Category Archives: book review

My review of In Broken Places by Michele Phoenix

About the book:

Shelby’s life isn’t glamorous, but it is predictable–and that’s the way she likes it. A survivor of her father’s violence, she has spent a lifetime creating a safe existence devoid of dependence. But her carefully managed world begins to break when, under staggering circumstances, she becomes a single mother to four-year-old Shayla. In a drastic attempt to escape her childhood’s influence, Shelby moves to Germany, but she quickly discovers how intimately linked memory and healing are–and how honestly she must scrutinize her past in order to aspire to a richer future. As she juggles a new job, a new culture, a new daughter, and the attention of an enterprising man, Shelby’s fresh start becomes a quest for the courage to be not only a survivor, but someone who prevails.

My review: 

This was a unique story and I loved the realism. As a social worker who has worked with dysfunctional families for a quarter of a century, there isn’t much I haven’t seen. There are so many adults in this world who are still a bit crippled by their past. Instead of responding to love, they run screaming in the other direction. Instead of bonding in normal, healthy relationships, they have a trauma bond with another victim who is usually a sibling. 

I found the book quite deep and a fantastic way to show how God uses the most unlikely situations sometimes to heal people and open them up to genuine love. The catch is we still have to let the person in and keep fear out of the equation. So we have to cling to perfect love, which casts out all fear. 

That said, I don’t want to post any spoilers, so I won’t give away the plot points. I will say this… I liked how the author went into the past and shared a little bit more of their childhood with each scene. The book was told from the heroine’s point of view and never strayed. 

The author used a lot of visceral emotion to describe feelings, which I loved. The author also did a cute job describing her heart and stomach and how they did ice skating moves in response to exciting and new emotions. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is trying to understand the odd responses of people who were abused as children. 

This book doesn’t go into sexual abuse or gory details, but it does show the abject fear that children live with who have an angry, unpredictable parent and a passive one who doesn’t know what to do to protect the children. It’s very insightful and beautifully written. Bravo! I would definitely read other books by this author.


My review of The Reason by William Sirls

About the book:

When facing the impossible, will you believe?

Storm clouds gather over a small Michigan town. As thunder shakes the sky, the lights inside St. Thomas Church flicker . . . and then go out.

All is black until a thick bolt of lightning slices the sky, striking the church’s large wooden cross–leaving it ablaze and splintered in two.

When the storm ends–the search for answers begins.

James Lindy, the church’s blind minister, wonders how his small congregation can repair the cross and keep their faith in the midst of adversity. And he hears the words “only believe.”

Macey Lewis, the town’s brilliant young oncologist, is drawn to Alex, a young boy who’s recently been diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia. She puts her hope in modern medicine–yet is challenged to “only believe.”

And Alex’s single mom, who has given everything she can to her boy, is pleading with God to know the reason this is happening . . . to save her son. But she only hears silence and wonders how she can possibly “only believe.”

My review:

This book was unique and what some would call a “high concept” novel. It reminded me of a novel I read a long time ago title “Eli,” and that story had a modern day Jesus type of plot. I always find those concepts fascinating to explore. This story was different in that it didn’t parallel the life of Jesus. Instead, there were some pretty amazing miracles that took place and the character Kenneth always tied them to a scripture. This novel dealt with the why questions that many people ask. The ultimate answer is God knows what He is doing, so the author didn’t try to play God in that respect, which I appreciated. When we come to the end of ourselves, then we can see God working in our lives regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, hence the “only believe” phrase that is a constant theme in this book.

The author is a skilled writer. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the way into the story I could not pull myself away from wanting to know what happened next. And those last 100 pages… well, let’s just say I kept running my finger across my lower lid and wiping my cheek with my palm. Anyone can insert themselves into the story and think about how they would feel and what they would do. Unlike most contemporary stories, however, this felt more authentic when it came to people resisting the truth and doubting God’s existence. The author painted a believable scenario with well-rounded and unique characters. I think Charlie and Alex were my favorites in the story. I enjoyed this book and the author’s writing and would have given it five stars but it started out a bit slow for me. Other than that it was a perfect story. There are some deep truths in there and plenty of content to make you think more about your faith.

My review of Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

About the book:

Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen.

Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

My review:

I have never been fond of the story behind the last of Henry VIII’s queens, but enjoyed this author’s presentation of her character quite a bit. The author’s writing style engaged me and I liked how the author used several viewpoints to give different perspectives. I really identified with Katherine Parr in this novel… more than I thought I would. Because of this, I am adding Ms. Fremantle to my list of favorite authors of Medieval fiction.

I especially liked the part of the book where the queen became caught up in the Protestant Reformation and was secretly reading the works of some which ultimately made them martyrs for their faith. I loved that she wrote a book in secret herself and felt her palpable fear when she was forced to hide things lest she be accused of heresy by men out to separate her from the king.

I loved how the queen even explores the idea of grace alone and faith alone and what that means compared to what the church taught prior to the Reformation. She was a woman of passion who was sometimes blinded by that same fervor, especially when it came to Thomas Seymour. What a sad tale that was. I felt sorry for her when she was chosen by King Henry to be his final wife. I felt her fear when she didn’t know if her husband would turn on her for anything she said or did. It stunk to be a woman in those days.

Anyway, I read this book quickly despite its length and found myself immersed in that time period. The author did a great job pulling me into their world and I commend her for that. A good novel is a great escape, and one that makes me think about my life and feel something where I care about the characters, is a great story. This was more balanced in its perspective than some that I’ve read. I’d highly recommend trying this new author for lovers of that time period.

Queen’s Gambit was published by Simon & Schuster and released in August 2013.

My review of Shattered by Dani Pettrey

About the book:

Piper McKenna couldn’t be more thrilled that her prodigal brother, Reef, has returned to Yancey, Alaska, after five years. But her happiness is short-lived when Reef appears at her house covered in blood. A fellow snowboarder has been killed–but despite the evidence, Reef swears he’s innocent. And Piper believes him. 

Deputy Landon Grainger loves the McKennas like family, but he’s also sworn to find the truth. Piper is frustrated with his need for facts over faith, but he knows those closest to you have the power to deceive you the most. With his sheriff pushing for a quick conviction, some unexpected leads complicate the investigation, and pursuing the truth may mean risking Landon’s career. 

With Piper waging her own search, the two head deep into Canada’s rugged backcountry–and unexpected complications. Not only does their long friendship seem to be turning into something more, but this dangerous case is becoming deadlier with each step.

My review:

My favorite aspect of this novel was probably all of the snow-related themes such as the avalanches, blizzards, and snowboarding/skiing activities. What a perfect way to cool off during the summer – by escaping to the cold wilds of Alaska in your mind! I’ve always enjoy learning about new settings and this book provided plenty of new information about snowboarding and other activities to keep me interested. I also liked how it introduced a new character, Darcy, who will be the heroine in the third book. 

It was great to see the same characters from the first book in this second book of the series. I already knew them in the opening chapters and that helped with my overall enjoyment of the novel. I didn’t enjoy the mystery and suspense aspects of this novel as much as the first book, though. This one seemed a bit more stilted in regards to the faith element and sometimes it slowed the pacing down. Plus, there is just something about romantic conflict where the characters drive each other nuts and then constantly fight their feelings that can annoy me. This book wasn’t too bad in that respect, but it did start to feel a bit repetitious. 

Other than the internal dialog where the hero and heroine kept fighting their feelings for each other and doubting their faith, this story was quite an adventure. There were enough twists and turns to make the reader dizzy, but I like that about this story. I had no clue where it was going. Things just kept getting more and more complicated and the further they searched, the more risky their detective work became. All in all, this was an enjoyable story. I’d recommend it for mystery/suspense lovers who like a heavy dose of interpersonal conflict.

Shattered was published by Bethany House and released in February 2013.

My review of Shackled Lily by T. L. Gray

About the book:

Beautiful, selfish and spoiled Kaitlyn “Issy” Summers had it all, or so everyone thought. Then, one night changed everything. Now trapped in the world that destroyed her to begin with, Issy finds herself in the arms of the one man she vowed to forget. Issy Summers spent her life hardening and numbing her heart to the world.

