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27 April 2015

Review: Twisted Innocence by Terri Blackstock

Twisted Innocence is the final book in a trilogy, and the three books do need to be read in order, and (I believe) in quick succession, because Twisted Innocence builds on and concludes the overall series story arc. While I have read the previous two books, it was several months ago, and I had forgotten most of the details. As a result, I found the first quarter of Twisted Innocence slow, as though it was trying to tell new readers what had gone before without falling into an excess of backstory that those who did remember the earlier novels would find tedious and unnecessary.
Twisted Innocence focuses on Holly Cramer, the once-irresponsible younger sister of Cathy, Juliet and Jay. She’s now a more responsible woman: a single mother to five-week-old Lily who is working two jobs to try and earn enough money to cover her bills. She is mugged one night, and then finds out that one-night-stand Creed Kershaw knows he is Lily’s father, and is wanted in relation to a drug-related murder. And it seems Leonard Miller, the man who murdered Cathy’s fiance, is back in town …

There were good parts and bad parts to the story. The pace picked up once I got past the first quarter, which made it easier to read. The whole subplot about Michael in prison seemed unnecessary, as though he was only there so someone could observe one specific incident (the scenes where Cathy was petitioning to have Michael released were particularly tedious). However, there were flashes of brilliance:
“How come I didn’t get the decorating gene?”
“It’s not genetic. It’s Pinterest.”
Who can’t relate to that?

There were also reminders that despite the “global village”, some things are still country-specific:
“She scooped [baby] formula into the only clean bottle she had and mixed it with bottled water.”

When I had my babies, while living in London, it was impressed upon us that we were always to fill the bottle, then add the formula powder (so we knew exactly how much water we had, to ensure we added the correct number of scoops) and never to use bottled water. Any midwives care to comment on this?

Overall, while Twisted Innocence was a good finish to the series, it would be better if I’d read all three books in quick succession, as it didn’t work well as a standalone thriller. Thankfully, now you can, and for the same price as buying one of the books: Zondervan has released a three-in-one volume.

Thanks to Zonvervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Terri Blackstock at her website. 

24 April 2015

Review: Soaring Through Stars by Rajdeep Paulus

Wow. Just Wow. 

Soaring Through Stars is the final book in a trilogy, following Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones, and you really do need to read all three books in order. In fact, even giving an accurate book description will effectively give a spoiler for the first two books … but I’ll try.

The trilogy is the story of Talia and Jesse Vanderbilt, daughter and son of famous Chicago lawyer Gerard Vanderbilt … the man who killed their mother through control, abuse and neglect, and now controls his children through fear and pain. But Talia has a secret—Lagan, a boy at school who has befriended her. Her first friend. That’s the first book.

Even from the first book I could see there was a sinister side to Gerard, and while there are further hints in Swimming Through Clouds, it is here that we finally find out more about Gerard and what a piece of work he really is. But the really scary thing is how the years of abuse affect his children—it’s like they’ve been programmed, and they have to fight to break free of that programming and pursue what they believe in. This control illustrates why so many abused women don’t or won’t leave their partners, and that is frightening. It’s especially frightening to think that some women escape but are sent back to their abusers by well-meaning but deceived officials.

This isn’t a fun book, a light romance to download for your summer holiday (if that’s what you’re after, try Beth Vogt, Denise Hunter or Becky Wade). Rajdeep Paulus is more like Ginny Yttrup or Nancy Rue and Rebecca St James, in that she’s not shying away from the difficult topics, yet without being explicit or gratuitous. It’s well-written, sobering, and with subtle Christian undertones. Excellent.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

22 April 2015

Review: The Art of Falling by Julie Jarnigin

2015 Reading Challenge: Book Set Somewhere I'd Like to Visit (Texas)

Wyatt Lawrence rides bulls for a living and doesn’t understand girly stuff like art; Heather Tornsten is works for an art museum and needs a celebrity to emcee their upcoming fundraising dinner … the two are thrown together by his matchmaking mother, who is sure Wyatt will make a great emcee. Wyatt isn’t so sure, given his feelings about art in general, but his growing feelings for Heather might just persuade him …

Yes, I know this was a novella, but it seemed short—too short for the amount of plot. I’d have liked to have seen a little more getting-to-know-you before the proclamations of endless love. Yes, I know it’s a romance and has to have a happy-ever-after, and yes, I know it’s fiction, but it shouldn’t stretch logic, and this almost did. Almost. But the ending made up for it.

