Book Review: Safe by the Marshal’s Side by Shirlee McCoy

Title: Safe by the Marshal’s Side
Author: Shirlee McCoy
Series: Witness Protection Continuity Series, Book 1
Publisher: Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense
Genre: Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Published: 2014

Safe by the Marshal’s Side makes a great start for the Witness Protection continuity series from Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense. As a fan of Inspirational Romantic Suspense, I’m hooked, and ready to read through the rest of the series. Happily, the sixth and final book has recently been released, so I can go snag them all for my eReader without delay.

Book Description (From Publisher, Harlequin’s Web site):

HER LIFE IS ON THE LINE

For a year, U.S. marshal Hunter Davis has protected witness Annie Delacorte and her toddler daughter. But now, someone is determined to stop Annie from testifying against the men who killed her husband. To guard Annie, by-the-book Hunter will have to break a promise to himself: to not get emotionally involved. After all, he already cares more deeply than he ever imagined for the sweet family of two… a family he’ll do anything to keep safe and sound by his side.

My thoughts:

The blend of romance with suspense makes for a fun and lively read.  As the story begins, someone has discovered the location of the safe house where Annie and her daughter have been hiding under the protection of Hunter’s team of U.S. marshals.  When an intruder makes an intimidating and clearly threatening delivery, Hunter whisks them off to a new location.  But that’s not the end of the danger.  Far from it.

With the trial date approaching, and uncertainty building over how the location could have been leaked, and how to prevent further security breaches, the tension is pretty high throughout.  Plus there’s the growing attraction between Annie and Hunter as she comes to realize there’s more to him than the strictly business persona he’s shown her for the past year.

I found both hero and heroine to be very likeable people with believable goals and motivations.  And Annie’s daughter Sophia was simply too cute for words.  It was fun to watch them face significant challenges together and draw closer in the process.

The action on both the suspense and romance fronts heats up at the end of the book, and I enjoyed the vivid way certain scenes were described to draw out the reader’s emotional responses.  The ending certainly worked for me.  There’s a surprise twist introduced at the end and a few details are left unresolved, setting things up for future books in the series.  I’m definitely looking forward to finding out where the Witness Protection continuity series will go from here.

To learn more about author Shirlee McCoy and find out how to connect with her on social media, check out her Web site.  And for those who read and enjoy this title as much as I did and want to find the rest of the series, here’s a list of the titles and their respective authors.

Book Review: Blowing on Dandelions by Miralee Ferrell

Title: Blowing on Dandelions
Author: Miralee Ferrell
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre(s): Historical Romance (1880’s Oregon), Women’s Fiction
Published: 2013

A treat for fans of historical romance and of Christian women’s fiction, Blowing on Dandelions makes a great start for Miralee Ferrell’s Love Blossoms in Oregon series.

Book Description (From Publisher, David C Cook’s Web site):

Do Dandelion Wishes Actually Come True?

Katherine Galloway knew this moment of calm wouldn’t last, blown away like the dandelion seeds she scattered as a girl. In 1880, three years after her husband’s death, she struggles to run an Oregon boardinghouse and raise two girls alone. Things don’t get easier when her critical, domineering mother moves in. Katherine must make the situation work, but standing up for herself and her family while honoring her mother isn’t easy. And with a daughter entering the teenage years, the pressure on Katherine becomes close to overwhelming. Then she crosses paths with Micah Jacobs, a widower who could reignite her heart, but she fears a relationship with him might send things over the edge. She must find the strength, wisdom, hope, and faith to remake her life, for everything is about to change.

My Thoughts:

I’m getting a late start on reading the Love Blossoms in Oregon series, having only just now finished reading the first book, a year after its publication.  But with Book 2 (Wishing on Buttercups) released this past February, a complementary novella (Forget Me Not) released in March, and Book 3 (Dreaming on Daisies) coming in October, this seemed as good a time as any to start reading the series.  I’m glad that I did because Blowing on Dandelions made for a very enjoyable read, and I look forward to the chance to learn more about some familiar characters in other books in this series.

The author does a great job balancing the need to stay true to the time period (1880s Oregon) with telling a tale that appeals to present day readers.  We get interesting historical details in a way that doesn’t take us out of the story.  In fact, the story feels almost timeless, perhaps because of its focus on relationships and the emotions, both good and bad, accompanying them.

