Novella Review: One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg

One Enchanted ChristmasOne Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg (December 2015)

Last December, mystery author Maren Grant had the most perfect night of her life. On a glimmering winter evening, she got to watch the photo shoot for her very first book and ended up on a magical date with the cover model himself—Colin Renwycke.

Fast forward one year. This December, with a looming deadline, restless spirit and her creative spark long since gone, Maren is desperate to get unstuck. And she can’t get Colin out of her head…or his year-old open invitation to spend a couple weeks writing at his family’s farm.

Drew Renwycke never planned to come home and take over the Renwycke family farm. But he’s spent too many years watching his siblings unravel, including his brother, Colin, after one terrible family mistake. If moving to Maple Valley, Iowa, renovating an old farmhouse and switching careers is what it takes to put the Renwycke family back together, he’ll do it.

But his simple plan upends when a scrappy author lands on his doorstep. And she just might be the key to coaxing his brother home. But what if he wants her all to himself? Drew will have to choose between his Christmas wish and the enchantment of a holiday romance that just might be the happy ending they all long for.

REVIEW:

Close your eyes just for a moment. Picture yourself lying on your couch covered in a warm fleece blanket, a cup of hot chocolate by your side, the fireplace crackling and sparkling a bright orange. It’s evening, and the glow of the full moon softly fills your room as Bing Crosby’s smooth voice serenades you with thoughts of a white Christmas as you watch the first snow of the season cover the ground.

It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? The kind of enchanted winter evening we often imagine as the Christmas season fills the last month of the year. Here’s the best thing about this scenario, though: it’s not just an imagined scene. Melissa Tagg, author of Christian contemporary romance, has written a novella that blends our dreams of the perfect Christmas romance into a story that is, to borrow from the title, simply enchanting.

I’ve long been a fan of Melissa’s novels (and the author herself), so my expectations for One Enchanted Christmas were high because I am familiar with her signature writing style: heart-pounding romance set within a contemporary time-frame and sprinkled with old-style humor that lends itself to a believable and endearing story. One Enchanted Christmas, her first novella, utilized all of Melissa’s style–and if it’s even possible, made me fall even more in love with her stories because those signature techniques came in faster, smoother, funnier, and more swoon-worthy in order to fit within a shorter story. To complement her style even further, One Enchanted Christmas is written in the style Melissa frequents on her personal blog, which makes the novella come across as if she directly narrates the story to her readers. I absolutely loved this aspect of One Enchanted Christmas and hope to this technique used in her future stories.

Melissa excels at creating story-lines and characters that are endearing and charming. In One Enchanted Christmas hero Drew Renwycke and heroine Maren Grant are simply wonderful; from the first sentence, I fell for the adorable heroine who reminded me of all my romantic fantasies as a girl, and more significantly I fell for the hero, who is far and above the kind of man all women should strive to meet. Can we also just take a moment to appreciate how great Drew is an uncle, please? Thank you, Melissa, for giving one of your characters a role that mirrors just how special uncles are in real life. Maren and Drew are just the sort of people you could expect to find in the typical American small-town: sweet and loving, witty and hardworking, imperfect but as good-hearted as you can get. You really could not ask for two better characters to cheer for as they find their way in life and love.

In this particular novella, I noticed Melissa took steps as an author that I fully believe strengthen her as a writer and will mark One Enchanted Christmas as the story that pushes CBA boundaries. This novella is slightly more mature in tone, meaning that characters have gone through some tough situations that are not always brought up in Christian fiction. I, for one, am thrilled that Melissa wrote these situations into One Enchanted Christmas because it brings a lifelike quality to the story that depicts the experiences of readers. The fact is that even though Christian fiction models hope, we live in an imperfect world where people do make mistakes. One Enchanted Christmas takes an example of true life family challenges and places it within the framework of Christian love during the most magical time of the year. The themes of Christmas make the perfect background for the Renwycke family to find that hope of love, redemption, forgiveness, and grace.

One Enchanted Christmas is simply a perfect novella for Christmas–although in all honesty, I would recommend it for any time of year. *Disclaimer: yes, I call this novella perfect, and in doing so would like to apologize in advance for any undue pressure on Melissa to further write “perfect” stories. I just love your novella, Melissa, and can’t help sharing my excitement! =)

Rating: 5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant-writer and total Iowa girl. She’s also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever–not that she’s biased–watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. She’s passionate about humor, grace, and happy endings. Melissa loves connecting with readers at http://www.melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

Book Review: The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry

The Methuselah Project

The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry (Kregel Publications, October 2015)

Nazi scientists started many experiments. One never ended.

