Friday, December 30, 2011

Review of Before the Scarlet Dawn by Rita Gerlach

Rating: 4 Stars
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Synopsis from Abingdon Press: In 1775, Hayward Morgan, a young gentleman destined to inherit his father’s estate in Derbyshire, England, captures the heart of the local vicar’s daughter, Eliza Bloome. Her dark beauty and spirited ways are not enough to win him, due to her station in life.   

Circumstances throw Eliza in Hayward’s path, and they flee to America to escape the family conflicts. But as war looms, it's a temporary reprieve. Hayward joins the revolutionary forces and what follows is a struggle for survival, a test of faith, and the quest to find lasting love in an unforgiving wilderness.

Review: After reading Rita Gerlach's first novel, Surrender the Wind, I was excited to discover her newest book Before the Scarlet Dawn, which will be released in February 2012.  This was one of the rare times that I did not read the synopsis before reading the novel, so I did not know what to expect of the plot.  However, even for those readers who do read the publisher's summary, they will not be prepared for the unexpected turn of events as the story weaves its course through the pages.  

Gerlach's characters are realistically flawed and make both good and bad decisions.  Particular characters frustrated me and maddened me with their reactions.  There were moments that made me want to jump into the novel and ask "Can't you see the error of your ways?"  Such moments added depth to the novel that I appreciated.  There were other times that I felt significant events were skimmed over or characters' reactions were presented in a more factual rather than an emotional manner.  Likewise, some dialogue seemed a bit formal and stilted.  Overall the novel flowed at a steady pace and kept me turning the pages and wondering what would happen next.  I truly had no idea how the novel would conclude. 

Bittersweet best describes the mood of Before the Scarlet Dawn; it left me with the hope of a happy conclusion but with the sadness of broken dreams and shattered relationships.  The last half of the novel really gripped me, and the last page left me wanting more pages to answer my lingering questions.  Fortunately, Gerlach is working on Books 2 and 3 of the Daughters of the Potomac series.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Abingdon Press.  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.”

Our Top 11 of 2011: Part 2

Our top 5 books of 2011 are novels that we savor and will read multiple times to rediscover their treasures.

Allison Pittman

Allison Pittman

Lynn Austin

Laura Frantz

Tamera Alexander

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Preview of Downton Abbey Season 2

Watch Season 1 December 18, 2011-January 1, 2012. Season 2 premieres on January 8, 2012. For more information, click here.

Watch Downton Abbey I Wonder Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Top Eleven of 2011...

Without a doubt we have read many enjoyable books this year, and it is difficult to narrow them down and says which is our number one favorite.  Since my sister and I have very similar reading tastes, we often rank the stories very closely.  Numbers 6-11 are page-turners that we highly recommend, and we may re-visit in the coming years.  The remaining five will be forthcoming and represent the top five because they are definite keepers that will re-read again!  Here are six of our top eleven of 2011:

Review of Smitten by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, & Denise Hunter

Our Rating:  4 Stars
Synopis from Thomas Nelson:  Four friends devise a plan to turn Smitten, Vermont, into the country's premier romantic getaway-and each finds her own true love along the way.
With Smitten Lumber closing, residents wonder if their town can stay afloat. Then four friends and local business owners-Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese--decide the town is worth saving. How will they do it? They'll turn Smitten into a honeymoon destination!
As Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese work to save the town, each discovers romance in her own life. Meanwhile, the faith of a little child reminds the whole town what it means to have real faith in the God who is the always and forever Love.
Discover a novel written by four of Christian fiction's most popular romance novelists- friends in real life who've drawn an amazing story of four friends! Includes a Reading Group Guide as well as "Conversation over Coffee with the Authors".
Review:  I have to admit that sometimes I am a bit weary about reading a collection of inspirational fiction short stories because past experience has shown me that the characters can be somewhat one-dimensional and lack plot development.  However, when I saw the authors who had contributed to Smitten, I decided that this particular collection may well be worth my time.  I have enjoyed books from each of the authors in the past; and like the introduction  and acknowledgments explain,  Smitten is a work that developed as a result of their friendship.  
As the authors state,  elements of each of the four friends' personalities mirror their own.  It is this real-life friendship that creates one seamless story about the trials, support, laughter, and love among friends and community members in Smitten, Vermont.  Although each short story focuses on one of the four friends, Natalie, Julia, Shelby, or Reese, it progresses through the year as the town rallies to save the town by transforming it into a romantic destination.  As a reader, I relished the descriptions of the idyllic small-town with citizens working together to create successful private businesses.  Despite the small town appeal, Smitten would be a failure without a plot that develops each of the characters and encourages readers to relate to them.  Fortunately, like the title suggests, readers will likely become emotionally connected to the characters' struggles, and "smitten"  with their stories.   
Smitten is a collection of light-hearted and uplifting stories to escape to at the end of the day. Readers can re-visit Smitten at, and a sequel entitled Secretly Smitten will be available December 2012.  
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers through their book review program, BookSneeze.  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.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Books on Our Christmas Wish List...

Now that the holiday season is upon us, I am looking forward to spending time with family, enjoying the Christmas season, and curling up with a few good books in the evenings.  There are a few books that have been on my wish list for a while, and a couple of others that will soon be released in late December.

