Thursday, April 26, 2012

Talk about your pinning habit... win some books!


About three weeks ago I took the plunge and signed up for Pinterest. The original idea -- my "motivation", if you will -- was to use these boards as part of my platform to promote my writing; to show a personal side of me to the readers of my reviews and interviews... and to the future readers of my novels.

That was the plan. Unfortunately, Pinterest turned out to be a whole lot of time-eating fun. Sure, I have a couple of boards dedicated to my writing, such as "Authors I've Interviewed" and "WIP Inspiration" but I've got a whole lot more dedicated to home decorating, humor, recipes and DIY. Feel free to go on over and have a look around at MY BOARDS, but I do warn you: once the pinning bug hits you, it's pretty doggone addictive!

I've decided that I must, in the interest of actually WRITING, declare "pin free days" and severely limit my board perusing in order to avoid the time-sucking phenomenon that is Pinterest. Since I have a novella to revise, 3 books to read and review and 2 interviews to complete before May 5th, a blog that I've been neglecting (sorry!) and a family and home to care for... oh, and a job... it is necessary for me to set some limits concerning the magic red P button.

So... I'm interested to know how many of you have been bitten by the pinning bug? For what purpose do you use Pinterest and... what strategies do you employ to guard your time so you are available for more important things? Things like reading.

Leave your comments and email addy below in spam-free lingo (such as doe dot jane at jmail dot com) and on May 8th I will draw a name to receive a special prize package of 3, yes,THREE recently released novels including: The Irish Healer by Nancy Herriman, Downfall by Terri Blackstock, and Tracey Bateman's May 8 release The Widow of Saunders Creek.

Good luck! And may your addiction to pinning not interfere with your addiction to reading, because books are where it's at!

Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: ECHOES OF TITANIC by Mindy Starns Clark and John Campbell Clark


When Mindy Starns Clark decided to write a novel about the Titanic disaster, she didn't have to look very far to find a willing accomplice: a Titanic history buff sat right across the breakfast table. Her first (fictional) collaboration with husband John Campbell Clark,Echoes of Titanic, is a romantic, suspenseful and elegant mystery released just in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that fateful voyage.

HERE'S THE SITCH:

It's no surprise that Kelsey Tate is the brightest rising star at Brennan & Tate – after all, it was her great-grandmother Adele, a Titanic survivor, who helped to build Brennan & Tate into the financial powerhouse it is today.

Adele Tate lost two precious loved ones the day Titanic sank, but she overcame great loss and worked hard to become a successful and respected force in the world of finance. Now 100 years after that tragedy, Adele is gone … but questions about her true identity arise. Was Kelsey's great-grandmother really Adele Tate -- or an impostor? And if she was an impostor … who really owns the company?

Accusations fly with no clear answers. The company's value plummets and, in the best interest of the stockholders, Kelsey is asked to distance herself – and the Tate name – from the company for a while. Reluctantly, she complies … mostly; but when her mentor is found dead -- and another firm mounts a hostile takeover attempt, Kelsey knows she is responsible for salvaging her family's company and name. But who can she trust?

Kelsey finally seeks help from a most uncomfortable source: Cole Thornton. Once upon a time Kelsey and Cole were in love, but her drive for success drove him away from Brennan & Tate – and Kelsey. She hasn't seen him in five years, but she can't refuse his offer to help – he's all she's got left.

Cole is a genius with numbers and, even though his new company's employees are a bit unconventional, Kelsey is bound and determined to save her family's company and Adele's reputation -- even if it means wearing a wire and sneaking into Brennan & Tate after hours. But someone always seems to be one step ahead of Kelsey and Cole. Soon it becomes clear that she may not only lose her company, but also her last chance with Cole … and maybe even her life.

HITS & MISSES

The Clarks deserve props for skillful characterization. Every single person on scene is visible, clearly voiced, and unique. The Tate family dynamics are especially entertaining even when they make you want to cry. The subtle, bittersweet humor that flows between Kelsey and her stroke-debilitated father gives credence to their closeness and their shared frustration with his infirmity.

