“When Death Draws Near” by Carrie Stuart Parks

Death has always been part of Gwen Marcey’s job. But when faced with her own mortality, everything takes on a different hue.

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs and homes when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky. The Eastern Kentucky town, located deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, has been plagued by a serial rapist and a series of unexplained deaths. Before Gwen can develop a composite drawing, the latest witness vanishes, just like all the previous victims.

Turning her attention to sketching the face of an unidentified body, she discovers a link between his death and a Pentecostal serpent-handling church. Serpent-handling is illegal in Kentucky, and the churches have gone underground to avoid the authorities and continue to worship as they believe. Gwen is offered a handsome reward to infiltrate the renegade members, a reward she desperately needs as it seems her breast cancer has returned.

Joined by her digitally-obsessed, Generation Z daughter, Gwen goes undercover to a nineteenth century revival, planning to draw the faces of the snake handlers so they can be identified and arrested. Instead she uncovers a murderous plot and a festering evil.

If you’re a fan of criminal suspense books, like those of Terri Blackstock, you’ll want to read Parks’ latest “When Death Draws Near.”  It has all the action and suspense of a murder mystery but the drama like you’d find on the big screen.  The combination can’t be easy to pull off, and yet Parks wrote so many twists and turns into her story that she kept me guessing until the very last page.

Gwen isn’t your typical leading lady.  She’s not super young, super rich, or super pretty.  In fact, she’s divorced, broke, and a cancer survivor  – with the scars to show it.  Her rough predicament pulled at my heartstrings more than once, but I liked her all the more for it.  She was real – and she was really smart, too.  I love stories in which the characters really use their brains to solve the case.

In Gwen’s case, it went a bit beyond that, because while it was her brains that figured out whodunit, it was also her endurance that saved her skin – literally.  Parks wrote a climactic ending that went on and on, spurring me on to find resolution.

Mystery stories have been my favorite since I read my first Hardy Boys’ when I was seven, and I’ve collected a long list of great mystery authors since that time.  I’m happy to report that I’ve just added another.

Learn more and purchase a copy.

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy finalist as well as a Carol award-winning author. She has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Find out more about Carrie Stuart at http://www.carriestuartparks.com.

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

“The Loyal Heart” by Shelley Shepard Gray

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Robert came to Galveston to fulfill his promise to a dying man and look after his widow. He didn’t expect to find love in the unlikeliest of places.

Robert Truax, former Second Lieutenant and Confederate officer in the Civil War, made a promise to his comrade Phillip Markham. If anything happened to Phillip, Robert would look after his beloved wife, Miranda. She was his life, his world, his everything.

After the war, Robert is left to pick up the pieces and fulfill his pact. When he arrives at Miranda’s home in Galveston, Texas, things are worse than he imagined. Phillip’s name has been dragged through the mud, everyone in town believes him to be a traitor, and his widow is treated as an outcast. Even more disturbing is her emotional well-being. Miranda seems hopeless, lost, and so very alone.

Robert had thought his duty would be simple. He would help Miranda as quickly as possible in order to honor a promise. But the moment Robert laid eyes on her, his plans changed. He’s mesmerized by her beauty and yearns to help her in any way he can.

He makes it his duty to protect Miranda, turn her reputation around, and to find some way to help her smile again. But it doesn’t prove to be an easy task—Robert knows something about Phillip that could shake Miranda to the core and alter her view of the man she thought she knew so well.

Shelley Shepard Gray might usually write Amish romances,, but she has the golden touch with historical fiction, too.  I love the way that she created a backstory for this book that sets up the entire series – and developed some seriously awesome men to play the main characters.

Beyond that, the setting is a bit unusual.  Set on an island in Texas in the years following the Civil War, the townspeople were loyal to the Confederacy and shunning one of their own.  Gray’s setup makes for a seriously suspenseful story, though, with lots of personal drama.  The high action keeps the story moving and the kindness of Robert and Miranda gives the reader a vested interest in their lives.

Gray builds that high action with a wide cast of characters and multiple villains.  With several subplots in addition to a few romances, there’s not a dull paragraph in the book.  Gray keeps that tension high throughout the entire story and builds a great lead-in to the next book in the story.

