Tag Archives: Thomas Nelson

Book Review: A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

Title: A Sparrow in Terezin
Author: Kristy Cambron
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published: April 2015
Series: Hidden Masterpiece, Book 2
Genre: Historical Fiction

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection through one survivor’s story of hope in the darkest days of a war-torn world.

Present Day—With the grand opening of her new art gallery and a fairy–tale wedding just around the corner, Sera James feels like she’s stumbled into a charmed life—until a brutal legal battle against fiancé William Hanover threatens to destroy their future before it even begins.

Now, after an eleventh-hour wedding ceremony and a callous arrest, William faces a decade in prison for a crime he never committed, and Sera must battle the scathing accusations that threaten her family and any hope for a future with the man she loves.

1942—Kája Makovsky narrowly escaped Nazi-occupied Prague in 1939 and was forced to leave behind her half-Jewish family. Now a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in England, Kája discovers the terror has followed her across the Channel in the shadowy form of the London Blitz. When she learns Jews are being exterminated by the thousands on the continent, she has no choice but to return to her mother city, risking her life to smuggle her family to freedom and peace.

Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, these two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains them and fight to protect all they hold dear–even if it means placing their own futures on the line.

My Thoughts:

Kristy Cambron’s The Butterfly and the Violin (see my review) was one of my favorite reads of 2014. I was impressed by its beautiful portrayal of hope in the form of art amidst the horrors of war. I also loved the way the contemporary and historical storylines complemented each other. This second novel in the series follows in its predecessor’s footsteps, continuing William and Sera’s contemporary story, while introducing a new set of historical characters through which to portray hope in seemingly hopeless circumstances.

I greatly admire this author’s writing style. The description, imagery, and symbolism found in both her books so far are simply gorgeous. So much so that I found myself highlighting one beautiful passage after another, intending to re-read and share. Let’s just say that there are far too many of these to share them all! You’ll just have to read the books.

Well, okay. Here’s just one example from Chapter 28:

“Collages dotted the room, hung on the wall with old tacks or pinned to lengths of twine draped along the back wall. Theirs was art fashioned from life in Terezin; the children’s expression made from old newsprint and label paper from old cans. They used what they had. Stretched where they could. And all the while, Kája tried to believe that she wasn’t feeding them false hope.”

There’s a lot to love in this story. The characters are complex and engaging. The storylines and situations are compelling and emotionally charged. In fact, the only thing that bothered me about the storytelling was that I found myself skeptical of the reasoning behind a couple of decisions made by Kája in the historical storyline and William in the contemporary one. I can’t go into detail without risking spoilers, but let me hasten to say, I still enjoyed the story a great deal, and would not hesitate to recommend it, particularly to anyone who enjoyed The Butterfly and the Violin (which you really should read first).

The romance between Liam and Kája is well written, and they seem quite well suited, but I have to admit that some of the scenes with Dane and Kája turned out to be among my favorites in the book. I also loved the scenes with Sophie in both the historical and contemporary storylines that centered on the cross, the clock tower, and the sparrows. There’s some beautiful symbolism and a touching message there.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary electronic copy of the book via NetGalley for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Series | Author’s Site

Audiobook Review: Falling Like Snowflakes by Denise Hunter

Title: Falling Like Snowflakes
Author: Denise Hunter
Series: Summer Harbor, Book 1
Print Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Audio Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Narrator: Julie Lyles Carr
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Christian fiction
Published: September 2015
Length: 7 hrs, 42 minutes, Unabridged

Anyone ready for some Christmas themed reading? I just finished reading a novel that takes place during the Christmas season on a Christmas tree farm. And it’s so good, I’d recommend you read it now. Or, really, any time of year. :)

Book Description (from the publisher’s site):

Eden Martelli is too busy fleeing the clutches of danger to realize she’s running straight into the arms of a new love.

Speeding north through rural Maine, Eden Martelli wonders how her life came to this—on the run with her mute five-year-old son dozing fitfully in the passenger seat. When a breakdown leaves them stranded in Summer Harbor, Eden has no choice but to stay put through Christmas . . . even though they have no place to lay their heads.