Raised by a weak mother and controlling father, Issy learns quickly that self-preservation is essential, and manipulation is often the key. When a night of over indulgence lands her in a coma, Issy wakes to find her life completely shifted as her father forces her back into his world–a world far darker than even Issy was prepared for. The only light now is a man who has loved her for years, a man who recently found the loving grace of Christ. Letting him in will destroy the walls and armor she has worked so hard to build, but will shutting him out trap her forever in the chains that cover her? Shackled Lily is the second book in the Winsor Series, but can be read as a stand alone novel.

My review:

Okay, so this is by far the best book I’ve read this year. In fact, it even beats out the previous book, and that was a hard one to top. I read this book in less than twenty four hours. It’s over 400 pages and honestly, I read most of it in one sitting. I went to church and ate dinner but the rest of the time I enjoyed reading this book. Anyway, I don’t know where to begin.

The pacing was phenomenal for starters. I felt like I understood Issy completely and the more I saw her tortured emotions, the more I loved her. There is just something about a character who is afraid to love that melts my heart every time I read a novel. I felt her shackles and her despair. The moment she understood her mother’s depression from feeling trapped, I got goose bumps. Before that she was running from her feelings. It was that resignation that broke my heart. But Issy is a fighter.

The cool thing about this book is that it can be read as a stand alone. While Issy stayed true to her character, you didn’t have to read the first book to get the sense that she was a mess. I love Jake, too, so I am thrilled he has his own story coming up in 2014, though I can’t imagine how the author will top this one. It was a perfect story in every way. I got tears in my eyes, my heart sped up, I got so caught up in the story that I forgot that I was reading. That’s an excellent book. I didn’t want the story to end, but the ending satisfied me.

Issy changed so much through her trials, but her faith journey felt so natural that I totally believed it. I’ve read other books where the characters break down and reach for God, but nothing was as believable as this story. I cried when she called Avery so desperate for peace. It was emotional and beautiful. And she did what she thought was best for Grant, but God bless him for not giving up on her even when everything seemed hopeless. That scene where her dad’s henchmen pulled him away from her broke my heart. I could feel his desperation and pain.

In some ways this book reminded me of a contemporary Titanic story. Issy was Rose and Grant was like Jack. Robbie reminded me of Cal and all of the emotions his character in the movie sparked in me came up again when I thought about how controlling Robbie was… just like “Cal” from Titanic. His power and his desire to win at all costs frightened me, so I could empathize with Issy’s terror and how shackled she felt. Billions were riding on the arrangement. The stakes were high. But love triumphs over tragedy and trials made them both stronger. I love stories like this. Again, it’s my absolute favorite book this year. I don’t know how anything will top this novel.

Shackled Lily was published by CreateSpace and released in May 2013.

My review of On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin and contest announcement!



One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A $200 Visa Cash Card (good for a perfect couple’s getaway)
  • With Every Letter and On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 2nd. Winner will be announced September 3rd at the “On Distant Shores” Author Chat Party on Facebook. During the party Sarah will be hosting a book chat, testing your trivia skills, announcing the winner of the Weekend Getaway, and giving away a ton of books, gift certificates, and more. Oh, and she’ll also be giving party goers an exclusive look at the next book in the Wings of the Nightingale series.

So grab your copy of On Distant Shores and join Sarah on the evening of September 3rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)

My review:
I haven’t read a book by Sarah Sundin yet that I haven’t loved. This one is no exception. While over 400 pages, I still devoured it. She is a master storytelling and always has an interesting slant to things. In this case the hero was a pharmacist hoping to earn the recognition he felt his profession deserved. The heroine battled fear that often paralyzed her. She was also dealing with emotions surrounding the loss of a friend, and thus, her reason for being there as a flight nurse. I really liked Hutch, the hero. He had his issues, but what man doesn’t struggle with human weakness, like the tendency to become proud? He also sounded pretty dreamy. I loved the way his inner dialog sounded so masculine.

This story pulled me in and held my attention to the end. The facts about pharmaceutical compounds and how the hero created medicines was all quite fascinating. The characters had natural emotions and genuine spiritual struggles. Nothing felt stifled or sterilized. The whole issue of rank had to jab at poor Hutch’s masculinity. A secondary character, Lucia, was delight to get to know through her interactions with the hero and heroine. I could see why they were so fond of that sweet girl. Georgie, the heroine, had spunk and probably blossomed the most in this story. I admired her from wanting to break free from the dependency that her family and the southern culture encouraged. She had guts that emerged from her trials. She had to change the way she thought about herself. It was a great example of God’s perspective renewing our minds.

