Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt

riverrisingSummary: Weeks after his parents disappear on a hike, engineer Adam Carson, 27, searches for answers. Then he discovers a secret web site and learns his mom and dad are time travelers stuck in the past. Armed with the information he needs to find them, Adam convinces his younger siblings to join him on a rescue mission to the 1880s.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Being a fan of time travel and historical fiction, this novel piqued my interest when the author approached me to ask if I would read and review it.  Adam Carson, the oldest of the Carson siblings, acts as the leader in his parents’ absence.  His younger siblings include Greg (a history teacher), Natalie (a journalist), and twins Cody and Caitlin (still in high school).  Upon receiving news that his parents’ mysterious disappearance a few months earlier was because they went through a time vortex in Sedona, Arizona, Adam decides he and his siblings need to go back in time to find them.

Early on in the book, most of the chapters are devoted to Adam.  Although the narrative is third person, the chapters switch focus on which sibling is in the center of the action.  Adam seems to be making all of the decisions, and his siblings don’t seem to have much in way of voices of their own at first.  The exception to this is his sister, Natalie, who gets her own chapter early on.  She finds her boyfriend cheating on her, and it makes the decision to leave life in 2017 to go to 1888 that much easier.

I would argue that all of the siblings pretty much collectively make this decision too easily.  It’s not that I wouldn’t expect them to want to find their parents, but I would have liked to have seen more character development early on for each of the characters.  It would be a lot to ask anyone to leave everything they know and travel to another time.  The fear of something happening during the unknown process of time traveling or the risks of trying to live in the past are very real fears, not to mention the possibility that the mission might fail.  Adam and his siblings are pretty clueless on how these time vortices work, except that they are active on the equinoxes and the solstices.  I am glad they took the chance to find their parents and do the noble thing, but I would have liked to have seen more struggle with the decision.

The author does a good job of researching the time period.  He gives nice references to Mark Twain, to the technology of the time, and the social conventions.  It is obvious that he researched the 1880s well when writing this novel.

The true excitement for this story begins upon their arrival in 1888.  When they step out of the vortex, they aren’t in Sedona anymore (or Kansas for that matter–ha, ha), but rather in rural Pennsylvania.  They make their way to the nearest town of Johnstown, and after talking with the hotel clerk, find out that their parents just passed through the town.

The Carsons arrive on December 21, 1888 and decide to stay until at least March 20, 1889, when the equinox will be. Greg is sent out west to explore Arizona and California, because a jeweler in Johnstown tells them that the older Carsons told him they would be traveling in that direction. The rest of the siblings remain in Johnstown.

Natalie meets young and handsome reporter Sam Prentiss, who works for the local paper.  She gets a job as a columnist there, also in hopes of getting connections to finding out information on her parents. She knows they met with Mark Twain, so she procures an interview with the man himself.  In the midst of all this, she develops feelings for the wealthy Sam, finding her heart torn between falling in love and knowing she will have to leave in a few short weeks.

The twins attend high school.  Cody quickly falls for pretty Emma, and Caitlin is wrapped up in learning as much as she can about the times.

Adam has his own love interest, the clerk at the hotel where they are staying: Bridget O’Malley. He keeps tabs on the rest of his siblings and on gaining information on his parents.

Greg’s story seems to be the most exciting.  Once in Arizona, he meets up with Clayton Kane, a man who is on the run, although Greg doesn’t know it.  A shootout ensues when traveling with him in the desert!  He has the luck of getting information on his parents’ whereabouts by talking with a local merchant.  Greg manages to make it to San Francisco, where he explores the theatres, as his parents are lovers of the arts and would have likely visited the theatres while in town.  He develops his own love interest with Julia Jamison, an older widow who is an actress.  Little does he know he just crossed paths with his parents, Tim and Caroline Carson, while eating in a restaurant one night!

There are many facts thrown in about the times, such as Groundhog’s Day and Benjamin Harrison becoming President.  Details on what buildings were in San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake, what sorts of guns were used in the Wild West, and the fare that was eaten during the time period are nice touches.  The author does a great job with setting.

Despite my earlier concern about character development, I believe Mr. Heldt more than makes up for that as the novel progresses.  This is a long book at over 600 pages, so patience is a virtue when reading.  The divided nature of every character caught with connecting to the 1880s and returning to their own time is believable and understandable for anyone caught in such a plight.  Even if time travel isn’t possible, we can all relate to having to make a tough decision of staying or leaving when we are invested in both places.  I like the subtle romance of a time when public displays of affection were frowned upon, when people were much more formal, despite the tugging of their heartstrings.  

The biggest worry the characters have is whether or not they will actually get to their parents in time, before Tim and Caroline Carson step through another portal to another time (as they have done in the past–this trip wasn’t their first).  The Carson siblings may very well lose their parents forever is that happens.

