Monday, September 30, 2019

Not From Around Here by Brandon O'Brien

O'Brien wrote this book to help people who claim to find their identity in Christ relate to one another, even if they are radically divided in their political, moral, racial, or other viewpoints.

He does this by telling his own story which is the majority of the book. He gives some facts and figures but concentrates on his own story hoping it will help readers understand rural and urban areas. He grew up in Bentonville, Arkansas (a dry county). He studied and worked in suburban Wheaton, Illinois (where Christians served beer and wine at every gathering). He is now in Manhattan. While I appreciate learning the best way to catch crawfish and the right way to board a Manhattan bus, I would have preferred stories from a variety of people, not just O'Brien.

O'Brien ultimately has good suggestions, even if it does take him a while to get to them. We should learn from each other, having intentional conversations leading toward seeing life from another person's point of view, he says. We need to remember the sinful nature of man and recognize our own bent to perceive people the way we want to. As Christians we are to be quick to repent for our wrong perceptions.

Dwelling in unity is a nice idea, O'Brien says, but is really hard work. (156) It is only through God's grace and our sacrifice, discomfort and humility it will happen. He suggests the spiritual practice of The Daily Examen as a good place to start and then prayer.

This is a good book for readers who like teaching in the context of story, O'Brien's story. I would have liked a variety of stories rather than an emphasis on his own. I did appreciate his admonition to readers in the end. If the Christian church in America wants to bear witness to the kingdom of God, we have to figure out how to have our identity in Christ be the foundation for our lives. All other identities, whether political or geographical or ethnic, must be secondary.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Brandon O'Brien (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Director of Content Development and Distribution for Redeemer City to City, where he coordinates, edits, and shepherds writing projects with Timothy Keller and urban church planters around the world. Brandon has served in pastoral ministry, worked in publishing, authored a few books, and taught for state and Christian colleges and universities. He and his wife and their two children live in Washington Heights, NY.

Moody Press, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Going Back Cold by Kelley Rose Waller

I enjoyed this science fiction novel that is more centered on character than scientific wonder. The content is very character driven with many personal conversations and lots of daily chatter included. The science involved is mostly a framework for the character development.

The novel centers on Dr. Jane Whyse. She is a physicist with a theory for faster than light travel. She, her chemist husband and their three year old son go to Antarctica and join a team to develop and test her theory. The team spends several years of summer months there, returning back to the states during the rest of the year for additional scientific work. The novel only covers the months in Antarctica, jumping from year to year.

Jane Whyse becomes pregnant while at the research station but then has a miscarriage when back in the U.S. The plot follows the continuing struggles Whyse experiences. It develops to the point where it impacts her work and the project is in jeopardy.

There is quite a bit of scientific language used, referring to procedures, crystals and minerals. I was hoping for an author's note at the end clarifying what was actual science from today and what was imagined for the future. No information like that was included in the digital copy I read.

This is a good book for readers who enjoy an exploration of character struggles in the context of near future scientific experiments. There is a good exploration of Christian faith and how one accepts tragedy, such as a miscarriage, from a sovereign God. That issue was handled very well and was, I think, the strength of the book.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Kelley Rose Waller writes fiction to imagine new life experiences. She has a BA in English. Her debut novel, The Senator's Youngest Daughter, was released in 2016. Her day job as vice president of a marketing firm offers her the opportunity to write and plan for clients in diverse fields. She and her husband live in Lancaster, PA, with their children and their dog. You can find out more at .

Independently published, 462 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Trapped by Lillian Duncan Blog Tour and Giveaway


About the Book

Book: Trapped
Author: Lillian Duncan
Genre: Romantic Suspense (Christian)/Stand Alone
Release Date: September 27, 2019

Angelina Matthews has everything—rich, famous and beautiful—until the day she’s kidnapped and trapped in a basement with a madman, wearing only a T-shirt. The dirt is his—the blood is hers. Tormented and tortured, she cries out to God. Help comes in the form of Nate Goodman. When their paths cross months later, Nate discovers Angelina is still trapped—not in a basement but in the memories she can’t escape. Nate knows all about being trapped—and getting un-trapped. As an ex-Chicago cop he’s had his own demons to wrestle, but his faith helped him to move forward. He reaches out to Angelina whose paranoid delusions have her trapped still. But are they delusions?

Click here to grab your copy.

