Saturday, December 29, 2012

Our Top 12 of 2012

Here are our top 12 reads of the year in no particular order....



 


  
 



 



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review of "Love in Three-Quarter Time" by Dina Sleiman



Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary: In the style of Deeanne Gist, Dina Sleiman explores the world of 1817 Virginia in her novel Love in Three-Quarter Time. When the belle of the ball falls into genteel poverty, the fiery Constance Cavendish must teach the dances she once loved in order to help her family survive. The opportunity of a lifetime might await her in the frontier town of Charlottesville, but the position will require her to instruct the sisters of the plantation owner who jilted her when she needed him most. As Robert Montgomery and Constance make discoveries about one another, will their renewed faith in God help them to face their past and the guilt that threatens to destroy them in time to waltz to a fresh start? ~ Zondervan

Review: Dina Sleiman whisks readers to old Virginia, when Thomas Jefferson resided at Monticello and Charlottesville was considered a frontier town.  Sleiman refers to the novel as "Scarlett O'Hara meets Jane Austen" in her historical notes.  There are definitely elements of both throughout the plot.  "Love in Three Quarter Time" is easier and lighter reading than an Austen novel, but the dance scenes and early 1800s setting are elements dear to Austen enthusiasts. Constance Cavendish has the spunk and fortitude of the infamous Scarlett O'Hara, and likewise fights for her family's well-being. 

Sleiman introduces readers to a younger Constance (a.k.a. Gingersnap) Cavendish in the prologue. She is full of fire and passion for life, and used to having her own way.  When tragedy strikes, and the Cavendish's gilded world crumbles, Constance is forced to confront some of life's harsh realities.  The first chapter begins five years later, and Constance has shed her nickname and mellowed her personality.  As the story progresses, Constance's fire is rekindled, but she begins burning for her faith and the survival of her friends and family rather than solely her own desires. I enjoyed Constance's personal growth, and I am glad that the flirtatious Gingersnap only appeared in the prologue.  I'm not sure I could have tolerated her the entire novel, especially with three potential beaus waiting in the wings.

While love and romance are prominent themes, the abolitionist cause also plays a prominent role. I appreciated the depth and heart that Sleiman's incorporation of the abolitionist movement provided. Robbie and Constance's decisions to go against the ingrained beliefs of Southern culture and friend and free slaves is heartwarming.  There are many historical references in the plot, including cameo appearances by Thomas Jefferson and his daughter and a visit to Monticello.  

"Love in Three-Quarter Time" is told from several different perspectives, with hints that we may meet the characters again in future novels.  While Constance's and Robbie's story ties up in this novel, one wonders what will become of Contance's sisters and her two other admirers - Mr. Franklin and Lorimer. Hopefully Sleiman will delve into their lives in her next book. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of  Zondervan.  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.”

Review of "A Patchwork Christmas Collection"


Rating: 3.5 Stars

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Summary: Join three of today’s bestselling inspirational fiction authors in a collection of Christmas stories from Victorian-era America that are full of second-chance romances. Jilted by her fiancé, Karla packs away her wedding quilts and her plans for marriage. Widow Jane travels to marry a prosperous man she barely knows in order to give her daughter a better life—then is stranded in a winter storm. Ada, a wealthy ingénue, inadvertently causes grave injury to a poor man she once considered quite a catch. Each must search her heart, change her plans. . .and patch together a tender, unexpected life filled with love. 
~ Barbour Publishing  

Review: Christmas is in the air with this collection of holiday-themed novels, accompanied by quilt-making and baking.  Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson bring three unique stories to readers in "A Patchwork Christmas." Despite their differences, all three novellas felt melancholy until concluding with a happy ending. It is often difficult for me to develop connections to the characters in short stories, which proved to be the case in this collection. 

"The Bridal Quilt" by Nancy Moser is my favorite among the three. It contains its share of loss and heartbreak, but the plot has dimension and the characters feel more fully developed. The messages of unselfish sacrifice and love for even the lowest on the social ladder are prominent in Moser's story, and especially relevant at Christmas. 

Judith Miller takes readers to the Amana Colonies in "Seams of Love."  I enjoyed revisiting the colonies in Miller's novella, after reading about them in one of her novels.  Karla Stuke, though not an unlikable main character, suffers from insecurity and a broken heart.  While such struggles are relatable, she dwells on them throughout the story.  As a result, the overall tone of the novel becomes a bit heavy.  

