by Claudia Mair Burney, I appreciated Kimberly’s heroine’s relationships with people of multiple races, and her consternation whenever her mother flippantly made ridiculous comments.

As to the romance, I did read far enough to feel this didn’t develop fast enough. I am not a romance snob. :-) I will read non-romance novels, but when a book promises a romance (refer again to the back cover copy) and by midway hasn’t dwelt long enough on it, and if I’m not hooked enough by other elements, I don’t have time (or patience, forgive me) to read on.

Because I did find some elements a bit offensive, I cannot say I’d recommend this book. Perhaps she was attempting to be culturally relevant. I tried to find some redeeming, Christian-like qualities and had a hard time. As I type this review, I cannot remember them in the first half of the book. Perhaps she was saving the best elements for last?

Because I loved Kimberly’s Act Two as much as I did, I gave her second book until half-way through to impress me (in positive ways). Maybe her next book will click for me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sweet Waters by Julie Carobini

It's January, but I would love to be magically transported to the location on the cover of Julie Carobini's recent novel Sweet Waters.

Here's the back cover copy:

There’s nothing left for Tara Sweet in landlocked Dexton, Missouri. Her fiancĂ© called off their wedding, her sister is moving to Manhattan, and now her mother is marrying a much younger man with plans for a yearlong honeymoon in Europe. Tara believes a move back to her childhood home of Otter Bay, California, will help restore the fun and fearlessness she’s already missing in her twenties. Playing back memories of idyllic times spent there with her father along the majestic coast, a fairytale seems just around the corner.

Better make that a soap opera. After Tara finds a job in Otter Bay, makes friends at The Red Abalone Grill, and perhaps even a new flame in firefighter Josh, she begins to uncover shocking secrets about why her family left this heaven on earth all those years ago. And though she will have to question everything she has ever known, the faith that Tara must depend upon will be sweeter than ever before.

And now, my review:

What can I say about Julie’s self-coined genre, Beach Lit? I love it! Love the settings. Here near Seattle, there are water people and there are mountain people. I’m a water person.

Lots of secrets hide from the heroine of Sweet Waters. The story unfolds her family’s mysterious history, keeping the reader involved. But I did feel the plot moved slow enough I read a couple of novels between beginning and finishing this one.

That said, I believe readers will relate with Julie’s characters’ family dynamics and her heroine’s need to know.

Throwing in that thread of romance doesn’t hurt. Though, perhaps, it that thread were stronger, readers might enjoy the novel more; the plot may have moved along more quickly.

If you enjoy beach settings, romance and a mostly light read, you’ll enjoy Sweet Waters.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If Tomorrow Never Comes by Marlo Schalesky

This book wasn’t in my TBR (to be read) pile. In fact, I don’t even own it. But somehow, as I was pulling books from the library system or adding up a wish list of items at Amazon, I came across it. It all started when I read Beyond the Night, her Christy award-winning novel. (Read my review and interview with Marlo here.) I remembered Beyond the Night was poignant and deep, a powerful read which didn’t simply entertain, I’d been drawn closer to God. So, I recently picked up If Tomorrow Never Comes. This novel exceeded my expectations.

I believe in dreams—God-given dreams. Kinna’s problem in If Tomorrow Never Comes is she has decided what her dreams are; she has decided how to get there. She has believed the prideful and sometimes misguided notion of “you can do anything you put your mind to.” Her struggle? Infertility. And she can’t force the hand of God. Even if you’ve never faced infertility or chased a dream, you’ll find yourself in these pages. The author tackles issues of father-son relationships, healing from a painful childhood, letting go, forgiveness, trusting God—all weighty issues. She also delves into issues within marriage as the married hero and heroine of her story face their weaknesses, their history, their love, and their hopes in the course of the story.

The book is listed as general contemporary fiction, but I’d call this a married couple romance. For those of us how enjoy that type of read, this is a rare find. But If Tomorrow Never Comes is so much more than a simple, or formulaic, read. Without preaching, Marlo drew me to Jesus, glorifying Him. And just when you think the story is about to wind down, it really winds up.

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a while. She hooked me from the very beginning, and through her use of universal themes (see above) kept me turning pages through the end.

Highly recommended!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Christian Fiction Releases for January, 2010


Here is the list ACFW compiles every month of new Christian fiction releases.

1. A Stray Drop of Blood, by Roseanna M. White from Whitefire Publishing. Born free, made a slave, married out of her bonds, Abigail never knows freedom until she feels the fire of a stray drop of blood from a Jewish carpenter.

2. A Deadly Wilderness, by Kelly Irvin from Five Star/Gale/Cengage. A family that will stop at nothing to protect its secrets and a drug cartel hit man are just two of the pieces to the puzzle Homicide Detective Ray Johnson must solve to find a murderer—and save his own life.

3. Becoming Lucy - The Winds Across the Prairie Series, by Martha Rogers from Realms Division of Strang Communications. An alleged murderer reclaims his life, but can he reclaim his beloved?

4. Burn, by Erin Healy and Ted Dekker from Thomas Nelson. A supernatural thriller about a woman who gets an unwanted chance to extinguish her fiery past.

5. First Impressions , by Michelle Sutton from Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc. Playing the role of a saloon girl taught her how to flirt, but it makes a lousy first impression on the man whose heart she longs to win.

6. Jenna's Cowboy- Callahans of Texas, 1, by Sharon Gillenwater from Baker/Revell. Will Jenna's love enable Nate to put the horrors of war behind him and become the man she deserves?

7. Never Far from Home- 2nd in the Miller Family Series, by Mary Ellis from Harvest House Publishers. Emma's rebellious Rumschpringe may lead to her banishment as friendship turns to love with the English sheepfarmer.

8. Plain Jane, by Hillary Manton Lodge from Harvest House Publishers. Girl reporter Jayne Tate finds more than she bargained for when she goes to Amish Country to research a story.

9. Sworn to Protect, by Diann Mills from Tyndale. Danika Morales has sworn to protect our nation's borders. But that oath has come with a price.

10. The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth - All About Us #6, by Shelley Adina from Hatchette FaithWords. At exclusive Spencer Academy, Lissa Mansfield gains popularity when she replaces her nemesis, Vanessa, on the senior Cotillion committee, but graduation and major decisions about the future loom.

11. The Choice - Lancaster County Secrets, Book 1, by Suzanne Woods Fisher from Revell. A tender story of love and forgiveness, "The Choice" uncovers the sweet simplicity of the Amish world--and shows it's never too late to find your way back to God.

12. The Husband Tree - Montana Marriages, by Mary Connealy from Barbour. A tough lady rancher drags a reluctant cowhand on a cattledrive, along with her four daughters.

Happy reading!