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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Carrie Stuart Parks: A Cry from the Dust

By Kelly Bridgewater

Description (from Amazon):

In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist. 
In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day--but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn't expecting more than an interesting gig . . . and a break from her own hectic life.
But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
As evidence of a cover-up mounts--a cover-up spanning the entire history of the Mormon church--Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of a secret society bent on fulfilling prophecy and revenging old wrongs.
Can a forensic artist reconstruct two centuries of suppressed history . . . before it repeats itself? 

From Amazon
My Thoughts: 

What would it be like to have one of the premier founding authors of Christian thrillers to read your manuscript and held mentor you into publication?

That is exactly what Carrie Stuart Parks did. According to the introduction to her debut suspense novel, A Cry from the Dust, Frank Peretti reviewed her early manuscript and helped make it publishable. Peretti had never done that for anyone before; at least that was what he said in his opening.

A Cry from the Dust is a story relying on Mormon history, especially with the death of Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of the Mormon faith. The heroine of the story is Gwen Marcy, a cancer survivor and recently divorced forensic scientist who draws and sculpts the images of victims from their skeletons or their corpses.

In the beginning of the story, Gwen is working on reconstructing three heads from the skeletons of their bodies, which were found at the evident site of the Mountain Massacre. If you don’t know much about Mormon tradition, which I didn’t until I read the book, the Massacre occurred at the hands of the Mormons who killed off a crowd of innocent immigrants on their way to California.

My favorite part of the book was that Carrie Stuart Parks actually has a background as a forensic artist, which made all the technical ideas that Gwen does realistic. It helped the authenticity of the plot line. When Gwen was molding or drawing the face of the killer, I trusted Parks words and the actions because she actually does what Gwen does for a living.

As the story progress, Gwen is hunted by what she is led to believe as the Avenging Angels of the Mormon faith. Wanting to protect her teenage daughter and her best friend, Beth, she sends them to a peace convention outside of Seattle, Washington after she constructs a clay image of Joseph Smith head.

The character of Gwen was realistic and interesting. She worried about her family while struggling with the effects of cancer on her life, her rebellious teenage daughter, and her ex-husband who wanted a younger woman. Gwen had a lot on her plate, but she kept her focus on solving the mystery, even though there were moments where her life wanted to go array. Parks allowed the readers to empathize with Gwen. We all struggle with a lot of different things like soccer practice, boy scouts, chess club, church, aging parents, writing while trying to keep our heads above water. We understood Gwen completely.

The story has many twists and turns to come to its unforeseeable conclusion. I liked how Parks created the bad guy to be someone who most readers wouldn’t have suspected. The story features kidnapping, teenage pregnancies, and murder while trying to solve a mystery of the murder victims.

Parks does a good job at wrapping the fictional story around the items of historical significance. I learned a lot about the Mormon faith then I probably would have if I read the Mormon’s sacred text written from Joseph Smith. As an outsider, the readers will learn and observe more of the inside world of the Mormons.

I truly enjoyed the story, especially learning about a culture that I know a couple of friends belong to. I’m curious to see what is in store for readers for the next time Carrie Stuart Parks creates her next historical suspense, if I’m aloud to call it that.


Have you read this book yet? If so, what was your favorite part about the book?

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 30, 2015

Entering Jesus into Your Story



By Kelly Bridgewater

When you create your story, you make sure you have all the necessary stuff to write, correct? You know what I’m talking about, the right music, the right chair, the right laptop. Have that outline handy? What about pictures of your hero and heroine? A map of the town. The Book Buddy from acclaimed author, Susan May Warren.

Good. Now you can start writing your plot. Fix those characters in moment of distress. Allow them to fall in love. Allow them to run for their lives. Allow them to question their existence. Allow them to question God.

If you weren’t honest with yourselves, you wouldn’t have your characters questioning God. We all do it. It is part of our lives. Part of the free will God has given us when he created us.

But even though you struggle to write the words on the blank canvas of the computer screen, you forgot to do the most important thing to prepare your heart and mind to create. What is it you ask?

Pray.

Did you ask God to inhabit the story? Did you ask God to invade your imagination and allow the story to show a little bit more of him for a reader who might need some moments of inspiration and encouragement for their day? Something that might seem small and insignificant to you, but when the book reaches the hand of one reader, it may change their entire perspective on life. Maybe they would even seek after God and join a church where they learn more about this loving Savior who cared enough for them that he gave his life for them.

