Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?

My rating: 3/5

Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.

However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.

But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.

Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.

Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kRVy6z

The Sisters of Sugarcreek by Cathy Liggett

Disclaimer: The Sisters of Sugarcreek, by Cathy Liggett, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Lydia Gruber, a young Amish widow, faces an uncertain future. Without support or skills, how will she survive? With the loss of her beloved aunt, Jessica Holtz inherits Rose’s Knit One Quilt Too Cottage. Though determined to keep the sop open, she doesn’t know the first thing about knitting and quilting and begins to see her aunt’s dream slip through her fingers. Liz Cannon lost not only her dear friend Rose but her partner in the Secret Stitches Society—dedicated to delivering anonymous gifts of hope to troubled folks. She and Jessica decided to keep the society going, choosing Lydia for their first mission. The three women form an unlikely friendship in the aftermath of tragedy. As they walk together though triumph and heartbreak—through grief and new chances at love—they begin to discover that with friends by your side, a stitch of hope can be found anywhere.

My rating: 2/5

The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good in places, with interesting characters, realistic conflicts, and slightly-too-heavy-handed messages poking their heads out from plodding scenes, predictable romance, and a particularly annoying writing style. It dwells too long on angst and romance and not long enough on the deeper parts of the novel, such as Lydia’s uncertainty. To be honest, if Lydia had been the only main character, and thus the only viewpoint character, in the book, I might have enjoyed it a lot better.

Lydia’s story was, to me, the most interesting, but it often was set aside for Jessica’s boring and predictable romantic angst—I am heartily sick of the “best friend from high school was The One but she hasn’t seen him in years and now he’s back and she doesn’t know what to do because she still likes him but she doesn’t want to tell him so they dance around the subject forever while she keeps thinking about how perfect he is” trope—and Liz’s less interesting side plot. Also, I definitely think the secret behind Lydia’s husband was dealt with too quickly and brushed aside almost immediately. Or perhaps, since Lydia was my favorite, I just wanted more time spent with her and less time with the more unoriginal characters of Jessica and Liz and their plots.

Also, I don’t know why any editor would let an author get away with this, but seriously, Cathy Liggett—dependent clauses are called “dependent” for a reason. Sisters of Sugarcreek was littered with sentence fragments used for description purposes and/or emphasis, but all it accomplished was break up the writing and make it choppy and disjointed. All it emphasized was that Liggett needs a copy of The Elements of Style, or maybe stop relaying on the breaking up of sentences to do her emphasizing for her.

Overall, The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good only for Lydia’s sadly underdeveloped storyline, which communicates so much about uncertainty and growing out of that into confidence. However, Jessica and Liz cut into Lydia’s story with generic, predictable plots of their own, with love interests too perfect for me to take seriously (especially Derek; Daniel at least wobbles at the end for a decent “not perfect” finish) and slightly melodramatic conversations and problems. Add to that the author’s propensity for using fragments for descriptive purposes, and for most of the book I was looking forward for it to be over.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2jHQLqT

An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

Disclaimer: An Uncommon Courtship, by Kristi Ann Hunter, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

When her mother’s ill-conceived marriage trap goes awry, Lady Adelaide Bell unwittingly finds herself bound to a stranger who ignores her. Lord Trent Hawthorne, who had grand plans to marry for love, is even less pleased with the match. Can they set aside their first impressions before any chance of love is lost?

My rating: 4/5

An interesting and unique take on a marriage of convenience, An Uncommon Courtship returns to the familiar setting of the previous books in the Hawthorne House series (though explains enough that newcomers will not be lost), this time telling Trent’s story.

Perhaps not every reader will enjoy the shy, shrinking Adelaide, but I thoroughly enjoyed her—I’m tired of confident, “I know what I want” female protagonists who are as interesting as a brown paper bag. Adelaide is both as insecure as her upbringing would create and as assertive as her new situation would start her to be, in a good display of character development overall. Trent, with all of his questions and lack of confidence, was also a good character. Oftentimes male characters in these sorts of books seem a little too wise; Trent’s confusion was a nice change of pace.

I also appreciated Hunter’s take on the convenient marriage plot; while perhaps being a little too obvious about giving marital advice, some good questions and answers were raised in a context where a majority of people are often curiously silent. Marriage in books like these tends to be treated as the ultimate destination, the ultimate summation of happiness, and maybe it is, but Trent and Adelaide’s journey seemed to me to show the hidden side of it, with its struggles, conflicts, and emotions. So, kudos to Hunter for changing it up from her first two books (and the novella) and showing something that I, at least, have never really seen before.

There’s one last unmarried Hawthorne left, and I’m curious to see if Hunter will write a final book for Griffith. That would be an interesting read, I think, so I hope she does.