Roger Greene is a war hero. Raised in an orphanage, the only birthright he knows is the feeling that he was born to fly. Flying against the Axis Powers in World War II is everything he always dreamed–until the day he’s shot down and lands in the hands of the enemy.

When Allied bombs destroy both his prison and the mad genius experimenting on POWs, Roger survives. Within hours, his wounds miraculously heal, thanks to those experiments. The Methuselah Project is a success–but this ace is still not free. Seventy years later, Roger hasn’t aged a day, but he has nearly gone insane. This isn’t Captain America–just a lousy existence only made passable by a newfound faith. The Bible provides the only reliable anchor for Roger’s sanity and his soul. When he finally escapes, there’s no angelic promise or personal prophecy of deliverance, just confusion. It’s 2015–and the world has become an unrecognizable place.

Katherine Mueller–crack shot, genius, and real Southern Belle–offers to help him find his way home. Can he convince her of the truth of his crazy story? Can he continue to trust her when he finds out she works for the very organization he’s trying to flee?

Thrown right into pulse-pounding action from the first page, readers will find themselves transported back in time to a believable, full-colored past, and then catapulted into the present once more. The historical back-and-forth adds a constantly moving element of suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats.


REVIEW:

Anyone reading this book review likely knows that historical fiction set during World War Two is one of my favorite genres and time periods with which to read. I rarely pass a chance to read a novel set during the Second World War, so when an author friend of mine posted a link to Rick Barry’s upcoming World War Two book I instantly went to the publisher’s website to request a review copy. Although The Methuselah Project deviates the typical historical romances on my bookshelves, I am beyond excited for this novel to claim a spot amongst other fabulous World War Two fiction authors.

People are creatures of habit–including readers who tend to choose novels based on favorite genres of authors–but sometimes it is beneficial to break away from what we know best. In my case, although I am well versed in World War Two romance fiction, I am new to Barry’s twist on the subject via science and super-hero fiction. Keep in mind that The Methuselah Project is not another Captain America story, but for the purpose of comparison the base storyline of both the book and movie are good indicators of what one will find in Barry’s novel. If nothing anything (although it’s not the case here), I am glad that I read The Methuselah Project because this book brought me a vastly different outlook on World War Two, soldiers and veterans, and historical significance. I love that Barry approached this time period with a different outlook and dared to write a story that goes beyond the typical battle grounds, settings, themes, romance, and possible after effects of war.

The Methuselah Project is a blend of the historical, contemporary, and science fiction genres. Based on those categorizations alone I would not have chosen to read this book. Based on the recommendation of an author friend, I was willing to put aside the fact that I don’t like science fiction in order to read this book. Barry’s novel demonstrates how and why categorizing books by genre can be both helpful and detrimental to readers because I, for one, found myself captivated by The Methuselah Project despite the odd (to me) scientific aspects of the story. The author blends historical research with scientific facts throughout the book, never once leaning too far towards either science or history so that readers will not be alienated by a subject they do not care for.

Roger Greene and Katherine Mueller, the hero and heroine of The Methuselah Project, drive this story through their unique experiences and challenges of the times they live in. Barry’s hero flew off the page (what a pun to use for a pilot, right?) with his 1940’s lingo, daring feats of flying, and strong character. I enjoyed Roger’s character because he was a hero in every sense of the word–not necessarily a prince from a Disney movie, but a real-life hero and gentleman who fought in a war and subsequently fought to stay alive through the brutal circumstances. For Greene’s counterpart, Barry wrote southern-belle Katherine Mueller, who fills her day as a freelance editor and Kadet in a secret organization. The Methuselah Project‘s heroine was one of my least favorite aspects of this novel. I found Katherine harsh, naive, and obstinate; her prickly personality and judgmental attitude made it hard for me to warm up to her.

