Review: “Ever Faithful” by Karen Barnett

I have enjoyed all of the novels in Karen Barnett’s “Vintage National Parks” series for their wonderful natural settings and looks at life through varied park inhabitants – rangers, staff, tourists, guides, and artists. This series is more of a collection as each novel has told a unique, standalone story set in a different national park.

About the Book

Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.

A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well. 

Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The setting of Yellowstone comes alive in this “vintage” story of dreaming by Karen Barnett. A well-paced tale of friendship, strength, and a little adventure unfolds in a picturesque setting that makes me want to visit ! I thought it was an insightful and curious look at Depression era events and culture, too, with characters I want to be friends with! 

One small element of this story I really appreciate is the distinction between education as separate from wisdom and leadership abilities. One does not require the other. This is shown through a learning disability of one specific character. The way Karen Barnett presents this situation is considerate while it emphasizes the worth of this individual as a child of God.

I think Ever Faithful is a flowing, easy to read story. Character driven at its heart, it shows the journeys of Elsie and Nate as they experience a season of life with great changes and possibilities. The setting is vivid and wonderfully essential to bringing out the passion in the characters – Elsie’s desire to teach and Nate’s quest to prove himself. When their paths intersect, they develop a friendship that brings out the best in each other and shows them both their worth and God’s plan.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Far Side of the Sea” by Kate Breslin

I LOVE when I learn something from fiction. And, when that’s combined with a riveting story, I’m a happy reader. Kate Breslin NEVER disappoints in this respect. Her latest novel, Far Side of the Sea, takes the reader on a European quest during WWI, complete with spies, tricks, pigeons, and a sweet friendship-to-romance story.

About the Book

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life–a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Far Side of the Sea is an absolutely riveting tale of history, adventure, and romance. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Colin’s story begins as a tentative journey for honor and grows more complex and layered as intrigue and danger heighten. When he meets the “other” Reyer sister, Johanna, his life is turned on end and their quest becomes an urgent and noble one — one that takes them across Europe!

Kate Breslin pens the most vivid character personalities (even side characters we meet)! Colin’s intelligence and seriousness are perfectly matched with Johanna’s wits and fortitude, making them a couple to cheer for – and one whose friendship holds more than a few surprises.

I also loved learning more about history and the use of carrier pigeons in WWI. It was such a daring and interesting tactic! I was delighted by Breslin’s extensive author’s note that shed more light on the historical facts of the story. I love to learn through fiction 🙂

Along with the action of this novel, the characters themselves grow and change through their experiences. I was rooting for Colin to heal and realize his value, something Johanna helps him to see. Likewise, Johanna experiences the beginnings of faith and the peace in knowing she is never truly alone as a child of God.

This novel is definitely on my list of favorite WWI stories! I was delighted with the glimpses of familiar characters from Breslin’s novel Not by Sight. I am eager for whatever era or story Kate writes about next (and I’m hoping we see Marcus again? 😉 ).

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

Review: “Wait For Me” by Susan May Warren – Montana Rescue #6

The “Montana Rescue” series:

  • Approximately 16 main characters
  • 6 novels and 1 novella
  • A story that spans 5 years
  • 3 continents
  • Crazy yet realistic events like a car wreck, avalanche, hurricane, tornadoes, wildfires, deserted tropical islands, and generally crazy people

ONE EPIC ADVENTURE

About the Book

Pete Brooks can’t believe he’s waited an entire year for Jess Tagg to return to Montana, only to have her break his heart by getting engaged to her ex-fiancé. Worse, a series of mistakes on the job have cost lives, and Pete isn’t sure he wants to continue to work in Search and Rescue. Maybe if he can just get over Jess, he can figure out how to move forward. 

EMT Jess Tagg has returned to Montana to finally give her heart to Pete, but it seems he’s no longer interested. When a terrible fight between them sparks an impulsive decision, she finds herself crashed on the side of a highway along with Esme Shaw. And just when she thinks things couldn’t get any worse, she and Esme are taken captive and into the untamed Montana wilderness—with murderous intent. 

Now Pete and the other PEAK Rescue Team members are in a race against time, the elements, and the actions of a vengeful man. Pete will have to use everything he’s learned to find Jess and Esme—and pray that his past mistakes don’t cost him the life of the woman he can’t stop loving.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Wait for Me is the ultimate conclusion to one of the best romantic adventure series I’ve ever read! With the highest stakes and the much-anticipated climax of the series (both with the action/suspense plot and the romance), I read this as fast as possible because I had no clue what would happen next! The surprises were great. The romance perfectly developed and SWOONY. This story made my best-of-2018 list for good reason!

