Review: “Crown of Souls” by Ronie Kendig

Crown of Souls, book 2 in Ronie Kendig’s “Tox Files” series, has been called an Indiana Jones-type adventure by other bloggers AND by the characters themselves (ahem, Cell and his crazy sense of humor!). I’m going one step further and saying it’s a potent combination of National Treasure, Act of Valor, and The A-Team (high-five if you are familiar with all those movie references!). It’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, accompanying a brave team on a quest to bring justice and stability to a tumultuous situation—- one increasingly relevant today with all of the current events actually worked into the storyline.

Though this book *could* be read on its own, it will be enjoyed infinitely more read in sequence with the prequel novella (The Warrior’s Seal) and book 1 (Conspiracy of Silence),

About the Book

Crown of Souls

Six months after stopping a deadly plague, Cole “Tox” Russell and his team are enjoying a little rest. That peace is short-lived when a sniper shot hits Tox. The enemy is discovered to be one of their own, a rogue Special Forces team operator. 

Alec King is perhaps the only person as skilled as Tox, and he’s out for justice. Furious with orders that got his men killed, he intends to make those responsible pay. And he insists Tox join him, believing they are the same breed of soldier. 

Afraid his old friend is right, Tox battles a growing darkness within himself as he and his team engage in another deadly encounter with antiquity. It appears Alec is cheating–he’s using a mysterious artifact, a crown that history has linked to some of the worst slaughters in humanity. Racing to stop Alec before his vengeance is unleashed, Tox must fight the monster without becoming one.

Review

Oh my goodness!! This is a riveting action-filled thriller like no other. From the first line, I was hooked into the whirlwind mission of Tox and company as they worked to thwart calamity and solve an ancient puzzle of sorts. The crazy adventure of traveling the globe like they do is fascinating in itself! Oh, and there’s a romance and family secrets entwined, too!

IMG_20170917_153621_807.jpgOn top of the location changes, the team is dealing with the mental fallout of betrayal and uncanny parallels with the motives of a friend-turned-enemy. Who can Tox believe? Is he lying to himself about his true nature?!! Ah! He grapples with reconciling motives of good vs. evil vs. justice. The perilous situations and tasks Tox and the team are up against are the perfect catalyst for showing subtle lessons of forgiveness, justice, and trust —- a faith element often missing in today’s portrayals of the military or government personnel in pop culture. Bravo, Ronie!

Speaking of the romantic relationship…. I like Haven even more in this second book. She’s not afraid to stand firm in her opinions or actions. Her personality lends a grounding to Tox’s character and serves as a reality check for the whole team— especially in bringing Tox down a notch or two, when needed. 🙂 And the moments of interaction between them are so fun to read! They range from banter to protectiveness to almost-hostile to wonderfully swoony and real. There’s a connection between them that’s visceral and even plays out in stressful situations. Tox’s tactical precision is impressive on its own, but when he applies that same skillset to his romantic relationship with Haven…. let’s just say it’s wonderfully executed ;).

I CANNOT WAIT to see what’s next for this team in Thirst of Steel (book 3).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

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Review: “A Matter of Trust” by Susan May Warren

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The chances of me trekking out and trying something like “backcountry snowboarding” are very, very thin. Like 1%. I won’t say never, but I will say it is not likely to happen. Skiing, maybe. Enjoying snow in the mountains with sturdy hiking boots and a camera in hand, sign me up! But for the more dangerous and super-athletic adventures, a book is my experience of choice. With author Susan May Warren’s latest “Montana Rescue” installment, A Matter of Trust, seeing the wilds of Glacier National Park and its winter glory through a snowboarding veteran’s eyes is just part of the thrilling story. It encompasses action and heroism, forgiveness, a little friendship-turned-romance, and like the title hints, a story of trust that sheds light on the depth of God’s grace and plan.

About the Book

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This might be my favorite cover of the series so far. Just sayin’.

Champion backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he’s remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana’s rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can’t seem to find his footing–or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him. 

Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret–one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track. 

When Ella’s brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park’s most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn’t so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he’ll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain. 

But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder–and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella’s secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other–even when disaster happens again?

Review

A Matter of Trust is a thrill ride from start to finish!

The ties between Gage and Ella are way deeper than even the synopsis hints, with a scarred history and understanding of personalities each one of them brings to the table upon their chance reunion. It’s a relationship you want to root for from the start, and one that is a treat to see meld into a restored friendship and romance. Their connection is obvious, even during the crazy mountain rescue on which they embark. They have simultaneous tension and trust between them creating all kinds of fun chemistry and spark.