"A Patchwork Love" by Stephanie Grace Whitson is a story of hope. Jane and her daughter, Molly, find themselves sick, injured, and stranded when their train hits a wall of snow.  A local farmer, Peter, offers them shelter in the home he shares with his mother. Peter is scarred visibly and emotionally from his time in the Civil War. The beginning of the novel centers around Molly overcoming her illness while Jane and Peter deal with their injuries. Peter's mother adds some charm to the novella, and the tone lightens as Molly improves.  Love blossoms in the snug little home as once strangers become an inseparable family. 

Although "A Patchwork Christmas" was not my ideal holiday collection, the stories convey good year-round messages.  


I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel 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.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review of "A Change of Fortune" by Jen Turano



Rating: 3 Stars
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Summary: Lady Eliza Sumner is on a mission. After losing her family, her fiancé, and her faith, the disappearance of her fortune is the last straw. Now, masquerading as Miss Eliza Sumner, governess-at-large, she's determined to find the man who ran off with her fortune, reclaim the money, and head straight back to London.
Much to Mr. Hamilton Beckett's chagrin, all the eyes of New York society--all the female ones, at least--are on him. Unfortunately for all the matchmaking mothers and eligible daughters, he has no plans to marry again, especially with his hands full keeping his business afloat and raising his two children alone.
When Eliza's hapless attempts to regain her fortune put her right in Hamilton's path, sparks instantly begin to fly. The discovery of a common nemesis causes them to join forces, but with all their plans falling by the wayside and their enemies getting the better of them, it will take a riot of complications for Hamilton and Eliza to realize that God just might have had a better plan in mind all along.
When all of Hamilton's and Eliza's best-laid plans fall by the wayside, it will take a riot of complications for them to realize that God just might have had a better plan in mind all along. - Bethany House
Review: I was first introduced to Lady Eliza Sumner and Hamilton Beckett in Jen Turano's prelude novella, "Gentleman of Her Dreams."  The novella sets the tone for spunky, quirky characters and entertaining situations.  Those qualities continue in "A Change of Fortune," with comical and sometimes over-the-top events.  The plot is quite lighthearted, but does contain themes of faith, trust, and true fortune. 
I had high expectations for "A Change of Fortune," but it did not capture me as much as I expected.  The balance between fun and depth tipped more in the direction of fun and quirkiness.  While I appreciate comical scenes, I like them to be interspersed with more realistic and serious situations.  There are many moments in "A Change of Fortune" to make readers laugh with the amusing outlandishness of the characters' escapades.  The characters are somewhat larger-than-life, but they are still likable.  Hamilton's children are especially charming and sweet.   

Much of the plot is carried by dialogue, which I found distracting at times.  Some scenes felt cluttered when they featured several characters contributing to a conversation.  The emphasis on conversation did not allow me to delve below the surface of the plot. As a result, I was not completely drawn into the novel.
"A Change of Fortune" provides readers with an escape into a world where humor can be found even under unfortunate circumstances, and laughter can develop in tense moments. Jen Turano's "Ladies of Distinction" series promises to be entertaining.  It is easy to see the potential for future novels within the pages of "A Change of Fortune."  My first impression of the series was developed when I read "Gentleman of Her Dreams."  Hopefully the other novels will follow in its footsteps. 

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Bethany House.  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.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of "No Safe Harbor" by Elizabeth Ludwig

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary: She came to America searching for her brother. Instead all she’s found is a web of danger.
Cara Hamilton had thought her brother to be dead. Now, clutching his letter, she leaves Ireland for America, desperate to find him. Her search leads her to a houseful of curious strangers, and one man who claims to be a friend–Rourke Walsh. Despite her brother’s warning, Cara trusts Rourke, revealing her purpose in coming to New York.


She’s then thrust into a world of subterfuge, veiled threats, and attempted murder, including political revolutionaries from the homeland out for revenge. Her questions guide her ever nearer to locating her brother–but they also bring her closer to destruction as those who want to kill him track her footsteps.
With her faith in tatters, all hope flees. Will her brother finally surface? Can he save Cara from the truth about Rourke… a man she’s grown to love?

Link to buy the book: www.amazon.com  

Review: Elizabeth Ludwig begins the “Edge of Freedom Series” with a suspenseful adventure in the pages  of “No Safe Harbor.”  An intricate web of revenge and lies captures and holds the reader until the end. 

Ludwig introduces a wide range of characters, many with hidden agendas. In the beginning, part of the mystery is discovering which characters pose a threat to Cara and in whom she can place her trust. The story is told through the perspective of several different characters, so the reader gradually gains insight into the motives of the primary and secondary characters. Danger lurks through the pages as Cara ventures into New York City in search of her brother. Initially, I was concerned the political intrigue element of the novel would be too heavy, but the pace of “No Safe Harbor” steadily propels the reader through the pages. The political unrest is the underlying cause of the threatening environment that Cara finds herself forced into.  Ludwig delves into the political undercurrents without bogging down the plot. Action is interspersed throughout the novel, but really picks up near the end.