Besides fulfilling the expectations of a good romance (lots of obstacles, both internal and external, on the way to a satisfying happily ever after ending) this book also delves deeply into relationships beyond that between the hero and heroine.  And it does so from LOTS of different viewpoints, for a multi-faceted look at those relationships.  Viewpoint characters include not just Katherine Galloway (heroine) and Micah Jacobs (hero), but also the heroine’s mother, daughter, and some of the boarding house guests.  While using more than a few viewpoints can risk putting distance between a reader and a story, I think in this case it adds depth to the story, sheds light on some significant misunderstandings between characters, and allows some of the less sympathetic characters to be viewed with more understanding.

Relationships dealt with in this book include those between a mother and daughter (Katherine and her domineering mother, as well as Katherine and her young daughters), between friends (relationships within Katherine’s quilting group, as well as between her mother and another strong-willed woman determined to befriend her), and … oh yeah … between a man and a woman who are each dealing with the deaths of their respective spouses and falling in love again.

It’s a complex tapestry of relationships, this author weaves, and she does a beautiful job of it.  With her experience as an accredited counselor and minister to women it’s no wonder she’s able to show both helpful and challenging relationships in such a believable and realistic light.  As I read and got to know the characters and their relationships better, I was drawn more and more into the story, and was pleased by the changes that took place as time went on.

Recommended reading for fans of historical romance and women’s fiction, but particularly for anyone who might be dealing with difficult family relationships, because this book takes a very hopeful look at just that kind of relationship.

Thank you to the publisher, David C Cook, for providing me with an electronic copy through NetGalley for review purposes.  Opinions expressed are my own.

Readers can learn more about author Miralee Ferrell on her Web site, and can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

July 2014: New Releases and Book Discussions

There are lots of new releases in Christian Fiction this month, across a variety of sub-genres.  I’ve assembled a list organized by sub-genre below.  Something for everyone!

Are you interested in participating in an online book discussion this month?  At the bottom of the page I’ve listed some discussions set to take place in the near future.  Check out the books to choose from.  Maybe you’ll see one you’d be interested in reading and discussing.

July 2014 New Releases in Christian Fiction

Spotlight on…

Firewall by DiAnn Mills

Description (From Publisher, Tyndale House):

After a whirlwind romance, Taryn Young is preparing to board a plane at Houston International Airport, bound for a dream honeymoon, when a bomb decimates the terminal. Injured but still alive, she awakens to discover her husband is missing and they’re both considered prime suspects in the attack. Further, the FBI is convinced her husband isn’t who he appears to be.

Agent Grayson Hall’s number-one priority is to catch those responsible for the day’s act of terror. All evidence is pointing to Taryn and her new husband. But his instinct tells him her pleas of innocence are genuine. Is her naiveté just for show, or could she truly be another victim of a master scheme, possibly linked to the software she recently developed for her company?

With both their lives and reputations on the line, and the media outcry for justice increasing with each passing minute, Taryn and Grayson have no choice but to trust one another . . . and pray they can uncover the truth before they become two more casualties.

See more: Publisher’s Site (with author video clips) ~ Author DiAnn Mills’ Site (with discussion questions) ~ Review from Mocha With Linda

Amish / Mennonite

The Revealing (Book 3, The Inn at Eagle Hill series) by Suzanne Woods Fisher
A Plain Love Song (Book 3, New Hope Amish series) by Kelly Irvin

Biblical Fiction

Far From Home by Joseph M Stowell

Contemporary Romance

Colorado Melodies: Three Modern Couples Seek Love that Will Endure Hardships by Darlene Franklin
The Amish Nanny (Book 2, Amish of Lancaster County series) by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould
Between Us Girls (Book 1, Family of the Heart series) by Sally John
Heaven Sent Rain by Lauraine Snelling
6 New Titles from Harlequin Love Inspired
4 New Titles from Heartsong Presents

