Book Review: Surrendered by Kariss Lynch

SurrenderedSurrendered by Kariss Lynch (December 2015, FaithHappenings Publishers)

With a promise to love, will one final test break them apart?

With a wedding on the horizon, Nick Carmichael and Kaylan Richards prepare to commit themselves to one another and their future together. But for Kaylan, every step closer to the big day brings with it more disaster as she struggles to learn the sacrifice of joining the Navy SEALs. While she gains a new family, she will also gain all the secrets that come with it.

In the middle of wedding plans, Nick is called away on one last mission. And this time, he will be forced to cooperate with the woman he fears and hates above all others: known terrorist, Janus. Can Nick find a way to forgive the woman who threatened his family and fight with her to take down one of the world’s biggest arms dealers?

As the clock ticks closer to the wedding day, Kaylan and Nick fear Janus’s actions will cost them everything. Putting aside their uncertainty, they battle for their love, for family, and for the boldness to do what is necessary. Victory is possible, but as they come to find, it will only come with surrender.


 

REVIEW:

Our interests and passions can stir a thirst for knowledge in much more than just that one particular topic that originally peaked our curiosity in a certain subject. For me, that movie, Pearl Harbor (Jerry Bruckheimer, 2001), while the beginning of my interest in World War Two history, also initiated a passion to preserve and understand the lifestyle that members of the United States military, along with their families, live for every day. Writers such as Kariss Lynch, author of the Heart of a Warrior series, bring stories of the military life to readers and show the struggles and joys of those committed to defending the United States of America.

Surrendered, the third book in Lynch’s debut series, is a beautiful story of a Navy seal and his fiancee as they learn to give love and life to each other and their Savior in the midst of a military career and new relationship. I absolutely loved this book and cannot recommended both Surrendered and Lynch’s other two books in the series enough. Surrendered is filled with authentic characters, heart-wrenching emotion, nerve-wracking dilemmas, and lessons of faith, love, and hope in God and family. By the end of the first chapter I knew that Surrendered would be on my favorites of 2015 list–in fact, it is my favorite contemporary of the year–and I had to force myself to read slower because I did not want to finish the book.

Lynch writes with straightforward prose that embodies the authenticity of everyday life. Main characters Kaylan and Nick are so real that I felt as if I had known them my entire life. I cheered for these two as they fought to understand each other and give the other their desires and needs. Oftentimes when reading contemporary fiction I find bits of advice to follow from the characters, but with Surrendered the relationship between Kaylan and Nick demonstrated in its entirety that one based on Christian values is not necessarily easy but most definitely fulfilling . Lynch’s characters strove to better themselves as individuals in an understanding that the other could not fulfill the role of a perfect companion. This portrayal is both necessary and a beautiful because both general market and Christian fiction typically sugar-coats romance with unrealistic expectations. With the backdrop of an oftentimes challenging and frightening profession influencing every aspect of Kaylan and Nick’s relationship, Lynch shares with readers how her couple is able to rely on God and their faith when so much is out of their control.

The culture of the United States is one that thrives on independence, determination, community, and success. We rarely take “no” for an answer and believe we can do anything we set our minds to. Surrender is not an option to Americans. But Lynch shows readers in this final book in her Heart of a Warrior series that surrendering can be beautiful when we put our trust in God and others before ourselves. This story is one that will forever be on my bookshelf. I am so excited to see what other stories Lynch will bring to readers and believe God has big plans for this author.

P.S. If my review hasn’t shown my love for this series enough, consider this story. Despite that Christmas time is usually for giving gifts to others, on December 23rd I visited my local Family Christian store to buy two gifts for myself: Shaken and Shadowed, the first two books in the Heart of the Warrior series. Nope, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to see if these books would be under the tree. I had to have them now, Santa!

RATING: 4.5 stars


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kariss LynchKariss Lynch began her writing career in third grade when she created a story about a magical world for a class assignment. Chasing her dream into college, she received a degree in English at Texas Tech University and fell in love with writing faith-based fiction about characters with big dreams, adventurous spirits, and bold hearts. Kariss is a diehard Texan, born and bred in Dallas, where she now works as a writer for a local communications ministry.

 

Novel Review: The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck

The Wedding Chapel

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck (Zondervan, November 2015)

An old, forgotten chapel holds the key to love and forgiveness.

Retired hall-of-fame football coach Jimmy Westbrook never imagined anything would come of his labor of love—building a wedding chapel for Collette Greer, the woman he fell in love with in 1949. But now a realtor wants the land the chapel sits on, and he sees no reason to hang onto the past.

Photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. Leaving her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, she put a lot of things behind her, including her family’s string of failed marriages. When she falls head-over-heels for Jack Gillingham, a top ad man, their whirlwind romance and elopement leave her with doubts. Jack, while genuine in his love for Taylor, can never seem to find the right way to show her he really cares.

When a post-mortem letter from Taylor’s Granny Peg shows up, along with an old photo, she is driven to uncover family secrets and the secret to her own happiness, starting with an assignment to photograph an unknown, obscure wedding chapel back in Heart’s Bend.

Taylor begins a mission to convince Jimmy that the chapel is worth saving—and that forgiveness and healing might happen within the chapel’s walls . . . for both of them.


REVIEW:

Wedding chapels evoke a sense of mystery and peace all in one. Stained glass windows filter in sunlight that illuminates the ethereal, while old-style arches and wood-worn pews speak of times past. With this picture of gorgeous old chapel filling my mind, I eagerly approached Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Chapel in anticipation of a story that draw me into a story that shares the best of history and contemporary within one book.

Hauck, a veteran writer of Christian fiction, knows how to pen a beautiful story. Her themes are always strong, her writing is always graceful, and her storylines are always intricately crafted. The Wedding Chapel holds all of these elements and in many ways, even though this is not my favorite of her books (I’m just a fan of royalty, what can I say?), make this novel one of her best yet. A dual-set story set in the charming Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, and New York City, in The Wedding Chapel readers are maneuvered between two time periods: one with heart-wrenching history and the other relatable in its modernity.

Themes of restoration, forgiveness, family, love, hope, and second chances blend into the stories of two couples: Jack and Taylor Branson, and Jimmy Westbrook and Collette Greer. I absolutely loved Jimmy and Collette’s story because–and this is personal taste coming out–we witnessed the evolution of a tale beginning in time’s past and moving into today. As a lover of historical fiction, I enjoyed Hauck’s technique of weaving in history through a romance. Jimmy and Collette’s story is just beautiful and contain the strongest themes in The Wedding Chapel. Although half the story would have been missing otherwise, I almost wished while reading the book that the story was just about these two characters. Taylor and Jack are amiable characters, but I never connected to them as I did to their counterparts and their story did not stir me the same way. The connection between the four of them did, however, make for an endearing story that will surely bring smiles to many readers.

I am by far pleased with this latest addition to my Rachel Hauck novel collection and recommend The Wedding Chapel for those who enjoy romance, contemporary, and dual-time novels.

Rating: 3.5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

rachel hauckRachel Hauck is a USA Today Best Selling, and award-winning author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince.

Rachel began writing full time in 2004. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship at their annual conference. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker.

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets, and writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Connect with Rachel online: website, Facebook, Twitter

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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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!

kept RGB front lower resolution

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.