So, the question hangs: will they succeed or not?  The story only escalates from what I’ve shared so far, but sharing too much would ruin the beauty of this time-travel tale of love, heartache, shootouts, and survival.

4 and of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “From Gurley to Goodwin Street and beyond, he saw saloons, restaurants, and breweries and more false fronts than on the set of a Spaghetti Western. Most were as tightly packed as book on a library shelf, as unique as fingerprints, and as appealing as cancan dancers on a Saturday night.”

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Review of NEST: Retribution: An Alivia Morgan Story by David Antocci

antocciWhile I am not normally one to pick up a thriller, this novel turned out to be one of those pleasant surprises.  From the very first word of this page-turner, I couldn’t stop reading.  I was reminded of watching a fast-paced action movie.  The scenes in this well-written novel certainly kept me wanting to know what would happen next!

David Antocci’s novel opens with an Islamic extremist suicide bomber standing in a crowd in Boston, where a Congresswoman is about to speak.  You know it’s not going to end well.  NEST, New England Special Terrorist Division, of Homeland Security is on it, but they have the wrong suspect.  As imagined, the bomb goes off, killing and injuring several people, including two NEST officers.

We shift to a heartwarming scene of a young woman named Alivia Morgan playing football with her nephew outside her parents’ home.  She has finally been given a break from serving her country, but after the Boston atrocity, she is called in.

It turns out the terrorists set off the bomb to get back at Alivia.  It’s personal because Alivia led a mission to find and kill an Islamic extremist leader.  Being a female that high in position went viral back home for her heroism, so with her name and face all over the media, there was no hiding from the world what she did…even though she didn’t want the recognition and hoped to return to a more peaceful life of serving her country back home instead of across the sea.

Now it’s become a game for the terrorists.  They demand the U.S. government hand over Alivia to them or more bombs will go off.  While Homeland Security doesn’t wish to give in, Alivia insists on playing along, in the hopes that the U.S. will prevail by saving her and taking down her captors.

It’s certainly a scary situation to imagine yourself in Alivia’s shoes.  What’s to say the terrorists won’t set off more bombs anyway?  What’s to stop them from killing her right away?  The stakes drive higher and higher as the story advances, so you can see why this novel is a real page-turner.

In addition to the gripping plot, the characters’ dialogue is spot-on for what I would imagine soldiers talking like when working under pressure.  There’s no sugar-coating things, yet there is an underlying tenderness between Alivia and her boss, Luis, as well as her secret boyfriend, fellow solider JJ, who has been injured by the terrorists.

Antocci certainly did his research for this novel.  When the team who is tracking Alivia is busy at work with computers and maps, the detail of their work is amazing.  I would believe the author has actually worked in such a facility because these scenes are written so well.

So, how high to the stakes go?  To tell you more would ruin this great novel, so I highly recommend you get a copy of this newly released book and give it a read!

5 out of 5 stars

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Review of The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

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Review of Emilia: The Darkest Days in History of Nazi Germany Through a Woman’s Eyes by Ellie Midwood

Warning: contains spoilers.

emiliaEvery so often, a novel feels so real that the characters seem to be breathing right off the page.  Emilia is one of those stories.

The title clearly states what this book is about, but it doesn’t give away the horrors that the protagonist, Emilia Brettenheimer, endures during World War II.  Emilia is a young Jewish woman who grew up in Germany, but her family is forced to relocate to a ghetto.  She lives with her parents and three brothers, two of whom are considered useful workers in the ghetto.

While living in the ghetto, she thinks her life has surely taken a turn for the worse.  Food is hard to come by, at least enough food to thrive.  She begins, out of desperation, to give away the family’s hidden gold and then her services, in the sexual sense, to an SS guard named Richer, in exchange for enough food to feed her family.

She becomes pregnant with his child.  Just when she is on the brink of wondering what to do, things turn even darker.  Her mother, Hannah, and she are carted off to a labor camp in Poland after the unthinkable happens.

We all know the horrors of concentration camps.  Emilia’s baby is aborted, and she is put through a harrowing procedure that renders her no longer able to have children.  I cannot imagine the physical and emotional pain that would have involved.  Being a mother, having my children is one of my greatest blessings.  To take that away from a person is to say they are somehow not worthy of being a parent, that they are subhuman and should be allowed to be neutered or spayed like an animal.

The one saving grace poor Emilia has is her new friend, Magda, a red-headed girl about her age who finds something to be grateful for in the midst of hell.  Magda explains that an attractive young woman like Emilia could use her looks to get on the good side of the SS guards and get more food.  It’s a matter of survival.  The game they’re playing has no real winners, for a young woman loses her innocence to get a piece of bread.  Some of the guards are no less than bears, the sex nothing less than pure rape.

