Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DiAnn Mills: Double Cross

By Kelly Bridgewater

Back Cover Copy:

FBI Agent Laurel Evertson’s investigation into a scam targeting the elderly takes an unexpected twist when key evidence leads her to Morton Wilmington, a felon she arrested five years ago on her first undercover assignment. That case has haunted her since, and though she’s vowed to forget Wilmington—and what she sacrificed to put him away—he is now her best lead.

Houston Police Officer Daniel Hilton fears his grandparents may be the scammer’s next targets, and he’ll do anything to protect his family—even force interagency cooperation. But he’s quickly drawn to Laurel’s empathy and zeal and agrees to follow her lead . . . even if it means teaming up with a felon.

As the unlikely trio uncovers evidence suggesting the scam is more extensive and deadly than they imagined, both Laurel and Daniel find themselves in the crosshairs of a killer. Together they must decide if they can trust Wilmington’s claims of redemption, or if he’s leading them straight into a double cross.

My Review:

Of course as you all know by now romantic suspense, mysteries, and suspense are my genre of choice. I enjoy reading DiAnn Mills’ romantic suspense books. I even met her last year in St. Louis at the ACFW conference where she critiqued my first chapter of my book and gave me valuable input on how to make my first chapter sing. If your curious, I did review Mills’ previous book in the FBI: Houston series. Here is the link!

As for Double Cross, the characters of Laurel and Daniel make or break the story. Laurel, the heroine, goes back undercover to try to stop an elderly scam. Mills did a great job at showing the physical, emotional, and romantic tension inside Laurel, so the readers can empathize with her dilemmas. Laurel is a brave and confident woman, looking to be loved. The hero, Daniel, knows who he is God and wants Laurel to feel the same confidence and joy he has. You’ll have a hard time not falling in love with Daniel who will stop at nothing to protect his aging grandparents and Laurel. Chivalry definitely isn’t dead in Daniel.

As for the conflict, it starts within the first chapter and move along. There were moments in the middle of the story where I felt the action could have hurried along, but for the most part, Mills does a good job at throwing obstacles in Laurel and Daniel’s way. As for the romantic tension, Laurel and Daniel have to hide their true feelings for each other as they both work undercover, trying to figure out who is scamming the elderly.

There is nothing in the story that younger readers would close their eyes from. The story is moving with a bad guy that I did not see coming. I highly recommend this book to fans of Lynette Eason, Brandilyn Collins, Janice Cantore, or anyone else in this type of romantic suspense genre involving police work.

I received a digital review copy of Double Cross by DiAnn Mills from Tyndale House and all the opinions stated above are my own.

DiAnn Mill’s Bio:

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers' Choice, and Carol award contests.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America's Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn Mills
From DiAnn Mills' Amazon Author Page
Where to connect with DiAnn:

Where to purchase her books:
Wherever books are sold.

What draws you into the mystery of DiAnn Mills’s books? If you haven’t read any of her books, then what draws you into mystery or suspense?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Victoria Bylin: Together with You

By Kelly Bridgewater

From Amazon
Back Cover Copy:

When a Lost Child warning blares over the mall's PA system, Carly Mason finds the little girl playing with a stuffed rabbit. Something about Penny Tremaine is different. An ex-social worker, Carly recognizes that the child suffers fetal alcohol effects, and a piece of Carly's past suddenly confronts her. Never again will she become personally involved with a client. The risks are far too great. But something about Penny--and Penny's handsome father--tugs at Carly's heart.

Dr. Ryan Tremaine is trying to put his life back together. With his ex-wife remarried and on a trip far away, his two teenage sons and Penny are living under his roof full time. Ryan has put his faith in his Sink-or-Swim List, a plan to reconnect with his children. The first step: recruit Carly Mason to be Penny's nanny.

Ryan never anticipated being so drawn to Carly, an attraction Carly seems to fight as much as he does. Could Carly be the missing piece that helps his family stay afloat, or will their blossoming romance only complicate things further?

Known for her realistic and engaging characters, Victoria Bylin delivers an emotion-packed story reminiscent of The Sound of Music, one that reminds us all to believe in the power of faith and love.

