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review 2019-02-06 16:15
Searching for the Truth: Poems & Prose Inspired by Our Inner Worlds - Maranda Russell
Searching For The Truth: Poems & Prose Inspired by our Inner Worlds by Maranda Russell begins with the dedication: “For everyone who isn’t afraid to search for the truth, even if it means looking outside your comfort zone.”

The book takes a very personal look at difficult topics like death, uncertainty, pain, and fear. In the intro Maranda describes her writing style as “short, blunt, and to the point”; personally I found that strengthened the poems rather than weakening them. Descriptors are concise but meaningful, like “emotional sewage” and “their heads sloshing over with tough questions.”

One short, powerful poem focuses on all-consuming bitterness. Another talks about forgiving someone who only saw the worst in her. One of my favourite poems was On Opinions, and I think it needs to be put on a sign and waved around vigorously as needed:

Everyone has opinions,
but not everyone
should share theirs.

I’m sorry to tell you,
but your opinions –
no matter how closely held,
do not override
scientific fact.

This is a short book that's easy to read even for non-poets, and I'd definitely recommend it!
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review 2019-02-03 10:50
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
The Double Bind - Chris Bohjalian

When Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography, spending all her free time at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies, Laurel discovers a deeply hidden secret–a story that leads her far from her old life, and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.





Laurel Estabrook is just nineteen when she is attacked while riding her bike in a local park in Vermont. Her unidentified assailants jump out of a dark colored late model van, intent on causing her serious harm. Laurel fights for her life and manages to escape but not without scratches, bruises, one broken finger and plenty of emotional trauma. Somehow in the middle of the scuffle she also manages to memorize the van's license plate, so it's not long before her attackers are in custody. It turns out one guy has a job as a personal trainer and owns a gym marketed toward professional body builders. This guy also has been tied to other assault and rape cases, something his partner had no idea about. 


Laurel gradually comes back from her trauma, does her best to rejoin society but her experience unfortunately did scar her with PTSD and agorophobia. She decides to give up biking, taking up swimming instead. During one of her outings, Laurel meets Katherine Maguire, the founder / director of the local homeless shelter, decides to start volunteering there. Through her volunteer work she meets Bobbie Crocker, a former professional photographer, now homeless and schizophrenic, working to get into subsidized housing. When Laurel looks through some of his photography work, the novel's big mystery begins to kick in. She notices that of all the celebrity photos in his collection, not one seems to directly credit Crocker's name. Laurel starts working through this mystery to distract her from the days when her PTSD symptoms are at their worst. But then there is one surprising photo that shakes her to her core --- a photo of the house where Laurel grew up. She begins to develop a theory about Crocker, something that may surprise readers in the way it links him to a famous couple within classic literature (in a unique but confusing way). 


Note: "Double Bind", in simplistic terms, is a psychology reference that notes damaging effects of contradictory information / explanation / instruction. In the case of parenting, if bad enough, it's theorized that the child on the receiving end can potentially develop schizophrenia in such an environment. Double Bind the novel uses this idea to play with the idea of "nature vs. nuture".


It's not a perfect novel, but it got some things right enough to keep me reading. As far as the mystery end goes, much of Laurel's line of thinking I found to be pretty reaching. What captured me as a reader were the themes of mental illness / PTSD & the effect on normal life routines, and the topic of homelessness. Being someone who both battles mental illness of my own and has been on staff of homeless shelters, comparing my own experiences to those posed here at least held me to the story that much ... but in general, I was struggling to remain invested through the second half of the book. 


A couple of the things that did stand out to me, though:


* Having the character of Crocker be inspired by a real photographer and then incorporating the real photographer's work (photos) throughout the novel was a cool touch that brought a more personal level to the story. 


* I loved Marissa and Cindy, David's small daughters  -- can't help but cheer for young Marissa's already established pronounced empathy as well as her BS detector ... but David's quiet but pervasive, almost martyr-ish "she's lucky to have me" attitude toward his relationship with Laurel low-key bugged me. 


I keep trying with Bohjalian... and while I did certainly like this one at times... I've yet to be really wowed by one of his novels. 