My Review

I enjoyed this psychological thriller. Duncan takes an unusual approach to suspense, concentrating on being mentally trapped after being kidnapped. I was a bit surprised when Angelina was rescued early on in the novel. That was just the beginning of the suspense, however. Angelina faced ongoing terror as whispered threats continued to follow her. While some people tried to convince Angelina they were only in her mind, the terror was all too real.

I liked the strong Christian message in the novel. The need for salvation and the strength only God can provide was presented clearly. I liked the many suspicious characters Duncan developed, even if some of them were a little over drawn. There were plenty of red herrings in that respect. I liked the subtle romance between Angelina and the policeman who initially came to her rescue.

Duncan's writing style is engaging while being straight forward. While there were no passages of literary magnificence, the well developed plot kept me reading from the suspenseful beginning to the suspenseful end.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author

Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word. Her goal is to write stories that entertain but also demonstrate God’s love for all of us. To learn more about her, visit as well as her devotional blog at  

More from Lillian

TRAPPED is my latest suspense novel. And suspenseful, it is! With just the right about of romance to make it even better. You can’t help but love Nate Goodman—small-town policeman, believer in truth, justice, and Jesus—comes back home to the sleepy town of Mt. Pleasant, Ohio to work because nothing ever happens—until it does. Angelina Matthews has everything. She’s rich, famous and beautiful until the day she’s kidnapped and trapped in a basement with a madman. Tormented and tortured, she cries out to God. Help comes in the form of Nate Goodman. When their paths cross months later, Nate discovers Angelina is still trapped, not in a basement but in the memories she can’t escape. As an ex-Chicago policeman, Nate knows all about being trapped—and getting un-trapped so he reaches out to help. Between the two of them, they have more than their fair share of problems. But that’s what makes the story exciting. I have a philosophy when it comes to writing. If I find it boring so will the readers! That means I cut out the boring parts and focus on the action. I loved writing this story with all its twists and turns.

Blog Stops


To celebrate her tour, Lillian is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon gift card and one of her eBook (readers choice)!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

Friday, September 27, 2019

It's Personal by Virginia Ward, Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy

Maybe you have just been asked to work with the youth in your church. Panic sets in as you realize it has been decades since you have been their age. Maybe you have been working with youth for years and you realize you are not getting through to them the way you had dreamed you would.

The authors come to your rescue with this book. They help you disciple young people in a way that is relational. If you want to see transformation, your work must be personal. The authors explain how that can be done, developing authentic relationships. They do so in the context of the story of Jesus and His encounter with Zacchaeus.

The authors interviewed volunteers to discover the pitfalls and best practices for meaningful ministry with young people. They suggest five major strategies related to identity, worth, empathy, love and belief. Something as basic as knowing their name and learning how to pronounce it properly shows you honor their identity, for example. The authors give lots of practical suggestions for developing all five important relational values.

This is a short book that can be read of an evening. It is full of important material on ministering to young people. They need to know they are loved by God and that they can love others. It can best be understood when they see it demonstrated by adults. I especially appreciated the authors' suggestions for working with a person when their behavior has been sinful.

This is a good book for anyone working with young people and willing to take the time and effort to establish personal and meaningful relationships with them. You'll find good teaching and practical suggestions for making a difference in the lives of those you come to touch.

You can find out more about the book and free resources at .

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Virginia Ward serves as the Assistant Dean and Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston Campus, where she teaches classes in urban youth ministry and leadership. She has experience as an urban pastor, ministry organizer, and youth ministry expert. She has a M.A. in Youth Ministry, and a D.Min. in Emerging Generations from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an Associate Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is the Senior Pastor and Bishop. They have two sons.
Reggie Joiner is founder and CEO of Orange/reThink Group, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to influence those who influence the next generation. Before founding Orange in 2006, he was one of the founders of North Point Community Church with Andy Stanley. During his 11 years there, he was the executive director of family ministry. He has authored or co-authored several books. He and his wife live in North Georgia and have four adult children and four grandchildren. You can find out more at
Kristen Ivy is executive director of messaging at Orange. Before joining reThink in 2006, she earned her bachelor's of education from Baylor University and a M.Div. from Mercer University. She worked in the public school system as a high school biology and English teacher and is the author of several books. She and her husband have three young children. You can find out more at

Orange Books, 104 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Zilker Media. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Jesus In Me by Anne Graham Lotz

When Lotz's husband died a few years ago, she found great comfort and strength from God through the Holy Spirit. She shares her spiritual experiences and adds stories from others and from the Bible. While there is some exploration of the character and work of the Holy Spirit, most of the book is a memoir of her path of learning to enjoy and trust the Spirit more and more.