My Thoughts:  

I have never read anything by Victoria Bylin, but her latest book, Together with You, wove a story with a missing child, which stroked a cord within me since I have three boys of my own. Plus, the cover drew me in. I like the image of a guy and girl in a tight embrace with the clouds hanging around in the background. It was simple, yet effective. Victoria Bylin’s story, Together with You, met all my expectations for a contemporary romance.  

The characters of Ryan and Carly are flawed characters with a lot of baggage. In the beginning of the story, Ryan is an angry, bitter man with a bunch of regret and failure from his choices in the past. You can’t help but fall in love with Ryan as he is determined to be a better father. By seeing Ryan spend more time with kids, Carly’s opinion of him starts to change. Typical to a contemporary romance, Carly Mason is a caring, compassionate, and patient woman who never falters from her faith while being haunted by an error darkening her every move. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is watching Carly keep her strong faith even through her struggles. Throughout the entire novel, Carly works a miracle in Ryan, his two teenage sons, Eric and Kyle, and five-year-old Penny. Carly clings to the hope that if she can make a difference in Penny’s life, maybe she can forgive herself for failing Allison, another Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) kid. While Ryan starts to see the world in a different way, thanks to Carly’s influence, Carly does not change. She still has her strong faith in the end, but her past baggage has dwindled.

Most of the tension revolves around Penny, who was born with FASD, which limits her ability to be around a lot of commotion and noise. While Ryan, Carly, Kyle, and Eric try to deal with Penny, Penny struggles with the recent loss of her mother. As for the romantic tension, there must be roadblocks to detour the relationship. Bylin places God as that roadblock to keep Ryan and Carly from pursuing a deeper relationship. While Bylin takes a while for the characters to fully seek redemption for their past, Ryan’s conversation scene seemed a little too rushed. He only turns to God because Penny is missing again. Then the romance between Carly and Ryan is allowed to move forward for the first time.

Even though the story starts off with a gut wrenching incident and runs away with the reader’s imagination, I still think the story’s pace was quick at times but dragged at other places. I could not imagine asking someone you did not know to work in your home after the first meeting. Romance lovers will be happy to know that the ending is typical of a contemporary romance. The writing is grammatically sound with no head hopping. The story moves from scene to scene, showing the changes and the growth affecting each character. Characteristic of a good book, Bylin’s use of dialogue brings the characters to life, inviting the reader into their lives, sitting in the kitchen, intruding on their struggles. A couple of times, Bylin gives Penny a voice. They are not long segments, but the voice of Penny sounds no different than the voice of Ryan and Carly. The prose and dialogue from Ryan and Carly enhances the character’s personality, bringing depth to the story.

Using an important issue plaguing a number of babies today, Bylin weaves FASD into a story where the readers experience first-hand how FASD affect families. This could be an excellent book for parents and teenage children to approach the topic of how decisions made in a moment of passion can affect your entire life. There is mention of drinking alcohol while pregnant, cigarettes, and an affair, but it is all handled well. Bylin’s research into the world of FASD is evident as she weaves together a memorable character in Penny and depicts how adults have to handle a child affected with a disability by showing that the inflicted child is not a burden but needs attention and love. The story idea with incorporating FASD was original, but the romance was predictable and typical for the genre. This was a book I could put down, but fans of Becky Wade, Melissa Tagg, Karen Kingsbury, and the Love Inspired Romance line will love the romantic struggle to the end.

Overall, Victoria Bylin’s Together With You is a contemporary romance that sheds a light on FASD with flawed characters who try to move past their baggage while finding unexpected love.

I received a complimentary copy of Together With You from Bethany House Publishers and the opinions stated are all my own. 

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 27, 2015

What J. R. R. Tolkien Means to Me

By Kelly Bridgewater

If you read my blog post last month, I wrote on the importance of C.S. Lewis to me as a writer. This month, I will return to another writer who actually had a huge hand in converting C.S. Lewis to a Christian, which I’m extremely grateful. Without him, I don’t think we would have such lasting words of fiction and literary criticism from C.S. Lewis. He helped formed Lewis’ outlook on life. He was C.S. Lewis critique partner, even though he really didn’t like the Narnia stories.

Who am I talking about?

