Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

During a life-changing time in Jewish history, Ezra, an intelligent and shy scholar, is suddenly thrust into the role of leader of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Unsure how to lead an army when his training is in reading scrolls, Ezra depends on God’s faithfulness to help his nation fight for their very lives. This struggle takes precedence over Ezra’s desire for family and love and his visions for his future. Meanwhile, other Jews and Gentiles similarly find their lives thrown into a world of hatred and revenge. Each character must learn to seek God’s will as they strive to survive in unusual circumstances that test their maturity and faith.

Once again, Lynn Austin uses the Old Testament to expertly weave together a story full of deep relationships, each character under Ms. Austin’s pen being brought to life in a new way.   She accurately and skillfully uses true facts from the Bible and adds her own creative depth to allow the reader to better understand the thoughts, feelings, and actions of individual characters. It is interesting to read the story of Esther from a different perspective and to see how God carried His people through a seemingly impossible situation. The story flows well as the author weaves together complex sentences telling of the difficulties the Jews faced during this time of the Old Testament. There are realistic struggles and moments of difficult growth for the characters, but the supremacy of God reigns true throughout the novel. Ms. Austin is truly extraordinary at penning emotionally gripping Biblical accounts and this newest series is no exception. A most highly recommended book!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley

Leigh Somerall is back in her hometown, but only temporarily. After her rural residency program for her medical doctorate is finished, she is ready to move back to the East coast and work at the prestigious Johns Hopkins. But when a situation with her brother Tony throws Leigh into a spiral of dangerous circumstances, she finds herself unsure of her next steps. Acting sheriff Ben Logan, despite his misgivings, has offered to help Leigh’s family, forcing both of them to remember events from the past. And although Leigh attempts to avoid Ben and his desire to help her, she cannot seem to run away from him or the secrets she carries. Both Leigh and Ben must learn who to trust and where to turn before the perilous situations alter their lives forever.

A Promise to Protect is an interesting and complex contemporary suspense novel, its clever storyline full of twists and surprises. Secrets are constantly being revealed that are unexpected, creating a plot that is enjoyable to read. The characters may have flaws from their past, but their believable struggles make the story more realistic and allow the reader to better connect with each of them. The author’s writing style is a perfect balance of intricate sentences and complicated life choices that speak of real situations. The ending is most unexpected and the growth of the characters and their relationships with each other throughout the novel is truly exceptional. There are excellent themes to this novel and the story is exciting, deep, and suspenseful. It is highly recommended!

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Thunder by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Set in a futuristic society that resembles America after nuclear attacks and natural disasters, Thunder is an odd mix of fantasy and futuristic science fiction. Selah has always wished to prove herself as able and independent as her two older brothers. Excited for her eighteenth birthday, she sets out to demonstrate that she is worthy of the praise her father lavishes on her siblings. However, a series of events the day before her birthday turn her world upside down, disrupting everything she thought she knew about her past. She must learn to depend on a virtual stranger, Bodhi, and a young girl, Amaryllis, to figure out from where she came so she can determine her future.

It is very rare that I do not finish a book, but this particular novel was extremely hard to get into and after finally reaching the halfway point, I set it aside. I normally wish to give authors the benefit of the doubt, for I know that writing a book is a lot of work, and for which I applaud Bonnie S. Calhoun in completing that task. I also appreciate her attempt to create a creative plot and her imaginative effort to produce a unique story. However, this novel fell short in many, many ways. The style of writing is much too simplistic and more than once I had to make sure I did not pick up a book suited for young readers. In addition, the content is not pleasant; many times, the graphic details of certain scenes made me feel uncomfortable. This novel also attempts to convey a society that is most confusingly a mix between science fiction and some type of fantasy but it did not communicate that properly. Certain aspects of the futuristic society (such as their cars, homes, etc.) did not make any sense to me and I spent more time being frustrated at these details than enjoying the story. The strange telepathic nature of the characters is also creepy. In addition, the storyline is weak; Selah cries at every little thing and the romance between her and Bodhi is much too quick paced and borderline obnoxious. I did not find a character with which I connected at all and their interactions are more annoying than enjoyable. The dependence of Amaryllis on Selah is ridiculous after the child has survived three years alone in the wilderness (another illogical scenario). There is also no Christian aspect to this book; I would classify any of the “spiritual” aspects as being more in line with a New Age Religion. If I had to compare this novel to a food I would choose plain, white rice – there is no richness to the story or any character development that pulls the reader in and captures the reader’s attention. I do not recommend this book at all.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Deceived by Irene Hannon

Since a tragic boating accident that took the lives of her husband and son three years ago, Kate Marshall has mourned their loss, relocated to a new city, and established a career as director of an organization geared towards helping battered women. However, a chance encounter in the mall one day suddenly throws her new life into a loop. Convinced she saw her deceased son, Kate turns to private investigator Connor Sullivan for help after the police brush aside her crazy story. As they dig further into the case, they both realize that this boating “accident” is not as innocent as it once seemed. And someone is equally determined to keep the events surrounding that day three years ago a secret, putting the lives of Kate and Connor in danger.