Historical Fiction

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

Historical Romance

Kelly’s Chance (Book 1, Brides of Lehigh Canal series) by Wanda Brunstetter
Secrets of Sloane House by Shelley Gray
The Backwoods Brides Trilogy: Three Stories of Redemption and Romance in the Old South by Marcia Gruver
Captured by Love (Book 3, Michigan Brides series) by Jody Hedlund
The Treasured Brides Collection: Three Timeless Romances from a Beloved Author by Grace Livingston Hill
A Match of Wits (Book 4, Ladies of Distinction series) by Jen Turano
4 New Titles from Harlequin Love Inspired Historical

Mystery

Murder at the Mikado (Book 3, A Drew Farthing Mystery) by Julianna Deering
Death Takes a Ride (Book 3, Cate Kinkaid Files) by Lorena McCourtney

Romantic Suspense

Seagrass Pier by Colleen Coble
Firewall by DiAnn Mills
6 New Titles from Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense

Women’s Fiction

Veil of Secrets by Shannon Ethride and Kathryn Mackel

Young Adult

Mindwar (Book 1, Mindwar Trilogy) by Andrew Klavan
Revolutionary (Book 3, Anomaly series) by Krista McGee
Snap Decision by Nathan Whitaker

Upcoming Online Book Discussions

The ACFW Book Club lists All My Belongings by Cynthia Ruchti as their next title for discussion.  This group’s discussion takes place by email, so you’ll want to join the mailing list early so as not to miss out on announcements or discussion.

The Books and Beverages blog is hosting a monthly Inklings discussion series on titles by and about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein. This month’s book is Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis and the discussion is scheduled for July 16.

The Christian Fiction Book Club hosted by Melissa Norris and Amanda Dykes will be having a “Summer Free Read” for the Month of July. Join them on Facebook to discuss a title of your choice.

The GoodReads group, Christian Fiction Devourers, will be discussing the following titles in the next few months:
The Breath of Dawn (A Rush of Wings, #3) by Kristen Heitzmann (July 1-31)
Making Waves (Lake Manawa Summers, #1) by Lorna Seilstad (July 1-31)
A Distant Melody (Wings of Glory, #1) by Sarah Sundin (July 1-31)
Fear Has a Name (The Crittendon Files, #1) by Creston Mapes (August 1-31)
Burning Sky by Lori Benton (August 1-31)

The Fans of Christian Romance group on GoodReads will be discussing Chances Are by Traci Hunter Abramson throughout July.

Know of any other online Christian fiction discussions open to new participants?  Please share in the comments!  Or maybe you saw a title or two in these lists you’re looking forward to reading.  Which ones caught your attention?

Book Review: Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker

Title: Eyes Wide Open
Author: Ted Dekker
Publisher: Worthy Publishing
Genre(s): Christian Fiction, Suspense
Published: 2014

Eyes Wide Open is a real page turner with cliff-hangers and plot twists around every corner.  The story kept me guessing from beginning to end, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

What It’s About (from the back cover):

My name is Christy Snow. I’m seventeen and I’m about to die.

I’m buried in a coffin under tons of concrete. No one knows where I am. My heart sounds like a monster with clobber feet, running straight toward me. I’m lying on my back, soaked with sweat from the hair on my head to the soles of my feet. My hands and feet won’t stop shaking.

Some will say that I’m not really here. Some will say I’m delusional. Some will say that I don t even exist. But who are they? I’m the one buried in a grave.

My name is Christy Snow. I’m seventeen. I’m about to die.

So who are you?

In a return to the kind of storytelling that made Black, Showdown and Three unforgettable, Ted Dekker drags that question into the light with this modern day parable about how we see ourselves.

Humming with intensity and blindsided twists, Eyes Wide Open is raw adrenaline from the first page to the last — pure escapism packed with inescapable truth.

Not all is as it seems. Or is it? Strap yourself in for the ride of your life. Literally.

My Reaction:

Let me start by saying that the cover of the paperback edition is way cooler in person than it appears on your screen.  You know those holograms that you turn side to side and the picture changes depending on the angle you’re viewing it from?  Well the glasses on the cover of this book have reflective bits that show a rainbow of colors as you change the angle you view them from, much like you might see from actual broken glass.  I thought that was a nice touch.