I’d like to make an observation about book series: one of the tricky things about an ensemble cast is keeping momentum and personal connection with the whole cast when moving from book to book. Susan does this skillfully and easily, referencing past stories and setting up the complexities of future books all while keeping the pace quick and the reader’s emotional investment high. In A Matter of Trust, there is a smattering of chapters from another key character’s POV (Ty’s). With this, readers get to see the behind-the-scenes of the rescue operation AND learn a little more about a hinted-at secret concerning another PEAK team member. This is a wonderful setup for a future happily-ever-after, I hope, AND another illustrated facet of this story’s theme: trust.

My favorite aspect of this story had to do with exploring a “hero concept”: that being a hero is not something to aspire to, but a direct result of serving and living life in response to God’s calling that just happens to help others along the way. This theme was subtly woven in through the lessons Gage learned, the commitment and team loyalty Ty exhibited, and the reality Gage and Ella experienced as they accepted grace.

I do wish there had been a few more scenes after the climax was wrapped up. It was completely handled, I just felt like I wanted to settle in to the new reality of Gage and Ella a little more before “The End” came. However, I am trusting that I’ll see more of their new normal in future books. (YAY and Happy Dance for Ian and Sierra’s story being next in the series. I’m highly anticipating it!)

I voluntarily reviewed a purchased copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

Author Susan May Warren has put together an AWESOME YouTube playlist for this book, complete with one particular snowboarding video that is absolutely crazy. Check it out:

Before you go, check out my reviews of books 1 and 2 in this series:

Wild Montana Skies

Rescue Me

Book Review: “Still Life” by Dani Pettrey

img_20170225_193923_755.jpgThis review is all about book #2 in Dani Pettrey’s “Chesapeake Valor” series, Still Life. It is a contemporary romantic suspense story continuing to focus on a group of crime-solving and law enforcement friends in the Baltimore area. This time, we get to witness crime scene investigator Parker Mitchell and professional photographer Avery Tate as they are thrown back together to solve a potential crime and confront their growing mutual attraction.

About the Book

Work hits too close to home for crime scene photographer Avery Tate when her best friend disappears. The only lead is a chilling photo of her–apparently dead. As Avery, her boss Parker, and his friends dig into the case, she’s forced to confront her feelings for Parker when they come face-to-face with a dangerous criminal.

Review

This novel is another GREAT work of romantic suspense from Dani. It’s action-packed and suspenseful, in the page-turning kind of way, the perfect blend of crime drama and slight thriller with a hint of romance.

still-lifeBook 1, Cold Shot, introduced us to this group of best friends with various accomplishments and roles in law enforcement, from FBI to forensics to homicide detectives. We glimpsed the working relationship between Parker and Avery in Cold Shot, and Still Life picks up a little after they have separated ways professionally. Circumstances out of their control force them to work together again to find Avery’s missing childhood friend. Confronting old acquaintances, however, causes Avery to begin a revealing journey back into a past she regrets — and fears will come between hers and Parker’s friendship with permanent ripples.

There are many things to love about Still Life, but my favorite thing is the relationship dynamic between Parker and Avery. The way both of them gradually realize the depths of connection they share; the way Parker is a very strong character (with quite the Irish brogue 🙂 ) but not above vulnerability; they way they are each encouraging and protective of the other, in different ways; and the way Avery is relatable and assertive. Most importantly, the story of forgiveness that unfolds a little at a time is a demonstration of how God can redeem your past and show you His unconditional love through the people close to you.

While the focus of this story is Parker and Avery, another criminal incident takes place that draws the whole group into the investigation. This adds even more suspense to the plot and sets up a few things to come in the next book, I think. Through this, we get to know the personalities of the next “couple” the series will focus on (Declan and Tanner). Also, a plot thread that will seemingly continue through the series, dealing with the group’s missing friend Luke, is developed further and is proving quite interesting.  I’m ready for more of this crew already!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Rescue Me” by Susan May Warren

Today I want to share my thoughts on Susan May Warren’s latest release, Rescue Me, book #2 in her new-ish “Montana Rescue” series. (click here for my review of book 1). I enjoy everything Susan writes, so my review *might* get a little lengthy. This particular story is one part tense action in the wilderness, one part a tentative romance, and one part a story of forgiveness.

About the Book

When Deputy Sam Brooks commits to something, nothing can sway him–not just on the job as liaison between the Mercy Falls sheriff’s department and PEAK Rescue, but in his private life. Rescue Me by Susan May Warren.jpgHe’s the one who stuck around to take care of his mother after his father’s accidental death. And he’s the one–perhaps the only one–who believes Sierra Rose is the perfect girl for him. Safe, practical, and organized, she’s nothing like her hippie, impulsive, bleeding heart sister, Willow.

