Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tides of Hope

Irene Hannon
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

Irene Hannon’s Tides of Hope is another recent Steeple Hill romance set on Nantucket Island, but this one is contemporary. Kate MacDonald is a widow who has taken over her husband’s charter boat business. While she’s a strong willed, no-nonsense woman successfully navigating a demanding business, she’s been unable to handle her husband’s death. He was too handsome, too wonderful, and too perfect. Kate is also having an increasingly difficult time with her four year-old daughter who wants a dad.

Craig Cole, the new commander at Nantucket’s Coast Guard station might, be a good candidate if he weren’t so picky. Kate understands that anyone earning their living from the sea has to honor the details. Not doing so can kill you, but this Craig Cole guy is ridiculous. Everyone else thinks Craig is a gorgeous hunk and much to be desired. Of course, Craig had his own problems. He was a widower with a four-year-old daughter. He, like Kate, was still grieving the death of his wife and son from an accident for which he felt some guilt. Therefore, he was racked with grief. His daughter was with him full-time now.
That was an adjustment since she had spent a lot of time with nannies and Craig’s relatives in their prior location.

Psychologically, both people are dealing with painful issues. After such losses, each of them feared having new relationships especially with the possibility of those ending unexpectedly, too. This book deals with tough stuff, but, we believe that love will win out in the end, which, since Tides of Hope is a romance novel, Guess what? Enjoy this page turner that Anna Schmidt has provided us.


Diana Palmer
Romance - Contemporary
HQN Books - 2008

I get scared easily when I read or watch TV. My husband laughs at me, but he’s always within hailing distance (or by my side) when it’s suspense, adventure, or mystery. I know it’s all just fiction and I can close the book or turn off the TV anytime I want, but it really affects me. He loves that stuff. I don’t.

Diana Palmer’s Fearless is packed with adventure and suspense, but I liked it. Hmmm. At first I thought my reaction was strange, but then I realized my usual fears were being cradled in the arms of a first class writer. Suspense lurks around every corner in Fearless but I knew I was safe with Palmer. The psychotherapist in me is going to have to spend more time thinking about this. Maybe, I believed the title. Suppose?

Since 1979, Diana Palmer has written 100+ novels. That averages more than one every four months. That’s phenomenal enough but when you read her biography, she’s living at least two other busy lives. My guess is that she lives 36 hour days (eight per week). Her 100+ novels are just a sideline.

This story takes place in Jacobsville, Texas. This town has an unusual mix of lawmen. Their backgrounds are varied and dangerous. Glory Barnes is staying on a Jacobsville farm for her protection. She’s an assistant DA in San Antonio who needs protection until she testifies in a dangerous case. Cash Grier, the police chief, will try to keep her protected but with that particular mix of lawmen in residence it’s hard to know the good guys from the bad.

Any of Diana Palmer’s books that take place in this location are always full of adventure and surprises. Glory Barnes is attracted to Rodrigo Ramirez, the ranch foreman, who seems like a nice guy, but, how can she know for sure? We know that someone isn’t just right, but who? A bad guess could cost a life, hers. Any of these professionals are apt to trust no one. This is a page turner you’re sure to enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gift from the Sea

Anna Schmidt
Inspirational Historic Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

Gift from the Sea is the ninth of Anna Schmidt’s Steeple Hill books. It’s an historical romance, but Schmidt did not set it in an era typical of romance novels. Gift from the Sea is set in the midst of World War I, “the war to end all wars,” and the gift is odd, indeed. Its name is Stefan Witte. He is an injured German washed ashore at Nantucket Island off the Massachusetts coast. At the outset, Witte is no threat. Nurse Maggie Hunter found him dangerously close to death. But now that’s he’s getting better and more lucid. . .

Hanna Schmidt’s Gift from the Sea has a storyline that’s different for a typical romance novel. Stefan Witte, the injured German who washed ashore on Nantucket Island had lost his only family to the German’s. There was nothing left for him there. He claimed to be on a mission of peace, but no one was willing to believe him. Maggie Hunter, the nurse who cared for him didn’t trust him at all. He needed to deliver information to American authorities but had no way to make the contact without help from a go-between. And, no one would believe him so that contact could be made. Romance was nowhere in sight. Stefan was badly injured and unable to leave his sick room. Maggie was grieving over her intended who had been killed overseas. She was fine to blame that on Stefan too.

This is a romance, but, you will be surprised at how it comes about. This is a good and interesting historical. It takes a bit to get into it, but it’s worth the time – enjoy!

The Baby Bond

Linda Goodnight
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May - 2009

The blurb in The Baby Bond indicates that Linda Goodnight has written 9 books for Steeple Hill. Three of these are a series, The Brothers’ Bond. She’s also published in Harlequin’s Silhouette series. According to her biography, she’s written some 19 books since 2000. That’s nearly 6 novels a year, an average of one every two plus months. Whew, but she’s not just an assembly line. In 2007 she won the RITA for the best inspirational novel. Quantity plus quality. It doesn’t get much better than that. She’s also a gut writer. Most of her characters arrive in her head complete with names. She tends not to know the ending of a book when she begins it. The characters know, and Linda trusts them.

