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.”

Review of "The Trouble with Cowboys" by Denise Hunter

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary from Thomas Nelson: Only one pair of boots—and the cowboy wearing them—can get Annie out of the mess she’s in.

Annie Wilkerson is Moose Creek’s premiere horse trainer and equine columnist for Montana Living. Money is tight as she tries to put her kid-sister through college and provide for her young nephew. When Annie’s column is cancelled, she’s given first shot at a new lovelorn column—and she can’t afford to turn it down. Only problem is . . . Annie’s never been in love.
Always resourceful, she reluctantly strikes a deal with the town’s smooth-talking ladies’ man Dylan Taylor: She’ll work with his ailing horse, Braveheart, if he’ll help her answer the reader letters.
Working closely with Dylan is harder than Annie imagined, and she quickly realizes she may have misjudged him. But her unwavering conviction that cowboys are nothing but trouble has kept her heart safe for years. And she can’t risk getting hurt now.
The more Annie tries to control things, the more they fall apart. Her feelings are spinning out of control, and her sister’s antics are making life increasingly more difficult. Annie knows she needs to turn the reins over to God, but surrender has never come easily.
When Dylan reveals his feelings for her, Annie doesn't know what to trust—her head or her heart. The trouble with this cowboy is that he might just be exactly what she needs.

Review: Denise concludes her Big Sky Romance series on a strong note.  The Trouble with Cowboys is my favorite book of the series with two likable main characters and appearances by characters from the past two novels.  This is the perfect weekend read, providing an escape to the wild and beautiful American West.   Hunter captures the small town charm that is very much alive in Western towns and paints a vivid scene of the mountainous, big-sky landscape.  It is refreshing to read a novel set in the modern-day west with characters facing contemporary issues. 

The plot of The Trouble with Cowboys reads like a movie.  It is steady, entertaining, and quite addictive; qualities which make up for the relative predictability of the novel.  Annie's strong aversion to cowboys, especially quintessential flirt, Dylan Taylor, creates some humorous scenes and interactions. Her confusion over Dylan's flirtation and character is completely understandable and adds interest to their growing relationship. 

On the outside, Dylan is a cocky, non-committal cowboy who is only interested in romantic dalliances. His character could easily be irritating, but Hunter softens Dylan's edges by providing insight into his feelings and motives. Early on, Hunter has the reader hoping for a relationship to blossom between Annie and Dylan.  There are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of a budding romance, which add interest and tension to the plot. 

Such a quick read could easily lack depth, but Hunter provides just enough conflict to make this a meaningful read.  Both Dylan and Annie carry past baggage that is revealed throughout the novel, and they face their share of current challenges as well.  Annie in particular struggles with her younger sister, Sierra, whose story takes a turn at the end of the novel.  Sierra is an interesting secondary character, who would have been a great focus for another novel. 

The Trouble with Cowboys presents no trouble for readers.  Denise Hunter incorporates themes of letting go of fear and having faith into a novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.  

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.  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.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review of "Unending Devotion" by Jody Hedlund

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Summary from Bethany House: 

Michigan, 1883 - In Her Darkest Hours, Is He the Man She Needs?

Lily Young longs to find her lost sister or will die trying. Heedless of any danger, she searches logging camps and towns, posing as a photographer's assistant. And then she arrives in Harrison, Michigan--and the sights of Connell McCormick. 

Connell is determined to increase the fortune of his lumber-baron father and figures as long as he's living an upright life, that's what matters. But when Lily arrives in town she upends his world, forcing him to confront the truth that dangerous men have gained too much power while good men turn a blind eye. 

Vexing but persuasive, Lily soon secures Connell's help, drawing them ever closer to each other. Will standing for what's right cost them both everything?