All in all, this was a fabulous story. I was emotionally engaged and loved watching the characters grow stronger in their faith through their many trials. I think one of the things I enjoy most about Sarah’s books are the different ways she slides faith-related issues into the story so naturally. They never feel forced or like they were inserted as an afterthought. The author did a great job in the way she showed humility bringing peace and pride bringing nothing but bitterness and discontentment in this novel. Great job! I can’t wait to read the third book in this series.


My review/endorsement of Friend Me by John Faubion

About the book:

“She isn’t real. . . right?”

A lonely wife and a frustrated husband create virtual online friends, trying to deal with the pressures of a marriage gone flat, and a high-pressure job.

Torn between his love for his wife, and the perfection of his virtual girlfriend, he becomes unfaithful.

Neither dream that behind the screen is a single real woman, masquerading both as friend and lover. She is determined to have the man for herself, so his wife must die.

My review:

First, let me just say that I love the cover. It shows in a very suspenseful way how what comes out of the internet/computer can shatter your life. That was definitely true with this book. I loved how suspenseful it was and how creative the author was when he developed the story. What an imagination! But it was believably done.

The writing was very good for a debut novel, too. I didn’t read anything boring that made me want to skim the pages. The author used the context of a virtual connection with a person to show how it can be dangerous, and maybe even more when they aren’t “real.” You can certainly make more excuses. Like the husband trying to convince himself that wanting to spent time with a virtual person wasn’t a threat to his marriage because the “other woman” wasn’t real.

I loved how the author also showed the way women tend to interpret this kind of behavior… like “What did I do wrong?” and “Wasn’t I enough for you?” But it’s not typically about the woman’s flaws but the weakness men have that draws them away. This is quite deep for a male author. He seemed to understand the woman’s psyche quite well. Most of the time while I was enjoying the story I forgot that the author was a guy. Not that the story was in any way soft. He had me on edge a lot of the time.

The author showed the rationalization and progression of what seems like an innocent activity… at first. He also showed the way sin snares all of us and pulls us deeper until the very thing we thought we wanted threatens everything about our lives that we love. How true that is. It often starts with something basic like neglecting to read the Bible and grows from there.

The husband knew the scriptures and God often brought them to mind to warn him, but like most humans, he thought he could handle it. And like the enemy does so well, he convinced the husband that his sin would not hurt anyone. That’s the biggest lie of all. The scriptures say “your sin will find you out.” If you are a true believer, you can bank on that. And the ending was awesome.

There were a multitude of twists and turns in the story, but the ending was like the proverbial frosting on the cake. I really enjoyed this book. It had enough gritty realism to make it believable. I loved how the hero had realistic thoughts about everything.

My endorsement will say this… “Friend Me is a unique twist on a stalker story that begins with an illusion and ends with more reality than any of the characters are prepared to deal with. Intelligently written and spiritually sound, this story is a cautionary tale and one guaranteed to warn people who think they can play with fire and not get burned. For those who have learned to steer clear of cyber-temptation, this book will definitely reinforce that notion. A great debut novel that kept me riveted to the very end.”

Friend Me will officially release in paperback in February 2014 via Howard/Simon and Schuster.

My review of The Exceptions by David Cristofano

About the book: 

No loose ends. It’s the Bovaro family motto. As part of the Bovaro clan, one of the most powerful and respected families in organized crime, Jonathan knows what he must do: take out Melody Grace McCartney, the woman whose testimony can lock up his father and disgrace his entire family. The only problem: he can’t bring himself to do it.

Had Jonathan kept his silence, Melody and her parents would never have been identified and lured into the Witness Protection Program, able to run but never to hide. So he keeps her safe the only way he knows how-by vowing to clean up his own mess while acting as her shield.

But as he watches her take on another new identity in yet another new town, becoming a beautiful but broken woman, Jonathan can’t get her out of his mind . . . or his heart. From the streets of Little Italy to a refuge that promises a fresh start, Jonathan will be forced to choose between the life he’s always known, the destiny his family has carved out for him, and a future unlike anything he’s ever imagined.

