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Book Review: “Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery” by Amanda Cox

Oh my! What a beautiful story Amanda Cox has written for her sophomore novel. It’s quite remarkable. Set over two different time periods: the present day and the years from 1965 into the 1980s, we meet three generations of Clearwater ladies: Glory Ann (or Nan), her daughter Rosemary and the latter’s daughter, Sarah. Cox weaves a compelling small town story of kept secrets, parental expectations, familial loss and forgiveness through the lives of these strong women. All so alike in many respects but also unique I warmed to each of the three for different reasons.

The three ladies lives pivot around the Old Depot Grocery which Glory Ann ran with her husband and both Rosemary and Sarah grew up working in from an early age. It serves as a physical statement of so much life shared between the three but it also served as a mechanism for the three to ‘hide’ their secrets and ‘hide away’ from the possibilities of doing something different with their lives.

It was powerful reminder of the importance of truth but also unconditional familial love that allows forgiveness and redemption. There’s also a strong side note regarding the difficulty of war vets adjusting back to normal life which I enjoyed reading too.

I appreciated how we saw quiet strength in some of the male characters too. Clarence Clearwater was a superb character demonstrating unconditional love not just to his wife and daughters but the community as well. Clay Ashby also was a beautiful illustration of a man of quiet strength, who didn’t push himself onto Sarah, giving her the time and space she needed to grieve her loss and reconcile her past and future aspirations.

Cox managed the different POVS well and I always felt confident in who’s voice I was reading and the time period each scene/chapter was set.

I’m so looking forward to Cox’s next story. She might have become a ‘must read’ author for me.

I received an early ebook copy as part of Revell Reads blogger program via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: The Paris Betrayal by James R. Hannibal

This novel started with a bang just like you want a spy thriller to start. Bullets flying, bad guys fleeing, good guys mission isn’t as successful as planned and the fate of the world is in Ben Calix’s hands. Plus, we get some inside tips from the ‘How to be a Successful Spy Training Manual’ (in italics) which I really enjoyed.

We’re soon taken on a series of fast chases throughout Europe and Hannibal’s descriptions of the various settings were tremendous in helping us feel we were in the scene. Having travelled a few times to Paris I particularly loved ‘going back’ especially to my favourite cathedral, Notre Dame, and to be taken inside while it’s being repaired was a special treat.

The pace is relentless as Ben’s mission keeps being thwarted by both the bad guys but also apparently by his employer who has ‘set him afloat without a paddle’. The obstacles he confronts become increasingly dire especially as his support crew seem to have abandoned him or get seemingly eliminated.

In the background, we get a very cagey sense of the bad guys, a nefarious organisation dubbed Leviathan led by someone that goes by the moniker, Jupiter.

Surprisingly, I found after the first 100 or so pages I was struggling to stay interested. And this stayed with me for most of the novel which bothered me. As I would usually love this kind of story. By the end of the story I realised why I had this strange experience. Three reasons:

  • I really wasn’t that invested in Ben and his mission. I think all the action and obstacles denied Ben and the reader sufficient time to breathe so we could get to know the guy.
  • the bad guys were too nebulous for me. They only appeared a handful of times in discreet conversations between Jupiter and his side kick, Terrance, so we really didn’t get to know why they were doing what they planned.
  • the supporting cast were many and only flitted in and out of the story for a short period so again we never invested in them. Ben has a love interest in Giselle and then Clara, and perhaps did a few years back for Tess, but we really never learn much about any of them. I really wanted to like Clara, in particular, and we get some insight into her when she gets to tell the story for a chapter or two, but it didn’t continue to maintain my interest.

I thought the ending was clever as it surprised me. The author’s note at the back gives some insight into the background behind Ben’s development but it didn’t quite gel for me.

Overall, this is a quality spy story and judging by the many other positive reviews is one that appeals to many people.

I received an early ebook copy from Revell via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Ottoman Dominion by Terry Brennan

I will say from the outset this is my sort of read! Full of intrigue, action, edge of your seat suspense, political conspiracies, historical theories and fiction, the tinderbox of the Middle East and the active involvement of angels and demons. This has it all.

Written in very short, sharp scenes I actually struggled at first to catch up, to understand what was going on. This surprised me having read the first two in the series relatively recently but there seemed to be too many players and too many separate plot points that had me rolling my eyes a little. But after about 50 pages, everything fell back into place and I settled in for the ride. The pages began turning very quickly.