Willow, however, has been in love with Sam Brooks for as long as she can remember. But she wants her sister to have a happy ending. Besides, Willow has other things to focus on–namely, nabbing the job as youth pastor for her small-town church. Best thing for her to do is to purge Sam from her heart.

Neither can predict the events that will bring them together in a fight for their lives in the forbidding wilderness of Glacier National Park. Stranded, injured, and with the winter weather closing in, Sam and Willow will have to work together to save a crew of terrified teenagers. As they fight to survive, they might just discover a new hope for love.

Review

Susan’s talent lies in depicting characters “right where they are” in life, with all their flaws and shortcomings. She does this with such care it reveals what they can be through another’s eyes or through the healing grace of God. This realness makes them instantly relatable, making the reader empathize and even gain perspective from their experiences. (I know they are fictional, OK. But that’s the power of story.) Especially when it is a plausible story like this one. Sam and Willow, and the secondary storyline with his brother, Pete, are likable and relatable, even when they are wrong in their assumptions or reflex decisions that have consequences later in the story.

Another element I always appreciate about Susan’s storytelling is the way she weaves the book title into the story in a unique way, often with multiple meanings. This time, Rescue Me works out as being briefly flirtatious (at least I thought that one internal dialogue of Willow’s was amusing!), a literal need for rescue, and a steadfast prayer and lesson of rescue from the One who offers hope.

In the middle of the drama and peril, a lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation is told through these characters’ lives. As Sam sets aside his independence and realizes the limits of his humanity, he sees the God of rescue and hope reaching out for him. Similarly, Willow and Pete learn lessons of rescue and hope in their own ways, all realizing their faith is sure even when their sight is uncertain.

The romance of the story is sweetly told, unfolding gently in the turmoil of action and more than a few dangerous life situations. Sam and Willow begin to find a belonging and complementary friendship that surprises them — and makes the reader cheer them on — because their opposite personalities encourage one another to be better persons.

Also, I want to mention the beginnings of another romance we glimpse in this story between secondary characters promises more drama and a good story to continue. Coupled with the cliffhanger related to a mystery that I think will continue through the series, Rescue Me has the right amount of finality for the reader to be satisfied for now and hopeful of the untold stories to come. Thankfully, book #3 (A Matter of Trust) is set to release in July!

I voluntarily reviewed a purchased copy of this book.

Series Review: Montana Fire by Susan May Warren

Unless you’re totally new around here, you have probably heard of my love of author Susan May Warren. When I heard she was independently releasing 1 ebook a MONTH this summer in a new romantic suspense trilogy, I was super excited! This new “Montana Fire” series is a prequel series, of sorts, to an upcoming series with Revell Publishers (the “Wild Montana Skies” series).

I have since read all 3 of these. They are quick reads, each one a little over 200 pages. Hence, this post with snippets of my opinion on all 3. For time’s sake, I have not included the plot synopsis of each book, but if you click each book cover it will take you to the Goodreads page for more info on each one.

This series is full of action and drama, like a hang-on-to-your-seat (or parachute, if you will), thrill ride from start to end. In the middle of the chaos, moments of slightly sizzling romance (while always remaining classy), deep emotion, and strong messages of faith unfold.

The setting and career featured are unique — the Cabinet Mountains near Glacier National Park in Montana, and a team of forest firefighters and smoke jumpers. (Yes, they jump out of planes into fires.) Definitely a new-to-me perspective, and profession unexplored in the genre to my knowledge. Susan has done her research and offers an eye-opening look at the danger and sacrifice of forest firefighters.

Just when you think the perilous situations these smoke jumpers get in can’t get more complicated, they do. Since I’ve read all 3 of these I feel like I actually survived a river rescue, aggressive grizzly attack, skydiving AND plane crashes, not to mention numerous forest fires and arson threats.

I referenced book 1 in that one Instagram #bookphotochallenge assignment pairing a book and song lyrics. I now say that NEEDTOBREATHE’s Hard Love could be a theme song for this whole series.

 

#1 Where There’s Smoke

~smoke jumpers Jed Ransom and Kate Burns~

“Complex” doesn’t begin to describe the tangle of history between Jed and Kate. It was established off page and opens this story with action and tension, with ties to fire and a mutual history, both deeply respectful of Jock Burns (Kate’s dad).

