Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock – Relatable & Heartwarming

Terri Blackstock is on my list of writers, that when they write a new book, I want to read it.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read her newest book Catching Christmas.

This story is a little different than most of Terri’s books.  The book centers around three people, Finn, Sydney and Callie, who don’t have a lot in common.  But circumstances have a way of creating some unusual bonds, especially around Christmas.

Take Finn for example, he’s a cab driver and for him, time is money.  His life is about to get more complicated when he picks up his next fare.  Callie, an older woman in a wheelchair, seems to be taking a little nap when Finn arrives and she needs transportation to a doctor’s appointment.  Who in the world sends their grandmother to the doctor via a cab?  Meet Sydney, Callie’s granddaughter, who is burning the candle at both ends and just trying to keep her new job, thus the cab for her grandmother.

Terri has way of making her characters very relatable and real.  My favorite character was Finn, a little gruff on the outside, but deep down he has a tender heart, a guilty conscience and wants to get it right this time.  Callie reminds me of my mom in her latter years.  Only with Callie…I could laugh at some of the embarrassing uncomfortable moments.  I related to Sydney too and felt like I had walked in her shoes.

The Christian faith is talked about some in this book.  Callie is a Christian and she loves Jesus and talks to Him and about Him to others.

Catching Christmas is a heartwarming book to read for the Christmas holiday season.  It’s a short book, so even if your schedule is busy, you’ll be able to find time to read Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock.

I would like to thank BookLook and Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity to read Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock in exchange for an honest review.  I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

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Through the Autumn Air by Kelly Irvin – A Real Gem and Lovely Read

One of my favorite things is when I find a book that I love by an author whose work is new to me.  I found a gem in Through the Autumn Air by Kelly Irvin.  I absolutely loved this book, from the moment I first started reading it.  I haven’t read a lot of Amish themed novels, but there was something about storyline that caught my attention.

Mary Katherine Ropp is a sixty-year-old widow and her last daughter is getting married.  Most in the community would have her living with one of her married children and helping to raise her grandchildren.  But Mary Katherine isn’t like most Amish women.  She’s little bit spunky, independent, she likes to read, write stories and even dares to dream about opening a book store with her English friend Dottie.  Also, part of the community is Ezekiel Miller who has been widowed for many years.  In spite of grief, he kept family going through his business the Purpose Martin Café.  Both Mary Katherine and Ezekiel can’t imagine getting married again so late in life, especially since they had wonderful marriages.  But Ezekiel can imagine hiring another cook to help at the restaurant.  In to the storyline steps the not so skilled, but very hungry burglar, Burke McMillan, who has a late-night encounter with Mary Katherine.

What I loved best about this book were the characters.  They were very likable people that I would enjoy knowing.  Mary Katherine was my favorite and I loved her ongoing conversations with her husband Moses.  I loved Ezekiel’s tender caring heart, tender for Mary Katherine, open to help and give a new start to a stranger, loving to his grandchildren, especially Kenneth.  Burke is a man of mystery.  Is he just a down on his luck kind of guy, is he the thief that’s been plaguing the Amish community or is something more going on with him?

Kelly Irvin is a wonderful writer.  She knows how to make characters interesting and very likeable, even in plain every day ordinary life.  She gives insight into the characters and what they are going through at this stage in their lives.  The Amish community setting is interesting but doesn’t overwhelm the story, instead it’s the background and reveals how these characters live their lives.  I could identify with many of the feelings that Mary Katherine was expressing.

The one person, I wasn’t too keen on was her son Thomas because he was so disrespectful to his mother.  I would think as a Christian, he would have tried to honor his mother, but instead he treated her more like a child who has misbehaved.

I loved Through the Autumn Air by Kelly Irvin and I look forward to reading more of her books.  I highly recommend this story, it was lovely!  I read this book during a very difficult time in my life and I found it to be a very comforting place to escape to for a while.

I would like to thank BookLook and Zondervan Publishers for the opportunity to read Through the Autumn Air in exchange for an honest review.  I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

 

The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble – Implausible

The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble is the second book I’ve read by this author.  What drew me to the book was the setting along the coastline of Washington, the mystery of what happened to the missing sister, a little romance with some home renovation mixed in.  I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.

The story is about two sisters Ellie and Mackenzie Blackmore, one of whom is missing and presumed dead.  She leaves behind a mystery of a life that wasn’t what it seemed.  Thrown into the mix is Grayson Bradshaw, an investigator for the US Coast Guard, who is looking into a missing shipment of illegal drugs that has ties to a terrorist.  One of the prime suspects is Mackenzie and that news doesn’t sit too well with Ellie who just wants to find her sister.

What I liked about The House at Saltwater Point:

  • Grayson was very honest, forthright, nice and likeable.
  • I kind of liked his relationship with Ellie, but they went from an adversarial relationship to romance and I wasn’t quite sure how they crossed that bridge.
  • I liked the subplot of Grayson finding out that he was adopted and had biological sister and family whom he knew nothing about.
  • I enjoyed the setting of Lavender Tides, the description of the town, the townspeople and friends, waterfront, beaches and scenery.
  • I liked the home renovation career of Ellie.