Why J. R. R. Tolkien, of course. You know, the creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Unlike with C. S. Lewis, I never read these books as a kid. I read them as an adult. I remember going to see Thirteen Days with my husband and a friend of ours. During the previews, he got all excited as they showed images for the upcoming movie The Fellowship of the Ring. I had never even heard about the books, but being an avid reader, I found them at the local library and took them home to read.

I fell in love with the story. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Hobbit all living beside the Race of Man. I enjoyed how the story centered on a tiny ring, which could control and destroy lives. No one was immune to the powers of the small, sparkly circle. Even the landscape of Mordor was barren and dead, I enjoyed the land of the hobbits as they sat around and ate all day, doing nothing. What a life.

I loved the land of the elves who believed in magic and higher knowledge, even though they honestly didn’t want to share any of it with anyone else. Similarly, the dwarfs were fond of gold and hated the elves that didn’t come to help them in time of need. The Race of Man felt the need to control everything and deemed themselves better than the others who resided in their outer kingdoms.

J. R. R. Tolkien taught me that conflict between others is important to creating a good story. Even though we rooted for Frodo and Samwise to reach Mount Doom to dispose of the ring, we still felt bad for crazy Gollum who became obsessed with the ring and could think of nothing else. We watched the Orcs invade on the Race of Man a number of times.

Without conflict, the victory at the end of The Return of the King would not have been so sweet and victorious. We jumped in glee as Frodo surrendered his finger to selfish Gollum and watched him die in the lava of Mount Doom, destroying the enemy. I don’t know about you, but when the tower under the eye collapsed in on itself, I smiled and had to bat back tears that threatened to fall. It was a great moment.

Even though, one day there will be no conflict when we go to heaven, it is essential to every story we create. If there isn’t any conflict, then the readers won’t look forward to the “happily ever after” moment at the end of the story. I look forward to the day when there will be no problems in real life anymore.

But until that day, conflict needs to reside in the pages of our stories.

Are you a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing? Or have you just seen the movies? What do you take away from the books or movies as a writer or a reader?

*This blog entry first appeared on Hoosier Ink on February 18. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jodie Renner: Captivate Your Readers

By Kelly Bridgewater

Back Cover Copy:

Are you looking for techniques to really bring your fiction to life for the readers, so they feel they’re right there, on the edge of their seats, struggling with the hero or heroine? Staying up late at night, worrying, glued to the pages?
This guide provides specific advice, with examples, for captivating readers and immersing them in your story world.
It’s all about engaging the reader and providing a direct connection with the characters through deep point of view, showing instead of telling, avoiding author intrusions, and letting the characters tell the story.
Today’s readers want to put aside their cares and chores and lose themselves in an absorbing story. This book shows you how to provide the emotional involvement and immediacy readers crave in fiction.
You’ll find techniques for making sure your characters come to life and your readers feel directly connected to them, without the author’s hand appearing as an intermediary.
And like Jodie Renner's other writing guides, which are designed for busy writers, the format of this one is reader-friendly, with text broken up by subheadings, examples, and lists.

My Review: 

I enjoy reading non-fiction books when they are books that are instructive in improving my writing. I have an overflowing shelf of writing instruction books. Many of them have highlights, notes in the margins, and post-it notes sticking out of them. I love learning how to do something to make my stories better. I have read Jodie Renner’s first book in this series, Fire Up Your Fiction and own Writing a Killer Thriller, but I have not gotten around to reading it yet. As a budding writer, I would love to get advice from a fiction editor and that is exactly what readers will get when they read these three writing books from Jodie Renner. She is a highly-sought after fiction editor who shares her experience and advice pretty cheaply.

I enjoy how Renner divides the book into tiny chapters. The book features six bigger parts with little chapters in each section. I enjoyed how Renner included a button to help the e-readers readers to return to the table of contents if they are done reading a certain chapter.

There are tons of examples to entice the reader into learning how to see the difference in their writing in the before and after examples. You can learn a lot by comparing the before examples to the after ones. There were also tips, techniques, and examples to engage the writer with the actual text. However, there were techniques and questions to avoid. Another thing I enjoyed was the words of advice from other popular writing books. If you enjoyed how Renner was showing an element such as Deep POV, then you could read more examples from other books.