Lotz's writing style is a pleasure to experience. She is open and honest about her experiences, sharing the good times and the troubling ones. Rarely will one admit the times when she thought she heard the Spirit but things did not turn out as expected. Most of her book, however, is about her knowing the Spirit as Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor, and Counselor.

Lotz includes a good bit of teaching too. She writes about how God strengthens us through hardship and how the Spirit convicts us of sin and disciples us. She also reviews the many roles the Holy Spirit has in our transformation to become more like Christ. “He is a divine necessity,” she writes. (3)

My favorite part of the book was the section on purpose, a great challenge. If we see our purpose as being physically fit or traveling or being a career success, what happens when we are diagnosed with a debilitating disease? If we make our life's purpose to glorify God, we can carry it out no matter our circumstances. (121)

Lotz has included good teaching in several appendixes. She helps us learn how to hear the Spirit by reviewing her Bible reading process. She also has good teaching on being filled with the Spirit and staying filled, a self-examination of sin, and the various gifts of the Spirit.

This is a good book for any Christian but particularly for those who have recently experienced the loss of a spouse or another loved one. Lotz wrote the book in the context of the loss of her husband and it is good encouragement that believers are never alone. The Holy Spirit is always our constant companion.

You can read a sample here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Anne Graham Lotz is an international speaker and the best-selling, award-winning author of numerous books, including Just Give Me Jesus. Her Just Give Me Jesus revivals have been held in more than thirty cities in twelve different countries with hundreds of thousands attendees. She has been profiled on 60 Minutes and has appeared on programs such as Larry King Live, the Today show, and the Sean Hannity Show. Named one of the five most influential evangelists of her generation by the New York Times, she is the president of AnGel Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the former chairperson for the National Day of Prayer. You can find out more at

Multnomah, 288 pages.

I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Frost Heaves by Alana Terry Blog Tour


About the Book

Book: Frost Heaves
Author: Alana Terry
Genre: Contemporary Christian mystery/suspense
Release Date: March 15, 2019

Jade will do anything to rescue her daughter.
Even risk her own life.
Or take someone else’s…

Jade’s a single mom with one goal: to give her daughter a happy childhood, free from the fears and abuse Jade experienced growing up in a cult.

Even though she broke free from her traumatic and dangerous past, Jade is still haunted by fiends … both seen and unseen … and by secrets some people will try to silence forever.

A fast-paced, can’t-stop-reading Christian thriller set in the heart of rural Alaska, Frost Heaves is real, relevant, and almost impossible to put down.

Just like you’d expect from award-winning author Alana Terry.

Grab your copy today.

(But you might want to read it with your lights on.)

Click here to grab your copy

My Review

Terry is not afraid to tackle serious issues in her novels and this one centers on spiritual abuse. Jade and her parents were part of a church with controlling leadership. Pastoral control can be subtle or overt. I remember hearing sermons on “touch not God's anointed” based on Miriam and Moses. But that can be a cover for spiritual abuse and in Jade's case, immoral behavior by the pastor.

This is not your cozy mystery. I found it hard to read about people so taken in by spiritual leadership they would support immoral behavior and not come to the rescue of the victim. I found it disappointing that local law enforcement would even submit to the powerful influence of the pastor.

I had mixed feelings about the characters. Jade seemed too nonchalant after receiving a threatening note. And the one woman near the end just seemed a little too crazy to be realistic. My favorite character was Dezzirae. Now she was quite the precocious little girl.

This is another good hard hitting novel from Terry.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author

Alana is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mom, self-diagnosed chicken lady, and Christian suspense author. Her novels have won awards from Women of Faith, Book Club Network, Grace Awards, Readers’ Favorite, and more. Alana’s passion for social justice, human rights, and religious freedom shines through her writing, and her books are known for raising tough questions without preaching. She and her family live in rural Alaska where the northern lights in the winter and midnight sun in the summer make hauling water, surviving the annual mosquito apocalypse, and cleaning goat stalls in negative forty degrees worth every second.  