Susan works references to fire and parachuting all over the place, and it works so well! Like this quote: “He wasn’t sure how he’d gone from standing at the edge of her world to an all-out dive into what he’d been quietly longing for his entire life, but he wasn’t going to look up, see a possible tear in his canopy.” (from chapter 7)

Main theme/lesson: Learning to cling to faith, that God is always to sustain you.

 

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(click book cover for the Goodreads page)

#2 Playing With Fire

~smoke jumper Conner Young and artist Liza Beaumont~

Let me note here that Susan has been clever and insightful with her “heated” titles of this series, tying in with the theme and hinting at the drama and action of each.

This is my favorite of the series. For a few crazy pages, I thought I might be ok with the idea of skydiving (you’ll know what I mean when you meet Conner and read that scene). Thankfully, I’ve since had a reality check and can say I won’t plan on jumping out of a perfectly good plane unless my life depends on it.

Conner and Liza have a shared history, as well, which is briefly but thoroughly covered in the first few chapters. Fans of the Christiansen family series will be a happily familiar with the setting of their initial meeting, at a fire in Minnesota.

Main theme/lesson: Explores the meaning and implications of promises — that actions can speak as a promise even when words fail. That a promise is a display of hope.

 

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(click book cover for the Goodreads page)

#3 Burnin’ For You

~smoke jumper Reuben Marshall and bomber pilot Gilly Priest~

This story is the one where we *finally* get Reuben and Gilly’s story, an attraction that has been hinted in the previous books. They learn a lesson in teamwork and trust when their team’s lives depend on their abilities to battle the elements and find help (and all of this while realizing their chemistry and fighting an arsonist.)

One important line was delivered by Gilly’s sister, and if I may paraphrase, she encouraged Gilly to not letting her fears determine or failures dictate her choices or limit her potential.

The arc of a mystery arsonist is finally solved in this one. It was well threaded through the 3 different stories — I didn’t suspect who it was at all!

Main theme/lesson: Trusting God to handle your life is the only way to have true peace. And, illustrating how God waits for us to choose Him, seek Him.

 

Review: “Valley of Decision” by Lynne Gentry

Today I’m (finally) sharing a review of the 3rd and final book in the “Carthage Chronicles” series by Lynne Gentry: Valley of Decision. This book is both action-packed and serious, with strong characters and a fascinating look at the early church.

*see my reviews of books 1 & 2 Healer of Carthage, Return to Exile, and my interview with Lynne*

About the book: Every choice has a consequence in the explosive conclusion to the Carthage Chronicles as Lisbeth returns to third-century Carthage for a thrilling final adventure.

Valley of Decision by Lynne GentryThirteen years ago, Lisbeth made an impossible decision—leave third-century Carthage and her husband Cyprian behind for good. She knew it was to protect her daughter Maggie, so Lisbeth gathered the strength to move on with her life.

All these years, Lisbeth has thrown herself into her work and raising her headstrong daughter, all to live up to the promise she made to Cyprian. But Maggie is sick of being protected. In an act of teenage rebellion Maggie decides to do what her mother can’t—secretly returning to the third century on a quest to bring her father back, leaving Lisbeth no choice but to follow.

With Maggie’s surprise arrival in Carthage, chaos ensues. She finds her grandmother on trial for murder and attempts to save her, but instead the diversion sparks a riot that nearly destroys the plagued city. Only one thing will appease the wrath of the new proconsul of Carthage: the death of the instigator.

Will Lisbeth arrive in time to save her daughter from the clutches of Rome? How can God possibly redValley of Decision by Lynne Gentry, reviewedeem such a slew of unwise decisions and deep regrets? Filled with heart-wrenching twists and riveting action, Valley of Decision brings the romantic adventure epic, The Carthage Chronicles, to an electrifying conclusion.

My thoughts: Valley of Decision is an action-packed conclusion to the series. With this series, Lynne has honed her own style, coupling modern characters with 3rd century ancient history. One unique aspect of this blending of times is that she gets away with modern expressions to describe the scenes in Carthage — like saying one of the characters “racked his brain”! I love it!

Though filled with action with many twists, it is still a very serious story of sacrifice and love. Seeing Maggie grow up and Lisbeth and Cyprian step into their roles as parents brings these characters full circle. All of them have to deal with life lessons, like learning to show compassion to their enemies or those who have hurt them. The end did have me in tears!

This story has strong themes of love – especially the strength and eternal nature of love. And, it carries messages of forgiveness and using what you have in front of you to be a blessing to others. I would recommend this book to fans of both contemporary and historical fiction because it blends the two so well.

A sincere thank you to author Lynne Gentry and publisher Howard Books for the review copy.

Do you enjoy books that blend contemporary and historical settings or characters? They are uncommon, and I’d love to know your thoughts!