The Methuselah Project utilizes dual storylines to tell Roger and Katherine’s stories. The pacing of Barry’s book flows quickly, and for the first quarter of the book I found myself challenged to swap time periods–and all that goes with it, such as dialect, word choice, etc.–and remember that Katherine and Roger experienced vast differences between them. Additionally, the chapters that focused on Roger jumped decades of his captivity, which also jarred me as I mentally refocused on what Roger would have known as a prisoner of war. I realize that Barry could not literally give his readers a day-by-day account of Roger’s experiences in prison; however, the time hopping made empathizing with the character a challenge because I constantly had to focus on setting and time period rather than on Roger. Focusing solely on the characters became easier once Roger and Katherine’s are brought together. In the spirit of a timely and quick ending, Barry finishes Methuselah Project in an action-packed adventure, but the fast pace brings a sense of unbelievability to his novel. I would have preferred a longer novel focused on authentic situations to end this book.

I enjoyed The Methuselah Project for its stellar story filled with historical research. Despite the aspects of the story that I didn’t care for, I still would recommend this book to readers because the merits of this novel strongly outweigh any pacing or character issues. I would especially like to commend Barry for writing a Christian historical novel that I believe is well suited for boys and men. While women, such as myself, surely will enjoy the book, The Methuselah Project is a novel that I would hand out to men of any age in a heartbeat.

Rating: 3.5 stars


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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SONY DSC

By God’s grace, I’m the author of the novels The Methuselah Project, Gunner’s RunKiriath’s Quest, and over 200 articles and fiction stories. In addition to being a writer and World War II buff, my main role is Director of Church Planting ministries at BIEM, a Christian ministry active in Eastern Europe. I hold a degree in foreign languages, speak Russian, and every summer I assist with children’s camps in Eastern Europe. I live near Indianapolis with my wonderful wife Pam. Visit me at facebook.com/AuthorRickBarry, or on Twitter (@WriterRickBarry).

 

 

 

Book Review: Catch of a Lifetime by Candee Fick

Catch of a LifetimeCatch of a Lifetime by Candee Fick (Bling! Romance, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, November 2015)

Can she forget the fumbles of her past and open her heart to love?

He breathes football. She shudders at the very mention of the sport.

After a tragedy involving a football player destroyed her family, athletic trainer and graduate student Cassie moves across the country looking for a fresh start, but a change in financial aid lands her in the middle of her worst nightmare.

Meanwhile, rookie coach Reed worries his dream career will slip away as injuries plague his players and his star receiver teeters on the brink of ineligibility. As the two work together to salvage the season, sparks fly, and Reed must eventually choose between the game and the woman he loves.

REVIEW: 

My family enjoys sports; from Sunday afternoons watching football to games of wiffle ball in the background, competitive athletics have always been an important part of the Deshaieses lifestyle. Even though I am not one of athletically inclined members of my family, I have spent many years cheering on my brothers while they pitched for their teams or enthusiastically waiting for the Steelers to score touchdowns. I might not play sports…but I know my games.

Candee Fick, a Genesis Award winning author, provides a way for those of us who love sports to experience the thrill of the game and all that goes with it in Catch of a Lifetime. This football based novel, a contemporary fiction book released by Bling! Romance, pulled me into the world of college football unlike any other novel I have read. Catch of a Lifetime first caught my attention when I searched through Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas’s website a few months back. I like watching football, and historical fiction was overtaking my to-be-read list, so I thought this novel could give me a good dose of contemporary fiction. Fick’s novel was so much more than good contemporary fiction–Catch of a Lifetime is a wonderful story filled with themes of forgiveness, integrity, and acceptance, and sprinkled with faith, family, and authentic romance. This novel has everything I look for in contemporary fiction, and after reading Catch of a Lifetime I am truly excited to see what other contemporary stories Fick will follow her debut novel with.

Writers are told to “write what you know” because authenticity comes from true life experiences. Fick comes from a football family, so Catch of a Lifetime is therefore infused with not only facts about the game, but the emotions, thoughts, cares, and concerns of those who play and participate in this American sport. Through this authenticity of someone who is a wife to a coach and a mother to a player Fick’s characters are able to demonstrate the unique challenges and joys that come with football. While my family is more baseball-oriented than football-oriented, Fick’s writing is so genuine that I could immediately empathize with Reed and Cassie.

In being drawn into Reed and Cassie’s world, Fick brought me back to my undergraduate college days–just one of the many seasons of my life in which I spent time at baseball fields, but also many wonderful hours on campus in classrooms and with friends. I loved my time in college and often wish I could go back to those days where homework, friends, and a part time job filled my days. I am not so niave that I believe going back in time would be a good thing, but I did so enjoy Catch of a Lifetime for returning me to a college setting where I could imagine wandering the campus and filling my mind with all things related to college studies. The dialog, descriptions, and character interactions were realistic and believable–I could easily visualize the relationships, activities, and goals of the characters happening on any college campus today.

