The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

978-1-4964-0790-0The Masterpiece is contemporary Christian fiction at its best. Having read and loved Redeeming Love, one of Rivers’s previous novels, I had an inkling that I would enjoy her newest work, fittingly titled The Masterpiece.

Many times Christian fiction can become a little too squeaky clean, which distracts from an exciting or enticing story line and pace. Being a Christian myself, I know that no one is perfect and Christians have just as many faults as everyone else. Therefore, Christian fiction should be real and not put on an act, pretending to be completely wholesome and pure. This is one of the reasons that I love Francine Rivers’s novels. Her characters all have major flaws and pasts that haunt them. Many times they feel like or even try giving up, but God is not done with them yet. Rivers has a knack for writing long books with unique plot lines and memorable characters, and The Masterpiece is no exception.

The Masterpiece is a story of survival, grief, forgiveness, family, and love. Famous LA artist, Roman Velasco has a very checkered past, even though his future looks bright to those who don’t really know him. The only person he lets get a little closer to him turns out to be a young, single mother named Grace, who becomes his personal assistant. Grace has been through many a tragedy and trial in her young life, but she knows and loves the Lord and leans on him in everything. Her parents died when she was a little girl, and God has become her one true father. Because of all the pain and bad relationships in her past, Grace keeps her distance and doesn’t have any interest in becoming romantically involved with anyone. Her only goal is to be able to support herself and her infant, Samuel, so that they can be together full time and she can be a devoted mother to him. She is determined not to let her past dictate her future. Roman, on the other hand, is distrusting and unstable. He doesn’t know the Lord. He lets his past mistakes and pain eat at him daily, unable to forgive or forget the horrible things he has done and seen in his young life. In and out of foster care during his childhood, running from the authorities, and tagging with graffiti in a gang, he is no stranger to the streets. No one knows his real name or the circumstances of his upbringing.

As Roman gets to know Grace, he starts to open up and question her about her devotion to God. When a new tragedy strikes, will Roman be strong enough to survive it?

Though this is a very long book, do not be intimidated. It only took me two days to read it, and I loved it. The story takes place in California and many of the landscapes and settings that are described are beautiful and breathtaking. The plot reads quickly, because it switches back and forth from present day back to the time when both Roman and Grace were children and teenagers. It is through the flashbacks that readers are able to get a better picture of the horrible things that Roman and Grace have both endured in their lives. I would highly recommend this novel for fans of Christian fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and even mainstream fiction. It has a little bit of everything between its covers. The ending was a tad bit predictable, but that was to be expected with the kind of story it is. Even so, it was rather enjoyable all the way to the last page.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

9780312577230_27a81

Kristin Hannah has done it again! Her newest novel, The Great Alone, which releases in February 2018, is absolutely stunning.

The story begins in 1974 when Lenora Allbright (Leni) is 13 years old and once again the new kid at school, having changed schools multiple times mainly because of her father’s wrath and inability to keep a job. Leni’s father, Ernt, was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, and since he has been back, his own family household has become the front line of battle with his white hot anger and temper. Leni’s mother, Cora, tries to tiptoe around Ernt in order to keep their glass house from shattering, but she rarely escapes the wrath of Ernt, which Leni witnesses it all the time. Just when Leni hopes they might finally settle down in one place so her father can be happy, Ernt loses yet another job, and the family is uprooted again. This time, however, her parents pack up the VW van and the family of three heads to a remote island in the Alaskan wilderness. One of Ernt’s war comrades who passed away in Vietnam, Bo Harlan, left Ernt his ramshackle homestead in Kaneq, on the Kenai Peninsula. Ernt feels this is a sign, and a big break for the family that they must not pass up. What they don’t realize then is that Alaska will change the course of Leni’s future forever. All of their futures, actually.

Other than a few neighbors down the road a ways, the Allbright’s rustic cabin is in an untamed area of Alaska, where the winters are unforgiving and severe and the wildlife extremely dangerous. Leni and her mother get to know some strong Alaskan women, learning all they can from them regarding planting, fishing, and preparing food and adequate shelter for winter. Large Marge, a former lawyer who runs the small general store in town, takes them under her wing and provides Leni a security she has never felt before. Ernt gets close to Bo’s father, Mad Earl Harlan and his clan, and together Ernt and Earl, both paranoid quick to rage, arrange all-out crazy plans for surviving when “TSHTF” with the government.

Meanwhile, Leni starts school with the very few other school-age inhabitants of Kaneq, including the only other student her age, Matthew Walker. Matthew’s family has been very successful in Alaska for many generations, starting with his grandparents who started the town of Kaneq. Matthew’s father, Tom, plans to use some of his wealth to modernize and improve Kaneq, opening up the island for tourism. This, and the fact that Tom seems to have a keen eye for his wife, Cora, only enrages Ernt Allbright more. Ernt directs his hatred and anger toward the Walkers and anything to do with their family, including Matthew, of course. Though her father forbids Leni from seeing Matthew, Leni grows closer and closer with him, finding in him a first best friend and first love all at the same time.

