Monday, May 25, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Water Keeper" by Charles Martin

Book Summary (Amazon): Murphy Shepherd is a man with many secrets. He lives alone on an island, tending the grounds of a church with no parishioners, and he’s dedicated his life to rescuing those in peril. But as he mourns the loss of his mentor and friend, Murph himself may be more lost than he realizes.
When he pulls a beautiful woman named Summer out of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway, Murph’s mission to lay his mentor to rest at the end of the world takes a dangerous turn. Drawn to Summer, and desperate to find her missing daughter, Murph is pulled deeper and deeper into the dark and dangerous world of modern-day slavery.
With help from some unexpected new friends, including a faithful Labrador he plucks from the ocean and an ex-convict named Clay, Murph must race against the clock to locate the girl before he is consumed by the secrets of his past—and the ghosts who tried to bury them.
My thoughts...I just finished this book last night and wow...Charles Martin has left me with questions and thoughts that I'll continue pondering for a while. The Water Keeper is a complex and multi-layered story, combining action, danger, romance, love, and redemption. At its center is the parable of the lost sheep. "Tell me what you know about sheep..." is asked of the main character, Murphy Shepherd, more than once. "Sheep need a shepherd..." is his reply. "Murph"'s calling is to leave the 99 to search for the 1...the 1 lost sheep. It's not only his calling, but he is willing to lay down his life for the 1, often putting himself in danger to try to save men, women and children from the horrors of human trafficking while also battling his own personal devastating heartbreak. Spirituality is woven into every aspect of this novel, in an allegorical style. The novel is told from Murph's first person perspective, which adds to the complexity, yet I couldn't imagine it written any other way. Martin has a way of giving you just enough of the story to keep you fully engaged, yet there is a lot that lies below the surface that you either have to figure out for yourself, or accept that you may not completely know all of the answers. Beyond all of these aspects of the novel, I loved Murph's character. Strong, lethal, yet so vulnerable and longing to love and be loved. I also appreciated the variety of "sheep" that come into his care: an elderly ex-convict, a loyal pet, two young girls, and a woman who is in search of her daughter. I feel like I need to read this book again someday to fully digest it all. And there definitely needs to be a sequel!  
One of my favorite podcasts, "That Sounds Fun" with Annie F. Downs, has two interviews with Charles Martin. I would highly recommend them. To hear the heart of this author, his love for God and writing, is really special. 
**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Hadley Beckett's Next Dish" by Bethany Turner

Book Summary (Amazon): Celebrity chef Maxwell Cavanagh is known for many things: his multiple Michelin stars, his top-rated Culinary Channel show To the Max, and most of all his horrible temper. Hadley Beckett, host of the Culinary Channel's other top-rated show, At Home with Hadley, is beloved for her Southern charm and for making her viewers feel like family.
When Max experiences a very public temper tantrum, he's sent packing to get his life in order. When he returns, career in shambles, his only chance to get back on TV and in the public's good graces is to work alongside Hadley.
As these polar-opposite celeb chefs begin to peel away the layers of public persona and reputation, they will not only discover the key ingredients for getting along, but also learn the secret recipe for unexpected forgiveness . . . and maybe even love. In the meantime, hide the knives.

My thoughts...I kept seeing this title pop up on social media so I thought I'd give this new-to-me author a try. I read the summary (I initially thought it was some kind of murder mystery for some reason) and was even more convinced. My family LOVES to watch Food Network, so the thought of a fun, foodie romance was right up my alley. And it doesn't hurt that we also love Nashville (where most of the story takes place) and are about as southern as they come. I felt an instant connection with Hadley's character and could visualize her almost instantly. I loved her southern mannerisms (again, I can relate) and the contrast she created with her counterpart, Max. This book was just what I wanted: believable behind the scenes moments of food tv, food talk, romantic tension, unpacking of past hurts that impacted the relationships of the characters, and fun banter. I wouldn't necessarily categorize this book as Christian fiction as there was only a slight reference to spirituality, but I would consider it a clean read. I would definitely recommend this book and would now consider myself a new fan of Bethany Turner! 

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Stay With Me" by Becky Wade

Book Summary (Amazon): A mysterious letter alluding to a secret in her parents' past brings Genevieve Woodward back to her Blue Ridge Mountains hometown, but she's also in need of a break from a high-profile career that has left her dangerously burned out and concealing a powerful secret of her own. When she wakes inside an unfamiliar cottage to find the confused owner staring down at her, she can no longer ignore the fact that she needs help.  

Sam Turner has embraced his sorrow and his identity as an outsider. The solitary, disciplined life he lives on his historic farm is the life he's chosen for himself. The last thing he wants is to rent his cottage to a woman as troubled as she is talkative. Yet, he can't force himself to turn her away right when she needs him most. 

As Genevieve researches her family's history and her and Sam's emotions deepen, they will have to let go of the facades and loneliness they've clung to and allow light to illuminate every hidden truth.

My thoughts...There was great anticipation with the release of a new book, in a new series, by Becky Wade. She is undoubtedly one of my favorite contemporary Christian fiction authors. She balances great romantic tension among the characters with real-life struggles. These characters are relatable...their feelings expressed on the pages are relatable. As this is Christian fiction, there are also moments in every book that the characters come to a point of their faith impacting the choices they make. In "Stay With Me," I loved Genevieve's character. She's a Christian author, Bible study writer, and speaker, but the book isn't really centered around that. Her character is presented as primarily a young woman who is in the midst of a critical point in her life, struggling with her past and trying to recover from it. Even though this is fiction, it reminded me that everyone has issues that they struggle with...even those that may be able to present to the outside world that everything is going great. Sam is definitely a swoon worthy hero! First of all...Australian. Thank you, Becky. Second, he's the broody type that I just can't get enough of. He's also very wounded from his past and doesn't really judge Genevieve, but offers her support and accountability. These two compliment each other really well. 
Other interesting elements of the story were the side plots. Genevieve was a survivor of a terrible earthquake when she was in middle school. I loved that sprinkled throughout the book, there were a few pages of each survivor's thoughts as they were trapped in a building due to the earthquake. It helped give some backstory without overwhelming the rest of the plot. I thought that was very clever. There's also a mystery element involving Genevieve's family that was another side plot. There's a lot going on in this book, so there's never a dull moment! It was very hard to put down! 

I'm SO looking forward (already) to seeing how this series is going to go! Book one, along with a prequel novella ("Take a Chance on Me"), have gotten things off to a great start!

Here's a fun little style up I did with "Stay With Me"! I love Genevieve's style in the book...especially the earrings! 

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**