Author Archives: Jennifer Michelle

Fiction Shelves: The Candidate by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart

Grab It, Read It, Savor the Thrills!


The Candidate
by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart


Series: Newsmakers (Book 2)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Length: 334pp
ISBN-13: 978-0718037680

Related Links:
Lis Wiehl’s Website
Lis Wiehl Podcast on The Newsmakers

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Publisher Synopsis

How far will a candidate go to become president? Erica Sparks—America’s top-rated cable-news host— is about to find out.

Mike Ortiz is a dynamic war hero favored to win the White House. Standing by his side is his glamorous and adoring wife, Celeste. But something about this seemingly perfect couple troubles Erica. Is Celeste really who she seems? And most importantly, what really happened in that squalid Al-Qaeda prison where Mike Ortiz spent nine months?

But more than the nation’s future is at stake. Erica’s relentless search for the truth puts the life of her preteen daughter Jenny in danger, even as Erica’s own dark past threatens to overtake her.


My Review

[Click the title to see my review of the first book in the series, The Newsmakers.]

Once again, Lis Wiehl and Sebastian Stuart have turned out a barn-burner of a thriller. Top flight journalist Erica Sparks has her hands full — overly full, I should say — combating a villain that no one else even suspects. And this villain is wickedly, viciously, coldly, frighteningly evil.

If you have not read the first book in the Newsmakers series, I suggest you do so before plunging into this one. Many of the same characters reappear, and it helps to know one of them in particular in order to understand Erica’s romantic plight. Also, Erica’s background is explored more thoroughly in book one, as is usual in a series, and there’s much in her history that will enable the reader to better grasp our heroine’s struggles at being a mother.

Those readers seeking an overtly Christian thriller will not find it here. There is little time for Erica to pause and reflect, other than about her worries. (Yes, she could have used some praying.) But despite the presence of a cruel and heartless antagonist, the book’s language never crosses a line that might offend. So this is a clean read, if that concerns you, though at times a heartbreaking one, as not everyone makes it out alive.

Of course, if you read and enjoyed The Newsmakers, then you know what to expect in The Candidate, and you will not be disappointed!

— Jennifer Michelle

Verdict


4 of 5 Hearts. Grab It, Read It, Savor the Thrills!

The Candidate is the second in Lis Wiehl’s latest series. In it, she takes her heroine to even darker places, physically and mentally, than in the first book, and the ride this time is bumpier and more painful. But as before, it is the keen wit, courage, and perseverance of Erica Sparks that provides the real entertainment.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of The Candidate in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Kids Corner: The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly

An Atrocious ARC = An Impossible-to-Review-Fairly Book

The Lost Twin
by Sophie Cleverly


Series: Scarlet and Ivy (Book 1)
Original Publication Date: February 26, 2015
This Edition Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Length: 304pp
ISBN-13: 978-1492633396

Related Links:
Sophie Cleverly’s Website
Sophie Cleverly on Facebook


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Publisher Synopsis

Ivy, I pray that it’s you reading this. And if you are, well, I suppose you’re the new me…

When shy Ivy’s troublemaking twin Scarlet vanishes from Rookwood boarding school, Ivy is invited to “take her place.” But when Ivy arrives, she discovers the school’s true intention; she has to pretend to be Scarlet. She must think like Scarlet, act like Scarlet, become Scarlet. What on earth happened to the real Scarlet, and why is the school trying to keep it a secret?

Luckily for Ivy, Scarlet isn’t about to disappear without a fight. She’s left pieces of her journal carefully hidden all over the school for Ivy to find. Ivy’s going to figure out what happened to Scarlet. She’s got to.

But the staff of Rookwood is always watching, and they’ll do anything to keep their secrets buried…


My Review

This was an extremely difficult book to review, primarily because the advance reading copy provided was an absolute mess. Formatting was more terrible than usual in such copies: paragraph indentation did not exist, causing sentences in different paragraphs to run together; dialogue was often printed without breaks between speakers; and justification was inconsistent, each new page’s differently jumbled look distracting from its content. All of this made for a labored reading experience which produced an unpleasant aftertaste when I finished the book. Because of these problems, I could never get into the plot for long, or focus on the characters as much as I wished. This was not my first encounter with a garbled ARC, but it was surely one of the worst presentations of a text I have come across. What made the whole thing strange is that this is a re-publication of a novel first released in 2015, and a cleaner copy ought to have been readily available to give to reviewers.