IMG_7698webYes, I read the actual paperback.  Despite the fact that I most frequently read fiction on my Kindle, and despite the innovative episodic way this book was released in electronic format, I read this one the old-fashioned way.  Why?  Because I won an autographed copy through a Goodreads contest.  I cannot tell you how surprised or how pleased I was to win it.  But, since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a selfie of me holding my plunder.

Wait.  Can you call it a selfie if you use a tripod and the camera’s self-timer function?  Hmmm… I’ll go with yes for now, but that’s really neither here nor there, is it?

Sadly the hologram effect doesn’t show up in this picture either.  Oh well.  You’ll just have to take my word on that for now.

A little background on this book before I go into more detail on what I liked about it.

This title is the first in the Outlaw Chronicles by Ted Dekker, which, at this point, also includes Water Walker and HackerSources say you can read them in any order, though they do share a common character who is introduced in an earlier book called Outlaw.  It’s worth noting that Outlaw recently won the Christy Award in the Suspense category.  I have not previously read any of these other titles, but I have to say, having finished this one, I’m tempted to track down copies of the others as well.

Eyes Wide Open consists of four parts – Book 1: Identity, Book 2: Mirrors, Book 3: Unseen, and Book 4: Seer.  These parts were originally released (in ebook form) episodically over a period of weeks, and the full collection is now available as a single title in electronic, paper, and audio editions.

Book One is also still available as a free download.  Be warned.  It’s designed to hook you into buying the rest… and it’s effective.

This book explores the concept of identity through the experiences of two likeable teen-aged characters placed in a situation where neither they, nor the reader, can be sure just how much of what is happening is real and how much isn’t.  Dekker does a great job keeping the level of suspense high and allowing the uncertainty to grow throughout the book, until finally revealing the unexpected ending.

The allegorical approach this story takes got me thinking about familiar concepts and ideas in new ways, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  Yes, this is Christian fiction, but you might not see it until near the end.  Take one part Twilight Zone for the bizarre situation the characters find themselves in, one part Chronicles of Narnia for the Christian allegory, and add a big helping of suspense of the cliff-hanger and unexpected-plot-twist variety, and you’ve got a general idea what to expect.  I did not want to put this book down, and when I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Highly recommended.

To “Spend” or “Save” Your Best Story Ideas?

Having just finished writing a novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about story ideas and what to write next, so a bit of advice offered in a blog post I was reading jumped out at me.  It caught my attention partly because of its relevance to what I was thinking about at the time, but also because it appeared to be completely at odds with another bit of advice I’d read a few months prior that really resonated with me.  This sent me digging through my Twitter Favorites until I found that other post I remembered reading, so I could re-read it and compare the two posts side by side.

Now I’m wondering what others think on the issue of choosing to “spend” or “save” your best story ideas.  So please, check out these quotes and the links to the original articles, and then if you’re intrigued, come back here to discuss.

rich_pig_edited

Image derived from openclipart by relsi

The more recent article is one advising new novelists not to worry if their earliest attempts don’t measure up to what they want to achieve.  It makes some great points about having to write novels in order to learn how to write novels well, and makes the very reasonable assertion that your first attempt will probably not be as good as future attempts.  Then it goes on to compare writing a novel to climbing a mountain or cutting a precious gem, and recommends waiting to tackle the really high mountain or the particularly valuable gem until your skills are equal to the task.

“If you’re not ready to write that really cool novel that’s pounding at you, demanding to be written, shelve it. Put it on the back burner. Pick your cliche, but set that story aside and begin with something simpler. Or just something that doesn’t matter as much. If you know that you’re not ready, that you don’t have the skills and insights, don’t try to write the story that you hope will compare favorably with your favorite author’s best work.” – Beth Hill’s “(Stop) Comparing Yourself to Successful Authors

There are some great points in this blog post that I do agree with, and I’m sure there are some excellent reasons for shelving an idea to write later, but the concept of putting off writing an idea you love just because you’re not sure the result will live up to your expectations?  That bothers me.  I know I learned a lot over the course of writing my first (incomplete) novel that made my second (or first complete) novel significantly better.  And I learned a lot over the course of writing and editing my first completed novel that allowed me to see my first attempt a lot more clearly.  Someday (maybe next week or maybe in a few years) I’ll come back to edit and finish (or maybe completely rewrite?) that first attempt, because I do still love the premise.  I picked that idea in the first place for that very reason, because I loved the idea, whether I was ready to realize it fully at the time or not, knowing that it could be edited or rewritten later if necessary.