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review 2019-01-26 18:31
Freedom's Light by Colleen Coble
Freedom's Light - Colleen Coble

Hannah Thomas left the South and all that was familiar to marry her beloved John. But the fact that she’s never been quite accepted by his mother and sister and that she doesn’t quite fit the strict Massachusetts Puritan community only becomes more difficult when John is killed in one of the first battles in the war for freedom. Hannah is allowed to continue to serve as lightkeeper for the twin tower lighthouses on the lonely coastline, but it is grueling work for a woman alone. One of the first shipwrecks washes ashore a handsome captain she thinks is a Tory, but she soon finds out he’s working as a spy for Washington. Much stands in the way of their happiness including the need to protect his secret, pressure from John’s family to marry another, near-constant disapproval from the townspeople, and the appearance of Hannah’s wayward sister. Coupled with the strain of war, Hannah isn’t sure she’ll ever see the light of freedom.







Some time ago, young Hannah Thomas was being courted by Galen Wright, a man who seemed lovely and attentive enough at first but later proved to have a terrifying dark streak to his soul. His interest in her turned obsessive. To protect herself from further unwanted attentions from him, Hannah agrees to a marriage to the lighthouse keeper of Gurnet, Massachussetts, a man some 20 years her senior. Though it might have not been a traditional love match, over the course of their first year of marriage, the two did develop a comfortable companionship. 


Now Hannah is eighteen and has just received word that her husband, who had gone off to fight in the Revolutionary War, has been killed. Widowed, left without the protection of her husband's person or name, Hannah is fearful of what the future holds but continues to do her best to hold down the fort, both literally and figuratively. She has the slight misfortune of living just down the road from a difficult, nosy mother-in-law but does her best to keep relations there as civil as possible, though MIL makes it clear she does not like Hannah taking up her son's work at the lighthouse. She's also slyly made it know that she does not want Hannah to continue carrying the family name, though Hannah's brother-in-law has made an offer. Needing some distraction from all this family noise, not to mention some companionship, Hannah invites her younger sister, Lydia, to come stay with her. All is quite cozy and fun until Galen shows his face in town and Hannah is increasingly distressed with just how much interest Lydia is showing in him.


Then comes the pivotal night when Hannah fails to keep the lighthouse flame burning and a ship wrecks on Gurnet's shores. Much of the crew is lost, but Hannah manages to save the captain, Birch Meredith. Seeing his leg is severely damaged, she brings him into her home where he spends the next weeks & months recovering. During this time, a testy friendship develops. Though they amuse each other and Birch gets a kick out of Hannah's quietly fiesty nature, they struggle to bridge the political divide between them. Hannah, fiercely for the Revolution, cannot bring herself to accept that Birch is Team Loyalist (meaning he wishes for the United States to remain under British rule). Birch has reasons and secrets for his actions, but revealing them to anyone, even Hannah, is just too risky in these times.


image courtesy of SlidePlayer.com

"American Revolution: Treatment of Loyalists"




Covertly working for the US under the leadership of then General George Washington, Birch comes and goes from Hannah's life throughout the course of the novel, though she is never far from his thoughts. Birch is set on avenging the death of his brother, the killer being someone close to Hannah's circle (though she's unaware). General Washington reminds Birch not to let lust for revenge distract him from the mission of securing independence for the United States.



Guess I was unintentionally on Team Loyalist while reading!



Each time Birch reappears, Hannah finds her convictions shaken just a little more. Her friendship with Birch causes a growing fury within her Puritan community. More than once, she is brought before the elders to answer for her actions. At one of these tribunal sessions, in so many words the church elders basically say it's not so bad to throw yourself at a man as long as he's not a Loyalist! LOL But they later backtrack on this, saying Hannah really should answer "for the state of your soul", something they weren't AS concerned about a moment before, telling her "you and your God alone know the state of your heart."


There is a noticeable amount of inspiration pulled from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in this story, but I checked the author's note at the end and I don't see Colleen Coble fessin' up to it. Instead, she mentions that this is a story that's "languished in my virtual drawer for eighteen years...". She goes on to say that it wasn't previously published due to Revolutionary War era material being a tough sell. I'm assuming she meant within the Christian Fiction market, where she has since found her fame? I'd say it has a healthy enough fan base within other genres.


But back to the P & P similarities: First, there's Lydia. Not only does Hannah's sister share a name with Elizabeth Bennett's little sister, but she also gets into a similar fix. Both Lydias appear to have a weakness for a uniformed man.