For Leni, the dangers outside of the cabin and in the wilderness are much less than those she faces in her own home. As the years pass and Leni grows up, she and her mother are both terrified to stay, and terrified to leave, knowing that Ernt will track them down no matter what. Now, at the age of 18 and graduating from high school, Leni dreams of going to college with Matthew and studying photography. However, her father forbids her from leaving Kaneq, in his mad fury to control each and every move she and her mother make. He even goes as far as to build a wall, locking the family on their property and locking everyone else out. A horrific tragedy strikes as Leni is finally able to make an escape, and what happens after will keep readers on the edge of their seats through a roller-coaster of fear, guilt, regret, love, and longing.

Hannah’s description of the land and stark beauty of Alaska are breathtaking. The author’s notes explain that Hannah’s own father ended up in Alaska in search of great adventure, and they have all “fallen in love with the Last Frontier.” Her experience with Alaska is evident in the atmospheric scenes throughout the novel. The writing is raw and real. Readers will feel the naked fear and loneliness of Leni and Cora as they struggle to survive in the great alone of Alaska, trapped in a family crisis with no easy way out. I couldn’t put this book down, much like my experience with all of Hannah’s novels. The fact that the setting for this novel was very personal for Hannah made it even more enjoyable for me as the reader. I would highly recommend The Great Alone to anyone who enjoys adventure, suspense, romance, and coming-of-age novels, because this one has it all.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the review copy of this title.

 

The Captain’s Daughter by Meg Mitchell Moore Book Review & Giveaway

If anyone would like to escape to a quaint9780385541251_0df2c.jpg, picturesque coastal town in Maine for a while, then this is the book for you. Having stayed on a lobster wharf in a tiny little Maine town myself, this brought back great memories, as well as the strong yearning to visit again. There’s nothing quite like the crisp breeze and refreshingly clean smell of the ocean in Maine.

The Captain’s Daughter by Meg Mitchell Moore (published by Doubleday) releases on July 18, 2017. Eliza Barnes grew up in Little Harbor, Maine, a lobstering village that she was very eager to leave as soon as possible. Now married to her college boyfriend with two daughters, Eliza spends her time with other country club wives, sharing gossip and commiserating on the frustrations and woes of their high-society daily lives. Despite the years she has made a life in Boston, Eliza often feels like she is on the outside of the group, looking in, and that she doesn’t really belong in her current situation. Her lavishly wealthy mother-in-law, Judith, causes Eliza to feel even more like an outsider.

It appears that Eliza and Rob are happily-married, but Rob spends most of his time supervising contractor job sites of multi-million dollar homes and daydreaming on his pride and joy, a boat which is the most expensive, fanciest one in the harbor.

Eliza is forced to take a break from her life as she knows it when she receives an out-of-the-blue call from her ex and first love, Russell, with news that her father had an accident while out checking lobster traps on the Joanie B.  Eliza’s mother passed away from cancer when she was very young, which left Charlie and her mother’s best friend, Val, to raise Eliza. A hard worker, and never one to complain, Charlie getting hurt and calling the Coast Guard for help has Eliza more than a little concerned for her father’s health. Eliza drops everything and heads to Little Harbor, thinking she’ll be there for a few days, no sweat. However, when she arrives and realizes what is really going on with Charlie, it’s not going to be so easy leaving “home” again. When she was a teen, she couldn’t wait to leave Little Harbor, where everyone knew her business, but now that she is back, she realizes many of the things she missed over the years. To complicate matters, she is back on Russell’s home turf, and they were not on the best of terms when she left town years ago. Already on an emotional rollercoaster with her father, Eliza’s feelings for Russell and the secret they share from the past are brought to the surface once again. Now she finds herself wondering what could have been, if she had made a different choice so many years ago. Did she make a mistake? Can she make things right after all these years?

This novel has a little bit of everything for readers to enjoy. Strong themes of family, parenting, marriage, friendship, love, and forgiveness blend together in a beautiful tale about loving, losing, and finding the strength to keep living. It’s a perfect summer novel for those wanting to read something set near the beach. The story is intriguing and the descriptions of the setting are at times breathtaking, transporting the reader right into the lobster boat with Eliza or in the coffee shop with young Mary. I highly recommend this novel by Meg Mitchell Moore and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Many thanks to Doubleday for allowing me to giveaway some hardcover copies of The Captain’s Daughter. To be entered to win one of 3 copies, post a comment below. Winners will be chosen at random on 7/31/17 and notified by email. Good luck!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

9781250099563_3fe1aOne Perfect Lie is due for publication from Macmillan on April 11, 2017.

