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Jul 30, 2019

Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker
Revell/Baker Publishing July 16 2019
review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!

When Cohen Marah steps over his father's body in the basement embalming room of the family's funeral home, he has no idea that he is stepping into a labyrinth of memory. As the last one to see his father, Cohen is the primary suspect.

Over the next week, Cohen's childhood memories come back in living color. The dramatic events that led to his father being asked to leave his pastoral position. The game of baseball that somehow kept them together. And the two children in the forest who became his friends--and enlisted him in a dark and dangerous undertaking. As the lines blur between what was real and what was imaginary, Cohen is faced with the question he's been avoiding: Did he kill his father?

In Light from Distant Stars, master story weaver Shawn Smucker relays a tale both eerie and enchanting, one that will have you questioning reality and reaching out for what is true, good, and genuine.

There was a review I read on another book but the same publisher that complained they did not realize it was a book that referenced 'god'. Let it be known that Revell is a publisher that brings us stories with a faith based theme. Sometimes it is not very prevalent but Shawn Smucker's Light From Distant Stars does not shy from the faith speak/God talk from page one. You will not like this novel if this scares you. I pretty much love everything from this publisher, so I chose Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker as our neighborhood book club read since I planned on reading it anyway this summer. Then I start reading .. and immediately start wondering if my book clubbers are going to be annoyed at the faith aspect. (Which points to so many other issues such as my insecurities, the reality that it is not cool to love and honor God etc.) So ..yes.. I am a little scared to find out what the other reactions are when the book club meeting comes along.

Shawn Smucker's previous novels were more of a young adult genre and Light From Distant Stars is marketed towards adult yet given the actual plot line I can see where it would be hard to differentiate between the two markets. The novel is told from Cohen's viewpoint but alternating between two time periods in his life where each period has a momentous event occurring. What was most impressive about these shifts in narration is how they were seamless; each chapter another layer is unveiled and the symbolism reveals itself slowly but also quite magnificently can be interpreted in several ways. There is a saying that no two persons ever reads the same book and this book can be the phrase's poster child.

As the synopsis states, Cohen may or may not be responsible for his father's death. And I thought the book would be about who killed his dad but that is definitely not what this book is about. It is about how Cohen comes to terms with his parent's divorce, betrayal of why that happened many years ago, possible depression, insanity or anxiety, shadows, beasts, light, darkness.. and how he comes to grips with the reality of his life. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is the graphic page that introduces a new part of the book and it quotes a line from Genesis. The other favorite part is the seemingly effortless way of writing put forth by Shawn Smucker.

"The waters are separating. The waters of the sky are blowing away in the wind and the waters of the earth lay before him, and he walks through them to the church and up the sidewalk ramp. The door is unlocked."

 And since I was raised Catholic, I can totally appreciate the confessional scenes. The Lord has put away all your sins. Thanks be to God. While this novel did not end up being what I expected, I am pleased to say that I really enjoyed this character driven novel and should bring up some interesting topics at book club!

I turned off commenting long ago on the blog but I welcome comments at the Facebook page here.

Jul 24, 2019

Living Lies by Natalie Walters

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Living Lies (Harbored Secrets #1) by Natalie Walters
Revell/Baker Publishers May 21 2019
338 pages, Christian Suspense
review copy from the publisher, thank you!

In the little town of Walton, Georgia, everybody knows your name--but no one knows your secret. At least that's what Lane Kent is counting on when she returns to her hometown with her five-year-old son. Dangerously depressed after the death of her husband, Lane is looking for hope. What she finds instead is a dead body.

Lane must work with Walton's newest deputy, Charlie Lynch, to uncover the truth behind the murder. But when that truth hits too close to home, she'll have to decide if saving the life of another is worth the cost of revealing her darkest secret.

Debut novelist Natalie Walters pulls you to the edge of your seat on the first page and keeps you there until the last in this riveting story that will have you believing no one is defined by their past.

This is a realistically paced suspense novel that focuses on a bit of a taboo subject of depression. When the synopsis alludes to a dark secret it is really not that thrilling but it is yet still an important topic. The main character Lane stumbles upon a dead body of a young girl pretty much as soon as she returns to the small town where she is from; just when she is struggling to keep her head above water she is thrust into this investigation of the murdered girl. She makes friends with the new deputy in town so there is a bit of romance going on as the investigation progresses.

The novel evokes the chill/creepy factor very well as there are evil undercurrents throughout the story, and we don't know everything that is going to happen. Along with the well-plotted suspense, Living Lies is also a charming story as we see the desperately needed support is finally given to Lane's mental health. I wish there were a way we could get some more stories out there that show mental health stability is something we should all be offering to our loved ones and not treat it as someone else's problem to bear; maybe there would be less tragedy in all our lives if more awareness and steps towards healing are offered.

I am intrigued enough to see what book 2 is going to be about as this is marketed as a series. A very well done debut novel for Natalie Walters.

I turned off commenting long ago on the blog but I welcome comments at the Facebook page here.

