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review 2018-06-16 09:36
Love Held Captive (Lone Star #3) by Shelley Shepard Gray
Love Held Captive (A Lone Star Hero’s Love Story) - Shelley Shepard Gray

Major Ethan Kelly has never been able to absolve himself of the guilt he feels for raiding a woman’s home shortly before he was taken prisoner during the Civil War. He is struggling to get through each day until he once again crosses paths with Lizbeth Barclay—the very woman he is trying to forget. Life after the war is not much different for former Captain Devin Monroe until he meets Julianne VanFleet. He knows she is the woman he’s been waiting for, but he struggles to come to terms with the sacrifices she made to survive the war. When Ethan and Devin discover that their former colonel, Adam Bushnell, is responsible for both Lizbeth’s and Julianne’s pain, they call on their former fellow soldiers to hunt him down. As the men band together to earn the trust of the women they love, Lizbeth and Julianne seek the justice they deserve in a country longing to heal.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel addresses the topic of rape. 

 

 

During the Civil War, Major Ethan Kelly and his men were pushed to do many things they weren't proud of, but did it they did in the name of survival. One regular unsavory task was raiding the homes of innocent people for supplies to help keep the troops alive. Lizbeth Barclay's home was one of the properties raided by Kelly and his men. Unbeknownst to him, prior to his arrival she had not only suffered the deaths of her family members but also a sexual attack and mutilation by another soldier. 

 

Years later, Kelly and Barclay cross paths once again --- he as a hotel guest, she one of the hotel housekeepers. Though they don't immediately remember their past interaction, Major Kelly's memory is jarred when he sees the long scar running down the side of Lizbeth's face, a scar he never forgot even if he and Lizbeth never got on a first name basis the first time around. 

 

Kelly's friend and military comrade, Captain Devin Monroe develops an acquaintance with Julianne Van Fleet that, on his end, quickly grows into an honest love for her. But when she reveals her own story of some of the unpopular methods she resorted to to survive the war and care for her ailing grandmother, Devin struggles to make peace with it all. He questions whether he can make a life with someone with such a past. Though he's tempted to walk away at first, with some time to consider he realizes Julianne's actions were no worse than any men he served with who were similarly driven to survive. Devin once again comes to Julianne wanting to offer her a chance at a life rich in love, respect, and fidelity. But before the couple's dreams can take flight, their plans are stalled with the threat of former Army acquaintance Colonel Adam Bushnell.

 

When Devin and Ethan and their ladies all come together to share their stories of struggle, they find one common denominator among all of them: Bushnell. At different times, Bushnell terrorized both Lizbeth and Julianne. Devin and Ethan further reveal that these ladies weren't his only victims, not by a longshot. His face scarred by smallpox and hard living, Bushnell likely got in the habit of assaulting women rather than wooing them because his low self-esteem convinced him women would never give him the time of day otherwise. Determined to put a stop to Bushnell's assaults, the men rally the troops (as in, calling in even more Army buddies) to hunt the man down.

 

In addition to the duel romance stories going on here, as well as the manhunt scenes, this novel, like its two predecessors within this series, includes chapters detailing the mens' experiences in a Civil War POW camp, giving the reader an idea of how those months & years of imprisonment reshaped their spirits, inevitably changing them forever. 

 

I'm just going to say it: This book had the worst title of the series. Get beyond the title though, and Love Held Captive (man, that title gives me hard cringe though -- just screams bodice-ripper) is actually the BEST story in the trilogy IMO.  While the previous two books were enjoyable but, if I'm being honest, a little on the forgettable side, this one came alive with much more real characters full of humor, honesty and depth. Julianne's story really inspires empathy in a reader, making one think on maybe not be so quick to judge someone living life in a way that doesn't line up with how we would do things. Take time to consider the limited options they might be forced to choose from.

 

Bushnell is just the right amount of despicable without becoming cartoonish and Major Kelly and Capt. Monroe are just good solid dudes. Especially Devin. Major Kelly, coming from a privileged background and well-to-do family, can come of as slightly snobbish from time to time, but Devin is quick to set him straight and Kelly is open to learn when he oversteps. Lizbeth was a bit overdramatic for me at times, and though she never became one of my favorite characters (I'm too busy shipping Devin & Julianne!), she did grow on me a little by story's end.

 

So there you go! If you, like me, found the first couple books in this series fun enough but maybe a litle flat, don't duck out just yet! Definitely get into this one because the Lone Star series, at least as I see it, is one where author Shelley Shepard Gray left the best for last! 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER:  TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-06-16 07:22
An Uncommon Protector (Lone Star #2) by Shelley Shephard Gray
An Uncommon Protector - Shelley Shepard Gray

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can. When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt. Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again. But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

After losing her brother and father in the Civil War, and then her mother to sickness, Laurel Tracey finds herself running the family's 200 acre ranch solo. Struggling to have some squatters evicted, Laurel makes the risky choice to hire former soldier and now convict Thomas Baker to hopefully scare them off. After she buys his freedom, Baker agrees to pay back the bond money by living and working on the ranch free for one year. His presence on the ranch moves into the role of the "uncommon protector" when he gets wind of an unidentified someone terrorizing Laurel, trying to scare her off the land. Laurel's cattle are being killed off, ominous notes are left, this mystery terrorist even resorts to arson to unnerve Laurel.