Fick is a talented author who wields words that read as authentically as the life we live in today’s modern world. Her gift at creating contemporary stories that mirror the challenges and joys we experience not only bring new worlds to life (for those of you who, for example, do not know football), but also share perspectives and lessons for those who have shared Fick’s experiences. Catch of a Lifetime brims with characters who share the Christian faith but remain honest in the struggles that we all face. Fick infuses her characters’ reactions to the challenges of the modern world with subtle Christian lessons that adults, both younger and older, can apply to their own lives. This quiet inclusion of Christian princples shares the viewpoint of a faith that teaches respect, love, and honesty; Fick’s characters are not perfect, but their determination to live with this Christian faith is a way for readers to take in these principles without alienating themselves from their peers.

Catch of a Lifetime has quickly become not only one of my favorite books of 2015, but of all time. I recommend this book for teenagers (ages 16+) and adults, both male and female, who enjoy contemporary sports fiction from the general and CBA markets. For a novel similar to Fick’s debut fiction story, look into Sally Bradley’s Kept.

Rating: 5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Candee FickAuthor of inspirational romance, non-fiction, and devotionals. Candee is married to a high school football coach and is the mother of three, including a child with special needs (thus providing inspiration for her first two non-fiction titles).

She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and a Double Finalist/Winner in the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest in the short novel category. Her debut novel, Catch of a Lifetime,  released in November 2015 from Bling! Romance.

Connect with Candee on Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, and her website.

Book Review: The Widower’s Second Chance by Jessica Keller

the widower's second chanceAbout the Book:

Learning To Love Again

Idyllic Goose Harbor, Michigan, offers a fresh start for broken-hearted Paige Windom. In addition to securing a teaching job at the high school, she’ll fulfill her dream of helping at-risk teens in a nearby inner-city mentoring program. But Caleb Beck, a handsome yet overprotective widower and the center’s founder, doesn’t want Paige anywhere near the place. He’s afraid she’ll get hurt just like his late wife. Paige knows she can do a lot of good for the kids and Caleb himself. If only she can show him how to let go of his fear, maybe they’ll both find a way to reopen their wounded hearts.

Goose Harbor: Love is in big supply on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Review:

Harlequin’s Love Inspired series covers every genre imaginable—from historical to contemporary to Amish, Christian fiction authors have given Harlequin fans a line of books to enjoy no matter the reading preference. Despite the prolificacy of the line, until this month I had chosen to not read the Love Inspired line because the smaller size of the novels indicated I would read the books too quickly to be worthwhile.

Reader friends—I was wrong and will gladly admit that statement to you as many times as needed. I enjoyed The Widower’s Second Chance very much; I will be reading more from the Love Inspired Line; and I will absolutely read more from author Jessica Keller without any hesitation. In the tradition of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” I now also believe that size is not indicative of a good story. A heavy tome does not equal a more comprehensive plot, and a thin volume does measure to a shallow novel. I learned through The Widower’s Second Chance that the Love Inspired line condenses a meaningful story into a small package through deep characters and inspirational growth.

Jessica Keller first novel in the Goose Harbor series, The Widower’s Second Chance, centers on hurting protagonists whose faith is grounded but shaken after traumatic personal experiences. Either main or secondary, Keller’s characters make this novel shine as they take their unique viewpoints on life and love and share them with others. Caleb, and overprotective widower, is a perfect male protagonist—he is wounded yet strong, brooding and handsome, overbearing but protective. I couldn’t help but love him, even with his zealous-but-wrong mindset that he had to save everyone from themselves. Paige is the all-American girl-next-door that every female wants to be at some point in her life. She is pretty but doesn’t know it, feisty and loveable, and just fun to read about. Paige and Caleb make the perfect pair; their characteristics and quirks balance each other, but clearly they will have a dynamic relationship that takes work. Keller’s choice to make Paige a Caleb fit but also flawed—much like a true relationship for readers—brings an authenticity to her novel that makes her story relatable.

