Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review of The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis from Bethany House: Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field.

Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.

Review: Jody Hedlund emerged last year with the riveting and emotional novel,The Preacher's Bride.  Her newest book, The Doctor's Lady, is infused with the historical detail, excitement, and depth that made The Preacher's Bride such a memorable read.  Hedlund has a remarkable talent of integrating true stories with elements of fiction to embellish the plot.  The Author's Note at the end of the novel added extra substance to an already poignant story.  Priscilla's journey as the first white woman to travel West is not just a fanciful musing of an author's imagination; it is based on actual events from the diary of Narcissa Whitman.  
The first 90 pages of The Doctor's Lady are set on the east coast and focus on the preparations for the journey West.  Once Priscilla, Eli, and their travel companions begin their trek, the plot picks up speed and reveals unexpected dangers, challenges, and blessings.  It is very easy to romanticize the past and the life of the brave pioneers who ventured into uncharted territory. Hedlund reminds readers of the hardships that Westward travelers faced, without creating a plot that is too sad or heavy.  The marriage-of-convenience concept is common in historical fiction novels, but the setting of The Doctor's Lady offer a fresh background. Watching the restrained love develop between Priscilla and Eli enhances the plot with just the right amount of romance. 
After several long and arduous months, Priscilla's and Eli's journey ends.  During the novel they  each grow individually and as a couple, risking their lives to follow their calling. From the first page to the very last page, The Doctor's Lady is a finely crafted novel.  The last two pages in particular showed Priscilla's growth from a sheltered and idealistic woman to a stronger, more open-minded woman. The conclusion is fully satisfying, tying up the story contained within the pages of the novel, while connecting it with the events mentioned in the Author's Note
I highly recommend both The Doctor's Lady and The Preacher's Bride, especially for fans of historical fiction.  I will wait with anticipation for Jody Hedlund's next novel!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above 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.”
The Doctor's Lady

Our Next Great Read...A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander

We just received our review copy of Tamera Alexander's newest novel, A Lasting Impression.  Our first impression is that the cover design is stunning.  The title is written across the front in a metallic blue color that shimmers in the light.  We are also excited that the novel is set in the historic Belmont Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee, which we visited a few years ago.  It is always fun to read a novel set in a home that you have visited.

Here are a few photos from our trip to the antebellum Belmont mansion:

Here are some photos of another mansion in Nashville, Belle Meade Plantation.  Yet another example of antebellum beauty.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review of Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson

Rating: 4 Stars
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Synopsis from Kregel Publications: This homecoming wasn’t what she expected . . .
Jobless, homeless, and broke, Camden Bristow decides to visit the grandmother she hasn’t seen in years. But when Camden arrives in Etherton, Ohio, she discovers that her grandmother has passed away, leaving her the 150-year-old mansion on Crescent Hill. The site of her happiest summers as a child, the run-down mansion is now her only refuge.

When Camden finds evidence that she may not be the mansion’s only occupant, memories of Grandma Rosalie’s bedtime stories about secret passageways and runaway slaves fuel her imagination. What really happened at Crescent Hill? Who can she turn to for answers in this town full of strangers? And what motivates the handsome local Alex Yates to offer his help? As she works to uncover the past and present mysteries harbored in her home, Camden uncovers
deep family secrets within the mansion’s walls that could change her life—and the entire town—forever.

Click Here to read an excerpt! 

Review: The cover of Melanie Dobson's novel, Refuge on Crescent Hill, evokes the mysterious aura that lingers, almost tangibly, until the last page.  The grand home on Crescent Hill is a primary character in the novel, and she shines with a faded beauty through the dust and peeling paint. Dobson speaks of Crescent Hill in rich detail, drawing the reader in to uncover its past and present secrets. Each of the main and secondary characters is somehow tied to the house, and their lives entwine in unexpected ways.  Like any good suspense, there are good guys, bad guys, victims, and heroes.  There is little mystery as to who is good and who is bad; their loyalties are fairly clear from the beginning of the novel.  Dobson tells the story from several different perspectives: Camden Bristow, Alex Yates, Jake Paxton, and Stephanie Ellison-Carter.  Each chapter is comprised of various scenes, each told from the viewpoint of a different main character.  A scene often ends right before something is revealed,  which moves the plot at a steady pace to keep the reader interested. 

