Tuesday

Heaven Help Heidi by Sally John

MY REVIEW...

I have often wondered what possesses an author to have multiple major story lines in one novel. Subplots are great! But a novel needs just one major story line. This one has two major story lines that interlace Two love stories, well three if you count the past love story of Liv McAlister and her quasi-love story with a dear friend. ACK!

Liv has a secret that is only alluded to when she meets Heidi. There is no reason to keep this a secret from the reader. We're in her head for crying out loud. She goes to a friend to discuss the problem, but we don't find out what the problem is. That is the worst kind of ploy authors and editors indulge in these days. Frustration bubbles up, not anticipation. There is no suspense, and when frustration increases to a certain degree, the reader is more likely to toss the book to the floor rather than keep reading to the end. That's what I did, so I have no idea how the thing ends. What's more, don't tell me because I really don't care.

Too many characters that feel two-dimensional rather than well developed into warm, real, messy people. Three-quarters of the way through, I gave up. I found out I really didn't care about any of the characters. I tried to, but by that time the Heidi story was so watered-down by the distractions of the other characters I just gave up.

Give me a story where two or even three characters are developed and finely woven into a smooth flowing story and I'll read every word to the very last page. I'll even read all the acknowledgements and the "About the Author" page. This is not that kind of story. This story is choppy. It feels disconnected, and there is far too much head jumping.

You have a sloppy driver get into a sloppy one-car accident (Heidi) and you have a deeply grieving woman (Piper) who was engaged, not married to a military man.

Piper didn't have years of memories of loving and living with her man. She was engaged, but she is portrayed as a "dead" woman as her story opens, and we are told she acts for years like she's devastated. Then suddenly, she blossoms into all tingling delight at the mere sight of a man. No depth, no build-up, no anticipation with that. Just goo-goo eyes and heart flip-flops. Perhaps that happens to teenagers: The flipping of emotions, the sudden attitude changes, the languishing and mercurial moods swings, but not to an almost 30-year-old. Okay, there are moments when she realizes she hasn't thought of her dead fiance. She thinks she just might be able to go on with her life. Suddenly we find out she isn't happy in her job and she doesn't get along with her boss. Again, no build-up, nothing to indicate this contrived plot twist. This is both an editor and an author problem.

As for Heidi, she is a much more developed character. It is almost like this book was written about Heidi, and then some other characters were thrown in to pad the novel. This story would have been tremendous if all the focus was on Heidi. She makes the other characters seem like mere distractions, buzzing flies. The book is worth it just for Heidi. Her life is a mess. She has problems with what is actually important in life. It is fun watching her grow into a God-loving woman. I'm glad they changed the name from Take My Hand, to Heaven Help Heidi. The title fits perfectly.

Because of Heidi, I give it 2 stars of 5.

ABOUT THE BOOK...

Welcome to the Casa de Vida—eleven quaint bungalows located three blocks from the Pacific Ocean in tiny Seaside Village, California. Owner Liv McAlister never advertises vacancies beyond a small hand-lettered sign out front, preferring to trust that God will send the right tenant at just the right time. And He always does.

Heidi Hathaway’s life has been turned upside down. After an accident leaves her injured, unable to work, and incapable of negotiating the stairs in her multilevel oceanfront condo, she leases her home and moves into a cozy little cottage in the charming garden complex where her friend Piper lives. There she finds so much more than a place to rest and recover.

Piper Keyes knows Jared is not coming back from Afghanistan. After making it through the fifth anniversary of his death, she wonders if she’s at last ready to get on with life. She gingerly explores new avenues—photography, cooking, and buying her own boutique—and learns to open her heart again.

The most comforting thing about living at the Casa is that the women there become each other’s mentors and confidantes, learning from their own mistakes and arriving at new, healed places in their lives.

Monday

Dubiosity by Christy Barritt

MY REVIEW
 
Christy Barritt is a well-established author, and she has done a good job with this novel. All in all, it is an intriguing and well-executed story design.

