2016 Book 169: SAVING ABBY by Steena Holmes

Saving Abby by Steena Holmes
ISBN: 9781503934160 (paperback)
ASIN: B016A31ZWW (Kindle version)
Publication Date: May 31, 2016 
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

All children’s book illustrator Claire Turner ever wanted was to be a mother. After six years of trying to conceive, she and her husband, Josh, have finally accepted that she will never be pregnant with a child of their own.

Yet once they give up hope, the couple gets the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For the first few months of her pregnancy, Claire and Josh are living on cloud nine. But when she begins to experience debilitating headaches, blurred vision, and even fainting spells, the soon-to-be mother goes to the doctor and receives a terrifying diagnosis. Since any treatment could put their unborn baby’s life at risk, the Turners must carefully weigh their limited options. And as her symptoms worsen, Claire will have to make an impossible decision: Save her own life, or save her child’s?

USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Steena Holmes brings us an unforgettable story of one woman’s courage and love.

Claire Turner has almost everything anyone could want: a job she loves, a spouse she’s head-over-heels in love with and who’s in love with her, a beautiful home, loving and supportive friends, and a loving parent. The only thing she doesn’t have is a child with her husband. The overwhelming desire for a child and the steps she’ll take to ensure the safety of an unborn child are at the center of Saving Abby by Steena Holmes.

Claire Turner presumed, as did her parents, that because she had an unremarkable pregnancy as a teenager, it would be easy for her to become pregnant later in life. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. Claire and Josh have been married for more than six years and even after in vitro attempts there’s been no viable pregnancy. Since Claire and Josh work together on children’s books — Josh writes the story and Claire illustrates them — they do a whirlwind tour of Europe to spark creative ideas for their stories. Upon their return home, Claire is struck by extreme fatigue and excruciatingly painful headaches. After being checked by her friend and doctor it is found that her fatigue is due to a pregnancy. A few months go by and the headaches are unrelenting and it is discovered that Claire has a brain tumor. Treatment isn’t possible during her pregnancy, so she two choices: wait until she can deliver her baby, saving the baby’s life and endangering her own, or pursue treatment saving her life and endangering her unborn child.

You might think that Saving Abby is a dark read because of the subject matter and you’d be wrong. Ms. Holmes has the uncanny ability to take dark themes and imbue them with light and hope. Her characters are realistic and relatable. The situations are easily taken from real life and don’t seem fantastical or farfetched. Yes, there are some serious issues dealt with in Saving Abby – child mortality versus parent mortality, cancer mortality, and more, but all are presented in a respectful manner. If you’re the type of person that enjoys reading HEAs (hopeful ever after), then you’ll definitely want to read Saving Abby. This was another enjoyable Steena Holmes reading experience for me and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Disclaimer: I purchased a digital copy of this book. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Saving Abby

2015 Book 370: THE WORD GAME by Steena Holmes

The Word Game by Steena Holmes 
ISBN: 9781503947139 (paperback)

ISBN: 9781503949430 (hardcover)

ASIN: B00V1YIYF2 (Kindle edition)

Publication date: November 3, 2015 
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

For overprotective parent Alyson Ward, any time her daughter, Lyla, is out of sight is reason to panic. So it’s a big step for her when she lets Lyla attend a sleepover at her cousin’s house. Comforted by the knowledge that her sister, Tricia, is the chaperone, Alyson does the one thing she never thought possible: she lets go and trusts that her daughter will be safe.

But Alyson’s sense of peace is short lived. When Lyla comes home the next morning, she reveals something that could tear apart not only their family but also the entire community. Now, Alyson and Tricia must confront their painful shared past as they come together to help a little girl who they fear might be harboring terrible secrets similar to their own. Will the sisters be strong enough to face their demons in order to protect the child, even if it means telling their most private truths? 

Alyson “Aly” Ward is the quintessential helicopter mom. She’s not overbearing, but she is overly protective and hyper-vigilant about her daughter and her daughter’s activities. Aly’s behavior stems from a childhood incident involving a neighbor and an attempted molestation. In Aly’s mind, this event was made even worse because her mother didn’t really believe her accusations. Now Aly must decide whether to err on the side of caution or do what must be done to protect another child in The Word Game by Steena Holmes.

Although Aly is considered a helicopter mom, she isn’t a tiger mom always making excuses for her child no matter the occasion. Aly trusts her daughter and knows that she wouldn’t lie about events that took place at her sister’s house during a sleep over. When Aly seeks to gain more insight from her sister, Tricia, and niece, Katy, she’s immediately placed on the offensive. Aly’s only recourse is to ask for advice from her friend, Rachel, who just happens to be the principal at the elementary school. What happens next is much more than a she-said versus she-said event or one person rushing to judgment; it is the emotional and physical health and well-being of a young child at stake. Has Aly jumped to conclusions? How far is too far when a child’s safety is a stake? Will her efforts to protect a child from a potentially abusive relationship cause irreparable harm to not only the family of the child in question but to her family as well? 