More from Alana

While my childhood was spent in the lower 48 states, my husband and I moved to Alaska and this beautiful state has now become the place I call home. Even though adjusting to rural living (we moved to a town with only 400 residents) took some getting used to, I have grown to love everything about Alaska. In fact, I love it so much, I thought to myself, “I want to share the beauty of where we live with my readers.” And the best way I could think of to do that was to write a three-book, standalone series showcasing some of the wonderful things about Alaska living. However, it wouldn’t be an Alana Terry series without a lot of exciting, fast-paced suspense readers have grown to love. Identity Theft, Termination Dust, and Frost Heaves are filled with action, adventure, mystery and even a little bit of romance. Three different stories. All set in my beautiful state of Alaska. With all the action, adventure, suspense, and underlying hope that readers have come to love. One reviewer described Frost Heaves as “… full of suspense, covered with faith and truth, and sweetened with a touch of romance.” I wrote these books to share my love of Alaska as well as God’s love and redemption with others. And I hope you’ll turn the last page satisfied, but ready for more. If the Alaska Refuge Christian Suspense series is your introduction to Alana Terry books, you’ve read all three in the series (in any order), and you’re ready for more action, I’d like to introduce you to Kennedy Stern. Read Unplanned, Book 1 in the 9 book series. Once you get started, I’m sure you won’t want to put it down.

Blog Stops

Robin's Nest, September 24
Livin’ Lit, September 25
Avid Reader Nurse, September 25
Genesis 5020, September 26
Betti Mace, September 26
Carla Loves To Read, September 28
Quiet Quilter, September 28
For Him and My Family, September 29
Mary Hake, September 29
The Becca Files, September 30
Blogging With Carol, September 30
Godly Book Reviews, October 1
CarpeDiem, October 2
A Reader's Brain, October 3
D'S QUILTS & BOOKS, October 3
janicesbookreviews, October 4
As He Leads is Joy, October 4
Texas Book-aholic, October 7
Maureen's Musings, October 7

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Dare to See by Katie Brown

You might know Katie Brown from her books or her TV shows. She's a woman who is not afraid to be real with God. She is a woman who sees Him in the daily events of her life. She wants you to see Him too.

Brown shares highlights of her life, events where she has seen the hand of God in what happened. Events like being shot while walking a sidewalk, skiing, a love-hate relationship with alcohol, adopting, buying a house, miscarriages, and the impact of an aunt's bread recipe. She writes about making a mess of a speaking engagement where thirteen hundred were present. That woke her up and ultimately led to this book. She writes about opportunities to make relationships and show love, about giving up something you love for someone you love.

Brown shares her stories with the hope that we will also never be afraid to be real with God. She wants us to tell Him our foolish fears and our idiotic immaturity. He will “help you walk onward and upward,” she writes. (Loc 466/2826)

To help us relate to the stories she tells, Brown has included questions for reflection after each story. She also provides suggestion to put our new insights into practice.

Perhaps the main message of this book is included in one of Brown's practice suggestions. “Stop, breathe, notice, and reflect on the signs that are right in front of you that prove you are not alone.” (Loc 1936/2826)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Katie Brown has been delivering how-to information for people passionate about cooking, gardening, crafting, decorating, entertaining, and family. She and her husband live with their two daughters in Ridgefield, CT. You can find out more, find recipes and other household information at .

FaithWords, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra

Inserra draws out attention to the prevalent Cultural Christianity, people who think they are spiritually fine because they are familiar with Christian things. (9) They think they are saved but they are not moved by the seriousness of sin, the necessity of repentance, the awesome reality of grace. (12) They've probably gone to church since childhood and it has become a social habit. They believe in “God” but they do not know their need for salvation in Jesus. It is so prevalent, Inserra says, it is “practiced by more Americans than any other faith or religion.” (13)

This is a book every pastor and church leader would do well to read. They need to make sure the gospel is being preached and that a false assurance is not be given from the pulpit. “Believing in God does not make one a Christian,” Inserra writes. (58) There must be a sense of the need for personal salvation through Jesus Christ. (48) He includes good ideas for engaging Cultural Christians with the gospel.

This book helped me understand the state of Cultural Christianity in America today. It also helped me understand the current political thinking among Cultural Christians. Many Cultural Christians think you must be a Republican. Inserra has shocking news: “God is not impressed with America.” (129)

This is a good book for Christians in general. You might be shocked to find out that, even though you go to church, it is a mission field in itself and you need the gospel and salvation through Jesus Christ. This would be a good book to read with friends as there are discussion questions included.

