Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Drawing Fire

Drawing Fire is Janice Cantore's sixth book, and the first book in her new Cold Case Justice series. I love crime and police procedural books, so the fact that Cantore blends those genres with Christian fiction makes her one of my favorite new authors. I also love the fact that her books are all set in southern California, since that's where I live. It's fun intimately knowing the locales she sets her books in. Her new series focuses on detective Abby Hart and private investigator Luke Murphy. The back cover reads:

"With a possible serial killer stalking elderly women in Long Beach, California, homicide detective Abby Hart’s best lead is Luke Murphy, an irritating private investigator who saw a suspect flee the scene of the latest homicide. But as she works with the handsome PI to unravel the serial killer case, she must also confront the spark between them. When Abby discovers that the most recent victim is related to the governor, she’s anxious to talk to him about a cold case that’s personal to her, one Luke is interested in as well.

As she learns more about the restaurant fire that took her parents’ lives years ago, Abby discovers why Luke is so invested in finding the ones responsible. With everyone else telling her to walk away from this case, Abby and Luke search for evidence buried beneath years of deceit . . . and soon realize that someone will do anything to make sure this case remains cold."

Janice Cantore is definitely refining her writing style with each and every new book she publishes. Her writing style and plots are just getting better and better, and this book definitely didn't disappoint. This story is a thrilling page turner - it kept me up late at night turning the pages! The plot is tightly written and there were plenty of twists and turns along the way. I enjoyed the progression of the relationship with Abby and Luke, and the ending was satisfying. The faith themes weaved in throughout were natural and not forced, like sometimes is the case in Christian fiction. I'm looking forward to the next book in the Cold Case Justice series. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys crime/police novels.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Bradstreet Gate

Bradstreet Gate is author Robin Kirman's thrilling debut novel. I was immediately drawn to this book because I love a good thriller, and it sounded like it fit the bill. Bradstreet Gate is less about the murder mystery and more about the lives and friendships surrounding it, but it was still a great page turner with a little mystery and drama thrown in. The back cover reads:

"A tour de force about three friends affected by a campus murder, for readers of Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, and Jeffrey Eugenides

Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Though his guilt or innocence remains uncertain, the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another—Charlie’s love and Alice’s envy, Georgia’s mysterious affair—and over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher's once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven.

A relentless, incisive, and keenly intelligent novel about promise, disappointment, and the often tenuous bonds of friendship, Bradstreet Gate is the auspicious debut of a tremendously talented new writer."

Although this book wasn't exactly what I expected, I found myself quickly drawn into the story. Kirman's managed to weave together a fascinating story, following threads of three friends whose lives have all been affected by a murder on their college campus. Her prose is mesmerizing, and I wanted to linger on each page, but found myself tearing through the chapters in a hurry to reach the end and find out what happens. The plot is intricate and complex and can be compared to Gone Girl, but with its own definitely unique vibe. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good, dramatic novel - pack this one with you for your vacation. It's a perfect beach read. You won't want to put it down!

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Last Con

The Last Con is up and coming author Zachary Bartels' second offering. I read his debut novel, Playing Saint, and enjoyed it quite a bit, although I did have some small complaints about it. So when the opportunity arose to read and review his next book, I was excited to read it. I was kind of hoping for a sequel to Playing Saint, since it left off on a semi-cliffhanger, but The Last Con is a stand-alone novel. The book description reads:


Former con man Fletcher Doyle is finally home after six years in the pen. He’s working a menial job, regaining his bearings in the world, and trying to revive his relationships with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter. No easy feat.

But when Fletcher and his family go on a mission trip to Detroit—in the company of the condescending church leader who also happens to be his landlord—Fletcher finds his old life waiting for him. Within hours of arriving in the city, he’s been blackmailed into doing a job for a mysterious criminal who calls himself The Alchemist.

A series of relics hidden by the Knights of Malta, as ancient as they are priceless, are in the sights of The Alchemist. What he needs is a gifted grifter with a background in ecclesiastical history . . . what he needs is Fletcher Doyle.

Between hiding his reawakened criminal life from his wife and trying to hide her from their relentless landlord, Fletcher is ready to give up. But when his family is drawn into the dangerous world he can’t shake, Fletcher is forced to rely on his years in the game to save the only people who mean more to him than the biggest con in history."