Buy the Book:  

Review: In Unending Devotion, Jody Hedlund once again builds a compelling, fictional plot around true people and events.  Her newest novel transports readers to the lumber towns of central Michigan in the 1880s, where we witness the devastation brought to the landscape and human lives. Hedlund tackles the painful issue of prostitution - both forced and voluntary.  There are many historical fiction novels that mention prostitution and brothels, but Unending Devotion stands out and offers a different perspective.  As Hedlund mentions in her Author's Note, James Carr, the evil antagonist in the novel, comes directly from the pages of Michigan history. It is sad and distrubing to picture the real victims of Carr's violence, and to realize that such atrocities still occur today. Unending Devotion is a call to action for readers to take a stand against injustices.

Lily and Connell are both morally upstanding characters, but very contrasting in their responses to the cruelties they witness.  Lily is fighting to save her sister and other girls losing their innocence in brothels.  She is headstrong and determined, sometimes to the extreme.  There were a few times that I felt annoyed by Lily's stubbornness and unwillingness to think before speaking and acting. Connell is bothered by the moral degradation of his town, but too fearful to confront powerful men.  He is an unlikely hero, a bit of a nerd with a mind for numbers and a desire to stay away from trouble. As Lily and Connell are drawn together, they are both forced to examine the weaknesses in their personalities.  The result is personal growth for both characters, but also dangerous encounters with Carr and his men that keep the plot moving.

Despite their personality differences, Connell and Lily are determined to keep their thoughts and actions pure. Through their relationship, they both realize that they are not above temptation.  Hedlund reminds readers that even those individuals with the highest moral standards are capable of falling prey to temptation.

The healing and reform of girls rescued from brothels is a topic that is touched on throughout the plot. Lily spends the novel with one main goal: to rescue her sister.  Along the way, she learns that girls are forever changed by their experiences and loss of innocence, and the path to a normal life is fraught with huge challenges. Like Hedlund's other novels, there is a bittersweet element to the conclusion of Unending Devotion, that will compel readers to reflect on what they have read.

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.

Meet Jody: Jody Hedlund is the bestselling author of "The Doctor's Lady" and "The Preacher's Bride". She won the 2011 Inspirational Reader's Choice Award, the 2011 Award of Excellence from the Colorado Romance Writers and was a finalist for Best Debut Novel in the 2011 ACFW Carol Awards. Currently she makes her home in central Michigan, with her husband and five busy children. She loves hearing from readers on Facebook and on her blog.  Visit her website:

Blog Tour Schedule:

Read an Except: Unending Devotion

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review of "The Girl in the Glass" by Susan Meissner

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary from Waterbrook Multnomah: Renaissance is a word with hope infused in every letter.

Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy, and being able to finally step into the place captured in a picture at her grandmother’s house. But after her grandmother passes away and it falls to her less-than-reliable father to take her instead, Meg’s long-anticipated travel plans seem permanently on hold.
When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. But when Meg arrives in Florence, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving aspiring memoir-writer Sophia Borelli to introduce Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims to be one of the last surviving members of the Medici family and that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.
When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives will be indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be?

Review: Since reading The Shape of Mercy a few years ago, I have been intrigued by Susan Meissner's ability to shape multiple stories into one novel. She mixes historical and contemporary settings in The Girl in the Glass, with the added bonus of a European setting.  For me, one of the highlights of the novel is the city of Florence.  Meissner describes the city with a clarity and detail that makes Florence come to life in the pages.  I actually took a few breaks while I was reading the book on my Kindle to search for some of the art, architecture, and places that Meissner mentions.  At the beginning of the novel, Meg conveys her belief in the strength of travel memoirs to take people to a location they will never travel to themselves.  The Girl in the Glass feels like a travel memoir to me, allowing me to experience an area I would like to visit in the future.