As a fan of historic homes and history, the setting of this novel is the highlight for me.  Although the plot is modern day, its focus on the past provides just the right amount of historic elements.  The connection of the house to the Underground Railroad differentiates the Refuge on Crescent Hill from other novels.  I've read books set during the Civil War and the years of slavery, but have seen little mention of the Underground Railroad.  It is inspiring to read about the sacrifices the families made in the quest and fight for freedom.  I enjoyed looking at the photos of the real house that inspired the story on Melanie Dobson's website. 

The romance element is quite small in this novel.  It is primarily a mystery, but is also story about love and sacrifice.  There is ultimately romantic interest between Camden and Alex, but the development of their relationship is not a primary focus.  There were moments in the story that I wanted more depth.  I did not feel entirely connected to the characters, but I enjoyed this book nonetheless.  Refuge on Crescent Hill is a page-turner until the end. 
About the Author: Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of The Black Cloister; Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana; and Together for Good. A former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family, Melanie has worked in the fields of journalism and publicity for more than eighteen years. She and her family live in Oregon.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above 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.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review of Forsaking All Others by Allison Pittman

Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis from Tyndale: Camilla Fox is alive. The last thing she remembers is being lost in the snow after leaving her home to escape the Mormon faith she no longer calls her own. She’s been taken in by the 5th Infantry Regiment of the US Army and given over to the personal care of Captain Charles Brandon. As she regains her strength, memories of her two children she had to leave behind come flooding back, threatening to break her heart. Camilla is determined to reunite with her daughters. But when news of her father’s grave illness reaches her, she knows she must return to the family farm to reconcile with her father. As spring arrives, Camilla returns to Salt Lake City a changed woman, but nothing could prepare her for the changes to the city, to the Mormon church, and to the family she left behind.

Review: I have been anticipating the release of Forsaking All Others since reading For Time and Eternity last year.  Allison Pittman never fails to produce a five star novel; each of her books have a permanent home on my bookshelf.  Forsaking All Others continues Camilla Fox's story seamlessly, beginning at the point where For Time and Eternity ended. Told in first person, the novel reads like a diary.  We are privy to Camilla's most personal emotions, doubts, fears, and her ever growing faith. Camilla's story is bittersweet  with a sadness that lingers throughout the plot. Her circumstances are difficult and much of the novel focuses on Camilla's quest to save her daughters and reconcile with her parents.  Despite the degree of heaviness to the plot, Pittman engages the reader with poignant writing.  Pittman has created a timeless and memorable heroine in Camilla, who exhibits an inspiring strength by grasping the truth of her Christian faith even when it requires her to travel a difficult path.

Allison Pittman is a standout in her genre. Her novels offer fresh plots with emotional depth, realistic characters, a strong Christian element, and a message that remains even after other books are long forgotten.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review of His Steadfast Love by Golden Keyes Parsons

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Synopsis from Thomas Nelson: The Civil War - a defining time of great sacrifice, change, and betrayal which determined the fate of the Nation.

It isn’t until it comes into her very home that Amanda Belle must face impossible choices of love, loss, and loyalty.  It's the spring of 1861 on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Although Amanda never thought she would marry because of her promise she made to her dying mother, her attraction to Captain Kent Littlefield is undeniable.
When Texas secedes from the Union, her brother Daniel marches off to war to fight for the Confederate States and Kent remains with the Union troops. Her heart is torn between the two men she loves and the two sides of the conflict. When she turns to God for help, Amanda expects direction and support, but hears nothing. Is God listening to her anymore? Where is God in the atrocities of war—and whose side is He on?
Amanda senses her life is at a turning point. But she must trust God to bring her family through the chaos that threatens her home, her family, and the beloved state of Texas . . . with her heart, and her faith, intact.

Review: His Steadfast Love is the third novel that I have read in the past few weeks relating to the Civil War era.  Each story has brought to life different aspects of the war and its effects on the nation and its people.  In her latest novel, Golden Keyes Parsons delves into America's tumultuous years when friends and neighbors turned into enemies on the battlefield.  The plot begins in 1860, just before the start of the war and concludes at the war's end. As a result, readers see the struggles, heartaches, and uncertainties that families faced during four long years.  We also see examples of bravery and forgiveness.  It is important to remember both aspects of the war that divided the nation, and Parsons nicely combines loss and triumph.  
Amanda is caught between her love for her Southern family and her love for her Northern beau, Kent.  During much of the novel she is torn by loyalty to the South and her feelings for Kent, who suddenly becomes labeled as the enemy. The love between Amanda and Kent develops quite rapidly at the beginning of the novel.  A few months pass between their initial meeting in September 1860 and Kent's departure. Unfortunately, the jump did not allow me to witness the development of their feelings for each other.  The steadfastness of their love for one another is touching and is an example of bravery itself.  

