Friday, April 26, 2019

Review + Tour GIVEAWAY: Gone Too Soon by Melody Carlson



About the Book

Book: Gone Too Soon  
Author: Melody Carlson  
Genre: Young Adult
Release Date: November 15, 2018

An icy road. 
A car crash. 
A family changed forever. 

Hannah Josephson had always been the “perfect” daughter. Kiera couldn’t live up to her before, and she certainly can’t now that her older sister has died in a car accident. But the image she carried resentfully of Hannah is challenged when she finds her dead sister’s diary and begins to read. Apparently Hannah’s final year wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought. 

Caught in a pattern of blaming each other, the Josephson family is falling apart. Their father has left, their mother is mixing opiates and alcohol, little sister Maddie has been shipped off to spend the whole summer with their grandmother, and Kiera feels utterly alone with her grief and anger. A summer job helping at a park in a poor section of town provides a friend and a purpose. 

But it’s Hannah’s diary that fills her thoughts. For the first time in years, she feels close to the sister she’s lost. But can the knowledge she gleans about her possibly help her patch back together the family that seems determined to implode?

Click here to purchase your copy.


My Thoughts


Our old Christian clich├ęs and platitudes flew right out the window not long after Hannah died. Now it’s all about blame and shame and guilt and grief … and this seething, deep-rooted hatred that taints everything.

* * * * *

I loved Gone Too Soon by Melody Carlson. It’s not a comfortable read, nor an easy one – but it is extremely relevant and compelling. I highly recommend it to young adults and adults alike.

On one level, Gone Too Soon is a fast-paced, engrossing story that’s hard to put down. But on a much deeper level, it transports us into the hearts and minds of a family trying to cope with unimaginable grief. A large part of the story is, as one would expect, quite dark. It’s raw and emotional, reflecting unhealthy coping methods for grief at first; but I suspect some of these methods are not foreign to Christian families. Everyone feels personal guilt for Hannah’s death, but hides that guilt so that it festers.

Kiera’s reading of Hannah’s diary gradually reveals a young lady who wasn’t all that she seemed, one who faced struggles and temptations that hit all teenagers. But God’s love, grace and forgiveness are woven throughout, resulting in a beautiful story of redemption and restoration. There’s also the timely reminder that, no matter our age, tomorrow is never assured.

Gone Too Soon is a moving story that leaves readers with much to reflect upon. Recommended to all readers.

I received a copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.


About the Author

Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books (with sales around 6.5 million) for teens, women, and children. That’s a lot of books, but mostly she considers herself a “storyteller.” 

Her young adult novels (Diary of a Teenage Girl, True Colors etc.) appeal to teenage girls around the world. Her annual Christmas novellas become more popular each year. 

She’s won a number of awards (including RT’s Career Achievement Award, the Rita, and the Gold medallion) and some of her books have been optioned for film/TV. 

Carlson has two grown sons and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and yellow Lab dog.


More from Melody

I think I’ve written about a hundred or more teen novels, but Gone Too Soon, a rather serious story, is a bit different. There’s no denying I’ve covered a bunch of gritty issues—everything from self-harm to suicide to murder—but I’ve never written a novel quite like this one. For starters, I wrote it from two viewpoints. Both the teenage daughter and her mother express themselves in this story. And because the premise involves an untimely death, the family is torn apart. As a result, there’s a lot of guilt and blame and confusion going around. They’re all in pain. 

I’ve been asked several times what “inspired” this story. And I’m sad to say that it’s simply a case of “art imitating life.” I live in a small community where too many young people have died “too soon.” These untimely deaths—for a variety of random and unexplainable reasons—are devastating. I know more than a dozen families (some very close friends) who have tragically lost a child. So I’ve seen up close how it can tear a family apart. It’s truly heartbreaking, often leaving friends and family without words of comfort or explanation. 

But that’s not the only reason I wrote this story. My hope is that teens (who often feel invincible) will be reminded that they are mortal and that this earthly life is temporary. Hard as it sounds, death is inevitable. And it’s not that I want everyone to be obsessed about dying, but we do live in a culture that practices denial about the end of a life. No one really wants to talk about it. My hope is that readers will take a hard, honest look, peel back some layers, and face death for what it is—a part of earthly life. And I hope readers will close the book with a little more understanding . . . and hope.


