amy m bennett

Open Book: June reads for July Reviews!

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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One thing can be said for having a couple of complications dragging out weeks after super minor abdominal surgery: there’s lots of time to do nothing but sit in bed and READ!   Perhaps that’s the only thing to be said for it, though; being unable to work on one’s own writing and publishing is pretty frustrating.  That said, today is the rescheduled release date for UNCLAIMED, Book 1 in The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan.

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Unclaimed cover art Copyright 2016 Fiona Jayde Media

I was chomping so badly at the bit to get that up and running by June 24, but instead I was propped up in bed with my iPad and this guy for my reading buddy.

SiggieReadingBuddy

Funny story: five days after I came home from  the hospital, Siggie (above) suddenly started sniffing around my belly and instead of making me take his tennis ball out of his mouth to play fetch, he just gave it to me.  The two days later I was back at the doctor, and lo and behold! I had an infection developing.  Of course, if he were really intuitive, he wouldn’t have kept trying to jump directly onto my belly… but he’s still a good recovery companion.

Okay, let’s look at what I got to read in June…

Testing Liberty & Fight for Liberty by Theresa Linden

I really cannot rave well enough about the Chasing Liberty trilogy.  If you took The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and 1984, wove them together with a fresh, deeply human sensibility and gave it just the lightest sprinkle of holy water… you might come close to getting a series as fast-paced, powerful and satisfying as Liberty’s three-part tale.

I loved Chasing Liberty, butTesting Liberty Brown Red in Testing Liberty, Linden really ups the ante.  It was like in Chasing we got to see the veneer of Aldonia’s oppressive deep green culture scraped painfully off, and then in Testing, we dive down deep, deeper into the hearts and lives threatened, destroyed, and changed for good or ill by the conflict between the Regimen’s culture and the inner drive for freedom and independence that some of the colonists live out for themselves… and are getting ready to share with Aldonia on a wider and far more risky basis.   Usually the middle installment in a trilogy is the most difficult to keep spinning on a lively axis, but Linden turns that idea on its head and somehow makes Testing even more heart-rending and engaging than its predecessor.

FightForLibertyAnd then in Fight for Liberty, it all comes so satisfyingly full-circle.  Something Linden does so powerfully in this conclusion(ish) to the series is that the encourages us to look at the future of freedom (and, frankly, the present) through the lens of our history.  The way she approached a renewal of personal freedom as a rebirth of the ideals and courage of the American Revolution is a tack we don’t see often taken in speculative fiction.  It works.  Fresh, engaging, honest and uplifting, we can see our future as fraught with danger… but also promising courage and hope and the best humanity has to offer.

Fight for Liberty dropped on July 4! Keep an eye out here for an in-depth interview with Theresa Linden later this week.  

The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

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It’s the story of Mary and Martha illuminated in a way you’ve never imagined.  In this conclusion (I think?) to the Living Water series, Stephanie Landsem gives us a rich backstory on why Martha is the way she is–a controlling, put-upon, neat freak who’s never satisfied.  I’d never before considered the kind of heartbreak that might have gone into making a Martha.  Landsem took my preconceived notions of a picky, spoiled, overly pious Jewish daughter and made her into someone who’s been through just as much as any of us has in on our way to becoming the fragile, cautious creatures we can be… until we let Christ come in to our lives and change us.  This third book has just as much delicious angst as The Well but just as much sweet satisfaction as The Thief.  For readers who like a good ends-tied-up series, this last book makes that happen but infuses the ending of the trilogy with great energy; it left me happy for the characters (each in his/her way) but still sad to see it end.  Highly recommended.

At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)

People, I just adore this series.  It’s really so much fun to read.  Okay, I realize I just said that about a series with a body count, but hey, take me as I am.  In At the Crossroad, Corrie, Rick, and JD all have to face the past–their own and the ghosts of others.  The mystery is fast-paced, crisp, and richly human.  The storytelling is clean, and the violence and relationships are never gratutitous.  All these characters have come to feel like family to me over the years, to the point that, yes, I’ve declared myself #TeamRick (and Crossroad makes that seem even more possible than No Vacancy did… but I’m sure Amy will keep us guessing).  In fact, I kind of know who I want to set JD up with, but Amy would pee her pants if I told her, because it’s so outlandish… Anyway, I hope that the fact that these characters have taken on their own lives in my imagination (am I writing Black Horse fanfic in my head?!?!) is endorsement enough.

After the Thaw by Therese Heckenkamp

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A sequel to Heckenkamp’s Frozen Footprints that yet stands strong on its own, After the Thaw is a story of courage, healing, redemption, self-sacrifice, and the value of honesty.  The plot was fast-paced and kept me well invested in the future of heroine Charlene, the people she loves, and the people who sought to use her for their own ends.  Serious and tragic but with a great touch of humanity, Thaw kept me turning the pages and caring about the characters.  Should Charlene really marry Ben?  I mean, he’s a good guy, but is he the guy?  And what is going on with Clay and that pregnant girl?  For all the angst of the beginning and middle, the end is super satisfying with a touch of just-right sweetness.  Tough but still clean, this would make a great beach read.

Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne Faye

Sunflower Front CoverA sweet, touching story of healing, forgiveness and closure, Sunflowers in a Hurricane weaves together the lives touched, smote and healed by an unlikely friendship. When single-mom Cheryl must clear out her estranged mother’s house, daughter Ruth becomes the garden help and Mass companion of elderly widower George next door.  The move brings Cheryl face-to-face with her difficult past, a past she’s been evading ever since Ruth was conceived, as well as with her fears for her own and Ruth’s future.  Meanwhile, George stands courageously and compassionately in the face of his own past losses resurfacing in ways he hadn’t expected. The two households mirror each other in ways that make us think more deeply about the nature of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption.  Faye turns a tale with an honest kindness often missing from family drama fiction these days, while keeping readers hooked on the story.  This was an uplifting and enjoyable read you’ll want for your beach bag!

Don’t forget to link up YOUR reviews over at Carolyn’s!

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AT THE CROSS ROAD: New from Amy M. Bennett

I am so excited to read the latest installment in the Black Horse Campground Mysteries, a series of cozies from Oak Tree Press author and fellow Catholic Writers Guild member Amy M. Bennett.  This series has characters that really come alive, the kind who make you cheer and cry and laugh and laugh and laugh.  I can’t wait to read this latest tale, At the Cross Road, which is an intriguing title given how the last book in the series, No Vacancy, ended: the mystery was wrapped up, but the relationships were only getting messier!

Without further nattering from me, here’s what you can look forward to from Amy and At the Cross Road!

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)Trouble often comes in threes. It’s no different at the Black Horse Campground.

On his first day as detective with the Bonney Police Department, J.D. Wilder finds three cold case files on his desk—three women who have disappeared over a fifteen year period at five year intervals. It seems that no one has ever taken the cases seriously… or even properly investigated them.

Then J.D. receives a visit from two former colleagues who inform him that he’s about to receive another visitor; a woman from his past who is in trouble and needs his help. Again. The timing couldn’t be worse, since he’s finally about to ask Corrie on a date, but then Corrie also has a visitor from her past show up… someone who’s hoping for a second chance with her. In the meantime, Sheriff Rick Sutton has his hands full dodging his ex-wife, Meghan, who insists on discussing personal business with him… business that has to do with digging up a painful past.

When three bodies are discovered that prove the missing women were murdered, J.D.’s investigation reveals that all of their visitors have some connection to the victims. But which one of them killed three women… and is prepared to kill again?

When trouble comes to Bonney County, Corrie, Rick, and J.D. band together to protect each other and their community. But can they solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again?

And now for an excerpt, this one from Chapter 14 of At the Cross Road.

J.D. returned to the Black Horse more wide awake than he had been in days. Amato’s words rang in his ears, while a voice in his head warned him that if he didn’t get some rest, he was going to be completely useless when the time came to have his wits about him and his energy. Still, a night spent in mostly inactivity wasn’t going to allow him to rest. He went into his cabin and changed into his running clothes. He needed to release some tension and energy if he was going to rest at all.

He slipped out of the cabin, casting a glance toward the campground store. It was almost six thirty a.m. and Corrie’s apartment light was on but the store’s lights were still out. He had missed the Friday night fish fry dinner, but he hoped to be back once she was open and be able to talk to her more. And get a decent breakfast.

He started out, following the path he’d taken a couple days earlier. The cool morning air was amazingly refreshing, helping clear his mind while invigorating and relaxing him at the same time. His breathing eased as his strides became more purposeful. He was near a breakthrough in the cold cases. He could feel it. Officer Amato had information that could help reveal the truth about what happened to the three women. After that… he’d have to wait and see.

He rounded the curve where he had seen the small cemetery the last time he had run this path and he slowed to a stop. He had pushed it to the back of his mind and had all but forgotten about it until this moment. Now was as good a time as any to pay his respects. His run had already accomplished its purpose. He knew he’d be able to sleep when he got to his cabin and he’d probably stroll back to the campground after this. He allowed himself a grin as he left the path, picking his way through the tall grass and brush to where the grave sites were.

Unlike most small cemeteries he’d encountered, there was no fence surrounding this one. In fact, there were only three wooden markers, crosses, all of them uniform but in different stages of weathering. He stopped when he got close enough to make out the lettering and suddenly the breath rushed out of him, leaving him feeling weak and dizzy with shock.

The first marker, the most faded, bore the name Carla Sandoval. The second, Rosalie Edwards. The third, the one with the least amount of weathering and the least faded lettering, read Benita Rojas.

Beside the one for Benita Rojas was an open grave. A plain wooden cross lay nearby. Both looked recent. Only a few days recent.

J.D. stumbled back, afraid that his eyes were playing tricks. He fumbled for his cell phone and let out an expletive when he realized he’d left it in his cabin when he changed his clothes. He reached the path and took off at a dead run back to the Black Horse Campground.

He’d been right; there had been more to the disappearances than what was common knowledge.

He hated it when he was right.

Don’t know Amy? Get to know her!

IMG_6271Amy Bennett’s debut mystery novel End of the Road started as a National Novel Writing Month project in 2009.  It went on to win the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery Contest and launched the Black Horse Campground mystery series, followed by No Lifeguard on Duty and No Vacancy, both of which have been awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. At the Cross Road is the fourth book in the series.

When not sitting at the laptop actively writing, she works full-time at Walmart of Alamogordo (not too far down the road from fictional Bonney County) as a cake decorator and part-time at Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso (where you can find some of the best wines in the state of New Mexico, including Jo Mamma’s White!)  She lives with her husband and son in a small town halfway between Alamogordo and Ruidoso.  Visit her website at www.amymbennettbooks.com and The Back Deck Blog at http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com