I was hooked from the very beginning. While Ty just might be my favorite hero of the series, Pete is who I was most invested in and I really wanted to see him get his happily ever after — especially after all the ups and downs he has experienced. Pete is such a tough guy but he wears his heart on his sleeve. Susan does her magic with words when it comes to his character development — he’s had the most growth and really exhibits the impact grace can have on a heart. (And wow, I had some tears when it came to a certain scene near the end and a memory of his dad.)

Now, let’s talk about Jess Tagg for a minute. She was both intriguing and frustrating through this whole series. In this novel, we finally get her real history and story. And it’s relatable. Raw. Her actions and choices, though frustrating at times, made sense. I could even, maybe, understand why she was conflicted over Pete. I really appreciated how she had to find herself and grow a little more, all in the middle of some really tense suspense situations.

Wait for Me is one of those stories I didn’t want to end, because that meant saying goodbye to a beloved cast of characters. But I was smiling when I finished the last page because the series is concluded in a perfect way, with the future of the characters full of hope.

Side note: Wait for Me shares a location (a surprising one, which I loved the whole aspect of!) with one in another favorite romantic suspense novel, The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann. I won’t spoil anything about either, but I have to say Pete Brooks gives Morgan Spencer a run for his money in a certain setting. If you’ve read both novels, I want to know your thoughts!!

Thank you to Revell Publishers for the copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration! I’m changing it up a bit and separating the categories of my yearly best-of lists over a few days. All of this is to celebrate their distinction and spend a few more days talking about all the wonderful entertainment of 2018.

Day 1. Best of 2018: Novellas

Day 2. Best of 2018: Historical Books

Day 3. Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Day 4. Goodbye 2018 & Looking Ahead

Today is about CONTEMPORARY BOOKS, AKA the category with the most favorites. I read more contemporary stories this year… and there several on this list! Maybe that means I know what I like?! I think so. Like my historical list, most are from this year, but a few were released prior to 2018.

The rules: sometimes I have to make boundaries for myself when it comes to talking about books because we would all be here a long time if were able to ramble on. SO, I’m sticking to my format of last year and choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review. In no particular order…

Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac | Review

Laughter. Living. Chemistry.

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano | Review

Culinary dream. Delightful complexity. Relationships.

Blue Columbine by Jennifer Rodewald | Review

Grace. Redemption. Raw emotions.

The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce | Review

Friendship. Dreams. True selflessness.

Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig | Review

Epic action. Brotherhood. Sacrifice.

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert | Review

Empathy. Call to love. Relevant.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Amy Matayo | Review

Power of words. Choices. Connection.

When You Look at Me by Pepper Basham | Review

Music. Trust. Home.

Things Left Unsaid by Courtney Walsh | Review

Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Homecoming.

Wait for Me by Susan May Warren | Review to come

Adventure. Love worth the risk. Timing.

A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson | Review

Heritage. Romance. Worth.

Your turn! What were your favorite contemporary reads of 2018? Have you read any of these?

Review: “Emerald Illusion” by J. Rodes

Author J. Rodes (also known as Jennifer Rodewald with a catalog of contemporary inspirational novels) has penned a unique twist on a fantasy tale, making it a coming-of-age YA story with an adventurous and meaningful lesson.

About the Book

Oz is not what you think.

Emerald IllusionAbrielle used to dream of a different life. Adventure. Romance. Hope. 

Not of Kansas.

Now, after the loss of her mother and a move she didn’t want to make, she’s lost the will to dream anymore, let alone believe in her father’s Somedays. But a swirling wind, a wall of leaves, and a blinding darkness transform her world.

She and both of her brothers, Brogan and Matteaus, are swept from Kansas to someplace beyond—to a desert in which everything is watery brown, including the sky and the light of the weak sun. Abrielle finds herself in the middle of a realm everyone had heard of but no one believed existed. Except this version is run-down and broken, void of color and hope. Not much different from her view of life in Kansas.

When she gathers her bearings, she discovers her youngest brother is missing, lost in a land that is foreign and dying. Finding Matteaus becomes her sole focus, but when she and Brogan meet a boy named Levi, who only adds more mystery to this world that shouldn’t exist, she finds out this kingdom is much more perilous than the children’s book ever told.