What would happen if we allowed God to use us writers as a vessel to share his story? Maybe we would change the world for the better. He used a bunch of raggedy men in the Old and New Testaments to write down the stories of their lives and told how God changed their lives. How many people read that book? It is still the number one greatest selling book of all times. So the writers must have allowed God to breathe life into the Bible and has changed millions of lives.

I want to be the type of writer, where the words I spend hours constructing as I create characters who struggle with life, which uses my God-given talent to draw others to him. If I don’t do this for God, then I do my writing in vain. I believe God wants me to inspire and change at least one person with my words.

How about you? Do you remember to invite God to invade your writing every time you sit down to write?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cathleen Armstrong: At Home In Last Chance *Giveaway*



By Kelly Bridgewater

Want to win a copy of this book? I have a spare copy that I am willing to give away to one lucky commenter. Comment below by Monday, February 2, 2015, and I will draw someone's name on Wednesday, February 3.  Good luck!

Back Cover Copy:

Kaitlyn Reed and Steven Braden have always had a similar philosophy of life: when the going gets tough, they get going--out of town and away from the problem. Now they are both back in Last Chance, New Mexico, and trying to start over. Kaitlyn is working to reestablish a relationship with the seven-year-old daughter she left behind six months earlier. Steven is trying to prove to his family that he is not the irresponsible charmer they have always known him to be. As Kaitlyn and Steven find themselves drawn to one another, one big question keeps getting in the way: How will they learn to trust each other when they don't even trust themselves?

With emotional depth and characters that leap off the page and into the reader's psyche, Cathleen Armstrong continues to delight her readers and win new fans. Readers will be thrilled to return once more to the small town they've grown to love.

My Review:

Personally, I have never read a book by Cathleen Armstrong or heard of her A Place to Call Home series, but when Revell offered the chance to read and review the book, the image of Kaitlyn captured my interest. I’m not the typical person you see sitting in the church pew. I might appear to be on the outside, but I won’t wear a dress (EVER!). My favorite book in the Bible is Revelation. I am fascinated by the darker side of the God and Satan. I tend to be drawn toward the “outcasts” from the church. You know, the ones covered in tattoos, multiple colored hair, piercings, smoking a cigarette, or drinking. One of my friends in college had wiccan tattoos on his arm, but I became his friend. Before he entered the navy, he said he wished more Christians were like me. Not hypocritical. I tried to hang out with the outcasts like God did.

Long explanation, but Kaitlyn on the covered looked like someone I would hang out with. Shunned from the “normal” Christians, yet struggling to find her way in the world or wondering about her faith. My kind of person.

Armstrong does a good job at creating a romance. The characters of Steven and Kaitlyn didn’t fall in love for the first two hundred pages. I enjoyed that Armstrong made Steven work for the heart of Kaitlyn who had a hard time trusting anyone. It was a nice surprise. The romantic tension between the hero and heroine was realistic and soothing.

The setting of Last Chance matched the small town feel. I liked how Armstrong made the readers feel the blow of the wind through the tumbleweed that blew in front of the diner. I like the description of how everyone knew everyone and was concerned about everyone’s doing. Armstrong truly understands how the small town works and used it to create a realistic world for her story as they visit Last Chance.

Armstrong’s writing ability was great. The plot flowed along from scene to scene without jumping into more than one head for a chapter without a chapter break. The scenes moved in order of the story meaning that the story kept a continuous flow without jumping back in time or skipping forward then moving backward. The emotions, struggles, and fears of the characters were realistic. I understood why Kaitlyn didn’t want to trust anyone and completely empathized with her struggle of trying to make her parents’ happy.

Cathleen Armstrong returns to the small town of Last Chance with a sappy romance between her hero and heroine who allow their realistic struggles to guide their lives.

I was given a copy of At Home in Last Chance from Revell Publishing and the opinions stated above are completely my own.

How to connect with Cathleen Armstrong:
Cathleen Armstrong 
Amazon’s Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Cathleen-Armstrong/e/B00DQNBV6K/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCathleenArmstrong

Website: http://www.cathleenarmstrong.com/books/welcome-to-last-chance/

Where to purchase her books:
Amazon
Christianbook.com
Barnes and Nobles
Wherever books are sold


Remember if you want to win a copy of At Home in Last Chance by Cathleen Armstrong, leave a comment with your EMAIL address and I'll put your name in the hat. Good luck!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Kelly’s Favorite Books of 2014



By Kelly Bridgewater

During 2014, I have always wanted to find out how many books I read during the year. I read A LOT, but I have never kept a journal with the names and authors of whose books I read this year. I did in 2014 and plan to keep adding new books for the 2015. Maybe for the rest of my life. It is neat also to remind myself of books that I have read during the year. On New Year’s Eve, I finished my 192 book for the year.