My review:

I absolutely loved this story. The author’s storytelling is beyond superb. I really enjoyed The Girl She Used to Be by the same author. In fact, it made my favorite fiction list the year it came out. The cool thing was enough time had passed between my reading each of the stories that it felt like I began the story again from a totally different perspective. But this time it went way back to the beginning. In some ways I loved this book even more than the first. The ideal is to read both, but this could be read as a stand alone novel.

This was an exceptionally good book because my emotions were fully engaged. I was also enthralled by the concept – the son of a notable crime family guarding the life of one of his family’s targets. As far as romantic elements go, this author really cranks up the heat while staying fairly chaste. It’s a technique worth studying in depth. I could feel the love oozing off the pages and it was enough to melt my heart.

The hero tells this story entirely from his perspective. You feel his intense longing and his inspiring discovery of what it means to truly love someone. At the same time, the hero wants to do right by the heroine. He couldn’t free her if she clung to him, so he refrained though everything in him wanted to love her fully. There is nothing more romantic than restrained passion and sacrifice.

There were moments when a sense of betrayal which got me a bit choked up. I felt the wounds myself as it were happening to me. But like all good love stories, the truth eventually comes out and it isn’t what it seems. This is my cryptic way of telling how much I enjoyed the twists and turns without sharing them in this review. I stayed up late many nights reading this book. I highly recommend it.

The Exceptions was published by Grand Central and released in August 2012


My review of Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

About the book:

Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew’s stepfather’s company come to light and it’s clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer–and trying harder to impress Madeline–Drew must decide how far to take this game.

My review:

I’m not a fan of murder mysteries or black and white movies, but I did enjoy this novel. People who reminisce about living in that era or watching Agatha Christie flicks will love this book. It had plenty of intrigue and a distinctly English feel to the story right down to the lingo used at that time. I almost felt like I was watching a Sherlock Holmes episode, only this had a more unique twist to it. There were a number of red herrings to throw you off the trail of the true killer as well. I’m not sure if I liked being wrong, but the author made a case for the truth.In the process of exposing the mystery around the plot of the person intent on murdering anyone who crossed them, the author managed to weave in some spiritual sustenance for the reader as well. I think I enjoyed the romantic parts of the story best, though, especially when the hero resisted the urge to cross the boundaries of propriety. The heroine loved him more for it. Don’t we all love heroes like that?. So Drew was pretty heroic despite his overwhelming desire to solve the crime, which of course went against the wishes of the police department who asked him to stay out of their detective work. If you enjoy a old fashioned murder mystery with “whodunit” details that are complex and compelling, you’ll enjoy this book.

Rules of Murder was published by Bethany House and released in August 2013.

My review of Replacing Gentry by Julie N. Ford

About the book:

When Marlie agrees to attend a cadaver ball at Vanderbilt Medical School, she did not expect to actually see any cadavers. Or, that a strange apparition would issue her a chilling message.

Despite the cadaver’s warning, Marlie is married a year later to Tennessee State Senator, Daniel Cannon, and living in a plantation-style mansion with two step-sons. Add to the mix her growing suspicion that something is amiss with the death of Daniel’s first wife, Gentry, and newlywed Marlie is definitely in over her pretty Yankee head.

What begins as an innocent inquiry into her new husband’s clouded past ends with Marlie in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy.

A modern twist on the classic Gothic romance novels of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, Replacing Gentry follows Marlie’s precarious journey as she learns the truth about the man she married.

My review:

So far I’ve read two of Julie’s books and I’ve enjoyed them both. This Gothic-style romance was completely different from her first book. I haven’t ready anything quite like this book. The writing style was very good and the plot moved along at a brisk pace. The complexity and detail shown reflects the author’s creativity. The setting with its Southern culture, graveyards, and creepy secret cult also gave the story an intelligent feel.

The creepy scenes and odd characters added to the story’s appeal and the mysterious twists and turns in the plot held my attention. I loved the emotion, the tension, the intrigue, and the sizzling romantic elements. I also appreciated how there were several instances where I had no clue about what was going to happen next, and then the author tossed in a curve ball I never saw coming. There was nothing predictable or cliche about this book. And the ending was sweet with just the right amount of resolution to satisfy me as a reader.

Replacing Gentry was published by WiDo and released in April 2013.