Take out Galen Wright, insert George Wickham... OMG I just now realized they even have the same initials. But yeah, the guys are interchangeable with the same goal of getting their grubby, libidinous hands on a young innocent for the sake of getting closer to the older sister. Likewise, we have the arrival of Captain Birch Meredith mimicking the entrance of Fitzwilliam Darcy... in both instances, the ladies having an abrasive early introduction to the men which later turns into playful friendship and then love. Much in the way Darcy helps Elizabeth save & protect Lydia from Wickham, Captain Meredith from Freedom's Light sets out to take down Galen Wright and his cohorts and help get Lydia back to the safety of her sister, Hannah.


Though Coble first crafted this novel nearly twenty years ago, there are themes addressed here that not only make for an engaging historical read -- leading readers to think on experiences of our ancestors -- but still read relevant to today's times. Coble does a fair job tackling sexism of the 1700s. Take Hannah, our main character. Hannah, having served as her husband's assistant tending the lighthouse, she learns all about the care and maintenance of the light and how much the sailors rely on these towers for safety. She takes up her husband's post while he's away at war, and once she hears of his death she reasons that someone still must tend to the light. She has the training, so why not her? But nope, nope, nope.... the very idea unnerves the community. I mean, she's out there painting the tower in PANTS, people! The woman is just trying to do her best to live a right and good life, she has a defined moral code she guides herself by, but because the image of it all doesn't match the preferences of those in power, the community won't let up on her! 


Image result for revolutionary war life

by Baron Theodore Gudin (1848)


Then let's consider Birch. Though I liked Birch generally as a character and found him quite warm and funny for most of the story, his ageist side irked me. Perhaps I'm more sensitive to it as I creep along my 30s.... and from what I've read of history, his attitude was not uncommon... but UGH. There was a scene where Birch attends a party hosted by Molly Vicar. Birch is there to spy on Galen and his crew, but keeps making it a point to note how amazing it is that Molly Vicar can still capture attention and turn heads at her age of "around 40". Imagine that, a woman making it to that age and somehow avoiding the expected metamorphosis into a bridge troll! One line of this I likely would've laughed and overlooked, but Birch brings it up multiple times in this ONE scene! I was going to root for the character of Molly Vicar until she made the "any man that doesn't want me must be gay" (paraphrasing here) comment. Nevermind, a girl that smug can end up with whatever LOL. 


While I've not been the biggest fan of Coble's more modern novels -- while decently written, I find many of them bland and forgettable -- I was cheering for this one because it left me thinking Hallelujah, Coble finally showing some edge to her writing! Looking over the reviews of others though, seems many did NOT like this aspect of this novel. In Freedom's Light, Coble incorporates espionage, hangings, whippings, sexual assault / rape, hostage situations and babies born out of wedlock. I've seen many reviews criticize Coble for putting this out there, crying "How dare you?!" Well, here's the thing folks. History --- real history, not the sanitized Hallmark image you must have in your mind --- plays dirty. Since the dawn of civilization, people have made questionable choices for the sake of love, survival, money, power, what have you. That includes such things as murder, rape, illegitimate children, etc. Open a real, non-fiction history book and it's all in there. It's DANGEROUS to never acknowledge the darker side of human nature. So I say yes, put them in novels. Make people look at it. And then craft characters around it who show us how to overcome such situations! Give us a sense of hope in dark times! 


Consider Hannah and her interactions with Birch: Hannah has strong faith which in turn provides her with strength and belief in herself and her abilities to overcome any of life's difficulties. Birch, fueled by rage and a need for revenge over the murder of his younger brother, scoffs at any mention of religion. Hannah urges him to reconsider his feelings. As time passes and Birch's love for Hannah grows, he confesses that if he could just have her, he'd let go of everything else. She could save him! Hannah calmly and wisely explains something vitally important for him to understand: it is incredibly foolhardy for a person to pin all their hopes of faith, salvation or redemption on any one person. Sure, others can help you along the path but putting all your eggs in one basket (so to speak) only leads to a false sense of security. 



Image result for Shipwreck in Stormy Seas 1773, Claude-Joseph Vernet

"A Shipwreck In Stormy Seas" (1773)

by Claude-Joseph Vernet




Humans... humans are fallible by nature. Answers to questions regarding faith and life purpose can only be answered from inside one's soul. And typically those answers come about through surviving those most unpretty of life scenarios.


