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I met the If I Run series when we ordered the first two books for our church library. Knowing the quality of Terri Blackstock’s writing, we were confident the books would be well-written, but I had no idea how drawn I’d be to the characters and the story.

The first book is named after the series: If I Run. In a nutshell, Casey Cox is a young woman whose father supposedly committed suicide while on the local police force. This happened when Casey was twelve. But she has never believed her father would take his own life, or make sure it was she who found him. Ever since, Casey has been trying to find the truth about what happened to her father.

Now, Casey stumbles onto the horrific murder of a close friend, and realizes she will be accused of his murder if she sticks around. She’s convinced someone is setting her up to get her off the trail of the truth, and she has a pretty good idea who’s behind the scheme. But no one will believe her. Until she knows more, she cannot fight, so she flees.

While in disguise, trying to hide from those out to arrest her for murder, she comes across a case of kidnapping. She can’t let it go when she sees evidence near where she’s been living. Dylan Roberts, a former military man, now a private investigator, sets out to help the police find Casey, and in the process, he also starts to wonder whether everything is as it seems. Casey just doesn’t seem like a killer.

This book is an easy read, but so intense I could hardly put it down. This quality continues in the next installment, If I’m Found, where Casey finds herself involved in another side-case while still trying to stay out of the crosshairs of those who seek her. News is spreading so that more careful disguises are necessary to keep her from being recognized by the general public. Technology helps her to contact her family and Dylan, but where there is technology, there are those who can hack into it. Again, Casey’s capture seems imminent.

I had to wait until the library ordered the third and final book in the series to find out what happened to Casey. If I Live was even more exciting than the two preceding books. Casey continues to hide, with help from someone who believes her story, and while in hiding, she continues to work with this person to find enough information to catch the dirty cops in their own game. Her life is on the line. If they find her, they’ll kill her before she has a chance to stand trial. Lots of twists and tension in this book, and an ending both surprising and satisfying.

Besides the cat and mouse tension, someone else is looking for Casey. As she dodges capture, which seems more inevitable every day, she starts to think about God, and what faith in Christ could mean to her life…if she believes it. Her spiritual journey is woven beautifully into this fast-moving story, giving the reader more to think about, a more rounded story that offers hope no matter the physical outcome.

I recommend this series to anyone who loves suspense and well-crafted characters. A very influential story from a favourite author. To learn more about Terri Blackstock, click on her photo below and you will be sent to her website.

P.S. Here’s a cool thing I discovered on Terri’s website: if you look at the page, you’ll see that when the covers or this series are lined up, they form a picture.

Terri Blackstock

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This historical Christian fiction by one of my favorite authors, Michelle Griep, was published by Shiloh Run Press, an imprint of Barbour Publishing Inc., in March of this year (2018). Although a stand alone, this book has a slight connection to a previous novel, Brentwood’s Ward, as its main characters are associates. This is a nice addition for those of us who have read the former book.

Johanna Langley is fighting a losing battle to preserve the Blue Hedge Inn; it’s all that stands between her family—Johanna, her mother and her young brother—and the workhouse. The realities of 1808 England are harsh: no social welfare, no government handouts, no adequate health care, no prisoners’ rights, etc. All things we take for granted.

When Alexander Morton shows up to stay at the decrepit Blue Hedge Inn, he wonders why his “handler” has sent him there, but he soon becomes interested in the feisty Johanna.

A series of unfortunate incidents and accidents prevents Johanna from coming up with the money needed to pay off the debt against the inn. Alex assists when he can, but he is unaware of the details, and is otherwise engaged in his own assignment. He risks his life to find the person or persons involved in suspected treason, to the point of jeopardizing his growing relationship with Johanna. Who is the real traitor, who can be trusted, how much risk is too much?

I enjoyed The Innkeeper’s Daughter for many reasons, not the least of which is Griep’s skill in creating fascinating characters. No one is as they seem, not even Johanna’s old “mam.” She is the source of my favorite quote: “God is not sitting about, watching impassive. Our tears are His. You never—ever—cry alone.” (Location 3489)

Two of the quirkiest characters, Mr. Nutbrown and his puppet, Nixie, are a great pacing agent for the intense plot, as Mr. Nutbrown can apparently only speak to others through Nixie. This obviously causes mixed responses from his various associates.

The author is a pro at using figures of speech to engage the reader. Her description of a terrible in-house band at the inn reads thus: “an off-key violin, a bodhran that could use a good tightening, and two mandolins dueling to the death…a voice jagged enough to weather the whitewash on the plaster” (Location 365)

She personifies the weather as: “Bird chatter was as loud as a gathering of washerwomen. The only thing amiss was the pewter sky, clouds bullying down with grey fists.” (Location 1557)

Similes and metaphors apropos of the times abound: “Her mind was as dodgy as a pickpocket’s fingers.” (Location 402) “The two were close as scabs on a pox victim.” (Location 516) And another of my favorite quotes: “Without so much as a flinch, Alex stared down the barrel of the loaded question.” (Location 1704)

The intriguing plot of this book is well-researched and fits the time and setting perfectly.

My takeaway from this story, beyond the obvious enjoyment of reading it, was that people are not always (or often) what they seem, and that even when the going is tough, God is ultimately in control. Thanks, Michelle, for another great read.