All of the characters in The Widower’s Second Chance are thoroughly created and unique; however, the smaller size of the Love Inspired novels means the authors have to sacrifice some aspects of novel writing that otherwise would create a deeper story. Despite that I enjoyed the characters in Keller’s novel, I did feel the novel lacked characterization. Many times throughout The Widower’s Second Chance I noticed that I sympathized with Caleb and Paige—but I did not empathize with them. One concession that Love Inspired authors make when writing for this line is the “show versus tell” choice that writers and readers are inundated with by teachers and the publishing industry. Showing—using action, dialog, and other writing tools—draws readers into the story directly while telling—plainly stating—does not require readers to use their imagination. The word count for Love Inspired, which creates those smaller novels, limits the amount of showing readers have come to love and instead requires authors to use a bit more “telling” in the novels.

Jessica Keller is quite a good author and handles this change of “show versus tell” with graceful writing. Her setting, Goose Harbor, is exquisitely created with vivid descriptions of an idyllic lakefront town and its accompanying culture. Characters that remain in the background of The Widower’s Second Chance enhance the story’s plot and are vital to realism of the novel. The emotions in this novel are authentic and, at times, heart-wrenching. Keller enhances the emotions in The Widower’s Second Chance with a story that is unique and needs to be told. Her focus on this story, along with challenges in faith that are true and believe in both life and novelization, bring this novel a level of believability that will have readers picking up her book more than once.

Keller’s second book in the Goose Harbor series, The Fireman’s Secret, releases in early 2015, and I cannot wait to read it. I read The Widower’s Second Chance in less than a day, so I know I will love this author’s follow up to her lovely Goose Harbor beginning.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

About the Author:

A Starbucks drinker, avid reader, semi-professional fangirl, and chocolate aficionado, Jessica spends way too muchjessica keller time on Tumblr and Twitter. She writes both Young Adult Fiction and Romance.

As a child Jessica possessed the dangerous combination of too much energy coupled with an over-active imagination. This pairing led to more than seven broken bones and countless scars.

Oddly enough, she’s worked as a zookeeper, a librarian, camp counselor, horse wrangler, housekeeper, and finance clerk, but now loves her full-time work in law enforcement.

She lives in the Midwest with her amazing husband and very giggly daughter.

  • Winner of the 2011 Golden Pen
  • Winner of the 2011 Where the Magic Begins
  • Winner of the 2011-12 Rattler Writing Contest (Contemporary Category)
  • Winner of the 2011-12 Rattler Wrting Contest (Spec. Category)
  • Overall Grand Prize Winner 2011-2012 Rattler Writing Contest Awards
  • 2012 ACFW Genesis Award Semi-Finalist

Find Jessica on the following

Review: Kept by Sally Bradley

ALERT: for the second year in a row, Sally Bradley’s Kept was a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest! Let’s celebrate Sally’s success by purchasing and promoting her debut novel!

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SYNOPSIS:

Life has taught Miska Tomlinson that there are no honorable men. Her womanizing brothers, her absentee father, and Mark, the married baseball player who claims to love her—all have proven undependable. But Miska has life under control. She runs her editing business from her luxury condo, stays fit with daily jogs along Chicago’s lakefront, and in her free time blogs anonymously about life as a kept woman.

Enter new neighbor Dillan Foster. Between his unexpected friendship and her father’s sudden reappearance, Miska loses control of her orderly life. Her relationship with Mark deteriorates, and Miska can’t help comparing him to Dillan. His religious views are so foreign, yet the way he treats her is something she’s longed for. But Dillan discovers exactly who she is and what she has done. Too late she finds herself longing for a man who is determined to never look her way again.

When her blog receives unexpected national press, Miska realizes that her anonymity was an illusion. Caught in a scandal about to break across the nation, Miska wonders if the God Dillan talks about would bother with a woman like her—a woman who’s gone too far and done too much.

 REVIEW:

In an environment increasingly shadowed by promiscuous behavior with little worldly consequences but deep emotional baggage, Miska Tomlinson and Dillan Foster battle their fears and prejudices to find love.

Sally Bradley’s debut novel, Kept, first caught my attention because of its characters. Baseball runs strongly in my family, so naturally I was intrigued by Bradley’s choice of profession for one of her novel’s leading men. While the baseball aspect of Kept influenced the author’s story, I am actually pleased to say that the sport factors little into my positive rating of the novel. I loved many things about Kept—including Bradley’s insertion of athletics into the characters’ lives—but it was the Biblical storylines, deep emotional characterization, and themes of redemption, love, and judgment that make Kept a standout novel.