Yes, you read it right. 192 books.

I was happy. I plan to work harder and read more in 2015. Or maybe I’ll be at the same place. I’ll tell you next year. So come back in 2016 and find out how many books I read during 2015.

But for today, I want to inform you of my favorite books of 2014.

So here goes:

10.) Deceived by Irene Hannon
Product DetailsI loved how Irene Hannon kept the real truth of what happened so quiet in the story. It was well-written and kept me on the edge of my seat. Plus, the romantic tension kept me begging for Kate and Conner to get together.

Product Details9.) A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley
Like most of the books on the list, I love romantic suspense especially when the writer keeps the romance on the edge of the mystery. I want the mystery to take the forefront of the story, but the romance was a nice touch. Patricia Bradley is a romantic suspense author to keep an eye out for.

8.) A Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron
Product DetailsKristy did a great job at combining her love of art history and World War II history and making a story that affects two different timelines with her dually plots. It was neat to learn about the art work done during the Holocaust. I didn’t think of any art work coming out of this horrible concentration camp, but Kristy did a fantastic job at informing her audience of the art work created behind the camp walls. I can’t wait for the second book in the series, A Sparrow in Terezin, which comes out in April 2015.


Product Details7). For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Lately, I have been fascinated with the World War II genre. As a child, I liked the movie Schindler’s List. I couldn’t imagine someone being so horrible to someone just because of what they believe or how they look. It makes me shudder. Kate Breslin took the time to retell the story of Esther while weaving in the Holocaust. It is a great story! I will never look at the story of Esther without thinking of Breslin’s masterpiece. Thank you, Kate!


6.) The Drew Farthering Mystery series by Julianna Deering
Product DetailsI know there are three books in the series (right now), but I loved all of them. It reminds me of Sherlock Holmes meets the 1930’s. It was a great fit. I truly loved how Deering weaved in the romance with the mystery. Like Bradley, she kept the romance to the back burner. I enjoyed how she kept the romance from fully blooming until the third book. The mystery kept me on the edge of my seat while I finished the each book in one sitting.



Product Details5.) In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin
I reviewed this book for Revell and enjoyed it immensely. Sarah’s characters are smart and creative. I loved how she took the nurses of the war and made them realistic characters. I wanted more stories with some of the secondary characters, and I was glad to learn it was a third book in the series. I read the first two books and then found she wrote another three book series. I devoured them too. Sarah Sundin has become another author I will keep buying her latest novels. Thank you, Sarah!

4.) A Hope Undaunted by Julie Lessman
Product DetailsI was introduced to Julie Lessman this past year because A Passion Most Pure was free for the Kindle. I usually don’t like historical books, but Julie Lessman’s characters are funny and quirky that I couldn’t put down her books. The romance is sooo realistic. I love the strong heroines who don’t put up with men who try to control them. I enjoyed A Hope Undaunted because I love the hard-headed, feisty Katie O’Connor. She was a great character who I still think of after I have closed the book. I will definitely keep an eye out for new books by Julie Lessman.

Product Details3.) Random Acts of Murder by Christy Barritt
I am a huge fan of Christy Barritt’s writing. I own every single one of her books. She writes mystery and romantic suspense books for the Love Inspired Suspense line. This book features Holy Anna Paladin who believes she has a year left to live, so she decides to do random acts of kindness to others, but gets caught up in a mystery instead. Great book with a lot of twists and turns. If you haven’t read anything by her, I suggest you download any of the books in her Squeaky Clean Series offered by Amazon. Great series!

2.) It Had to Be You by Susan May Warren
Product DetailsI have truly loved everything Susan May Warren writes. I have not been disappointed yet. The Christiansens’s family tugged at my heart when they run a lodge in Northern Minnesota while a couple of the sons play hockey. Being an avid fan of hockey, I love reading stories where the characters enjoy the same sport I follow every year from October until June. This story featured a romance that tugged at my heart and made me smile along the way. One of my favorite aspects of Susan’s writing is her ability to describe the scene without pulling the reader away. Trust me, as a blooming writer, I have been studying a number of her books to figure out how she does this.

