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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Drawing for a Free Book!

What a way to start out the Christmas gift-giving season!

In anticipation of next week's review of Ronie Kendig's newest release (the second in her Quiet Professionals series) we're giving away a copy of Raptor 6, the first in this series.

To be entered in the drawing, simply leave your email address as a comment on this article. While you're at it, what is your favorite Christian fiction book this year?

Drawing will be held of all email addresses received in the comment section for this post on December 12. Winner will be contacted via email for shipping information.

Monday, November 24, 2014

HIDDEN IN THE STARS by Robin Caroll

Iola Goulton reviews. 
In Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll, aspiring Olympic gymnast Sophia Montgomery wakes in hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to find a strange woman hovering over her. She’s been through a vicious in-home attack, and emergency surgery, and throat injuries mean she can’t talk. But Detective Julian Frazier needs to interview her, as she’s the only witness to a murder …

The writing in the opening passage of Hidden in the Stars is intriguing, as Sophia’s thoughts move between the attack and being in the hospital as (I assume) she drifts in and out of consciousness. It’s confusing at first, but perfectly conveys her confusion—confusion which is soon followed by frustration when she realises she can’t talk. Fortunately, Detective Frazier has a solution: a female colleague, Charlie Wallace, who lipreads, and can therefore translate for Sophia.

As Julian learns more about the attack, and Sophia remembers more, they begin to find some clues that will identify Sophia’s attackers—but they also find more mysteries, specifically some discrepancies in the stories Sophia’s mother told her, and the truth behind the central square of the beautiful quilt made from all her mother’s old ballet costumes. Sophia finds herself drawn to the handsome detective. Is this something that will last, or is it simply a product of two people drawn together by circumstance?

Hidden in the Stars is part of Abingdon’s Quilts of Love series, each a standalone novel from a different author. Each book in the series features (surprise!) a quilt and a romance. Some are contemporary, others historical. Some are straight romance, while others (like Hidden in the Stars) have a suspense or mystery subplot. Some are excellent, while others are, um, less excellent (not naming names). Hidden in the Stars has solid writing, strong characters, and an unusual plot, which makes it one of the best I’ve read in the series.

My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more of Julian’s spiritual journey, as this all seemed to resolve itself rather too neatly at the end of the book given the lack of the development throughout the story. It also seemed odd that Sophia had never met her grandmother, given they both lived in the same small town, but that was a minor point in what was otherwise a well-plotted and well-executed romantic suspense novel.

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Robin Caroll at her website. 


About Iola Goulton:
I am a married mother-of-two, living in the sunny Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. I play the tenor horn in the local Brass Band, do scrapbooking and cardmaking as hobbies.

I blog at www.christianreads.blogspot.com and http://australasianchristianwriters.blogspot.co.nz/, and I work as a self-employed fiction editor (www.christianediting.co.nz) and HR consultant (www.bayreward.co.nz). You can also find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ChristianReads) Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).

Monday, November 17, 2014

CRITICAL CONDITION by Richard Mabry


Sandra Ardoin reviews.
Critical Condition was my first introduction to a novel by Richard Mabry. It won’t be my last. A big reason was because the author held back just enough detail about the plot to keep me guessing.

Dr. Shannon Frasier wants to get her life back on track. A tragedy ten years earlier has her fearful of committing to her boyfriend, Dr. Mark Gilbert, and terrified of guns. The drive-by shooting of a man on her front lawn begins a series of events that send her life spiraling out of her control and toward her own death.

Shannon feels compelled to play “mother” to her younger and troublesome sister, Megan, who is a recovering drug addict. Right after the shooting, Megan leaves the latest in a string of boyfriends to live with Shannon until she finds another job and apartment. But when that boyfriend ends up dead and the two sisters’ fingerprints are found on the weapon, they become the prime suspects.

The story starts with a prologue that gives us insight into a key event in Shannon’s life ten years earlier, then opens at just the right spot in the present. The important parts of the prologue probably could have been incorporated into the first scene to bolster Shannon’s emotional issues, but either way, it’s great action.