What Emilia had with Richer was heavenly bliss in comparison.

Things continue to unravel.  Emilia’s life spirals downward, for how can she hope to survive this horror, let alone hold to the belief that there is any mercy to be had?  

The war ends, but the price of survival is too much to pay.  Embittered to the point of hatred for her tormentors, and understandably so, Emilia tries to make her way in this new world.

Yet there are people in Emilia’s life who have been the balm of healing, those who have shown her a better way.  Will Emilia, broken and battered from her experiences, choose to hold onto her shattered pieces, or will she manage to rebuild her live, one piece painstakingly at a time, to create the masterpiece of forgiveness, wholeness, and love?

Ellie Midwood’s extensive knowledge of World War II is evident throughout.  She writes Emilia’s experiences with gut-wrenching rawness.  It hurts to read, but you can’t stop.  Perhaps to experience just a small fraction of the pain a Jewish woman would have endured during those years is a testament to us all of the horrors of humanity and one of the lowest points of history for mankind.  To think there are things going on like this in the world today is an atrocity.  This fictional book raises awareness to a very real evil.

5 out of 5 stars

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Review of Hope Dies Last: An Alaskan Adventure by Megan Webb

hopeWhen I started reading Megan Webb’s book, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The main character, Mekana, works in a pet store in New Mexico and lives in an apartment with her sister, Bird.  The sisters are obviously close and love quoting movies, being goofy, and having fun.  While Bird is outgoing and easily has fun with people, Mekana is full of doubt and quiet.  Her uneasiness around men has made is hard for her to have a boyfriend.

She has a sweet dog called Chili Dog and a mostly aloof cat named Snowbeast.  Her life seems pretty ordinary.  With the slow beginning to the book, I was wondering how Mekana would get wrapped up in the adventure the title promises.

A chatty friend named Chessie comes for a visit and insists on Mekana flying with her to Alaska for a funeral.  Bird and Chessie are both convinced that a trip to Alaska is just what shy Mekana needs–a chance to get out there and explore, maybe even have an adventure.

Things continue to be pretty mundane for Mekana as she and Chessie attend the funeral, but then Mekana meets a strange older lady and a handsome bodyguard-like man at the reception after the funeral.  Nothing comes of this, at least the reader thinks.

Mekana and Chessie decide to go on a small plane tour next, but Chessie gets sick from some bad cheese at the funeral.  Mekana boards the plane alone, joining a few others.  Just as the pilot gets on, two men and the old lady from the funeral suddenly show up–and the men have the old woman at gunpoint!  They seemingly hijack the plane, and things start to get interesting.

The heist turns out to be staged–a way for the older lady, Tabitha, to fake her death.  She is trying to escape from someone who works for her company.  She owns a company that makes cures, but sometimes things go wrong, and a stray ingredient renders a cure into a poison.  A man who works for her has died from an accidental poison he created, and another employee wishes to exploit Tabitha and wants to ingredient that make the lethal substance.  This is all backstory.

The small plane winds up crashing in a canyon, however–which wasn’t part of the plan.  This is where the adventure really starts, albeit a quarter of a way into the book.  Mekana is with strangers in a place where they can’t seem to find a way out.  The plane sinks to the bottom of a river, and the only way out is too narrow for passage on a raft on the turbulent waters.  

The group must learn to cooperate to survive in the wilderness as they wait for a rescue that may not ever come, since it isn’t clear if the black box in the plane sent a signal of their distress.  Tabitha turns out to be a grandmotherly type figure for Mekana, and they become friends.  Brody, the bodyguard-like man from the funeral, is gruff but gentle.  Mekana and he start to develop feelings for each other.

As the days pass and no rescue arrives, tension grows.  The real worry of survival increases.  Bears surround the small camp.

The author clearly knows a thing or two about surviving in the wilderness by the details she gives.  This is not only a nice touch but a vital one to make a story like this realistic and believable.

Also, Megan Webb’s faith plays an important role in her story.  Mekana, who admits to herself as not having prayed much lately, begins to talk with God more while they are stranded.  Her faith in God to protect them and deliver them through this tough time is what keeps her going when things get rough.

There are many lovely passages in Megan Webb’s writing in regards to faith and being outdoors.  Her story is an adventure with elements of Christian literature and romance.

You might be wondering if they are rescued or how this would even happen.  Even if there is a rescue, the book delivers a satisfying twist at the end that wasn’t expected.  In spite of that excitement, I would have liked to have seen more development after the climax in the resolution, as it felt rushed.  So much led up to the climax that there still seemed to be more to wrap up at the end, and I felt like I wanted or needed more.

Overall, this is a good story, and being Christian myself, I appreciate the faith elements.  

4 out of 5 stars

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