What an exciting read! Deceived is fast-paced from page one, the contemporary suspense novel keeping readers hooked as they frantically speed through chapters to find the answers the characters seek. Twists and unexpected events maintain an interesting plotline throughout the entire book. The strong character development is very well written and the romance in the novel is not forced at all, adding a pleasant side to the plot. As a noteworthy bonus, the author gives clues through two sides to the story, but does not reveal all the facts until the end. For those worried about the theme of the novel involving a young boy, rest assured that the details of this story are handled very well and no part makes the reader uncomfortable. This book is most highly recommended, as are many of Irene Hannon’s suspense novels!

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

Lula Bowman has been struggling her entire adult life to prove that she is not the flighty teenager of which she was once accused. She accomplishes this through a highly competitive mathematics scholarship and stable graduate career. However, when her older sister Jewel calls with devastating news, Lula finds herself back in her small Oklahoma hometown, her past confronting her once again. Desperate to prove herself capable and support her sister, Lula reluctantly accepts a position at a local high school, not intending to stay more than a year before returning to her more serious pursuits. She hesitantly asks the young handsome Chet Vaughn to assist her with one of her duties—coaching the girls’ basketball team, a task Lula has no desire to perform and a subject she has absolutely no experience. Chet, meanwhile, is struggling with his own place in the community, as most young men, including his older brother, are proudly fighting overseas during World War I. But as Chet and Lula work together, both are drawn to the other as they realize sometimes God can change the greatest desires of their hearts.

Playing by Heart is a sweet romance story, the dreams of both Chet and Lula revealing a deeper character depth. A few plot points rankled this reader, such as Lula and Chet’s relationship as observed by the principle and Lula’s siblings’ obvious dislike for their own sister, but the ending of the novel redeemed the overall story. Also, Lula’s supposed “flightiness” is not so well told that the reader completely understands this part of Lula’s character. The writing style is slightly different as each chapter is a first-person account of the events from either the perspective of Lula or Chet. Although this allows the reader a greater glimpse into the minds of Chet and Lula, occasionally this created a choppy plot. The descriptions, conversations, and storyline, however, flowed well overall and made for a pleasant read. In addition, a few unpredictable events near the end of the book kept it interesting. This novel is recommended for readers of romance who enjoy a bit of history sprinkled throughout.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Love’s Fortune by Laura Frantz

Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne enjoys her simple life in Kentucky, where she and her father work to create beauty through fashioning and playing violins. But when her father receives an unexpected letter from his family in Pennsylvania, she suddenly finds her world turned upside down. After she realizes her arduous journey to visit her relatives is a one-way trip, Wren is thrust into a lavish society with virtual strangers, her past life only a memory. She does not care much for the rules of the rich, however, and is drawn to the quiet, mysterious James Sackett, a steamship pilot of the Ballantyne’s shipping line and a long-time friend of her grandfather. James is able to serve as an escort and assist Wren is navigating the demands of high society, drawing their relationship closer together. But James is more than simply a pilot for the Ballantyne’s, and his other responsibilities may jeopardize their growing relationship.

Love’s Fortune is beautifully told. Laura Frantz possesses such a wonderfully rich and deep manner in which she writes that the words simply flow from the page in delicious phrases. Her descriptions are captivating and meaningful and her writing style is unique and enthralling. Wren is a gentle and sweet soul, willing to support her father’s need for family despite her desire to return to her comfortable and familiar home. She strives to form relationships with those around her in spite of the difficult society. James is a man of deep morals, willing to work for what he knows is right, despite the cost. The storyline is interesting and told at a pleasant pace. A few plot points felt frustrating, such as Wren’s father’s disregard for her feelings and James’s inability to appreciate Wren’s friendship. Overall, however, this novel is recommended for readers who enjoy a book with interesting history, good character depth and development, and fantastic writing style.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

The Desire by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

Allan and Michele have been trying to have children for almost two years. For Allan, who is currently focused on his missions work in Africa, this does not seem like such a long time. For Michele, however, who desires children almost more than anything else, this seems like eternity. As both struggle to communicate the deepest longings within their hearts to one another, they discover they are growing distant in their marriage. Additionally, Michele’s parents find themselves suddenly caring for a single, pregnant female, inviting this young girl to be a part of their family.   As Michele befriends her, she learns much about herself and her wishes for a child. But Allan’s focus on the children in Africa takes a surprising turn. Unexpectedly, both Allan and Michele realize their deepest desires may be for something neither of them had ever anticipated.