Giveaway



To celebrate her tour, Melody is giving away a grand prize of paperback copy of Gone Too Soon and a matching journal!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the image above or the link below to enter.



Blog Stops


The Avid Reader, April 25
Emily Yager, April 26
Moments, April 26
Hallie Reads, April 27
Mary Hake, April 28
SusanLovesBooks, April 29
amandainpa, May 4
Remembrancy, May 6

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review + Tour GIVEAWAY: Staging Is Murder by Grace Topping




Staging Is Murder
By Grace Topping
Laura Bishop Mystery #1
Henery Press, 2019


Summary

Laura Bishop just nabbed her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th-century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. But when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at Laura’s feet, replacing flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her duties.

To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, Laura’s determined to find the killer. Turns out it’s not as easy as renovating a manor home, especially with two handsome men complicating her mission: the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the manse from foreclosure.

Worse still, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed before Laura props the first pillow.

Amazon  B&N   Kobo


My thoughts

Staging Is Murder by debut author Grace Topping begins a new mystery series that I really enjoyed. The writing flows smoothly in this well-paced story and the characters are well drawn. I’d like to see more character depth, but expect there’ll be more of this as the series progresses.

The theme of home staging is refreshingly different from all the cooking-related mysteries out there. Not that I don’t care for many of them, but different can be good. Each chapter begins with a helpful staging hint, often reflecting what’s to come. Laura won the staging contract of Victoria’s home over a competitive designer, and the difference between these two fields was something I hadn’t thought about … the goal of interior design is to reflect the family, while that of staging is to make the home neutral so prospective buyers can see themselves living there.

Laura Bishop is a warm, appealing protagonist. I especially liked two secondary characters in her world – her assistant, Tyler, and best friend, Nita. With Laura’s family background, Nita’s welcoming Italian-American family was exactly what she needed. The only thing I didn’t care for was Nita’s obsession with horoscope and psychic-related elements, such as removing negative spirits from the home.

The action gets off to a sudden start when a body comes tumbling down the laundry shoot as Laura works on staging. Tyler, quickly suspected of the crime by authorities, gives Laura reason to do some investigating on her own. I especially liked Tyler’s grandmother, a woman of faith who begs Laura to help her grandson. And as the “mom” of two black rescue kitties, I couldn’t help but adore Laura’s own rescue cat, Inky.

There’s plenty of suspects and red herrings, and the murderer’s identity wasn’t easy to solve. A good series foundation is laid in Staging Is Murder, and I look forward to more of Laura’s adventures.

Recommended.

I received a copy of this book through Great Escapes Tours. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

_________________________


Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Fictional revenge is sweet.

She’s using her experience helping friends stage their homes as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The first book in the series, Staging is Murder, is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager.

Grace is the current vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of the SINC Guppies and Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.


____________________

GIVEAWAY



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review + Tour GIVEAWAY: The Memory House by Rachel Hauck



About the Book

Book: The Memory House  
Author: Rachel Hauck  
Genre: Christian Romance  
Release Date: April 2, 2019  

Embracing the future means remembering the past . . .

When Beck Holiday lost her father in the North Tower on 9/11, she also lost her memories of him. Eighteen years later, she’s a tough New York City cop burdened with a damaging secret, suspended for misconduct, and struggling to get her life in order. Meanwhile a mysterious letter arrives informing her she’s inherited a house along Florida’s northern coast, and what she discovers there will change her life forever. 

Matters of the heart only become more complicated when she runs into handsome Bruno Endicott, a driven sports agent who fondly recalls the connection they shared as teenagers. But Beck doesn’t remember that, either. 

Decades earlier, widow Everleigh Applegate lives a steady, uneventful life with her widowed mother after a tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, and destroyed her new, young married life. When she runs into old high school friend Don Callahan, she begins to yearn for change. Yet no matter how much she longs to love again, she is hindered by a secret she can never share. 

Fifty years separate the women but through the power of love and miracle of faith, they each find healing in a beautiful Victorian known affectionately as The Memory House.

Click here to purchase your copy.


My Thoughts


The talented Rachel Hauck writes in a variety of styles and settings, and all of her books have touched me in some way. But The Memory House? It’s truly special, deeply rooted in faith, my favorite of all she’s written so far. There’s romance, of course, but this story is so very much more!