The love story between Cara and Rourke is somewhat unconventional. It is clear at the start of the novel that both main characters have divergent goals. Both Rourke and Cara withhold information from each other, but Rourke is motivated by revenge. As Ludwig reveals more of Rourke’s motives, he becomes a likable character.  I found myself hoping that Cara and Rourke could find a future together, but one question lingered through each scene: how can a relationship based upon Rourke’s false pretenses ever succeed?  Ludwig finds a satisfying resolution. The plot is complete enough to be read as a stand-alone novel, but hints at possibilities for future books in the series.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from LitFuse 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.

Read an Excerpt:
No Safe Harbor




Meet Elizabeth: Elizabeth Ludwig is an award-winning author and an accomplished speaker and teacher. Her historical novel Love Finds You in Calico, California earned four stars from Romantic Times. She is the owner and editor of the popular literary blog The Borrowed Book. Along with her husband and two children, Elizabeth makes her home in Orange, Texas. Learn more at www.elizabethludwig.com.

Blog Tour Schedule: http://litfusegroup.com/author/ELudwig


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review of "Against the Tide" by Elizabeth Camden

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary: After a childhood rampant with uncertainty, Lydia Pallas has carved out a perfect life for herself. She spends her days within sight of the bustling Boston Harbor, where her skill with languages has landed her an enviable position as a translator for the U.S. Navy. 
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Lydia's talents bring her to the attention of Alexander Banebridge, a mysterious man in need of a translator. Driven by a campaign to end the opium trade, Bane is coolly analytical and relentless in his quest. He cannot afford to fall for Lydia and must fight the bittersweet love growing between them.
When Bane's enemies gain the upper hand, he is forced to turn to Lydia for help. Determined to prove her worth, Lydia soon discovers that carrying out Bane's mission will test her wits and her courage to the very limits.
When forces conspire against them from without and within, can their love survive? - Bethany House

Review: Rich in historical detail, "Against the Tide" transports readers to New England through the Navy Yards of Boston and to the wilderness of Vermont.  Elizabeth Camden reintroduces readers to Alexander Banebridge and Professor Van Bracken, who were both introduced in "The Lady of Bolton Hill."  “Against the Tide” is definitely a stand-alone novel, despite the connection.  I remembered very little about Bane and the Professor, but that did not leave any gaps in the book.

The plot of “Against the Tide” has moments of excitement and suspense throughout.  The tension between Bane and Lydia drives the first half of the novel.  They profess their feelings for each other early in the plot, and their strong feelings develop too fast for my personal taste. Circumstances ultimately keep Lydia and Bane apart, which adds more interest.  The second half of “Against the Tide” is propelled by tension as Professor Van Braken enters the scene. I didn't feel a complete connection to the main characters, but I did enjoy their strength and dedication to fighting injustice. 

I learned some heartbreaking details about opium and the past prevalence of the drug in children’s tonics. The scenes of opium withdrawal that Camden incorporates into the plot are somewhat intense, but they form a vivid picture of the effects of drug dependency. Camden’s talent for incorporating historical facts stands out in this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Bethany House.  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, November 17, 2012

Review of "Courting Cate" by Leslie Gould

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary: When This Couple Gets to Courting, Sparks Will Fly!

In Paradise, Pennsylvania, Cate Miller is known more for her sharp tongue and fiery temper than her striking appearance. Her sweet and flirty sister, Betsy, on the other hand, seems to have attracted most of the bachelors in Lancaster County!
But the sisters' wealthy father has made one hard-and-fast rule: older Cate must marry first, before younger Betsy can even start courting. Unfortunately, untamable Cate has driven away every suitor--until Pete Treger comes to town, that is.
Prodded by the men of the area, Pete turns his attention to winning Cate's hand. But is his interest true or is there a scheme at play? - Bethany House
Review: Leslie Gould offers a fresh spin on Amish fiction with "Courting Cate," the debut novel of "The Courtships of Lancaster County" series.  The intrigue of Amish life and beauty of pastoral back roads is present in the novel, but the premise makes "Courting Cate" stand out from the other Amish fiction novels that I have read.  
It seems that the Amish are usually portrayed in the media as old-fashioned and quaint, strict, or rebellious. Gould avoids the cliches and creates believable characters, who, despite their lifestyle, are not much different from average Englishers.  It is refreshing to see the Amish engaged in normal activities like hiking and kayacking. 