In addition to the formatting, there was also the occasional error in plot. For instance, in the first three pages of the book we learn: the year is 1935, Ivy is 13 (meaning she was born in 1922), and her Aunt Phoebe’s husband died during the Great War (which ended in 1918). A page or so later we read that Aunt Phoebe’s husband once told Ivy something. But he was dead at least 4 years before she was born! I initially passed this off as another ARC problem, but I checked the sample at Amazon of the 2015 published copy and found the same passages. It’s astonishing that this was not corrected. (Another example is the “hard wooden floor” that, a few pages later, is suddenly covered with a threadbare carpet.)

To judge from the ARC, the author’s prose could use some trimming. She has a tendency to write “my own” and “her own” where “my” and “her” would suffice, and is overly enamored with “sat down”. There are sections where she repeats a word or phrase multiple times, as if she didn’t proof her work with a sufficiently critical eye. How much of this is due to author oversight and how much to the ARC, I can’t say.

The plot was original and interesting, and it was frustrating to not be able to immerse myself in it. Despite the chaos, a few characters stood out, particularly the evil ones. All in all, the finished novel might well-deserve the 4.42 Goodreads rating it has at present. But even making the usual allowances for an ARC, what I read did not.

                                                                                                — Jennifer Michelle

Verdict

3 of 5 Hearts. An Atrocious ARC = An Impossible-to-Review-Fairly Book.

Judging from reviews at Goodreads, and from those moments when I could connect to the main character and sympathize with her plight, The Lost Twin is not a bad Kids book. But reading this ARC was a chore and so prejudiced me against the novel that I don’t feel I can write an unbiased review. Should I ever have the opportunity to read a final copy, I will update this post.

One thing is certain: It is never a good sign when a publisher cares so little about a book (and, by extension, its author) that it releases such an abysmal copy of the text to reviewers. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky rarely disappoints, but they did so this time.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with a copy of The Lost Twin in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

The Lost Twin

The cover as published in 2015.

Fiction Shelves: If I Run By Terri Blackstock

An Exciting Christian Mystery-Suspense Novel with Depth


If I Run
by Terri Blackstock


Series: If I Run (Book 1)
Publication Date: February 16, 2016
Publisher: Zondervan
Length: 305pp
ISBN-13: 978-0310332435

Related Links:
Terri Blackstock’s Website
Terri Blackstock’s YouTube Channel

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Publisher Synopsis

Casey knows the truth. But it won’t set her free.

Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talking to police; they have failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested . . . or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.

But what is the truth? That’s the question haunting Dylan Roberts, the war-weary veteran hired to find Casey. PTSD has marked him damaged goods, but bringing Casey back can redeem him. Though the crime scene seems to tell the whole story, details of the murder aren’t adding up. Casey Cox doesn’t fit the profile of a killer. But are Dylan’s skewed perceptions keeping him from being objective? If she isn’t guilty, why did she run?

Unraveling her past and the evidence that condemns her will take more time than he has, but as Dylan’s damaged soul intersects with hers, he is faced with two choices. The girl who occupies his every thought is a psychopathic killer . . . or a selfless hero. And the truth could be the most deadly weapon yet.


My Review

Though classified simply and mundanely as Fiction on the book jacket, If I Run is part Mystery and all Suspense. From the first sentence – “There’s blood on the bottom of my shoes.” – Terri Blackstock captures our attention; within a few chapters, her heroine has secured our support, something her hero also does quickly once the alternate narration starts. From that point, the characters are increasingly interesting, the plot ever-thickening, and the suspense never-ending.

The story of Casey and Dylan, the hunted and the hunter, unfolds logically and in prose that’s neither overly stylish nor dryly pedestrian. We learn the circumstances behind Casey’s flight later than might be expected, but by then her personality and actions have already convinced us of her innocence. Dylan, the war-veteran-turned-investigator, faces a tougher path to uncovering and accepting the truth as he tracks the elusive (supposed) killer of his friend.

Too many times the storytelling device of multiple narrators elevates one character’s voice and/or situation above the rest and those in-between chapters become a drag to get through. But Blackstock has done a good job of making us like and sympathize with both Casey and Dylan, and has plunged each into their own dramatic quagmire, so neither dominates the other. We are equally happy and at home in every chapter, regardless of who is moving the plot.

If I Run does not hide its Christian light beneath a bushel. God and the teachings of Jesus are frequently mentioned, though never in an intrusive or didactic way. One of the two protagonists is a professed Christian, while the other is a doubter, but on a journey to belief, which lends variety and perspective to the story.

When the final page is turned, the reader is left in a perfect place: She feels satisfied with the present book, but is also eagerly looking forward to the next!

— Jennifer Michelle

Verdict


4.5 of 5 Hearts. An Exciting Christian Mystery-Suspense Novel with Depth.