The main characters are well-developed, and seem a lot more real than 2-dimensional paper dolls. Only on occasion do they seem a bit card-boardish being forced into some action that doesn't quite fit the mold the author created for them.

Besides  Savannah, who is quite intriguing, we have Clive who has a terrible secret that he's too desperate to reveal. I think this kind of intrigue that surrounds Clive is a LOT heavy-handed.. There could have been such a deep sense of suspense if this character had been developed with a lighter touch.

Savannah, on the other hand wallows in self-recrimination and deep sorrow over the deaths of her husband and baby. Not until the very end does the reader find out exactly why this sorrow is so intense that it stretches over so much time and so much territory. I have grandbabies, I can certainly appreciate the depth of this sorrow, and especially the depth of her feeling it was her fault the baby died, and even appreciate the loss of her faith. However, I think this was too heavy-handed as well. This may be the editor's fault so the publisher could meet a deadline. I think the book would have been so much better if it hadn't had so many different story lines.

I also deeply wish that authors would quite delving into the minds of the insane villains. This kind of writing adds nothing to the story line and adds zero to suspense. Give readers a benefit of their own imagination!!! Our imagination lends so much more terror when things are left to the imagination. Also building up that anticipation in the love interests lends so much more to the suspense. Interweaving all this adds so much more flavor to the story that the reader is hooked far into the night reading. That is what keeps those pages turning.
good job with this novel. All in all, this is a good premise and well executed writing/story design.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Tuesday

Betting on Hope by Debra Clopton


MY REVIEW
 
This novel started out so well, but dribbled to a rather predictable storyline. There was immediate sexual tensions. That's is not a bad thing, but it was very heavy-handed, almost forced. The thing is mostly Tell rather than Show, but Clopton did a great job raising questions in the readers' minds without coming out and telling the reader what the questions are supposed to be. That is rare these days.

Character development is cliche and heavy handed. There is little subtlety in this novel, and it is so predicable. I was yawning by chapter 5.

The main character is difficult to discern at first because there is so much back story given for 3 characters: The columnist, the cowboy, and the pregnant girl. Where should my attention be directed?

I blame the editor for a lot of this. In the attempt to show, not tell, a lot of backstory is given for the pregnant girl. This is very confusing at the beginning because you think she's hiding in the back of the truck driven by someone from the ranch, but it's not so. Everything sorts out later, but there is just so much confusion that a reader can take before getting fed up with a book.

Keep reading and there's still not one character that grows or is transformed or developed by what happens. Souls are not stretched, it is just a series of happenings. Again that is not necessarily a bad thing, but frankly I would much rather pick up bread crumbs along a winding path than be ramrodded down an Interstate highway.

ABOUT THE NOVEL

 Maggie Hope is an advice columnist whose background leaves her with little advice to give . . . and it's beginning to show. When Maggie fills in at an interview with champion horse trainer Tru Monahan, the on-camera chemistry between them is undeniable.
Maggie's bosses know this is the opportunity she's been looking for to launch her career-and their bank accounts. In order to save her column, Maggie takes Tru up on the bet that he can teach her to ride a quick-stepping cutting horse like any cowgirl, despite the fact that she has never been on a horse. And in the meantime, she can get the scoop on the man under the cowboy hat.

Tru has been on the competition circuit for longer than he'd like, but he knows it's the only way he can afford to keep the Four of Hearts Ranch that means so much to his ailing grandfather. So when his sponsors see the opportunity for Tru's fans to get to know the star on a more intimate level, he knows he must oblige. To his dismay, Maggie not only invades his small town of Wishing Springs, but she also invades his heart, and that is something he cannot let any woman do-for her own good.

In Wishing Springs, Maggie finds what she has always been looking for: a community and a home. But when her past catches up to her, it threatens everything, even the tender hope that this town holds all of her heart's desires.

Friday

Beyond all Dreams bay Elizabeth Camden

ABOUT THE BOOK

When a librarian and a prominent congressman join forces to solve a mystery, they become entangled in secrets more perilous than they could have ever imagined.