The writing surprised me in two ways. First, novels written by men generally sound like they've been written by men. Maybe the main point-of-view character being a woman threw me off, but I could see any one of a number of women authors’ names on the cover. Second, to me, it was a bit more character driven than most novels in the romantic suspense category. I think it was because the writer upped the ante for Shannon with a slew of personal issues, rather than focusing strictly on the danger. And there was a nice twist at the end.

One of the things I liked about this book was the way Dr. Mabry provided his readers with medical situations and terms that a lay person could follow. It didn't read like an article out of The New England Journal of Medicine. He never talks down to his readers, yet the medical aspect brought depth to the plot and characters.

Several points-of-view are employed, rather than the usual hero/heroine. It keeps the reader guessing about Shannon’s personal choice. I did have a problem with one instance in the book that related to Mark Gilbert. I won’t go into it for obvious reasons, but it bothered me because there seemed no point to it. For me, it raised a question that never got resolved, since no further mention was made.


In summary, from a suspense standpoint, I’ve read novels that were more of a nail-biter, but Critical Condition is an enjoyable read.

***
Sandra Ardoin is a multi-published author of short fiction who writes inspirational historical romance. Her Christmas novella, The Yuletide Angel, is available for pre-order on Amazon. She’s the married mother of a young adult and lives in North Carolina. Visit her at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook,Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Monday, November 10, 2014

FATAL EXCHANGE by Lisa Harris


Sybil Bates McCormack reviews
Lisa Harris's Fatal Exchange, an engrossing inspirational romantic suspense novel set in modern day Atlanta, opens with undercover police officer Mason Taylor in the throes of guilt and revealing an innate flaw. He has just prioritized a life-or-death situation connected with work over a similarly urgent crisis developing in Denver connected with family. The conflicted cop then proceeds to absolve himself of any wrongdoing by observing that seventeen is too young to die.

Gifted Hispanic high school student Rafael Cerda—whose younger brother has been kidnapped at knife point by a powerful drug cartel—has solicited Mason’s help. The kidnappers have demanded a sizeable ransom for the brother’s release, and Rafael (for whom Mason has been a “Big Brother” mentor) has nowhere else to turn.

When Mason’s early investigation into the crime prompts a visit to the swanky private high school that the witness attends on scholarship, he encounters a former crush. Emily Hunt, Rafael’s history teacher, is also the daughter of Mason’s former boss and the sister of his deceased partner—a partner that some are convinced he betrayed. Despite the obstacles that stand between them, Mason is drawn to Emily—to her beauty, to her intellect and to the compassion and concern she demonstrates when he shares Rafael’s plight.

Emily Hunt is striving to rebuild her life—a life marred in recent months by both a broken engagement and her brother’s untimely death. When Mason Taylor appears unexpectedly at Dogwood Academy to share the disturbing news about Rafael’s family, Emily’s struck by the sincerity in his countenance and his words. She’s impressed that he has become a man of faith. She recalls how deeply her brother trusted Mason—how capably and skillfully he’s always performed in his position. In short, Emily finds it difficult to reconcile what she knows of the officer with her sister’s claims that he is somehow culpable in their brother’s death. But is she right? Can Mason Taylor truly be trusted? Is he all that he seems?

Fatal Exchange, the second in author Lisa Harris’s Southern Crimes Series (see Dangerous Passage – Book 1 and Hidden Agenda – Book 3 pending release in January 2015) is nothing short of riveting. Ms. Harris introduces one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve ever encountered at a very early point in the book and then builds upon—and expands upon it—so skillfully that I found myself stopping periodically to grin and gasp in awe at her ability to craft a story. I will refrain from discussing more on any specific elements of plot for fear that I’ll give away something that would spoil the book for other readers.

It may sound cliché, but the author literally hooks the reader into Mason and Emily’s story from the very first paragraph and never releases her again until the very end. The “reveals” at each major plot point in the book are logical yet unpredictable. Ms. Harris laces backstory and the intermittent red herring into the narrative in an artful, sparing manner. She shares everything the reader needs to know to “connect the dots,” but makes it a thrilling challenge—all the while creating a daring, breathless gallop toward the book’s sensational conclusion.