Beau Callahan is a habitual problem solver—for other people anyway. He left the sheriff’s department to take over his family’s Christmas tree farm, but he’s still haunted by the loss of his parents and struggling to handle his first Christmas alone.

When Eden shows up looking for work just as Beau’s feisty aunt gets out of the hospital, Beau thinks he’s finally caught a break. Eden is competent and dedicated—if a little guarded—and a knockout to boot. But, as he soon finds out, she also comes with a boatload of secrets.

Eden has been through too much to trust her heart to another man, but Beau is impossible to resist, and the feeling seems to be mutual. As Christmas Eve approaches, Eden’s past catches up to her.

Beau will go to the ends of the earth to keep her safe. But who’s going to protect his heart from a woman who can’t seem to trust again?

My Thoughts:

Falling Like Snowflakes is a sweet contemporary romance with substance. Some of its best features are the loveable characters, the sense of community and family, and the characters’ growth and healing over the course of the story.

On top of all that, there’s a suspense thread woven in that serves to raise the stakes and makes for some page turning plot twists near the end of the book. Even so, I’d call this more romance than romantic suspense, since it’s the romance that really drives the story. Eve and Beau definitely have some great chemistry, and it’s fun watching them come to terms with that over the course of the book.

Fans of sweet contemporary romance won’t want to miss this one. And I, for one, am already on the lookout for Books 2 and 3 in the Summer Harbor series. I look forward to spending more time getting to know the Callahan family and seeing how the love stories already hinted at in this book will play out in future installments.

The audio edition of Falling Like Snowflakes is narrated by Julie Lyles Carr who does an admirable job of clearly and consistently enunciating the text. Just be aware, the reading doesn’t distinguish between character voices. It’s more a straightforward reading like you might find in a non-fiction audiobook. While I might have preferred a more elaborate and emotionally charged performance, this reading did get the job done, allowing me to “read” the book with hands and eyes free.

Thank you to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Review: The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

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Title: The Butterfly and the Violin
Author: Kristy Cambron
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre(s): Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance, Literary, Inspirational
Published: 2014

Book description (from the back cover):

A mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz – and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile.  Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl – a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover – the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul – who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece.  Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna.  In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.

My review:

The Butterfly and the Violin is a beautiful debut novel that resists categorization.  It’s a historical romance and a contemporary romance wrapped into one multilayered yet cohesive story.  But it’s not just a romance (or two) either.  It’s a tale, set partly amidst the horrors of Auschwitz, about how music and other arts can be a means of worship that can help sustain the human spirit even in terrible circumstances.

I felt that the contemporary and historical stories played off each other well.  Both stories revolved around the same question.  What happened to the violinist depicted in a particular painting (one that holds significance for the present day characters)?  A question raised in the historical portion would be addressed in the contemporary portion and vice versa.  At other times, a switch in time and perspective would serve to draw out the suspense and keep the pages turning.  It all flowed together effortlessly for the reader… which I suspect meant a lot of hard work behind the scenes on the author’s part.

The contemporary romance was great fun, and I particularly liked William as a hero.  The contrasts between his outward power and prestige and the glimpses we get of his vulnerability and approachability, were especially endearing.  I’ll also confess that a clever first kiss scene set me to the kind of grinning that doesn’t wipe away easily.  The beauty of including William and Sera’s story in this novel, besides being a good story in and of itself, was that it provided respite from the more emotionally challenging parts of the historical story.  It didn’t lessen the impact of Adele’s and Vladimir’s story; rather it allowed the reader time to come up for air and process what was happening to them before diving back into the thick of things.

One particularly emotional part of the historical story did bring me to tears, a testimony to the closeness I felt with the characters.  And yet, the overall tone of the novel, both the historical and contemporary portions, was one of hope.  That’s quite an accomplishment considering the setting and subject matter.  I wasn’t at all sure how the historical story would end until the very end of the book.  But just like Sera, I felt I had to know what happened to Adele and Vladimir.

