“Where Hope Prevails” by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

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When Beth Thatcher returns to Coal Valley, she has much to be excited about. She anticipates Jarrick’s proposal of marriage and perhaps a spring wedding. The mine is expanding, and there are more schoolchildren than ever.

But the town’s rapid growth brings many challenges. A second teacher is assigned, and Beth finds herself going head-to-head with a very different philosophy of education–one that dismisses religion and rejects God. Fearful for the children who sit under the influence of Robert Harris Hughes, Beth struggles to know how to respond.

At the same time, Beth wonders if Jarrick is considering a position at her father’s company simply for her sake. Should she admit her feelings on the matter? Or keep silent and allow Jarrick to make up his own mind?

From Janette Oke comes the end of the Return to the Canadian West series.  Like the Love Comes Softly series, Oke has followed the Thatcher family through two generations and continued the adventure into the Canadian wilds.  Like her Aunt Elizabeth, Beth needs to decide whether she will remain in the West or return to ‘civilization.’ 

Oke writes with her signature sweet style.  The story flows smoothly, with the primary action being spiritual and emotional in nature.  Molly continues to provide wise counsel for Beth, and Beth struggles against change in the valley that she loves so dearly.

I would have loved to read about Beth sharing her concerns for their future with Jack.  He shared about his premarital counseling, and they discussed other important issues regarding their marriage, but I would have loved reading this important conversation; but even when they resolved this issue, the conversation was brief and vague.

Beyond that, I loved the wise view of marriage shared throughout the story, and from many different perspectives.  This deep and mature look at marriage is rare in today’s society, and I appreciate that these lessons are shared throughout the story.

Love Comes Softly was the first Christian story I read, and I was about ten at the time.  My daughter has been devouring Oke’s books for the past year, and she can’t wait to read this one.  I love that Oke writes stories that are both timeless in nature, sweet enough for children to read, and yet full of wisdom that will steer them well in the coming years.

I hate that this is the last Thatcher book.  I hope that the Okes have something new in the works.

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

“The Things We Knew” by Catherine West

A tragedy from the past resurfaces in this tale of family secrets and reignited love.

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to harbor animosity toward their father, silently blaming him for their mother’s death. Nobody will talk about that dreadful day, and Lynette can’t remember a bit of it.

But when next-door neighbor Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, he brings the past with him. Once her brother’s best friend and Lynette’s first crush, Nick seems to hiding things from her. Lynette wonders what he knows about the day her mother died and hopes he might help her remember the things she can’t.

But Nick has no intention of telling Lynette the truth. Besides the damage it might cause his own family, he doesn’t want to risk harming the fragile friendship between him and the woman he once thought of as a kid sister.

As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets begin to surface—secrets that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question all they ever believed in.

Catherine West’s story The Things We Knew is more than a roll through family history – it’s the slow, suspenseful investigation of suppressed memories about a suspicious death that devastated a family.  Each family member has moved on but one, and that one is left holding the luggage of responsibility for the present and confusion over the past.  That one wants to find peace with the past and find hope for the future but memory gaps leave her bending under the weight of her burdens.

Her siblings are no different.  While Lynnette is trying to deal with the past, her siblings are all fleeing from it – but they’re just as captive as she is.  Their stories are widely varied and uniqe, and I like the way that West incorporates a broad range of the human condition in the members of this one family.

Lynnette has kept her faith through her struggles, and her journey is inspiring.  Her siblings’ journeys, although all very different, each provide lessons of their own throughout the story, and therein lies the genius of the book.

While Lynnette is a main character, her siblings have strong supporting roles, but no two characters are alike.  This variance keeps the reader turning pages and makes it possible for many different readers to connect emotionally with someone in the story.  I personally liked Lynnette’s determination to find the truth, but I can see my daughter in Ryan and my husband in Nick.  I think the Carlisle siblings will appeal to a widely varied audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that West dispenses the family information.  The Carlisles are full of secrets, and by dribbling them out slowly, often as Lynnette discovers them, the reader is kept thirsting for more.

I don’t think the cover does the book justice.  It’s very simple, and for some reason the title font made me think it was going to be an emotionally-dramatic family story; and maybe that’s not too far off, but with the suspicion of murder, international music stars, alcohol and drug addictions, secret trysts, and controlling parents, it’s so much more than that.  The Things We Knew may not quality for romantic suspense, exactly, but it’s close; it’s definitely a summer must-read.

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

Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border collie for long walks on the beach or tending to her roses and orchids. She and her husband have two grown children.

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

“When Death Draws Near” Undercover Artist Giveaway

Plunge into forensic artist Gwen Marcey’s world, full of cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects. Add Carrie Stuart Parks’ new book, When Death Draws Near, to the top of your must-read list. Gwen accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before she can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?

Join Carrie in celebrating the release of When Death Draws Near by entering to win an Undercover Artist Starter Set.

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One grand prize winner will receive:

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Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on August 22. The winner will be announced August 23 on the Litfuse blog.

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“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.