Christian fiction is a blossoming genre that continues to grow within the publishing industry. As in any consumer-driven outlet, Christian fiction tends to have its strongholds: Amish, World War Two, and contemporary romance consistently drive its sales. The nature of Christian fiction sets the genre apart from its partners—if a Fifty Shades of Grey type novel is bestselling in the ABA market, it tends to follow that CBA novels will market novels of the opposite nature in hopes that more conservative, evangelical readers will be drawn to Christian fiction. A growing number of Christian fiction readers, however, are vying for novels with more realistic plotlines and accessible characters. Sally Bradley has hit upon this niche—Kept is a story of hard-hitting situations faced by authentic characters challenged by their surroundings and fighting for their faith against insurmountable odds. Bradley is not afraid to address the questionable choices people make and does not shy away from situations that are normally hidden from the Christian market. Kept surpasses excellence because Bradley handles these situations with delicacy and grace. The tough situations her characters encounter are fully described, but she digresses from explicative language and details in favor of straightforward steps that show how and why God wants better for His children.

I believe that Christian fiction needs more authors who are comfortable writing novels similar to Kept because readers can learn so much from true-to-life characters that experience the situations we face on a daily basis. Kept does not sugarcoat the challenging feelings and situations that people experience. Bradley’s characters show that Christians are just as susceptible to frustrations, fear, joy, and relief that others come across. Her novel takes compelling one step further in showing readers that people can come out of their pasts and move forward from the negative emotions through Jesus’ love and God’s mercy. In laying out these feelings with empathic prose, Bradley opens up Christians in a way that that older Christian fiction was unable to do so through the pleasing—but unrealistic—novels of the past.

Kept is an exciting, compelling, and thoroughly pleasing novel that engages readers through authentic characters and rich storylines. Bradley, in addition to her writing career, is also an editor. Her storytelling and writing skills are, therefore, above standard; Kept reflects her skilled background with excellent prose, a strong plotline and structure, deep characterization, and realistic dialog and setting. Of course, I admit that Bradley’s romantic hero definitely is a strong point her novel. Dillan Foster, in addition to his handsome appearance, is a swoon-worthy hero that any lady would love to fall in love—and many female readers most definitely will. One of the author’s romantic scenes brought a huge smile to face and actually made my heart beat fast and ache for the two characters. Bradley succeeded in creating a chaste and pure, but still incredibly romantic and fulfilling, story in Kept. Her novel is a beautiful example of why God wants His children to wait for the physical intimacies of romantic relationships. She shows how a man and woman can still experience and demonstrate their affection for each other in a pure manner. Kept is fast-paced; I never wanted to put the novel down and frequently stayed up late reading when I long should have been asleep or completing other tasks.

RATING: 5/5 stars


 

Sally BradleyABOUT THE AUTHOR (from author website)

Sally Bradley has worked for two publishers, writing sales and marketing materials, sorting through the slush pile, and proofreading and editing fiction. She has a BA in English and a love for perfecting novels, whether it’s her work or the work of others.

A judge in fiction-writing contests, Sally is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, The Christian PEN, and the Christian Editor Network. In 2000, she left the working world to have her first child. She now runs Bradley Writing and Editing Services from her home outside Kansas City. A mother of three, Sally is married to a pastor who moonlights as a small-town cop. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, doing laundry, and rooting on her favorite Chicago sports team of the season.

You can find Sally at Sally Bradley, Writer on Facebook.

Review: The Promise by Beth Wiseman

the promiseEveryone has a purpose in life. Some are born knowing exactly what they want to do while others struggle indefinitely to find their calling. Mallory Hammond knows her purpose: she wants to fulfill her promise to her late cousin to save another’s life. This unfulfilled goal drives everything for Mallory…until she eventually makes a rash decision that could potentially endanger many people’s lives. As Mallory struggles to find a way out of a precarious situation a world away from her family and friends, she discovers that the only promise that truly matters is the one that comes from above.

Beth Wiseman’s The Promise is a beautiful story of a young lady who wants nothing more than to give back to another. As a teenager, Mallory Hammond was stopped from donating her kidney to her terminally ill cousin. Mallory was the only match for this donation, and the subsequent termination of the operation and death of her cousin left a hole in Mallory’s heart. Wiseman’s main character has spent the ensuing years yearning to find a way to ease her guilt of being unable to save her cousin’s life. Desperation from a family in the Middle East leads Mallory to a chance encounter with a new friend that is not necessarily who he seems to be.