What I wasn’t too keen on:

  • The storyline was rather convoluted and had too many subplots going on.
  • The story and characters weren’t very realistic. Especially, the two small town sisters trying thwart a terrorist attack.  There were times that the sisters did a better job than the FBI and Coast Guard in trying to stop the terrorists.  There sure didn’t seem to much of a police presence considering the seriousness of what was going on.
  • Early on in the book Ellie takes in a helpless small kitten. Periodically, the kitten would be mentioned but for the most part it wasn’t part of the story.  I found it distracting.  That part of the story was unnecessary and didn’t contribute to the storyline.
  • At times the story seemed the drag.
  • The characters weren’t very realistic. My favorite was Grayson, a very nice man…but he was a little too perfect.

Colleen is really good at setting a scene and describing the place and helping the reader see it in their mind.  However, the storyline was not plausible and the characters weren’t deep or realistic…much of it was very surface level.  I think that’s where it lost me, I didn’t connect with the characters.

If you just want to read a mystery to escape for a while you may enjoy The House at Saltwater Point.

Colleen Coble is a Christian author, but there nothing much about faith included in this book.  It’s clean, no profanity and or sexual immorality, and I appreciate that.  But nothing much regarding faith and characters talking about God or praying or faith being lived out in their everyday lives.

I wanted to like The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble.  There were parts I did enjoy, but I think the implausible storyline and lack of depth the characters were too much to overcome.

I would like to thank Thomas Nelson Publishers and BookLook for the opportunity to read The House at Saltwater Point for free in exchange for an honest review.  I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

 

Hurricane Season by Lauren K Denton – A Simple Treasure

One of my favorite things is finding new authors whose books I love.  I found a wonderful book and author when I read Hurricane Season by Lauren K Denton.  Wow…loved this book!

The storyline is what first caught my eye.  A couple, Betsy and Ty, own a dairy farm in Alabama and they are always busy with the day to day operations of the farm.  In recent years they’ve struggled with infertility and it’s taken it’s toll on Betsy and Ty’s relationship.  Entering into the equation is Jenna when she suddenly springs a surprise on her sister, watching her two young children, while she heads off to Florida to work on photography as part of a mentorship program.  It’s something she’s longed to get back into for years.  The threat of a hurricane may not be the only storm brewing on the horizon.

Hurricane Season was simple, yet deep.  It was beautiful but dealt with the difficult and hard things of life.  It showed the beautiful and extraordinary things about ordinary lives.  I loved the characters, their relationships and looking back at what’s shaped them.  I loved the beauty of the farm and the retreat in Florida, captured so beautifully by the author.  The characters were decent good people who I would want to know.  There were some profound thoughts and observations shared throughout the book that made me think about my own life.

I loved reading Hurricane Season by Lauren K Denton and I look forward to reading her future books.  I want to go back and read her first book, The Hideaway.  I would describe Lauren as a safe writer.  What I mean by that is that she takes the time to develop a story and lets the readers get to know the characters.  She doesn’t manipulate the storyline and characters don’t make stupid thoughtless decisions, just to advance the story or grab the reader’s attention.  Lauren knows how to make the ordinary both interesting and beautiful.

It’s with pleasure I highly recommend Hurricane Season by Lauren K Denton.  I would like to thank Thomas Nelson Publishers and BookLook for the opportunity to read Hurricane Season in exchange for an honest review.  I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

 

The Candidate by Lis Wiehl – A Mixed Bag

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Since I like books with mystery and intrigue, I decided to read author Lis Wiehl’s new book The Candidate – A Newsmakers Novel written with Sebastian Stuart. I’ve watched Lis on Fox News and like her keen legal analysis and hoped that would translate into a good book. Unfortunately, I found The Candidate to be a mixed bag.

What’s good? I found the plotline intriguing. Is top Presidential candidate, Mike Ortiz, as good as he seems at first glance? Or will Erica discover there is something nefarious going on behind the scenes when she takes a closer look? Coming on the heels of a very contentious election cycle this should be a very interesting book.

The story is action packed and the main character, Erica Sparks, is somewhat interesting. Her background is revealed during the course of the story but there was not a lot of depth to this character. I liked her fiancé Greg, while not perfect, he showed himself to be there for Erica in the end. But overall I found the characters were not well developed. What the reader learns about the characters is very surface level details, some action of course, but there seemed to be an obsession with physical appearance. In fact, it was almost to the point of distraction.

What’s not so good? The story was predictable. After the first big event in the book, I found myself guessing what the next plot development would be throughout the book.

While somewhat veiled, there were some rather sick sexual relationships in this book that cross the line in a book released by a Christian publisher. While not described in detail, enough is said that makes it clear what’s happening. Also, Lis took a swipe at Donald Trump by including a nasty comment from one of the characters about him. It was unnecessary to the story and not value added. My overall impression was Lis tried to be edgy.

If this book had been published by a secular publisher, I would only put a cautionary note about some of the content which may be offensive to people of faith.