 

As with the first book in this series, this novel opens with a scene at a Civil War POW camp. These POW scenes reoccur periodically throughout the novel, providing the reader with backstory elements on our main male characters. Robert Truax, one of the primary characters from Book 1, makes a reappearance in this novel.

 

Thomas is the strong but with a good, kind heart type. The fact that he was a country boy scared of chickens I found sort of endearing. Still shocking to think that he's only supposed to be 22 though! The way he's written (dialogue and such) had me imagining him solidly in his 30s! 

 

The romantic element between Thomas & Laurel can get a little ridiculous sometimes. In one scene, when shots are fired, Thomas gets Laurel to the ground to protect her and her focus is not on fear but all about how hard his body is and how good he smells. The story as a whole has its cute moments but largely felt kind of flat to me. There's a confrontation scene near the end that I felt was well done, but the closing scene to the whole story was just too cheezy to end things on! 

 

As far as the Christian aspect in this one, it's on the lighter side. There are examples of people showing a strong belief in faith during hard times, saying prayers over meals, quick prayers for strength or to calm nerves during trying or anxious moments... but nothing out of the ordinary for characters raised in the countryside. Light spiritual, motivational sentiments: every so often a "thank the Lord" gets dropped... that, or "Trust in the Lord", "God is in control", or "The Lord takes care of his children".. but that's about the extent of the Christian aspect. 

 

Also something to note: the back cover synopsis is actually misleading in one detail. It describes Laurel's mother as passing away shortly after hearing of the demise of her husband and son. In fact, the book early on explains that Laurel's mother actually remarries a year after getting word of the deaths, lives a full 3 YEARS more before dying with her 2nd husband in an influenza epidemic. Not exactly "shortly after". A small point, as the mother is not a key character in the story, but thought I'd note it. 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER:  TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-06-15 22:55
All Things Bright & Strange by James Markert
All Things Bright and Strange - James Markert

In the wake of World War I in the small, Southern town of Bellhaven, South Carolina, the town folk believe they’ve found a little slice of heaven in a mysterious chapel in the woods. But they soon realize that evil can come in the most beautiful of forms.The people of Bellhaven have always looked to Ellsworth Newberry for guidance, but after losing his wife and his future as a professional pitcher, he is moments away from testing his mortality once and for all. Until he finally takes notice of the changes in his town . . . and the cardinals that have returned. Upon the discovery of a small chapel deep in the Bellhaven woods, healing seems to fall upon the townspeople, bringing peace after several years of mourning. But as they visit the “healing floor” more frequently, the people begin to turn on one another, and the unusually tolerant town becomes anything but.The cracks between the natural and supernatural begin to widen, and tensions rise. Before the town crumbles, Ellsworth must pull himself from the brink of suicide, overcome his demons, and face the truth of who he was born to be by leading the town into the woods to face the evil threatening Bellhaven.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of lynching and other hate crimes, suicide, suicide attempts, and demonic possession / exorcism.

 

 

Post-World War I, there is a special little chapel in the woods behind the quaint town of Bellhaven, South Carolina. This chapel provides visitors with an otherworldly kind of peace and healing as well as offering the opportunity to communicate with deceased loved ones. But as people start to, shall we say "overvisit", the citizens of Bellhaven actually begin to turn on one another. The shimmer of the place starts to wear off, leading people to act out in varying degrees of animosity and violence... and it all seems to be connected to the arrival of Lou Eddington, the new owner of the previously abandoned Bellhaven plantation.

 

Lifelong resident Ellsworth Newberry, scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in his youth, once looked forward to a shot at becoming a MLB pitcher. After fighting in the war, Ellsworth returns home an amputee. Not long after, his wife, Eliza, is tragically killed in a church fire while trying to save a mother and child from the flames set by the KKK. Raphael, the little boy, survives, but his mother does not so Raphael is taken in to be raised by Eliza's best friend, Anna Belle. 

 

Ellsworth does notice odd occurrences around town -- namely plants everywhere blooming all at once and out of season -- but he is hesitant to fall in with the chapel adoration crowd. Maybe it's his military experience, but he can't help but be guarded around that which he can't quite understand or logically explain. Such is the case with Lou Eddington. While Anna Belle finds the man nice enough, Ellsworth isn't so convinced. Will time prove Ellsworth's suspicions correct? All I'll say is that the stunt Lou pulls with the "gift"... yeah, pretty jerk maneuver in my book. 