This suspenseful mystery is both romantic and faith affirming, but at no point does it stoop to being either "sweet" or "preachy." Even though the story moves between diary entries, years, and character points of view there is not a single hiccup in the reader's suspension of disbelief. Whether on board Titanic with Adele or in the New York financial district with Kelsey, the authors paint a vivid scene that puts the reader right therewithin that moment in time. Each scene grows the tension across the centuries and enriches the plot's mystery, the settings' believability and the characters' viability within imagination.

Readers of both inspirational and mainstream fiction will find this to be a fitting novel to read in conjunction with the anniversary of the Titanic tragedy. As the title implies, this is a story that resonates. Rich with history, rife with corporate intrigue and full of hope, Echoes of Titanic is a timely tale that will appeal to fans of contemporary and historical romance, romantic suspense, and mystery.

(This review first appeared on USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Interview with Tamara Leigh -- PART II

Readers: please note that is the 2nd half of a 2-part interview with Tamara Leigh. Part I posted yesterday.

Serena: Welcome back, Tammy! Now let's get into your new book a bit: What is your favorite thing about Dreamspell's romantic hero, Lord Fulke Wynland?

Tamara: Ah, Fulke … I love his strength and integrity, his flaws past and present, and his ability to remain heroic even while suffering a stomp to his pride. Above all, I love that he loves Kennedy.

Serena: Of all the romantic heroes you've created over the course of your career, who is your favorite? Your favorite heroine? Why?

Tamara: That is one hard question. I strive to make my hero a surprisingly perfect fit for my heroine. Thus, it's my heroine who has a favorite hero, and she always ends up happily married to him. However, if I had to answer your question, I'd say my favorite hero is Lord Fulke Wynland, though probably because he's my current leading man — until the next hero comes along. I'm kind of fickle that way. And for heroine? Same answer, but insert my leading lady, Kennedy Plain.

Serena: What is your process for naming your characters?

Tamara: I don't have a set process for naming my characters. At times, a name comes to me on its own. At other times, I'm hunting through baby name books. When I wrote Faking Grace, I knew I wanted the name of the heroine to be Grace, but it didn't quite fit her personality, so I relegated Grace to a middle name and enlisted my imagination to find the perfect first name. The beautiful hymn Amazing Grace came to mind and, before long, I had my heroine's name: Maizy Grace. Fun wordplay, for which I received the ultimate compliment a few months back when a reader e-mailed me to tell me she had named her baby daughter Maizy Grace after reading my book. It still makes me smile.

Serena: I would imagine! You've written medieval romance, inspy chick lit, rom coms … is there a subgenre you haven't written yet but are itching to try?

Tamara: I've enjoyed writing in all three genres and plan on keeping company with them indefinitely. I have, however, considered venturing into the young adult genre. Who knows?

Serena: Can we expect to see more romantic fantasy (or time travel?) from you in the future?

Tamara: Dreamspell is my second jaunt down time-travel lane, the first being Unforgotten, which was written for the general market. Although I'm certainly fond of time travel, I don't have any immediate plans for more romantic fantasy. However, if a strong enough idea lands on my shoulder and whispers urgently in my ear, I imagine I will venture there again.

Serena: When you get the opportunity to read for pleasure, what genre and/or authors are you most likely to pick up?

Tamara: I mostly read what I enjoy writing: medieval romance, romantic comedy, and chick lit. However, if it's well-written and engaging, I will venture into other genres such as Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series — page-turners, every one of them.

Serena: Beyond the recipes you'll concoct and post to your blog, what sort of (fictional) adventures can we next expect to come to us via the kitchen of Tamara Leigh?

Tamara: My agent is circulating The Age of Faith series among inspirational publishers. This three-book proposal is also set during the Middle Ages but stays true to history by not crossing the time barrier. Will publishers take a chance on these medieval romances? Time will tell.

Serena: On your blog you've said that your stand mixer could test positive for steroids. Is that powerhouse your favorite kitchen appliance or gadget ... or has some other buff piece of kitchen couture captured your heart?