And that’s where I think the analogy to mountain climbing or gem cutting breaks down.  Writing a novel isn’t like climbing a mountain in that you could die or be irreparably injured in a failed attempt.  And it’s not like cutting gems in that a poorly planned or executed cut could destroy rather than enhance the value in your raw material.  Books can be edited.  They can be rewritten.  You can have as many second chances at that great idea as you want to take.  Or come up with new and better ideas.  But if you don’t try it and really give it your all, how can you know for sure what you’re capable of doing right now?

Which brings me to that competing bit of advice that struck a chord with me when I read it back in January, so much so that it stuck with me and came to mind when I read the more recent post.

“Don’t save your best storyline for later. Use it now. And what’s more, use the most intriguing characters you’ve ever come up with to people that tale. Keep a list of striking metaphors? Try and employ every single one of them in your current work in progress. Don’t skimp. Don’t save. Become a wanton spender of your creativity.” – Lisa Samson’s “Shoot the Wad

Lisa Samson goes on to suggest, “If you live and love and take chances, if you open your eyes to the world not as you think it should be, but as it is, every single bit of it will soon be replaced.”

I hope she’s right about that, because for the book I just finished writing, I took her advice.  I used what I considered my best romantic suspense story idea, one that had been percolating in the back of my brain for months (while working on that other novel), and I ran with it, holding nothing back.

So far, so good.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story, and it got me through to the final stage in Harlequin’s Killer Voices contest and garnered a full manuscript request.  No word yet on whether I’ll be getting a contract, a rejection, or a revision letter, but whatever happens next I’m glad I chose to focus on an idea I loved because I think it allowed me to write the best story I could at the time.

Now comes the scary part.  No, I’m not talking about getting editorial feedback.  I’m looking forward to that, strange as it may sound.  I’m talking about coming up with another idea I love just as much for my next book.  Which is where Lisa Samson’s advice is a huge source of encouragement.  With thirty-four novels and three Christy Awards under her belt, her approach seems to have worked out well for her, and I’m hoping it’ll work well for me too.

I’m in the brainstorming phase right now.  I’m busy bandying about possible villain motivations, hero and heroine characteristics, internal and external conflicts, scenes, settings, and more, looking for just the right mix of pieces that will fit together and complement each other to make a complete story idea I can really get excited about writing.  Maybe (hopefully!) I’ll like it even better than my last one.  :)

Now I’m curious.  What do you think?  Is it better to “spend” or “save” your best story ideas?  Or does it depend on the situation?

Book Review: Lip Reading by Harry Kraus

Title: Lip Reading
Author: Harry Kraus
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre(s): Medical Suspense, Christian Fiction
Published: March 2014

About Lip Reading (From Publisher, David C Cook):

She Could Save Millions, or Save Herself.

She just needs a little longer. She’s really close. Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a medical researcher, stands on the verge of a breakthrough that will transform medicine. But she soon discovers the reason behind the miraculous progress in her research, and it leaves her with a nearly impossible choice . . . and little time to decide. More than her research is at stake. And more threatens it than this latest revelation. Something she’s tried hard to cover up. There is a high cost to some things in medicine and it’s not always the patient who pays. Can Rebecca find the faith and wisdom she needs to make the right call? The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.

My Reaction:

Lip Reading offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of pharmaceutical research, while keeping the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next.  Its lifelike characters face moral dilemmas and unexpected plot twists along the road to a bittersweet, yet satisfying ending.  Fans of medical suspense won’t want to miss this one, and I’d also recommend it to anyone seeking a thought-provoking read.

Book group participants take note, as well.  There’s plenty of fodder here for a good discussion.  There’s the question of whether Becca or Mel is the more suitable match for Noah.  There are several discussable instances in the book where characters act against the wishes of another character… with that person’s best interests in mind.  With characters facing difficult choices with multiple right answers, it would be interesting to see members of a book group debate how different choices might have led to different endings to the story.  I know I spent more time than I should have trying to come up with alternative endings.  :-)  You’ll also find a set of discussion questions in the final book, though it didn’t appear in my advance reader copy.