MY REVIEW

This is a book that the author mostly tells rather than shows what's going on. The point of view is from the two main characters, and that is something to be thankful for (more about head jumping later). There is an incredible amount of back story for the characters that is sprinkled in and throughout the story. Back story about minor characters as well that I think could have been blended much better, and I blame the editor for this not the author. Back story is all the things that happened to a character before the current story that is being told. Sometimes the back story is jarring. For instance: Suddenly you are introduced to another character from a memory of the congressman so the librarian worries and frets over this new character who is nothing but a memory. Ye gads!

It gets 3 stars of 5 stars from me because the character development was superb. The story premise and the research is excellent. The characters don't wring their hands and blather endlessly about "What should I do?" However...Camden or the editor saw fit to explain numerous times about certain aspects of the story, which is never needed. Readers are in the moment with the characters and don't need to be reminded about what happened or what the character thought in the last chapter or even three chapters ago! Authors and editors should give readers credit for having a brain and an attention span longer than a gnat's.
The story reads like a patchwork with the main thread being this mystery that surrounds the ship that sunk killing her father. Then you have the mystery of why Anna's voice is so throaty and hoarse. Then there is the mystery of why the congressman has so much anger smoldering inside. Then there is the mystery of why he has a boy who belongs to his sister living back in Maine living with him in Washington D.C., and his sister by the way had a severe problem with alcohol. I didn't read close enough to find out why she had that problem unless it was because their father had the same problem.

Camden does a lot of head jumping (note: head jumping is going from one character's thoughts to another character's thoughts, It is not in the same scene, which is head hopping). There are basically no transitions from one head to the next so the jumping is as startling as a splash of cold water. If you have a lot of head jumping, you simply must have good transitions to make the story flow seamless, and to avoid dams, which make for a choppy read.

However, the storyline itself is very good. Camden does a good job with character growth, although it takes forever for either main character to address the congressman's anger issues... and even then it seems to be only in passing. It is definitely more like a soap opera than an honest to goodness mystery. Way too much is going on to do any of the story lines justice.

This book would have been much better if more time and expertise had been taken by the editor to blend the story lines into a solid flow rather than a series of locks and dams.



Monday

Review: Like a Flower in Bloom


Like a Flower in Bloom
Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Siri Mitchell is one of the best all time writers of our time. She is adept at all the mechanics of storytelling. Don't let that fool you, when a story unfolds seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly, one has a tendency to think something like that just happens. Not.

Mitchell's attention to detail, her tremendously deep research, and her follow-through are all signs of great writing mechanics.

This novel is one of the best that Siri has written. I say that because she admits she doesn't much like botany, but she writes like it is a science closest to her heart. That, my friends, is a very rare talent. Usually, our likes and dislikes bleed all over our stories, but not Mitchell's. That is amazing.

The storyline is quite intriguing. It takes place in an era where women were beginning to become a bit disgruntled with men's assumptions that women were bubbleheaded creatures. Full rebellion had not sprouted wings yet, but Charlotte was definitely disgruntled that she could not publish her own research under her own name, but had to put her father's name on everything from books to articles to correspondence.

Charlotte's character is truly like a bud about to bloom. She opens up to new things so that she can go back to the old things--the way things were before her uncle convinced her father that she simply must get herself a husband. Mitchell sculpts with delicate hands each character's behavior so you have a giant spring bouquet of character's.

The reader is not burdened with inconsequential back stories inserted in the worst places. All the cracks are not filled in as each page turns so the story unfolds by the sure fire way to make it a page-turner -- questions arising and being answered in a seamless flow. No disjointed dialogue, no characters acting or saying bizarre things our of character, no revelations to spoil the reader's anticipation to interrupt the flow or damming the flow.

Mitchell is a master craftsman with words so that you get a full, satisfying experience. No infernal head-hopping or jumping! Praise the Lord! And faith is interwoven exquisitely like golden threads throughout. A truly magnificent and fun offering. Well worth the money! I rank it six of five stars.



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Matthew 13:44 by Scott Coren

MY REVIEW
I thought I'd really enjoy this book because I know personally how God works and orchestrates all those terrible things that happen into something wonderful for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. In fact, the first part of this book is incredibly depressing.

