“The Crossing” by Serita Jakes

Cheerleader Claudia King refuses to leave her teacher and friend when she’s shot aboard the athletic bus following Friday night’s football game.  Her boyfriend Casio Hightower is also shot in the altercation, but unlike Ms. Remington, he survives – though their relationship does not.  Ten years later both have moved on – Claudia is married with a child, and Casio is dating seriously – but neither have forgotten their experience on board the bus.  When Claudia’s lawyer husband decides to reopen the case, can he and Casio find the elusive killer – before anyone else dies?

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  The characters are not the cardboard Christian type – they’re real and flawed and confused, much like any other human on this planet.  For that reason, I was enthralled by the mystery in this story and couldn’t wait to solve the case.  I cheered Claudia for taking steps toward her healing even as I mourned the way she was often hurting those who loved her most.  I wanted to like Casio as I could see great potential in him, but his flaws made him difficult to like.  Ultimately, I would have liked to see more of Claudia’s husband Victor as he seemed to have the best handle on what was happening.  Without him, this would have been just another mystery – but his faithful influence made all the difference.

As much as I liked the authenticity of the characters, I disliked the ending.  A sudden twist at the end kept me from predicting the ending entirely, but the conclusion came abruptly, and even though all loose ends were wrapped up, I felt at odds when the book ended.  The major issues that kept Claudia suffering from PTSD for a decade seemed gone too quickly, and with faith issues on the peripheral of the main characters’ vision for much of the book, the resolution just seemed too fast.

Ultimately, this book explored trauma and our reactions to it in several different ways.  Many books pull you in and make you feel as if you’ve experienced what the characters have – and so you can see yourself taking similar actions if you’re ever in that kind of situation.  Not so with this story – I felt as if this was more of a “what not to do” than “here’s how you do it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Jakes’ writing style and am interested in reading more of her work for the realistic characters – but this story is not one I’ll read over and over due to the negative feeling I was left with.

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

“The Corruptible” by Mark Mynheir

Ray Quinn, PI, wants a client different from the usual enraged, cheating husband type – until he gets one.  After being hired to find Logan Ramsey, former cop and current alcoholic and thief, complications arise from a sudden murder, a dishonest employer and his romance-minded secretary.  Staying on top of the twists and turns in the case challenges Quinn’s physical strength as he recovers from a serious shooting and self-medicates with a bit too much Jim Beam.  What is Quinn’s employer hiding, and what did Ramsey have up his sleeve?  Of the many people who wanted Ramsey dead, can Quinn find the real murderer – before they find him?

Mynheir has written a classic detective novel.  His experience in police and undercover work shines through, making the inner workings of the story realistic and believable.  Ray Quinn sounds like a PI from an old black-and-white movie with modern technological trappings, and despite his flaws, one can’t help but cheer him on.

My favorite part of this book is the perspective.  The stereotypical view of an ex-cop is of a hardcore, no-holds-barred, tough guy image; and while Quinn is extremely cynical and somewhat down, he retains hope that he can make a difference in the world.  Mynheir writes without extensive bar-hopping (some Jim Beam being the exception), swearing, or casual sex, making this the cleanest, yet completely realistic and believable, detective story I’ve ever read.  Quinn’s focus on the job – not what some consider to be the ‘perks’ –  make him an old-world style hero.

The second book in the Ray Quinn series, Mynheir weaves the relevant information from the first book into the story seamlessly; however, this one was so good that I’m definitely going to find a copy of the first to read – and I’ll be on the lookout for the next one.

Want to read an excerpt of The Corruptible?  Check it out here.

I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

“Courting Cate” by Leslie Gould

 
 
In Paradise, Pennsylvania, Cate Miller is known more for her sharp tongue and fiery temper than her striking appearance. Her sweet and flirty sister, Betsy, on the other hand, seems to have attracted most of the bachelors in Lancaster County!
But the sisters’ wealthy father has made one hard-and-fast rule: older Cate must marry first, before younger Betsy can even start courting. Unfortunately, untamable Cate has driven away every suitor-until Pete Treger comes to town, that is.
Prodded by the men of the area, Pete turns his attention to winning Cate’s hand. But is his interest true or is there a scheme at play?

Book 1 in The Courtships of Lancaster County series. 
 
Courting Cate is an provocative, Amish twist on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and it was every bit as forceful as I imagine the original to be.  I must admit, I was frustrated by the beginning of the story because it seemed obvious that Cate’s prickly attitude was a result of pain and fear, not a mean spirit, and her father’s edict and sister’s decision to take advantage of Cate’s love for her seemed too much – and then I kept reading.
 