An Uncommon Courtship, while not as fascinating or as gripping as I found An Elegant Façade, is a unique take on the marriage of convenience, dealing with marital guidance and how to communicate with someone you barely know, among other things. Adelaide and Trent had good characterization, and while I wish some of the other characters weren’t so underdeveloped and one-dimensional (such as Adelaide’s mother and sister, who started out the series as gossiping golddiggers and remain so three books later), I have really enjoyed Hunter’s Hawthorne House series despite that.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kc4uGh

The Shattered Vigil by Patrick W. Carr

Disclaimer: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Their victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. One of the Vigil has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves. Worse, a deadly new threat has emerged—assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. To thwart the perilous new risk, the church makes the drastic decision to safeguard the Vigil by taking the surviving members into protective custody. But there are secrets only the vigil can unearth, and so Pellin makes the heat-wrenching choice to oppose the church in a race to turn back the evil that threatens an entire continent.

My rating: 4/5

While I remembered very little from The Shock of Night, I only found The Shattered Vigil hard to understand at the beginning. Then, Carr gave enough reminders and my memory of the first book came back just enough that I was able to cross that initial divide of “Oh my goodness I don’t really remember anything that happened; who are these people again?” and go back to familiar territory.

The Shattered Vigil is an improvement over the first book, in my opinion. I found the plot more interesting, the confusing parts less prominent, and the pace quicker. And although it was a little jarring to keep switching from 1st to 3rd person, I also liked the character switches as well, especially those involving Toria Deel and Bronwyn. Carr has definitely seemed to settle into his stride here, getting the shaky and weak bits over with the first book. Perhaps some of my praise here comes from the pure refreshment of a decently written fantasy as opposed to the normal historical romance that I receive from Bethany House, but I’m also not a frequent reader of adult fantasy so I don’t know enough to compare.

I also really enjoyed both of the ending twists—the one I guessed right as it was unveiling itself before my eyes and the other was a pretty delightful way to end the book, even if it did make it a cliffhanger. But Carr manages to wrap up enough of the loose ends of the plot that the book doesn’t feel as if it stopped in the middle of the act. It’s not a stand-alone, but it’s more of a stand-alone than a book that only shows the first part of a two-part plot.

The Shattered Vigil, to me, was better than The Shock of Night, and I really enjoyed it reading it. It did have its dull moments, and there were times when I was a little confused, but those moments were few and far between to the overall interest and appeal of the book. I’m quite looking forward to the next book, especially after the ending of this one.

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2f9fZri

Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

Disclaimer: Larger-Than-Life Lara, by Dandi Daley Mackall, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

‘This isn’t about me. The story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least htat’s what Mrs. Smith, my teachers, says.’ But the story is about ten-year-old Laney Grafton and the new girl in her class—Lara Phelps—whom everyone bullies from the minute she shows up. But instead of acting the way a bullied kid normally acts, this new girl returns kindness for a meanness that intensifies—until nobody remains unchanged, not even the reader.

My rating: 4/5

Dandi Daley Mackall wrote some of my favorite book series growing up: Winnie the Horse Gentler and Horsefeathers, back in the day when stories about horses composed 80% of my reading. Seeing another book of hers pop up on the Tyndale Blog Network intrigued me, even if this book is technically a republication (Larger-Than-Life Lara was originally published 10 years ago, in 2006).

Larger-Than-Life Lara is a short, but wholesome, book. Laney is a wonderful protagonist, and the hints at her home life never reveal too much or hide too little. Her voice is funny and the crafting of the story is smart—as a teacher, I found myself reading and thinking, “This is a perfect book to read to help explain story elements.”

It’s also a perfect book to discuss with a younger audience. Lara’s actions, Laney’s feelings, and the entire attitudes and behaviors of the class, are rich for discussion. The story is poignant, sweet, and heartbreaking in turns, and it’s just as much about Laney as it is about Lara and her effect on the fourth-grade class.

My favorite aspect of the book, though, is that Larger-Than-Life Lara communicates so much of the Christian message without even mentioning God once. Lara’s actions are beautifully Christ-like, with her capacity to forgive, her willingness to take fault when she herself did nothing, and the transforming effect her actions have on her classmates. There’s so much there for young readers to think and talk about. Larger-Than-Life Lara was a joy to read, and it’s nice to see that even if the works I read by Mackall as a child have worn old over the years, there are still some of her works that delight me.

Warnings: Alcohol abuse, hints at a bad home life, bullying.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2ebJ2i6

Another Day, Another Dali by Sandra Orchard

Disclaimer: Another Day, Another Dali, by Sandra Orchard, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

When FBI Special Agent Serena Jones takes on the case of a forged Dali painting as a favor to her grandmother, she assumes it will be a typical investigation. Hopefully collaring the thief will also mean finally measuring up in her grandmother’s eyes. But the deeper she delves into the forgery and the suspects surrounding it, the less typical it becomes. The Dali isn’t the only painting that’s fallen prey to the forgery-replacing thief, raising the possibility of a sophisticated theft ring—one with links to dirty cops, an spring young artist, and the unsolved murder of Serena’s grandfather. To make matters worse, someone connected to the forgeries seems to be determined to stop Serena’s investigation—no matter the cost.