Gray is an expert at building that tension and keeping the reader turning pages – even when the story has ended.   I can’t wait for the next book to be released, and while I’m frustrated at having to wait, if it’s anything like The Loyal Heart, it’ll be well worth it.

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

 

“A Beauty Refined” by Tracie Peterson

Phoebe Von Bergen is excited to accompany her father when he travels from Germany to purchase sapphires in Montana. Little does she know that her father’s plans–for the gemstones and his daughter–are not what they seem.

Ian Harper, a lapidary working in Helena, finds the young woman staying at the Broadwater Hotel more than a little intriguing. Yet the more he gets to know her, the more he realizes that her family story is based on a lie–a lie she has no knowledge of. And Ian believes he knows the only path that will lead her to freedom.

Meeting Ian has changed everything. Phoebe is determined to stay in America, regardless of her father’s plans. But she may not be prepared for the unexpected danger as the deception begins to unravel.

Tracie Peterson has penned another winner, although, really; does she write any other kind? What stands out about A Beauty Refined is the setting.  The idea of German royalty visiting a resort in the Wild West is unlike any other book that I’ve read, and the mystery and intrigue definitely added another layer of suspense to the story.  I read the entire book in one sitting – I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Phoebe and if she would find the happy ending she desired.

The characters weren’t all my favorites – Ian was a bit stuffy at times, but there were others who more than made up for that, and his flaws were explained throughout the story.  I especially enjoyed the mystery character who appeared partway through the story.  Her bravery was admirable, and while I don’t know that I would’ve made the same decisions that she did, her actions were certainly food for thought. 

The issues that Phoebe faces are really too serious to call this a ‘fun’ story, but it is definitely an intriguing one.  I enjoyed the read, from the setting to (most) of the characters to thinking about how some of these problems are handled in our society today.  A Beauty Refined is definitely worth the read.

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

“The Ringmaster’s Wife” by Kristy Cambron

An ounce of courage. A split-second leap of faith. Together, they propel two young women to chase a new life—one that’s reimagined from what they might have become.

In turn-of-the-century America, a young girl dreams of a world that stretches beyond the confines of a quiet life on the family farm. With little more than her wit and a cigar box of treasures to call her own, Mable steps away from all she knows, seeking the limitless marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, a chance encounter triggers her destiny—a life with a famed showman by the name of John Ringling.

A quarter of a century later, Lady Rosamund Easling of Yorkshire, England, boards a ship to America as a last adventure before her life is planned out for her. There, the twenties are roaring, and the rich and famous gather at opulent, Gatsby-esque parties in the grandest ballrooms the country has to offer. The Jazz Age has arrived, and with it, the golden era of the American circus, whose queen is none other than the enigmatic Mable Ringling.

When Rosamund’s path crosses with Mable’s and the Ringlings’ glittering world, she makes the life-altering decision to leave behind a comfortable future of estates and propriety, instead choosing the nomadic life of a trick rider in the Ringling Brothers’ circus.

A novel that is at once captivating, deeply poignant, and swirling with exquisite historical details of a bygone world, The Ringmaster’s Wife will escort readers into the center ring, with its bright lights, exotic animals, and a dazzling performance that can only be described as the greatest show on earth!

Move over, Karen Kingsbury and Danielle Steele, there’s a new epic storyteller on the scene!  Cambron’s newest work will enchant you with waves of fun, hope, and heartbreak in her newest work about John Ringling’s beloved first wife Mabel and the impact of the circus on the culture of America.

Mabel Ringling was the wife of circus king John Ringing and impacted many who knew her, although she stayed away from the media spotlight and out of the circus business.  Cambron brings her to life through the imagined characters of Rose and Colin, with Mabel leaving a tangible legacy that is felt for decades to come.

Not a linear story, The Ringmaster’s Wife tells a tale in pieces, allowing the reader to reassemble the story in bits at a time.  You’re kept fascinated with the plot line and wanting more with each turn of the page.

I never expected a circus story to excite me as much as this one did.  I enjoyed the reminder that fun has it’s own place in this life, and that dreams and hopes add joy to life that is too easily snuffed out by day-to-day drudgery, and smiles, like those inspired by the circus, are important to the abundant life that Jesus promised.