I am not a fan of novels that come from several different directions like a shot from a shot gun in reverse. While real life is rarely situated for one to handle one problem at a time, novels do not have to be like that to make a huge impact on the reader. So much happened in the first several chapters that overwhelms the storyline. It's similar to a storyflow dam, or a congested head. You can't breathe.

[Caution Spoiler Alert]
I did like the tactic [caution spoiler alert] used for the one person that became Lucy's friend. The way it was written, and all that happened before, you just think this is one more tangled snarl that will drag Lucy even farther down into the quagmire. Only after that do things start looking up for her, but by that time you are incredibly tired of trying to untangle all the storylines. Reading this book is work, not pleasure.

The writing is good, not much head jumping and that made me like it even more. I give it 4 of 5 stars.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Lucy and Steve Sinclair move into their dream home in Washington DC. They’re young, successful and expecting their first child. But within one month their world will implode. Steve becomes sick, disappears and is found dead and Lucy’s baby will be born needing life-saving cardiac surgery. Lucy is then falsely accused of killing her husband in the most public of forums by her very own Judas - a man who she once called her very best friend. And all because of a chance find, hidden in the darkest and deepest recess of their attic.

Why has life suddenly turned so sour? Lucy’s only clue is a torn and scribbled note, citing ‘Matthew 13:44,’ which she finds on her husband’s desk. Given he’s a non-believer, like her, this makes no sense. He’s never even held a Bible in his life.
Soon condemned by the very people who should be supporting her, Lucy must discover and expose the real perpetrators. In doing so, it becomes hard to know who she can trust.

Alone and in the midst of this chaos, a chance lifeline is thrown, tethered to a stranger; a man she has never met but feels blissfully familiar with, who helps her discover her true purpose in life, and how - like the very Passion itself - ultimate good can come from the very worst of circumstances.

In an ever more secular world where divine fate is passed off as chance, Matthew 13:44 is a gripping account of one woman’s struggle to discover her faith, her purpose and her plan; a divine plan.

Wednesday

Review: A Daughter's Inheritance


A Daughter's Inheritance
A Daughter's Inheritance by Tracie Peterson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars



Don't waste your time or your money. I have no idea why so many gave this book more than 1 star. It's the first in a series, so I'd steer clear of anymore that might come out. Unless something drastically changes, the others will be just as disappointing. In my experience, a book never gets better the farther you read into it. It just doesn't.

The characters are really flat, 2-dimensional obviously contrived automatons except for the villainous uncle.

There is tremendous build-up, but nothing happens and then the book just ends. This is not the way to get readers to buy more books! Have a conclusion. Cliffhangers don't work anymore, and soap operas that go on and on don't work anymore either... and there's plenty of soft soap here.

It is quite obvious that the editor of this book did not do her/his job well at all. It is also obvious that Traci Peterson needs to rest her brain awhile and maybe something creative might seep into it... but, wait! This really was a creative premise. But, really, it was way too close to Titanic which was just as unbelievable.

Now I get it, those that gave it more than 1 star must live to watch soap operas.



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A Daughter's Inheritance by Traci Peterson and Judith Miller

Don't waste your time or you money. Build up with flat characters and nothing happens.

Friday

Hawk by Ronie Kendig

Kendig has done a very good job for getting that feel for being in the middle of military conflict. Her characterizations are very good. I rarely like it when a female tries to get into the head of a male character or when a male tries to get into the head of a female character. Usuawhy he has anger issues.

The story line is a trifle farfetched for me, though. I cannot fathom how a young woman in Afghanistan or Iraq (never clear on exactly where the training was taking place or exactly which army) could possibly pull the wool over her relatives' eyes like this. Being in military training takes enormous time, so family (especially a close-as-a-sister cousin) won't notice she's out of pocket??? No, I don't think so. It is not plausible, much less believable.

Kendig is a good writer, which is why I keep trying to like her books, but this one was really too far from believable.
lly it never works, but Kendig seems to make it work fine. She pegs Brian (Hawk) well, and his anger issues are described well, but she doesn't make it plain

She gets 4 of 5 stars for the writing, but only 1 of 5 stars for storyline.

