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Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog–introduction to the animal shelter

Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog

written and illustrated by Lisa Papp

Madeline Finn and the Shelter DogIf you like kids and reading and you have a heart for shelter dogs, then you will enjoy sharing Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog by Lisa Papp with a child in your life. The storyline is simple. A little girl, Madeline, begs her mother for a puppy. Mrs. Dimple, who volunteers at a shelter, has a rescue dog, Bonnie, with some pups. Madeline is allowed to choose one, and in the process she learns about shelters where animals wait for their forever homes as well as how to care for her new puppy. Madeline is a girl of action. She not only helps at the shelter, she also rallies her community to bring blankets and books to read to the shelter animals. Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog is a sweet read with gentle and engaging illustrations.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Peachtree Publishers (Myrick Marketing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Publication:  March 1, 2019—Peachtree Publishers (Myrick Marketing)

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Thunder of Heaven–the power of love

Thunder of Heaven

by Ted Dekker

Thunder of HeavenIn reading Ted Dekker’s Thunder of Heaven, I deviated somewhat from the types of books I usually read. My thirteen year old granddaughter recommended this Christian thriller, and I wanted to gain insight into her reading preferences. Having said that, I should clarify that Thunder of Heaven is not written for the younger reader; it is an adult novel without the inclusion of sex or vulgar language. I do not normally read thrillers; but, although suspenseful, this is not the kind of psychological thriller which will keep me up for nights to come. 

Shannon and Tanya have grown up in the jungles of Venezuela where Shannon’s parents are coffee farmers and Tanya’s parents are missionaries. Their blooming romance and happy lives are interrupted by horrific events in this action packed story that focuses on good versus evil, the sacrifices of love, and God’s bigger plan.

I had some confusion with the identity of the characters, but it eventually surfaces that the confusion is intentional and is resolved in the end. The plot is strong and intricate. The Venezuela jungle setting is interesting, well depicted, and perfect for the tale Dekker weaves.

Thunder of Heaven deals with some of the bigger spiritual questions. Can God use evil for good? Can a person become possessed by satanic powers? Can a Christian have a vision from God? What is the ultimate sacrifice? The exploration of these topics is not simplistic and is woven throughout the book coming to a head in the resolution of the conflict.

I am new to Dekker’s work, but Dekker is not new to suspense aficionados. A best-selling author, he has written over thirty books which have been translated into multiple languages. Two of his works have been made into films. His chosen genres for his storytelling are thriller and suspense, fantasy and speculative, and historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more novels by this author.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Thriller, Christian Fiction

Notes: Thunder of Heaven is book 3 of the Heaven Trilogy, but as the publisher says, “Each is a stand alone story that in no way depends on the other.”

Publication:   August 28, 2005—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“If your life made too much sense to you, you might forget about God altogether. It is man’s most prolific sin—to be full of himself. But your tormenting has left you soft, like a sponge for his words. It’s your greatest blessing.”

“We see only the terrible tragedy; he sees more. He sees the ultimate glory.”

Abdullah was no one to play with. His heart was the color of his eyes, Yuri thought. Black.

Father…dear God, I’m lost down here. Forgive me. I’m lost and lonely and confused. I hate this man and I hate that I hate him. And I don’t even know if that’s possible! What are you doing? What is your purpose here?

We Hope for Better Times–discrimination across the years

We Hope for Better Things

by Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better ThingsThis work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her?

Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to  an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home.

All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between.

Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story.

Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War.

This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Revell for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 1, 2019—Revell

Memorable Lines:

I was getting less twitchy about not having internet access. I didn’t exactly miss hearing the constant beeps notifying me of texts and tweets and status updates. Out here it was just the ambling, quiet life of the country. A comfortable obscurity.

“That’s good money.” 

“What do we need it for? We’re making ends meet.” 

“Barely. We’re not getting ahead.” 

“Ahead of what? If you have enough to live, what do you need more for?”

“There’s no one right path that if you make the wrong choice you’re sunk. Whatever you choose to do, God can use that. Life is always a winding  path. It’s only in retrospect that it appears to be a straight and inevitable one.”

As Directed–pharmaceutical poisoning

As Directed

by Kathleen Valenti

As DirectedIf you have a master’s degree in pharmacology but come up on the wrong side of Big Pharmaceuticals, you might end up like Maggie O’Malley as a pharmacy technician working her way up to becoming a pharmacist. Along the way Maggie stumbles over dead bodies, gets wound up in several investigations, and finds that her deadly nemesis has been released from jail.

As Directed by Kathleen Valenti is a complicated mystery that makes you feel like you are in a maze. There are lots of victims and many potential criminals. Maggie makes an engaging main character, trying to do the right things but often stumbling along in the frustrating fog of post-concussion syndrome. Her ever supportive boyfriend Constantine is  always ready with IT help and amusing quips.  His pet hamster Miss Vanilla and a stray dog that the couple is “definitely” not going to keep make multiple appearances along with interesting characters who people the book. I recommend this book as a fascinating whodunit especially if you like mysteries with a medical bent.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   March 12, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Levon Petrofina was particular to the point of rigidity, committed to not just following the letter of the law but alphabetizing each letter.

She used to think of the place where she shoved the uncomfortable, the painful, as the Wall. Now she realized she had added to her repertoire of denial, creating a blister around her heart that encapsulated the feelings and memories she wanted so desperately to avoid.

Broken out windows gaped like empty eye sockets. The front door, splintered and half off its hinges, sagged in a toothless frown.

Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin

Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin

by Steve Smallman

The Not So Brave PenguinJoin Percy penguin and Posy penguin doing what Antarctic penguins do—and bring along some kids for a fun time together. Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin is an adorable picture book written and illustrated by Steve Smallman. It tells the tale of the adventurous daredevil Percy and his timid friend Posy. When Percy’s penchant for rollicking fun takes him over the edge, Posy finds the courage to overcome her biggest fear, the dark, to rescue him.

Children can identify readily with both characters and will enjoy talking about the plot, characters, emotions, and setting. The illustrations are outstanding and such that a non-reader could retell the story. The author follows up with suggestions for discussion and activities to enhance comprehension with charts and art activities.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Quarto Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  Age Range: 4-8 years

  Grade Level: Preschool-2

Publication:   November 15, 2018—Quarto Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Percy penguin wasn’t scared of anything. 

He loved WHIZZING down snowy slopes on his tummy.

Posy penguin was not so brave. 

She shuffled down slopes on her bottom instead.

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm–starting again

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm

by Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close FarmI had strong mixed feelings as I read Coming Home to Holly Close Farm. The tale begins with Charlie (Charlotte) having the worst Friday of her life when she discovers her lover is married with three children. Fallout of this revelation is that she also loses her home and job in one fell swoop. Charlie is a likable main character—smart, attractive, funny, and like many women, gullible when it comes to believing the one she loves.

Author Julie Houston’s book is actually two interwoven stories, and Houston handles that complexity well. One, of course, is the story of Charlie as she starts to rebuild her life. The other is the story of Madge, Charlie’s great-grandmother, and her love of a bomber pilot in World War II. Madge kept her past a secret from all of her family and as the story develops you can see why. It is only revealed because Madge, in her nineties, decides to sell part of Holly Close Farm with the proviso that the buyer must hire Charlie to be the architect for the house renovations. Once that decision is made, the secrets begin to trickle out.

My difficulty with the book is partly one of personal taste. I read it based on the appeal of the plot summary. It seemed like a gentle romance with a complex plot. It is a good plot, but too much of the book is about characters who bed hop, and it is replete with British vulgarisms. In the second chapter there is an extensive description of bawdy pranks on an airliner. This type of humor set a bad tone for me and though that is the worst of it in the book, the other elements continue. While I enjoy Britishisms in books to enhance the setting and characters, the vulgarisms detract for me.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: includes bawdy humor and British vulgarities

Publication:  February 5, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Funny how sorrow makes you slop around in old trackies, eschewing the shower and make-up, but fury has quite the opposite effect.

“You know, war invades not only countries but also the mind and spirit.”

“…finance and big business and being in the centre of London was never really my thing but you get yourself on the treadmill and it’s going so fast you can’t get off.”

Kissed by the Country Doc–snowed in romance

Kissed by the Country Doc

by Melinda Curtis

Kissed by the Country DocThe Monroe family is the center of this new Heartwarming Harlequin series The Mountain Monroes. The first novel, Kissed by the Country Doc, by Melinda Curtis, opens with the reading of Grandpa Harlan Monroe’s will. Full of surprises for the Monroe heirs, the will sends some of the younger generation of Monroes off to Second Chance, a small mountain town in Idaho. One of them is Ella, a Monroe by marriage, but widowed for two years, with an adorable two-year old. What will happen when Ella, after a childhood of foster homes and seeking a love that will last, encounters Dr. Noah Bishop, whose successful career as an orthopedic surgeon was crushed in an accident?

As snow strands the four Monroes in Second Chance, we learn more about them, the inhabitants of the town, and its mysterious history. In fact, we discover just enough to pique curiosity about the origins of the town and why Grandpa Harlan left the town to his grandchildren. The Monroes are divided about what should be done about the town—sell it off, try to inject new life into it, reinvent it as a high-end tourist destination, or some other solution. Their inheritance could be a blessing or a disaster, and perhaps the hardest part will be to get all of the grandchildren to agree on a decision.

Since sixteen relatives of Harlan Monroe are shown on the handy family tree included in the book, I feared I would have trouble distinguishing and remembering all of the characters. That actually is not a problem as only four of them, plus Ella, are characters in this book.

Ella is a very likable character as is her daughter Penny. More of a puzzle is Dr. Noah Bishop who struggles with his identity as a former surgeon whose hand injury keeps him from what he and his family view as his full potential. The author cleverly helps the reader understand the dual nature of Noah as he struggles to disassociate the man who falls hard for Ella and her daughter from the jaded, self-loathing failure, Dr. Bishop, by sharing the reactions of both. For example, “Dr. Bishop fell off his stool in a dead faint. Noah’s reaction was equally shocking. His mouth dropped open and his waffle-loaded fork hung in midair.” Both Ella and Noah have issues to overcome to be able to give and receive love. Read Kissed by the Country Doc for a sweet romance in a snow-covered mountain setting. Add in a lovable two year old and an injured dog and hang on to your heart so you don’t lose it in Second Chance. I am looking forward to more stories about members of the Monroe clan and the fate of this little town and its residents.

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in The Mountain Monroes series

  2. Clean and heartwarming romance

Publication:   February 1, 2019—Heartwarming Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

“My four sons are too old to unlearn the privilege of the silver spoon, too busy to enjoy the priceless beauty of a mountain sunrise, too calloused to appreciate the comfort that comes from loyalty, or the joy that love for love’s sake can bring.”

“Don’t get attached to people. They always leave. And when they go, they take a piece of you with them until you feel like you’re dying inside.”

The dog did what Ella and Noah couldn’t. Penny’s sobs subsided. She snuffled and buried her hands in Woof’s fur, her lower lip trembling.

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