Simultaneously, Mallory and her boyfriend, piano-teacher Tate, struggle to maintain a balance between love and frustration as both characters navigate different futures. Against much resistance—and fueled by questions of faith and relationships—Mallory journeys to Pakistan to help save a young girl’s life. Little does Mallory know at the time of her departure that more than one person is going to need saving during her trip across the world. Tate watches with anguish as Mallory fights to understand the truth about those around her and about herself. The Promise holds multiple declarations of love and friendship—and just like Mallory, readers see that the promises that matter most are not always the ones we expect.

Wiseman’s novel excels on many levels: a unique plot, beautifully characterized secondary characters, and emotionally touching scenes, stand out as the leading reasons to read The Promise. Christian fiction—and fiction in general—falls into a few standard categories: romance, redemption, faith, and family. Wiseman bravely plunges into new territory in The Promise with a plot line set in the Middle East (instead of the United States or Europe) and a story that takes on the risky subjects of terrorism, abduction, and covert operations. Characters in The Promise experience romance, have dysfunctional families, and search for deeper faith…but all of those plot lines fall within the bigger stories of promises, identity, abuse, and terror. Readers will fall in love with a lonely little boy, laugh with a mother whose chicken enchiladas are to-die-for, and cheer for the hero as a he takes charge to save the heroine from a seemingly un-savable situation. Another positive to The Promise is that Wiseman understands readers need a break from the darker plot lines of the novel. Although just as emotional as the scenes set in the Middle East, Wiseman uses secondary characters to touch readers in a way that will break and stir hearts over the challenges presented.

At times The Promise lacks enough in storyline and structure to distract from the content of the novel. The characterization—especially for primary protagonists Tate and Mallory—needs development because the motivations and emotions do not always come across as plausible enough for the story to progress. While readers know, for example, that Mallory feels guilty for not donating her kidney to her cousin, the character’s dissatisfaction seems unrealistic because ten years have passed since her cousin’s death. It would seem that ten years is sufficient time for a healthy young woman to move forward past that sadness and find a progress to safe and positive way of saving another’s life. In addition, Mallory’s refusal to emotionally connect with Tate and give other’s credit for their opinions and information on a highly dangerous situation are unrealistic and frustrating to believe.

The Promise is an exciting novel that readers of contemporary Christian and secular books will enjoy. While a novel that falls into the Christian genre, the faith aspect of the story is plausible and mild. Christians will find the storyline relevant to everyday life and appealing for adapting to a stressful situation. Tate’s Catholic faith, in particular, is appealing because different denominations—especially Catholicism—are rarely used in Christian fiction. It should be noted that The Promise is a novel based upon true-life events that the author’s close friend experienced. After reading this novel there is no doubt that writing a story based upon such personal and tragic experiences must have been challenging and fulfilling for Wiseman. She comes out on top with a book that is both chilling in its authenticity and beautiful in its outcome. The Promise is not to be missed.

Stars: 4.5/5

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas Nelson. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

This review was originally written for The Christian Manifesto and will be published on the website on September 30th.

Review: The Wounded Warrior’s Wife by Hannah Conway

WWW coverWhitleigh and Collier Cromwell’s romance began in their tender teenage years in rural Kentucky. Both dreamed of a happily ever after that included prosperous careers and a loving family filled with children. Collier’s choice to join the Army, however, forever changed the outlook of their futures. With terrors and changes on the home-front in Colorado and a second unexpected deployment to the Middle East, both Whitleigh and Collier struggle to adjust to the Army’s demanding lifestyle during their first year of marriage. After a year away from home he returns burdened by the devastations of war and holding little faith—a shell of the man that Whitleigh married. With the struggles and challenges increasing every day after Collier’s return as he fights the emotions from the devastations and traumas of war, Whitleigh loses the little strength she has left to hold her marriage together. God awaits their understanding that only through Him can Whitleigh and Collier achieve peace, but this is easier said than done by two people who over the past two years have learned to thrive on their independence for survival.