I admire the author’s skill in bringing the reader into the reality of the story with vivid details and three dimensional characters, developing the reader’s emotional investment with the characters, and yet never letting the story become overwhelmingly sad.  What a truly beautiful first novel!  I’m very much looking forward to Kristy Cambron’s second novel, A Sparrow in Terezin, scheduled for release in April of 2015.

Thank you to the author for providing the free copy of The Butterfly and the Violin that I received in a giveaway associated with the American Christian Fiction Writers’ book club.  This book was October’s book of the month, and it made for a great discussion.  I would highly recommend it to other book discussion groups… and to readers in general.

One of my favorite passages from this novel speaks so eloquently on the topics addressed, that I feel compelled to conclude my review with a quote:

“She told herself that to have something of worth in a world full of chaos was the very definition of beauty.  It felt like a spiritual liberation that couldn’t be silenced.  These prisoners, the ones who painted or wrote poetry or played in the orchestra – they refused to let that spirit die.  And this, she decided, is why the heart creates.

“God plants the talent and it grows, sustained by a spirit-given strength to endure, even in the midst of darkness.  It thrives in the valleys of life and ignores the peaks.  It blooms like a flower when cradled by the warmth of the sun.  It remains in a hidden stairwell in a concentration camp.  It grows, fed in secret, in the heart of every artist.” (Chapter 29, pages 277-8)

Audiobook Review: The Promise by Beth Wiseman

Title: The Promise
Author: Beth Wiseman
Print Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Narrator: Rebecca Gallagher
Genre(s): Christian fiction, romance, suspense
Published: 2014

Summary (from Oasis Audio’s site):

Mallory’s search for happiness leads her to a faraway place. There she finds heartache, betrayal — and danger.

Mallory Hammond is determined that no one will stand in the way of her goal — to save a life. She had that chance years ago, and she failed to take it, leaving her adrift and in search of the real meaning of her life. Finally, she meets a man online from a volatile corner of the world who offers her the chance to find that purpose. But she will have to leave everyone she loves behind in order to take it.

Tate Webber has loved Mallory for many years. He understands that Mallory will never be happy with him until her deepest heart’s desire is satisfied. When Mallory decides to travel across the world to fulfill her dreams, Tate begs her not to go but tries to give her the space she needs. Mallory embarks on her dangerous journey only to discover how swiftly and easily promises can be broken. And Mallory can only pray that she will make it out alive.

Inspired by actual events, The Promise is a riveting love story that asks the question: how far will we go for love?

My Thoughts on the Story:

Beth Wiseman’s latest book, The Promise, offers a fascinating glimpse into a lifestyle and a culture a world away from what the main character is accustomed to experiencing at home in America.  It’s also a cautionary tale of what can happen when someone is so fixated on a goal, that they’re willing to see and hear only what they want to be true, rather than critically evaluating a situation and considering the advice of those around them who care about them.

This book takes a bold step outside the proverbial box.  It deals openly with potentially controversial subjects and raises some challenging theological questions.  It doesn’t preach, and it doesn’t provide pat answers.  Instead it presents a cast of characters with a variety of different worldviews and opinions and allows them to slog their way through the messes they find themselves in the best they can.

The Promise kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.  The characters felt real and I found myself becoming emotionally invested in their story, which made for some tense moments.  It started with a gut feeling that someone or something wasn’t what they seemed and that things could go south quickly.  And right up to the end, I wasn’t at all sure whether Mallory would survive her (mis)adventure unscathed or not.

Fortunately, by the end of the book, both the romantic and suspense elements wrapped up in a believable and satisfying fashion.  My only regret was that I would have liked to see a bit more spiritual growth on Mallory’s part within the scope of the book, maybe taking another look at the doubts she expressed early on about the faith she was raised in.  But perhaps that’s meant to be a journey for another day… or another book… when her life and immediate wellbeing aren’t hanging in the balance.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and would recommend it for readers interested in a thought provoking read a little outside the norm for its genre.  I’m convinced this is the kind of book that would make for some very interesting and lively discussion in a book group.  Just be aware that it does fall on the edgier side of things as far as Christian fiction goes.