Wednesday

Brickmaker's Bride by Judity Miller

Here we have an interesting background. Brickmaking. Quite fascinating how they made bricks back in the late 1800s. The story line is very believable and very well told. Descriptions are good. You can almost feel the heat of the brick ovens, and smell the mud. The love story has just the right touch of sweetness and awkward nervousness.

A good mix with the Irish and the Americans. Excellent research in how marketing, buying, selling of bricks was done. Just an excellent flavor of the period. In fact the research for the time period is spot on. Really good job.

Characterization and character development is very good. You'll be drawn into the story quickly, and the dialogue is so believable that you'll think your right there in the conversations. You've got the villains and the good guys, those that act stupidly, and those that have well-used thinking caps, and one or two that you want to pinch some sense into. The mix is very entertaining, and quite real-to-life.

This is just an excellent read. I recommend it with 5 of 5 stars.

Review: A Most Inconvenient Marriage


A Most Inconvenient Marriage
A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Seriously, Jennings is the most improved author of the decade. Her first novel was poorly researched, but was interesting. There is much good to say about this novel, though. Jennings takes a hard look at prejudice after the Civil War. I'm quite impressed with the research. She includes some sweet romance, quite a bit of levity, and a hard look at some medical practices in the mid-nineteenth century.

She also has a flare for some interesting situations that explode like a released spring, or into some hilarity. Very well written in those parts.

However, there is one part at the very beginning that reads like it was puffed to add more pages. After about the 2nd chapter there's no need for it because it adds no suspense, romance, or clarity to the story. I'd seriously consider skipping the part at the beginning that tells about a certain man's discovery. I was half way through the book before I realized that he wasn't who I thought he was, which caused considerable confusion and no tension.

Aside from that, I will definitely be looking for more from Regina Jennings! A worthy read.
5 of 5 stars!



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Thursday

Seek and Hide by Amanda Stevens

MY REVIEW

The story grips you from the first sentence. That is very rare. Then the tension slacks off a bit and you wonder where you are and what's going on. I think there is just a tad too much backstory, but then this is what a lot of writers do. They try to prolong the mystery in order to keep a reader turning pages, when all they need do is raise questions and answer questions that lead to more questions. THAT is the sign of a well designed, well told story.

However, there are great characters that are very well developed. It doesn't take too long to get the feel for each one and their personality. Although one policeman turns out to be really evil, which is part of the storyline.

A really disappointing romance is underway when the tale opens, only you don't find it until well into the book. You basically start in the middle of it. While that could work, it really doesn't work well here. There is absolutely zero reason for the "hero" to love his broken girl. I do mean zero. Then about 3/4s of the way in, you "get it". However, the big question is: Is it really true love?

All that said, I really did like the story. The flow is good, the transitions from head to head are well done (that is very rare these days, too). And above all the characters don't jump out of their skin and do something out of character. For me that is crucial for a story to work well. The collage of characters work well, too. They abrade each other to fine points, but the abrasion only works to make one character grow. I guess we'll have to wait for Book 2 to see if the stubbornness of two characters will wear away enough for their souls to stretch.

It is very much a page turner, and a read that will keep you up at night. A word to the wise, don't start this book at 10:00 PM thinking you'll just read til you get sleepy. You won't. Then when you finish the book, you realize there is much more to the story. It really leaves you hanging with a LOT of holes left empty and gaping.



ABOUT THE BOOK

 Six years ago, the government took control of the church. Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations. Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment—including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent.

Aubrey Weston recanted her faith when the Constabulary threatened her baby. Now released, she just wants to provide for her son and avoid government notice. But she’s targeted again, and this time, her baby is taken into custody. If only she’d never denied Him, maybe God would hear her pleas for help.

When Aubrey and Marcus's lives collide, they are forced to confront the lies they believe about themselves. And God is about to grab hold of Marcus’s life in a way he’d never expect, turning a loner into a leader.
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