Tamara: I have two favorite kitchen appliances. My stand mixer is one of them. For years, my older sister, who puts the "gourmet" in cook, encouraged me to invest in a stand mixer, but since I had yet to truly come into my own in the kitchen, I resisted. But then the cooking/baking bug bit. Suddenly, I found I had room on my kitchen counter to support one of these beautiful beasts — and I don't regret a single square inch I've had to give up. My second-favorite appliance is an espresso/cappuccino machine. I like like like Starbucks, but I can duplicate my favorite drinks at a fraction of the cost.

Serena: What's the most delicious thing you've made recently?

Tamara: That's a toss-up between a Cranberry-Avocado Salad and a Jalapeño Popper Sandwich. Both have appeared on The Kitchen Novelist blog and are gooood!

Serena: OK, I'll admit it. I may have … drooled a bit … over some of the recipes on your blog. When it comes to straight up chocolate, do you generally prefer dark — or milk?

Tamara: Dark. Definitely dark. If I'm going to work off those calories, I want to have tasted every one of them. Really tasted them.

Serena: Right on! I'm with you. I love dark chocolate! So what's your biggest weakness when it comes to food?

Tamara: In the sweet range, I'm a goner when it comes to Dark Chocolate Cranberry Cookies and Gorgeous Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies (do you see a pattern here with cranberries?). In the savory range, a good salad goes a long way with me.

Serena: A good salad is always nice … especially with cranberries to add a pop of color, right? (laughs) If you, like Dreamspell's Kennedy Plain, had the opportunity to travel back in time, where would you go? Why?

Tamara: Easy question. I would travel back to the Middle Ages to witness those things that have made themselves at home in my stories. I know the medieval time period is romanticized and most 21st-century people would be horrified by the living conditions and relatively primitive way of life, but I could come back, right? I … uh, wouldn't lose my place, would I?

Serena: Umm … sure. Let's go with that. And speaking of "coming back," full-circle style, I loved the epilogue of Dreamspell. It was the perfect Happy Ever After for everyone involved. Were you ever tempted in an earlier draft to make things go a different way?

Tamara: Since I love a good "Happily Ever After," the ending of Dreamspell is pretty much the way I envisioned it. My only temptation was to cut the epilogue for fear readers might prefer to end the tale with Chapter 30. But I couldn't bring myself to do that to … you know who. In this instance, I'm pleased I didn't let my editing scissors anywhere near the epilogue.

Serena: Oh, I'm so glad you kept it! I would have forever wondered about some of those characters! Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you — or about Dreamspell?

Tamara: Initially, Dreamspell will be released exclusively on Kindle. What some readers don't realize is that, even if they don't own a Kindle, they can download the free Kindle reading app to their computer or other reading device to enjoy Kindle books.

Thank you for spending time with me, Serena. I hope your readers will drop by my website and read Dreamspell's excerpt: TamaraLeigh.com or The Kitchen Novelist blog.

(This interview appeared in its entirety first on USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Friday, April 06, 2012

Interview with Tamara Leigh, author of DREAMSPELL -- PART I

Readers: please note that this is the first half of a 2-part interview,
so stay tuned for the next half to show up tomorrow!


TAMARA LEIGH

An author who has successfully moved between both the mainstream and inspirational markets in traditional publishing,Tamara Leigh now lists her name among the many proven authors who've taken a new book into the realm of e-publishing on their own. Referring to herself as The Kitchen Novelist, Tamara spends a lot of time in her kitchen creating both culinary delights and fictional romance. Her latest novel is Dreamspell, a time-traveling love story set in contemporary USA and 14th-century England.

Serena: Hi Tammy! You've written for both the mainstream romance and the inspirational market for several years. With which audience do you feel Dreamspell will (most likely) find its most comfortable home?

Tamara: I believe Dreamspell straddles both markets, presenting a love story as emotionally satisfying as those I wrote for the mainstream market when I debuted with Warrior Bride in 1994, and as character-centered as my novels written for the inspirational market beginning with Stealing Addain 2006. Is there sexual tension? Yes. It is a love story. However, what draws the hero and heroine together is not a love scene but events that cause them to re-evaluate their beliefs and prejudices and lower the barriers that keep them apart. Is there a faith element? There is, but because of the time travel element, it doesn't feature as prominently as it did in my inspirational novels. Instead, my focus was more on creating a beautiful love story that anyone can enjoy. I hope I have succeeded.