My Thoughts on the Narration:

Rebecca Gallagher’s narration of The Promise was lovely.  I was impressed by the accents she used when reading dialogue by characters of Pakistani background, as well as by the way she differentiated the characters’ voices.  Both male and female voices were handled well, and overall, the reading was both clear and pleasant.  I felt that the narrator’s reading subtly reflected the emotions of the characters in each scene, thereby heightening the listener’s connection with the characters.  I would not hesitate to recommend the audio experience.

Thank you to Oasis Audio for providing a review copy of this audiobook.

Book Review: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

Title: Lizzy & Jane
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2014

Book Description (from publisher Thomas Nelson):

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

My Thoughts:

I’m happy to report that Lizzy & Jane lives up to the exceedingly high bar set by Katherine Reay’s fantastic debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley.  I must say, I wondered where this author could go after such a unique and wonderfully touching first novel.  After reading her second gem, I’d say she’s solidified her spot among my favorite authors.  More lovely books please?

I really enjoyed the beautiful quotable prose, complete with literary qualities including clever use of metaphors and symbolism.  These elements don’t feel forced or clichéd, but rather fresh and entirely appropriate to the characters and context of the story.  Here’s an example I highlighted while reading:

“I paused in the living room.  The sun’s rays shot over Lake Washington and ignited the room’s beige walls, warming them from ginger to gold.  New York had been cloudy this spring and I’d been cloudy with it, but in this moment all my cloudy spaces felt ablaze with light.” (from Chapter 10)  Beautiful!

Then there’s the heroine’s use of spice combinations to represent people and their characteristics.  I loved the cooking theme throughout, and the way even descriptions of colors and settings came through the lenses of the characters.  For example:

“The Infusion Center was painted a deeper shade of cream – vanilla extract added to milk, with huge plate-glass windows looking out onto the city.” (from Chapter 8)

Just as with Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane incorporates literary references to the novels of Jane Austen and other works of classic literature that carry emotional significance for the main characters.  I must admit I’d never really paid attention to the food references in Jane Austen’s books before, but after reading Lizzy and Jane, I’m sure they’ll be jumping out at me next time I read something of Austen’s and I’ll be reminded of Reay’s Lizzy.

What I loved most about the book was how the characters and their emotions rang so true to real life.  In opening themselves up to others they made themselves vulnerable to greater pain, but finally reaped the benefits of true emotional intimacy.  The gradual changes in the individuals’ behaviors and their relationships also felt more realistic and believable than a single moment of epiphany might have felt.

This book prompted laughter, tears, and yes, I found myself shuddering at the description of a particular injury sustained by one of the characters.  Cancer is a difficult subject, but this author’s treatment of the subject shows a real empathy for what the people going through it as patients and caregivers must face.

As an author, this is a book I want to re-read and learn from.  As a reader, I found this an enjoyable and thought provoking read that I would highly recommend.

Thank you to the publisher Thomas Nelson for providing an advance reader’s copy through Netgalley for review purposes.

This title can be pre-ordered now, and is scheduled to be available beginning October 28th.

Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre(s): Literary, Romance
Published: 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley has found a place among my favorite books. I was swept away by the characters and the emotions, and simply had to keep reading to see what might happen next. So much for the errands I intended to get done that day….

Here’s what it’s about (from publisher Thomas Nelson):

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Growing up orphaned and alone, Sam found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the things we care about most.

But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself “Mr. Knightley”) offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it’s pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is – once again – made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.

Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

And here’s why I loved it:

As I’m writing this review several days after reading the book, the characters are still with me, vivid and alive like cherished friends. And I’m tempted to dive right back into the book and read it again.  In fact, I already have read a few of my favorite scenes a second (and third) time.  The emotional resonance of those scenes is truly powerful.  I feel for the characters, their vulnerabilities and fears, and I want to see them find love, acceptance, and happiness.  Sam desperately wants to experience “normal” and I want that for her too.  It’s what drives her to grow and change and to confront her fears.

The format of the book is unusual in that it consists almost entirely of the letters Sam writes to her benefactor, Mr. Knightley.  Those letters are detailed accounts of the things that matter in her life, told in first person narrative format.  At times, it was easy to get swept up in the action, description, and dialogue Sam records, and forget that I was reading a letter.  And yet, the really great thing about the use of letters was getting to see Sam’s perspective on events more or less as they were happening rather than her perspective looking back from the conclusion of the story.  It gives a sense of immediacy, and allows the reader to see how her thinking changes as the story progresses.