Parsons integrates loss into the fabric of His Steadfast Love as well.  Some deaths occurred suddenly and in within a few pages of each other, leaving me stunned.  Again, I felt that the jump of a few months from chapter to chapter disconnected me from the characters' grief and their healing process.  Through the various losses, injuries, and uncertain futures, Parsons illustrates the importance of maintaining one's faith despite hardships.  Amanda questions her faith during the war, as many people undoubtedly did, but she ultimately reclaims it along with happiness. 

His Steadfast Love has strong qualities and offers a glimpse into the Civil War era. Parsons sets the plot in Texas, a state not often focused upon in Civil War novels.  The setting was refreshing, but I felt a distance from the characters at times. I had difficulty delving into the novel, especially during the first half.  The historical content is a clear strength and Parsons takes the reader on an journey from family parlors, to prisons, to battlefields.    

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through their book review program.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above 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.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Band Perry Live in Concert!

Photo from (Photo Credit: Ivan Clow, Courtesy of Republic Nashville)

We recently had the opportunity to see one of our favorite country bands in concert: The Band Perry!  We have mentioned them a few times on our blog and featured their vintage-inspired videos. During the past year we've played their CD countless times and downloaded their songs into the music player on our Kindle.
After learning that The Band Perry would be playing near us, we were all anticipation until the show started.  From beginning to end, it was a fantastic show.  Before The Band Perry came on stage, a sound clip played what has become their slogan of sorts: "Daddy rocked us to sleep with the Rolling Stones; Mama woke us up with Loretta Lynn. So we get it honest...We're The Band Perry and we play country music."   The concert backed up their declaration and proved that they are an authentic addition to the country music world. 
The playlist for the night included many of the songs from their self-titled CD released last year. They also introduced some new music, which made us hungry for their next CD whenever it is released.  The familial harmonies between Kimberly, Reid, and Nick were showcased during an acoustic portion of the show, during which they performed a melody of famous American/rock songs, as well as a rendition of Amazing Grace
Kimberly described herself as the "spitfire" of the group. She brought a ton of energy to the stage.  Her true passion for music and songwriting shined through in her performance.  Unlike many stars today, Kimberly seemed approachable and real with an honest love for country music. 
Together The Band Perry exhibits incredible talent, and the "x factor."  Their most popular single to date, If I Die Young, just went Triple Platinum. They are currently nominated for 5 CMAs and 3 AMAs.  We are hoping they claim a few victories and continue to play their country music. 
Don't miss their performance this coming up Tuesday, October 18th on the Dancing with the Stars results show on ABC!
Here are links to their videos on our blog: All Your Life VideoIf I Die Young Video.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review of A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Synopsis from WaterBrook Multnomah: A house shrouded in time. A line of women with a heritage of loss.
As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesn’t believe that Susannah’s ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.

When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husband’s home, it isn’t long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.

With Adelaide’s richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak— and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.   

Review: A Sound Among the Trees is yet another masterfully blended tale of the past and present. Susan Meissner never fails to give her readers the best of both worlds in seamlessly integrated and fully developed plots. A Sound Among the Trees is a captivating, poignant, and occasionally haunting novel.  Meissner builds her latest story around Holly Oak, an antebellum mansion in the charming town of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The plot begins in present day, enrapturing us with remnants of the past that reside within the home’s four walls. Lifelong Holly Oak resident, Adelaide, and her new granddaughter in-law, Marielle, are the focus of the first half of the novel.  Adelaide’s impressions of the mansion and its past have been formed over a lifetime, which has been defined by loss. Like Marielle, we view the house from a new perspective and are left to sort through the mysteries and “ghosts” that have become a tangible part of the home.