 

Michelle Griep

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Website: http://www.michellegriep.com

Twitter: michellegriep

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Influences: Bronte, Peretti, Sandburg

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/michellegriep

Short Bio:  I hear voices. Loud. Incessant. And very real. Which basically gives me two options: choke back massive amounts of Prozac or write fiction. I chose the latter. Way cheaper. I’ve been writing since I discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. I seek to glorify God in all that I write…except for that graffiti phase I went through as a teenager. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

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This book caught me off-guard. I was expecting a historical tale about a family that lived on the Mississippi River. What I discovered was the devastating story of Georgia Tann’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the baby/child trafficking that was so long hidden from the public.

The part about Georgia Tann and her baby business is true. The story itself is a riveting revelation of the terror and helplessness these children could have gone through as they were betrayed into Georgia Tann’s clutches.

The story of the family at the center of the book moves from freedom and happiness to fear, horror and separation. It’s a page-turner in a dark world, and to me, the realization that similar horrors happened to hundreds of children, made it even darker.

I followed up this audio book with an internet search of Georgia Tann and her infamous life, and was stunned by the facts. Some evils take a long time to be uncovered and stopped.

Kudos to Lisa Wingate for finding this story, digging up the facts, and passing them along to fiction readers. A chilling but fascinating read.

Lisa Wingate

 

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I listened to this audio book in December and loved it. A truly entertaining Christian fiction.

Alison Monaghan’s world is rocked by her husband’s murder. Their difficult marriage has been a burden for a very long time, but Alison is stunned by the depth of deceit her husband has stooped to.

She is even more shocked by evidence that he regretted his lifestyle and made a change for the better—for faith in Christ—shortly before his demise.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this story, for me, was the mystery attached to the nearby Weathersby Historic Park, an antebellum estate that has more secrets than she or anyone else ever imagined. And these secrets prove life-threatening as Alison tries to uncover the truth about her deceased husband’s involvement with Weathersby.

When homicide detective Mike Barefoot shows up to investigate the murder, romantic tension ratchets up, against the expectations of both Alison and Mike.

The story includes strong characters, fascinating settings, strong values, and a sweet love story. What’s not to like?

Lisa Carter

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Savannah Harris has been an excellent investigative reporter, but after the shocking death of her family, regret plagues her for neglecting her husband and child in favor of her work., and she turns her back on her past life.

Except that things keep happening in the area where she’s chosen to hide away. Her best friend may not be who she says she is, and the guy living in one of the outbuildings has a lot of secrets.

Who can she trust? All she wants is to hide away from everything and everyone, but for some reason, she is the only one who can bring truth and justice to play for the migrant workers in the nearby fields and settlements. She’s long given up on God too, but her faith keeps showing up. How is she to keep out of the fray when she’s the one the people are counting on?

This well-written mystery kept my attention because of the characters as well as the plot. I wanted Savannah to come back from her self-imposed exile, but I didn’t want her hurt again. The romantic subplot is a strong point of this novel, as is the faith angle.

I also appreciate a plot that is unpredictable. It keeps me turning the pages. I was happy to discover that this book is the first of three in the Cape Thomas series. I will look for the others.

Christy Barritt

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Oh yay! Another cozy mystery series.

I purchased this book because of a review by fellow author, Janet Sketchley, and I’m glad I did. It’s the story of Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes who finds herself in a quaint Northern Michigan town as new owner of a maple syrup business. Nicole is a lawyer, but she’s not happy about it. Her parents, also lawyers, demand perfection, and she is far from perfect. In fact, she’s klutzy. I love that about her. She’s a big city girl in a small town, trying to figure out who murdered her favorite uncle, the only one who ever understood her or took time for her.

The mood of the book is lightened by humor, but the plot is intense, as cozy mysteries go, and carries the reader on to the very end when the mystery is finally solved.

One of the best things about this book/series is that it’s a clean read. Thanks, Emily James. I look forward to the next books in this series.

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I’ve long been a follower of C.S. Lakin’s excellent writing blog: livewritethrive.com, which includes tips, ideas and training pertaining to writing and the writing life.

This is where I heard about The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction. As a plotter, I love techniques that add framework to my writing process.

12 Key Pillars does just that. It helps the writer pre-think the most important facets/aspects of a novel before launching into the actual writing. The four main pillars—the four corners that hold it up—are as follows:

  1. concept with a kicker
  2. conflict with high stakes
  3. protagonist with a goal
  4. theme with a heart

Add to that keys 5 through 12, a downloadable worksheet for each chapter, and some time, and we have an exceptional resource for planning a novel. Lakin offers lots of examples of books and movies that use the concepts she outlines. She also uses analogies: just as we need a solid base on which to construct a house, so a novel requires structure and strength to ensure quality. As a visual learner, I found these word pictures very helpful.

Once we know the basics, have thought them through and dug deep to answer the questions C.S. Lakin sets out, we are free to write the first draft with a lot more purpose and direction than we may have had previous to reading this book.

I have read and studied this book, and filled out the worksheets, and I personally recommend it to anyone who is seeking excellence in novel structure.

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