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 2019-01-22 21:46
Coast Guard Sweetheart (Coast Guard #2) by Lisa Carter
Coast Guard Sweetheart (Love Inspired Large Print) - Lisa Carter

Second Chance Sailor: When coast guard officer Sawyer Kole is stationed again in Kiptohanock, Virginia, he's ready to prove to Honey Duer that he's a changed man and the right man for her. But it's not smooth sailing when a hurricane blows their way. To save the family inn she's restored to perfection, Honey will ride out the storm. But can she handle the turbulence of seeing Sawyer again? Years ago he walked away, taking her dreams of love. Now as Hurricane Zelda barrels down, Honey may have no choice but to trust Sawyer to save her life and just maybe her heart.





Picking up several years after where Lisa Carter's Coast Guard Courtship left off, Coast Guard Sweetheart revisits one of the side stories from the first book: that of Honey (sister of Amelia from Book 1, *Honey's real name is Beatrice, but picked up the nickname due to her hair color) and that fouled up romance Amelia's beau Braeden helped Honey push through. The troublemaker guy in that scenario, Coast Guard Petty Officer Sawyer Kole, is back in town (with Braeden as his boss) and wants to make things right between him and Honey.


Wouldn't you know, she doesn't want to hear it! Or so she's trying to convince herself. Wouldn't you want to hear what story was behind a former flame abandoning you three years earlier? Not the least bit curious, Honey? You KNOW she is! But she's in no rush to give him the satisfaction. Their re-acquaintance comes about via a pretty funny food fight (but SUCH a waste of donuts!). But the two have no choice but to put differences aside and work together when their town faces the arrival of Hurricane Zelda and Honey's newly restored inn sits right in the line of fire. 


Having thoroughly enjoyed Lisa Carter's first installment in this series, I was really looking forward to seeing where the characters ended up here. Though all the elements seemed to be in place for a strong follow-up, sadly this one just did not serve up the same magic as its predecessor. The humor, charming as all get out in Coast Guard Courtship, just fell flat here, felt a little on the canned side. Further, the plot wasn't nearly as much fun. While it seemed promising, opening a story with a food fight, things quickly fizzled out from there. Even with a hurricane in the mix --- you'd expect some great tension or amazing chats or something right? --- nope, even there it was about as interesting as bath water. 


Pretty quickly, Honey's relentless bickering grows tiresome. Not cute. She complains that Sawyer never explained his absence, then when he tries she shuts it down with an "I don't want to hear it"... but then encourages him to try again, but then hardly lets him finish a thought before she's verbally laying into him again. Her level of anger grows unreasonable but she continues to harp on with the "Why won't you talk to me?" Girl, have you only heard your side of things? This whole story has been set up for him to tell his side! UGH, even Max chimes in with a "Stop being a big baby, Aunt Honey." You tell her, kid! Another character takes it further with "Bitterness does not become you, Beatrice."


In terms of dialogue, the writing just gets progressively more cringey as the reader progresses. But if you're really into nighttime soaps, the overkill dramatics might not strike you as problematic. I will note a few highlights though. 1) This novel does touch upon the heartbreak of siblings split up within the foster system and later left unable to reunite with each other as adults because of sealed records. 2) The closing scene was undeniably sweet and romantic. Hard not to pull a grin out of me at the description of a modern couple slow dancing to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". 3) MAX. It was so great to see Max again in this series. Max is doing great and he totally made it worthwhile to hang in there and keep reading! 

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review 2019-01-22 20:40
Coast Guard Courtship (Coast Guard #1) by Lisa Carter
Coast Guard Courtship (Love Inspired Large Print) - Lisa Carter

Coast Guard Officer Braeden Scott's life is all about freedom and adventure. Being assigned to a tiny Virginia coastal village is the last thing he wants. But thanks to a feisty redhead, he's soon discovering the charms of a small-town life. Amelia Duer is all about home and hearth. Taking care of others is her whole world. As Braeden spends more time with her and her nephew, his hopes for a family begin to resurface. Could Amelia prove to be the anchor this charming Coastie needs to stop wandering and create a home for good?




NC based writer Lisa Carter places her Coast Guard centered romance in the small town of Kiptohanock, Virginia, where CG officer Braeden Scott gets stationed and quickly finds himself tangled up with feisty redhead Amelia Duer. Being a redhead myself, I had to chuckle at one point in the story where a comment is made about redheaded women in general being "insidious" LOL 


He filled his lungs with the bracing sea air. Not so bad. Not the most exciting place he'd ever been quartered, but as long as he could hear the crash of the waves, he'd do fine...Braeden's first love, the sea, remained the only love in his life that hadn't let him down. Give Braeden his boat, the rhythm of the sea and, as one poet had phrased it, "a star to steer by," and he was good. Better than good. Women were trouble he didn't need in his life.