Cate Miller is a devoted Amish who does not fit into the stereotypical Amish mold, with her penchant for business, love for books, and sharp tongue. Cate's abrasiveness could be a turn-off, but her first person perspective allows readers to understand her emotions.  She grows and softens over the course of the novel as she battles insecurity and anger.  Like Cate, I questioned Pete's motives during their courtship. My speculation about the outcome of their relationship kept me interested until the end.  The resolution felt a bit rushed, leaving me wanting another chapter.  Hopefully, Cate and Pete will make appearances in the upcoming novels in the series. 

Leslie Gould kept me interested and entertained and broke the preconceptions that I have about most Amish fiction.  "Courting Cate" is a quick and entertaining read that I definitely recommend, and I look forward to the upcoming books in the series. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of Bethany House.  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.”


"No Safe Harbor" Kindle Fire Giveaway

Elizabeth Ludwig is celebrating her new book with a Kindle Fire Giveaway and connecting with readers at a Facebook Author Chat party on 12/6.


One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 5th. Winner will be announced at the "No Safe Harbor" Author Chat Facebook Party on 12/6. Connect with Elizabeth, get a sneak peek of the next book in the Edge of Freedom series, try your hand at the trivia contest, and win some great prizes—gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack (10 copies for your book club or small group)!

So grab your copy of No Safe Harbor and join Elizabeth on the evening of the December 6th for a chance to connect with her and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 6th!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Review of "At Every Turn" by Anne Mateer

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Summary:  Caught up in a whirlwind of religious enthusiasm, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. Now she just has to find a way to get the money.

Alyce harbors a secret passion for speed and automobiles, and she's spent many an afternoon driving around the rustic track in the field behind her home. When she discovers that her father's company has sponsored a racing car that will compete in several upcoming events--races in which the driver will be paid and could win as much as five thousand dollars in prize money--she conspires with her father's mechanic, Webster, to train and compete.



But when her friends cast aspersions on Webster's past, she realizes she may have trusted the wrong person with her secret. Will Alyce come up with the money in time, or will she have to choose between her hasty promise and the man who holds a piece of her heart?  - Bethany House

Review: A book about early auto racing usually wouldn't appeal to me since I am definitely not a fan of racing.  When I first picked up "At Every Turn," I wondered how much emphasis would be placed on the racing aspect of the plot.  In the past, novels that focus too much on sports have not ranked among my favorites, but Anne Mateer's latest novel is an exception.  A very pleasing exception. 

Mateer paints a unique vignette of the early 1900s.  There are parts of the plot that are predictable; but as a whole, it is fresh and exciting, mainly because of the auto racing.  What I originally perceived as a possible turn off, became one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel.  The racing sequences provided rushes of unpredictable action that kept me constantly engaged. Meanwhile, some of the garage scenes between Alyce and Webster reminded me of the interactions between Sybil and Branson in "Downton Abbey."   

Alyce and Webster's relationship is understated, yet satisfying. Mateer proves that building a romance between two characters does not need to rely heavily on physical affection.  Their interactions are restrained, but it is obvious that they each harbor deeper feelings under the surface. Adding to the interest, the novel is told solely from Alyce's perspective. Webster's past is cloaked in secrecy, and his true character is revealed only as the novel progresses.  

Alyce Benson is a feisty and charming heroine. Her impetuousness propels her into tense, and sometimes humorous situations.  Mateer adds depth to Alyce's adventurous and unconventional personality throughout the novel.  Alyce makes a number of mistakes and poor decisions, but they ultimately help her to grow spiritually and personally. Viewing the story through Alyce's eyes provides meaningful insights into her faith, her giving heart, and her motives.  Those qualities take her beyond the boundaries of spunkiness to a more multi-dimensional character. 

"At Every Turn" is definitely a book that will remain on my bookshelf.  It has the ideal combination of light-hearted moments and periods of  introspection. 

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Bethany House.  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.”

Read an Excerpt:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of "The Tutor's Daughter" by Julie Klassen

Rating: 5 Stars
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Summary from Bethany House: Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father when his boarding school fails, accompanies him to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the two younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte at night, only to find the music room empty? And who begins sneaking into her bedchamber, leaving behind strange mementoes?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry Weston, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember the studious Miss Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her....

When suspicious acts escalate, can Emma figure out which brother to blame and which to trust with her heart?

Filled with page-turning suspense, The Tutor's Daughter takes readers to the windswept Cornwall coast--a place infamous for shipwrecks and superstitions--where danger lurks, faith is tested, and romance awaits.