Lisa Harris draws layered, multi-dimensional portraits of the major characters in Fatal Exchange by way of balanced dialogue, nuanced narratives, and brief, compulsory allusions to setting. She demonstrates true mastery of characterization and dialogue when she sketches secondary, tertiary, and even fleeting characters in the novel. All prove easy to “hear” and visualize—despite the relentless pace of the book.

Final Words: Novelists are often thrilled to hear that they’ve kept a reader up all night. But, in this instance, the words “she kept me up and guessing all night” are more apt. I give Fatal Exchange my very highest recommendation!


A licensed Georgia attorney since 1998, Sybil Bates McCormack now writes healthcare proposals during the day while lurching haltingly toward becoming an inspirational romantic suspense author at night. She's also the crazed wife of a bi-vocational pastor and mom to two bright, talented kids. They don't call her BizzySyb for nothing! You can visit Sybil at her blog, Christian Romance/Pulsating Suspense, subscribe to her online paper, The InspyReader Gazette, follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, friend her on GoodReads, connect with her on LinkedIn, and add her to your circles on Google+.

Monday, November 3, 2014

HAZARDOUS HOMECOMING by Dana Mentink

Marji Laine review:
Dana Mentink weaves a gripping mystery, a riveting romance, and a hovering cloud of suspense in her new Love Inspired novel, Hazardous Homecoming.

Twenty years have passed since Ruby Hudson's best friend, Alice, disappeared in the bird sanctuary that surrounded the Hudson home. A newly-found piece of evidence rips open the emotional scab, bubbling up guilt, suspicions, pain, and regret. The reopened case seems to also have set someone against Ruby. Someone with something to hide and no compunction with taking drastic measures to keep those secrets under wraps.

Twenty years ago, Cooper Stokes's family was practically destroyed when his older brother, Peter, was blamed for kidnapping little Alice. Peter sank into an alcoholic muddle to escape the way the entire town turned on him, but nothing offered proof that he had anything to do with the tragedy.

Returning to the area is hard enough for Cooper, even with his brother's latest assurance of his sobriety, especially with Ruby still around. He'd always been interested, but her father warned her away from anyone in the Stokes family. The re-stirring of the story ignites again his anger at the injustice of it all. Yet doubt over his brother's story rises to the surface as well.

Can anything be more tragic than the loss of a child? Naturally, this story evokes intense emotion. If for no other reason, that part of the story demands constant page-turning. But add to the a cast of doubt-provoking characters with bitter resentment floating just under the surface.

Dana Mentink is truly a master at her craft. Her plots are some of the most engaging that I've ever read. Never have I been able to pre-solve one of her mysteries. And this one is no exception.

As delightful as her plots are, her characters might even be better. Cooper Stokes makes an exceptional hero. He has the strength and speed of an athlete, but the sharp intellect to be intentional in his actions instead of reacting blindly. While he defends his brother, he's also judgmental of him and struggles with anger. Yet, he has a playful, engaging personality.

Likewise, Ruby Hudson has a deep character. Independent in her words, she's submissive and respectful of her father, never resenting, (or maybe not realizing) her dad's overprotective manner. Her passion for nature, birds in particular, brings a special element to this story, and gives her purpose beyond the plot. She also struggles with guilt in the way Peter Stokes was treated, but more feels devastated over reliving the pain of losing her childhood friend.

I loved this book. Couldn't put it down, much like the first of Dana's books that I read. Jungle Fire was a Carol award winner, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that Hazardous Homecoming follows suit.

Marji Laine, Senior Reviewer, is an avid NASCAR, college football, and volleyball fan, and autumn is her favorite season. She has collaborated on a number of published romance novellas that are listed on Goodreads and her Amazon author page. Her blog, Faith Driven Fiction, posts reviews, interviews, and writer focused articles as well as analysis of popular movies with a Biblical World view. Find her at FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Google+.