The Girl in the Glass is a novel about self-discovery, reflection, dreams, and realities. I can relate to the dreamer in Meg, the part of her who has felt drawn to a particular place for years, but has never taken the risk to live her dream.  Meissner brings Meg's story to life, with insight into her background, her fears, and her desires.  Sofia's character offers a unique perspective of Florence for both Meg and readers.  The glimpses into Sofia's life and the life of sixteenth-century Nora, provide interesting and impactful parallels to Meg's life.  The concepts of taking risks, chasing dreams, and choosing your perspective on life are very relevant not only to the characters in the novel, but today's readers as well.  

Meissner offers interesting tidbits of Nora's life at the end of every chapter and through Sofia's reflections.  
Although I enjoyed Nora's story and its connection to the contemporary plot, I was left wanting to know more of her story and what happened in her marriage.  Meg's story also ends on the brink of change, and I have to remind myself that The Girl in the Glass does not solely revolve around a love story, like so many other novels.  It revolves around one's perspective and leaves us with the reminder that books and life are not just black and white, they are given depth with shades of gray. 

I received a complimentary electronic 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.”

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review of "Be Still My Soul" by Joanne Bischof

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary from Waterbrook Multnomah: Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.  

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing  Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob.

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?

Click HERE for more information.

Review: Be Still My Soul is a strong beginning to Joanne Bischof''s The Cadence of Grace Series.  Bischof avoids a cliche plot and creates a love story that is a blend of both pain and gentleness. The balance results in a story that is hard to put down.  The Appalachian Mountains form a scenic backdrop, harboring unexpected dangers, but also unexpected blessings that transform the lives of both Lonnie and Gideon.

Lonnie and Gideon have vastly different personalities, and their relationship struggles add interest, heartbreak, and depth to the plot.  Lonnie is a very endearing character, as gentle as the fog rolling between the mountains. She exemplifies quiet faith and strength. It is easy to sympathize with her plight as her life takes unexpected paths.  Gideon begins as a much less likable character, and his growth throughout the novel provides extra depth.  From the beginning, Gideon is an untamed, self-centered young man who is more focused on his own desires, regardless of their expense to others.  His disregard for Lonnie after their marriage is painful to observe, but makes Gideon's slow transformation much more meaningful.  In the last 20 pages of Be Still My Soul, I questioned if the novel would have a resolution.  Fortunately it does, but I was expecting a bit more. After the number of difficulties they have already faced in their short marriage, a strong current of hope and happiness is just beginning to flow in the last pages. I hope to see more of Gideon and Lonnie in the next novel, Though My Heart is Torn.

Click HERE to read chapter one.

About the Author: Married to her first sweetheart, Joanne Bischof lives in the mountains of Southern California where she keeps busy making messes with their home-schooled children. When she’s not weaving Appalachian romance, she’s blogging about faith, writing, and the adventures of country living that bring her stories to life. Be Still My Soul is her first novel.  Visit Joanne's website:

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.”

Tales of Western Adventure: Part 1


This summer, we finally lived out our dream of traveling to the "Wild West."  Our itinerary was full of things to see in Yellowstone National Park; Cody, Wyoming; and Grand Teton National Park. After months of exciting trip research, we boarded a plane for the first time and set out to discover the west. Coming from the east, we knew that we would be amazed by the majestic landscape, but our expectations were far exceeded.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and one that we will never forget. The diversity of the landscape,  purity of the rivers, other-worldliness of Yellowstone's thermal features, and rugged mountains, are truly breathtaking.  The west is an area that you need to experience first-hand to fully appreciate the majesty and magnitude.  

Day 1: Flying to Wyoming

Our first view of snow-capped mountains.  Watching the landscape change from the flat Midwest to the rugged terrain of the west was the best part of flying.  Fortunately the weather was perfect!

 We drove through Idaho on our way to Yellowstone from Jackson Hole, WY.  There were potato fields for miles, and a few small towns scattered along the way.  One of them was Victor, home of the Victor Emporium with "famous" huckleberry milkshakes. 

Victor is a one traffic signal town.  Surprisingly, we did get in a traffic jam for 20 minutes, waiting for new asphalt to dry. 