Review: Julie Klassen has created a novel Reminiscent of "Northanger Abbey" and "Jane Eyre." "The Tutor's Daughter" is exciting, mysterious, and charming.  Klassen captures British dialogue to perfection, and pays homage to Jane Austen and similar authors.  With a plot and characters that could step straight out of a British movie, "The Tutor's Daughter," is intriguing and memorable.

Mystery abounds as soon as Emma Smallwood and her father arrive at Ebbington Manor.  From residents who harbor secrets to unusual nighttime noises, the mystery builds into something more menacing.  Uncovering the answers kept me glued to the novel, as did the relationship budding between Emma and a certain Weston son. The romance is one of restrain and unexpressed feelings, which adds another element of anticipation.

Book-lovers can relate to Emma's bookish ways, and I related to her character on a few levels.  She is a dreamer, who relies on novels to live out her adventures.  Over the course of the novel, Emma learns to take risks and strengthen her faith. The result for Emma and the reader is sigh-worthy.

Klassen paints a dramatic scene for "The Tutor's Daughter" on the rugged coast of Cornwall, England.  The power and danger of the rocky coast mimics the underlying, deadly currents in Ebbington Manor.  The ocean is the background for several climatic and pivotal moments, adding to their drama and suspense.

"The Tutor's Daughter" is one of my favorite Julie Klassen novels to date. It is certainly a "must-read" for fans of historical fiction and delicious British dramas.

I received a complimentary copy of  from Netgalley, courtesy of Baker Publishing Group. 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.”

Read an Excerpt: 
The Tutors Daughter

Review of "A Wreath of Snow" by Liz Curtis Higgs


Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary from WaterBrook Multnomah: Christmas Eve 1894

All Margaret Campbell wants for Christmas is a safe journey home. When her plans for a festive holiday with her family in Stirling crumble beneath the weight of her brother’s bitterness, the young schoolteacher wants nothing more than to return to the students she loves and the town house she calls home. 

Then an unexpected detour places her in the path of Gordon Shaw, a handsome newspaperman from Glasgow, who struggles under a burden of remorse and shame. 

When the secret of their shared history is revealed, will it leave them tangled in a knot of regret? Or might their past hold the threads that will bind their future together?

As warm as a woolen scarf on a cold winter’s eve, A Wreath of Snow is a tender story of love and forgiveness, wrapped in a celebration of all things Scottish, all things Victorian, and, especially, all things Christmas.

Review: Liz Curtis Higgs' Christmas novella, "A Wreath of Snow," is a heartwarming holiday tale with themes of love and reconciliation.  It is the perfect length for the busy holiday season, but does not fall short of expectations, like many short novels. Higgs treats readers to a fully developed plot, that is well thought-out and progresses at a pleasant pace. Both main characters, Margaret and Gordon, carry shackles of guilt from a shared tragedy.  As circumstances cause their paths to intersect once again, their wounds are unexpectedly reopened.  The shared conflict creates a cohesive plot, and Margaret's and Gordon's personal experiences add extra interest.  

True to her style, Higgs incorporates historical detail that makes the Scottish setting come to life. Although Christmas is a couple of months away, this novella put me in holiday spirit.  Its meaningful messages will resonate even more with readers around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Although snow blankets the Scottish village of Stirling, "A Wreath of Snow" will leave you with that warm and content holiday feeling.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah 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 21, 2012

Review of "All Things New" by Lynn Austin

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Summary from Bethany House: The war is over. The South has lost.

Josephine Weatherly struggles to pick up the pieces of her life when her family returns to their Virginia plantation. But the realities of life after the war cannot be denied: her home and land are but a shell of their previous grandeur; death has claimed her father and brother; and her remaining brother, Daniel, has returned home bitter and broken. 



Her life of privilege, a long-ago dream.

Josephine soon realizes that life is now a matter of daily survival--and recognizes that Lizzie, as one of the few remaining servants, is the one she must rely on to teach her all she needs to know. Josephine's mother, too, vows to rebuild White Oak--but a bitter hatred fuels her. 



Can hope--and a battered faith in God--survive amid the devastation?

Review: I was first introduced to Lynn Austin's work several years ago when I read "Candle in the Darkness."  I was impressed by her portrayal of the Civil War era and the depth of Austin's writing.  When I picked up "All Things New," I wondered how it would compare to the "Refiner's Fire" series.  Although the basis of the setting is the same, "All Things New" is original and absorbing.