I always enjoy Scottoline’s stand-alone novels. They are quick reads because they are hard to put down, with just enough mystery mixed into the story line to keep readers guessing until the very end. The topics of her novels are varied so that when you read them, it doesn’t feel like a mystery you’ve read many times already with the same general story line. I appreciate that, on account of the large number of mysteries that I read. Unique is good!

One Perfect Lie is trademark Scottoline – equal parts thrilling and entertaining. “Chris Brennan” has just secured a teaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. Handsome, quick-witted, and perfect for the job, he is hired without much trouble. He’ll also be the assistant baseball coach, allowing him to get even closer to some of the students and find a much-needed baseball player to serve as a pawn . The only catch is that Chris isn’t a teacher at all, so why is he at Central Valley and what kind of game is he playing? As the intriguing stranger gets to know the students and their families, the mission he is on becomes a bit more personal, even if know one knows his real name or the reason he is hiding out at Central Valley as “Coach Brennan.”

Readers will find out Chris’s true identity and purpose about halfway through the novel, so I won’t reveal it here. What would be the fun in that?!  When one of his fellow teachers is found dead, the stakes increase and Chris has to decide what is most important to him – keeping the secrets and sticking to the mission or finally letting down his guard and feeling like he has a home. No family of his own, Chris grew up in foster care, leading him to live a pretty private adult life perfect for the type of work he is caught up in at Central Valley. He’s a very likable character, despite appearing to be the “bad guy” in the beginning of the story. Once you find out why Chris is at Central Valley, your opinion of him will likely change.

I will mention that there are quite a lot of other main characters in the story, including baseball players Jordan, Evan, and Raz and their respective families. There is even a hint of possible romance involved. Each of the young men and their family have their own unique situations and challenges. Scottoline weaves their stories in with Chris’s mission to add to the richness of the story. I just chose to focus my review on Chris’s character, but rest assured there is a lot going on in this story!

Thank you to Macmillan for the early review copy of this book.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

9781501143199_2af24

The River at Night is one of the best suspenseful, action-packed thrillers that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s a debut novel from author Erica Ferencik, and what a brilliant first novel it is! The story pacing rolls and twists erratically, much like the dangerous river Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra are rafting through the remote Maine wilderness. Ferencik’s characters are vividly portrayed, each uniquely drawn but vitally important to the story. The four women have been friends for many years, but don’t spend as much time together as they would like. Pia, the most adventuresome, fearless and usual leader of the group, plans a trip to the Allagash wilderness in a remote mountainous area of Maine, 30 miles from the closet town. The plan is to meet up with a river guide, Rory, a complete stranger they will have to trust with their lives to get them down the river safely. Despite the trepidation and worry involved with trying something new, Wini and the others are excited for a fun annual girls trip together. Wini is especially excited to have something to focus on, after losing her younger brother and the recent end to her 15 year marriage. The women have no idea what kind of adventure, danger, and thrills await them on the river and in the surrounding wilderness.

Rory is a twenty year old, ruggedly handsome playboy making money by offering guided trips down the raging river. Pia and Rory hit it off a little too well, causing some heated tension between the women. However, they must put their feelings aside, realizing that they depend on Rory for safety and survival. About a third of the way into their trip and partially down the river, an unforeseen tragedy strikes, plunging the women into  a living nightmare. Suddenly they are hopelessly lost and have nothing – no river guide, no supplies, no raft, and no map. Fortunately, they have  each other, but not for long.

As night descends around them in the cold, damp wilderness, they see a beacon of hope – a campfire on the side of the mountain within walking distance. Reinvigorated a bit, they set off toward the fire to find a very primitive camp inhabited by two people. Wini quickly realizes that this backwoods, filthy pair is not actually going to help the women back to civilization at all. Instead, they aim to make the group disappear by all means necessary. Thus begins a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse as the women flee for their lives, but also race against the clock to survive before hunger, thirst, shock, and injuries consume them.

Readers will be dumbstruck by some of the lightning-speed plot twists near the end of the story. I loved the story, even though it didn’t end on a happy note, because (small spoiler alert!) not all the women make it out of the wilderness alive. The writing is vividly real, with brutally raw, emotional scenes between the friends as they cling to each other for support and survival. I also appreciated the way the river was portrayed as a character in itself, a beautiful, but relentless force of nature.

I highly recommend this book. I read it in one evening. You won’t be able to put it down, and I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

9781250111173_74e10

Behind Her Eyes, published by Macmillan, will be released on January 31, 2017.