My rating: 3/5

I think overall I had a better time with Another Day, Another Dali than with the previous book, A Fool & His Monet. Serena was more competent in this book, although at times she did have some really stupid moments (that she was later yelled at for doing, so at least it was acknowledged that it was stupid). The plot was complicated enough that the mystery didn’t feel swept aside for the humor, although it was a little too complicated at times—occasionally I would forget who was who and what they did and how they connected to each other.

The humor was all right, for the most part, but at times it felt distinctly out of place. Orchard still has some work to do to get the balance of suspense and humor just right, without making her protagonist seem ill-suited for her job in the process.

There were a few areas, too, where things fell a little flat—there were a few lines of poorly written dialogue and I was continuously confused about how Aunt Martha could do half the things she did, and why she kept showing up at all. But, overall, I did enjoy Another Day, Another Dali, and Serena is growing on me, even if at times she’s a little stupid and a little too “comic relief character.”

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2ecbU8r

Tangled Webs by Irene Hannon

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Tangled Webs, by Irene Hannon, from the publisher Revell. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

After a disastrous Middle East mission ends his six-year Army Ranger career, Finn McGregor needs some downtime. A peaceful month in the woods sounds like the perfect way to decompress. But peace isn’t on the agenda once he crosses paths with publishing executive Dana Lewis, a neighbor who is nursing wounds of her own. Someone seems bent on disrupting her stay in the lakeside cabin she inherited from her grandfather. As Finn and Dana work together to discover who is behind the disquieting pranks, the incidents begin to take on a menacing tone. And when it becomes apparent Dana’s foe may have deadly intent, Finn finds himself back in the thick of the action—ready or not.

My rating: 2/5

Tangled Webs is a decent suspense novel, though the suspense is overshadowed by the mediocre romance. Really, this book would have been fine as a suspense novel without the predictable, boring romance—perhaps even better.

Although, the romance might have been better if Dana and Finn had been more interesting characters. But I was far more interested in the police chief than in them, and sadly, he wasn’t featured as much as those two. I found him to be an interesting character and somewhat sympathetic in that you understand why he’s doing what he’s doing and yet want to slap him over the head and wonder why he’s being so stupid. He’s relatable, which is more than I can say for cardboard Dana and Finn, Stock Characters 1 and 2, cut straight from the magazine.

Pointless romance aside, as I mentioned, the suspense was actually quite good and the whole concept of gold hiding in a lake was pretty interesting. I wish there had been a scene where everyone reads the letter the police chief left behind, but instead it’s just casually thrown out at the end—and there’s also no mention of the chief’s wife, which I found disappointing since that’s how the whole thing got started. So, overall, though the concept was good, the entire thing fell flat for me. And I’d love to read something more original than the romance portrayed in Tangled Webs, and done with more original characters. Maybe try a different magazine, Hannon.

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2dxRovi

The Raven by Mike Nappa

Disclaimer: The Raven, by Mike Nappa, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

As part of his street performance, a deception specialist who goes by the name The Raven picks his audience’s pockets while they watch. It’s harmless fun—until he decides to keep the wallet of a prominent politician, hoping for a few extra bucks. When he finds compromising phots of the councilman and his “personal assistants,” The Raven hatches a plane to blackmail the man. However, he quickly finds himself in over his head with the Ukrainian mafia and mired in a life-threatening plot code-named “Nevermore.” Private investigators Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill must scramble to sort out the clues to rescue The Traven from a wild card bent on revenge.

My rating: 3/5

I didn’t enjoy The Raven as much as I enjoyed the first Coffey and Hill novel Annabel Lee, but it was still an intense, suspenseful read. I could have done without the excessive description of every brand worn by the characters and every gun they pulled and every car they drove, though. It also seems like Nappa spends more time describing Trudi than anyone else, and it ends up seeming like a forced “you’re supposed to like this girl and oh, yeah, she’s gorgeous, too, and has good taste so there’s no reason not to like her” type of thing. No other character gets quite the amount of description that she does.

While reading Annabel Lee before this book is not necessary, there are people and events described in The Raven that were from Annabel Lee. We also learn more about Samuel’s affair, and it takes a surprising little twist at the end (though not the surprising twist I was hoping for), which left me a little confused since it didn’t seem like it followed from what Nappa had revealed to us. However, I guess Nappa needs that continuing plot thread to link the books together (though it’s not overly necessary, in my opinion).

