Book Review: The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton

The Hideaway
Lauren K. Denton
Thomas Nelson, April 2017
ISBN 978
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed The Hideaway to her and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering her grandmother’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.

Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid drywall dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.

Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed her grandmother’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.

When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

When it comes to eye-catching book covers, The Hideaway is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Immediately, it made me think of summers on a Southern front porch of an old house with floor-to-ceiling windows and, in fact, that’s exactly what this book is about, an old house that’s as much a character as its humans. I’d like to acknowledge the artist but the advance reading copy I have doesn’t give the name. Whoever it is, kudos!

If it weren’t for the fact that running a bed and breakfast requires much more labor than I’ve ever been willing to do, it has always appealed to me but Sara’s reluctance to restore The Hideaway to its former life is understandable. Sara has her own life in New Orleans and she’s truly happy as an antiques dealer; at the same time, she loved her grandmother and there are memories in Sweet Bay, Alabama. It’s easy to see why she would be drawn in by her grandmother’s last wish, her directive for Sara to not only renovate the house but live in the house during the work.

Mags and Sara had different and yet very similar lives and as Sara’s time in Sweet Bay goes by, we see Mags through her own eyes and narrative. While their respective tragedies weren’t at all alike, the one constant is the importance The Hideaway played in their pasts and Sara begins to learn so much about Mags that she had not known before.

Ms. Denton’s debut is a charming tale of family and hidden lives blended with the sometimes annoying but always loyal people who become extended family, often more important than blood relatives. In essence, this is a tale of reaching for what one’s destiny can be and how those closest to us become embedded in our souls and anyone looking for a comfortable, easy story would do well to pick up The Hideaway.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren K. Denton now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books. The Hideaway is her first novel.

Connect with Lauren

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Book Reviews: The Candidate by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart and The Cuban Connection by M.L. Malcolm

The Candidate
A Newsmakers Novel #2
Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Thomas Nelson, October 2016
ISBN:978-0-7180-3768-0
Hardcover

This is a finely crafted, taut modern thriller. It takes readers inside the current explosion of news and comment electronic channel, of blogging, punditry, false panic, alternative facts and similar fact and fiction. The multiple levels of conspiracy are interesting and reflect the background of the author. In a general sense, the pace is relentless and largely compelling, if a little predictable at times.

Protagonist Erica Sparks, under almost constant pressure to improve her standing, in spite of the fact she’s at the top of the ratings list, seeks interviews with presidential candidates. The assignment takes her all over the country, where she encounters bombs, murder and suicide by gun, and a cabal of nasty characters aimed at the ultimate power grab. To explain more would reveal too much.

The author has devised a cast of intriguing characters, some beset with the kind of domestic problems many readers will recognize. The story is well-grounded in modern realities for the professional working mother. Still, therein lies the principal difficulty of the narrative. Every so often, Erica Sparks succumbs to the stupid bug. For a top reporter and anchor she misses several obvious clues that would have revealed the identity of her adversaries or at least warned her of impending danger.

Even with these lapses, the book, well-described, carefully plotted, should raise the alarms in any reader who is aware of today’s society’s conflicting pressures, and the inimical forces of evil arrayed against us, regardless of constant protestations to the contrary.

The novel is intense, relentless and compelling. In spite of our awareness of the very contemporary setting and potential realities, it is, in the end, a novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The Cuban Connection
M.L. Malcolm
A Good Read Publishing, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9815726-3-5
Trade Paperback

An intriguing well-written examination of the realities that have existed in the mysterious island nation of Cuba since the revolution. The novel—and it is an exceptionally carefully researched novel—is set in the early years of the 1960s. The story is narrated by an intrepid reporter named Katherine O’Connor. She’s an experienced reporter working on general assignments for the Reuters news agency out of London.

Her first intimation of major change coming to her life is when she is recalled to the New York office of the agency. She’s still not a bylined reporter. That’s the next career step up and she’s getting desperate to make the grade. Unfortunately, her fortunes at Reuters seem to be on a downward track until she wangles a freelance assignment to Cuba.