The Desire, according to the authors’ notes, is loosely based on true accounts of infertility among Christian couples as well as mission’s work in Africa. This history allows the reader to more fully appreciate the sensitive nature in which the authors handle two delicate issues in today’s culture. However, although the storyline is carefully written, this particular reader found some content to be much too preachy for a fiction novel, perhaps better suited for even a nonfictional account of couples struggling with infertility. Allan’s character is somewhat unlikable, although he redeems himself a bit near the end of the book. The writing style is very simplistic and straightforward; yet some readers may find themselves moved emotionally if this topic is personal. The final few chapters of the book were the best parts of the novel and redeemed its cliché and one-dimensional plotline slightly. Overall, this book is probably best recommended only for those who enjoy reading pastoral accounts of current Christian struggles.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick

Letitia, an African American woman in the Southern United States during the mid 1800’s, knows that the free papers given to her by a previous owner are priceless, but she realizes they do little to encourage whites to treat her as an equal. Yet Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant, is kind towards her and gradually earns her trust. She soon finds herself traveling west with him in hopes of building a new life, one in which she can make decisions for herself, perhaps even own a bit of property. While preparing for the journey, Letitia meets generous Nancy Hawkins, a white woman who looks beyond the color of Letitia’s skin to her strong and courageous soul. The two women bond together as they struggle to overcome a great many trials during their crossing west. Upon arriving, they befriend an elderly native Kalapuya Indian named Besty, who offers to help her new friends settle into the foreign land. All three women possess spirits that grow stronger in the face of adversity as they carve out lives in a land and a culture not accepting or forgiving towards some.

A Light in the Wilderness, according to the author’s detailed post note, is based on a true story. The extensive historical research collected during Ms. Kirkpatrick’s writing is a testament to the raw, authentic plotline. Although this book may be difficult to absorb due to some of its grim material, Ms. Kirkpatrick is to be applauded for telling a story that has trials but weaves in a message of hope and justice. The characters have true courage in the midst of real adversity and their inner strength shines through the pages more than once. A few plot points jump without proper explanation and a bit more detail may have allowed the story to flow better. However, the accounts and journey of these strong women is interesting and worth learning. This novel is recommended for those who enjoy history and wish to read how the events transpired without having the less satisfying portions of history glossed over or ignored.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

Autumn Kingsley is tired of running the family’s failing inn business in Whisper Shore and dreams of working in a plush hotel in Paris, France. Complications with her family and the uncertainty of a potential investor for the business, however, create problems for her ideal move. Blake Hunziker, meanwhile, has recently returned after running away from a family tragedy years ago. He is nervous about the reception of his family and friends in the small town of Whisper Shore, but is determined to stay permanently, his nomad life much too empty for him. When he is asked to pull together the town’s Christmas festival, he asks Autumn to help him out, knowing she is an expert on all things Whisper Shore. The tension between the two families, however, has not faded with time and proves to be a hindrance to their growing friendship. Both must find common ground despite their differences and work to bring healing to families and friends on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Here to Stay has such delightful characters, allowing the reader to fall in love with the wonderful personalities of Autumn, Blake, and many of their friends and families. There are themes of forgiveness, hope, and trust woven throughout the artfully told story. Humor and romance are sprinkled amongst a plot with good depth and engaging prose. Although the title itself may hint at a predictable ending, the book has enough creative storylines to keep it interesting. One small portion (Blake’s relationship with the TV star) is a little bit confusing at first, but this may be better understood if the reader has also read Melissa Tagg’s Made to Last. Overall, the novel is sweet, enjoyable, and a recommended read!

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano

Agatha Watson is traveling throughout the Western United States in search of a good story for the New York Tribune when she runs into her old friend Zayne Beckett. Agatha is determined to take the bedraggled Zayne in hand and send him back East to his family, despite his grumpy protests. However, as Zayne and Agatha slip back into their banter from their close friendship, Zayne finds himself less upset with Agatha and more willing to help her uncover a mysterious story for the Tribune. Agatha’s spitfire methods of obtaining stories have made her a few enemies, however, and Zayne soon discovers he may have his hands full while chasing after Agatha. Agatha, meanwhile, rebuffs his attempts to help her and strives to prove that she is an independent woman, leading to a battle of wills between these two old friends.

A Match of Wits is a delight to read, the author’s ability to move the plot along while still focusing on the most amusing relationship between Agatha and Zayne a true and admirable skill. The actions and thoughts of Agatha allow readers to laugh out loud many times and the sweet nature of her personality is endearing. Zayne is also humorous in his desire to be the knight in shining armor, despite his failed attempt at rescuing Agatha over and over. The storyline is interesting with several twists near the end that do not make the plot predictable. It is true that Zayne’s eight year old niece has perhaps a bit too much insight for her age, but the family relationships are fun and entertaining. This book may stand alone, but readers of other Jen Turano’s books may discover some similar characters. This novel is fun, exciting, hilarious, and most highly recommended!