Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saving Madeline by Rachel Ann Nunes

By Rachel Ann Nunes
Shadow Mountain, 2009
Reviewed by Heather Moore

Caitlin McLoughlin is a talented public defender, assigned to cases where she finds herself defending the bad guy over and over. But in her position, she doesn’t mind when she loses a case—because that means the criminals go to prison where they belong.

But then a four year old is abducted from her home and when the police find the kidnapper, it’s the girl’s father, Parker Hathaway. When Caitlin is assigned as his public defender, she is eager to wrap up the case, until she discovers Parker’s motivations.

Saving Madeline has an intriguing plot that follows Caitlin McLoughlin through the twists and turns of the legal system, explaining why some criminals get let off and some don’t, and how the prosecutors and defenders are held to the specifics of procedure.

As Caitlin’s professional life collides with her private life, she uncovers those who are worth having in her life and those who aren’t. She also wrestles with giving love a second chance. She makes every effort to keep her personal feelings out of her current case with Parker, but it proves to be difficult as time is running out for both Parker, and his daughter, Madeline.

An enjoyable, unexpected journey of ethics and love with a dynamic plot that will keep you guessing! I consider Saving Madeline as one of my favorite Nunes book. Readers will be pleased with this new novel and Nunes' fresh endeavor.

Rachel Ann Nunes is the bestselling author of many books. Visit her website here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Christmas Jars Reunion by Jason F. Wright

Christmas Jars Reunion

By Jason F. Wright
Shadow Mountain, October 2009

Reviewed by Heather Moore

If you haven’t read Christmas Jars, the New York Times bestselling book by Jason F. Wright, you’ve missed out on a classic Christmas story that will change how you view the season of giving. Its sequel, aptly titled Christmas Jars Reunion is reminiscent of the first.

Across the country, a phenomenon has begun to unfold. Since the release of Christmas Jars, hundreds of readers have contacted author Jason Wright and shared their Christmas Jar stories, and thousands of Christmas Jars have been given away across the country. Individuals and families are setting out an empty Mason jar to be filled with spare change throughout the year. Then anonymously, the family gives away the jar around Christmas time to a person in need.

In Christmas Jars Reunion, the story that began in Christmas Jars continues. Yet, this story stands on its own, bringing the reader once again into Hope’s Jensen’s remarkable life. The author includes a quote from a Christmas Jar recipient at the beginning of each chapter. One reads, “I’ve often wondered how a person repays kindness. I know now . . . with a Christmas Jar. As if a year full of blessings wasn’t already enough, God blessed me again tonight. And tomorrow? A new jar begins. –Patricia” (CJR, 60).

But even Hope Jensen needs to learn what the spirit of selfless giving is truly about. When Clark Maxwell re-enters her life, she must decide if she can allow him into her heart once again, and discover that loving someone might just be worth the risk.

Hope sets the lofty goal of distributing 1,001 Christmas Jars in honor of Chuck, deceased owner of Chuck’s diner. But in the process, the importance of the original Christmas Jar is lost.

It will take a stranger, a young girl, and an interview of a lifetime to bring back the true meaning that the Christmas Jar was intended for. Christmas Jars Reunion is a story that will inspire you to look closer at your life and remind you of the significance of selfless giving.

To read personal experiences or share your Christmas Jar story, visit here.

Other books by Jason F. Wright: Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle, The Wednesday Letters and Recovering Charles.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In the Company of Angels by David Farland

by Guest Reviewer, Robyn Heirtzler

New York Times best-selling author David Farland has done it again, created compelling fiction with unforgettable characters in his newest novel, In the Company of Angels.

Based on the true story of the Willie Handcart Company, Farland has beautifully captured the trials, fears and hope of these pioneers. He seamlessly pieces the thoughts and actions of the feisty Eliza Gadd, Captain James G. Willie and young Baline Mortensen into a compelling story that’s difficult to release. Led by Captain Willie, the company encounters countless tragedies that delays their trip across the plains, eventually resulting in numerous deaths from exposure and starvation.

Indian wars rage as they march across the plains, carrying their sick and injured in handcarts built from scraps of wood. Companies ahead of them report nearly constant threat of the raids and the discovery of corpses along the trail does little to ease their fears.

This heartbreaking account takes the reader to Eliza Gadd’s side as she watches her family collapse around her and culminates as Baline Mortensen gives the ultimate sacrifice…

In the Company of Angels is a story for all faiths and all people. It’s a historical recollection of fact combined in a novel that makes the reader believe he’s walking beside these brave pioneers.
From the prologue: “…Fifteen people are buried there in a circle, laid out toe to toe. In 1856, they tried to cross a continent, hauling all that they owned in handcarts, and were caught in an early storm. Most were men who died struggling to save their families from the brutal blizzard, but others were children, weakened by starvation. They are but a few of those who died along the trail.

“Their story is not a common tragedy. Theirs is a story of courage, hope, and heroism that may be unparalleled in the American West.

“Few have tried to tell their tale. It is not an easy one to tell. Though survivors, and even many of those who died, left biographical accounts, it is an odd tale—a story of revelations, of angelic visitations, of people struggling to find religious freedom in a harsh world.”