Austin has a talent for relaying stories from various perspectives and layering them into one cohesive novel. Josephine, Eugenia, and Lizzie each bring unique experiences and backgrounds to "All Things New," and I enjoyed each of them.  Austin keeps the story engaging by alternating the focus of each chapter to one of the three women. Change and fear are common elements in the lives of Jo, Eugenia, and Lizzie as they attempt to rebuild their lives following the Civil War. Jospehine and her mother, Eugenia, find themselves nearly destitute and constrained by pre-war expectations. Meanwhile, as a former slave, Lizzie is battling the dream of freedom and prejudices of Southern society. Each character steadily grows and develops as the novel progresses.  The intertwining of their lives and their reactions to challenges create a multi-dimensional plot.

The primary and secondary characters have faced four years of devastating war and now face a vastly altered lifestyle.  As a result, emotions are strong and complex. Fear, love, faith, prejudice, hatred, forgiveness, bitterness, self-pity, hope, and healing are among the topics addressed in the novel.  Austin incorporates a range of riveting moments in "All Things New."  Some are emotional and introspective, others are action-oriented; they are all compelling.  Lynn Austin has once again written a well-developed, must-read novel with poignant themes.

I received a complimentary copy of  from Netgalley, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers. 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.”

Review of "A Promise to Love" by Serena B. Miller

Rating: 3.5 Stars
~ ~ ~
Summary from Revell: Can a marriage of convenience ever become one of true love?
Ingrid Larsen arrives in Michigan in 1871 with little more than the clothes on her back and a determination to find her brother, who has disappeared into the dangerous lumber camps. Destitute and barely hanging on to hope, the young Swedish immigrant crosses paths with Joshua Hunter, a newly widowed farmer with eyes the color of the ocean she had crossed and five rambunctious children to raise on his own.

Marriage would solve both of their problems, and Ingrid finds herself proposing in broken English to a man she barely knows. Many difficulties lie ahead--but the hardest battle of all will be winning the heart of her new husband.

Review: Serena B. Miller treats readers to a gentle story of love and sacrifice in “A Promise to Love.” She portrays life in 1870s Michigan with historical detail, and many of the events are based on actual occurrences.  A plot based on a marriage of convenience is relatively common, but the circumstances surrounding Ingrid’s and Joshua’s relationship make it unique. Their love blossoms from a partnership, shared grievances, and Ingrid’s tender nurturing. It is a departure from the more romantic leanings of other novels, despite the fact that Ingrid falls in love with Joshua at first sight.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review of "Borders of the Heart" by Chris Fabry

Rating: 5 Stars
~  ~  ~
Summary from Tyndale: Desperate to escape haunting memories, J. D. Jessup travels from Nashville to Tucson and volunteers on an organic farm. The hardened landowner has one prevailing rule: If J. D. sees an “illegal,” call the border patrol. But when an early morning ride along the fence line leads him to a beautiful young woman named Maria, near death in the desert, his heart pulls him in another direction. Longing to atone for the choices that drove him to Tucson, J. D. hides her and unleashes a chain of deadly events he could never have imagined. Soon they are running from a killer and fighting for their lives. As secrets of their pasts emerge, J. D. realizes that saving Maria may be the only way to save himself.

Review: Gripping is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Chris Fabry's latest novel, Borders of the Heart.  Fabry never bores his readers with cliche plots or typical characters, and he layers his books with meaningful themes.  Borders of the Heart is action-packed and fast moving, with danger and suspense around nearly every turn.  This novel certainly has more violence and killing than most books I read, but it is not graphic.  In a story involving drug cartels and a subculture pervaded by evil, violence is expected.  Without it, the authenticity of the plot would suffer.  

The border of Mexico can be a tumultuous and dangerous area, and Fabry takes readers on a tense adventure with J.D. Jessup as he finds himself in deadly situations. From the beginning of the novel, I was drawn in by the mystery surrounding Maria and J.D.'s efforts to save her.  We all struggle with the "right" way to handle certain situations, but the circumstances in Borders of the Heart are far more extreme than routine decisions.  It is easy to understand J.D.'s constant debate over helping Maria and turning her into the authorities. The plot magnifies the fact that our choices are always accompanied by consequences that affect not only us, but others as well. 

Fabry treats readers to an unconventional love story in the midst of all of the action.  The quick pace of the adventure is tempered by introspective moments when we learn about J.D.'s and Maria's pasts.  Both characters have shortcomings and emotional scars, which make them three-dimensional. Character development is intricately incorporated with mystery and thrill. Learning about Maria and J.D. kept me glued to the pages as much as any other aspect of the plot.  Once again, Chris Fabry has created a novel that will appeal to a diverse range of readers - women and men alike. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale 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.