Serena: Well, I certainly think so! I loved it. The cover of Dreamspell sold me on the book before I even read the excerpt on your website. Did you help design the cover — or was that something you hired out?

Tamara: Music to my ears, Serena! I know it's said that you can't judge a book by its cover, but a beautiful cover can certainly make a person do a double take — and read the back cover copy, and read the first chapter, then read the book cover to cover. Thus, I wanted the cover of Dreamspellto reflect the same level of professionalism and appeal I had with my traditionally published books. After hours (and days) spent searching for the right stock photo, I sent several to my graphic designer and told her what I envisioned. She worked her magic and voilà!

Serena: Dreamspell's heroine, Kennedy Plain, is dying of an inoperable brain tumor in our time, yet she has no symptoms of illness in 14th-century England. What attracted you about the idea of life extension … through time travel?

Tamara: The landscape of the 21st century is far removed from that of the 14th century. Despite our incredible advances in medicine, many of the ills and diseases that afflict people today are a result of our industrialized and polluted environment. In writing Dreamspell, I saw this as a means of giving Kennedy a second chance at life in the Middle Ages, the premise being that the cause of her brain tumor was not present 600 years ago.

Serena: It's a great idea and, in my opinion, it played out beautifully. Kennedy and Mac are able to travel through time via dreams after intensive sleep deprivation. What inspired you to use sleep deprivation as the key to another reality?

Tamara: When the seed of Dreamspell began to germinate 10 years ago, my research revealed that one of the side effects of intensive sleep deprivation is hallucinations. And so I played the "what if" game: What if those experiences weren't hallucinations after all? Which led to: What if the dreams that followed intensive sleep deprivation were actually bridges to another reality, perhaps even another time? It was something I hadn't seen done before, and it grabbed my imagination.

Serena: There are a couple particularly tissue-worthy scenes in Dreamspell — the ones when Kennedy is with her mom are particularly heart-wrenching. What inspiration did you draw from to wring the emotion from those scenes? Did writing those scenes take you to a particularly dark/sad place?

Tamara: When writing emotionally charged scenes such as those with Kennedy's mother, I "put on" my character. With Dreamspell, I imagined myself as the heroine who is leaving behind the mother she loves dearly and is aware of the pain her departure will cause. I then imagined myself as the mother who has lived through her child's sufferings and will survive her daughter by an untold number of years. As a daughter and mother myself, this comes naturally. Shoot, my nose is tingling just thinking about it!

Serena: (sniffling) Mine, too (reaches for tissue). For a good portion of the book Kennedy believes herself to be dreaming rather than actually traveling through time. Her "it's a dream, I can do what I want" attitude is the plucky comic relief of the story and causes a lot of funny dialogue with her medieval counterparts. Which scenes do you enjoy writing more: the humorous or the heart-rending?

Tamara: So much depends on my mental state at the time I'm writing the scene. If I'm lovin' on a joyful day, the humorous scenes are fulfilling because they come from an immediate place inside me. When I'm not-so-lovin' on a joyless day, the heart-rending scenes can be especially gratifying because they touch something deep inside me and often help me work through my own difficulties. Unfortunately, my emotions don't always align with the particular scenes I'm writing, so it helps to go back and edit those scenes when my real-world mood better reflects my fictional-world mood.

Serena: You've had success with traditional publishing. Why did you decide to test the self-publishing waters with this new novel?

Tamara: My biggest motivation was to share Dreamspell with readers. Because the story doesn't fall neatly into the general or inspirational market, I didn't believe it had much of a chance with traditional publishers and decided I wouldn't allow Kennedy and Fulke's love to yellow in the bottom of my desk drawer. That just seemed wrong.

Though I have enjoyed writing contemporary romance and will likely continue to do so, I have wanted to return to writing medieval romance for some time now. Unfortunately, inspirational publishers are wary of novels set during this time period. I'm told this is due to the stereotype of corruption and atrocities committed by some church leaders. Enter: Dreamspell, set primarily during the Middle Ages, then toss in the time-travel element. Sounds like a good candidate for self-publishing to me.