The landmark of Driggs, Idaho is the Spud Drive-In Theater. 

 After a long day of travelling, we finally arrived in West Yellowstone, Montana.  It is a touristy western town, tacky in some ways, but charming too. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Unending Devotion" by Jody Hedlund | Nikon Camera Giveaway and 9/18 Facebook Party! Enter and RSVP today. Celebrate with Jody by entering to win a Nikon Camera Prize Pack!

See what folks are saying about Unending Devotion!

One “devoted” winner will receive:
  • A Nikon COOLPIX Digital Camera
  • $25 Shutterfly gift certficate
  • Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 17th. Winner will be announced at the “Unending Deovtion” Author Chat Facebook Party on 9/18. Connect with Jody, get a sneak peek of her next book, try your hand at a trivia contest, and chat with readers just like yourself. There will also be gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack to be won (10 copies for your book club or small group)!

So grab your copy of Unending Devotion and join Jody on the evening of the September 18th for a chance to connect with Jody and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book – don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

Don't miss a moment of the RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 18th!

Review of "Love's Reckoning" by Laura Frantz

Rating: 5 Stars
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Summary from Revell: On a bitter December day in 1784, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of blacksmith Liege Lee in York County, Pennsylvania. Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship quickly and move west. But because he is a fast worker and a superb craftsman, Liege endeavors to keep him in York by appealing to an old tradition: the apprentice shall marry one of his master's beautiful daughters.

Eden is as gentle and fresh as Elspeth is high-spirited and cunning. But are they truly who they appear to be? In a house laced with secrets, each sister seeks to secure her future. Which one will claim Silas's heart--and will he agree to Liege's arrangement?

In this sweeping family saga, one man's choices in love and work, in friends and enemies, set the stage for generations to come. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Review:  I spent a recent rainy Saturday morning lost in the pages of Laura Frantz's latest novel, Love's Reckoning.  The first novel in the Ballantyne Legacy series has left a lasting impression on my heart and mind.  In many ways it reminds me of the British period movies that leave me reflecting on the intricacies of the plot long after the last scene fades to black.  Frantz demonstrates her mastery of the writing craft in each of her novels, and I always find myself captivated.  

Love's Reckoning pulled me in from the first chapter with the secrets and pain that reside in the Lee household.   Eden is a lovable heroine, a sparkle of light and innocence, especially when compared to her sister and father.  It is nearly impossible not to sympathize with her from the start, which makes certain circumstances in her life all the more heartrending. This novel is truly a drama, with sorrow, tension, and the slow revealing of secrets to propel the plot forward.  There are times in Love's Reckoning when love and happiness seem to be defeated and torn apart by life's evils. 

From the moment Eden meets Silas, it is clear that they are meant for each other.  One question lingers until the conclusion: "Will the circumstances fighting against their union claim victory"? Frantz builds a gentle and powerful love story between sweet Eden and noble Silas. Their interactions are full of romantic tension, but their feelings are not limited to physical attraction.  The small acts of kindness between Silas and Eden as their love grows is more pure and poignant than any embraces (though the embraces come in due time).  

Growing up in a household devoid of faith, Eden is very hungry for spiritual nourishment.  Silas shares his faith with Eden in moments that are particularly touching and sweet. They are the essence of a perfect union, each helping the other to grow spiritually and emotionally.  Eden's interest in and reverence of verses of scripture and church helps Silas to reconnect with his beliefs. Ultimately, Eden learns to rely on faith to see her through the heartbreaks that lie ahead.  

Love's Reckoning is a powerful story of everlasting love. Laura Frantz transports readers to 18th century Pennsylvania, from York County, to Philadelphia, to Pittsburgh. She brings the scenery and the characters to life through her words. The Ballantyne Legacy is off to a memorable start. After reading the preview at the end of Love's ReckoningI am already looking forward to the second novel.

Available September 2012  at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell 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.”


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