Meissner divides the first half of the novel into five parts: The Garden, The Parlor, The Studio, The Cellar, and Holly Oak.  The garden, parlor, studio, and cellar are important places in the mansion’s existence.  Their history resonates through the pages, and they are more fully brought to life when Meissner switches to the perspective of Holly Oak’s most pivotal Civil War resident and source of much speculation, Susannah Page.  Susannah’s story is told through a sequence of unguarded letters to her cousin.  I was completely engrossed in Susannah tale of love, loss, and bravery.  Meissner’s skill as a story-teller shines in the poetical narrative.  Despite the passage of more than a century, Susannah is still very much a part of Adelaide’s life and the presence of the mansion.  Her letters provide an insight into the truth of her life and her values.  As a character, she is fully developed, despite her perspective accounting for less than half of the novel.   

Adelaide offers a prime example of how years of misconceptions can cloud our view of the present and cripple our outlook on life.  She places Holly Oak in a position of power and lets it define her life.  From the first chapter, we learn that Adelaide, Marielle, and their families, have struggles to overcome.  The past defines Adelaide’s present life and the weight of her superstitions have implications in the lives of others who live at Holly Oak.  As the characters embrace the truth and let go of their fears, readers are left with a satisfying ending, full of promise.  But like real life, not everything is perfect, but Holly Oak becomes a place of peace.

As someone who loves historic homes, I loved this novel. A Sound Among the Trees sings an enchanting melody of love and truth. I highly recommend it!

A Sound Among the Trees is available for purchase at the following locations:
Christian Book DistributorsAmazonBarnes & Noble

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Multnomah/ WaterBrook Press through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above 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.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review of ReMatch & MatchPoint by Erynn Mangum

 Total Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis of the Books from 

  • ReMatch - Lauren Holbrook believes that God matched couples before time began, but some just require a coordinated introduction. No one plays love connection better than Lauren, an undercover Cupid on a mission to connect clueless friends! The next couple in waiting? Brandon and Hannah, two unsuspecting pals who are perfect for each other in every way. They just don't realize it yet. But as Lauren grows closer to her friend Ryan, and her single father unexpectedly falls in love, she discovers the joy found in trusting God's perfect plan instead of her own.
  • MatchPoint - Now that she's successfully matched four couples, Lauren Holbrook is wondering if she'll always be the bridesmaid and never the . . . or will she finally admit that she and Ryan are more than "good friends"? But handsome Keller Stone may try to convince her otherwise. A riotous, romantic conclusion to Mangum's caffeine-laced series!
Review: I went on a reading spree this weekend and finished Erynn Mangum's addictive and funny Lauren Holbrook series.  It was time well spent.  I decided to read ReMatch and MatchPoint together, like one novel.  After I completed ReMatch I was very anxious to finish Lauren's story, and I was not disappointed. Both of the novels contain the same humor, match-making schemes, quirky characters, Jane Austen discussions, and infusion of chocolate and coffee that were so endearing in MissMatch. One of my friends described the series as "cute,"  which is an accurate description.  Each novel is a fun and fast read with a refreshing element of youthfulness. Lauren matures throughout ReMatch and MatchPoint; and with her maturity, we see more introspection.  We see her struggle with the concept of growing up, something to which many 20-somethings can relate.  

MatchPoint offers a wonderful balance between humor and tenderness.  Lauren finds herself the subject of matchmaking schemes, which made me laugh. Ryan and Lauren are a comedic duo with an endearing relationship.  Of course, the big question is will Lauren and Ryan become more than "just friends?" Lauren faces various changes and challenges throughout both novels, but lightens every situation up with her trademark wit and wackiness.  After three novels, the ending of MatchPoint left me completely satisfied, the perfect conclusion to the trilogy.  It was not rushed, but brewed to sweet and warming perfection, a quality that Lauren so loves in her coffee. 

The Grand Old State Fair

Something about the chill in the air makes me long for an old-fashioned state fair, which brings to mind the State Fair musical from 1945. I wonder how closely the musical mimicked real state fairs of the past.  Were they really the appealing mixture of charm, fun, and sophistication that I attribute to the fairs of yesterday or did they closely resemble the fairs of today? Did women really wear nice dresses and heels and the men suits and ties? The fashion has changed, without a doubt.  But, there is an element of the past in the present with  livestock, agricultural, and craft competitions...and somethings never change: the food, the occasional obnoxious vendors, and the buzz of energy in the air.

State fairs and local fairs are traditions for families and communities. There is history in tradition, which is the common thread to the past and the future.  Even though clothes, rides, and events might change, the infamous state fairs still offer the excitement and family atmosphere that past generations enjoyed and future ones will too.


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