Serena: What has been the most difficult obstacle in becoming a self-published author after publishing traditionally for so many years?

Tamara: The most difficult obstacle to overcome is the realization I'm pretty much on my own in getting the book out to the reading public. However, it isn't quite the shock it would have been years ago. When I was first published in 1994, publishers weren't keen on authors contributing to marketing efforts. In fact, they could get downright upset about it. By the time I entered the inspirational market in 2006, that had changed. No longer was it the author's job to solely write books and show up for signings, but the author was expected to contribute to marketing efforts which, for me, meant carving time out of my writing schedule and money out of my advance. Now to be on my own … this is definitely the place to thank you, Serena, and the others who have come behind me to spread the word about Dreamspell. THANK YOU!

Serena: I'm always thrilled to spread the love for a great story! Are you enjoying the self-pubbing experience so far?

Tamara: I am. Mostly. Formatting the manuscript has been a bear to deal with, though I admit it's primarily due to my own shortcomings. But I'm learning.

Serena: Do you intend to publish Dreamspell as a print book down the road?

Tamara: I would love to see Dreamspell on the shelves alongside my other titles. If it does well in the electronic market, I have high hopes it will grow a spine, a cover, and a few hundred beautifully crisp pages.

Come back to Edgy Inspirational Romance tomorrow to see the 2nd half of our interview with Tamara Leigh!

(This interview, by Serena Chase, first appeared in its entirety on USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After.)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Review: SAVING HOPE by Margaret Daley


The fight against human trafficking and teen prostitution may not seem like a place ripe for romance, but in Saving Hope, the latest novel from Margaret Daley, it is. The first in her new Men of the Texas Rangers series, Saving Hope introduces readers to Ranger Wyatt Sheridan, who serves on a task force investigating crimes against children, and Kate Winslow, the director of a home for troubled girls.

HERE'S THE SITCH:

Nine years ago Wyatt Sheridan witnessed his wife's murder. Since then he's dedicated his life to keeping his daughter Maddie safe – and serving the public through his career as a Texas Ranger. Wyatt's latest case lands him at the door of Beacon of Hope, a halfway house facility for teen girls who've walked the seamier streets of life.

Beacon of Hope's director, Kate Winslow, is beside herself with worry over Rose, a young resident who has disappeared. She fears Rose may have been tricked back into the teen prostitution ring that almost took her life and, even though the evidence points to her leaving of her own accord, Kate doesn't believe Rose would ever willingly return to her pimp. But when the van Rose left in is discovered abandoned – and the dead body of another teen is buried in a shallow grave nearby – Kate fears she may be too late to save Rose.

The discovery of a spy among the residents of Beacon of Hope adds to Kate's fears. She wonders if they will ever find Rose alive – but until proved otherwise, she refuses to give up hope.

Working closely together, Kate and Wyatt discover an unexpected attraction to one another as they piece together clues and try to discover where Rose has been taken. But when they begin to close in on the head of the sex trafficking organization, Wyatt's 14-year-old daughter – and Kate – become targets.

It's a race against the clock as Wyatt seeks to protect his daughter from becoming just another statistic – while trying to find the woman who has quickly worked her way into his heart.

HITS & MISSES

There were times I wished the story could have moved a little faster, but the author packs a lot of punch into the last third of the novel and the pace of the story picks up. Perhaps due to that perceived lag in the middle, the drama of those moments is all the more tense. Especially in those last few chapters, this is a hard book to put down.

Although a few of the minor characters seemed a bit one-dimensional, the major players are all-in. Daley does a great job painting the personalities of Kate and Wyatt – and the reluctant pull they both feel toward romance. Their kiss scenes are brief, but the lasting afterglow of each kiss – and the desire it awakens – is what really sells the romance plot of this suspenseful tale.

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ?

Sex trafficking is a very real danger that, sadly, many teens must face every day. Saving Hope does not pussyfoot around the degradation of this injustice, nor does it downplay the physical and emotional perils these girls face.