David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author with nearly fifty novels in print. While most of his novels fit into other genres, Dave felt deeply touched by the story of the Willie Handcart Company, and so began to study it with an eye toward writing the tale. He spent two years in the process, reading from numerous biographies, pulling handcarts, and traveling along the Old Mormon Trail.

The novel can be purchased here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Shudder, by Jennie Hansen

The ending of this book made me mad -- furious, in fact! I'm mad that -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me describe the entire book first.

Shudder, by Jennie Hansen, is a multi-faceted book; it's a suspenseful thriller, but it also features a storyline about abuse, along with themes of friendship and romance. The two main characters, Darcy and Clare, grew up together, and at the beginning of the book, they share an apartment. But while Darcy was always surrounded by a large, loving and supportive family, Clare only had an ill, demanding mother who later died. When Blaine, a young attorney, came into her life, she was flattered by his self-confident personality, and a little relieved to let him take over much of the load of responsbility that she had carried around by herself for many years. But Blaine's personality can also be described as "forceful" in more ways than one, and the book opens with Clare coming home with a broken wrist, which he caused. It's an event that only serves to make Darcy even more suspicious of Blaine; she's never liked him, but now she's starting to see what Clare cannot; that he is abusing her friend both physically and mentally.

Meanwhile, Darcy is having her own problems. When Blaine insists on moving in with Clare even before they're engaged, Darcy feels morally obliged to move out. Unhappy circumstances bring her together with David, a young, single LDS coach at the local high school. David is not only the exact opposite of Blaine, but he also helps Darcy find a new place to live, in the home of a woman, Karlene, who is recovering from a severe car accident. Karlene, however, is convinced that it wasn't an accident and that her car was deliberately forced off the road. Soon after Darcy moves in, the house is almost broken into, then a fire is started directly outside, and finally, the house is blown up deliberately -- fortunately at a time when both women are out. It seems that someone is looking for evidence of a crime that Karlene accidentally captured on film, and they will stop at nothing to find and destroy it. When Karlene goes into hiding, Darcy is the only connection to her that the villains have left.

The story contains many threads that are skillfully intertwined; the thrills, spills and romance of Darcy's storyline are a good balance to the increasingly abusive behavior of Blaine towards Clare. The pacing is fast, but not break-neck, and there's always something that will keep the readers turning the pages to see what happens next. Along the way, the reader also discovers much about the behavioral patterns of abusers -- not in the form of the dreaded info-dump, but carefully woven into the story. Because many of Blaine's actions are described from Clare's point of view, the reader is also shown what she is thinking and feeling, and how she doesn't recognize her relationship at first for what it really is. Clare is so in love, for instance, that it never occurs to her that Blaine deliberately hid her cell phone; she thinks she herself slid it into his briefcase by accident. She believes that he is truly too busy and forgetful to add her name to their "joint" account, and she even takes the blame for many of his aggressive outbursts, chiding herself for not recognizing and avoiding his triggers. I personally liked the way that Jennie Hansen showed us enough of Blaine's unhappy background that we can approximate an understanding of why he acts the way he acts, although I'm sure that the roots of abuse are much more complicated than we mortals can ever know. The best parts of the book, however, show the theme of friendship; how Darcy doesn't give up on Clare despite the obstacles that Blaine throws (sometimes literally) in her way, how friends can be found in unlikely places and with unlikely people, and best of all, how seemingly small acts of friendship can have so many positive outcomes.

All this talk about abuse makes the book sound preachy, but I assure you, it's not; it's entertaining and suspenseful right up to the end, with lots of good action scenes and two delightful romances (one major and one minor.) The scene with the snowmobile and the chase at the beach were particularly tense. And while a spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, this book is not just syrupy sweetness overcompensating for a bitter pill. The message isn't completely disguised -- it's not supposed to be -- but it is divided into small, easily digestible portions, and wrapped up in a hearty, satisfying meal that will make you glad you ate the whole thing.

Now, as I said at the beginning, the bittersweet ending of this book, or more specifically, of Clare's plotline makes me mad. I'm furious at the fact that it's the victims who have to run and hide, often for the rest of their lives, if they manage to get away at all. I'm mad that the perpetrators are often allowed to go on living as though nothing's happened, free to continue their abusive behavior, when they are the ones who should be forced to live in fear, looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives and worrying that their pasts will finally catch up with them. It's the sad reality of to-day, but books like this will help raise awareness of the problem so that things can change. I hope that this book in particular will go beyond mere entertainment, that its subtle messages will inspire who are in an abusive relationship to realize what's going on and get help, and inspire others who are outside of those relationships to reach out and give that help in the moment that it's needed.

I'd recommend this book to those readers who want more depth to their thrillers, who want to be entertained and yet left pondering at the same time. I also think this book would be appropriate for older teens.

If you'd like to win a signed copy of Shudder, go to Jennie's blog. She'll be holding two contests during the month of October and all you have to do to enter is make a thoughtful comment on any one of her blog posts during that time.