The Baby Bond is a story with both tragedy and adventure. It also has love and lack of trust. Firefighter, Nic Carano, rescues baby Alex from a burning house. Baby Alex and Nic form an immediate bond. Alex’s parents were both lost in the fire.

Nic was thought of as a playboy who refused to grow up. He had that reputation when he and Cassidy Willis were in college together. Cassidy Willis is Alex’s aunt and becomes his guardian. Nic was attracted to Cassidy but she refused to get close to him. To her, every time Nic went to work he was in danger of dying in a fire. She wanted none of that! Cassidy’s parents died in a tornado in the Philippines where they were missionaries. She was trapped in a collapsing school building. She could smell smoke and feared being burned to death.

Psychologically, these are people with problems. Nic has done such a good job of looking like a playboy that no one has noticed that he is also a responsible person. True, he hasn’t wanted to get hooked by a woman and pressured into marriage. He put out love with the same skills he used putting out fires. He wasn’t anti-marriage just not ready yet. Cassidy had an irrational fear about fire. She was living a nightmare that had reached dysfunctional proportions. She spent her time being self protective. Actually, all this makes for a very good story.

Laugh, cry and enjoy this well-written story with a very satisfying ending.

Blind-Date Bride

Jillian Hart
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

Blind Date Bride is book number 18 in Jillian Hart’s McKaslin Clan series, so if you like this one, great reads lie ahead. The bottom line for me is that Blind Date Bride is a sweet little story, but the problems Brianna McKaslin (Brandilyn’s twin sister) and Max Decker face aren’t particularly significant. They are to them, make no mistake, but in the larger scheme of things, they’re more a footnote. Blind Date Bride is true to the romance formula. It’s an easy read. It moves well; and typical of most Steeple Hills, Hart skillfully blends in the Christian message. Both characters have problems that mediate against their chances at romance, but guess what? They’re all solved by page 267 and the words “The best was yet to come.”

The Secret

Beverly Lewis
Amish - Novel
Bethany House Publishers - 2009

In an earlier Grace Note I talked about Andrea Sachs’ Time Magazine’s article on the current Amish love stories, dubbed “bonnet books” by some. They’re not really romance novels in the traditional sense because they don’t follow the romance formula. Actually, I think they’re more “soap opera books” because their let’s-not-talk-about-it-now (ever) efforts at communication drive the plot. As a psychotherapist, I find the character’s dysfunctional lives very sad. Get on with it!” I scream. “Say what you mean!”

I know what the Bible says about life and the Amish interpretation, to me, isn’t it. (Unless you’re a man and would be king.) The popularity of these books escapes me. Reading this one is like four hours watching an ant farm. (Those ants really know how to live.) The bonnet books are supposed to be inspirational fiction. They only inspire me to throw up. Not the writing, the characters. How can professing Christians be so strict with behaviors that aren’t taught by Scripture to be bad. The characters don’t allow themselves to communicate. They are ineffective in every sense of the word. They run away from problems. They let their men get away with being world class snots. They have made turning the other cheek into an art form. They don’t show the God that I worship as a loving God who is always interested in our welfare

Beverly Lewis is a good writer. She spells well. Her coherent sentences advance even to her paragraphs. Page after page, she draws her characters with clean, crisp lines; but who could stand to live with them? Give me a nice axe murderer anytime, wait!, a handsome axe murderer with a darling suntanned face and a really deep voice. It’s not just no automobiles, no radios, no electricity, and their lackluster fashion sense. It’s just, well, no good sense at all. Life lived this way is ineffective and no darn fun! I don’t think that’s what God intended. It seems like a sure route to depression. It’s not OK to have a car or truck. But it is OK to pay someone who has one to transport them or their freight for a fee. Can anyone justify that for me? If so, please share. This book made me want to cry for those living in this lifestyle. Help me out here if I’m missing the point.

The genre boasts at least a dozen writers. No computers, no typewriters, no dictionaries. Yesterday I found a dozen quill pens in the attic. Now I’ve found a market for them.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Wild One

Denise Eagan
Historical Romance
Zebra Books - 2009

The Wild One is Denise Eagan’s second book, her second book to be published. She began writing at fourteen. Typical of so many good novelists, she began young, worked hard, trained for a real job (accounting, she graduated from a college from which my husband holds a degree), gathered her obligatory trunk full of reassuring rejection, continued writing, joined Romance Writers of America, won a contest, and soldiered on to a two-book contract with Kensington (while being a mother, wife, and homemaker). I’m tired just thinking about it. The Wild One is the second of the two and a sequel to her first, Wicked Woman. Yes, hers is that old familiar story: Overnight sensation!

She mentions that The Wild One came to her in pieces, scene by scene, most often out of order. That is a sign she’s a gut writer, one who lives the story as she writes, letting the winds of inspiration drive her to unplanned destinations. The gut is the writer. The head is the editor. When the writer learns to let the first roam free and keep the second in check, the result is usually a deliciously surprising story. And that it is.

