Sunday, February 21, 2021

Network of Deceit by Tom Threadgill REVEIWED


About the Book: 

She's following her instincts. They're following her every move.

After her rescue of nearly fifty kidnapped children made international headlines, Amara Alvarez gets what she's worked for: a transfer to San Antonio's Homicide Division. But reality sets in quickly when her first case, the suspicious death of a teenager at a crowded local water park, plunges her life into chaos.

As the investigation moves forward, Amara finds herself stalked online by cybercriminals who uncover her personal life in frightening detail. With few leads, she's forced to resort to unconventional methods to find the killer and prevent her first murder investigation from ending up in the cold case files.

My Thoughts:

"Are you in any danger?"  (p. 182)

Detective Amara Alvarez' mom asks the question everyone reading the novel is asking!  And, at the point the question is asked, there is no clear answer.  Amara is working her first homicide case, open and shut suicide, right?  Oh no!  Her instincts kick in immediately, and she begins to uncover a multi-layer cyber crime ring that is holding data hostage till the ransom is paid!  

Amara is a really great character, and she is devoted to her job.  While she begins digging into her first case, her personal life takes quite a few twists and turns as well.  She is also devoted to her large and very intertwined family, and is forced to learn to lean on their strength when her case threatens their safety.  Someone gains way too much information about her life and Amara has to take drastic action!

This is the first novel I've ever read by Tom Threadgill, but it won't be the last!  I really enjoyed getting to know the characters, and became invested in the outcome of the story almost immediately.  The story is paced in such a way that you can enjoy the ride, but remain on edge because the outcome is never clear.  I can honestly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a solid story!  I am a Threadgill fan for certain!


About the Author:

Tom Threadgill is a full-time author and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the International Thriller Writers (ITW). The author of Collision of Lies, Tom lives with his wife near Dallas, Texas. Learn more at www.tomthreadgill.com.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

All That We Carried by Erin Bartels - REVIEWED


About the Book:

The most treacherous terrain is found within

Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. They haven't seen each other since the funeral. Olivia coped with the loss by plunging herself into law school, work, and a materialist view of the world--what you see is what you get, and that's all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life coaching business around her DIY spirituality--a little of this, a little of that, whatever makes you happy.

Now, at Melanie's insistence (and against Olivia's better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they'll face their deepest fears, question their most dearly held beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way they had never considered.

My Thoughts:
"No one had been left to fend for themselves amid the flames."  (p. 328)

When the hiking adventure begins between Olivia and Melanie Greene in this novel, there is enough unforgiveness and pent up bitterness to fuel the flames of another ten year separation.  There was more than one time during this journey that I was ready for the two of them to just give up and go home.  The reality of the loss faced by these two sisters is palpable!  I know people who have had less to work through that never came close to the transparency these two long for.

Erin Bartels is a gifted story teller, and draws the reader into a storyline that seems rather insurmountable.  If you've ever been camping even one night, you know right away that these two sisters picked the worst possible way to try and reconnect!  But God....doesn't He always work through all of our seemingly impossible circumstances?  Both Olivia and Melanie face some ugly truths on their journey, but they discover a quiet, solid presence at work amid the wreckage of their relationship.

There are those who will come to this story with an open mind, but leave shaking their head at how God is present in the smallest details of the story - always for the greater good.  I will tell you with unshakable certainty that Erin Bartels has experienced this unexpected grace in her own life to be able to write about it in such a believable way!  I found myself saying, "amen!" right out loud throughout the last couple of chapters!  

This story will challenge your faith, your relationships and your very heart to reach deep inside and ask God to show you where He is working in your own life!  Look for Him!  He's walking around in the midst of the flames!

About the Author:

Erin Bartels is the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things (2020 Michigan Notable Book, 2020 WFWA Star Award-winner, 2019 Christy Award finalist) and The Words between Us (2020 Christy Award finalist, 2015 WFWA Rising Star Award finalist). Her short story, "This Elegant Ruin," was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest in 2014, and her poetry has been published by The Lyric. A publishing professional for 18 years, she is the director of WFWA's annual writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son. Find her online at www.erinbartels.com.

