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

Buy Megan’s book here.

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My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

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Review of First of September by Kathleen Joyce

21150214_1907201166200024_3636356680373994494_nYou know that cozy feeling of holding a warm beverage, wrapped in a blanket, and curling up with a good book by the fire?  That’s Kathleen Joyce’s cozy mystery…with a murder or two in the mix.

I admit that I haven’t read many cozy mysteries, but the appeal is inviting from page one of First of September.  The main character is a 46-year-old divorcee named Clare Harrigan, who lives in charming fictitious town Amelia Bay in the Pacific Northwest.  Clare is a potter and mother to grown children, and she has a group of the best friends a girl could ask for–the group tight since childhood.

Only one of the members of the group, Addie, turns up dead.  The police are saying it’s an accident.  Clare doesn’t think so.

She knows Addie, after all.  Just before Addie turned up dead on the beach outside her home, she seemed excited to be starting a new life.  Add to the mix that Addie hated swimming and being near water in general, so when her body turns up near water, Clare knows something isn’t right.  Amelia Bay is a small town that talks, and Addie has some secrets from her past that haven’t been forgotten by everyone in town.

The police don’t take Clare seriously at first.  But as another murder shortly follows, Clare and her friends can’t help but be involved.  The sleuthing begins as page after page Clare, Bev, Liz, and the other ladies discuss their thoughts and findings over wine, coffee, and food described with such detail that the delicious smell comes right off the page, inducing hunger in the reader.

Of course, these ladies aren’t just content to sit around and talk.  They get involved, sometimes whether they like it or not.  They question possible suspects and go looking for evidence at the crime scene and around town.

All this action is written with care and loving detail.  There are especially beautiful passages where Kathleen describes the outdoors or the interior of a home.  Being an interior decorator earlier in her life, it shows that Kathleen knows what she’s talking about.  The same is true when she writes about the process of pottery.  She writes from experience, and this is a nice touch.

When I got to the end, I was surprised who the murderer was, and it’s my bet that you won’t be able to guess whodunnit.  Kathleen’s easy flow of her prose keeps the reader guessing with every page turn.  Her characters come to life off the page.  I truly cared about them and what happened to them.  All in all, this is a well-rounded novel for this author’s debut book.

And the best part?  Clare’s story isn’t over!  First of September is just the first book in a series!

5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase First of September here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

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Review of Life as a Spectrum Mom: The Ups, Downs, and Upside Downs of Parenting Autistic Kids by Karen Pellett

I love the title of this quirky and honest book because I am also a spectrum mom.

Now try saying the title fast three times while I sit back and smile.

Okay, in all seriousness (or not)… Can I really take life so seriously?  Karen Pellett, despite raising not only one kiddo on the spectrum, like me, has three.  Yes, three.  And she manages to find humor in her situation because, honestly, sometimes all you can do is laugh when life takes a detour around every carefully crafted plan you had for your kids, and life seems to be mocking you as your child melts down for the fifth time in ten minutes.

This is the first review of a nonfiction book I’m doing, and while I usually read fiction, because I am trying to escape from brutal reality at times, I felt drawn to this mom’s story because I understand her pain, her worries, her frustrations, her joys, her laughter.  Anyone who is a parent understands these sentiments in regards to raising children–the hardest job you will ever, ever have…and no one is paying you to do it.

The author begins the book by sharing facts about her three kids (a girl born first, followed by two boys, all in three years)–their names, their quirks, their diagnoses, etc.  She also explains how she had a vision of what her family would look like before having kids and how that changed quickly.  It was either get on board with what she’d been dealt with or continue in denial, refusing to accept it.

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I commiserated with her when she said it took years to conceive their first child, as my husband and I also went through that.  Then you get the best news ever–you’re pregnant!  But then after the child is born, you start to realize she or he isn’t developing typically.  For us, our son had delayed speech.  At 24 months, he hardly spoke, and we got him started with speech therapy.  Nine months later, he was diagnosed as autistic.  Karen’s daughter has ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD).  My son also has ADHD, although it wasn’t until last year that was confirmed.  Both of our oldest kids are eight.  

But as Karen’s story continued and she almost died while giving birth to her last kid, I soon realized that I had to take a step back.  I am not one for comparing heartaches, but I can say her situation is harder than mine.  I know how it feels to watch helplessly as your child grows frustrated and has a meltdown, which results in throwing things, kicking, hitting, and ripping pictures off the walls.  As a mother, nothing hurts more than seeing your kids in pain, whether that pain be physical, mental, or emotional.  If we could, we would take it away.