Despite the trials Colin, Rose, and Mabel face throughout the book, the story is inspiring.  Write on, Cambron!

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

Kristy Cambron fancies life as a vintage-inspired storyteller. Her second novel, A Sparrow in Terezin, was named Library Journal Reviews’ “Pick of the Month (Christian Fiction)” for February 2015.

Cambron is an art/design manager at TheGROVEstory.com storytelling ministry. She holds a degree in art history from Indiana University and has nearly 15 years of experience in instructional design and communications for a Fortune-100 company. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons, where she can probably be bribed with a coconut mocha latte and a good Christian fiction read.
 
 
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“My Father’s House” by Rose Chandler Johnson

Growing up, life is idyllic for Lily Rose Cates due to one constant — her father’s love.

But in her sixteenth summer, all that changes without warning. There begins Lily’s struggle to find herself and the life she’s lost. . . . Marriage promises fulfillment, but her happily-ever-after barely survives the honeymoon. Her husband’s sophisticated façade hides a brooding man with even darker secrets.

When all illusions shatter, Lily must make hard choices — abandon her husband or risk losing much more than her marriage. She flees their home in Detroit and sets out on a fearful journey to a house in Georgia that her husband knows nothing about. This is one woman’s compelling tale of love and survival as she finds her way back home to who she’s meant to be . . . in her father’s house.

Lily struggles to face the world after her father’s death, but there’s something compelling about her journey that makes My Father’s House fascinating.  Characters make or break a story for me, and I have little patience for them when they seem to be continually making poor choices, as Lily often seemed to do in the beginning of the book; but Lily charmed me such that I turned page after page, reading quickly, intent on finding out her fate.

There’s something likeable about Lily.  Part of it is her inherent kindness and innocence, I think, but I also admire the way that she works hard and is a good friend.  Family is important to her and she listens to the lessons they teach her, although it doesn’t always ‘stick’ at first.

Johnson’s writing style is clear and concise but pulls you write into the story.  It flows a bit differently than most books popular now, but it’s clear that the plot is well-planned and the author brilliant.  Johnson penned Lily’s story almost like a memoir, and it has a different feel than your typical off-the-shelf fiction story.  The pace is a bit slower, and it’s set back in time just a little, but it has a this-is-important kind of feel to it.  The focus is clearly on people and relationships, not material things, and that theme comes through well.

I enjoyed the lessons that Lily learns throughout the story, as well.  Lessons like the importance of patience, of doing things right, of listening to elders and making relationships a high priority.  Lily’s story was never preachy but felt as if you were sitting on Grandma’s front porch, learning from the best.

My Father’s House is Johnson’s debut novel, but I hope she keeps writing. 

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

Rose Chandler Johnson is the author of the award winning devotional God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea: Experiencing God in the Midst of Everyday Moments. My Father’s House is her first novel. She happily makes her home near Augusta, Georgia.
 
 
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

New Mitford Giveaway: “”Come Rain or Come Shine”

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You might be saying, “Amy, you’ve already given a copy of this book away!” and you would be right; at least, partly.  I tried to give a copy away, but the giveaway software malfunctioned, and a family emergency took me away.

We’re ready to try again, though, because this is a book well worth winning!  Read on to find out why – and to find out how to enter to win your own copy.

Jan Karon has released a new Mitford novel, and it’s a wonderful story of love and new beginnings.

#1 New York Times-bestselling author Jan Karon returns–with the Mitford wedding readers have been waiting for.

Over the course of twelve Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun. An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis. And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends. Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited–because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Come Rain or Come Shine is like a visit with old friends on the porch at sunset.  It’s a serene story, even while the events of the book are chaotic.  I think it’s because nothing goes horribly wrong and the plot is full of normal life events that many of us face.  Weddings, graduations, adoptions – these are things that we all deal with at one time or another – just not all in the same week. 

That’s not to say that it’s not rollercoaster-ish at times.  Karon tricked me often by making the perfect set-up for a major catastrophe and then dissipating the tension like an early morning fog.  Despite that, Karon writes a somehow calm and soothing story.  The old-fashioned values and country setting are refreshing in this age of speed and consumerism.