I think that the part of this book I admired the most was the way its message about God’s grace was intrinsic to the characters’ personal growth and the situations they faced, rather than tacked on as an afterthought.  For example, Becca’s ah-hah moment near the end of the book seems realistically presented as a culmination of past influences throughout her life, and not just a spur of the moment decision in a moment of fear.  I enjoyed seeing how interactions in her past that seemed to have no impact at the time did have a major impact down the road.

The medical details included in the book were explained in such a way as to make sense to a non-medical reader, without the explanations intruding on the flow of the story.  I was thoroughly intrigued by the research problems involved in creating artificial blood, and wound up doing a Web search to find that researchers really are close to a solution.  How cool is that?  (Disclaimer: I did major in biology as an undergrad, so maybe my inner nerd is showing?)

Anyway, I found Lip Reading to be a thoroughly enjoyable story and gladly recommend it.  Thank you to the publisher, David C Cook, for providing me with an electronic copy through NetGalley for review purposes.  Opinions expressed are my own honest opinions.

Besides writing, author Harry Kraus is also a surgeon and medical missionary to Kenya.  To learn more about the author and his other books, check out his Web site at harrykraus.com.

Writing Update: Celebrating My First Completed (and Submitted) Manuscript

I did it!

I accomplished that thing I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl.  That thing that had teenage Karen bicycling to the library on a regular basis to read Writer’s Digest magazine and every writing book she could get her hands on.  That thing that has grown-up Karen carving out time while the kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied to sit in front of a laptop and type, type, type.

I’ve written a novel.

All of it.  And edited it and sent it off to a publisher.  All in time to meet a very tight contest deadline.  As you might guess, I’m celebrating the accomplishment, whether this novel gets published or not (though of course, I hope it does).

A big thank you to all the friends and family who have been and continue to be a source of help and encouragement.  You know who you are, and you’re the best!

Now… if I get “the call” from an editor, saying she wants to publish my book… well, that would be the icing on the cake.  Since this book was entered in Harlequin’s Killer Voices contest for Inspirational Romantic Suspense novels, I should be hearing something, sometime between now and August 8th.  The suspense is killing me.  (Ha ha!)

I’m hoping it’ll be good news.

I’ve also started digging into my sorely neglected to-be-read pile, and brainstorming ideas for my next novel.  Oh, and blogging again.  ;)

Writing Update: Killer Voices Finalist

As you may know from earlier posts, or if you’ve been following me on Twitter, I entered Harlequin’s Killer Voices competition a few months ago with the Inspirational Romantic Suspense novel I’ve been working on.  Last Thursday I was thrilled to learn that I’ve been selected to move on to the final round of the competition!

That means two things:

  1. The editor who read my synopsis and first three chapters liked them well enough to ask to read more.  (I’m doing a happy dance!)
  2. My full manuscript is due by 5 PM on Monday June 9th.  (That’s less than 2 weeks away!)

I’m making great progress and anticipate meeting that deadline.  Still, I do want every spare minute I can get for editing and polishing.  Soooo… it’s crunch time, and this blog may be a little quieter for a couple of weeks.  Thanks for understanding!

Book Review: A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert

abrokenkindofbeautifulTitle: A Broken Kind of Beautiful
Author: Katie Ganshert
Publisher: Waterbrook-Multnomah
Genre: Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Published: 2014

Sigh.

You know those books you have to ration as you approach the last page because you can’t get enough and don’t want the story end?  This was one of those books.  Except I lost that battle because I couldn’t stop turning the pages.  It was that good.

Here’s what it’s about (from publisher Waterbrook-Multnomah):

Sometimes everything you ever learned about yourself is wrong.

Fashion is a fickle industry, a frightening fact for twenty-four year old model Ivy Clark. Ten years in and she’s learned a sacred truth—appearance is everything. Nobody cares about her broken past as long as she looks beautiful for the camera. This is the only life Ivy knows—so when it starts to unravel, she’ll do anything to hold on. Even if that means moving to the quaint island town of Greenbrier, South Carolina, to be the new face of her stepmother’s bridal wear line—an irony too rich for words, since Ivy is far from the pure bride in white.