I have higher expectations from Thomas Nelson Publishers. On their website, this publisher is self-described as, “Thomas Nelson is a world leading publisher and provider of Christian content and has been providing readers with quality inspirational product for more than 200 years.”

There was nothing whatsoever Christian about this book. There was nothing about faith. There was one curse word as I recall and I appreciate that there was very little profanity. But some of the content of this book was not fit material from a Christian publisher.

I would like to thank BookLook for the opportunity to read The Candidate by Lis Wiehl. I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow – A Gifted Storyteller

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I’ve read some of Robert Whitlow’s previous books and was thrilled at the opportunity to read his newest release, The Witnesses. While reading this book, I was reminded why Robert Whitlow is one of my favorite authors. This man is a gifted storyteller and he knows how to weave a story together with intrigue, mystery and characters you want to get to know better.

The Witnesses tells the story of two generations of the House family. Frank is from Germany, a former Nazi and grandfather to Parker who is an attorney in a small town in North Carolina. Both men have a unique gift that they can use for good or evil. How will Frank reconcile his past participation in unimaginable horrors? Will he ever find rest and peace for his soul? Parker’s career is just beginning, he’s the new man on the totem and working long hours. How long will he have to wait to sink his teeth into some weighty cases and prove himself as an attorney?

As the storyline develops, Robert slowly unveils the characters, layer by layer. He has keen, thought provoking and honest insights into people and their circumstances. His characters are very relatable. I especially liked the relationships: between Frank and Parker and their love and respect for one another, the friendship between Frank and his longtime friend Lenny and the instantaneous bond between Layla and Frank. As a Christian, I appreciate how Robert weaves the Christian faith into his character’s lives. He did a great job in presenting the Gospel message and showing the Christian faith lived out in everyday life. I would never have guessed that I would like a story that involves a former Nazi, much less like the character; but I did.

This book is well written, with interesting characters that will draw you in. I found myself thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading, they kind of come alive. One thing I love about a book is when a character perfectly expresses what you’ve been feeling, but didn’t quite know how to put into words.

I highly recommend The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow, a tale of two men who have a unique gift of seeing what will happen in the future. One man is looking back on a life with some very ugly sins he can’t seem to get away from and the other just starting his career. Will he put his career over and above love? To find out what happens in the lives of these men you will want to read The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow.

I would like to thank BookLook and Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing me a free copy The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow. I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

Sister Eve and the Blue Nun by Lynne Hinton – Steer Clear, Don’t Waste Your Time or Money

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I hardly know where to begin my review about Sister Eve and the Blue Nun by author Lynne Hinton.  An alternate title for this book might be Sister Eve the Lying Nun.

This is the second book I’ve ready by Lynne Hinton.  I like mystery and suspense novels, especially by Christian authors that weave their Christian faith into the storyline and characters.  This book does not even come close to that.

My objections?  The first thing that caught my attention was that the main character Sister Eve lied; repeatedly lied throughout the story.  Purposeful and intentionally lying by a nun seemed rather incongruent with a character who is supposed to be a person of faith.  The character doesn’t express any grief or sorrow over her sin.  She doesn’t seem to acknowledge or be aware that lying is bad or that it’s a sin that Christ died for.  Not only does this character lie, she steals, compromises a crime scene and hopes that Father Oliver, the head of the monastery, will remain silent about her senseless and wrong actions.  Secondly, throughout this book Eve makes the stupidest decisions and she lacks common sense.  She needlessly puts herself in danger and refuses to accept help or seek help when she needs it.

For brevity’s sake I’ll wrap up my objections.  Eve, for no explained reason seems to have a serious mistrust of police.  She is prideful and arrogant in thinking she is the be all and end all in solving crimes.  So much so that she not only compromises the crime scene but she steals a key piece of evidence.  What didn’t make a lick of sense is that once she established that someone had been murdered she didn’t have a sense of urgency on calling the police or concern that there may be a murderer lurking about and she may not be safe.  That’s just the beginning for Eve’s stupid decisions.  This book was painful to read.  More than anything Eve was irritating and not someone I want to read about.

Obviously, when I read a book about a nun I know that there may be things from the Catholic faith brought up.  I found the differences between Protestant Christianity and Catholic faith disconcerting.  For example, when Eve was praying to the saints, but not to God.

It seemed as if the author was agenda driven about women and the church.  In this story Eve expresses thoughts that women are oppressed by the church.  Late in the story, another character concurs with her feelings.

There was nothing much of Christian faith shared in this book.  There was a scene that seemed reminiscent of new age philosophy when Eve is injured.  It doesn’t square with Biblical Christianity.

Was there anything likable in this book?  I did like Eve’s dad Captain Jack.  He seemed to care about his daughter and had some common sense.

All in all, I thought this book was bad, really bad.  Theologically, it’s out to lunch.  The main character does things that don’t make any sense.  I was sorely disappointed by this book.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this book.  Steer clear, don’t waste your time or money on Sister Eve and the Blue Nun by Lynne Hinton.

I would like to thank BookLook and Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.