Since reading Waterfall, the first book in Lisa T. Bergren's The River of Time Series, I have been eagerly anticipating Cascade and Torrent.  I have to admit that I would probably not have read Waterfall if it had not been offered as a free Kindle book in the summer.  Besides Jenny B. Jones'  YA fiction books, I have not read many other YA Christian fiction books; but if their writing is any indication of what else is out there, I need to search for more!  The River of Time Series packs in all of the elements of engaging fiction:  multi-dimensional characters, a plot full of adventure with twists and turns, mystery, danger, romance... and time travel.

I still love to have a real book in my hands; so I am looking forward to getting these paperback books for Christmas.   I am also a big fan of the free books that Kindle offers; and in several cases, it has introduced me to great stories and authors that I would likely never have known.  The free ebook monthly promotions can be a powerful marketing tool for authors and publishers.

I am also looking forward to reading Alice Wisler's A Wedding Invitation.  I have enjoyed all of her previous books; so I am sure to enjoy her new release as well.  Like Wisler,  Julie Klassen is an author that has become synonymous in my mind with good fiction.  I love traveling to historic England in the pages of her stories.

After reading The Lady of Bolton Hill last summer,  I have been looking forward to Elizabeth Camden's sophomore release,The Rose of Winslow Street, as well.  I love the cover, and I hope that the story is just as promising!

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

The Rose of Winslow Street

Wings of a Dream

A Wedding Invitation

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review of Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis from Bethany House: I was perfectly content with my life--that is, until the pages of my story were ripped out before I had a chance to live happily eve after.

Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But the happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real one. To top it off, Alice loses her beloved library job because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.

Longing to run from small-town gossip, Alice flees to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to the tiny coal-mining town of Acorn, a place with no running water, no electricity, and where the librarians ride ornery horses up steep mountain passes to deliver books. When Alice is forced to stay in Acorn far longer than she planned, she discovers that real-life adventure, mystery--and especially romance--may be far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.

Review: Wonderland Creek is a novel for book lovers.  Which of us can't connect to a main character who is a dreamer and a bookworm?  Haven't we all had certain novels that we just can't put down?  Wonderland Creek is one of those novels, and one of my favorites of the year.  I know without a doubt that I will read it again.  The humor, quirkiness, and mystery that made Lynn Austin's A Proper Pursuit one of my favorite books is also present in this novel.  True to her trademark style, Austin incorporates a few stories into one satisfying plot. Mystery and danger are woven throughout the plot with some surprising twists to keep the pages turning.  

I loved the setting and the characters of Wonderland Creek.  Alice is an endearing and very relatable heroine, whose story has all of the elements that she adores in a good book.  The cast of characters in the backwoods "Christy"-like town of Acorn, Kentucky are no less satisfying.  From the 100 year old Lilly to a horse with its own mind, the inhabitants of Acorn are rich in personality.  Of course every heroine needs her hero, and Alice Grace is no exception.  The outcome of her story left me sighing a contented "ahh" even as I longed for the book to continue. 

Read an Excerpt:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review of Rose's Pledge by Sally Laity and Dianna Crawford

Our Rating: 4 Stars
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Synopsis from To save their father from debtor's prison, three gently bred daughters sell themselves into servitude in America. Rose Harwood, auctioned off to the highest bidder in Virginia, is now the bondswoman of a grubby trader. Will she survive the trek deep into Indian Territory? Footloose frontiersman Nate Kinyon is eager to possess this rather thorny Rose. But is he willing to sacrifice his wealth and freedom to win her heart? When Rose's situation goes from bad to worse, she wonders if God has forsaken her after all. Is the disarming but godless Nate her only hope?

Review:  Rose's Pledge is the first novel in the Harwood House series, a promising collaboration between Sally Laity and Dianna Crawford.  After reading Dianna Cawford's other novels several years ago, I was excited to discover Rose's Pledge. Set in the untamed wilderness of 1700s America, the novel is filled with rugged peril, sacrifice, joy, and love.  The plot begins in the Harwood House in fashionable Bath, England, where the authors paint the backstory for the Harwood sisters' journey to America.  As Rose, Mariah, and Lily travel across the Atlantic and face their futures as indentured servants, Laity and Crawford create distinct circumstances and personalities for each.  The beginning of Rose's Pledge is a strong foundation for the Rose's story and those of her sisters.

From the beginning, Rose is established as a courageous  and loving young woman who will go to great lengths to protect her family.  These traits, combined with her faith, make Rose a strong and likable heroine.  She faces numerous challenges throughout her journey to an untamed and dangerous land.  Her indentured life is filled with underlying dangers, which left me in suspense and moved the plot steadily along.  Unexpected moments of joy lighten even the most difficult circumstances. 

Nate Kinyon is, in many ways, the opposite of Rose.  He is rugged, unrefined, and lacking in faith.  Laity and Crawford employ backwoods dialect to lend authenticity to Nate's character.  At times I found his written accent a bit distracting and felt that his character was not developed as deeply as Rose's.  Nate possesses a goodness that shines through his rough exterior, and his devotion to Rose's protection is endearing.  

Rose's Pledge can be read as a satisfying stand-alone novel, but there are more stories to be told.  I look forward to the future focus on Mariah and Lily.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Barbour Publishing.  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.”


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