I really enjoyed Come Rain or Come Shine.  The characters drew me in and made me want to jump into the wedding preparation craziness with them.  They’re kind and fun and people I’d like to know.   The story is really so much about the characters that they made the book for me.  I’m happy to have found Karon and the Mitford books – I can’t wait to read more.

Jan Karon

Want to win your own copy of Come Rain or Come Shine?  Comment on this post by June 22nd and tell me why you’d like to win this book.

Good luck!

“Medical Judgment” by Richard Mabry, MD

Dr. Sarah Gordon lost her husband and daughter. Now she’s about to lose her life.

After losing the two people she loved the most, Sarah Gordon doesn’t think life could get worse. But, after a fire in her garage is ruled an arson, she begins to realize someone is after her—and that person wants to see her dead. But first, they want to see her suffer.

Her late husband’s best friend, Kyle Andrews, and a recovering alcoholic detective, Bill Larson, are trying to solve the mystery before it’s too late, and they’re both trying to win her heart, too. Not only does Sarah feel torn between two men, she also feels as though she cannot trust anyone.

With creepy threats that become more and more sinister, Sarah finds herself in constant fear, but even the best home alarm technology won’t protect her. Who is doing this, and why are they after her?

Medical Judgment is the kind of roller-coaster thrill ride you won’t be able to put down.  I read this book in a single afternoon and wasn’t ready for the story to end.  I love that I couldn’t name the villain, although I had narrowed down the suspect list a bit.  Books in which the authors keep me guessing are the best, and Mabry is a master at twists and turns.

Another aspect I enjoy of his work is the reality of the characters.  They’re heavily flawed in the same kinds of ways as we are, and that makes for a more enjoyable read.  It’s easy to relate to the characters, because while I’ve never been stalked by a crazed gunman, I can understand faith doubts, confidence issues, and family concerns.

I’ve already recommended this book to friends and am sure I’ll be doing so over and over again.  Quality realistic suspense books aren’t easy to find, and Medical Judgment qualifies in spades.

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

I received a free copy of Medical Judgment from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician who writes “medical suspense with heart.” His novels have won multiple awards: a semifinalist for International Thriller Writers’ debut novel; finalists for the Carol Award, Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, and Romantic Times’ Reader’s Choice Award; and both finalist and winner of the Selah Award. He and his wife live in Frisco, Texas.

 

“Anchor in the Storm” by Sarah Sundin

Anchor in the Storm

One plucky female pharmacist + one high-society naval officer = romance—and danger

For plucky Lillian Avery, America’s entry into World War II means a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. The challenges of her new job energize her. But society boy Ensign Archer Vandenberg’s attentions only annoy–even if he is her brother’s best friend.

During the darkest days of the war, Arch’s destroyer hunts German U-boats in vain as the submarines sink dozens of merchant ships along the East Coast. Still shaken by battles at sea, Arch notices his men also struggle with their nerves–and with drowsiness. Could there be a link to the large prescriptions for sedatives Lillian has filled? The two work together to answer that question, but can Arch ever earn Lillian’s trust and affection?

Sarah Sundin brings World War II to life, offering readers an intense experience they won’t soon forget.

Sarah Sundin’s newest book is a masterful blend of World War II history and modern day issues.  She traces PTSD and drug addictions back to their earlier days and put them in a historical setting.  The effect is clean but exciting as the cast of characters deals with a myriad of issues.

The personal issues that Arch and Lilian each face are monumental.  Set against the backdrop of the war, the ante is upeed for them both.  I loved reading about how they struggled with trust and independence – both are more than relevant today, and Sundin takes those themes and presents them in several forms throughout the book.

Set completely in the US, this book felt a bit different than Sundin’s others, but it was no less mesmerizing.  I couldn’t put it down and couldn’t wait to find out the ending – and I couldn’t predict it, either.  Sundin remains one of my favorite WWII era authors.

Learn more and purchase a copy.

 In a time of sacrifice, what price can one put on true love? Pharmacist Lillian Avery and Ensign Archer Vandenberg are about to find out in Sarah Sundin’s new book, Anchor in the Storm. During the darkest days of the war, Arch’s destroyer hunts German U-boats in vain as the submarines sink dozens of merchant ships along the East Coast. Still shaken by battles at sea, Arch notices his men also struggle with their nerves—and with drowsiness. Could there be a link to the large prescriptions Lillian has been filling? As the danger rises on both land and sea, the two must work together to answer that question. But can Arch ever earn Lillian’s trust and affection?

