Category Archives: Fiction

The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

The Governess of Highland Hall cover artTitle: The Governess of Highland Hall

Author: Carrie Turansky

Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah

Book Description:

Worlds lie between the marketplaces of India and the halls of a magnificent country estate like Highland Hall. Will Julia be able to find her place when a governess is neither upstairs family nor downstairs help?

Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the estate’s preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey.

Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin Randolph’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from the financial ruin. The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith.

While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart and faith over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

Review:

Julia Foster has spent the last twelve years in India, working with her missionary parents. Due to her father’s illness, she and her family have returned to England. Now Julia must work to support her parents. She becomes the governess at Highland Hall, despite her new employer’s reservations. Sir William Ramsey is desperate for a good governess for his two young children and his teenaged cousins, as well as a way to save the large estate he inherited. Although he finds a good governess, albeit a rather young one, he still can’t seem to find a way to raise enough money to save Highland Hall. When a young American heiress enters the picture, she offers the money he needs for the estate, but is he willing to forsake love and marry just to save Highland Hall?

From the start, Julia was a rather perfect character. Even in her flaws she showed perfection. She has a habit of speaking her mind rather bluntly at times, but she instantly regrets speaking so plainly when she would have been better off thinking a little longer before saying anything. Her pious nature, while admirable, becomes somewhat grating after a while. So does the fact that she instantly becomes the favorite person of nearly every major character and appears to be something of a superhero in that others often comment that they don’t know what they would do without her and that things are ever so much better now that she’s there. While this could be believable, when it happens a week into the people knowing her, it’s a little overblown.

Then there’s William, baronet and master of Highland Hall. His main concern throughout most of the book is money and how he is going to raise enough to pay the ridiculously high death duties for inheriting the estate. His other big concern is how society will view him and his family and whether he can maintain Highland Hall so he will be acceptable to the upper class. While his money woes make sense, it doesn’t make sense that a man so concerned with appearances would share his financial difficulties with so many people, including his newly hired governess and the overbearing aunt of his two young cousins, a woman he can’t stand.

The rest of the characters are a mixed bag, ranging from lovely yet timid to downright unbearable. The housekeeper in particular is a character I kept hoping would get fired. William’s sister Sarah could have benefitted from her own book, but her story did play a significant role in this one.

Between William’s constant worry about finances and appearances, Julia’s extreme piety mixed with a longing to return to India, and all the drama of the servants, it’s a wonder anything ever got resolved. The story dragged on with the same concerns repeated over and over and the same general nasty attitudes shown time and again until I wondered if the story would ever end. Even when the big conflict appeared, it only served to strengthen the concerns and attitudes already shown.

The message of faith and trusting God is a strong one. At times, it felt as though I was being preached to, but at other times the characters’ faith felt genuine. Honestly, I preferred the head gardener’s quiet faith to Julia’s in-your-face version, but just as in real life, each person has their own way of living out their love for the Lord.

It is a well-written historical novel that does an excellent job of depicting the time period and the struggles faced by many families, as well as the occasional strife between servants and family. If you enjoy novels set in the time just before World War I, you may enjoy this one. Unfortunately, as much as I love Downton Abbey and stories of a similar vein, this just was not the book for me.

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Filed under Christian, Fiction, Historical, Romance, Series, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer

Martyr's Fire cover artTitle: Martyr’s Fire (Book Three, Merlin’s Immortals)

Author: Sigmund Brouwer

Publisher: WaterBrook Press

Book Description:

Will this dangerous quest lead the outcast Orphan King toward an ancient secret—or to certain destruction? 

Posing as a beggar, Thomas escapes Magnus after fifteen men, who are calling themselves the Priests of the Holy Grail, arrive and take control of the castle through wondrous acts and apparent miracles. With the help of his longtime friend Gervaise, Thomas sets out on a journey that leads him to the ancient Holy Land. Unaware that Katherine and Hawkwood are watching over him, Thomas is tested in his beliefs and comes face to face with the ancient power that the Merlins and Druids have long been searching for.Enter the world of Merlin’s Immortals, where ancient secrets and evil conspiracies take you on a breathless adventure of discovery, intrigue, and hidden knowledge.

Review:

In this third book of the Merlin’s Immortals series, Thomas must face new challenges and dangers in his quest to rule and protect Magnus from the Druids. He also must take a leap of faith — a difficult task for a young man who values physical proof and things he can see. But when battling unseen enemies and trying to uncover hidden secrets, sometimes faith is all one can rely on.