Book Trailer: 

 

Author Q & A from Tyndale: 
Chris Fabry
Borders of the Heart-

Q: Your newest novel, Borders of the Heart, addresses heavy topics such as illegal immigration, the U.S./Mexico drug trade and the cost of compassion. Where did you get your inspiration for the book?
A: Our family moved to Arizona in 2008 and since then I’ve known I wanted to write about this area of the country, a rich, desert existence with problems and possibilities. This book is not as much an “issue” book as it is a book about people who have to deal with lots of those issues as part of their daily lives. I don’t have an ax to grind on the topics, but I did want to show how real people are affected by these contemporary topics.

Q: Several of the characters in Borders of the Heart are dealing with things from their past. What lessons do your characters learn along the way?
A: The past is huge for each of us. I’m convinced many are “stuck” by something in the past that holds us back from being all God wants us to be. A reader will walk through that process with the main character, J.D., and I’m hoping they’ll see an authentic struggle.

Q: J.D. Jessup is faced with a very difficult moral dilemma when he weighs the decision to follow his boss’ very clear direction or his own heart when he discovers Maria near death. What lessons does this story provide for your readers?
A: Every choice we make in life comes with a cost. If we say yes to one thing, we may have to say no to something else. The choice J.D. makes is a good choice, and even good choices can lead to disastrous and deadly results. Can you believe that God is involved in even the difficult circumstances? I think that’s a huge reveal in this story for me. Does everything have to work out perfectly in the end in order for God to be glorified?

Q: How does the concept of redemption figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about redemption? Why or why not?
A: A lot of people don’t like the word “saved.” It’s old fashioned and not in vogue. I think the term is loaded with truth because if you’re on the verge of death and someone “saves” you, you know exactly what that means and how grateful you would be. Characters in this story get rescued from certain death and when the stakes are that high, I can’t help but get emotionally involved in the story.

Q: How does the concept of grace figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about grace? Why or why not?
A: Grace is when we’re treated better than we deserve. Yes, characters discover that in the book as well. I love the concept of grace in such a gritty, tough story because you’re not expecting it. You’re expecting A+B=C and when grace invades, it catches you by surprise.

Q: Borders of the Heart clearly demonstrates that sometimes there is a cost to compassion. What made this an important story element for you? Why was it important for you to show that sometimes there is a cost for us when we behave compassionately?
A: You’ve heard the saying, “Freedom isn’t free.” The one who acts with compassion usually absorbs the pain of someone else. This is a picture of the cross, of the sacrifice made for us in Christ. This is another thread you’ll discover throughout the story.

Q: Have you ever been faced with a real-life hard choice or ethical dilemma like your main character J.D.?  If so, what was your dilemma and did you feel like you made the right choice?
A: I’ve never had to decide whether to leave a person for dead or not, but I think every day we have a chance to sacrifice. Sometimes it’s a small thing, like taking time for your children when you have something REALLY important, like writing a few more paragraphs. I haven’t always passed those tests. My contention is, the details of everyday life will show what we’ll do with the big decisions. If you choose well in the small moments, the moments when no one is looking, you’ll choose well when a huge decision comes your way. Conversely, if you don’t see the little things as important, you might not make a good decision with the big decision.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Borders of the Heart?
A: Borders of the Heart is at its core a love story. You will root for J.D. and Maria to survive and solve the mystery of what’s really going on in Tucson. And I hope readers will take away the truth that what looks impossible to people is possible with God’s power. Even if something looks hopeless, it’s really not when God is involved.

www.chrisfabry.com

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tales of a Western Adventure: Part II

My vacation dreams for the past few years have revolved around England.  We considered going this summer, but with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics, and the high cost of plane travel, we decided against it and moved on to "Option B."  The American west has actually been a fascination of ours for years, and our excitement grew as we researched and planned our trip.  As much as I would love to see England and surround myself in British accents, I cannot imagine that I would feel any more inspired and awed by the English countryside.  The west has lassoed me; and its hold is as tight today, a few months after the trip, as it was when I returned home.

I will never forget the drive to the town of West Yellowstone, with my rear view mirror framing the picturesque snow-capped Teton range and miles of potato fields on both sides of the road. I have never enjoyed looking in the rear view mirror as I did during those few hours.  When we finally arrived in West Yellowstone, the small town was a welcome sight.  It is the quintessential western tourist town, with locally owned hotels, a couple of small grocery stores, lots of tourist shops, slanted street parking, and stoplights that turn into blinking caution lights after 9:00 pm.

