Until Leaves Fall in Paris

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Until Leaves Fall in Paris
By Sarah Sundin / Revell

Historical Fiction fans will love this book. Until Leaves fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin draws readers into a unique WWII setting. Her main characters are American expatriates who were long standing residents of the American Colony in Paris. One protagonist, Lucie Girard, is a former ballerina who studied and danced with a ballet company in Paris. In 1940, as the Nazi military conquests increase, many expats flee and return to the U.S. Lucie chooses to remain in Paris. As a Christian American, she feels more secure. She buys a bookstore since it appears her career with the ballet company will end. The purchase solves her need to make a living. Her payment to the former owners pays their passage back to America. Lucie is thrilled to complete this sale since it opens a door to safety for the former owners who are long time family friends. The former owners are Jewish. A decision to remain in Paris would likely be a death sentence for this older Jewish couple.

Paul Aubrey is an engineer and automaker. He is an American expatriate as well. Once the Germans arrive in Paris, they negotiate a contract with Paul to oversee the production of trucks. According to the terms of the contract the trucks are to be used only in civilian transport activities. Paul suspects the Germans may be making alterations to his trucks. He worries that they are repurposing them for the war effort. This leads Paul and some of his employees to adopt a variety of techniques to slow down the production line and even commit sabotage.

Each main character shows in many instances that they are good people. They are considerate of others. They tap into their sense of creativity to see their businesses succeed. They treat their employees fairly. Paul and Lucie meet through the bookstore. They develop a strong romantic bond that grows throughout the story.

The author includes many subplots. These storylines help us understand the complexity of everyday life in Paris during the war years. We meet resistors, some militant and others more subtle. We learn about the collaborators. The description of banned books and burning books provokes the ire of book lovers and champions of free speech.

This book does not get bogged down in the gruesome details of war. Readers are spared descriptions of this nature. The action at the last part of the book is filled with suspense as our main characters escape. Each has to dodge grave obstacles that threaten to block their safe passage. After seeing the characters through this action packed time period, I was glad the final destination was a happy ending in America.

I recommend this book to my reading buddies. I reviewed a paperback copy supplied to me by the publisher Revell.

The Prince and the Prodigal

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737632: The Prince and the Prodigal The Prince and the Prodigal
By Jill Eileen Smith / Revell

You’ll warm up to this book fast and stay engaged right to the end. A familiar Bible story told with fresh dialogue and new points of view. The title says it all. We journey with Joseph, the prince, from his dysfunctional early family life, through his years of trial, right up to when he was plucked from prison and catapulted into a leadership position in Egypt. His life’s journey serves as a wonderful example of how God has a plan and purpose for each life.

Judah’s story, the prodigal, is equally compelling. The brother who first hatched the idea to sell Joseph to slave traders, didn’t anticipate the consequences. The weight of the guilt he carried changed his life’s trajectory. Great tragedy marks his early adult years. Two of his sons collapse and die. His wife dies as well. Despite accumulating livestock and wealth, his emotional state is at rock bottom. It’s at this point, Judah realizes he must make the journey back home to Jacob. He is nervous and wracked with anxiety wondering if Jacob will welcome him back. The prodigal son is met with open arms. A beautiful quote is shared during their first encounter. Acknowledging the hard times he has endured, Judah says to Jacob, “ Sometimes hardship is what leads us to seek the things we’ve always known were true…. My God has taught me much… and He has led me home.”

I read a paperback copy of this book supplied by Revell in exchange for my honest review. This is the first book I have read by Jill Eileen Smith. Based on this novel, I anticipate I would find her other novels equally satisfying to read.

The Girl Who Could Breath Underwater

Books are often described as “windows and mirrors”. The last book I read is a prime example of this metaphor. The Girl Who Could Breathe Underwater by Erin Bartels is her newest release. The novel deals with sexual abuse. At one point when I realized where the narrative was headed, I was definitely uncomfortable reading the text. But I continued on, and the author handled a very difficult subject with care. This book is a window that builds empathy for victims of this type of abuse. I was supplied with a copy to review from Revell the publisher. I had read two previous books by Erin Bartels. I have always found her books to be well written. I love her vivid settings and cast of strong characters. This book is based primarily at a lake in Upper Michigan. The novel’s plot grows out of complications that develop when two of the protagonists were teenagers. Now as young adults, Kendra and Tyler find themselves back at the lake once again and face-to-face confrontations occur. The Rainer’s adopted Tyler, who joined their family at age 15. Tyler was four years older than Kendra. His early years were marked by emotional trauma and abuse. When Beth and Robert Rainer adopted Tyler, they already had their adopted daughter, Cami at their house. Cami and Tyler were not biological siblings. The backstory of each character is gradually revealed. This knowledge opens the reader’s eye to how and why the heart wrenching events transpired.