Throughout the book treachery, secrets, and mysteries all lead Thomas to one big question: who can he trust? Katherine and Hawkwood face a similar dilemma. Can they trust Thomas, or is he their enemy? These questions and more circle round and round, each time drawing a little closer to an answer. Then, just when they think they know where to place their trust, something happens to make them question others’ loyalty once more.

The twists and turns in Martyr’s Fire keep the reader waiting with bated breath to discover what will happen next. Just when you think you know how events will unfold, the author throws in something that makes you question everything you thought you knew about the story. The high adventure and fast-paced action will keep you turning pages late into the night.

If you have read the first two books in the Merlin’s Immortals series, you should definitely read this book. If you haven’t started reading the series yet, you should pick up a copy of The Orphan King immediately and be prepared to read the next two books as well. This series will grab your attention, pull you into the story of Thomas and his quest for Magnus, and leave you wanting more.

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Filed under Christian, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Mystery/Suspense, Series, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, Young Adult

Payback in Panama by Noel Hynd

Payback in Panama cover artTitle: Payback in Panama, The Cuban Trilogy: Book 3

Author: Noel Hynd

Publisher: Zondervan

Book Description:

After two attempts on her life, Alex is faced with the ultimate decision . . . kill or be killed.

U.S. Treasury Agent Alexandra LaDuca is at a crossroads. Her job is beating her up, emotionally and psychologically. And the moral battle between her faith and her responsibilities is taking its toll on her effectiveness. For the first time, she wonders how long she can last.

Forcing an end to her long-running and treacherous duel with the heads of the Dosi Cartel, Alex knows this is her last do-or-die operation. It’s time call in all the favors owed to her.

Her fight takes her into the criminal underground of America’s east coast, south into the violent underworld of Central America, across Honduras and El Salvador, and finally to Panama for a shattering confrontation.

Alex’s career, her life, and her future with the man she loves—a future she never expected after the violent death of her fiancé two years earlier—are all at stake. After a final payback in Panama, nothing will be the same . . . if she even survives.

Review:

I love fast-paced suspense novels with action that starts on the first page and doesn’t stop until the very end of the book. This isn’t one of those stories. It started off with page after page of background and info dumps about character motivation. The action picked up around chapter six or seven, and the story finally started moving forward. Then there was another large chunk of information that brought the pace of the story to a crawl. This pattern continued throughout the book, making it difficult for me to read every line without skimming to find a more exciting part. While I appreciate the amount of research the author did for this book, I wish he hadn’t included quite so much of it in the story.

The plot and characters are great and well-developed. Unfortunately, they seem over-developed at times as page after page of character motivation tells us in minute detail how they think, why they do the things they do, etc. Readers are also treated to massive amounts of information on the drug situation in Central America, the intricacies of international crime, and the complexity of financial crimes. After a while, this information begins to feel a bit repetitive. The feeling isn’t helped by the fact that much of the book is telling the story rather than showing it, which left me longing for the characters to do something in “real time” rather than having to read a summary of what they did.

That said, the story did pick up its pace in the last quarter of the book or so. The overwhelming amounts of information were absent as well. The last chapters flowed smoothly and finally allowed me as a reader to get lost in the book and turn page after page without realizing how much time had passed.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed book, this one isn’t for you. If you prefer a slow-paced, procedural-type novel with bits of action sprinkled throughout in-depth information, you’ll likely enjoy Payback in Panama.

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Filed under Christian, Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, Series, Zondervan

Gone South by Meg Moseley

Gone South cover artTitle: Gone South

Author: Meg Moseley

Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah

Book Description:

The charm of the South drew her back to her family’s roots. But when the town’s old resentments turn the sweet tea bitter, can Tish find a welcome anywhere?

Leaving frosty Michigan for the Deep South was never a blip in the simple plans Tish McComb imagined for her life, dreams of marriage and family that were dashed five years earlier in a tragic accident. Now an opportunity to buy her great-great-great-grandparents’ Civil War era home beckons Tish to Noble, Alabama, a Southern town in every sense of the word. She wonders if God has given her a new dream— the old house filled with friends, her vintage percolator bubbling on the sideboard.

When Tish discovers that McCombs aren’t welcome in town, she feels like a Yankee behind enemy lines. Only local antiques dealer George Zorbas seems willing to give her a chance. What’s a lonely outcast to do but take in Noble’s resident prodigal, Melanie Hamilton, and hope that the two can find some much needed acceptance in each other.