The Wounded Warrior’s Wife is a story an Army soldier and his wife—of their hopes and dreams for the future and also of their realities. Whitleigh is a wife like so many of American Army wives find themselves to be: loyal to her spouse but frustrated with the constant fear and worry for her husband. She finds herself an independent spouse and parent surrounded with care from family and friends but without the support from her husband that she needs to truly take care of herself and their child. The Wounded Warrior’s Wife is also a story of the solider with the heart of warrior who desires to make the world a better a place but, in striving to protect his wife from the horrors of war, brings those horrors deeper into himself and creates a drift that damages his marriage beyond anything imaginable. This novel discusses the hopes and perils of war…the joys of returning home and freeing people from oppression, but also the difficulties that soldiers and spouses experience for the chance of freedom.

Author Hannah Conway has crafted a story of love, life, and learning in The Wounded Warrior’s Wife. An Army wife herself, Conway intimately understands the solider and the wife’s point of views of the horrors and hopes of deployment. There is no one better to write a story about Army life than someone who lives it—the challenges, struggles, and hopes are so unique to this circle that a non-Army spouse has a close chance of misunderstanding the emotions the soldiers, spouses, and families experience. The Wounded Warrior’s Wife holds characters from every angle of military life, and Conway brilliantly weaves each one’s attributes and faults with no bias or favoritism. Soldiers, wives, friends, children, and parents each play a significant role in the story, emphasizing that military life depends upon the support of a community.

Whitleigh and Collier—Conway’s female and male protagonists—are hugely loveable in this story. As an Army wife, Conway is equipped to understand Whitleigh inside and out. All of the frustrations an Army wife experiences during a deployment and upon her soldier’s return home are played out in The Wounded Warrior’s Wife. Readers will easily empathize with Whitleigh throughout the novel because her pain and suffering are displayed so eloquently; however, Conway does not shy away from using the secondary characters to show that military spouses hold just as power in the breaking and repairing of relationships. One of Conway’s significant lessons in The Wounded Warrior’s Wife is that spouses and families often are capable of ensuring soldiers’ healing because they have the ability to love others and control their emotions at the same time. Through Collier, Conway teaches that soldiers’ emotions upon their return are out of their control because of their need to not emote while at war; Whitleigh, as the warrior’s wife, learns that she is just as responsible for the outcome of her marriage—despite Collier’s harsh words and actions—because she has the ability to feel while his responses still react to situations seen in the Middle East. Readers will fall in love in Collier for his handsome appearance, desire to be a dutiful and loving husband and father, quirky sense of humor, sense of loyalty to his friends and soldiers, and his ability to recognize his faults.

The Wounded Warrior’s Wife is Conway’s debut novel; however, the story reads nothing like one of a typical new writer. Her characters are fully developed; her dialog is true-to-life; her pacing is fast but thorough, with each scene necessary to move the story along; and her descriptions are vivid. Readers will easily visualize the splendid Colorado scenery and the gritty, malodorous, and dirty Iraqi landscapes. Her ability to so thoroughly create the scenes in The Wounded Warrior’s Wife ensures that no reader will walk away from this book without fully comprehending the grotesque and inhumane lives of American soldiers in the Middle East that are left out of the daily news. Collier’s battle scenes are so heartbreaking that readers feel his sadness through aches in their chests and down-turned mouths. On happier notes, the deep characterizations that Conway creates through having experienced these emotions herself also mean that the scenes of homecoming and friendship are just as fulfilling as the battle scenes are necessary for plot. The sincere gratitude of families and spouses for the soldiers return from deployment is a scene someone can appreciate regardless if they have ever been on a military base before.

The Wounded Warrior’s Wife is a superb novel for adult readers who enjoy stories love, family, and honor. The novel is clean: there is no course language and no intimate scenes; however, the trials of military life are discussed in the novel, so anyone younger than teenage age should be cautioned towards the novel. Elements of faith are discussed in The Wounded Warrior’s Wife and are present in the protagonists’ lives. I highly recommend this novel and eagerly await Conway’s coming novels.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by the author and by Olivia Kimbrell Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

About Hannah Conway

Hannah ConwayHannah Conway is an Army wife who holds a B.A. in history from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She is a Kentucky native and currently lives in the state near Fort Campbell, where her family is currently stationed and she is a stay -at-home mother of two children. She is an active member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association and My Book Therapy.

Follow Hannah at her Facebook page , her Goodreads page, and on Twitter at @hannahrconway!