Family is whoever fits into your heart.

The Memory House is poignant and emotionally captivating. Hauck is a master of the dual timeline, and I was deeply invested in both worlds. Everleigh’s story brings the history of the 1953 tornado in Waco, Texas alive, a defining moment in her life. Beck’s defining moment went back to the events surrounding 9/11, resulting in emotionally suppressed memories.

While I enjoy dual timelines, I usually favor one storyline over the other, but here it’s like the years fell away and I was reading one intricately-woven story. The characters have emotional stories, and are flawed in a way that made them minister to me more than a “whole” person ever could.

He suspected Mom’s prayers had a hand in this.

The vitalness of prayer is subtlety seen, as are the themes of faith, forgiveness, and a loving God who is always at our side no matter the circumstances. Everleigh ministers through her heartbreak, reminding me of the way my own life has been touched by some dear saints. I may be reading more into this than intended, but Beck takes in a precious little dog that needed rescuing, and in addition to having my heart stolen by Beetle Boo, I kept reflecting on the human need to be rescued and loved by God.

The revelation of the connection between old and new themes was surprising – and perfect. The Memory House is a keeper, a “best of the best” read for me.

Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book through Celebrate Lit and Thomas Nelson. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.


About the Author

Rachel Hauck is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of The Wedding Dress, which was also named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times and was a RITA finalist. 

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pet and writes from her ivory tower. 

Visit her online at RachelHauck.com; Facebook: RachelHauck; Twitter: @RachelHauck; Instagram: @rachelhauc









Excerpt from The Memory House


When Mama Applegate spoke as if Everleigh were a guest rather than a family member, she embraced it with grace. Because at the end of the day, she was Rhett’s wife. She alone shared his dreams, his heart, his life. 

And at night, when she couldn’t sleep, his soft breathing was her lullaby. 

“Listen, mister, I have to get back to work or I won’t make it home in time for our dinner.” She tugged at his shirt collar. “So are you going to tell me why you’re here?” 

“I was going to wait until tonight, but I got so excited . . .” Rhett stepped over to the desk in front of Everleigh’s and retrieved a long white canister. “Here. Open it. I feel like a kid at Christmas.” 

“Rhett, what have you done?” She pried away the cap and slipped out a set of drawings. 

“Here, let me.” Rhett unrolled a rendering of a cozy house with a wraparound porch nestled between two cottonwoods. “Our house, Ev. I took those sketches you made after we were married and gave them to the architect. What do you think?” 

“Th-this is our house?” She wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning against his thick arm as she studied the drawing. 

“It’s our house, darling.” 

Everleigh studied the drawing. It was just like she imagined. “Are you sure?” She gazed up at her husband. “I didn’t think we’d saved enough money.” 

“We’ve saved every penny of your salary, and I finally sold the stud bull to Jacob Marshall. He’s been after me for a year . . .” Rhett held her with one hand while flipping through the drawing with the other. “I bought the ten acres by the stream. You know, the one with the trees we loved. Dad wanted to give it to us, but I said no strings. 

I wanted to buy it so he can’t hold it over me. Not that he would, but family business can get tricky.” Everleigh leaned to see the name of the road. Memory Lane. 

“Darling, the section right off Memory Lane? The spot I wanted?” 

Rhett’s grandmother had named the dirt road years ago, when she imagined a large family with lots of grandkids running around. She envisioned an Applegate community. 

But her sons, Melvin and Earl, went to war. Only Earl—nicknamed Spike—returned home the fall of 1918. He inherited the ranch, married Mama Applegate, and fathered Rhett, an only child. Grandma’s two daughters married and moved away. 

“Your granny would be proud, darling,” Everleigh said. “We’re beginning her dream.” 

“Sh-she would.” Rhett cleared his throat, pressing his fist over his cough. “So, w-what do you think?”

Tell him! The timing could not have been more perfect. “Rhett, sweetheart—” 

He jerked his wrist up, checking his watch. “Oh, Ev, sorry, darling, but I promised Dad I’d pick him up from the hardware store thirty minutes ago.” He gave her a quick, passing kiss. “I’d planned to show you these tonight, but I just couldn’t wait.” He rolled up the drawings and tucked them into the canister. “What is it you wanted to say?” On reflex, he checked his watch again. 