 

Then there's young Raphael. "No last name, just Raphael", as he explains. Ellsworth starts off having a bit of a grudge against Raphael, as Ellsworth sees the child as the reason for his wife's death. Raphael is aware of this wall, but he is determined to develop a relationship with Ellsworth. Over time, Ellsworth grudgingly begins to accept Raphael's presence and does start to converse with him, allowing for important healing conversations to begin.

 

Raphael continues to remind the townspeople that the chapel is "bad medicine" (thanks Raph, now I can't get Bon Jovi out of my head). With the help of Anna Belle and Raphael, Ellsworth works to push through his sometimes suicidal depression to come forth and lead his neighbors away from the "fools gold" chapel (as some dubb it), urging them to find strength in numbers so that they may fight the evil that has consumed the once peaceful town. 

 

"Our town gathering place was burned down three years ago because of hatred. Then we got muddled up with the war and its repercussions. It's long past time now that we find a way to gather again. Our beliefs may be different. Some may not believe at all. But we have the same questions, the same needs, the same desire for good to prevail. And it's time to focus again on what brings us together instead of what could tear us apart." ~Ellsworth

Within its plot, All Things Bright and Strange incorporates historical topics such as 17th-18th century slavery, racism / race riots throughout the 1920s, and the long running fight against the hate crimes of the KKK. Portions of the story also touch upon Prohibition and labor union issues. Additionally, the book quietly interjects important topics such as the aftermath illnesses and struggles -- emotional and societal -- of war veterans (in this case, WW1 vets, but much of what is described is still very much a reality for modern day vets). 

 

Keeping in mind that the character Ellsworth is a military veteran, be aware that portions of the story do depict some graphic violence. In fact, in terms of plot, I'd even say this novel skims the borders of the horror genre (even being published by a Christian publishing house). It's still tame compared to the darker works of Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti, but still. 

 

Markert keeps on with his trend of crafting wonderfully unique plots with just the right touch of otherworldly, magical realism-style storytelling that stir up that sense of wonder in me and make me eagerly anticipate any new release from him. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

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review 2018-06-12 23:39
The Earth Bleeds Red by Jackson Baer
The Earth Bleeds Red - Jackson Paul Baer

This story is a slow pace all the way through which I wasn’t expecting for a thriller. There’s tons of detail, which I normally don’t mind, but so much of it didn’t add to the plot or character development. The extra details often added to the setting (Pacific Northwest) but even then some of the details were extraneous. I really don’t need to know how much Scott spent on each meal or trip to the book store or on tips and I really don’t need to know how much he got back in change.

The thriller part of the tale eventually comes along. Ashley, the 17-year-old daughter of Scott and Jessie, goes missing and initially the cops have a suspect in custody. Instead of having a thrilling hunt for the real culprit, the Hail Mary serial killer, we have a lot about what the parents are going through. At first, I thought this was an interesting and thoughtful take on this kidnapping. Alas, things were pretty drawn out and gone over again and again.

Finally, in the last third of the book we get a look into the life of the serial killer and what has happened with Ashley these many months while her parents have been grieving. We do get a little thrilling police action for a few short scenes but even then there’s so much detail that things get bogged down easily.

Nearly the entire tale is told through Scott’s voice. He’s still deeply in love with Jessie and he loves being a father. He’s very proud of his daughter who will soon be going off to college. I liked Scott’s character and I felt that he was three dimensional. The other characters in the story are pretty much one dimensional. Both Jessie and Ashley are beautiful…. and eventually we learn something more about them. But being beautiful seems to be their main job in this story. They both have some humor and Ashley puts up a fight with her attacker later in the story but those aren’t the character traits that are stressed. Sigh….. Then there’s that little side thing where Jessie gets ticked at Scott because a coworker gave him a surprise kiss. Scott wasn’t flirting, didn’t expect it, and avoided that character afterwards yet Jessie was still upset for weeks. Ugh! Jessie was a nitwit.

There’s plenty of Christian themes and going to church and trying to live a Christian life stuff in this book. I’m not into religious fiction in general, though I don’t mind a character or two having religion be a part of who they are. In this case, I really feel this story is Christian Fiction first and Thriller genre somewhere down the list. For me, this aspect of the tale was overbearing and boring.

I did like that the story shows how people can get past horrible things. The cast in this story is small and each character has something terrible in their past or that they experience during the story. Jessie’s and Scott’s daughter is kidnapped. Ashley has to go through being held against her will, etc. The Father at their church has a significant event in his past. Even the killer went through a terrible event as a kid (though he hasn’t dealt with that in a healthy way). Even as much as I liked this aspect of the story, I felt that it totally glossed over a significant repeated attack. Ashley’s captor wanted her pregnant and yet this repeated rape isn’t even talked about. So, to keep things real, I would have appreciated seeing Ashley’s feelings on this.