Cuba is a dangerous place for honest reporters as the Castro regime tightens censorship and moves to total control of the country. With help from clandestine intelligence resources, O’Connor goes to Cuba and headlong into a series of adventures while falling for a man who may be a Soviet spy.

Anyone who wants a good spy story and to join some devilishly clever characters on a series of nicely conceived adventures strongly rooted in the realities of the time, will enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Newsmakers by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart

the-newsmakersThe Newsmakers
A Newsmakers Novel #1
Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Thomas Nelson, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-7180-3767-3
Hardcover

Readers will have a difficult time putting down Lis Wiehl’s first mystery featuring a talented but fragile news reporter up against a horrific plot.

Erica Sparks is a news reporter who just landed her dream job with Global News Network. She leaves her eight year old daughter Jenny with her ex husband and is determined to succeed at her new, high pressure job. Recruited from a small New Hampshire station, she’s an attractive blonde but not overly polished, and has a certain connection with the viewer. Prior to her New Hampshire job, she was fired for on-air intoxication at a Boston station, but has been sober for almost two years.

Nylan Hastings, the owner of Global News, is a manipulative and dangerous man. “He loves his rage. It’s his best friend and has been since he was a little boy.” He’s looking for a star and all he sees is a parade of mediocrity. Global News is a new station bought by Hastings with his billions, profits from the sale of a video game he developed. He saw the audition tape of Erica and hired her as his new rising star.

On her first day on the job she snags an interview with the Duchess of Cambridge in Battery Park. While she is setting up for the duchess a Staten Island ferry crashes into the seawall and a man is crushed between the boat and the seawall. Others are injured. Erica’s camera is rolling and she scoops the other networks. Weeks later, another tragedy strikes and again Erica is on the scene with her cameras.

Is it just coincidence, or is Erica under a black cloud? The network make up artist warns her that Hastings likes to play games and pit employees against each other. When another reporter grabs her story, her producer and possible romantic interest tells her that it was done with Hastings approval.

The Newsmakers is a thriller set in the world of television news. It’s fast paced and hard-edged. It doesn’t cross into the romantic suspense genre, but readers who have enjoyed Hank Philippi Ryan’s books will want to put this author on their “to read” lists.

The author is a Fox News Channel legal analyst. She is the author of the Triple Threat series, the East Salem trilogy, and the Mia Quinn mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.

Book Reviews: Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton, Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta, and The Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings by Raymond Benson

Sister Eve, Private EyeSister Eve, Private Eye
A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery #1
Lynne Hinton
Thomas Nelson, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9145-5
Trade Paperback

Sister Eve has been a Benedictine nun for twenty years, but changes in Church policy are making her question her vocation.  When she learns that the Captain, her detective father, is about to lose a leg to diabetes, she takes a leave to nurse him, whether he likes it or not.  The irascible Captain–a retired police officer–was hunting for a missing movie producer when his illness spiraled out of control.  The discovery of the man’s body and Sister Eve‘s conviction that his client, the producer’s mistress, did not kill him, leads her to join in the investigation.

I like Sister Eve, the Captain, Meg Finch, his client–all of the characters feel real to me.  I love the Southwest setting.  The plot twists around nicely, and I didn’t spot the killer.  I spotted the clues after I finished the book.

I can see no easy answer to Sister Eve‘s spiritual dilemma.  Her talent for and love of detecting call her one way, her Community calls her another.  Her family needs her, but so does her Church. The situation isn’t resolved in this book, so I’m really glad that it’s the first in a series.   I hope there will be many more.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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Speak of the DevilSpeak of the Devil
Anna Curtis #3
Allison Leotta
Touchstone, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4485-2
Hardcover

Anna Curtis, a tough sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington D.C., is in the process of asking her lover to marry her when she’s notified of a horrific murder and mutilation case. Assigned the investigation, she soon finds even the victims who lived through the attack are unwilling to testify. Why? Because “the Devil,” leader of the wicked MS-13 street gang, will retaliate, and he is brutal beyond compare.