 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

I Was Called Barabbas by M.D. House - REVIEWED

About the Book:  

We know precious little of the man called Barabbas, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. He is variously described in the historical record as thief, murderer, rebel, and notable Roman prisoner. His release by the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate was part of the supernal plan for the Christ to offer himself as the ultimate blood sacrifice, but it’s doubtful Barabbas understood any of that at the time.Many have wondered what became of him, or rather, who he became after that fateful day. Someday we will know the answer, but in the meantime we can imagine that, like all of us, he too sought a path of personal redemption, imperfectly.

My Thoughts:

I am guilty.  If this Jesus that my wife believes in can truly forgive sins, he won’t forgive mine.  Not all of them, anyway.  I have earned my just reward in the deepest pit of Sheol.”  (p.87) 

Barabbas is a man few have considered over time.  He received his freedom as Christ took his place on the cross, but how his life played out for the rest of his days -who knows?  M.D. House uses this man’s life as a jumping off place for his imagination, and, after blending it with historical details, produces a story that will touch and challenge a believer’s heart. 

I was captivated by all of the twists and turns of the story.  This author really thinks of every practical challenge that Barabbas would face as a man trying to rebuild a life after being set free from prison. The placement of a believing wife walking by his side was a stroke of genius, because the faith of the early believers seemed almost contagious!  Yet Barabbas, even after witnessing many miraculous things, struggles with his own ability to receive the gift of grace that Jesus’ life offers him.

 Barabbas’ struggle was convicting to me, because I’ve struggled mightily in this same area.  Like Barabbas, no matter how many times God blesses me throughout my life, there is a part of me that is always waiting for justice to come calling.  I’ve had spiritual directors and counselors leading me out of those lies and toward God’s truth, and, like Barabbas, it is not an easy journey. 

I applaud M.D House for such an amazing story, and I am thrilled that I will be able to follow Barabbas on his journey as he continues to walk out his faith.  The early Church was a very challenging place to grow your faith, and not everyone survived the challenge. I’m thrilled to discover this author and eagerly await his next work!

About the Author:

M.D. House enjoyed a successful first career in the mysterious world of Corporate Finance, but creating and telling stories (and NOT about Finance) was his true love. His first full-length novel was a sci-fi work called "Patriot Star." His second was historical fiction about the life of Barabbas, titled "I Was Called Barabbas." Sequels to both are coming soon.

Writing isn't just fun for him, it's an important way to share his passion, beliefs and vision with family, friends, and anyone else who loves great storytelling with powerful human perspective and emotion.


 

Monday, November 30, 2020

A View from Amy Willoughby-Burle's window! a year of thorns and honey.....


 Having never read your novels, I was immediately caught up in the lives of Nina and her family.  Can you tell me what inspired this set of characters?

This novel actually started as a short story that appears in my collection, Out Across the Nowhere. I most often get an image or a line of dialogue pop into my head and the story forms around it. It's like seeing something shiny poking out from the dirt and then brushing, digging, pulling until you get the whole thing up.  The spark for this one was actually a memory inside a memory wrapped around something fictional. Nina appeared to me as me, inside a Texaco bathroom while on a trip to Disney world with her family, only she wasn't a child and her father had died. I thought, wait, that's not me. Who is that? What happened? And it grew from there. I started to "hear the voices in my head," which my mother thought sounded like I might be crazy, but writers know what I mean. The voices were Lola and Ray, her brother and sister. I also have one brother and one sister, so the dynamic was familiar, but Lola and Ray are not my brother and sister. I started writing to find out the story for myself. That's the fun part for a writer. We don't know what's going to happen either.

What character are you most drawn to in this novel, and why?