And finally, my favorite book of 2014:

1.)    Checkmate by Steven James
Product DetailsI absolutely love Steven James’ writing. He is one of my favorite thriller/ suspense writers. I recommend him to all my friends who don’t want to read Christian books because “it is too safe and PG.” I have converted a number of them. Steven James writes with more description and twists and turns than most writers. But Checkmate is the last book in the Patrick Bower’s series (for now), and I loved every minute of the story. James' has a great knack for storytelling, which I love. The story has three climatic moments that I didn’t see. I finished the book in a little over twenty-four hours. I loved it and can’t wait to read more by Steven James.

What were your favorite books from 2014? Have you read these books? Did you discover a new genre to read?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lisa Harris: Hidden Agenda



By Kelly Bridgewater

Back Cover Copy:

Michael Hunt is alive--and on the run. Presumed dead by friends and family, the undercover assignment he's been working for the past eight months has just been blown. With a hit out on his life and corruption inside the Atlanta police department, Michael finds himself hunted by both the cartel and the law. His only hope is the daughter of the man who wants him dead.

This nonstop chase from taut suspense writer Lisa Harris will leave readers breathless as they race to connect the dots before it's too late.

My Review:
Hidden Agenda is the third book in the Southern Crimes series by Lisa Harris. I, personally, haven’t read the first two books in the series but that will change over time. The first two books are titled Dangerous Passage and Fatal Exchange. The series centers on the Hunt family with the father being a cop, their grandfather being a cop, and the oldest sister, Avery, whose story is told in Dangerous Passage, is a cop. Emily, whose story is told in Fatal Exchange, is not a cop instead she is a teacher. The newest book, Hidden Agenda, is about Michael Hunt, the only boy in the family.

I was interested in reviewing this book because as all my readers know, I am a huge romantic suspense, mystery, thriller, or just plain suspense junky. I have the first two books downloaded on my Kindle, but I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet.  But I will someday. 

The writing was good. There were no point of view shifts unless there was a chapter break. Harris did not head hop within the same chapter. The story was told from Olivia, Ivan, and Michael’s perspective, but I never got confused as to whose point of view we were following. The story flowed seamlessly, moving from one scene to another creating a wonderful story. Harris did a good job at creating realistic characters with fears and doubts while wondering what the truth, either in faith or in their families, was.

The pace and tension of the story was okay. The first fifty-five pages included a lot of backstory while Olivia and Ivan helped Michael escape across the water. I’ve always been told not to tell a lot of backstory in the first fifty pages because you’ll confuse the reader. I don’t think Harris did this to confuse the reader; I think she did this to fill the reader in on the past, which was important to the story, but I think it could have been sprinkled in the story instead of just covering the first fifty pages of the book. On the other hand, the tension created by the run from the drug cartel was nicely handled. I enjoyed turning pages as I ran through the woods with Olivia, Ivan, and Michael, trying to flee for their lives. Similarly, the romantic tension wasn’t really there. Michael and Olivia started to feel things for each other and moved along with it. Nothing stood in there way. Even so far as Michael’s entire family accepting her right away, which I thought would have been a struggle for his family.

While the setting was described for the current situation, the horrifying world of the drug cartel was shaded across. If the characters were really in fear for their lives from some drug lord, the story would have been stronger to actually show the inside of that world. Harris does allow a cop to be shot right next to Michael in the beginning of the story, but as an avid reader of suspense, even that appeared kind of toned down. Trust me, I’m not a fan of huge bloody scenes, and I can’t stand horror films, but I think the inside look of the drug trade would have made the story more realistic.

As for the ending, it was way too calm for me. A huge climactic event occurred, and a half a page later, they fixed the problem and took down the bad guys. Harris could have done so much with what was on the plate at that moment, but it appeared rushed to me. The moment happened at page 287, so the incident could have dragged out another twenty or more pages.

Hidden Agenda was mild and safe romantic suspense book for any age. I would have allowed my ten-year-old niece to read the book. It didn’t cover any of the harsh realities of the drug cartel and the story was very PG.

Lisa Harris rounds out her Southern Crimes series with an action-packed plot in her latest romantic suspense novel. Returning to the Hunt family, Harris dangles the hint of a great plot filled with realistic characters, a death defying escape, and a PG romance, set against the grisly background of the drug community.

I received a complimentary copy of Hidden Agenda from Revell Publishing and the above opinions are all my own.

Lisa HarrisHow to connect with Lisa Harris:

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Harris/e/B001JP7UWQ/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLisaHarris


Where to purchase her books:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Christianbooks.com
Wherever books are sold