Even though The Raven didn’t grip me as much as Annabel Lee did, and I found the brand name description annoying, I did enjoy the book, especially the character Raven. He’s characterized well and is sympathetic in all the right places. The plot is also intense and has its suspenseful moments, though some of it was a little confusing to follow at times. But my dislikes were not enough to make me stop getting more Coffey and Hill novels in the future, so here’s to the next book!

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2dbsMyu

A Love Transformed by Tracie Peterson

Disclaimer: A Love Transformed, by Tracie Peterson, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

When her husband, Adolph, dies suddenly, Clara Vesper is stunned. Not grief-stricken, as their marriage had never been a love match, but staggered by what might become of her and her children. For years she designed the sapphire jewelry that made her husband’s company a fortune, but she little money in her own name and soon discovers that she has inherited nothing. Fearing for the welfare of her two small children, she decides to take them to her aunt and uncle’s ranch in Montana, the only place she has ever been happy. But much as changed since she last visited the Montana ranch, both for Clara and for those she was forced to leave behind. And when dangerous secrets from her late husband’s past threaten everyone she loves, Clara must fight to remain where she can fulfill her dreams.

My rating: 1/5

A Love Transformed starts with an interesting premise and the hope that the story will be different than the usual “woman returns home after long absence” archetype. That hope, however, is quickly dashed, as nothing in the book is surprising or inventive. It plays out exactly how you think it might play out, with the woman quickly reuniting with her lost love (with a few predictable setbacks at the beginning), then scrambling to figure a way out of the dangerous secrets that followed her from her former life, then conquering them and riding off with her lost love into the sunset. Yawn.

I thought it would have been much more interesting if Peterson had decided to make Curtis leave for the war rather than conveniently (in terms of the plot) get injured just as Clara returns. That’s literally the only thing Curtis’s injury was used for, as a vehicle to get him to remain behind and angst about how he might not be a “complete man” or whatever, and it was so disappointing to see such an overused trope. The romantic aspect of it wasn’t even that great, either. It was too predictable.

Add the contrived plot involving Otto and the annoying mother to the predictable and boring romance, and A Love Transformed was a struggle to finish. I’m starting to wonder if some of the authors I read are simply not aware of how unoriginal their concepts/plots are, or if this sort of thing legitimately sells and that’s why they keep writing it. Either way, I’m not a fan. Give me something with substance in place of a story told a thousand times already in the same way.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2czYvpL

The Road We Traveled by Jane Kirkpatrick

Disclaimer: The Road We Traveled, by Jane Kirkpatrick, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Tabitha Brown refuses to be left behind in Missouri when her son makes the decision to strike out for Oregon—even if she has to hire her own wagon to join the party. After all, family ties are stronger than fear. Along with her reluctant daughter and her ever-hopeful granddaughter, the intrepid Tabitha has her misgivings. The trials they face along the way will severely test her faith, courage, and ability to hope. With her family’s survival on the line, she must make the ultimate sacrifice, plunging deeper into the wilderness to seek aid. What she couldn’t know was how this frightening journey would impact how she understood her own life—and the greater part she had to play in history.

My rating: 2/5

Jane Kirkpatrick composes a faithful, detailed account of the “Mother of Oregon” in The Road We Traveled, depicting Tabitha Moffat Brown’s journey from Missouri to Oregon on the Oregon/Applegate Trail. The attention to historical accuracy and detail is wonderful and, as with the last book by Kirkpatrick I read (The Memory Weaver), I’m impressed and pleased at the research that went into this book. You can tell the book was lovingly crafted in order to pay tribute to a woman from history that many people probably do not know about.

However, all the lovely historical detail aside, The Road We Traveled is an uneven mess of a book. Perhaps “mess” is too harsh of a word. I’ll put it this way: there were parts of the book where I went “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then there were more parts where I wondered when the book would be over—especially towards the end, where so much time passed in so few pages that I ended up confused and detached from the book. So much was crammed into the end that I had trouble following along.

I do like the characters, for the most part, though Virgilia gets the short end of the stick, in my opinion. I do like the setting. But the pace of the book ruined it for me. It started out slow, then got mildly interesting, then trudged along with the wagons on the Oregon Trail, then finished in one large rush, dumping ten or so years of time into thirty or so pages right at the end. I think, as I mentioned in my review of The Memory Weaver, that this style of book is not really my cup of tea. I don’t particularly like stories that stretch across years of a person’s life because they often feel rushed and I don’t feel as connected with the character. I’d rather read, say, the fantastic Dear America account of the Oregon Trail (Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie) than this novel.

I appreciate The Road We Traveled for its historical detail, its wealth of research apparent in the pages, and its information on a little-known (to me, anyway, and probably to a lot of people) woman in history who went on the Oregon Trail when she was in her sixties and then founded a school. However, the style of the book itself, and other aspects such as its pacing, made it less than memorable and more than a little boring, and even confusing, to read.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2cQdDkS