But that is not the reality of things.  I love how Karen has shared funny stories in the midst of telling her tale, which often is quite serious–like her injuring her back and needing surgery or having a car seat thrown at her head, resulting in a concussion.  She is a strong woman who has been through more than most, and I admire her brutal honesty in sharing her story.  Books like hers as essential for bringing awareness and understanding to autism.

While I don’t often feel judged by the public eye when my son acts out, I know there is still ignorance out there.  I was at the library (alone, for once) and walking out when I passed a mother and her son, who were standing off to the side.  The boy was obviously autistic, exhibiting the hand-flapping, bouncing in place, and vocalizations my own son does.  He was about ten and wasn’t wearing pants or shorts.  He had on a diaper, a shirt, shoes, and socks.  Now, I don’t know what was going on, but even when a mom tries to be prepared with extra clothes and diapers, accidents happen.  Also, autistic kids have sensitives, sometimes resisting clothing.  I continued on my way out, but an older lady stopped me and asked why that boy wasn’t wearing pants.  I am glad she asked me, as I was able to explain to her that the boy was autistic.  I don’t know if this woman knew nothing about autism, but she was shocked and seemed to judge the mother for not having pants on the boy.

My purpose in sharing this story is to drive home the importance of autism awareness.  I will promote it and push it.  That said, I highly recommend you read Karen Pellett’s eye-opening book.  You don’t have to relate to her or have autistic kids, but I believe her book brings servings of awareness to the table of autism.

5/5 stars

Buy Karen Pellett’s book here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

Purchase Production Values

Book Review of Finding Kate by Pamela Humphrey

Kate Westfall thought she was done with her family’s secrets.  Think again.

Finding Kate is the second in the Texas Hill County series by Pamela Humphrey.  It immediately follows the first book, Finding Claire, which I highly recommend you read before diving into Finding Kate.  Otherwise, Finding Kate won’t make much sense!

You can read my review of Finding Claire here.

Kate, after discovering the truth about her background and identity, including her real family, decides to move from Denver to Schatzenburg, Texas.  In the first book, she met Alex Ramirez, a lonely widower, and they spent a lot of time together under dire circumstances.  Alex and Kate developed feelings that were more than just the friendship-type, and at the beginning of this book, they are still sorting those feelings out.

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The beginning of Finding Kate seems a bit slow.  The reader feels like the dust has settled for Kate and Alex after how Finding Claire ended with such a bang, and now it’s just a matter of them figuring out their lives going forward.  Kate moving to Texas to be closer to her father and Alex, in addition to moving into the home she inherited, is the focus at first.  Alex comes with Kate to Denver to meet her friends and help her pack up her apartment.  Putting things in boxes and harmless talk feel mundane after what they have just been through a few days ago, but that’s part of getting back to real life.

Kate’s neighbor, Keith, stops by and is surprised she is leaving.  I detect jealousy in Keith, as he seems to like her and doesn’t care for Alex, who is hanging around the apartment.  The neighbor feels out of place, but maybe he’s just a weirdo.  Kate and Alex hit the road for Texas, and then things start to unravel when Jeff, the husband of Kate’s best friend (LeAnn), gets kidnapped, and it’s tied to Kate.

Poor Kate just can’t seem to get a break.  In addition to this new kidnapper who wants something from her, Kate starts to feel like things have moved too quickly between her and Alex.  She wonders if their attachment is simply the result of being forced together and going through stressful circumstances.  Whenever Alex tries to physically get close to Kate, she pulls away, and the reader starts to get the sense that there’s something else in her past that’s haunting her.

No place is safe for Kate or Alex — neither his cabin nor her new house (dubbed “the castle”), as they gave Alex’s address as the forwarding address for Kate when she moved away, and Schatzenburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.  The news of Kate’s family history has spread like wildfire in the small town, and everyone knows who she is, including someone who is following her and wants something from her.

Interwoven with the narrative are old letters written to Kate’s aunt Beth from a mysterious woman named “M.”  M and “Sticks” (who we later find out is Scott Bentley, Kate’s uncle) are the parents of a little boy named “Scooter.”  Sticks had an affair with M, and Scooter was the result.  When Sticks disappeared from Scooter’s life, the young boy became pent up with resentment and anger.