If it’s a can’t-put-down heart-thumper you’re looking for in the Christian genre, grab If I Run and join Casey and Dylan for an absorbing, fast-paced, often thoughtful read.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Fiction Guild and Zondervan for providing me with a copy of If I Run in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Week in Reviews: ReadLove Recap For the Week Beginning March 7, 2016

 

Another week has come and gone at ReadLove ! Here’s what you may have missed:

Monday:

Music Video: “Good Good Father” by Chris Tomlin ft. Pat Barrett

“We all have a picture of who we think God is. When we get down to the foundation of what we believe, the truth is that God is exactly who He says He is – a good, good Father.”

[Read the full post]








Tuesday:

Christian Chapters: An Unbroken Heart by Kathleen Fuller

5 of 5 Hearts. Kathleen Fuller Affirms That God Can Heal the Most Broken of Hearts.

Thematically, alongside its message of courage in adversity, Kathleen Fuller’s An Unbroken Heart is a moving and instructive story of love and forgiveness, pain and healing, endings and new beginnings.

[Read the full review]

 

 

 

Thursday:

Fiction Shelves: The Newsmakers By Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart

4.5 of 5 Hearts. Forget ‘Page-Turner’ – This Thriller is a Chapter-Turner!

Lis Wiehl’s latest novel is the first in a new series. She’s done an excellent job of establishing her heroine and filling her world with likable characters. More thriller than mystery, the real pleasure of The Newsmakers is in tagging along with smart, savvy, and strong Erica Sparks on her investigations, rooting for her to figure out what we already suspect and hoping that she can save the day!

[Read the full review]

 

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That’s everything that happened on ReadLove this week. See you next week!

Until then, I’d love it if you shared a bit about your week in the comments!

Fiction Shelves: The Newsmakers By Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart

Forget ‘Page-Turner’ – This Thriller is a Chapter-Turner!


The Newsmakers
by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart


Series: Newsmakers (Book 1)
Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Length: 337pp
ISBN-13: 978-0718037673

Related Links:
Lis Wiehl’s Website
Lis Wiehl Podcast on The Newsmakers

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Buy the Book

AmazonBN

 

 

 


Publisher Synopsis

TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. But is it due to her hard work and talent? Or is she at the center of a spiraling conspiracy?

Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams.

Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathetic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now.

On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses — and films — a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes — again, right in front of Erica and her cameras. Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it?

Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster — and her troubled past — don’t catch up with her first.


My Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in two sittings. But with its economical, rapid-fire scenes, charismatic leading lady, intriguing storyline, and brief chapters (less than 4 pages on average), Lis Wiehl’s The Newsmakers dares you to put it down.

The novel makes it clear that its plot is a battle between Good and Evil. Our villain is the physical embodiment of most of the Seven Deadly Sins — with an emphasis on pride, greed, wrath, and lust. He’s also a genius and a visionary, and in a cleverly done prologue, we are put squarely on his side. It doesn’t take long, however, before his true nature reveals itself and the reader sees that all he lacks to be a perfect devil is a tail and a pair of horns. In his employ are others of his ilk – demons, if you will – catering to his every wish, and every bit as callous and ambitious as their boss.

Erica Sparks, on the other hand, our intelligent, hard-working, courageous heroine, has been blessed with angelic beauty, but carries within her a past full of heartache and failure. She fights every recovering alcoholic’s never-ending battle against temptation, and struggles to prove to herself (and her daughter and ex-husband) that she is a good mother. But where the villain of the piece gains and retains his followers through fear and the exercise of financial power, Erica wins the loyalty of those who become her friends and allies with a warm and honest personality. She is far from perfect, but Erica recognizes her flaws and works to improve herself.

As you would expect in a book published by a Christian firm, there is very little in the way of offensive material in either language or plot. With all the sick, twisted bad guys we meet, there’s plenty of opportunity for (justifiable) four-letter dialogue, but Wiehl proves you can build an evil character without resorting to foul language. Personally, I was not offended by anything I read. I will warn those readers expecting an overt, Jesus-oriented, message-carrying narrative, that you will be disappointed. This is a thriller in which the protagonist’s life is lived at a gallop, in near-constant danger, not a sedately-paced exploration of one’s spirit.

That said, when Erica is at her lowest point, confused and frightened, she seeks refuge in a “small redbrick church”, a “safe place…where kindness lights the way”. As she absorbs the calming atmosphere of the sanctuary, she reflects:

All her life Erica has felt like she was running on quicksand, with nothing to save her but her own speed and strength and determination, and no one to pull her up should she start to sink. When she finally found faith…she found herself on firmer footing for the first time in her life. Her faith is her bridge over the quicksand.