“Nothing,” she said, smiling. “I’ll see you later. We can talk then. I have work to do anyway.” 

“You sure?” 

Everleigh fell into him and pressed her cheek against his chest. “You make my dreams come true, Rhett Applegate.” 

He kissed her one more time, then held her at arm’s length. “Distraction, girl, you are one beautiful distraction.”



Giveaway



To celebrate her tour, Rachel is giving away a grand prize of a copy of The Memory House!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the image above or the link below to enter.



Blog Stops

The Avid Reader, April 22
Wishful Endings, April 22
Worthy2Read, April 23
C Jane Read, April 25
Carpe Diem, April 26
Mary Hake, April 27
EmpowerMoms, April 27
Bigreadersite, April 28
Pause for Tales, April 28
Quiet Quilter, April 30
Moments, May 5
Simple Harvest Reads, May 5 (Guest post from Mindy Houng)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review + Tour GIVEAWAY: A Dream of Death by Connie Berry




A Dream of Death
By Connie Berry
Kate Hamilton Mysteries #1
Crooked Lane Books, 2019


Summary

On a remote Scottish island, American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton wrestles with her own past while sleuthing a brutal killing, staged to recreate a two-hundred-year-old unsolved murder.

Autumn has come and gone on Scotland’s Isle of Glenroth, and the islanders gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-tourist-season gala. Spirits are high. A recently published novel about island history has brought hordes of tourists to the small Hebridean resort community. On the guest list is American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. Kate returns reluctantly to the island where her husband died, determined to repair her relationship with his sister, proprietor of the island’s luxe country house hotel, famous for its connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Kate has hardly unpacked when the next morning a body is found, murdered in a reenactment of an infamous unsolved murder described in the novel—and the only clue to the killer’s identity lies in a curiously embellished antique casket. The Scottish police discount the historical connection, but when a much-loved local handyman is arrested, Kate teams up with a vacationing detective inspector from Suffolk, England, to unmask a killer determined to rewrite island history—and Kate’s future.

Amazon    Barnes & Noble  Indiebound


My thoughts

It’s been a while since reading a mystery that I could hardly put down, but that’s the case with A Dream of Death by debut author Connie Berry. I simply can’t say enough about this traditional mystery! Spellbinding, atmospheric, captivating … A Dream of Death is quite exquisite. Definitely a 5-star, best-of-the-best read for me. Connie Berry is an author to watch.

I was initially drawn to this book because of a love for British fiction, and Scotland is the icing on the cake. The isolated setting – Glenroth, a fictional island in the Inner Hebrides – becomes a major character. The descriptions are so vivid and easy to follow that I could visualize each scene in my mind, even sensing the rush of the wind and the pulse of the sea. The prose is exquisite, with a gentle touch of humor. And you won’t find any fluffy descriptions of food or clothing; rather, every word is important and propels the storyline along.

Three years ago I’d been Kate – wife, mother, daughter,
friend. I’d known my lines by heart. Then the curtain fell,
and when it rose again, I’d found myself in a new play,
without script or cues. No choice but to stumble along.
- Kate

The characters themselves are vividly drawn and appealing. Kate - with her natural curiosity, passion for history, and heartbreaking past - is a fascinating protagonist. There’s nothing paranormal or psychic, but on a rare occasion while observing an antique, she had experienced “an impression, of joy or sadness, or longing, as if the emotional atmosphere in which an object existed had seeped into the joints and crevices along with the dust and grime.” Romance doesn’t play a major part, but there’s a hint of it in Kate’s relationship with Tom, a detective inspector visiting from Suffolk, England, who I liked very much.

There’s a poignancy to the mystery plot itself. The murder victim was the sister of Kate’s deceased husband, Bill. Tension existed between these three in the past, for there seemed to be an unbreakable bond between brother and sister that came ahead of the marriage relationship. When the story opens, Kate is traveling to Glenroth in order to make good on a promise to Bill that she would look after his sister. Elenor is a complex character, and Kate soon discovers that the “reasons to dislike Elenor were as plentiful as cold germs in January.” And then there’s Bo, who seems to be the most likely suspect. A life-long friend of Bill’s, Bo has a cognitive disability, but is high functioning. I loved this character so much and appreciated that he was portrayed realistically.