Reading this story went from frustrating to difficult – because Gould wrote it that well.  She painted Cate into an impossible situation and turns the mirror back on the reader, and I didn’t like what I saw.  Would I have reacted with Cate’s prickliness in the beginning?  For sure.  Would I have reacted as Cate did during her most difficult time in New YorK?  Could I have treated the immature Betsy as Cate did later in the story?  That’s a tough one.  While Gould follows the basic Shakespearean story, she adds her own faith-filled twists and turns that up both the suspense and emotional factor.  
 
I may have been a prickly reader in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I refused to put Courting Cate down. The transformation from Shakespeare to Lancaster Amish is a fascinating one – and Gould does it with exceptional grace.  Each modern element keeps you guessing while the basic plot line causes the reader to bleed a little more for Cate.  
 
This is definitely not your average Amish story.
 
I can’t wait for the next one.
 
To purchase your own copy of Courting Cate, visit here.
 
 
Leslie Gould is the co-author, with Mindy Starns Clark, of the #1 bestselling The Amish Midwife andThe Amish Nanny. She is also the author of numerous novels, including Garden of Dreams, Beyond the Blue (winner of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice for Best Inspirational Novel, 2006), and Scrap Everything. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Portland State University and has taught fiction writing at Multnomah University as an adjunct professor. She resides with her husband and four children in Portland, Oregon. 
 
Learn more at www.lesliegould.com.
 
I received a free copy of Courting Cate from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“The Courier of Caswell Hall” by Melanie Dobson

 

As the British and Continental armies wage war in 1781, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner feels conflict raging in her own heart. Lydia Caswell comes from a family of staunch Loyalists, but she cares only about peace. Her friend Sarah Hammond, however, longs to join the fight. Both women’s families have already been divided by a costly war that sets father against son and neighbor against neighbor; a war that makes it impossible to guess who can be trusted.

One snowy night Lydia discovers a wounded man on the riverbank near Caswell Hall, and her decision to save him will change her life. Nathan introduces her to a secret network of spies, couriers, disguises, and coded messages—a network that may be the Patriots’ only hope for winning the war. When British officers take over Caswell Hall and wreak havoc on neighboring plantations, Lydia will have to choose between loyalty and freedom; between her family’s protection and her own heart’s desires.

As both armies gather near Williamsburg for a pivotal battle, both Lydia and Sarah must decide how high a price they are willing to pay to help the men they love.

Part of the American Tapestries™ series: Each standalone novel in this line sets a heart-stirring love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. This is the fifth book in the series.


This is the best historical fiction I’ve read since the last time I’ve read a Melanie Dobson novel.  There’s just something about this author who is able to transport me completely to whatever time and place she chooses.  Her unique perspective helps to set her books apart from others; The Courier of Caswell Hall focuses on the many roles women played in the Revolutionary War – and I don’t mean from inside their kitchens, either.

I loved Lydia’s story.  I can’t imagine just how scary it must have been, knowing that to choose a side and lose, all principles aside, could mean the loss of your family’s security and social standing – things which mean little eternally but which can mean a great deal as you live through their loss.  I feel as if I can relate just a tiny bit more now for having read this story.

Lydia’s wasn’t the only fascinating one here, however.  I’ve always been interested in the role of women in early American wars since reading about Deborah Sampson as a kid, and Dobson included many such stories discreetly throughout this book.  It is fascinating to know that there were women, people who society completely ignored militarily, who felt so strong as to step out in courageous ways to fight for their country.

The Courier of Caswell Hall has found its way onto my bookshelf.  My children will be reading this when they’re older and studying the Revolution – not only to put themselves into the position of choosing which side to take, but also to use as a research starter – to take the details of this story and go find which ones are true.

I’d like to know that myself.

Click here to read other reviews on this bloggy hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

 
 
Melanie Dobson is the author of twelve novels; her writing has received numerous accolades including two Carol Awards. Melanie worked in public relations for fifteen years before she began writing fiction full-time. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides with her husband and two daughters in Oregon.
 
Connect with Melanie at: http://melaniedobson.com
 
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“Courageous” by Randy Alcorn

I had mixed feelings about reading the new Courageous novel.  I knew the movie would be good – how could the makers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants make anything else? – but I wasn’t so sure about a book made from a movie.

Alcorn’s Courageous far surpassed my expectations.

Adam is a long-time cop whose cynicism has pushed away his son and affects his relationships with his wife and daughter.  Nathan is new in town and struggling to be involved with his three children and keep his faith active despite job pressures.  Javy struggles to support his family and leans heavily on his strong faith, but does his family share his views?  David has turned his back on his daughter and her mother completely.  As each strive to hold their head above water and survive despite intense stress, their perspective changes when tragedy strikes one man’s family.  Can his new views of eternity and his role as a father improve his relationships – and those around him?

Alcorn’s easy writing style makes it seem as if this novel happened before the movie.  It has none of the trademark novelization issues –  it’s easy to read, flows well, has a great vocabulary, and features a tight plot.  Each character sprang to life within the pages of this book and made me want to cheer them on in his efforts to become closer to God and family.  The conclusions reached by Adam and his friends prompted me to rethink the way that I interact with my own children and to wish for these types of friends myself.

