Ambit Creative


Featured Reviewer - Michelle Pendergrass 

Michelle Pendergrass

My childhood summers were spent riding my bike to the library waiting not-so-patiently for the next Sweet Valley High book. Not too many years passed before I was checking out the latest Stephen King novel. Jekyll and Hyde reading habits? Some things in life are not choices, but rather gifts, and God has blessed me with the dual-mindedness of being able to see the light and the dark.

Decades later, I'm still awaiting new Stephen King novels. And how super-cool would it be for someone to want to read my latest? That's what I'm striving for these days. Writing something worth reading and editing The Midnight Diner in hopes that people like me will find stories of darker fiction with a Christian bent that don't make them roll their eyes.

Meanwhile I started book reviewing way back when T.L. Hines organized the original Christian Fiction Blog Tours in 2005. That organization is now the CFBA, and I've been along for the ride ever since!

Through the Fire by Shawn Grady

Through The Fire

Through the Fire is very well written. It's not all surface, white-picket-fence stuff. There was an underlying theme--and it was good. The author didn't spell out what it was, he let the story tell it's story which indicates a maturity level that gives credit to his readers.

Two things made me read the book. First, the personal correspondence from Shawn. He made an effort. That is huge. Second was the fact he was named "Most Promising New Writer" at Mt. Hermon. When I got the book, I wanted to know who his editor was. Dave Long. I knew at that point, after the alignment of those ingredients that I'd probably finish the book. I knew for sure I'd finish the book when I couldn't stop reading and I was five chapters in. Usually, I get to the third (if I'm lucky) and that's that. Through the Fire was different, though.

The characters were real--which to me is the first thing a story needs to have. None of them seemed cardboard, stereotypical, or out of place. And I didn't roll my eyes once. Not once!

The story was fantastic. It certainly wasn't contrived. I wasn't ever sure of anything and that's a good thing. I shouldn't be able to guess who the culprit is. The tension was great. The internal tension, external tension to the main character's situation, and physical tension with "the girl."

And there were tequila drinking scenes. Wow!

There were a few scenes that didn't forward the story, but considering the fast pace of this book, a break here and there was not annoying.

The use of scripture--really, I loved it. I loved that it wasn't just stuck in there because it had to be. It was part of the story. It is the story.

I have to admit, I thought I'd read this and not be able to give it a good review. There was very little I didn't like.

Reviewed by Michelle Pendergrass of Michelle

Ends Of The Earth by Tim Downs

Ends Of The Earth

We’ve all heard the cliché regarding painting oneself into a corner. Well, Tim Downs has managed to do this with writing sort of on purpose in his latest Bug Man novel Ends of the Earth. Nick Polchak, forensic entomologist who perceives himself as an insect, reigns as crime-solver-extraordinaire where bugs are involved. However, if you want to present the Bug Man with an insurmountable challenge, place him in the company of a woman, and in this case two beautiful women from his past. Female-speak is as foreign to this man as an isolated tribal language. He doesn’t understand it, and he can’t speak it. Not even a little. He uses his boss/mentor Noah Ellison, chairman of the Department of Entomology, and friend FBI Special Agent Nathan Donovan to translate for him. And still fails...

The Bug Man is one of the most amazing, quirky, always irreverent, sometimes innocuous, often cynical, and apparently, in spite of his coke bottle glasses, very attractive characters in literature. He rarely fails to entertain, and it’s interesting to view this character experience the various changes in his life through the process of investigating different crimes, sometimes with and sometimes without FBI Special Agent Donovan.

This particular story places Nick back at NC State in his random professorial mode when he is summoned by Sampson County police, specially requested by an attractive old flame, Kathryn Guilford—now Severenson—from Tim’s first Bug Man novel, Shoofly Pie, because her estranged, drug abusing husband Michael has been murdered in their organic tomato fields on their five acre farm. After learning of the circumstances, Nick calls another attractive woman in Virginia from Tim’s last novel, Less Than Dead, Alena Savard, to assist him with her dogs to find a possible drug cache.

When marijuana is found by Alena’s drug-sniffing dog in the tomato field, insect eggs inhabit the spilled weed. Nick takes them back to the lab at NC State to pinpoint when Michael was murdered. The oddity surrounding the dope and the insects continues to mystify Nick especially when a particular fungus is discovered protruding from the bugs. Finally when the error-proof time of death turns up wrong and a foreign student is murdered in the lab, slowly but surely and with Agent Donovan’s wife’s assistance, he begins to put together a plot intended for agro-terrorism.

In the meantime, sparks fly between his two ladies and himself, there is a near catastrophic event with the neighbor’s corn combines, and an escape by the man responsible for murder, chaos, and the agro-terrorism attempt.

Now back to the writing himself into a corner . . . Tim Downs gives readers like me a “Don’t you dare!” moment at the end, and I’m fairly sure I wasn’t alone in this. I’m going to speak in vagaries here because I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone. Tim takes his character to a new level in this book, and I felt the insecurity of this journey right up to the end. There was a discomfort in the dialogue never before experienced in the Bug Man novels due to the UST taking place, and just as Nick became infuriated by his occasional lack of focus, I do think the story was slightly disjointed, running parallel instead of intersecting most of the way, especially since Nick figured he must detach from one conflict to deal with or address the other. I felt a certain favoritism in Tim’s writing toward one of the characters in the conflict, and it disappointed me. Funny how we get so attached to these “people”. The eventual outcome of this story could radically change future Bug Man novels, so I’ll be standing by to see which direction Tim takes Dr. Nick Polchak in his current conundrum.

Reviewed by Nicole Petrino-Salter at Into The Fire

The Rose Legacy by Kristen Heitzmann

The Rose Legacy


Fleeing her idyllic home in Sonoma, California, Carina Maria DiGratia journeys to the mining town of Crystal, Colorado. Clinging to hopes of a new life, she finds reality has a harsh welcome for her. Overrun with men seeking their fortune and women bound by circumstance, the town hosts both dreams and nightmares, with little surety for tomorrow. But at least here Carina is far from the betrayal that still pierces her heart. Early on, two men vie for her trust, but neither is what he seems. Will Carina discern the truth and confront the turmoil hidden in her own heart in time to prevent tragedy?

My Take:

I have been a huge fan of Kristen Heitzmann’s contemporary novels for several years and have probably read most of them. I have quite a few of her historicals on my bookshelf but for some reason (maybe too many books!) have not got around to reading any of them. I am so glad that Bethany House offered me a copy of The Rose Legacy to review because I will now make it a point to read the others I have.

The primary character Carina is quite the spunky lady who decides to make a life for herself in Crystal, Colorado after a heartbreaking betrayal by her fiance. Upon her arrival in Crystal, she finds that everything is far different from what was presented in the advertisement she answered. As she settles into life in Crystal, two very different men become involved in her life. Neither man is what he seems on the surface – but then Carina is not exactly what they expect either.

The Rose Legacy is a beautifully written novel with plenty of danger, drama, suspense, romance, and even a little humor. The historical element is enlightening and the reader can easily imagine herself back in the days of an early mining town. I highly recommend this book and all others by the author.

Reviewed by Pamela Morrisson at Daysong Reflections