Food for thought: “...the Bible Belt is a mission field where the harvest is abundant and the workers just don't realize it.” (169)

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Dean Inserra is a graduate of Liberty University and holds a M.A. In Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is pursuing a D.Min. From Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the founding pastor of City church. He is passionate about reaching the city of Tallahassee with the gospel. He and his wife have two sons.

Moody Publishers, 208 pages.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Untamed by Michael E Gunter

This book is for those living the fine Christian Life yet wondering if there is something more. That question struck Gunter some years ago. He had the typical view of God and Jesus, that God wanted him to have a good and happy life. But then a shift in his perception of Jesus began. Paying close attention to some troubling Scripture, he began to have a new understanding of God and what it meant to follow Jesus.

Gunter shares his experience of realizing that Jesus bids us come and die. Jesus is Lord to Whom we surrender. Jesus promises we will experience persecution. Jesus calls us to a path where we are not to love the things of this world. Gunter distinguishes this Way of Christ from the Christian Life of ease. The Way of Christ is one of self-denial, humility, and submission.

Gunter has some very good insights into why we Christians get caught up in the physical world, ignoring the spiritual realm. He includes his insights within the framework of the entire story of what God has done, is doing, and will do. I wish he had included more training in being aware of the spirit realm, such as listening to the Holy Spirit and living in the Spirit's power.

I appreciate Gunter's exploration of what Jesus meant when He said, “Follow Me.” This book is a good wake up call to Christians who are comfortable in their Christianity or complacent in their faith. It is a good challenge to enter into the untamed world, the world beyond our nicely managed lives, the Way of Christ.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Michael E Gunter is an independent author, a Christian for 36 years and a pastor for 20. He is a graduate of Charleston Southern University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He published his first book on the Christian life, A Life Not Wasted, with Gazelle Press in 2005. He is an electric guitarist and the author of six novels. He and his wife live in Virginia. Their son is in the Army and their daughter soon graduates from high school.

Michael E Gunter and The Untamed Group, 136 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Strangers She Knows by Christina Dodd Blog Tour

Strangers She Knows

by Christina Dodd

on Tour September 17 - October 1, 2019


Perfect for fans of Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, and Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd returns with the chilling finale to the Cape Charade trilogy.

I have three deadly problems:
  1.  I’ve seriously offended a maniacal killer.
  2. I just had a bullet removed from my brain.
  3. My new daughter is growing up too fast—and she's in the line of fire.
Living on an obscure, technology-free island off California means safety from the murderer who hunts Kellen Adams and her new family…or does it? Family time becomes terror time, until Kellen finds herself alone and facing an all-too-familiar psychopath. Only one can survive, and Kellen knows who must win…and who must die.

Be sure to also check-out the rest of the Cape Charade series, starting with DEAD GIRL RUNNING and WHAT DOESN'T KILL HER, available now wherever books are sold.

Series STARRED reviews from Booklist

"From the unforgettable heroine with a past to the incisively etched cast of secondary characters to the brilliantly imaginative plot, Dodd is at her most wildly entertaining, wickedly witty best." -Booklist STARRED review on DEAD GIRL RUNNING

"Featuring an unforgettable protagonist…who makes Jack Reacher look like a slacker when it comes to dispatching trouble, and an ingenious plot that includes plenty of white-knuckle twists and turns as well as some touching moments of mother-daughter bonding." -Booklist STARRED review on WHAT DOESN'T KILL HER

“Dodd continues her addictively readable Cape Charade series featuring Kellen Adams with another white-knuckle tale that simply begs to be inhaled in one sitting. With a fascinating island setting that includes a spooky old mansion, a secondary storyline involving World War II, and an antagonist who could give Villanelle from Killing Eve a pointer or two, this is Dodd at her brilliant best.” -Booklist STARRED review on STRANGERS SHE KNOWS 

My Review:

I came late to this party as I missed reading the earlier books in this series. This one read very well on its own, however. It is a character driven suspenseful novel. I appreciate the good character representation of Kellen, the heroine. There is a bit of scary action at the beginning and a good dose of suspense at the end. Most of the novel is about Kellen and her family with some slow building throughout to the final suspense.