It’s the passage that best defines our heroine and explains how she is able to cope with everything that’s thrown her way. It’s also one of the few times in this suspenseful, break-neck tale where the reader, like Erica, can pause a moment and catch her breath!

— Jennifer Michelle

Verdict


4.5 of 5 HeartsForget ‘Page-Turner’ – This Thriller is a Chapter-Turner!

Lis Wiehl’s latest novel is the first in a new series. She’s done an excellent job of establishing her heroine and filling her world with likable characters. More thriller than mystery, the real pleasure of The Newsmakers is in tagging along with smart, savvy, and strong Erica Sparks on her investigations, rooting for her to figure out what we already suspect and hoping that she can save the day!

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of The Newsmakers in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Week in Reviews: ReadLove Recap For the Week Beginning February 29, 2016

 

Another week has come and gone at ReadLove ! Here’s what you may have missed:

Monday:

Christian Chapters: Hannah’s Choice by Jan Drexler

3.5 of 5 Hearts. An Engaging, Yet Somber View of Amish Life in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, 1842.

Jan Drexel gives the reader a carefully researched, historically rich look at the forces which may have led Amish settlers, including some of her own ancestors, to leave Lancaster County and travel westward to Indiana. Though somber, Hannah’s Choice never loses hope while carrying its message that nothing is more important than faith and family.

[Read the full review]






Tuesday:

Non-Fiction Shelves – You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide by Holley Gerth

5 of 5 Hearts. An Encouraging, Empowering, Scripturally-Sound Guide To Becoming the You God Created You To Be.

If you’re feeling lost, broken, unloved, imperfect, insignificant, overwhelmed, or all of these things, don’t fret. Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide can help. You might say it’s like a road map, or, if you’re directionally challenged like I am, a GPS for your heart. What’s more, it’s as comforting as chocolate, hot cocoa, coffee, or ice cream! My advice? Set down your burden, dry your tears, pour a cup of tea or grab a cookie, and sit down for a “talk” with Holley!

[Read the full review]

 

 

 

Thursday:

Christian Chapters: A Reluctant Bride by Kathleen Fuller

5 of 5 Hearts. A Beautiful Testament to God’s Ability to Rebuild, Renew, and Restore.

A Reluctant Bride is not a fairy-tale romance or swoon fest, but it demonstrates clearly how God can take broken pieces of shattered hearts and create something not only beautiful but unbreakable. For that reason, it may just be the perfect love story.

[Read the full review]

 

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That’s everything that happened on ReadLove this week. See you next week!

Until then, I’d love it if you shared a bit about your week in the comments!

The Week in Reviews: ReadLove Recap For the Week Beginning February 22, 2016

 

Another week has come and gone at ReadLove ! Here’s what you may have missed:

Monday:

Christian Chapters: The Imposter by Suzanne Woods Fisher

5 of 5 Hearts. An Inspiring and Lyrical Look at an Amish Community Facing Modern Issues.

The Imposter is impossible to categorize. Calling it a romance ignores the mystery. Calling it a mystery doesn’t fit either. There are many elements to this tale — romance, mystery, drama, humor, and faith to name a few. Just as our lives can’t be summed up with one label, neither can this story, and that’s what makes it so appealing. The Imposter incorporates everything readers of Amish fiction love about the genre, while steeping its setting and characters in modern realism, to a richly satisfying result.

[Read the full review]


Tuesday:

Kids Corner: Nightborn by Lou Anders

5 of 5 Hearts. A Smash-Hit Fantasy Sequel Bursting With Action, Adventure, Worldbuilding, Humor, Gaming, and (Most of All) Heart.

The perfect fantasy series follow-up, Nightborn pushes all the right buttons while breaking the walls of its own world wide open! As the maps of the Thrones & Bones world expand, interest in the series is guaranteed to grow. If you’re hunting for a quality middle-grade adventure series, your search ends here!

[Read the full review]

 

 

 

Thursday:

Kids Corner – American Girl: Kit Story Collection by Valerie Tripp

4.5 of 5 Hearts. An Illuminating, Kid’s-Eye Look at the Great Depression.

Kit Kittredge is everything you want from a heroine — intelligent, spunky, indomitable. As her story progresses, it’s easy to root for her and share her happiness, as well as her anxieties when hard times threaten. And those truly depressing times are rendered vividly by author Tripp, who never forgets that she is teaching as well as entertaining.

[Read the full review]

 

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That’s everything that happened on ReadLove this week. See you next week!

Until then, I’d love it if you shared a bit about your week in the comments!

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