Jessica Sullivan was a beautiful, serious actress. She had no interest in men because her husband had abandoned her while she was in labor with their child. As if that weren’t enough, her child died when he was two days old. She continued living as a married woman because she couldn’t afford to divorce the man who abandoned her. But that was not the beginning of life’s destruction of her self worth.

Because she was serious about her craft, Jessica didn’t fit well with the other actors in the troupe who used the stage to advance their sex lives. She didn’t “play” with men because she thought that was morally inappropriate. But more importantly, her experience with men showed her they couldn’t be trusted. At a deeper level and in spite of her moral convictions, she felt that life was just passing her by.

Not only that, she had asked the director of the traveling players to set apart a portion of her weekly salary so that she could repay a debt to her brother, but he was a man, too, and true to her experience, he gambled away the money he was supposed to be saving for her. Her view of herself kept getting lower. She tried so hard and yet never succeeded. In addition to that, her family had disowned her. Her self-worth was hitting bottom.

Could the tall, dark, handsome, and rich Lee Montgomery keep it from hitting bottom. Since this is a romance novel, that’s reasonable to expect, but he had his problems, too. While he came from a wealthy Boston family, his success at gambling fed his desire to never settle down He didn’t want his family’s money if it also required him to be a proper Bostonian. Besides, there was this actress who had caught his eye. Her name was Jessica Sullivan.

Then she was wrongly accused of murder and was on the run. To top it all off, her estranged husband showed up and kidnapped her. She thought her life was over and the thought didn’t displease her. Would Lee Montgomery spring for the ransom? She figured not. Psychologically, she had hit bottom.

But, let’s not forget this is a romance novel. While it starts out more slowly than I like, Eagan crafts well drawn, engaging characters. Their depth made them fun to be with and drew me into the story. When the pace took off in the last third of the book, being intimate with the characters made the read more rewarding than most.

Courting the Doctor's Daughter

Janet Dean
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - 2009

Who would have thought the handsome man hawking his herbal elixir from the seat of his wagon was a real medical doctor and heir to a vast Boston fortune? While physically engaging, he still looked the huckster to Mary Graves, and she knew that the magic in most such potions was alcohol, making it more dangerous than medicinal. Her dad was the town doctor. That gave Mary more than a passing knowledge of such frauds. Unwilling to let this man dupe her friends from the town, she challenged Luke Jacobs in front his gullible audience. That prickly encounter begins Janet Dean’s second novel, Courting the Doctor’s Daughter.

Mary Graves openly called Luke Jacobs a fraud. Of course, he hadn’t yet divulged that he was a medical doctor. He was, in fact, searching for his lost son. He had heard that his son was put on an orphanage train after his mother died. He was following the route the train had taken. He didn’t want it known that he was looking for his son. Since he had lost track of him, he wanted to find him and make sure he had a good home without disturbing him.

Luke had lost track of his son because he was so busy with his laboratory work. His mission was to find a cure for epilepsy. His brother had had epilepsy and died too young in an institution.

This is a book of losses. Luke had lost his brother and blamed his parents for his treatment. He thought an institution was the wrong place for an epileptic. He had separated from his parents over this issue. Mary Graves had been left on the doctor’s doorstep when she was a baby and had lost her mother. While the doctor and his wife loved her and treated her well, she still wondered why she wasn’t good enough for her mother to keep her. Psychologically, this kept her from feeling as good about herself as she might have. She had niggling doubts about herself. Because of that, she adopted a child off the orphanage train since she knew what a loss being an orphan had brought to her life. She already had two children from an unsatisfactory marriage. She had a very busy, work-filled life for a widow. Somehow she felt that’s all she deserved.

Courting the Doctor’s Daughter is the second book of a projected Steeple Hill series. The first was Courting Miss Adelaide. Janet Dean grew up in what she describes as a story telling family. Her folks and their folks loved the past and telling stories about it. Not surprisingly, Janet caught the bug and once she and her husband had raised their two girls, she devoted herself to writing stories that would honor God and take the reader on satisfying adventures.

Grace Note - Amish Romance

In the April 27, 2009, issue of Time Magazine is an article by Andrea Sachs, titled “Love, Plain and Simple.” “This is about Amish love stories, or “bonnet books,” being the hot new trend in romance fiction.” According to Sachs, these books generate nearly $1.4 billion in sales each year.

You don’t have to worry about explicit sex in these books, there isn’t any. For many of us that’s a breath of fresh air, but does it go too far in the other direction? I’ll find out. The article talks about Beverly Lewis who has just published her novel “The Secret”. It came out at #10 on the paperback best seller list in the New York Times. In all, she has written 87 books. Sachs says that these books have an easy history lesson. Is that enough? The Pennsylvania Dutch have many rules to live by and have a strange way of changing them. To change a rule the leaders vote on the change. Consequently, probably no two groups have exactly the same rules. All of this gets to sounding a bit over-bearing. Or is that my independent self reacting?

What I’m going to do is read “The Secret” by Beverly Lewis. Then I’ll review it without holding back. I’ll meet you back here soon.