Monday, June 15, 2009

A Soldier's Reunion

Cheryl Wyatt
Love Inspired Contemporary Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

A Soldier’s Reunion is the fourth book in Cheryl Wyatt’s “Wings of Refuge” series. (Earlier I reviewed her Ready-Made Family, the third book in this series. I concluded her work was flawed but “worth watching.”)

Consistent with her series, Wyatt sets her story in a military environment. She remains fascinated with the soldiers of the skies, setting this story in the dashing world of pararescue. Wyatt adds a bitter sweet component with leading characters in this story who were first high school sweethearts.

This story begins with a large bridge that is compromised when hit by an airplane. The bridge is filled with cars and a school bus filled with children. Nolan Briggs is the pararescuer in charge of this rescue mission. He and his rescuers are on the job to save as many as possible. They discover that Reece, Amelia’s daughter from Ready-Made Family, is on the school bus.

While rescuing people from the bridge, Nolan Briggs runs into Mandy Manchester, his old girlfriend from high school. They haven’t seen each other for ten years since graduation. She looks as good to him as ever. He, on the other hand, is the guy who left without saying goodbye. She would be afraid to trust him.

The balance of the story has to do with how Mandy and Nolan work toward getting back together. I can’t fault this book by Cheryl Wyatt like I did the last one. This one tends to stay more with the important things and not include absolutely everything possible. This is a faster read filled with action and people and personalities and, of course, great lacks of communication. To Cheryl Wyatt – congratulations on a good, well paced book. Definitely worth the read!

Rewriting Monday

Jodi Thomas
Contemporary Romance
Berkley Books - April 2009

As you may have guessed, I love romance novels, especially the latest Steeple Hill books and the historicals. I enjoy the historical romance novels because the environments in which they are set are generally real and there tends to be less explicit sex, especially when compared to the contemporary stories. I enjoy the Steeple Hill books because they weave Christian issues into the stories and characters just like they are woven in real life. And, of course, they all have happy endings!

But reading Jodi Thomas (Berkley Books) is an exceptional pleasure for me. She’s gooood! I know I’m in good hands when she’s at the story’s helm. They are beautifully written. Her characters are real. She sticks to telling the story, always making it a lean, compelling read. Not only is Rewriting Monday an intriguing title for a romance novel, but its female lead, Pepper Malone, sports a character name straight out of the popular pulp panoply. Can you see it? The New Adventures of Pepper Malone, Pepper Malone Strikes Back, Pepper Malone Goes to Hollywood, Pepper Malone and the McTeague Murders, Pepper Malone Packs A Wallop! Books, movies, radio, TV—Pepper Malone lives! (And loves: Pepper Malone Dares to Love) And who can forget that ubiquitous line from Editor Perry, “Where’s that Pepper when we need her?”

Pepper Malone lost her job as a reporter for a major Chicago publisher when she reported information about a prominent Chicago family. The family claimed she received the information by unethical means. The family had more power than she had. That’s what caused her to flee Chicago to find a good place to hide. She found it in Bailee, Texas, a quiet little town where her old aunt lived. It was a place to hide and heal. Of course, she needed to make a living. She went to the Bailee Bugle and told editor, Mike McCullock, that the weekly paper needed her. From there we get adventure, intrigue, mysterious accidents, and lots of action. And, Mike McCullock gets hope, which is something he hasn’t felt for a long time.

Jodi Thomas never lets me down and she’s done it again. Don’t miss this well written fast moving book!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

His Forever Love

Missy Tippens
Love Inspired Contemporary Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

Missy Tippens’ His Forever Love introduces the “forever” tree, and who could resist such a deciduation? Her “forever” tree is the sacred stuff out of which the romance genre was birthed. (Where’s screen director Frank Capra [“It’s a Wonderful Life”] when you have such a great story for him?)

Legend has it that every couple who holds hands around the “forever” tree will experience an unending love for each other. Oh, please! I’m already in tears of joy because I can sense a wonderful ending around the final carefully-plotted turn. But our leading characters are only ten years old when they invoke the legend. Guess what? The two kids meet years later. Will the “forever” tree legend hold water?

Ooo, I can hardly wait.

But that’s only part of our story. Both Lindsey Jones and Bill Wellington have grown up as poster people for low self esteem, the sin de jour in this self-indulgent era. But, can you believe it? The “forever” tree wins out in the end, and Tippens’ story roars into an uplifting ending as the two characters come to discover, each through the eyes of the other, the great value each one has. Is that not the essence of our favorite genre?

Yes, boys and girls, His Forever Love is a lovely read.

After ten years of paying her writer dues, this is Missy’s second book for Steeple Hill. With any luck she and her pastor husband will continue holding hands around her “forever” computer, and that will inspire Missy to many more delightful journeys into the world of Steeple Hill romance.

The Accidental Lawman

Jill Marie Landis
Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - 2009

Jill Marie Landis is 20 novels deep into a career which includes titles that have earned their way into the New York Times and USA Today best seller lists. That suggests she’s a good writer. Her latest book, The Accidental Lawman, does the same. Interesting characters and a small town in which any sensible person would want to live grace this historical set in 1874.

Glory is a small town in Texas populated by good hearted, salt-of-the-earth folks for whom a penchant for gossip is essentially non existent. (The small town exception that proves the rule.) The towns folks genuinely enjoy and care for one another, so much so that the place has no sheriff and no jail. But the quiet, friendly town is suddenly shaken by the bank robbery that opens Landis’s story.