A Dream of Death is a wonderfully engrossing story of great depth that leaves me wanting so much more from this author. And to top it off, this story is clean – no profanity or explicit scenes. Thank you, Connie Berry, for showing that an excellent novel has no need of these elements.

Book #2, A Legacy of Murder, releases in October 2019 – and I can’t wait! It looks like future stories will be set in England, but I hope for an eventual return to Scotland.

Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book through Great Escapes Tours. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

_________________________



Like her main character, Connie Berry was raised by charmingly eccentric antique collectors who opened a shop, not because they wanted to sell antiques but because they needed a plausible excuse to keep buying them.

Connie adores history, off-season foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Millie.

websitefacebooktwitterGoodreads


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GIVEAWAY



Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review: The Memory House by Rachel Hauck


The Memory House
By Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 2019


Summary

When Beck Holiday lost her father in the North Tower on 9/11, she also lost her memories of him. Eighteen years later, she’s a tough New York City cop burdened with a damaging secret, suspended for misconduct, and struggling to get her life in order. Meanwhile a mysterious letter arrives informing her she’s inherited a house along Florida’s northern coast, and what she discovers there will change her life forever. Matters of the heart only become more complicated when she runs into handsome Bruno Endicott, a driven sports agent who fondly recalls the connection they shared as teenagers. But Beck doesn’t remember that, either.

Decades earlier, widow Everleigh Applegate lives a steady, uneventful life with her widowed mother after a tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, and destroyed her new, young married life. When she runs into old high school friend Don Callahan, she begins to yearn for change. Yet no matter how much she longs to love again, she is hindered by a secret she can never share.

Fifty years separate the women but through the power of love and miracle of faith, they each find healing in a beautiful Victorian known affectionately as The Memory House.

Click here to read an excerpt!


My thoughts

The talented Rachel Hauck writes in a variety of styles and settings, and all of her books have touched me in some way. But The Memory House? It’s truly special, deeply rooted in faith, my favorite of all she’s written so far. There’s romance, of course, but this story is so very much more!

Family is whoever fits into your heart.

The Memory House is poignant and emotionally captivating. Hauck is a master of the dual timeline, and I was deeply invested in both worlds. Everleigh’s story brings the history of the 1953 tornado in Waco, Texas alive, a defining moment in her life. Beck’s defining moment went back to the events surrounding 9/11, resulting in emotionally suppressed memories.

While I enjoy dual timelines, I usually favor one storyline over the other, but here it’s like the years fell away and I was reading one intricately-woven story. The characters have emotional stories, and are flawed in a way that made them minister to me more than a “whole” person ever could.

He suspected Mom’s prayers had a hand in this.

The vitalness of prayer is subtlety seen, as are the themes of faith, forgiveness, and a loving God who is always at our side no matter the circumstances. Everleigh ministers through her heartbreak, reminding me of the way my own life has been touched by some dear saints. I may be reading more into this than intended, but Beck takes in a precious little dog that needed rescuing, and in addition to having my heart stolen by Beetle Boo, I kept reflecting on the human need to be rescued and loved by God.

The revelation of the connection between old and new themes was surprising – and perfect. The Memory House is a keeper, a “best of the best” read for me.

Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book through Read with Audra and Thomas Nelson. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

_________________________


Rachel Hauck is an award winning, New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Her book The Wedding Dress was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times Book Reviews. She is a double RITA finalist, and a Christy and Carol Award Winner. Her book, Once Upon A Prince, first in the Royal Wedding Series, was filmed for an Original Hallmark movie.

Rachel has been awarded the prestigious Career Achievement Award for her body of original work by Romantic Times Book Reviews. A member of the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers, she teaches workshops and leads worship at the annual conference. She is a past Mentor of The Year.

At home, she’s a wife, writer, worship leader and works out at the gym semi-enthusiastically. A graduate of Ohio State University (Go Bucks!) with a degree in Journalism, she’s a former sorority girl and a devoted Ohio State football fan. Her bucket list is to stand on the sidelines with Ryan Day.

She lives in sunny central Florida with her husband and ornery cat.

For more information, visit www.rachelhauck.com, Facebook (@rachelhauck), Twitter (@RachelHauck) and Instagram (@rachelhauck).