I like Dodd's writing style. I found this novel entertaining and engaging. And I liked that it began and ended in my native Washington state, and on the Olympic Peninsula. What a treat and a nice change from urban suspense novels. I am going to be reading more from this author.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Published by: HQN Books
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1335468331 (ISBN13: 9781335468338)
Series: Cape Charade #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Yearning Sands Resort Washington’s Pacific Coast This Spring
Rae Di Luca stacked up her Level Three lesson books, opened the piano bench and put them away. She got out the Adult Course Level 1A book, opened it to “Silver Bells,” and put it on the music rack. “Mom, you have to practice.”
Kellen didn’t look up from her book. “I know.”
“When what?”
“When are you going to do it?”
“I’m at the good part. Let me finish this chapter.”
“No, you have to practice now. You know it helps with your finger dexterity.”
When had their roles reversed, Kellen wondered? When had ten-year-old Rae become the sensible adult and Kellen become the balky child?
Oh yeah. When she had the brain surgery, her right hand refused to regain its former abilities, and the physical therapist suggested learning the piano. But there was a reason Kellen hadn’t learned to play the piano earlier in her life. She loved music—and she had no musical talent. That, added to the terrible atrophy that afflicted her fingers, made her lessons and practices an unsurpassed agony…for everyone.
She looked up, saw Rae standing, poised between coaxing and impatience, and the Rolodex in Kellen’s punctured, operated-on and much-abused brain clicked in:
Kellen loved this kid. The feeling was more than human. It was feral, too, and Kellen would do anything to protect Rae from threat—and had. “I know. I’m coming. It’s so much more fun to listen to you play than practice myself. You’re good and I’m…awful.”
“I’m not good. I’m just better than you.” Rae came over and wrapped her arms around Kellen’s neck, hugged and laughed. “But Luna is better than you.”
“Don’t talk to me about that dog. She howls every time I sit down at the piano. Sometimes she doesn’t even wait until I start playing. The traitor.” Kellen glared at the dog, and once again her brain—which had developed this ability after that shot to the head—sorted through the files of identity cards to read:
Luna watched Kellen in return, head resting on her paws, waiting for her chance to sing a solo protest to Kellen’s inept rendition of “Silver Bells.”
“Everybody’s a critic.” Rae set the timer. “Come on. Ten minutes of scales, then you only have to practice for thirty minutes.”
“Why do I have to practice ‘Silver Bells’? Christmas isn’t for seven months.”
“So you’ll have mastered it by the time the season rolls around.”
“I used to like that song.”
“We all used to like that song.” Rae took Kellen’s left hand and tugged. “Mom, come on. You know you feel better afterward.”
Kellen allowed herself to be brought to her feet. “I’m going to do something wild and crazy. I’m going to start learning ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ It’s the next song in the book, and I like it.”
“You can learn anything you want after you practice your scales and work on ‘Silver Bells’ for fifteen minutes.”
No one wanted to be inside today, certainly not Rae Di Luca, certainly not Kellen Adams Di Luca, certainly not upstairs in their private quarters in the Yearning Sands Resort. Not when spring had come to the Washington state Pacific Coast. April and May’s drenching rains turned the world a soggy brown. Then, on the first of June, one day of blazing sunshine created green that spread across the coastal plain.
Kellen made her way through the ten minutes of scales—the dog remained quiescent for those—then began plunking out “Silver Bells.”
As she struggled with the same passage, her right hand fingers responding only sporadically, Luna started with a slight whine that grew in intensity. At the first high howl, Kellen turned to the dog.
“Look, this isn’t easy for me, either.”
Luna sat, head cocked, one ear up, one ear down, brown eyes pleading with her.
“I would love to stop,” Kellen told her and turned back to the piano. “How about a different tune? Let’s try ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’”
She played the first few notes and out of the corner of her eye, she saw the dog subside. Then, as she worked on a tricky passage, made the same mistake, time after time, the dog sat up again, lifted her nose and howled in mourning for the slaughter of the song.
Rae giggled, and when her mother glowered, the child controlled herself. “Come on, Luna, I’ll take you outside.”
The dog didn’t budge.
“She thinks she’s helping you,” Rae explained. “Come on, Luna. Come on!” She coaxed her out the door, turned back to Kellen and said sternly, “Twenty more minutes!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Kellen struggled on, trying to make her recalcitrant fingers do her bidding. Even when she finally got the notes right, it wasn’t a piano tune so much as jack-in-the-box music. When at last the timer went off, she slumped over the keyboard and stared at the fingers of her right hand.