The robbery introduces us to the novel’s main characters, Hank Larson and Amelia Hawthorne. Hank is a widower recently arrived in town to open a newspaper (without a sheriff and a jail—and folks who love each other—what is he going to write about?). The beautiful Amelia, the daughter of the small town’s recently deceased doctor is, a healer.

Hank thwarts the robbery, but it turns out that one of the robbers is Amelia’s nineteen-year-old brother. Ahh, the plot thickens; and it thickens into a well-written, taut adventure romance.

Still grieving the loss of his wife and child, Hank Larson wanted nothing more than to start his newspaper and become part of this small town. He wasn’t ready for any serious involvement and yet the good folks of Glory, Texas, insisted that he become their sheriff, at least until another could be found.

Amelia Hawthorne had convinced herself that she was meant to be an old maid. She had raised her brother, Evan, since her mother died; and she was frustrated because at nineteen he no longer listened to her. She felt guilty for not being able to control Evan, but then no one else could either.

This is an adventurous story with many twists and turns. Tension builds to the very end. Enjoy this very satisfying book!

A Ring and a Promise

Lois Richer
Love Inspired Contemporary Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

A Ring and a Promise is another in Lois Richer’s Love Inspired “Weddings by Woodwards” series. Richer is a craftsman. The characters in A Ring and a Promise are real, but the events pressing in on them aren’t all that earth shaking. Nice little stories certainly have their place; but by the time I reached the last page, I felt that my investment in the read hadn’t yielded much.

The lead character in this outing is Abby Franklin who is a jewelry designer for Weddings by Woodward. It seems to me the company is too small to have a fulltime jewelry designer. (Or is it just me?) Too many romance novels ask their readers to indulge stretches in logic.

The male lead is Donovan Woodward, the man Abby planned to marry; but who, for no apparent reason, left her in the lurch five years before the story opens. Now he’s returned to the family business with a godchild in tow; and it is Abby’s growing feelings for this godchild that overcome her anger and disappointment over Donovan’s unexplained exit.

Where have I encountered this metric before?

Too many recent romance novels ask some unsuspecting kid to rekindle an earlier romance or spark a new one. By the same token, too many romance novels are populated by widows and widowers suffering from the flames and arrows of incomprehensible fate and failed relationships. Our romance novel landscape is overpopulated by “take-two” situations: “Maybe we’ll get it right this time.” I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that some author is now hard at work on a fifth-time-around romance between two octogenarians who have met in some picturesque seaside old folks home. “It’s never too late, baby. Pass the Levitra.”

In this second time around for me and Lois Richer, the Weddings by Woodwards premise for a series seems a bit wanting. However, with some 35 titles to her credit, Richer’s writing has clearly found an audience among Christian readers. With that kind of a track record, I obviously need to give the lady a take three or even a take four.

Small-Town Brides

Janet Tronstad and Debra Clopton
Love Inspired Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books – June, 2009

Small-Town Brides is a Steeple Hill coupling of two novellas, one by Janet Tronstad and the other by Debra Clopton. Both are fine writers and this coupling does nothing to harm either reputation.

Both stories begin in Mule Hollow; but the first story, Tronstad’s A Dry Creek Wedding, migrates to, you guessed it, Dry Creek, a small town in Montana. As the collection’s title suggests, both stories end in obligatory weddings and the ever-present happy ending; but the journeys for both pairs of characters offer good reads.

In the first story, Rene Mitchell, 32, is a waitress at the truck stop in Mule Hollow. She was a hopeless romantic. For her romance was everything; but her boyfriend, Trace, only offered a “practical” marriage. Romance, per se, was not on his plate. The marriage would be a practical one in which Rene’s primary responsibility would be to care for Trace’s young niece who had just arrived in town. Her parents had just died.

Rene went ballistic! In a fury, she shook Mule Hollow’s dust from her feet and packed her car for her aunt and uncle’s place in Dry Creek, Montana. She would have made it, too, except that the piece of junk broke down at the city limits. Enter Clay Preston, 41, and his trusty wrecker.

Clay liked to watch Rene when he ate at the local truck stop; but his foster home upbringing left him too shy for anything overt—until Rene’s sick vehicle offered him the hero’s mantel. Yes, he agreed to tow her all the way to Dry Creek. (A beautiful damsel in distress? Come on, gentlemen, what would you have done?) And what a tow it was, Rene dealing with her anger and disappointment and Clay dealing with his shyness. By the time the two made it to Dry Creek, Rene discovered the romance she craved and Clay set aside his shyness.

In the second story, A Mule Hollow Match by Debra Clopton, we meet Rene’s cousin, Paisley Norton. The two women had been close. When Rene left Trace and his offer in the dust, Trace tried it out on Paisley. She was angry at Trace because of how he treated Rene, but she did agree to care for the little girl, feeling that the child should not suffer because Trace was a jerk. Any relationship with Trace was out of the question, but Paisley’s care for the man’s niece brought her into Trace’s daily life much as the close quarters of the wrecker’s cab had brought Clay into Rene’s life.

Close quarters have a way of overcoming obstacles, especially in romance novels; and the more Paisley was around Trace, the more she liked him, especially the marvelous man she was now seeing through the eyes of his little niece.

Both novellas are fast reads by good writers. Their character’s problems are far from earth shaking, but they were important to the two sets of characters and they are true to life.