The only thing that would make this book any better is a companion guide, as the Kendricks created for Fireproof.  A non-fiction book containing Adam’s resesarch, conclusions, and the scriptures he used would make a fantastic springboard for those wanting to delve deeper into this subject – just like The Love Dare did for Fireproof fans.

If you like action and suspense … if you like to laugh … if you like drama … if you have a family … if you are a parent … if you have friends … if you don’t but wish you did …. this is the book for you.  Don’t miss it.

I received a free copy of Courageous from Tyndale House in return for an honest review.

“Come to the Table” by Neta Jackson

Come to the Table, SouledOut Sisters Series #2

“If you give a cup of cold water to the least of these you will surely be rewarded.”  ~ Matthew 10:42

Neta Jackson’s newest book is based on this verse.  Kat Davies wants to share her food knowledge with those in need, but as a new Christian, how best can she do that?  This calling becomes particularly difficult when her new friends at church are not totally on board with the idea.  With relationship complications among her apartment mates, no teaching job in site, and jealousy looming on the love horizon, her summer is not shaping up as planned.  

With a large cast of characters, this book took me a chapter or two to figure out the role that each person played, but then I’m never good with names, and when this plot began to roll, it really moved.  I love the realism of the characters – Nick, Kat’s flatmate and love interest, felt pressure as a pastoral intern as well as maintain the proper image.  His mix of wisdom and innocence felt right for a person in his position.  Kat, however, was written beautifully.  As a young on-fire Christian, she wanted to follow Jesus but still had lots to learn.  Her passion and fire made her an exciting lead.

My favorite aspect of this book is the the way that Jackson melded faith lessons with real life and issues.   Jackson explores the issues of hunger in America and what we as Christians can do about it as Kat struggles to set up a food pantry in a Chicago neighborhood.  Jackson doesn’t pretend to have all the answers to these issues, but this book could serve as a great opener to a group wanting to discuss American hunger.

If you like contemporary novels, you should definitely check out Come to the Table.  It has a lot to offer.

I received a free copy of this book from B&B Media in exchange for an honest review.

‘The Clouds Roll Away’ by Sibella Giorello

Raleigh Harmon is a forensic geologist with a secret life as an FBI agent. Following her father’s death and her return to her Richmond hometown, she works a civil rights case with a famous victim and a drug-running task force when her files begin to intersect. With a suspicious boss, the return of a love interest and an emotionally frail mother, how will Raleigh solve the case without anyone else getting hurt – including herself?

Giorello writes beautiful, descriptive text that draws the reader in. Although seemingly distant at times, throughout the book Raleigh takes on a life of her own until she seems to be munching on a Big Mac right next to the reader. The history of the Richmond area is included in a realistic way, not only bringing the area to life but helping to round out the edges of Raleigh’s case. The plot keeps the reader in suspense while not being too over the top. While faith was definitely a part of Raleigh’s make-up, it seemed to be a distant part. A deeper exploration of her return to faith would have made her character’s transformation more complete.

My biggest concern with this book lies with its history. This is the second Raleigh Harmon book, and apparently much happens in the first book that is relevant to her Richmond roots – only it isn’t fully explained here. I felt as if I would have been better able to understand Raleigh throughout the first half of the book had Giorello taken a bit more time to explore her background here and catch new readers up to speed. This will not deter me from reading these books – they are very well written – but these are definitely not stand alone books. I will recommend these to my friends – starting with the first one.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“The Christmas Singing” by Cindy Woodsmall

After Gideon Beiler breaks Mattie’s heart one Christmas eve, she flees her home in Apple Ridge, Pennsylvania, and opens her own cake shop in Ohio.  But when it burns down three years later, she’s forced to return to Apple Ridge.  Gideon has recently returned after a long absence, as well, and when thrown into close working quarters, Mattie finds that her new perception of him is not quite accurate.  Will her new boyfriend Sol and the dream of rebuilding her cake shop be enough to draw her back to Ohio – or can her dreams be found in Apple Ridge?

Cindy Woodsmall has crafted another winner!  With enough suspense and mystery about the past to keep you on the edge of your seat but the simplicity that Amish fans know and love, The Christmas Singing engages the reader and keeps them bound in Apple Ridge through the very last page.

One of my favorite features of this story are Mattie and Gideon themselves.  Not only are Mattie and Gideon flawed in ways that cause them serious problems, but they also break the stereotypical molds of Amish characters.  These elements work together to create people who seem about to leap off the page and into your living room.

To read an excerpt from this Christmas story and meet Gideon and Mattie for yourself, click here.