How do these letters tie into Kate’s story?  Who is following her?  What do they want?

And can Kate move past whatever it is that’s bothering her, so she can be happy with Alex?

19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_nSo many questions, and I know the answers…but that would be spoiling the book for you!  Suffice it to say that as I got further into Finding Kate, I was definitely drawn into the story more and more, needing to know the resolution to these questions…and more!

The book has a satisfying ending and doesn’t leave any loose ends.  I would recommend this book to lovers of romance and suspense.

Four out of five stars.

 

Review of The Blue Rebozo by Pamela Humphrey

12232826_866517436795996_7217886777960372424_oThe Blue Rebozo is a fictionalized story based on facts the author had of her ancestors.  I can appreciate Ms. Humphrey’s love for genealogy, as I share this passion. When I wrote my book based off of my late grandma’s life, it was done in a similar fashion, although I changed names and the story’s timeframe was more recent.

The setting for The Blue Rebozo is late nineteenth century Texas.  The narrative is centralized around Petra, a young woman whose family came from Mexico when she was a child.  The Ramirez family is large, with several children of various ages, and while I understand that large families were the norm for that time period, there were a lot of names to keep track of.  I guess there’s really no way around this, but the large number of names mentioned made it hard for most of these characters to be developed much.

One of the nice elements of the story was the grandmother, Clara, who was Petra’s abuelita.  Clara shares the tale of Leonor, who is the mother of Clara, and how she met and married Esteban.  When they married, a blue rebozo (a blue scarf) was given to the bride, Leonor, to wear on her wedding day.  The blue rebozo becomes a symbol of love that’s passed down the generations, from Leonor to Clara, to Jesusa (Clara’s daughter-in-law), to Petra (and eventually to Petra’s daughter, Candida).  This was a nice touch.  Many families have such heirlooms that have meaning.  I have my grandma’s china, which belonged to her mother-in-law and is well over 100 years old now, so I understand and appreciate such objects.  It’s like having a part of those who have gone before with you.

We follow Petra as she loses her first husband, Mr. Torres, to a stranger who stabbed him on a horse, to when she falls in love with Francisco, who has lived with her family for years and worked on the farm.  Mr. Torres was older than Petra, and while he was a good man, Petra hadn’t been in love with him.  I am a sucker for romance, so my favorite part was when Francisco confessed his love to Petra and she to him.  As I read, I kept waiting with anticipation from that moment.  Petra is still a young woman, after all, and has been left with three young kids to raise after losing her first husband.  The fact that Francisco was in love with Petra for years before he told her melts my heart even more as the hopeless romantic.  As a woman, wife, and mother, I know what it is to have one of the good guys.  Those quiet fellows who smile and trip over their words, waiting for the right moment to say “I love you,” that’s gold.

The story reads smoothly and is easy to follow.  As this is a novella, it’s not very long, which makes for a good book to read if you’re looking for something that isn’t going to take long to get through.  I read this book in a few days during the summer.  I have limited reading time, as I am also a writer and a mom of three young kids (like Petra), so finishing this novella wasn’t a problem.  I suggest it as a light read for someone whose time is already stretched but is looking to read more books, maybe as a vacation read for this summer.

This is a story with heart. I would have liked to have seen more details fleshed out, as Petra, the main character, goes through a lot: falling in love and losing loved ones.  It’s tragic how many children died young back then, and I cannot imagine the heartache it would have been on a mother (and father).  This is a repeated theme in the story in every generation, and while Ms. Humphrey writes that the parents are saddened to lose a child, more details about the heart-wrenching agony would have driven this point home.  Still, I suppose it is not something that is easy to write about in any circumstance, and unless a person has actually experienced such loss, it may be difficult to write about it convincingly19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

Overall, this is a good little story.  I don’t wish to spoil it by saying too much, especially in regards to who dies (which is a lot of people, sadly), so I recommend you pick up this little book and give it a try.

4 out of 5 stars

Buy The Blue Rebozo

 

Review of Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey

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Imagine waking up in the back of a van after being kidnapped with no idea who you are.  No memories.  No name.  Nothing.

You have a photo with the name “Claire” on it, perhaps the only clue to who you are — your whole identity.

You manage to escape, but you’re more lost than ever.  

This is how Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey opens.  You can see why I couldn’t stop reading.  I had to know what would happen next.