All told, I struggled to get through this story. It was slow, I often felt that I was being preached at, the women had no depth, and the thrill was taken out of the thriller part of the tale by so much detail. 2.5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Dan Carroll was very good at Scott’s voice. However, Carroll had a small range of voices. His female voices almost always lacked femininity. With more than one character in a scene, I had to listen carefully to keep track of who was talking. He did well with the myriad of emotions in this story. There were no technical issues with the recording. 3/5 stars.

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review 2018-06-12 04:31
Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons
Eleven Hours - Paullina Simons

Didi Wood, eight and a half months pregnant with her third child, heads to a mall to get out of the oppressive Dallas heat and get some shopping done. She is supposed to meet her husband for lunch at one o'clock. By 1:45, she still isn't there-she's riding down the highway at breakneck speed with a madman at the wheel. His name is Lyle, and he has abducted her from a department store parking lot. But why he's done this, and what he wants, are anyone's guess. Now the police and the FBI have to somehow track him down. And a very pregnant Didi must keep herself and her unborn child alive at any price-even as they ride closer and closer into the darkest chamber of a psychopath's mind...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel describes scenes of GRAPHIC sexual assault.

 

Desdemonda "Didi" Woods, nine months pregnant, is abducted while shopping at a Dallas mall. While the abductor takes her across the flatlands of Texas, Didi's husband, Rich, works with the FBI to try to reach her in time. There are time stamps at the beginning of each chapter, so the reader can keep track of how much time is passing.. but spoiler! the whole thing takes 11 hours. ;-)

 

So now that you know the general premise, let's dive into all the cringey, facepalm potholes in the sloppy writing here!

 

First off, this novel was originally published in 1998, so it understandably, laughably reads VERY 90s now. There's a lot of time (pages) spent on Didi's shopping spree prior to her abduction -- wracking up $200 at Estee Lauder, moving on to FAO Schwarz, Coach, I even had a big hit of nostalgia when she has a walk through a Warner Bros. store... 'memba them! But something about this shopping also put me off about Didi as a character in general when she mentions that her child had requested a set of wooden blocks... that's it, just some blocks... but Didi wore herself out so much buying bags of stuff for HERSELF that she couldn't be bothered to try to find the blocks at the end of the day.

 

Though it's not really noted anywhere in the synopsis, once you get into the meat of this story, there is a noticeable Christian Fiction lean to the tone, which only gets progressively stronger as the plot moves along. Even Rich's job in the story is "national sales manager for a religious publisher based in Dallas." To be honest, the heavy-handed preachy tone laid over the suspense just got tiresome. But weirdly, on the flip side, there's also a strong dose of profanity and crudeness to the material here.

 

The kidnapper character is mildly disturbing but only shows minimal physical violence for most of the story. It's mostly just bursts of verbal abuse. It's likely that you've read much worse characters in more recent crime novels. One scene that was really bothersome though was when Didi is searching for something in her purse or on her person that she could possibly make into a weapon later, "anything that might help" as she says... but chucks a paperclip at the bottom of her bag. Pages later, her tormentor makes a lewd comment toward her and it's written, "she wished she had something sharp and ragged in her hands at that moment"... oh, what? like a paperclip maybe??!

 

Then there's the super team of Rich and the FBI. If you watch the time stamps on the chapter headers, Didi is abducted at 1:30pm. By 4:15 SAME DAY, the police are already saying "it doesn't look good." Wow. Just throwing in the towel then, boys? Later, when Rich is conversing with Scott, one of the FBI agents, Rich pleads, "Tell me it's going to all be okay." When Scott does, Rich snaps back, "You're lying." Here, with this crew, lies Didi's hope at being saved. Precious time being wasted with this BS back and forth.

 

Just in general, the writing is not stellar. One line that actually had me laugh out loud at how terribly lazy it was: Didi purchasing Sun Ripened Raspberry lotion from Bath & Body Works, which... keep up now... "smelled berryish". This is the same author who went on to write the pretty successful Bronze Horseman trilogy. We all gotta start somewhere, I guess.

 

I'll end on a positive though. There was a conversation near the end between Didi and her abductor where he reveals why he did what he did. Not saying it made the guy innocent, but it did have me feeling a moment of honest pity for him. Around these chapters were also some moments of honest suspense that I wished would've been consistently present throughout the rest of the novel.

 

Note to readers: This novel contains spoilers for William Shakespeare's Othello and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

 

______________


EXTRAS

 

* In her dedication, Simons notes that this, her 3rd published novel, was dedicated to her 3rd child. She also mentions that the book was made possible (possibly inspired?) by her husband taking a job as editorial director for Wishbone Books, which required the entire family to relocate to Texas.

 

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