Jul 21, 2019

All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner

Sunday, July 21, 2019

All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner
Revell/Baker Publishing June 2019
450 pages Christian Fiction
review copy via publisher, thank you
Best of 2019

When Annie Jacobson's brother Mike enlists as a medic in the Army in 1967, he hands her a piece of paper with the address of their long-estranged father. If anything should happen to him in Vietnam, Mike says, Annie must let their father know.

In Mike's absence, their father returns to face tragedy at home, adding an extra measure of complication to an already tense time. As they work toward healing and pray fervently for Mike's safety overseas, letter by letter the Jacobsons must find a way to pull together as a family, regardless of past hurts. In the tumult of this time, Annie and her family grapple with the tension of holding both hope and grief in the same hand, even as they learn to turn to the One who binds the wounds of the brokenhearted.

Author Susie Finkbeiner invites you into the Jacobson family's home and hearts during a time in which the chaos of the outside world touched their small community in ways they never imagined.

I absolutely loved this book and it is not an easy book to describe other than it being a powerful story that is both easy and hard to read at the same time. I found the setting especially intriguing, about a family who is forced to say goodbye to Mike Jacobson as he heads off to enlist in the Vietnam War. I almost said 'sent' to the war, but he volunteered; it's important to note the sacrifice he knew he was making as his own dad had come home broken from the Korean War years earlier. Mike was the rock of the family - being the oldest son after his dad moved out when the three siblings were young. This is a novel told in first person by Annie, who is the sister out of school and just working at the local diner as she holds the family together once Mike enlists. At eighteen she could just be thinking about boys and her life's goals but once Mike is gone the current events of 1967 take on a whole new perspective.

"It's just making our hard job that much more difficult. You know how hard it is to be fighting for a bunch of people who are against you?"

I, for one, am very grateful for that perspective. The novel realistically shows racism, family divides, sorrow and hope. And my heart was ripped out a few times through this voice of Annie's and my emotions got the better of me where I said I have to write this review but of course I cannot fathom the words to specifically say how much this book touched my soul. It is a journey from beginning to end and I am so blessed to have read this tender message of the Lord's mercy. Even with the ugly cry. Thankful no one was in the room through the ugly cry part two.

I turned off commenting long ago on the blog but I welcome comments at the Facebook page here.

Jul 8, 2019

Dragonfly by Leila Meacham

Monday, July 08, 2019

Dragonfly by Leila Meacham
July 9 2019 Grand Central publishing
864 pages hardcover/577 pages kindle
eGalley via publisher, thank you!

Read my previous reviews of Leila Meacham's works

At the height of WWII, five idealistic young Americans receive a mysterious letter from the OSS, asking them if they are willing to fight for their country. The men and women from very different backgrounds--a Texan athlete with German roots, an upper-crust son of a French mother and a wealthy businessman, a dirt-poor Midwestern fly fisherman, an orphaned fashion designer, and a ravishingly beautiful female fencer -- all answer the call of duty, but each for a secret reason of his or her own. They bond immediately, in a group code-named Dragonfly.
Soon after their training, they are dropped behind enemy lines and take up their false identities, isolated from one another except for a secret drop-box, but in close contact with the powerful Nazi elite who have Paris under siege.

Thus begins a dramatic and riveting cat-and-mouse game, as the young Americans seek to stay under the radar until a fatal misstep leads to the capture and the firing-squad execution of one of their team. everything as it seems, or is this one more elaborate act of spycraft?

Spies, Nazis, murals, France, nuns, fly fishing -this was great story and of grand epic proportions! Dragonfly was such a page turner that it kept me up way past my bedtime. I have always loved the writing of Leila Meacham and I am so pleased to report that Dragonfly did not disappoint. Please don't let the 864 page number dissuade you, this number is for their large print hardcover edition, but yes it is still a chunky book at 577 glorious kindle pages.

This story is another WWII novel which seem to be flooding the market recently- not that it is a bad thing. Dragonfly is the code name of the group of five young Americans going to offer their services as part of a spy network planted in Germany-occupied Paris. There is a larger cast of characters from the spies themselves to all those that cross the main characters' path, so it does take a bit of concentration to keep everything on track. The fact that we never really could tell if/when someone was going to drop the noose on one of the Dragonfly members made for some edge of my seat reading that I just could not put the book down for long at all.

I appreciated the fact that the author did not feel the need to rush through events and instead creates plausible situations that keep us rooting for the group. We really had a chance to engage with each of the characters and understand the undercurrents with nervous adrenaline while the rookies attempted to impede the Nazis right under their noses. I especially enjoyed how actual spying tasks were not made so easy and there were several hiccups along the way, making for a much more realistic novel throughout their adventures.

Splendid writing, fantastic storytelling and such a treat for Leila Meacham fans of which there are many. Another well-deserved five stars for Leila Meacham!

I turned off commenting long ago on the blog but I welcome comments at the Facebook page here.