While reading this novel there were moments that I couldn't help but catalog the "what ifs" of my own daughters' time outside the zone of my protection. Some readers may find that sort of identification with the issue difficult to swallow, but that shouldn't keep them from reading this book. In characters like Kate and Wyatt the author shows the compassion of dedicated professions who've made it their life's work to rescue girls from this fate, proving that hope lives, even within this darkest of human degradations.

(This review first appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Review: DREAMSPELL by Tamara Leigh

Once in a while a book sells itself to me entirely based on its cover art. That's what resulted when I happened upon a picture of Tamara Leigh's new novel. When I saw the cover of Dreamspell, I just had to have it and, after reading the free excerpt on her website, I pretty much drooled until it arrived.

This novel, released on March 20, is available exclusively on Amazon Kindle (app available for other devices) at this time. A proven author of both mainstream and inspy romance, this is Tamara Leigh's first foray into self-publishing … and what a fine foray it is!

HERE'S THE SITCH:

Dr. Kennedy Plain is a sleep disorders specialist, but she doesn't have long to complete her research. An inoperative brain tumor has numbered her days, and chemo treatments have stolen her beauty, her strength and, some days, her ability to think clearly. When Mac, a test subject and Gulf War amputee, wakes up from one of his sessions with a crazy story about discovering a time portal, Kennedy chalks it up to hallucinations, wishful thinking and Mac's frequent habit of teasing her. Soon it becomes clear that Mac is obsessed with the idea of returning to 14th-century England, where he is not only healed of his war injuries, but has been entrusted with a task by the king.

Mac discovers a book naming the people and chronicling the events with which he came in contact in his "dream." He believes he's been charged with saving two medieval boys from a fiery death at the hand of their greedy uncle, Lord Fulke Wynland. He gives the book to Kennedy and asks her to read it. The details are astoundingly accurate to what Mac has described but, ever the scientist, Kennedy believes Mac's subconscious is simply inserting what he's read into his dreams. Mac, however, believes the boys are counting on him; so he pushes the limits of sleep deprivation … with tragic consequences.

Kennedy's health is declining rapidly, and when Mac dies, her program is shut down. She decides to spend her final days continuing her research from home — with herself as the test subject. After several days of sleep deprivation, she dreams of the characters from Mac's hallucinations — and herself within the story, cancer-free. When she wakes up, however, the history book Mac left in her care seems to have been altered. But was it really? Or is she just so tired and sick that she's not remembering what she read as clearly as she could?

Kennedy decides to tackle another test round and … immediately lands back in the arms of the villain Mac so despised.

As her dream research continues, each waking hour finds Kennedy a little more ill than the one before. She aches to return to the dreams where she is healthy, strong … and falling in love with a man who could be a murderer.

HITS & MISSES

The prologue alone sells the romance — and Lord Fulke Wynland as the tortured romantic hero. Written with emotion and a poetic reverence for love, the prologue opens so many questions in the reader's mind that, once you've read that bit of the beginning you can't help but download the rest of the book and dive in.

Tamara Leigh spares no expense fleshing out Kennedy's character, resulting in a heroine who is vibrant, modern, funny, sassy, intelligent … and yet so displaced that she feels a bit like the old friend you used to find in your mirror. She's a sassy one, to be sure; but she has her insecurities — her dark places — as well.

The cancer aspect of her character's struggle (along with amputee Mac's need for wholeness) speaks to the everyman longing to grasp any reason for hope in desperate situations. It is a beautiful thread within the story, and Kennedy's health decline, especially in the scenes with her mother, is heartbreaking. But this book is, by no means, a downer. The author pulls out a lovely, original and perfect Happy Ever After epilogue that makes you want to stand and cheer. (And maybe cry a little, too.)

Through these characters Tamara Leigh taps into every emotional reserve of the reader; not one character is left without a second and third dimension to their personality or clear motivation and reasoning for their actions. There is no entirely villainous villain and no perfectly faultless ingénue or hero, yet all have been touched by the magic of this storyteller's spell. I spent my weekend laughing, crying and falling in love with this story.

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ?

Emotional, funny, romantic and entirely enchanting, Dreamspell is the sort of novel that begs a screenplay. Until the Hollywood honchos respond to my memo and get to it, however, I suggest you get your "apps" in gear and let yourself get caught up in the magic of Dreamspell.