Two chapters, Sensory Details Suck Your Reader In and Show Characters Reactions to Bring Them to Life, appear to be chapters that I will have to spend more time on and come back to. One quick read through for this review would not give justice to the words and exercises showed in the chapters. I probably will find more chapters on another read through to highlight and study.

Overall, Jodie Renner’s latest writing release, Captivate Your Readers, does exactly that. It offers writing advice to budding writers who do not have lot of time on their head and want to spend a couple of hours working on their skill. Plus, it draws connections to other writing books in the craft to further study. I highly recommend this book.  

I received an ARC copy of Jodie Renner’s Captivate Your Readers in exchange for any honest review. All opinions stated above are all my own.

Jodie Renner
From Renner's Amazon Author Page
Jodie Renner’s Writing Bio: 

Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides and two (so far) e-resources for writers. FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, which offers concrete tips to tighten your prose and take your writing skills up several levels, has won 3 awards (2 silver medals -- Readers' Favorite Awards, FAPA President's Book Awards -- and an Honorable Mention in Writer's Digest E-Book Awards). WRITING A KILLER THRILLER will show you how to engage readers by adding tension, suspense, and intrigue to any novel. Jodie's third book, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, is all about engaging readers, bonding them with your protagonist, and drawing them into your story world through techniques like using deep point of view, showing instead of telling, avoiding author intrusions, writing dialogue that zings, and generally letting the characters tell the story.

If you could ask Jodie Renner one question related to writing, what would it be?

Friday, March 20, 2015

What C. S. Lewis Means to Me

By Kelly Bridgewater

I plan to share how twelve different writers have inspired me and are the ones I return to when I need some inspiration. As readers, we have loved the words written by authors who have spoken to us through their stories. It could have happened as a child or as an adult. I don't have a set date for each entry, but I will sprinkle them in on Fridays, hopefully, at least, once a month. I will have links to all of them, so in case, you missed one; you can click back and read another one.

My first author on this journey that I want to travel with you is none other than the one of the greatest Christian writers of the past. Have an idea? If you cheated, his name is in the title of this blog post.
C. S. Lewis 
C.S. Lewis.

What does C.S. Lewis’ writing mean to me? It started when I was a little girl. My father handed me a copy of Prince Caspian, and I was transported to Narnia on the wings of my imagination. I loved Lucy, the curious little girl who saw the best in everyone. She didn’t have a mean thing to say about anyone, except when Edmund picked on her. She had the faith of a child and still believed in Aslan, even when everyone didn’t believe he would come back.

I loved the landscape of a land that you were transported to through magical portals, either a wardrobe, a train station, a picture, a ring, or a jump off a high cliff. The entryway was never the same twice. Lewis did a good job at holding the readers’ attention as we waited with anticipation to see how our familiar characters were going to be transported back to Narnia.

I loved a land filled with magic and talking creatures. Who could forget the talking beavers that helped Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe? Or Tumnas, the half goat, half man, or a faun as the story lovingly refers to him, who sacrificed his life to keep the two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam safe because he believed in a free Narnia?

As a writer, C.S. Lewis has taught me how to create a story using imagination to share the wonderful story of Jesus Christ and his saving power. My imagination is my best tool to create a story that allows my future readers to connect with the characters occupying the pages of my story.  Using my imagination, I can sprinkle in clues to Jesus without overwhelming the readers with the Biblical lesson.

As I got older, I have read a majority of Lewis’ others stories, fiction or non-fiction. I have read a good chunk of his literary criticism. He has such passion for the written word. In graduate school, I wrote two different papers using C.S. Lewis’ writing as the basis for my papers. One was a compare and contrast between Paradise Lost by John Milton and Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Second paper, I argued that even though The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as a Biblical allegory is a valued way to look at the story, Lewis actually created it as a fairy tale, which I proved.

C.S. Lewis taught me the love of creating stories with my imagination and the ability to create a passion for the written word. He is one of my favorite writers who I return to when I want a good read to explore Narnia or learn more about something in the literary field. No wonder still today, fifty-one years after his death, his books still capture the imagination of new generations and are placed in the hollow shelves of our local libraries. 

*This blog entry first appeared on Hoosier Ink on January 21, 2015.

Have you read C.S. Lewis books? If so, what is some of you favorite books? What has he taught you as a writer and a reader?