Author Cindy Woodsmall had her first experience with Plain living when she became best friends with a Mennonite girl.  As an adult she met Miriam, an Old Order Amish woman who has shared her life and stories.   Now a New York Times’ bestselling author, she pens her stories from her home in Georgia, where she lives with her husband, their three sons, and their two daughters-in-law.


I received a free copy of The Christmas Singing from Waterbrook Multnomah’s ‘Blogging for Books’ program in exchange for an honest review.

“The Christmas Quilt” by Vannetta Chapman

Annie’s life is deliciously full as the Christmas season approaches. She helps her husband, Samuel, attend to the community’s minor medical needs. She occasionally assists Belinda, the local midwife, and most days, she finds herself delivering the buggy to her brother Adam. Annie’s sister-in-law Leah is due to deliver their first child before Christmas morning, and Annie is determined to finish a crib quilt before the boppli arrives. With six weeks to go, she should have no problem . . . but God may have a different plan. Leah is rushed to the English hospital when the infant arrives early, and Annie discovers the Christmas quilt may hold a far greater significance than she ever imagined.

Do you ever get hung up on a detail?  I do.  I guess I’m persnickety like that, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this review.  I’ve written it dozens of times in my head and never felt that it’s quite right.

But, here goes.

I read the first book in this series and felt that both are very high quality.  They are written about an Old Order Amish community and many of those details are accurate.  The story is dramatic, the characters likeable, and the faith lessons deep.  Chapman is an excellent writer and that shines through every page of this book.

My problem?  It’s picky, I know, but … she set the book in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, home of the most traditional white top community in the world.

It’s also where I grew up.

I grew up just a few miles from that community.  There were Amish kids in my elementary school.  We bought our strawberries from them every June so we could fill our freezer with jelly for the year.  We gave our chickens to Amish friends the summer after fifth grade when they outgrew us.  We shopped at the Belleville sale while I secretly eavesdropped, not to be rude but to practice my quite limited German skills.  My grandfather retired and became an Amish taxi driver and when he died, many Amish people came to his services.

The Amish culture of Mifflin County is distinctly different from that of Lancaster or Ohio.  Both of those are written about in many, many Amish fiction books, and the setting is clear throughout all of them.  There are inside bathrooms.  There are towns named Paradise and Intercourse.  People wear shoes and have mud sales.

In Mifflin County it’s different.  Old Order Amish aren’t required by law to have indoor plumbing.  Children run free with no shoes and no pastel dresses.  

Most Old Order Amish live in Belleville, or at least in Big Valley, which is a lengthy journey by buggy to Lewistown, the county seat.  It wouldn’t be a trip to be taken lightly.  It couldn’t happen in an afternoon unless by taxi driver, and certainly not by two very pregnant women.

There are general stores, two main ones in the Valley, and both are hugely popular tourist spots.  Everyone shops there, and you can get anything you’d like there.  They’re both great places.

So “The Christmas Quilt” frustrated me not because it was poorly written, because it wasn’t – but because these distinct details weren’t there.  Just like those details make a Lancaster County Amish book, adding in these details could have really made this book stand out.  Fleshing out the setting more would have made the story even more unique – because it really is, and it deserves the attention.  Those details spice up the story and give it a life-like quality that can’t be reproduced any other way.

I hope that Chapman writes another book in this series.  I enjoy the characters and would be interested to know what happens next in their saga – but please, highlight the setting.  Flesh out those details.  It will only add to the wonder of the story.

Read other reviews on this bloggy hop here, or purchase your own copy now.

 
Vannetta Chapman has published over one hundred articles in Christian family magazines, receiving over two dozen awards from Romance Writers of America chapter groups. She discovered her love for the Amish while researching her grandfather’s birthplace in Albion, Pennsylvania. Chapman lives in the Texas hill country with her husband.

Find out more at: http://www.quiltsoflovebooks.com


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“Christmas at Holly Hill” by Martha Rogers

 

Clayton Barlow is finally a free man.  After serving five years in prison for bank robbery, he’s eager to return home and prove to everyone that he’s a changed man.  Not everyone wants to give him a second chance, but his old friend Merry Lee Warner seems eager to resume their former friendship. When Barlow’s old gang returns to town and stirs up trouble, will anybody believe in his innocence, or will he forever lose his chance at love?

 

Christmas at Holly Hill is a sweet story of love and redemption.  Though some of the subplots are heartbreaking, Merry’s strong faith and innocence flavor the story.  Her belief that love is possible and that lives can be changed ultimately makes a difference not only to Clayton, but to others within the town, and it will cause a cynical reader to reconsider, as well.

 

Rogers’ smooth writing style draws the reader into the story. I couldn’t put this story down, and I didn’t want to.  With fun characters, an old-fashioned setting, and a beautiful holiday timbre, this is a great Christmas story.

 

I received a free copy of Christmas at Holly Hill from Charisma House in exchange for an honest review.