(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's rating:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review: ILLUSION by Frank Peretti


I first heard of Frank Peretti when I was in high school some (mumbles embarrassing number) years ago. A cute boy lent me his copy of This Present Darkness, claiming it to be "wicked awesome" and, since I tended to listen closely to the recommendations of cute boys back then, I read it. Later I bought my own copy so I could read it again. It was that good.

Sadly, the cute boy found someone else to share his books with, but thanks to him, I found an author I can always count on for a good, mind-bending, my-brain-hurts-but-I-love-it read.

Frank Peretti's latest novel, Illusion, is all that – plus a hard-to-put-down love story, as well. I'll admit that the romance is, at times, a little odd – and sometimes uncomfortable – but it's a big part of what makes this novel so undeniably compelling.

HERE'S THE SITCH:

2010: After 40 happy and successful years as Dane & Mandy, a husband and wife magic act, Mandy Collins is killed in a car accident – or so everyone believes. Mourning the death of his wife, Dane retreats to the Idaho ranch they'd purchased for retirement.

1970: Mandy Whitacre is at the county fair. A single college student and amateur magician, Mandy will soon meet up with her friends to watch a magic show put on by a traveling entertainer. With a little time to kill, she sits down under the shade of a tree and … she must've nodded off, because when she opens her eyes she's wearing a hospital gown. The fair is still going on, but … everything is different. It's 2010.

2010: Escaping the mental hospital in which she eventually lands (by tapping into some strange ability to become invisible), Mandy dyes her hair brown, takes on a stage name, Eloise Kramer, and eeks out a living as a street performer while she tries to figure out what in the world has happened to her. On the street one cold day, she crosses paths with Dane Collins, who gives her a few tips on how to improve her act. Those tips encourage her to practice and seem to unlock strange, hidden talents. Soon, even Mandy is amazed at the illusions she is able to perform and becomes a regular entertainer at a local coffeehouse.

Dane comes to the coffeehouse to see Eloise Kramer's act, hardly able to believe this amazing illusionist can be the same amateur magician he met on the street not that long ago. Reluctantly, he agrees to coach her toward greater success. But it's hard to be around Eloise. Even with brown hair, she reminds him so much of the young girl he fell in love with 40 years ago. And Eloise, only 20 years old, can't explain the strange draw she feels toward this kind – but 60-year-old! – man.

Dane isn't the only one nervous about what's going on between him and Eloise. There's the man with the computer who attends her shows, but seems to only watch his screen. And the thugs who, though she escapes, try to do her harm. And the attorney who seems to have so much vested in her success.

Who is Eloise Kramer, really? And who is Mandy Whitacre?

If Mandy and Dane discover the truth, will they be allowed to survive?

HITS & MISSES

Illusion's multiple points of view and tension-filled prose will please fans of Dean Koontz as well as Peretti fans who've had a long wait between books. There are times when, even though the tension remains, the forward motion seems to stall a bit. But Peretti injects little bits of wonder into even those moments – and it compels you to keep reading.

Sometimes I wasn't quite sure in which year "the present" was supposed to be set. But considering the book includes time travel within a 40ish-year contemporary window, a bit of confusion is to be expected and … I'm over it.

This novel proves Peretti's skill as a plot magician. Crafted with all the misdirection its name implies, Illusion keeps you close to the edge of your seat for its entirety, as you wonder how in the world this tangled plot is going to work itself out. Illusion requires a bit of a time commitment to read, so be ready for that, but it's so packed with wonder that you won't want to put it down.

Romance readers will appreciate the depth of a love story that, quite literally, transcends the bonds of time. Nestled within a plot rich with astrophysics, magic, government conspiracies and multidimensional travel, Dane and Mandy's love story is both sweet and … strange. (In a good way.)

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ?

Written as a love-letter-of-sorts to his wife of 40 years, Frank Peretti's Illusion has a cast of visibly present, sympathetic characters whom you can't help but cheer on to the finish – and a love story that captures the imagination, stretches the brain, and wraps itself around your heart.


(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's rating:

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