It sounds thrilling, and I'm happy to say that many of the issues I had with Playing Saint were fixed or improved upon in The Last Con. The writing style was much more refined and professional. The plot was more realistic and less contrived. Everything just flowed a bit more smoothly in this one. I was instantly hooked in by the prologue, and didn't want to put it down. I enjoyed how he wove the story together and there were plenty of twists, turns, and surprises along the way that I didn't see coming. My only complaint would be that certain aspects of the story were a bit unrealistic, but it wasn't overpowering. Zachary Bartels has a talent for weaving together historical intrigue and modern day suspense. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys suspense, and I'm looking forward to his next book!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lazarus Awakening

I was super excited to receive a copy of the third book in Joanna Weaver's Mary and Martha Bible study "trilogy", Lazarus Awakening. I have read and loved her two prior books, Having A Mary Heart In A Martha World and Having a Mary Spirit, and enjoyed them immensely. Somehow, however, it had escaped my knowledge that Weaver had written a final book in the series - Lazarus Awakening. As soon as I found out, I knew I had to read it - and I wasn't disappointed. The back cover reads:

"Now includes a bonus chapter!

For many of us, moving the truth of God’s love from our heads to our hearts is a lifelong process.

You believe that God loves the world…
but sometimes you wonder if He truly loves you.

In Lazarus Awakening, the final book in her life-changing Bethany trilogy, Joanna Weaver invites you to experience a divine shift in how you view your relationship with God.

Shattering spiritual formulas for performance-driven faith, Lazarus Awakening clears a path to sweet intimacy with Jesus. You’ll encounter the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in a fresh way as you open your heart to the truth that you are cherished—apart from anything you accomplish, apart from anything you bring. Just as He called Lazarus forth to new life, Jesus wants to free you to live fully in the light of His love, unhindered by fear, regret, or self-condemnation.

This edition includes:
• a bible study guide for both individual reflection and group discussion
• a bonus chapter on laying aside everything that hinders your life with Jesus
• tools and resources for living fully and freely as God’s beloved

No more graveclothes, no more tombs… Love is calling your name."

First, I have to mention what a beautiful cover this book has. It's so inviting and really drew me in immediately. Lazarus Awakening is divided into 10 chapters, plus one bonus chapter, and includes a 10-week Bible study. It also has six appendices delving deeper into several of the topics touched on in the book. It's perfect for a private or group Bible study. I absolutely love Joanna's writing style. It's so compelling, fresh, and honest. It's what attracted me to her first two books, and thankfully, she hasn't lost her touch at all in this one. She has a special gift of drawing out meaning from Bible passages you've probably read hundreds of time and giving them a fresh new insight. I highly recommend Lazarus Awakening. You won't want to miss it.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hiding in the Light

Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus is Rifqa Bary's story of faith, bravery, and hope. Stories by people who have converted from Islam to Christianity have always fascinated me, so I knew this was a must-read book for me. The description reads:

“After four years of hiding my faith from my family, I knew that it was time. I wrote with shaky hands, ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I refuse to deny him….’ There was no turning back now. I had to get out of that house if I wanted to live. Was this worth risking everything for? Yes.”

Rifqa Bary grew up in a devout Muslim home, obediently following her parents’ orders to practice the rituals of Islam. But God was calling her to freedom and love. He was calling her to true faith. He was calling her to give up everything.

Leaving Islam for Christianity cost her more than she imagined
but gave more than she could have dreamed.

Hiding in the Light is the story of Rifqa’s remarkable spiritual journey from Islam to Christianity. It is also the untold story of how she ran from her father’s threats to find refuge with strangers in Florida, only to face a controversial court case that reached national headlines. Most of all, it is the story of a young girl who made life-changing sacrifices to follow Jesus—and who inspires us to do the same."

Now, I'll admit, I hadn't even heard of Rifqa Bary before reading this book - so I started off with a clean slate and no knowledge of her before picking it up. This is a fairly small, brief, 240 page hardcover book. However, it is jam packed with action and really packs a punch. I was riveted by Rifqa's story from page one. I think this is an extremely important book for every Christian to read. We need to better understand and be more sensitive to the plight of Muslims who choose to convert to Christianity, as it can literally mean death by the hands of their own family to them. Rifqa's story is so brave, honest, and inspirational, and it's truly unbelievable that things like this are still going on today. This story is a great reminder that we should be so grateful for the freedoms and privileges we have in regards to freedom of religion in America, and a warning of what would happen if those religious freedoms were encroached upon. I can't recommend this book enough.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Center Of Gravity

Center Of Gravity is Laura McNeill's stunning debut novel. Often, I'm nervous about reading an unknown author's debut, because I don't know what to expect, but the description of this one was just too intriguing to pass up! This novel follows Ava Carson, her deranged husband Mitchell, her stepson Jack whom she adopted, and Ava and Mitchell's infant son, Sam. The description reads:

"The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It's temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem."