Another thread of this story examines how great friendships can fall apart, wither, and die from neglect. The main character Kendra experiences this as she thinks about Cami, her best friend from the lake. At the lake, Kendra and Cami spent long summer days having great fun swimming, boating to nearby islands, and dreaming about the future. Most readers can relate to losing friendships due to the fact that life happens and former best friends just grow apart. This is another dimension of the story that prompts readers to develop empathy.

The cast of characters in Kendra’s current life is a widely divergent group. Some are clearly encouragers and offer solid emotional support. Others add up to thorns in her side, frustrating her sense of peace and balance. In conclusion, I decided I was glad I read the book. I was impressed at the intricate network of relationships and how the author was able to let us see into the dynamics of each.

I’m going to share this book with a reading buddy. I think they will realize its value and sophistication. It’s a well crafted book.

Lights Out by Natalie Walters

I read an electronic version of the Advanced Reader’s Copy of Lights Out by Natalie Walters. First I would emphasize that the characters were well drawn out with strong and very different identities. The cybersleuth, Kekoa steals the show with his upbeat dialogue. Lyla is another full of life character who doesn’t pull any punches. I was a little surprised at the amount of romantic content. I chose the book to read because I thought it was a mystery. From the start, the loop back to romantic notions appears frequently. This swing in the action from modern day espionage to matters of the heart I found too much in the beginning. I hung with it and eventually warmed up to the story with greater engagement.

The main characters, Jack Hudson and Brynn Taylor, are competent professionals in the business of tracking down threats to our government and way of life. Each individual has a multilayered backstory that is 100% believable and wins you over to their side. As a CIA analyst, Brynn shows she is competent at her job. Jack Hudson, a private contractor, who specializes in identifying and resolving security threats, is surrounded by a top-notch and caring team. When they join forces, the plot thickens as there is a missing person to find amidst Brynn and Jack’s blossoming relationship. This duo went through CIA agent training eight years ago and began a relationship. But choices made at the program’s end, caused a break-up and Jack moved on with a broken heart. Now they are thrown together to find a missing Egyptian operative whose disappearance has caused alarm at all levels of homeland security. As they chase down clues, one Egyptian American contact is poisoned and murdered. Brynn narrowly escapes multiple threats with her life and only minor broken bones. Jack’s quick thinking saves her from fatal consequences.

The contemporary setting accurately portrays just how complicated things are in the area of foreign relations. It takes place in a post 9/11 World and its impact is evident. Both in the political sphere and in Brynn’s personal life. Her father, a firefighter, survived the attacks, but was injured and was unable to do his job due to the injuries. She felt the tragedy on a personal level in addition to responding to it as an American Citizen. This experience drove her to serving in the CIA and doing whatever was possible to avoid another terrorist attack in the future.

The setting is based in greater Washington DC. This part makes sense. There are just a few jumps to a setting in Egypt and a human traffickers home in Georgia that seem choppy.

The author shows she writes on an advanced level when focusing on contemporary topics with an ample dose of technology woven into the plot. There’s an implied Christian theme and the story is told with appropriate language throuhgout. It is a novel with fast paced action, likable characters, and a satisfying plot. Lights out is Book #1 in a series on Jack Hudson’s private agency dedicated to national security.

Deadly Target Book 2 Rocky Mt. Courage

This is the third book I’ve read by Elizabeth Goddard. This one delivered dramatic action in an interesting outdoor setting just like the previous novels. The characters were resilient and smart. They had multiple mysteries to solve. As you’re drawn deeper into the plot, these terrifying and near fatal events happen with greater frequency. You wonder how much more these characters can take. Elizabeth Goddard weaves a cross continent trail from sea-to-sea with a layover in Montana for some of the most dramatic action. It’s a breakneck race to the end to see the mystery solved.