Ms. Humphrey’s writing is thought-out and easy to read, but her descriptions of the physical surroundings and the emotions stirring inside put the reader right in the scene.  As the kidnapped woman desperately picks her way through the forest at night trying to find help, my heart was pumping with adrenaline right there with her.  With every stick that snaps underfoot and every rustle of a bush, she and I kept looking over our shoulders, expecting the kidnappers to be right on our heels.

And then a safe haven pops into view — a cozy cabin in the woods with a black cat in the window.  She knocks on the door at about 3:00 AM and meets Alex Ramirez, a guy in his thirties who’s got his own demons.  A widower for the last couple of years, Alex lost his wife tragically.  She was murdered, leaving him with a guilt that eats away his insides for not being able to save her, leaving him a shell.  His first inclination is to act as protector to this strange woman who shows up at his door.  He gives “Rainy” (his nickname for her, as she can’t yet remember her name) a place to stay.

Luckily for “Rainy,” Alex’s best friend is D.J., a cop.  The authorities are quickly notified of “Rainy” and her kidnappers, including two photos that she took with her when she escaped.  The one with the name “Claire” on it is an old picture of a mother and a little girl, with “Emma and Claire” written on the back.  The new picture is a current one of “Rainy.”  The investigation begins while Alex and “Rainy” commence doing their own search online for links to Claire.

“Rainy” soon gets her memory back, and she remembers her name is Kate.  She recalls getting kidnapped in the mall parking lot after shopping with her sister, Meg.  Meg was knocked out, and once things settle, Kate visits Meg in the hospital.  Parts of the puzzle start to fall into place as Kate talks to Meg and her husband, Tom.  Kate’s family lives in Denver, and she was just visiting San Antonio (where Meg lives).

It turns out that Kate has a knack for uncovering information on people because she’s into genealogy.  I can appreciate this quality, as I am also a genealogy fanatic, having spent most of the summer of 2011 researching my family tree.  It’s amazing what you can find online these days in regards to records on people, so Ms. Humphrey’s descriptions of Kate using the Internet for this purpose is realistic.  Ms. Humphrey’s love of genealogy shines through in this book, which is nice touch.

While Kate may have her memory back, she remains confused about why she was kidnapped in the first place and what her connection to Claire might be.  In addition to fearing for her safety because her kidnappers are still at large, she begins to have romantic feelings for Alex.  Unsure of whether he returns the feelings because it’s clear he still loves his late wife, Ellie, Kate holds back.  She wants more than a protector, as much as she appreciates Alex for everything he’s done.  She stays at his cabin with him for several days, and the tension between them grows as Alex struggles with his blossoming feelings for Kate, torn between loving another woman and the guilt over losing Ellie.

The suspense romance is written in alternating points-of-view.  One chapter is from Kate’s point-of-view, and the next is from third person.  I have read books like this before, although it’s rarely done.  One of the more recent books I read where the POV kept changing from first person between two main characters was the third book in Rebecca Donovan’s Breathing Series, Out of Breath.  I found this confusing in Donovan’s case because the first two books were only from one character’s POV, and with switching between two first person POVs, this was a bit much.  In Ms. Humphrey’s book, however, it works.  While Donovan would switch in the middle of a chapter, Ms. Humphrey sticks to whole chapters written in one point-of-view or the other.  There was never any confusion.  I found the insight into Kate’s mind important, knowing her fears, her reservations, her lapses in memory, her feelings for Alex, etc.  Knowing less about how Alex feels about Kate keeps the tension building, although it’s clear as the book moves along that he sees Kate as more than just a friend.

To say much more about the plot would give away too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book.  Let me just say that Ms. Humphrey doesn’t disappoint.  The same quality of needing to know what happens next that hooked me in the beginning continued through the whole novel and didn’t die for a second.  There is more to the kidnapping than you would imagine.

One final nice touch of this story is the letters written to Claire every year on her birthday by her mom and dad.  Claire was taken from her parents before she turned three years old.  You can feel the parents’ heartache, even though they know their daughter is alive.  Claire’s mom also shares the backstory of how Claire was born and what happened with her kidnapping. Again, I cannot say more without revealing too much.19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

I highly recommend this book.  It’s the first in a series, so we have more to look forward to from Ms. Humphrey.  I, for one, am glad for that!

Buy Finding Claire here!