Problem is, old habits die hard, and Mel is quite set in her destructive ways. With Melanie blocked from going home, Tish must try to manage her incorrigible houseguest as she attempts to prove her own worth in a town that seems to have forgotten that every sinner needs God-given mercy, love and forgiveness.

Review:

Tish McComb grew up in Michigan, but her ancestors have ties to Noble, Alabama. Proud of her McComb heritage, she’s thrilled when the house her ancestors built comes up for sale at an affordable price. After all, what could be better than a McComb owning the McComb house once more? It doesn’t take Tish long to realize that not every Yankee is welcome in the south, and that not everyone remembers what happened in the good ol’ days of yesteryear the same way. Add in the town outcast, a local antique dealer, and a tiny dog that can’t seem to remember where home is, and you have a fast-paced story filled with long memories and small town drama.

Gone South is a wonderful blend of Yankee straightforwardness and southern charm, while not shying away from some of the less pleasant parts of small town life. Judgmental attitudes threaten relationships and hurt more than they help. Stories from the bleak days after the end of the Civil War may not be as accurate as everyone believes. Rumors spread like wildfire and taint possible relationships before they even begin.

Yet Ms. Moseley managed to weave a thread of hope throughout even the darkest parts of the book, keeping up the cheerful outlook Tish brings to the story. On the rare occasions Tish’s optimism slips, someone else is right there to pick it up. George, in particular, complements Tish nicely. When one is feeling pessimistic, the other offers a reason to hope. The balance between them is handled beautifully, but there are enough bumps in the road to make the friendship believable. Mel has a humongous chip on her shoulder, but not without good reason. As she tries to find her place in the world, it becomes clear that this young woman has endured a lot in her life. The challenges she faces are realistically portrayed, which adds to the depth and drama of the story.

If you love books with small town settings and plenty of drama to keep you turning the pages, I recommend Gone South.

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Afloat by Erin Healy

Afloat cover artTitle: Afloat

Author: Erin Healy

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Book Description:

Who will you trust when dark waters rise?

Eagle’s Talon is an architectural marvel—shining residential units afloat in a protected cove of the gorgeous Rondeau River. The project is nearly complete, partially occupied, and ready to make investors rich when a sinkhole gives way. Then torrential rains and a flood leave a ragged collection of builders, investors, and residents stranded in one floating building, cut off from the rest of the world.

They’re bitterly divided over what to do next.

Architect Vance Nolan insists they should sit tight and wait for rescue. Developer Tony Dean wants to strike out into the darkness. And single mom Danielle Clement, desperate to protect her young son, Simeon, struggles to hold their motley band together.

Power failure, a pall of unnatural daytime darkness, explosions in the distance, then a murder ratchet tensions to a boiling point. But Danielle’s young son, Simeon, has spotted something strange underwater—beautiful, shifting lights in the dark water below.

In this watery world where everyone’s secrets will eventually come to light, salvation may mean more than just getting out alive.

Another stunning exploration of the human spirit and supernatural possibilities from best-selling author Erin Healy.

Review:

Vance Nolan designed floating housing with the goal of providing affordable housing for the poor and homeless. Tony Dean finances the project and then turns the floating condos into an exclusive housing development for the wealthy. Danielle Clement is a single mom struggling to find her way after the death of her husband, and both Vance and Tony want her for their own. When disaster strikes the floating neighborhood of Eagle’s Talon, everybody who gets trapped by rising floodwater must set aside their differences if they want to survive.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started reading Afloat, but what I got was a complex mystery, supernatural elements, suspense, and a new way to view Psalm 119 all wrapped up in an almost apocalyptic setting. Between the eclectic cast of characters, mysterious events, and revelations about what brought several of the characters to Eagle’s Talon, the story pulled me in and made it difficult to put the book down. The plot contained so many twists and turns that I couldn’t even begin to guess what might happen next. Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse for those stranded in building 12, it did. Yet through Vance, his old friend Zeke, and Danielle’s five-year-old son Simeon, it was impossible to not hope everything would turn out all right in the end.

Ms. Healy did an amazing job of showing the battle between good and evil, as well as God’s faithfulness even in the worst situations. The contrast between selfishness and love, which creates selflessness, is artfully woven throughout the story. I particularly enjoyed the way Ms. Healy applied verses from Psalm 119 to events in the story and used them to give Vance strength when his faith struggled. If you enjoy suspense or speculative fiction, you’ll enjoy Afloat.

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Filed under Christian, Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative Fiction, Thomas Nelson, Thriller

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer

Fortress of Mist cover artTitle: Fortress of Mist (Book Two, Merlin’s Immortals)

Author: Sigmund Brouwer

Publisher: Waterbrook Press

Book Description:

The throne is redeemed, but the battle is just beginning.          