The story sweeps the reader along with Anna as she builds her case, finds her witnesses and, as the gang leaders come to trial, almost becomes another of the Devil’s victims. I thought Ms. Leotta did a particularly good job of showing the reader how certain gang members became murderers and rapists, among their other crimes, whether that was their nature or not.

Even as all of this is going on, Jack, who first turns down Anna’s proposal, turns the tables and asks her to marry him. She says yes, but troubles are on the horizon, partially because Jack is African-American with a young daughter from a previous marriage.

The rest of the tale gets messy (in a good way) and I’m not giving out any spoilers here. The twist at the end is quite emotional. The plot, pacing, and characterization in the story are excellent. There is one rather graphic sex scene that would’ve been better omitted, in my opinion. Otherwise, this is a most satisfying book.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Black Stiletto Endings and BeginningsThe Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings
The Black Stiletto #5
Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing, November 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60809-103-4
Hardcover

Prolific crime writer Raymond Benson has a genuine flare for the use of words. He demonstrates that talent many times in this overlong tale. He also is talented in his ability to translate narrative and dialogue into the flavor of words and phrases that might be used by a young troubled girl growing up in Texas in the latter half of the Twentieth Century

A lot of girls grew up in Texas during that era but none of them had the kind of family represented by the mystery woman known as the Black Stiletto. She was a woman who traveled fast and quietly, associated with gangsters and cops and carried a very sharp knife. She embodied the legend of Lilith, the first woman. A woman who could take a life when necessary.

This novel moves effectively back and forth between time periods, delineates characters precisely and often wittily, and drives the twisted complicated plot and its many intertwined relationships to final fruition with multi-generational windings. It’s a fascinating novel, well-done in nearly every aspect and will undoubtedly expand the legion of followers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Matter of Trust by Lis Wiehl with April Henry

A Matter of TrustA Matter of Trust
A Mia Quinn Mystery #1
Lis Wiehl with April Henry
Thomas Nelson, March 2013
ISBN 978-1-59554-903-7

Hardcover

Recent widow Mia Quinn is on the phone with her friend and fellow prosecuting attorney Colleen Miller when Colleen is shot. Horrified, Mia hands the phone to her teenaged son, Gabe, telling him to listen in case Colleen is able to identify her killer, even as her life’s blood bubbles away. Mia herself rushes to her friend’s aid, but she is too late.

The DA assigns the murder case to Mia, where she will be assisted by detective Charlie Carlson, a man she doesn’t completely trust. Soon the pair are working together on more than the investigation into Colleen’s death. A case of bullying has ended a boy’s life in suicide and Mia is determined to make the bullies accountable. A bond begins to form between the two, until Charlie makes a confession that undermines Mia’s trust.

Meanwhile, Mia’s husband’s death has left her and her two children in severe financial straits. Her son is fourteen, just the age to go off the rails without sufficient supervision and attention. He’s also resentful of having to watch his little sister, who has night terrors.

A lot of the story is given over to Mia just trying to keep her and her children’s life together. A teaching colleague seems thrown into the plot just to provide a romantic issue. Charlie is given a few too many flaws for his role in the story, and I fear I got a bit impatient with Mia’s ineptitude concerning anything other than her job. The writing is good, the plot intricate, the action moves right along, and I loved how Gabe came through at the end.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Review: A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks

A Cry from the DustA Cry from the Dust
A Gwen Marcey Novel
Carrie Stuart Parks
Thomas Nelson, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9043-4
Trade Paperback

You can read a story blurb about A Cry From the Dust anywhere, so I’m going to talk about other aspects of the book.