The book is second in the Rocky Mountain Courage series and it flows seamlessly from book one. The story is based on the experiences of Erin Larson and Nathan Campbell, who were secondary characters in Book 1 of this series. Erin’s job as a criminal psychologist adds an interesting twist to the plot. Her sideline vocation is broadcasting a podcast on cold cases. She publishes each episode anonymously to protect herself and the identities of those involved.

I found the book well written. The roster of characters is interesting and I appreciated how you never knew for certain exactly who was 100% genuine or a fake with a hidden agenda. I received a print book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. #DeadlyTarget #RockyMountainCourage!

737990: Deadly Target #2 Deadly Target #2
By Elizabeth Goddard / Revell

Present Danger – Rocky Mountain Courage Book 1

Present Danger #1
By Elizabeth Goddard / Revell
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A mystery with great action and a sophisticated plot. Elizabeth Goddard’s Present Danger was a joy to read. It’s book #1 in her Rocky Mountain Courage series. At the story’s close, you’ll hope the release of book #2 is near. The main characters are experienced investigators working a search and rescue mission in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest. The original search mission ends positively, but the discovery of a body at the foot of a steep cliff sets in motion a new murder investigation. The veteran detectives on the case, Jack Tanner and Terra Connors, have a history together. In their youth they were a romantic couple but Jack left Terra cold for a FBI career. Terra moved on, but always carried the hurt Jack caused and never came to terms with the reasons that prompted his abrupt departure. Now with a case to solve, and plot details that put Terra in mortal danger, the couple are embroiled in solving the case, and find their feelings for one another rekindled.

A major clue to the mystery is a remote mountain cabin stocked with Native American artifacts and a remnant of a Middle Eastern tablet buried in the ground. If Terra and Jack can unravel the mystery surrounding the illegal network of trafficking these historic artifacts, they will find the guilty suspects responsible for two murders in addition to theft.

The Rocky Mountain setting adds an intense backdrop to the action. The mountain hiking required to investigate clues is both arduous and dangerous for Jack and Terra. The roster of suspicious characters expands to eventually cast doubt on Terra’s grandfather and brother. The suspicion of doubt hanging over their lives makes the investigation more personal for Terra.

Dogs and horses have great roles to play in this story. No spoilers here, but you’ll like how the author wove them into the action. Overall, readers will appreciate the intricate plot and dramatic ending with more than one surprise reveal. I received and advanced reader’s copy of from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review.

Get Outside

This lovely journal is a keeper. The quotes are inspiring. I love the ample space for journaling. The durable cover will hold up well to outside expeditions. It will fit perfectly in a backpack.

It’s a good reminder that as we enjoy the creation, we must celebrate the Creator.

I’ve come full circle on writing a journal. I kept one religiously back in my college days. I included great quotes, favorite song lyrics, poetry and reflective musings. Then I got busy with life and practical and let those things fall away.

I’ve taken Get Outside with me on morning walks. I record thoughts and observations after enjoying time in nature. This year spring burst onto the scene earlier than usual. Every morning the chorus of bird calls has been riotous. The male kestrels seem to be back on their high perches at least a full two weeks ahead of when I usually look for them. This is one reason why a nature journal is smart. Birding records comparing year to year sightings tell a great story. But as I spend more time with my Get Outside Journal, I find my thoughts run to bigger philosophical questions. Here is one. I started tomato and flower seeds inside. Naturally the tiny plants get leggy reaching for the light. I turn the trays and they bend and reach the other way. I got to thinking, “What is it I reach for in such a determined fashion?” Hope – that’s it! I hope for a world where peace and kindness are guiding forces in our lives. I hope for all of us to show empathy. I reach for the hope that my actions in my local environment and community are part of the solution not the problem.

I intended to give this book as a gift to a family member. I’m so immersed in it now I will need to purchase a copy to give away. The photography tips in the back matter are great! The hiking Do’s and Don’ts are smart. In fact all the back matter is excellent.