There are so many elements to like in this story, yes, Brennan uses fictional licence which may bother some readers when it comes to the supernatural but I like how he used the ‘thin veil’ and the roles both Bayard (the angelic warrior) and the Turk (the Man of Violence) played. His cast of characters were all developed across the three stories with particular emphasis in the final instalment on Brian Mullaney and Atticus Cleveland. Some of the supporting cast were tremendously depicted: Father Poppy and Rabbi Herzeg being two very engaging characters.

Brennan wraps the series up well bringing all the moving pieces together like a master story conductor. I’m wondering if he’s left a few crumbs that may form the basis of a spin-off but that’s for us all to ponder.

Congratulations, Terry Brennan. May I encourage any new readers to start with Book 1 in the series, as the backstories and action builds from it. And now the 3 are available, may I also encourage you to read all three with minimal breaks between them so you don’t spent too much time in ‘catch up mode’ at the beginning of the next one.

I received a complimentary copy from Kregel as a result of being a member of the Audra Reads program via NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: The Key to Love by Betsy St.Amant

There is a lot to like about this story but it wasn’t what one might expect to find in a sweet romance. Bri Duval is in her late twenties, resides in a small Kansas town named Story, is a superb pastry chef and lives in a romantic fantasy bubble. The latter has been derived by the seemingly romantic marriage her parents lived who were tragically killed in a traffic accident a decade ago. Perhaps it was the trauma of losing her parents so suddenly but Bri is convinced that her parents lived the ultimate romantic story.

Gerard Fortier, is a travel writer, hoping to crack the big time. He’s naturally ruggedly handsome, rides a motorbike and on the surface appears everything alpha-male. He’s running from love, a broken heart from a hastily ended engagement and some unusual advice from a mentor who encouraged him to believe that true love is unattainable.

I grappled for the first half of the book because not a lot happened and Bri and Gerard seemed to keep going over the same ground, misunderstandings, Bri over-thinking everything, inadvertently running into each other all the time and on it goes. Until they began to question everything they had relied upon for so long. That had in fact kept them trapped in their own worlds: Bri’s a very small one in Story, his a globe trotting one where he never stayed long enough to establish any kind of roots. And this was when the story began to get interesting and the layers of the onion, so to speak, began to be pulled back.

Love is messy and hard work. It requires commitment and communication and forgiveness and vulnerability. It sometimes requires letting go of perceptions we’ve held onto for too long that have actually led us astray and limited our ability to say yes to the love that is staring us in the face.

I noticed a number of elements of romance movies: “You’ve Got Mail” – the mother/daughter running a business with elderly family members acting as guardians of sorts, mom even ‘twirled’ in the kitchen plus the incorrigible male lead who antagonises the female lead; Sweet Home Alabama’s ‘so I can kiss you whenever I want’ (great line BTW).

Both Bri and Gerard grew through this story which made the second half a delight to read. I kinda think this would be a story that would work better a hundred pages shorter so we can cut all the going over old ground but be encouraged that the reward is worth it in the end as the lessons on the key to love are good ones.

I received a complimentary ebook copy as a member of the Revell Reads Reading program via NetGalley without any expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: Persian Betrayal by Terry Brennan

This is a thrilling continuation of The Ishmael Covenant. I’d encourage any readers to read that one first before diving into the second. This story builds upon the first one and is a tremendous mix of fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, Middle Eastern political tensions, America’s role in global affairs and supernatural intervention.

Brennan gets the chance to further develop his main characters. Brian Mullaney and Atticus Cleveland are excellent characters; men conflicted in their roles both because of their family situations and their Christian belief in the Word of God. It’s inspiring and convicting. How would I response if placed in a similar conflict?

The story moves fast. Brennan uses short scenes to keep us engaged with all the various players in Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Washington DC. It can be confusing at first but all the moving pieces soon begin to gel in one’s mind the longer the story goes.

I particularly enjoyed the stronger supernatural aspect of this story. We met the Turk in book one and what an evil creature he is. He continues to wreak havoc in order to wrest control of the Vilna Gaon box and prophesy away from the good guys. And then we’re introduced to Bayard, an equally imposing knight in shimmering armour. I’m looking forward to what these two bring in Book three.