The Word Game is a touching story about one community and child molestation. Aly is an overprotective mom, but she has good cause to be concerned as she was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Yes, she may have leaped to conclusions in the past about certain situations, but she’s always done what she feels is the right thing to do in order to protect children that might be in a harmful situation. Aly is not only fighting against her family in order to protect a possibly endangered girl, but she’s also fighting against her memories of the past. The Word Game deals with some harsh topics, namely child molestation, but it does so in a respectful manner without providing graphic details. This in no way lessens the emotional horror felt on behalf of a young child dealing with sexual abuse. Ms. Holmes has once again provided a stirring story that packs an emotional wallop without detracting from its readability. Is it possible to enjoy reading a story that deals with such a horrific topic? Yes, it is, especially when it is done tastefully and Ms. Holmes has done just that with The Word Game.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley and BookSparks PR. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Stillwater Rising (Stillwater Bay #1) by Steena Holmes
ISBN: 9781477825150 (paperback)
ASIN: B00JEOZE2C (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 11, 2014
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

After losing her son in an elementary school shooting that devastates the tight-knit community of Stillwater Bay, Jennifer Crowne finds herself unable to settle back into her role of perfect stay-at-home mom and committee organizer. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mayor Charlotte Stone, struggles to keep the town together, and Charlotte’s husband, the school principal, may not be the hero everyone thinks him to be.

As they try to heal from this irrevocable trauma, Jenn and Charlotte find themselves at a crossroads within the town and within their friendship. For Jenn, broken and grieving, there is no going back, and she demands that the school be closed so that she can bury the past. Yet Charlotte is equally desperate to hold the town together, fighting the school closure and helping the shooter’s mother regain her place in the community. Jenn and Charlotte’s relationship is put to the ultimate test as each weighs her own interests against the bonds of their friendship.

It’s hard to imagine the heartbreak of a parent that has lost a child. What’s even more unimaginable is when that loss is at the hands of another child. We’ve all read headlines or listened to stories about the horror of school shootings. Even though we may empathize with the families, it is difficult to imagine the pain the families feel or how they can ever learn to live with their grief and heartbreak. Stillwater Rising is a story of one town’s struggle to survive in the face of such tragedy and loss.

Ms. Holmes has presented a story that not only shines a light on the tragedy of school shootings, but shows how the fictional small town of Stillwater Bay bands together to survive. At the heart of the story are three women: the mother of one of murdered children, Jennifer Crowne; the mayor of the town and wife to the school principal, Charlotte Stone; the mother of the murderer, Julia Berry. Jennifer is in deep mourning over the loss of her youngest child, Bobby. She used to be an active member of the community, but is struggling to survive each day without her son. Charlotte is trying to be there for her town, her friends, and her husband. She’s also struggling to provide some semblance of normality for the town by being strong. There are some that feel she doesn’t understand because she isn’t a parent and didn’t suffer a direct loss as a result of the tragedy. Julia Berry is another parent struggling with grief, but also with guilt. It is her son that perpetrated this atrocity and she feels that she must be responsible since she was his parent. In addition to her guilt and grief, she is also struggling with a serious health condition. As a direct result of her guilt, she has become a hermit and has confined herself to her home. All three of these women are dealing with their own sense of guilt over that fateful day. One feels the answer is to shutter the school, tear it down, and build a memorial to honor those lost. One feels that closing the school isn’t the answer as it will put the teachers and staff out of work and harm the economy of the town. The other is simply overwhelmed by her guilt and feels that she should run away from Stillwater Bay in order to allow the other grieving families peace and space. 

Stillwater Rising wasn’t an easy read but it was a touching story about recovering from an impossible loss. The characters were realistic and the action wholly plausible. I find it difficult to quantify Stillwater Rising in any specific genre other than contemporary fiction. This isn’t a lighthearted read, but it is a powerful story about hope and survival in the face of tragedy. I don’t know if this is the type of story for everyone, but it definitely left this reader with the sense that people can work together to overcome their worst nightmare. The healing may not take place in a few months, or even a few years, but with hope and respect for one another it is possible. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Stillwater Deep, as I want to watch this community continue to heal.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley and BookSparks PR. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: THE MEMORY CHILD by Steena Holmes

The Memory Child by Steena Holmes
ISBN:  9781477818428 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781477868423 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00FG6AF4Y (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: March 18, 2014

When Brian finds out that his wife, Diane, is pregnant, he is elated. He’s been patiently waiting for twelve years to become a father. But Diane has always been nervous about having children because of her family’s dark past. The timing of the pregnancy also isn’t ideal – Diane has just been promoted, and Brian is being called away to open a new London office for his company. 

Fast-forward one year: being a mother has brought Diane a sense of joy that she’d never imagined and she’s head over heels for her new baby, Grace. But things are far from perfect: Brian has still not returned from London, and Diane fears leaving the baby for even a moment. As unsettling changes in those around Diane began to emerge, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. 

A woman’s dark past collides head-on with her mysterious present in this surreal and gripping family drama.