I received an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review. @InkandWillowgifts

Dreams Rekindled

735360: Dreams Rekindled #2Dreams Rekindled #2
By Amanda Cabot / Revell
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Dreams Rekindled is Book #2 in the Mesquite Springs series. I had read Book #1 and enjoyed it. A reader can easily jump into book two and not miss a beat in the story’s flow. My dilemma with this book is that I found the beginning slow. I anticipate fast action beginnings in Amanda Cabot’s books but this description doesn’t fit Dreams Rekindled. I would say the author intended to introduce Laura to us, but all the swooning and talk of marriage was frustrating. The simmering warm up in Dreams Rekindled surprised me. By mid-stream, the plot quickened and was multi-layered with mystery. The protagonists, Dorothy Clark and Brandon Holloway, are well developed and their family histories and future goals are interesting. I found this aspect of the novel extremely satisfying. Dorothy dreams of becoming a writer and finds great success on her chosen career path. The close look at her mom’s mental health during a period of loss was full of empathy and good sense. Brandon clearly is one of the good guys; hard-working, personable, smart, and open-minded. His sense of duty to responsible journalism and supplying a respectable newspaper to members of Texas Hill Country communities of the 1850’s is admirable. The villains in the story are believable and the fast pace action at the end gives the story a strong finish. I appreciated the wisdom and grace Pastor Coleman and his wife displayed under pressure. Cabot has successfully woven into her story some essential tenets of the Christian faith such as forgiveness and transformation. I think on balance, the exceptional ingredients of the book outweigh the sluggish start. I received a print book from the publisher Revell in exchange for my honest review.

Make Kindness a Habit

Make Their Day: 101 Simple, Powerful Ways to Love Others Well
By Karen Ehman / Bethany House

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I think a pleasant “Hello” when you meet someone is a pre-requisite for living on Earth. In my book, cheeriness is a top-shelf virtue.  I know we can’t be upbeat and carefree all the time, but a kind word and a smile are a delightful duo. When I heard about the book “Make Their Day: 100 Simple Powerful Ways to Love Others Well” by Karen Ehman, I knew I had to read it right away.

If you want to do your part in encouraging others in your circle of friends, family, church community, or town, this book is for you. These practical ideas will work for you even if you think you’re too busy or being this outgoing doesn’t come naturally. Some suggestions you may already be doing like buying extra “Thinking of You” notecards to mail to those who need encouragement. Isn’t that just one reason why we shop at Dollar General? Another great idea is to give the gift of listening.  Share a list of podcast links and include a gift card for an eBook. The podcast links might range from serious links for personal growth or podcasts on fun topics like cooking and DIY projects. Podcasts are able to be played anywhere on your iPhone, and they are a good use of time. Being sensitive to certain anniversary dates in the lives of those around you, and reaching out to them on these dates is another idea that would be easy to put into place. Even if you follow through on just handful of ideas, the steps you take will help you develop habits of kindness. I like the recipes, ready-made Scripture gift tags, and presentation ideas. It’s a reader friendly book packed from cover to cover with smart ideas for spreading joy and pushing back on negativity. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. #MakeTheirDay

Dick Eastman’s Talking with God

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Talking with God: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer
By Dick Eastman / Chosen Books
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During this 12 month stretch of “Safer at Home” and social distancing, I have developed new routines. Once a week, I bake sourdough bread and typically bag up homemade granola just as frequently. With the granola, I’ve had a lot of fun trying new ingredients like coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, and switching between maple syrup or honey for the sweetener. One thing that hasn’t changed is starting my day with a time of morning devotions and Bible reading. Throughout the year, I have enjoyed the book New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp. I’m nearly through the year. So it was good timing when I received Dick Eastman’s Talking with God to read and review. In the last few months during this unprecedented time, I have also been working on my prayer life. I was concerned that I was spending only short periods of time sending up self-centered laundry lists of prayer requests to our Lord. The book Talking with God will equip you with strategies for avoiding these pitfalls and improve your prayer life. The quote on page 9 is what first captured my attention. Eastman writes, “Where there is an absence of prayer, there will be an absence of power. Where there is frequency of prayer, there will be a continuing display of God’s power.”

It’s a lovely book all around. Small in dimensions, so it’s easy to hold. The attractive page layout and the sweet ribbon bookmark boost the positive reading experience. At just 155 pages, it’s reader friendly. I have offered to share it with my church family, but in truth I’m having a hard time removing it from my personal library. The chapters on listening, waiting, and intercessory prayer are moving. I’m so glad I had the chance to review this book. I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.