If only her tenuous future didn’t rest in the hands of Davis Knight, her mysterious new photographer. Not only did he walk away from the kind of success Ivy longs for to work maintenance at a local church, he treats her differently than any man ever has. Somehow, Davis sees through the façade she works so hard to maintain. He, along with a cast of other characters, challenges everything Ivy has come to believe about beauty and worth. Is it possible that God sees her—a woman stained and broken by the world—yet wants her still?

To learn more, visit the publisher’s Web site for news, reviews, and an excerpt.  But first…

Here are my thoughts:

I have a soft spot for stories that deal with forgiveness and redemption, particularly when done well, and this one handled those themes very well. Each of the characters had some tough lessons to learn over the course of the story before a happy ending could be had, but none of those lessons felt forced or contrived. Each of the characters went through gradual, sometimes painful, and definitely challenging growth, one step at a time. I absolutely loved watching it all unfold. And watch it I did. Smell and hear it too, thanks to all the vivid sensory details included.

One of the things that really got my attention was the way the author used visual items and circumstances within the surroundings as triggers and metaphors for some of the lessons the characters were learning.  It gave the book a literary quality that I really enjoyed and that tied everything together beautifully.  Here’s one of my favorite passages, drawn from pages 183-4:

“I’m glad God’s like those butterflies and not like that crab bait,” Sara said.

Davis took another bite of his peach and wiped at the juice dribbling down his chin.

Ivy raised an eyebrow. “You’re glad God’s not like a bloody chicken neck?”

He chuckled.

“I’m glad God doesn’t plunk Himself into the water and wait for us to find Him.  I’m glad He chases us like that butterfly.”

I think the butterfly vs. chicken neck metaphor illustrates an important point for the story in a way that’s vivid and memorable as well as surprising.  And I think this passage works even better in context.  You’ll just have to read the book, so you can let me know if you agree.  :)

That wasn’t the only instance where one of the characters made a meaningful point in an unexpected way.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the part on pages 260-1 where Pastor Voss looks at the familiar story of the Prodigal Son from a fresh perspective that suits this story perfectly.

A Broken Kind of Beautiful has compelling and loveable characters, a meaty subject dealt with in a touching way without becoming cheesy, and a powerful message that’s not intrusive, but feels like a natural outgrowth of the story. In some ways, this book reminds me of Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love, and I think fans of that book will enjoy this one as well. As will anyone who enjoys a good contemporary inspirational romance. I’m so glad I had the chance to read it!

Now I need to go look for Katie Ganshert’s earlier books, Wildflowers from Winter, a Carol Award Winner and Wishing on Willows, currently an INSPY Award finalist.  If they’re anything like this book, I’m looking forward to reading them as well.

A big thank you to publisher Waterbrook-Multnomah for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of A Broken Kind of Beautiful as part of their Blogging for Books program for purposes of this review.  My review reflects my honest opinion.

New This Week in Christian Fiction (May 13)

If you missed last week’s new titles, be sure to check them out.  The first Tuesday of the month ushered in a wealth of new books.  And this week brings four more exciting new inspirational titles to check out in the contemporary romance, historical romance, and young adult categories.

Spotlight on…

Somebody Like You by Beth K Vogt

Description (From Publisher, Howard Books):

Can a young widow find love again with her husband’s reflection?

Haley’s three-year marriage to Sam, an army medic, ends tragically when he’s killed in Afghanistan. Her attempts to create a new life for herself are ambushed when she arrives home one evening—and finds her husband waiting for her. Did the military make an unimaginable mistake when they told her Sam was killed?

Too late to make things right with his estranged twin brother, Stephen discovers Sam never told Haley about him. As Haley and Stephen navigate their fragile relation­ship, they are inexorably drawn to each other. How can they honor the memory of a man whose death brought them together—and whose ghost could drive them apart?

Somebody Like You is a beautifully rendered, affecting novel, reminding us that while we can’t change the past, we have the choice to change the future and start anew.

See More: Reading Group GuideHeroine Interview ~ Author Interview

More New Titles This Week

Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson

The Heart’s Pursuit by Robin Lee Hatcher

So Not Okay by Nancy Rue