The one word I'd use to sum up this book is wow. From the very first page, I was absolutely hooked. Clear your schedule and plan on spending a few hours with this one, because once you pick it up, you won't be putting it down until its stunning, yet satisfying, conclusion. It's written in an alternating first person view - chapters flip between Ava, Mitchell, Jack, Graham (Ava's lawyer), and Lucy (the child psychologist charged with evaluating Jack and Sam for the pending divorce/custody hearing). The way we are able to get inside the head of all the main characters is what truly drives this book. So many times in novels like this, we never are able to really get inside the mind of the "bad guy" - here, we do. I feel like this is the "Gone Girl" of the Christian fiction genre. I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good psychological thriller.

My only caution with this book is that is does have several instances of bad language, which seems to be a confusing trend lately in the Christian publishing industry. Also, although this book is published by Thomas Nelson/Zondervan, it truly has basically no Christian or religious element to the story. I'm rather confused by it being published by a Christian publishing house - it's rather baffling, really. The author blurb also makes no reference whatsoever to religion, either. Either way, it's an excellent book. I will definitely be eagerly on the lookout for her next book.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Called For Life

I recently received an Advance Reading Copy of Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent and Amber Brantly (with David Thomas). I was super excited to read this book - I followed Kent's story when it was in the news and prayed for his recovery. I remember watching live on TV, with tears in my eyes, as Kent walked into the hospital in America. I was anxious to hear the whole story surrounding his life as a medical missionary and the inside view of the ebola epidemic from someone who lived it firsthand. The back cover reads:

"“When I knelt next to Teresa on that rainy June night outside our hospital, I told myself that everything was about to change. I had no idea the extent of that truth. But one thing has not changed: our desire to live faithful to God’s calling.”
—Dr. Kent Brantly, in Called for Life

Just months after Dr. Kent Brantly arrived in Liberia with his wife, Amber, and their two children, the Ebola virus erupted in West Africa. Kent and his colleagues began to fight one of the most horrifying, incurable diseases on earth, only to see patient after patient die. Then, after six weeks of intense battle to help others survive, Kent woke up one July morning with a fever. Three days later his diagnosis was confirmed: Ebola.

Kent knew his life was at stake. He also knew Amber, family members, and friends were praying desperately. What he didn’t know was that his case would make international headlines as he was evacuated to Atlanta, becoming the first person with Ebola ever treated in the United States. He didn’t know he would be the center of a media firestorm of debate, questions, and fears. And he didn’t know that his faith would inspire people around the world to trust in a faithful God.

“Kent, bud. We got your test result. And I’m really sorry to tell you that it is positive for Ebola.”
--From the Prologue, Called for Life

Dr. Kent and Amber Brantly moved with their children to war-torn Liberia in the fall of 2013 to provide medical care for people in great need—to help replace hopelessness with hope. When, less than a year later, Kent contracted the deadly Ebola virus, hope became what he and Amber needed too.

When Kent received the diagnosis, he was already alone and in quarantine in the Brantly home in Liberia. Amber and the children had left just days earlier on a trip to the United States. Kent’s personal battle against the horrific Ebola began, and as thousands of people worldwide prayed for his life, a miraculous series of events unfolded.

Called for Life tells the riveting inside story of Kent and Amber’s call to serve their neighbors, as well as Kent’s fight for life with Ebola and Amber’s’ struggle to support him from half-a-world away. Most significantly, Called for Life reminds us of the risk, the honor, and the joy to be known when God and others are served without reservation."

I sat down and read this book basically in one sitting. It was pretty riveting hearing the firsthand account of what I'd been glued to on the news last summer. Kent and Amber tell their story in the first person, alternating back and forth between them. The book itself was very compelling and interesting. I've always been interested in missionary work, medical missions in particular, so it was great learning more about their medical missions work in Liberia. My only complaint about this book is the way the timeline of the story is presented. It jumps back and forth quite a bit, especially in the beginning, and is kind of disjointed and confusing until the story really gets going. Also, I would have loved a photo section - although I received a paperback ARC, so there may be a photo section in the final print hardcover edition. Otherwise, this was an excellent book. I highly recommend it to anyone who followed the ebola outbreak and wants to learn more about it. Kent and his family's sacrifices and challenges encouraged me. It was wonderful reading about someone who lives their faith out so boldly.

I received an ARC of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.