Brian and Diane seem to have the perfect relationship. They’ve been married for 12 years and both enjoy their chosen careers. Brian’s in a job that requires him to travel a minimum of 30 weeks each year. Diane is a workaholic in a career that she loves. Her hard work has definitely paid off because she’s just been named CEO of her company. Although Brian and Diane have discussed having a child, Diane is wary of pregnancy due to her mother’s history with postpartum psychoses. A pregnancy at this time in her life is the last thing she wants. Brian is ecstatic at the notion of becoming a father. Can this loving couple resolve their issues and make the transition from a loving couple to a loving family of three?

I found The Memory Child to be a fast-paced read. I kept turning the pages to find out how things end. The story is revealed in alternating versions as told by Diane and Brian. I had some difficulty at first resolving the two different Dianes portrayed in the story. The antepartum Diane is a headstrong (yet not stubborn), resolute and a hardworking career woman and loving wife. The postpartum Diane is emotionally fragile and seems to be overly afraid of everything. However, as I continued to read the two seemingly different Dianes gradually merged into one.

The Memory Child is not a happy story, but it did provide a fascinating glimpse into postpartum depression and the more severe postpartum psychosis. I really liked and came to admire the antepartum Diane and Brian, and empathized with their postpartum difficulties. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the nurse/nanny character Nina but came to like her by the end. The Memory Child has been described as a gripping family drama and it is exactly that. If you enjoy well-written, intense stories about survival mixed with family drama and romance (yes it is possible to have romance even after 12 years of marriage), then you’ll definitely want to add The Memory Child to your reading list. You may also want to keep a box of tissues handy.

Disclaimer: I received a print copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via SparkPoint Studio. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About the author:

Steena Holmes grew up in a small town in Canada and holds a bachelor’s degree in theology. She is the author of eleven novels and novellas, including Finding Emma, for which she was awarded a National Indie Excellence Book Award in 2012. She currently lives in Calgary with her husband and three daughters, and loves to wake up to the Rocky Mountains each morning.

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Book 186: EMMA’S SECRET Review

Emma’s Secret by Steena Holmes
ISBN:  9781477800669 (paperback)
ASIN:  B00BAZ4YBK (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 25, 2013 
Publisher: Amazon Publishing

For two years, Megan, Peter, and their two older daughters, Alexis and Hannah, dream of nothing but being reunited with the family’s youngest child, Emma, who was kidnapped just before her third birthday. When Emma is miraculously found living with an elderly couple just miles from the family’s home, they are hopeful that her return will heal the wounds her disappearance created.

But Emma is vastly different from the sunny toddler they remember. She barely remembers her parents or her older sisters. She is quiet and withdrawn, and, worst of all, longs for the very people who kidnapped her.

Megan is consumed with bitterness, while Peter works later and later nights in the company of his gorgeous business partner. And in the middle of everything, Megan’s best friend has become suddenly distant and secretive.

Then a chance encounter in town leads to a secret that changes everything again for Emma. And Peter must decide between the happiness of his youngest daughter and the trust of his family.

In the first book in this series, Finding Emma, three-year-old Emma was abducted from her neighborhood, if not front yard, two years ago. During her absence, her family literally went through hell. Emma’s oldest sister Hannah felt guilty since she was supposed to have locked the front door. Her other sister, Alexis, has felt lost and forgotten as the proverbial middle child. Emma’s mother had made it her mission in life to search for Emma and bring her safely back home. Emma’s father Peter felt as if his family was slowly disintegrating as they struggled to become a smaller family unit. Fortunately for them all, Emma was found and returned. Now it is time for the family to come back together and try to heal the wounds from the past two years. Is it really possible to move on and completely ignore the past?

I actually enjoyed reading both Finding Emma and Emma’s Secret. There aren’t any true bad guys in this story. The abductor was an older woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Dottie, who mistakenly thought she had found her granddaughter wandering the streets. Dottie’s husband, Jack’s only crime was in loving a child he thought was his grandchild. Now that child has been torn from another loving home, with her much loved Papa, and returned to her mother, father and sisters. Needless to say there are a lot of adjustments that must be made, for everyone. Emma’s mother – Megan, assumes that she can obliterate the past two years from her memory and rejoice in having her youngest daughter home. Unfortunately she also presumes that Emma will be able to erase those two years as well. She doesn’t recognize, or perhaps simply isn’t able to accept and recognize, that her daughter truly loved her surrogate grandparents. This becomes a major bone of contention between Megan and Peter and causes undue hardship for Emma and her reconciliation with her birth family.

I thought both stories were quite realistic, but I’ve got to say that I didn’t particularly care for Megan. In both stories she was more concerned with her feelings and her wants than she was about her husband or children’s feelings, wants or needs. I felt that she was in dire need of help. Regrettably she only goes to therapy a few times and it seems only to complain and receive praise for her feelings and actions. It is because of Megan’s behavior that Peter felt it necessary to go behind her back to ensure Emma’s happiness even if it meant making Megan unhappy. Emma’s Secret is filled with a lot of drama, secrets revealed, and soul-searching. I absolutely adored the children and even felt for Jack and Dottie (Dottie’s story is revealed through journal entries). If you enjoy family-centric stories, then I suggest you grab a copy of both Finding Emma and Emma’s Secret. These are both fast-paced reads and will provide for some wholesome reading pleasure.

Disclaimer: I received a print copy of this book free for review purposes via BookSparks PR. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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