The faith element in this story shows up in the subtle influences of Christian characters Sam encounters who love and accept her, and show her a reason for hope.  Given her fascination for literature, I loved the role her reading of CS Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader played in her growth and development, as well as her changing understanding of Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Framing her newfound understanding within a context of literature really seemed to make sense for her character, and provided a glimpse into the Christian worldview without becoming preachy.  I think this is a story that could be enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

This is a must-read debut novel, particularly if you’re into Jane Austen or romance or literary novels or loveably flawed characters trying to find their place in the world.  Please, do yourself a favor and give this book a try.  And if you enjoy reading it as much as I did, you’ll be on the lookout for Katherine Reay’s next book, Lizzy and Jane, due out in October.

To learn more about author Katherine Reay, visit her Web site at http://www.katherinereay.com/ where you can find links to connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and her blog.

Thank you to publisher Thomas Nelson for providing a complimentary copy for review purposes, via NetGalley.  This is my own honest review.

For more book reviews and other posts of interest to readers of Christian fiction, please subscribe to my blog at http://karencollier.com/.

Book Review: Stress Test by Richard L. Mabry

Title: Stress Test
Author: Richard L. Mabry
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Inspirational Medical Suspense
Release Date: April 2013

Stress Test captured my attention from the start and wouldn’t let go. It’s the first title I’ve read by Richard Mabry and I’m looking forward to reading more by this talented author in the future. Highly recommended for fans of medical romance and medical suspense who haven’t already had the pleasure of reading it. And yes, I’m a little late to the review party, as this title was released a year ago, and there’s already a more recent title available from this author (Heart Failure), with yet another due out in April (Critical Condition). Still, I couldn’t resist adding my voice to the existing critical acclaim for this one.

About Stress Test:

As the story opens, Dr. Matt Newman’s life is on the brink of significant change, but the changes in store for him aren’t the ones he had planned. He’s working his last night as a private practice surgeon, about to embark on a new career in academic medicine, and contemplating proposing to his girlfriend. Instead, he’s attacked and kidnapped by people intent on killing him. He escapes with a head injury and wakes in the hospital ICU to find the police believe he’s not a victim, but a murderer. To top it off, his girlfriend breaks off their relationship, wanting nothing to do with the suspicions surrounding him. And his new job, likewise gets put on hold.

My Reaction:

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for a novel featuring a handsome hero in distress, so Dr. Matt Newman was instantly appealing. I’ll also admit that the cover drew me in before I ever read a word. Just look at that cover. Doesn’t Matt look like he could really use a hug? I was curious to read his story, and within the first chapter, I was fully hooked. I cared about Matt and was rooting for him the whole way through.

The plot is full of suspense, danger, and unexpected twists and turns that kept me wondering. How could things possibly turn out well in the end? And who is behind the attacks against Matt and why? There’s also a thread of romance throughout the story, which I enjoyed. It was well written and proceeded at a believable pace.

Throughout the story we see Matt’s Christian faith grow from nominal to an important part of his life. As he faces the adversity into which he’s thrown he begins to learn to lean on God, and his interactions with Joe, Rick, and Sandra reinforce that and encourage him to continue to grow in his faith. I thought the faith element was handled well, coming across as genuine and not preachy.

I haven’t read many medical themed novels before, but I found the medical details fascinating. Richard Mabry did a great job orienting the reader by explaining unfamiliar terms and concepts without letting those details intrude on the story or slow the pace.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading more books by Richard Mabry in the future. Highly recommended to fans of medical romantic suspense, as well as to fans of romantic suspense in general.

An electronic copy of this book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher, Thomas Nelson, via NetGalley, for review purposes. Opinions expressed in this review are my own. To read more of my reviews, articles, and writing updates, please consider subscribing to my blog at karencollier.com.

To learn more about author Richard Mabry, check out his Web site at www.rmabry.com or his blog at rmabry.blogspot.com. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.