Celebrate the release of Sarah’s Anchor in the Storm by entering to win her All Hands on Deck Prize Pack!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A signed copy of Anchor in the Storm
  • Nautical tote bag lined with anchor fabric
  • Anchor necklace made from copper reclaimed from the USS Constitution in Boston during restoration
  • 365 Devotions for Hope by Karen Whiting
  • Shine: Nautical Inspirational Adult Coloring Book
  • “Hope Anchors the Soul” journal
  • Set of two nautical tea towels
LF AIS full group 2 

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on June 8th. The winner will be announced June 9th on Sarah’s blog.

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

“Through the Shadows” by Karen Barnett

As San Francisco rises from the ashes, an age-old battle looms between corruption and the promise of new beginnings.

The devastating earthquake is just two years past, but the city of San Francisco is still trying to recover. Destruction of this magnitude is not so easy to overcome—and neither are the past regrets shadowing Elizabeth King’s hopeful future.

Hoping to right her wrongs, Elizabeth dedicates herself to helping girls rescued from slavery in Chinatown brothels, even if it means putting her own life at risk to sneak through the gloomy alleys and rooftops where dangers lurk.

Putting her life on the line for a worthy cause is admirable. But opening her heart is even more terrifying. So when Elizabeth meets attorney, Charles McKinley—a man who dreams of reforming San Francisco’s crooked politics—Elizabeth begins to doubt: Can she maintain her pretense and hide her past? Or will her secret jeopardize both their futures?

I love a good underdog story, and Karen Barnett’s newest book in the Golden Gate Chronicles series is a great one.  There are people who need champions of all sizes, shapes, and colors in this story, and Charles is idealistic enough to take on their cases.

Elizabeth is a different story.  She’s opinionated and stubborn but broken, and I think that’s why she makes such a fantastic lead.  Her story is a common one, and that’s why she’s so easy to relate to.  Setting her against the backdrop of the corruption following the Great Earthquake makes her even more fascinating.

I enjoyed catching up with Ruby and Gerald, too.  I love when an author brings characters from earlier books into later ones and moves their stories forward, and that’s the case with Elizabeth’s siblings.  Reading more of their story felt like meeting an old friend in an unexpected place.

Not enough has been written about the San Francisco earthquake, and I’m glad that Barnett’s chosen to do so.  Her smooth writing and attention to detail bring Through the Shadows to life.

Want more?  Enter to win your own Barnett books! 

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

Karen Barnett is the author of Beyond the Ashes, Out of the Ruins, and Mistaken. Named the 2013 Writer of Promise by Oregon Christian Writers, Karen lives in Albany, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. When she’s not writing novels, she loves speaking at women’s events, libraries, and book clubs.

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

“The Beautiful Pretender” by Melanie Dickerson

After inheriting his title from his brother, the margrave has two weeks to find a noble bride. What will happen when he learns he has fallen for a lovely servant girl in disguise?

The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.

Dickerson’s newest medieval fairytale will leave you making travel plans for Thornbeck.  The area sounds beautiful, with Thornbeck Castle full of enough excitement and intrigue to satisfy any busybody’s tongue.  It’s the perfect locale for an adventure.

That’s good, because Avelina doesn’t do a very good job at obeying the few instructions she was given.  She’s as different from the real Dorothea as night is from day, and her true personality comes flying out with every word and action.  I really loved that personality, too – it’s vitally alive and fresh and kind.

That was my favorite aspect of this book – the new ‘princess’ perspective that Avelina brought to the table.  She’s not stuck up or full of herself, nor is she concerned about balls and gowns and appearances, but instead she truly desires deep, active love and to help others.

I enjoyed the twists and turns that Dickerson wrote into the story.  While I foresaw the ultimate ending from the very beginning, I could never have predicted the path that took the reader there, and it was a very lively one.

If you enjoy fairy tales but want a good, grown-up version, The Beautiful Pretender is the book for you.

Enter The Beautiful Pretender giveaway here!

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

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