Matteaus is in great danger.

There is nothing safe about Oz.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

What an adventure! With surprises on every page, Emerald Illusion is far more than a continuation of a tale set in the Land of Oz — after Dorothy. It is a story of finding HOPE and light in the middle of a world that distracts and presents illusions of its own.

With believably flawed characters, secrets, and otherworldly creatures, Abrielle’s journey mirrored the choices everyone has. The complexity of the tale and the friendships and relationships portrayed in the story were always fascinating. I liked the fantasy mash-up that was the land of Oz: munchkins, talking animals, and a battle of light vs. darkness with a high-tech, modern feel to the Emerald City.

When I got to a certain point in the story where the some of pieces “clicked”, I was nearly speechless with the allegorical implications and the sheer beauty of its message. The book may be (wonderfully) complicated, but its meaning and themes are not. A real Kingdom is coming, with a merciful and loving King, and every one of us has a choice to make: will we serve the light or the darkness?

Thank you to the author for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Thirst of Steel” by Ronie Kendig (The Tox Files #3)

FB_IMG_1533072528397.jpgIt’s no secret I’ve loved the previous books in this series for all their Indiana Jones and military valor incidents. But this Thirst of Steel, the third and final book in the “Tox Files” series EXPLODES onto the scene and takes beloved characters on a journey that changes everything. Ronie Kendig has established herself as one of my favorite authors with this series alone. It’s now one of my absolute favorites! (I highly recommend reading this series in order for the best experience.)

The Warrior’s Seal | Conspiracy of SilenceCrown of Souls

About the Book

The Final Conflict Will Hinge on One of History’s Most Dangerous Blades

Thirst of Steel

Dismantled centuries ago, the sword of Goliath is still rumored to thirst for its enemies’ blood. Cole “Tox” Russell wants only to put the dangers of his past behind him and begin his new life with Haven Cortes. First, though, he’s called to complete a final mission: retrieve the sword and destroy the deadly Arrow & Flame Order.

The AFO, however, is determined to reunite the sword. Threatening the life of Ram and Tzivia’s father, they jeopardize Ram’s long-held and dangerous secret while demanding Tzivia locate the blade. With the Wraith team slowly being torn apart, things worsen when Mercy Maddox, a new operative, emerges with the stunning news that the artifact is tied to both Ram’s secret and a string of unsolved serial murders.

Tox, Ram, and the others are forced to set aside fear and anger to target the true enemy. No matter the cost, Wraith must destroy the AFO . . . or join them in the flames.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

To say it in one word: BRILLIANT! A few more: the plot, ancient mystery, secrets, and twists are perfectly executed.

Thirst 4

In Thirst of Steel, secrets, friendships, loyalties, and fortitudes are tested as the challenge of a lifetime faces the Wraith team — and especially Tox, Haven, Ram, and Tzivia. With more POVs, details about team members, and TWISTS you will never see coming, this story is one that will have you turning pages late into the night to see just what happens next! And, you’ll need to be prepared for action, adrenaline rushes, and around-the-world locations.

The Wraith TEAM is as funny, precise, and cohesive as ever. Tox and Haven are ALL THE FEELS and a big part of the emotional upheaval of the story (Ram is attributed the rest of the emotions and tears). A particular favorite of mine was Haven’s involvement in ancestry research… and the way Tzi Tzaddik and Chiji work with her.

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Readers will be ecstatic that we get a few more perspectives in this story, especially more time with Ram and Tzivia. RAM. His loyalty, sacrifices, ties to Mossad, and even his romantic life are front and center this time — further complicating the mission and forever changing the team dynamic. And Tzi? She’s as gorgeous and fierce as ever — especially when it comes to her efforts for her family and even in her blindness about her own self-worth. Her growth and arc in this book are impressive. AND, a lady named Mercy shows up as an important part of the story — and she brings to light the incredible symbolism and meaning behind some of the character names.

Thirst of Steel is more than a thriller. More than an undercover paramilitary black ops story or an ancient mystery-turned-international threat plot. It’s a story of humanity, of sacrifice and integrity, of family and brotherhood, of the true character revealed by a person’s actions, and of spiritual warfare, the very real fight against evil, and a powerful and all-knowing God we can choose to serve. This fictional story points to truth, light, and the salvation found in the greatest sacrificial Love humanity has ever known. Read it, friends. It’s quite the adventure.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All opinions are honest and my own.

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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.