I also appreciated how Brennan developed Mullaney’s faith in this story. He handled this very well and I hope we see more of this in the next edition with his relationship with God playing an even more influential role.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and so I trust Mr Brennan will get book 3 out soon so we can all discover how this riveting drama ends.

I received a PDF copy of the story from Kregel working alongside ‘I Read with Audra’ blog tour with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Stories that Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

This is my first Susie Finkbeiner story and gosh, what a delightful surprise it was. It starts slowly and never really increases in pace which is unusual for the stories I mostly read. But it wasn;’t long before I was captivated by this story of family.

We meet Betty Sweet, recently turned 40, in the early 60s. Her husband, Norman, dies suddenly and there is a void in her life. Small town LaFontaine, not too far from Detroit, is the setting featuring a Main Street with the family-owned and run bakery: The Sweet Bakery, Betty’s in-laws where Norman also worked.

Norman’s family comes around Betty in her grieving and we get to meet Albert, his brother and Marvel, his sister plus Pop, the patriarch of the family. We could meet these characters on the street, there’s no frills, simply true to life people. Marvel has twin ten year old boys: Nick and Dick, who are full of energy and mischief as one expects of twins at that age.

Finkbeiner writes short chapters which typically are split between Betty telling us a story of the past: her mom, her childhood with sister Clara, meeting Norman and their courtship and then the current time. They’re usually linked in some manner and so what gradually builds is a family portrait, one full of the love, loss, struggles with mental health and the everyday meanderings of life. Nothing much happens but it’s engrossing.

And then there’s Hugo. He shines a light into Betty’s world. He’s a special little boy, and Finkbeiner ever so gracefully deals with issues of race and prejudice with this innocent child. It’s beautiful to read.

I was sad the book ended even though not much happened but Finkbeiner’s soft touches with the character’s faith, familial love and gentle portrayal of mental health are captivating. I feel privileged to have read this beautiful story.

Now to locate Susie’s earlier ones.

I received an early release ebook copy from the Revell Reads programs enabled by NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

I really enjoyed the first in the Shepherd Suspense series and was eagerly awaiting to read the second one. However, I found it didn’t really meet my expectation. It’s interesting how many second novels in a series can seem a bit flat but interestingly, more often than not I find the third one wraps up the series in a similar manner to how it started.

What I found most disappointing about this story was that I didn’t feel there was anything new. Sure, we’re thrown into a new plot scenario but the action scenes were similar and I didn’t feel there was any real chemistry between John Cross and Christine Lewis and wondered why there was a seemingly romantic connection between them. At times, Christine barely appeared to like John.

The story begins with Christine. Her step-brother, Philip, has been arrested for the murder of a work colleague. Christine heads to Dallas to help her brother, and John pursues her fearful she will get into some danger. Well, he was right about that. The baddies soon get involved and for much of the second half of the book we see John, in particular, get himself out of some precarious situations as the aforementioned seek to kill him.

The story around the bad guys takes over, and the original matter of Philip’s role in the murder gets lost, even though the two are linked. Huff loves car chases and used them extravagantly in book one. This time they play an even bigger part. There are two chase scenes that probably take up about 20% of the novel. To his credit, Huff makes them incredibly visual but sometimes one loses track of the detail. I skimmed over much of the second one because I got bored. I hope Huff leaves the car chase behind for book 3 as I feel they’ve lost their impact and would encourage him to find an alternative device to ramp up the visual action.

Yes, there is a Mission Impossible feel about the story and it’s easy to turn the pages as the pace is always fast and exciting. The most fascinating aspect to the series is John Cross and his faith and his vocation. Can he be an effective pastor when his heart longs for the thrill and chaos of the CIA life? We see the grapple and Huff uses Cross’s head church elder, Gary, to serve as a form of intercessor which is done well, but the overall struggle is mostly sidelined by the action.

I liked how Huff brings together a couple who are trying to develop a relationship and clearly following traditional conservative practices. However, the long distance aspect of their relationship inhibits it plus Cross’s uncertainty about his vocation and Christine’s young faith. But as I mentioned I struggled to see any real chemistry between the two nor any real deep connection that gave me hope there is a future for them.

I do look forward to the next in the series simply because I believe John Cross has the potential to be developed into a really fascinating character.

I received a marked up copy of an early PDF version of the story from Kregel via ‘I Read with Audra’ launch services without any expectation of a favourable review.