  • The writing is clear and sharp, with good flow.
  • The subject matter is extraordinary. Domestic terrorism; the Mormon Church; plural marriage.
  • Gwen Marcy, the point of view character, has a history too many of us can relate to; cancer (Gwen is bald), a messy divorce, single motherhood. All this, plus she’s kidnapped, branded a terrorist and murderer, and tasked with stopping a major terrorist attack. Whew!
  • I loved that, just like the author, Carrie Stuart Parks, Gwen is a forensic artist, so the story drips with authenticity. Be prepared to learn something along with being royally entertained.
  • The villains could be real people, with aspirations and desires outside the mainstream, but certainly imaginable. They could be going about their everyday business and we’d never know.
  • Beth, Gwen’s sidekick, is almost as interesting as Gwen herself.
  • Gwen has the constant worry of a teen heartbroken by her parents’ divorce, and we’re shown the girl’s emotions and exactly how she acts out.
  • The depth of the novel is astounding.
  • Best part, there are at least two more Gwen Marcy books in the pipeline.
  • There’s a dog.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Revolutionary by Krista McGee—and a Giveaway

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Title: Revolutionary
Series: Anomaly #3
Author: Krista McGee
Release Date: 07/15/14
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers

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Anomaly     Luminary     Revolutionary

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RevolutionaryRevolutionary
The Anomaly Trilogy Book Three
Krista McGee
Thomas Nelson, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-8876-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

All her life Thalli thought she was an anomaly. Now she must use her gifts to fulfill the role she was called to play: Revolutionary.

Back in the underground State against her will, Thalli is no longer the anomaly she was before. She has proven herself to be a powerful leader aboveground and returns with information that Dr. Loudin needs to complete his plan of uniting the world under one leader: himself. But he, too, has information. A secret he has kept from Thalli her entire life. A secret that, once revealed, changes everything about the person Thalli thought she was.

Hoping to help Thalli rise up against the Scientists, both Berk and Alex join her underground, but their presence only brings more trouble for her. Now Dr. Loudin knows just the leverage to use on his captive, and she is forced to choose between the two of them. Is her first love her true love? Or does Alex ultimately claim her heart?

Unsure of everything around her, including her own identity, Thalli doesn’t know where to turn. She knows she needs the Designer, but he seems further away than ever. What she does know, though, is that if she doesn’t do something to stop Loudin, the fragile world aboveground will be lost once and for all.

 

Good versus evil is at the core of the Anomaly Trilogy and everything finally comes to a head in Revolutionary with a mixture of battles and introspection and, in Thalli’s case, a lot of questioning about her faith. A theme such as this one always has a religious flavor to it and there’s plenty of it here but Ms. McGee has wrapped it in a thrilling dystopian that kept me on the edge of my seat after a little bit of a slow start.

Loudin is the very personification of evil but, at the same time, he made me reflect on our current society’s predilection towards excusing terrible behavior based on something like a rough childhood or mental abnormalities. Yes, it’s true that Loudin is clearly insane—he gives new meaning to “megalomania”—but, when you get right down to it, he’s just plain evil. Ms. McGee has drawn him so evocatively that I would get a chill down my spine every time he came on the scene, wondering what horrible plan he’d come up with this time.

The relationships between Thalli and the two young men in her life, Berk and Alex, are really interesting. It eventually becomes clear that she loves one but there is no doubt whatsoever that both are integral parts of her being and she cares deeply for both. The romance has developed naturally over three books and I’m so glad of that; it never becomes the central story even though it’s important.

Thalli herself is a young woman faced with the overwhelming need to stop Loudin because she really may be the only one who can. Imagine having the fate of humanity literally resting on your shoulders! Unfortunately, Thalli is also wrestling with doubts about her faith as so many believers do when faced with horrendous crises and those doubts will certainly affect the outcome of this epic battle.

There’s heartbreak in this story as well as hope and I found myself completely satisfied while still wishing there could be more. It’s always hard to come to the end of a much-loved series so I’ll just say, “Well done, Krista McGee, and thank you!”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

About the Author

Krista McGeeKrista writes for teens, teaches teens, and more often than not, acts like a teen. She and her family have lived and ministered in Texas, Costa Rica, and Spain. Her current hometown is Tampa, FL.


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