We were filled with anticipation the next morning as we drove through the western entrance gate and into one of the nation's most famous parks.  I could hardly believe that we were actually in Yellowstone after months of planning and dreaming.  One of the downfalls to being a very thorough trip planner, is that you can build up your expectations to such a high level, reality falls short. At first, we were a little skeptical that Yellowstone would live up to our dreams. We saw lodgepole pines for a few miles, but then a glimmer of brilliant blue caught our eyes.  The Madison River was tranquilly flowing, creating a gentle melody as it tumbled over pebbles.  I have never seen a river on the east coast that is as pure, crisp, and clear as the Madison   Our breath was taken away for the first of many times on our trip.  A bit further down the road, we witnessed a huge herd of bison taking a drink in the river.  That was the first of many bison sightings, and we happily checked wildlife sighting number 1 of off our list.

The awe inspiring moments continued through the first day.  It was like time magically slows in the park. When I reflect on how much we experienced on just our first day it the park, it amazes me. The diversity cannot be described in words; it must be seen first hand.

Bison herd at the Madison River

One of the bison "guards."

The Yellowstone River

The bacteria mats at the fountain paint pots.

Our first geyser sighting.  We couldn't capture the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs).
The white area in the foreground  is sulfur.  Just a few feet away, wildflowers and grass were growing. 

The Excelsior Geyser Crater near the Grand Prismatic Spring. 

Stunning - The Grand Prismatic Spring

Old Faithful

West Thumb on Yellowstone Lake.  The sulfur covered ground and
 blue springs were a  beautiful contrast to the lake. 

Black Pool at West Thumb.  This was my favorite pool;
you could actually see into the crater.

LeHardy Rapids.  Each July, trout brave the power of these rapids to
 swim upstream.  That would be an amazing sight!

A bison at the Mud Volcano.

The pure and sparkling Madison River


What a way to end the day - Sunset over Yellowstone. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review of "To Whisper Her Name" by Tamera Alexander

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Summary from Zondervan: Olivia Aberdeen, destitute widow of a murdered carpetbagger, gratefully accepts an invitation from "Aunt" Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation and the dearest friend of Olivia's late mother. Expecting to be the Harding's housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned once again when she learns the real reason why Elizabeth's husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Caring for an ill Aunt Elizabeth, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a southern-born son who-unbeknownst to her and everyone else-fought for the Union.

Determined to learn "the gift" that Belle Meade's head horse trainer, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him while harboring secrets that threaten his life. As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for "betraying" the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again...

Set within the remarkable history of Nashville's historic Belle Meade Plantation, comes a story about enslavement and freedom, arrogance and humility, and the power of love to heal even the deepest of wounds.


Review: Tamera Alexander takes the reader to postbellum Tennessee in her new release To Whisper Her Name.  Alexander never fails to create well-developed settings and interesting characters. I particularly loved the setting of this novel, Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. It shines through the pages like a Southern Belle at her debut ball.  I visited Belle Meade several years ago, which gave me a personal connection with the novel.  Alexander's descriptions brought back the beauty of the area and the grandness of the estate, which had faded in my mind.  Her details paint the perfect scene for an equally interesting plot.  

To Whisper Her Name takes place just after the end of the Civil War when physical and emotional wounds are still fresh and former slaves are fighting for fair treatment. The tumultuous time gives the plot depth and excitement.  By introducing characters from all sides of the war, Alexander illustrates the aftermath of the war from various perspectives.  In their fight for their respective causes, both the North and the South had its share of failures and left the people in its path scarred. 

Ridley Cooper has his share of war scars.  As a Southern man dedicated to the Northern cause, he was considered a traitor by his family and spent time in the South's most notorious prison.  Ridley is an admirable hero, and the perfect match for Olivia, a stubborn woman devoted to the South and healing from a difficult marriage.  Their relationship lends some humorous moments to the plot as Ridley attempts to break though Olivia's walls, but it also adds depth.  Ridley and Olivia challenge each other to overcome their fears and grow emotionally and spiritually. Alexander finds the ideal balance between light-hearted romance and serious issues like justice, equality, grief, and betrayal

The plight of ex-slaves to gain equal treatment is especially poignant. I admire both Ridley and Olivia for risking their safety to treat former slaves as equals.  Alexander alludes to the violence and hatred that members of a race deemed "inferior" by some faced to find better lives for their families.  When undercurrents of violence flow into Belle Meade, the plot takes on a new level of tension.

Tamera Alexander has crafted another intriguing novel to keep her current readers captivated and draw in new readers. To Whisper Her Name is definitely a worthwhile read.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Zondervan.  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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