I think my favorite character is Oliver--Father Finley. I love that he's so human and at the same time so much a source of peace and comfort representing the church and Christ. I think he's  funny and real and he reminds me how approachable Christ is to us. I like that he represents the ability to have a very personal relationship with God.

Will there be more stories built around this same set of characters in the future?  Are you already at work on another story?

Well, actually, this is a stand-alone follow-up to The Lemonade Year where we first meet all these characters. You can totally read The Year of Thorns and Honey by itself, but it's actually the second in a series. And yes, I am already working on book 3! It will likely be a stand-alone as well, but totally the continuation of this book.  I think of them as season on a show--back in the day before you could binge watch the whole thing on Netflix. You might come to something in season 2 and be able to follow right along.

Can you share a bit about your own writing process?  Do you outline? Do you let your characters tell the story? 

Yes and yes. But the other way around. I let the characters tell me  quite a bit about the story in their own order and time and then once I think I have a handle on what's happening, then I start outlining and piecing things together, filling in the gaps.

How long have you been writing?  Tell readers a bit about your journey to publication.

I have always known I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me the continued stories of Hansel and Gretel. They were elaborate and wonderful. I asked her one day what book they were in because I wanted to read them again. She said. "Oh, sweetie, I'm just making these up as I go along."  That blew my world wide open. As an eight-year-old, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone could write a story. I already loved to read. Books were my jam. I just didn't know that anyone could write one. I started writing right away. I would get a diary and number all the pages and "write a book." 

I wrote all through middle school and then in high school I discovered boys and forgot about writing for a while. (Ladies, boys are nice and all, but don't forget who you are.) I came back to it full force in college when I "sneaked" and took a writing class instead of something more practical. I was hooked all over again. I started writing short fiction. I took more and more of those writing classes and after I graduated, I kept working on the craft. Life moved forward and there were seasons where I wrote more and wrote less. After my first child was born in late 2001 I really got serious about publishing. I published my first story in 2006. (This is not a fast industry.) I published about a dozen more in various journals. In 2012, I had a collection published. By that time, I was also working on novel length stories. Most things come to me as short pieces and some of them keep nudging at me to dig deeper.  That shiny object is sometimes bigger than I think it is. I got an agent in Dec of 2015, Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency, and she has been my champion since then.  The Lemonade Year came out in 2018. Now, this one in 2020. She has about four other novels of mine that she's shopping around and there are more in the works even.

What words of encouragement would you like to share with your readers?

When you feel drawn to something, when you're naturally "good" at it or inclined toward it--I believe that thing is a gift from God. I believe that he gave you that thing--whatever it is-- singing, writing, crafting, organizing, dancing, teaching, even math(ing) to be used to lead people to Him. So don't let mom (or dad!) guilt, laundry, the opinions of others or whatever it is, keep you from exploring and using that gift. It's not about being great at it, it's about doing and dealt her another blow--but she keeps on looking up. Keep looking up. This--mess we're all in it with a passion for people and for Christ. Also, life is wonky right now to say the least. My mom said of the title of my new book as it applies to 2020, "enough of the thorns, let's see the honey." Then life went together-- it too shall pass. God is in control and He is ever with us. I love that we're headed into the Christmas season. Boy do we need to be reminded of the gift of Christ right now. He is ours and we are His.


Please visit Amy's website to learn more about her books!  You will be so glad you did!!





Sunday, November 29, 2020

the year of thorns and Honey by Amy Willoughby-Burle - REVIEWED


 About the Book:

Nina is a photographer who really appreciates control. She likes to set up just the right shot with the perfect composition, but life is not always as pretty as her pictures. The lighting is off, the timing is wrong, and the subjects just won't do like she wants them to.

She's engaged to her ex-husband, her teenage daughter is testing all the boundaries, and her childhood memories have a For-Sale sign on them. She's also keeping a secret about the chance of a lifetime, but what she'll have to give up to get it might not be worth it. Just when she thinks she's got it all figured out, an important someone resurfaces and forces her to take a hard look at what she really wants and why.