They were trying to atrophy, to curl in and refuse to do her bidding ever again. But the physical therapists assured her she could combat this. She had to create new nerve ways, train another part of her brain to handle the work, and since two hands were better than one and her right hand was her dominant hand, the battle was worth fighting. But every day, the forty minutes at the keyboard left her drained and discouraged.
Behind her, Max said, “Turn around and let me rub your hands.”
She noticed he did not say, That was good. Or even, That was better.
Max didn’t tell lies.
Kellen sighed and swiveled on the piano bench. Again that Rolodex in her brain clicked in:
He took her right hand gently in both of his and, starting at the wrist, he massaged her palm, her thumb, her fingers. He used a lavender-scented oil, and stretched and worked the muscles and bones while she moaned with pleasure.
He listened with a slight smile, and when she looked into his face, she realized his lips looked fuller, he had a dark flush over his cheekbones and his nostrils flared as he breathed. She looked down at his jeans, leaned close and whispered, “Max, I’m done with practice. Why don’t we wander up to our bedroom and I’ll rub your…hand, too.”
He met her eyes. He stopped his massage. Except for the rise and fall of his chest, he was frozen in that pose of incipient passion.
Then he sat back and sighed. “Doctor says no.”
“Doctor said be careful.”
“Woman, if I could be careful, I would. As it is, nothing is best.”
“I am torn between being flattered and frustrated.” She thought about it. “Mostly frustrated.”
I’m just fine.” Max didn’t usually resort to sarcasm, so that told her a lot. Married almost two years and no sex. He was a good man, but he was coming to the end of his patience.
“If we’re refraining because we’re worried I’m going to pop a blood vessel while in the throes of passion, I’d like to point out there are solutions that you might enjoy.”
“That isn’t fair to you.”
“You’re massaging my hand. That’s pretty wonderful.”
“Not the same.” Again he took her tired hand and went to work.
Bitterly she said, “Kellen’s Brain. It’s like a bad sci-fi fantasy.”
He laughed. “It’s improving all the time.” When he had made her hand relax and Kellen relax with it, he said, “I’ve been thinking—the Di Luca family owns Isla ParaĆ­so off the coast of Northern California. The family bought the island seventy years ago with the idea of placing a resort on the island, but now that doesn’t seem likely. Someone needs to go there, look things over, make decisions about its fate.”
Kellen nodded. “You want to go there? See what you think?”
“Actually, I thought we should all go there.”
He was still working her hand, but with a little too much forcefulness and concentration.
“Ouch,” she said softly.
He pulled away, horrified. “Did I hurt you?”
“Not at all. Except that you’re treating me like a child.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re not telling me what’s really going on. Why do you want to go to this island?”
“I told you—”
“I don’t doubt that what you told me is the truth. But it’s not all the truth. Max, what’s wrong?”
Max sighed, an understatement of a sigh, as if he dreaded what he was about to say. “You’re not going to like it.”
“I gathered that.”
“Mitch Nyugen.”
“What about him? He’s dead.” She remembered she couldn’t always trust Kellen’s Brain. “Isn’t he?”
“Yes. He was buried in the Cape Charade cemetery.”
Was buried?” Unease stirred in her belly.
“This week, his widow arrived from Wyoming.”
“He wasn’t married.” That brain thing. “Was he?”
“No.” Max was as sure as Kellen was not. “Yet the woman who claimed to be his widow had all the necessary paperwork to have his body exhumed.”
“Oh, no.”
“She had the coffin placed in the chapel. Last night, the undertaker, Arthur Earthman, found her there, with the coffin open. She murdered him, and almost killed his wife, Cynthia. The widow escaped ahead of the sheriff, and she left her calling card.”
Kellen knew. She knew what Max was going to say. “She cut off Mitch’s hands.”
“And took them.” Max looked up at her, his brown eyes wretched with fear. “Mara Philippi is back. And she’s here.”
Excerpt from Strangers She Knows by Christina Dodd. Copyright 2019 by Christina Dodd. Reproduced with permission from HQN Books. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd writes "edge-of-the-seat suspense" (Iris Johansen) with "brilliantly etched characters, polished writing, and unexpected flashes of sharp humor that are pure Dodd" (ALA Booklist). Her fifty-eight books have been called "scary, sexy, and smartly written" by Booklist and, much to her mother's delight, Dodd was once a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle.

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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.