This story is full of unreliable narrators (who drink…a lot) and the story switches back and forth between them with each chapter. David Martin is young, handsome, and a highly successful psychiatrist. His wife, Adele, is strikingly beautiful with a tragedy-laden past, having lost her parents in a fire at the family estate prior to her marriage to David. Enter Louise, a divorced, single mother who spends her time working as a secretary and drinking wine. Louise becomes entangled with both David and Adele, but in secret (at least Louise believes it to be a secret) from each other. She first meets David in a bar one night, spends some time kissing and flirting with him, but didn’t realize he was married. The next time she sees him, it’s when he becomes her new boss. Awkward much? One day while dropping her young son, Adam, off at school, Louise literally runs into Adele. The “chance” meeting turns into a chat over coffee and the beginning of a gratifying friendship for Louise, who mostly kept to herself prior to meeting Adele.

As Louise spends more time with Adele, she starts to question some of the oddities of her marriage to David. Why does David call to check on Adele at certain times of the day, but not allow her to have a cell phone or any money. Why does Adele keep things hidden from David? And who is this man named Rob, which Adele mentions from her past. Though part of the story flashes back to the time after the fire when Adele is in a mental institution, readers are never given specifics about why she is there. Readers will get a sense that her relationship with Rob, whom she meets at the institution, will be a huge turning point in the plot and what happened to cause such a dark, secretive marriage situation.

This story is dark and even from the outset, there is a powerful mood that something is very, very wrong about Adele and David’s relationship. The ending does a total flip and nothing that happened in the story is as it seems, once the truth is revealed. Everything is explained in the final two chapters and readers will be gobsmacked. Personally, the ending of the book changed my entire attitude toward the story. Though I very much enjoyed reading it, it took a turn toward the twilight zone at the end that I wouldn’t normally enjoy. Sorry to be so vague, but this is not the kind of story I want to inadvertently spoil for any future readers.

Behind Her Eyes is certainly unique and like nothing I have ever read in the past. Perhaps for this reason alone, and despite the ending that wasn’t to my liking, I really loved the book!  Fans of Gone Girl-type psychological suspense and authors like Mary Kubica and/or Stephen King will enjoy this book immensely. It’s sure to be a bestseller with a movie to follow.

The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

9780062381682_ef990

The release date for The Seventh Plague, the newest installment in James Rollins’s Sigma Force series, is December 13, 2016. This happens to be my birthday, which is a pretty awesome birthday gift from my absolute favorite author! (Thanks, James!)

Though the novels do not have to be read in order for maximum enjoyment, I understand the need for starting at the beginning of a series. I am a stickler for that, myself. For a list of the Sigma Force series novels in order, click here.

As with all of Rollins’ Sigma Force series novels, The Seventh Plague is full of pulse-pounding action & suspense from the very first page. This is one of the (many) reasons I love his novels so very much. Another big reason is the thorough amount of historical & scientific research he completes and weaves into the stories. The notes section at the back of his novels are sometimes just as exciting as the story itself! It’s fascinating to find out what parts of the story are fact and which are fiction.

A British archaeologist, Harold McCabe, who has been missing for over two years is found in the Egyptian desert. Unfortunately, he dies before he is able to give any information that could lead to the whereabouts of the rest of the research team, including his son. A startling discovery occurs during the autopsy – his body had started to mummify while he was still alive. To make matters worse, those who had worked on McCabe’s body for autopsy become extremely ill with an unknown, but highly contagious disease that quickly spreads through Cairo and beyond, threatening to become a global crisis. An old love interest of Director Painter Crowe, Safia al-Maaz, happens to be McCabe’s colleague, and she reaches out to Crowe (and Sigma) for urgent help.

Commander Gray Pierce and his team (with some of the usual Sigma characters: Seichan, Monk, and Kowalski) set out, risking their lives as they discover a threat linked back to ancient history and biblical passages. Along for the adventures are McCabe’s daughter, Jane, and the old archaeologist’s prodigy and friend, Derek Rankin. As they try to piece together the puzzle from McCabe’s research, others are tracking them, trying to find answers as well. They are forced on the run by a cold-hearted, extremely skilled female assassin on par with the likes of Seichan. Gray and his team unearth clues in an ancient tomb beneath the desert sands, while Painter’s group must travel to a remote Arctic landscape in an attempt to stop the release of another set of plagues upon mankind. The novel is rich with historical details, involving famous figures Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and Henry Morgan Stanley.

The Seventh Plague moves forward at breakneck speed (in trademark Rollins style), switching back and forth between the action in the desert and that in the Arctic. Readers won’t be able to put the book down until the final page. Will all the Sigma team members make it out of this story alive? You’ll have to read it and find out for yourself. You won’t be sorry you did!

Fans of Steve Berry, Ken Follett, and  David Baldacci will surely enjoy any and all works by James Rollins. He is a master of blending historical mysteries and scientific discoveries into a terrific story, each and every time.