Amelia runs her father's charter fishing business since her father decided to take up part time work in a boat repair shop. Running the shop serves as a perfect excuse for Amelia to keep a close eye on her dad as he recovers from a recent heart attack. She grew up in the kind of family where her father never got the son he wanted, so he raised her as he would a boy, turning her into his "fishing buddy", as he liked to think of her. Developing that bond early on has served them well now as they move into the adult phase of parent-child friendship.


Braeden's first impression of her is that she's not terribly feminine but certainly admirably gutsy and "tough as a sea barnacle"... the type of compliment that wants to make you say, "Thanks.. I think...". When Braeden rents out a boat shed property without first informing Amelia, she ends up nearly taking him out with a harpoon! (A simple misunderstanding... you'll see.... )


Braeden loves a life full of adventure and wild experiences while Amelia is all about having stability and a home & community where she can firmly root. She has reasons for insisting on a firm home base: she lost her mother to cancer and her sister to a drunk driver, leading to Amelia becoming the guardian of her five year old nephew, Max, who is battling leukemia. Max's father is also in the Coast Guard... or at least was... his role in this story is sort of that of "deadbeat dad who abandoned the family".


Trying to do her best, Amelia is struggling with Max while he works this phase where he answers all her instructions with "you're not my real mom". There's added pressure on her since she took out loans against her father's business to cover the cost of Max's chemo treatments. Now finding herself unbelievably stressed out and deeply in debt, there's an added layer of tension since her remaining family members grow to see her as someone generally too salty to associate with. 


While the arrival of Braeden is an unexpected upset to the routine at first, he proves to be a nice distraction from all the heavier dealings in Amelia's days. There IS something about him that she can't help but be drawn to, but thanks to the whole situation with Max's father, Amelia also happens to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Coast Guard fellas. Then there's the difference in faith between them -- While Amelia finds great comfort in fellowship, Braeden isn't much of a church-goer (but he has his reasons for being so).


Braeden unknowingly finds the ways to her heart ... largely by just being himself. He shows willingness to spend so much quality time with Max (such as teaching him how to swim), helping Amelia's sister, Beatrice aka "Honey" navigate out of her own Coast Guard romance gone sour, AND encourages Amelia to pursue art as a career, at the very least as a side gig. While she does love creating paintings of local seascapes and townspeople, Amelia has strong fears of taking her work public... but perhaps with Braeden's support to bolster her, anything is possible! It's also tough not to fall for a guy who insists on teaching the generation coming up about respecting women:


"Yeah, Mimi. Leave us guys alone." Max propped his hand on his small hip and jutted it, Honey-style. "We don't need you. Braeden's got this. Go away."


She blinked. Braeden frowned. He locked eyes with Max. "Let's you and me get one thing straight, Candidate Duer. Women are to be respected, cherished, and protected." Braeden threw Amelia a glance before his gaze returned to Max. "If I ever hear you disrespect your aunt Mimi or any other woman ever again, you can forget swim lessons or anything else from this Coastie."


The starch went out of her carrot-topped nephew. He drew a circle in the water with his toe. "Sorry, Mimi."


This is one well-balanced romance! It's part of Harlequin's "Love Inspired" line, so there are Christian themes mildly discussed within the plot, while also incorporating plenty of humor and warm & cuddly courtship scenes. Sometimes titles within this line tend to run a bit heavy on the sap but this one got it just right. To balance out the sweet, there are more serious topics woven in. Max's story as he battles leukemia has its bittersweet notes, but not to Afterschool Special levels. Still, that scene with Max getting attached to a Black Lab only to be told maybe a dog isn't a great idea, and him snapping back with "I'm gonna die anyway"... Kid put a chip in this heart of mine! Then there's the tough moments that circle Coast Guard life itself  --- the blessings of ships ceremony where a bell is rung for each crew member lost to sea, and the intensity that builds around responding to mayday calls. It's all in here! 


By story's close, the reader is left waiting to hear the results of Max's latest tests... but since he makes an appearance in Book 2, it looks like the prognosis is good! 

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