Sunday, April 14, 2013

Take a Chance on Me by Susan May Warren

Take a Chance on Me by Susan May Warren
How exciting that Susan and her publisher have just launched a new series set in Deep Haven: The Christiansen Family novels.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Darek Christiansen is almost a dream bachelor—oldest son in the large Christiansen clan, heir to their historic Evergreen Lake Resort, and doting father. But he’s also wounded and angry since the tragic death of his wife, Felicity. No woman in Deep Haven dares come near.

New assistant county attorney Ivy Madison simply doesn’t know any better when she bids on Darek at the charity auction. Nor does she know that when she crafted a plea bargain three years ago to keep Jensen Atwood out of jail and in Deep Haven fulfilling community service, she was releasing the man responsible for Felicity’s death. All Ivy knows is that the Christiansens feel like the family she’s always longed for. And once she gets past Darek’s tough exterior, she finds a man she could spend the rest of her life with. Which scares her almost as much as Darek learning of her involvement in his wife’s case.

Caught between new love and old grudges, Darek must decide if he can set aside the past for a future with Ivy—a future more and more at risk as an approaching wildfire threatens to wipe out the Christiansen resort and Deep Haven itself.

And now, my review:

This was one of the best books I’ve read in a while! Susie’s work stands out because of her ability to layer elements upon each other. She’s the queen of characterization and helping readers feel the emotion demanded in the scene.

I enjoyed the fact that this story contained two simultaneous romances. Each character’s brokenness made me sympathize and want to see them free. Jensen and Darek handled their pain differently—one with anger and one with a gentle self-sacrificing—yet, they were each hurting. And I cared about their journey.

In fact, each character’s journey to restoration and freedom, to forgiveness, felt meaningful, relatable, genuine. Susie uses symbolism to echo her messages: gardening, pruning, wildfires. The scene where the two couples work through their issues was so original and delicious! And Darek and Jensen’s friendship moved me.

The theme and phrase of "take a chance on me" echoed in several ways, each meaningful. I'll leave it to the reader to discover what I mean. This was one of my favorite elements.

Susie included themes of family, not running away, and friendship. I’ve already mentioned forgiveness, which was a strong thread throughout. There were wisdom-laced life lessons sprinkled in the prose. The most rewarding read is one that changes lives. I believe readers will find relatability here, plus a few nuggets to carry forward.

Readers will not be disappointed in this story. It’s the best I’ve read so far this year.

Highly recommended.

(paperback)        (e-book)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Claiming Mariah by Pam Hillman

Claiming Mariah by Pam Hillman
I heard lots of buzz about this sophomore offering from Pam Hillman, so when it went on sale, I purchased it for review. The cover drew me in.

Let’s begin with the summary:

In light of her father’s death, Mariah Malone sends a letter that will forever alter the lives of her family. When Slade Donovan, strong willed and eager for vengeance, shows up on her front porch, Mariah is not ready to hear his truths: her father’s farm, the only home she’s ever known, was bought with stolen gold. With Slade ready to collect his father’s rightful claim and force Mariah and her family out on the streets, Mariah must turn to God for guidance. Though Mr. Frederick Cooper, a local landowner, promises to answer her financial woes if she agrees to be his bride, Mariah finds herself drawn instead to the angry young man demanding her home.

With the ranch now under Slade’s careful eye, he will unearth more than he ever imagined as a devious plot of thievery, betrayal and murder threatens more than the well-being of the ranch, endangering the lives of those who hold it dear. With days dwindling until the rest of the Donovan clan arrive to the Lazy M ranch, Mariah and Slade must rise above the resentment of their fathers and see their true feelings before greed alters their futures forever.

And now, my review:

I enjoyed the characters and setting of this story. Though the author chose a cliché “story,” she added some elements that helped make the story fresh, and her writing was strong. Along with some predictable aspects, she included some twists and kept me reading. Quite honestly, the number of cliches distracted me from the story, but these may have simply been the way the characters all thought. I've known many, many people who use cliches in their everyday life, outside of my writer friends. So a character whose introspection and speech include them is believable. 

One of the themes of Claiming Mariah was forgiveness. God's forgiveness, but also that between characters. Outlaws abounded in this book, and their choices affected so many people around them. I liked how we watched redemption and second chances at work, as a theme throughout. And the symbolism of the cat worked well.

Sometimes, when I’m reading a novel that is not part of a series, I crave a sequel highlighting one of the first book’s secondary characters. That happened with this novel. I kept imagining the author developing a story around the hero’s brother, Buck, who was himself heroic.

Lovers of old-west-based historical romance, full of ranches and cowboys, will enjoy this novel.

Note: at the time of this review, this book is only available in e-book format.