In the dark corners of an ancient land, evil lurks in the shadows. Powerful druids haunt the spaces of their lost territory. Double-minded noblemen fight for domain and influence. Invaders from the north threaten the kingdom of Magnus. This land of promise and redemption is mired in deceit and corruption.

The Orphan King, once victorious in conquest, appears to be losing his grip on his seat of power. Thomas rules Magnus, but does not know whom he can trust. His enemies anticipate his every move, thwarting him at each turn. Something is not right.

Under attack, both in the supernatural and natural worlds, Thomas must reach back into the secret layers of his past to find the strength and wisdom to fight his battles. When the mist clears, who will stand with him?

Review:

The battle between good and evil continues in Fortress of Mist. The more Thomas of Magnus searches for answers, the more questions he finds. Each person he wants to trust holds secrets they refuse to reveal, leaving Thomas unable to trust anyone but himself. And through it all, he must fight to hold onto Magnus, a goal that seems hopeless when he has to face it alone.

Once again, Sigmund Brouwer has written an intriguing book full of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end. The depth of Thomas’s emotions make it easy to step into his shoes and experience the events of the story along with him. Katherine’s longing to reveal everything to Thomas and her feelings for him bring the reader close to her and make it easy to want her to find a happy ending. Yet the book ends with a cliffhanger that leaves you longing to read the next book just to find out where the story goes next.

The theme of faith is artfully woven throughout the book. In the battle between good and evil, Thomas must choose which side to fight for. It is not always an easy choice, nor is the choice always clear at first glance. Thomas, though still resistant to Christianity, steadfastly analyzes each option presented to him and chooses in ways that indicate the beginnings of faith. His questions and doubts remain, however, lending him a relatable struggle that many face when struggling with whether to turn to God.

The intrigue, excitement, and believable challenges make this book easy to enjoy. If you’re looking for an adventure in which you will lose yourself until the end, I recommend Fortress of Mist.

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Filed under Christian, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Series, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, Young Adult

Domination by Jon S. Lewis

Domination cover artTitle: Domination

Author: Jon S. Lewis

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Book Description:

THEIR GOAL IS SIMPLE: TOTAL DOMINATION.

With six arms and jaws that can snap a man in two, the warmongering race of aliens known as the Thule has conquered every planet they’ve attacked.

And now their invasion of Earth has begun.

Humanity’s only hope springs from a mysterious Thule legend about a Betrayer, who they believe will rise up and destroy their people. The American government tried to manufacture their own Betrayer by injecting children with Thule blood but time after time the experiment failed . . . until Colt McAlister.

A decade later, Colt is a 16-year-old cadet at the CHAOS Military Academy where he’s training to defend mankind. But he’s afraid that the alien blood may be turning him into a Thule—and he’s beginning to suspect that fulfilling his role as the Betrayer may cost him everything.

Experience a cosmic battle filled with high-tech gear, gateways to other planets, and ultimate stakes. Not everyone will survive. But heroes will rise up and step into their destiny in this earth-shaking conclusion to the C.H.A.O.S trilogy.

Review:

In this epic conclusion to the C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy, Colt McAlister is one step closer to saving Earth from an invasion of Thule. Unfortunately, the mission he and his friends have been tasked with completing if far from easy. If the practice runs in the simulator are any indication, humanity is doomed. But despite the odds stacked high against them, Colt and his friends hold onto the hope that when the time comes, they will succeed.

I loved the first two books in this trilogy, and I looked forward to reading Domination for quite some time. This book did not disappoint. As with the first two books, there is plenty of action, danger, and plot twists to keep the reader turning pages. There is also just the right amount of teenage angst as Colt faces the normal struggles of being a sixteen-year-old boy, although his challenges are made all the more difficult because the entire world is counting on him to save them from destruction.

Colt’s faith comes to the forefront in this book, shining bright through his struggles with the Thule blood running through his veins as well as wondering if he can live up to everyone’s expectations. Regardless of his doubts, he always clings to his faith in God. The verse he wears on a medallion around his neck serves as a constant reminder that God will help him, regardless of what dangers he may face.

If you haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy, I highly recommend you pick them up before reading Domination. If you have already read Invasion and Alienation, what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy of Domination now. You won’t regret it.

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Filed under Christian, Fiction, Genre, Mystery/Suspense, Science Fiction, Series, Thomas Nelson, Young Adult