Sandpiper Cove by Irene Hannon

Disclaimer: Sandpiper Cove, by Irene Hannon, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Hope Harbor police chief and single mom Lexie Graham has zero time for extracurricular activities—including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either—but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? When Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a troubled young man from heading down the wrong path, sparks begin to fly. Could it be that God may have a different—and better—future planned for them than either could imagine?

My rating: 1/5

Sandpiper Cove is the story of a police chief and an ex-con who help out a teenager who gets in trouble for vandalism and who fall in love with each other along the way. If you imagine any contemporary Christian romance novel, that’s what you get here, complete with love at first sight, electric touches, lots of kissing (and even kissing in grandiose ways like in the movies; just imagine Aragorn kissing Arwen after he’s crowned in Minas Tirith. That’s literally what happens here), romantic angst, and, of course, lengthy descriptions about how beautiful/handsome the main characters are.

Full-disclosure here, I’m going to try and get through this review without getting scathing, but I may not be successful because this book was a nightmare to get through.

First of all, let me just say that I almost stopped reading after the second page when Hannon describes a sigh “like C02 whooshing out of a soft drink can.” Uh, what? Just say he sighed and move on!

Second, Sandpiper Cove revealed a convention of romance in general, and of the Christian romance I’ve been reading in particular, that I utterly despise: the beautiful couple. I know there’s beautiful people out there. I know they meet, fall in love, and get married. But that doesn’t mean every romance I read needs to be between a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman with “full lips” and “stunning eyes” and a man who has “rippling muscles,” “sun-kissed skin” and a “chiseled jaw.” Give me someone who wears sweatpants and maybe has some acne and has scraggly hair and spin me a romance out of that, please, because that also happens and is way more relatable.

Also, Lexie and Adam’s romance was cheesy and cliché to the extreme. It was conventional, it was predictable, it was fake angst drawn out over predictable tension, and the sappiest stuff you can think of. Did you think I was joking about the Aragorn/Arwen kiss above? Because I’m not. There’s literally a scene where Adam goes down the aisle during church and kisses Lexie in front of a crowd of people because why not, it’s romantic.

Oh, and the vandalism sideplot? There’s a whole lot of tension because all the evidence is circumstantial and people’s careers might be in danger and stuff, and then all of a sudden, Lexie and Adam are getting married and the entire vandalism plot is swept under the rug. I get that Hannon is trying to say that all the uncertainty and the career misgivings weren’t important and shouldn’t stop people from moving on with their lives, but after all the time spent on it, you’d think there’d be a little closure. Instead, there’s a lot of handwaving and more of the predictable, boring romance.

I could barely get through Sandpiper Cove and almost stopped reading on multiple occasions. I really don’t understand how people like this sort of boring, predictable romance, with a faux-tense plot that’s swept aside the minute the characters get together and is there only as an obvious means of getting them together. This is why I so much prefer historical romance—at least it’s more interesting than this kind of romantic nonsense.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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

The One True Love of Alice-Ann by Eva Marie Everson

Disclaimer: The One True Love of Alice-Ann, by Eva Marie Everson, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves. Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé long ago. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters ease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear the worst. Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops in something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?

My rating: 4/5

I tend to enjoy World War II-era novels, so I was looking forward to reading The One True Love of Alice-Ann. The author, Eva Marie Everson, is also the same person who wrote Five Brides, which I quite enjoyed. And, happily—this book was great.

Though Alice-Ann’s angst over who she really loves is not quite convincing enough—I knew long before she did whom she didn’t truly love—making a lot of the last third of the book a little tedious to read as she agonizes, I thought the overall message behind that was good and well-expressed. And even though the outcome is, perhaps, a little predictable, the focus is much more on Alice-Ann’s discovery of her feelings and the realizations she makes rather than on a “who is she going to pick?” love-triangle-esque romantic plot.

The biggest negative I had about the book is Alice-Ann is the type of protagonist who doesn’t think she’s beautiful and envies all the beautiful women around her. There are certainly people who think that, but it’s a little hard to read. I suppose it fits Alice-Ann as a sixteen-year-old, though, and her thoughts on this do die down a little as she grows up and realizes what’s most important. At least Everson didn’t play the “she doesn’t know she’s beautiful” card, which would have been irritating.

I really enjoyed The One True Love of Alice-Ann, which is full of charm, has a good romantic plot, and despite its predictability is still an engaging read because of Alice-Ann’s journey as she learns more about love as opposed to infatuation. The message behind the novel, “You can’t choose who you love but you can choose who you marry” is a good one to emphasize and overall was developed very nicely throughout the book. I would read more books by Everson.

(Please click here for a Q&A with the author)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nxp1pR

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

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

When Love Arrives by Johnnie Alexander

Disclaimer: When Love Arrives, by Johnnie Alexander, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Dani Prescott can’t believe the lie Brett Somers is trying to sell to the media. During an interview about the plane crash that killed his parents, he blamed Dani’s mother. But the crash killed her as well. Vowing to restore her mother’s reputation, Dani has been following Brett and taking photos, hoping to find something she can use to discredit him. But when she catches his eye instead, she quickly finds herself agreeing to a date. Brett knows this mystery girl is hiding something—but he’s got his own secrets to keep. What will happen when he discovers who she really is?

My rating: 3/5

When reading Where She Belongs, the novel before this one, Brett was the most interesting character to me. I expressed interest in reading the next book if it was about him. And, yes, When Love Arrives focuses on Brett and I enjoyed it much more than I did Where She Belongs.

I think what I most enjoyed is Brett’s redemption story. I love redemption stories—stories where a character messes up, or made bad decisions in his or her lives, etc., and then changes due to something that happened to them or an encounter with someone (or Someone). Brett fits that, and he spends a lot of the novel commiserating over his past mistakes. And I love what Alexander did with his character and the choices she had him make, such as apologizing to his first female “conquest” and to his last.

Dani was an okay protagonist; probably the main problem I had with her was that her arc wasn’t as interesting as Brett’s. I did think Alexander handled her confusion well, and at least she and Brett didn’t have a love at first sight moment. I’ll buy a “love in the first week” plot, but I’m still my same jaded self when it comes to love at first sight.

Another highlight of the novel was Brett’s reaction to Dani’s secret, which I thought was very well done and exactly the way someone like Brett would have reacted.

The only reason I’m not rating this book higher is that, despite all the good parts, there were areas where the novel dragged a little, and the romance seemed a little cheesy in parts. Or maybe it’s just not the sort of romance I like—I do tend to prefer 1800s romance to contemporary romance. But I will say this: Where She Belongs made me want to read the next book about Brett, and now When Love Arrives made me want to read the next book about Amy, so that’s a plus for Alexander no matter what I thought about the book.

Warnings: Brett was a womanizer, so there’s that.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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

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