Life can be as prickly as it is sweet. Will Nina be able to let go of the perfect picture she had in her head and let her heart find the sweetness that life has to offer.

About the Author:

Amy Willoughby-Burle grew up in the small coastal town of Kure Beach, North Carolina. She studied writing at East Carolina University and is now a writer and teacher living in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband and four children. She writes about the mystery and wonder of everyday life. Her contemporary fiction focuses on the themes of second chances, redemption, and finding the beauty in the world around us. Sara Gruen says of The Lemonade Year, “When life gives you lemons, read this book. It’s a delicious glass of humor, heart, and hope.”  Amy is also the author of a collection of short stories entitled Out Across the Nowhere and a contributor to a number of anthologies.




My Thoughts:
"Sticky, beautiful, sweet and messy.  Life."  (p, 377)

Nina and I are uncomfortably similar in our need to control every aspect of our world to feel safe.  Nina's control issues run up against a brick wall with everyone in her life, because everyone else has pushed beyond their fear and embraced the reality of their own life choices.  For Nina's sake, and my own, grace and mercy has never looked sweeter!

This author does a masterful job of fleshing out every character's personality and how the need to have control over the uncomfortable choices they have made (and are making) play out in their closest relationships.  Nina pretty much stays at odds with everyone; her daughter Cassie, her mom, her sister and brother-in-law, Father Finley and her ex-husband Jack.  Within those relationships, the reader sees another layer of struggle for control, and the strain and heartbreak that result.  There are some scenes - like the one with the moving van and the night Cassie seeks solace outside her parents' awareness - that illustrate the extreme lengths the human heart will go to in order to avoid dealing with painful emotions.

Every single relational conflict in this story is universal nature, and every reader will identify with one or more of the situations.  I think I saw myself in every single one! Talk about felling your toes stepped on by the weight of truth! Ouch!  I could not put this story down, and quickly found myself involved in the lives of each character.

Second chances are often never offered in our lives - to ourselves or to others - because we're never willing to boldly face our own shortcomings or become willing to risk rejection.  I hope you can "hear" me when I say this: take a risk and read this book!  You will leave its pages challenged and satisfied.  This story is every bit as sticky, beautiful, sweet and messy as life can be!

Bravo, Amy Willougby-Burle!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Conqueror by Bryan Litfin REVIEWED


 About the Book:

AD 309. Rome teeters on the brink of war. Constantine's army is on the move. On the Rhine frontier, pagan Germanic barbarian Brandulf Rex joins the Roman army as a spy. Down in Rome, senator's daughter Junia Flavia finds herself embroiled in anti-Christian politics as she works on behalf of the church.

As armies converge and forces beyond their control threaten to destroy everything they have worked for, these two people from different worlds will have to fight together to bring down the evil Emperor Maxentius. But his villainous plans and devious henchmen are not easily overcome.

Will Rex and Flavia live to see the Empire bow the knee to Christ? Or will their part in the story of Constantine's rise meet an untimely and brutal end?

About the Author:

Bryan Litfin is the author of the Chiveis Trilogy, as well as several works of nonfiction, including Early Christian Martyr Stories, After Acts, and Getting to Know the Church Fathers. A former professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute, Litfin earned his PhD in religious studies from the University of Virginia and his ThM in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently a writer and editor at Moody Publishers. He and his wife have two adult children and live in Wheaton, Illinois. Learn more at www.bryanlitfin.com.  

My Thoughts:

"Be strong and courageous, brave warrior...and wait to discover the plans of God."  (p.490)

This novel, The Conqueror, is a majestic piece of literature that sweeps the reader back into the history of the early church.  Rome is the target of conquest, and the warring parties are filled with much darkness and a malevolent greed.