My other grouch is purely from the point of view of this as a 2015 Reading Challenge book: I chose it as a book set somewhere I’d like to visit, Texas. But it could have been set anywhere (well, anywhere big enough to have an art museum and enough people rich enough to pay a small fortune to attend a fundraiser). I never really got the feeling this was Texas, which means it could have done with more setting (although it’s possible this too was a casualty of the short word count of a novell).

Overall, I enjoyed The Art of Falling. The title is an excellent play on words, the character were original and interesting, and the writing was good with flashes of brilliance (personally, that’s what I want in a book. I want to be engaged in the story, not be thinking about how good the writing is or isn’t. If I’m thinking about the writing, it means I haven’t been pullled into the story, and that’s never a good thing). Recommended for those looking for a feel-good romance novella.

Thanks to Redbud Press for providing a free ebook for review.

20 April 2015

Review: Remember Me by Lara Van Hulzen

Unexpected Twist

It’s been a long shift in ER for Tess Jansenn. It gets longer when her last patient is her ex-fiance, the man who left her a week before their wedding, leaving only a note to explain his reasons. Now he’s back, but he’s got amnesia and can’t remember anything, not even his own name. Ben is frustrated that he can’t remember anything, but is attracted to the tiny nurse, and overcome with the desire to protect her after an accident—or was it?

There were plenty of secrets, which always make for a good plot. Tess is obviously keeping one huge secret from Ben: that she knows who he is. Amnesiac Ben obviously isn’t keeping any secrets, because he has no memories, but hidden behind the amnesia is the real Ben, who does have secrets … like why he left Tess, and why he now seems to have a different name. One thing neither of them can hide is their chemistry, but that’s not enough to base a relationship on, especially when Tess knows she’s hiding Ben’s past from him.

I started Remember Me thinking it was going to be a straightforward romance, but was pleased to find it turn into more of a romantic suspense plot as we learn why Ben abandoned Tess (after all, I’m a romantic suspense fan). The plot was well-constructed with good pacing with several excellent plot twists, and the writing was very good—more than good enough to keep me engaged throughout.

I liked all the characters including the minor characters of Aimee (Tess’s sister) and Dane (Ben’s best friend), who were nicely set up to be the lead couple in Get To Me, the second book in the Men of Honor series, published on 14 April. It looks just as good!

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

17 April 2015

Review: A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron


A Sparrow in Terezin is the sequel to The Butterfly and the Violin, and the two books do need to be read in order. Both books are written in two separate timelines, with the contemporary story in both books following the story of art gallery owner Sera James and business mogul William Hanover. As with the first book, the historical section of the novel followed the story of a woman in World War Two Europe, following her from Prague to London and back to Europe over the course of three years.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Butterfly and the Violin. Some readers didn’t like the way it skipped between two timelines or didn’t like the Sera/William subplot, but it was original and I thought it worked. I’d been looking forward to the sequel, so started reading it as soon as the review copy was available (it wasn’t like I had anything better to do on Christmas Eve when I was hosting the family for Christmas Day …. Yes, I'm aware that's five months ago. It just shows how keen I was to read this).

But while A Sparrow in Terezin is a good novel, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected, as I didn’t think the two timelines worked as well. I found the present-day timeline frustrating, as it didn’t seem to be moving the story forward and the link between present and past seemed contrived (I can only assume the minor character linking the stories will actually turn out to be a major character in a later book).

It didn’t help that the past plot took a long time to get to the point—it’s not until two-thirds of the way through the book that Kaja arrives in Terezin, by which time I’d been so involved in her London story that I’d forgotten the implications of the title. The sequence of events which lands her in Terezin, a ghetto/concentration camp, seems unlikely and her motivation for taking those steps is noble, I didn't think it fitted with her character as it had been shown.

The writing and research were excellent, although the Christian aspects were too oblique for my taste. I thoroughly enjoyed Kaja’s story for the first two-thirds of the book, but I found the last third seemed disconnected, and I didn’t get into Sera and William’s story at all. The result was a novel that didn’t meet my expectations, and left me feeling “meh” in the end.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.