Among all of this, there is a young Speculator named Rex who rises in favor with his general to become a spy.  Embedded in the imperial horse guard, Rex is tasked with gathering intelligence to feed to the Emperor Constantine in his quest to free Rome from the tyrannical rule of Praetorian prefects Pompeianus and Emperor Maxentius.  That storyline alone is RICH!

BUT there is Flavia, a daughter of another aristocratic leader, and also a daughter of King Jesus.  The Christians are still reeling from persecution when they find themselves in the middle of a war they neither want or can ever begin to slow. Flavia finds herself a pawn between rulers and winds up as a fugitive for her very life when Rex intervenes at a particularly deadly moment!

These two characters serve as a rich center point upon which  Litfin builds a saga quite unlike anything I've ever read!  Every character, whether emperor or common slave, comes alive on the page! The passage of time and change in scenario is seamless, and your own life and time passes over you with little notice! (think late nights that you don't mind at all!)  This is such a treasure!!  Greater still...it's the first in a series! You will be so glad you chose to spend time with this novel!  It will change your heart!!


Friday, October 30, 2020

The Sound of Falling Leaves by Lisa Carter - REVIEWED


 About the Book:

After aspiring opera singer Tessa loses her voice in a fire, she needs both a place to heal and a way to keep music in her life. She retreats to her aunt's apple orchard in rural North Carolina to collect folk ballads. But amid the autumn splendor of this isolated Appalachian community, she uncovers an unnerving connection between a murder case and a long-ago disappearance. Tessa gets a glimpse into an almost-forgotten world, encounters a corrupt, small-town political dynasty, and finds superstition and prejudice at every turn.

She's also drawn to Zeke, the handsome but enigmatic orchard caretaker, who shows her that mountain justice is neither impartial nor just. But battling a conspiracy of silence, Tessa isn't sure if she can trust him. Yet somewhere in the mists of the Blue Ridge Mountains, evil lurks, and a killer is determined to keep the past where it belongs--dead and buried.

About the Author:
Lisa Carter is the best-selling author of seven romantic suspense novels, four historical novellas, and a contemporary Coast Guard series. Her book Under a Turquoise Sky won the 2015 Carol Award for Romantic Suspense. Blending Southern and Native American fiction, she likes to describe her suspense novels as "sweet tea with a slice of murder." Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales and researching her next exotic adventure. When not writing, she loves spending time with her family and teaching writing workshops. A native North Carolinian, she has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. Visit her online at lisacarterauthor.com


My Thoughts:
"Ouida sighed, the sound like the rustling of autunm leaves.  'Knowing is a far different thing than having the power to stop it.  Such a power is reserved for God Himself."  (p. 126)

This story combines two very unlikely characters, Tessa, an opera singer by trade, and Zeke, an undercover detective working for her aunt.  The setting is also unusual, an Appalacian community where innocents like Ouida and Tess' Aunt Dicey live, but fail to thrive, because of the dark cloud of evil that reigns over the valley in the form of the Cozart family.  Apparently, this wicked family has extended its power over the people of this town for decades, and they have finally encountered folks who are angry and greived enough to fight for justice - no matter the cost.

Tessa sort of stumbles into this battle when her own life circumstances are dramatically and unalterbly changed through another very dark and untimely tragedy.  The only thing that seems to keep her boueyed to hope and healing are her Aunt Dicey, and her unexpectedly handsome orchard supervisor, Zeke.

Zeke is less than thrilled for an outsider to disrupt his already complicated undercover assignment.  As the story unfolds, there is a depth of human emotion that the reader will find to be as thrilling and heart stopping as the mystery and espionage taking place right under the community's collective noses!  With more twists and turns than the rural roads running through this Appalacian town, the reader will be burning the midnight oil to find out who survives this novel!! Talk about a nail biter!!  

I HIGHLY recommend this story! It is well written, well paced and filled with characters you will want to hold close to your heart.  I know my heart ached for them all at one point or another!! Don't wait to add this book to your reading list!!