Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review of "Greetings from the Flipside"

Rating: 3 Stars
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Review: "Greetings from the Flipside" is definitely unlike any other novel that  I have read in the past few years.  Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay create two intertwined stories with the same characters but one big difference: one of the stories is a dream.  Hope is living her life in a coma, and embarking on new adventures in her mind, including a move to New York City and a new job. Meanwhile, in the real world, she is lying unconscious in a hospital bed, with Jake, a childhood acquaintance by her side. The dreams scenes are often quirky and humorous with enough substance to build characters and a love story.

Gutteridge and McKay flip around traditional romance in favor of the unconventional.  When I discovered that Hope was going to be in a coma for the majority of the novel, I was doubtful that a love story could find a foothold in the plot. Although Hope's dreams merge with reality at the end of the novel, I struggled with the concept that the relationship between Hope and Jake is built on two different planes. The strength of Jake's character and love for Hope is established early in the plot, when he drops everything to sit at the bedside of his childhood crush.  In Hope's temporary reality, Jake wins her heart by exhibiting the same character qualities. I was disappointed that Hope and Jake primarily experienced their love in two different realities, and I would have found more satisfaction from more time at the end dedicated to building their real-life relationship.

 "Greetings from the Flipside" pushes convention to sidelines from start to finish. Gutteridge and McKay give readers a chance to escape from reality and experience a light read with a large dose of wackiness.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Publishing through Net Galley. 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.

Summary from B&H Publishing Group: Hope Landon has been rewriting other people’s greeting cards since she was six years old. There’s always a funnier caption in there somewhere. She’s ready to chase her creative dreams in New York City with her fiancĂ©—until he leaves Hope at the altar.That may give her something to write about . . .Hope disappears for the time that would have been the couple’s month-long honeymoon, and upon returning learns of her own funeral. Everyone concluded Hope must have killed herself after being jilted. Needing a fresh start more than ever, she heads for the Big Apple only to discover it isn’t easy to rent a place when you’ve been declared dead.

Taking shelter at the YMCA, Hope lands a job at an inspirational greeting card company assisting Jake, the guy who shut down his organization’s humor department. She has lost her faith in love; he needs to find something or someone that will make him laugh again.

Fun and faithful, Greetings from the Flipside will keep turning over in your mind.

Review of "Dark Halo"

Rating: 4 Stars

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Review:  The final installment of Shannon Dittemore's "Angel Eyes" trilogy is aptly titled "Dark Halo." It is the darkest of the three novels, with the Prince of Darkness himself making appearances with lies and bargains.  At times, the plot is as chilling as the icy blue eyes on the cover.  Dittmore packs spiritual lessons into her story, but her use of action and imagery keeps the book from ever feeling preachy.  Tension is at an all-time high in "Dark Halo" as the angelic army battles the demonic army above Stratus. There are some much needed lulls in the action as mysteries from the previous novels are solved, with some surprising realizations. 

"Dark Halo" chilled me more than "Angel Eyes" and "Broken Wings." It is a culmination of the forces of darkness and light, with fear and temptation showing even more strength.  While darkness is a strong opponent, light and love prove even stronger.  Brielle's struggle with her celestial vision reaches a pinnacle in the final novel. While it allows her to see the beauty of faith and worship, it also reveals to her the disturbing images of suffering.  As is often the case in real-life, the bad often overshadows the good - in our minds and in the media.  Dittemore directly connects the common emotions of fear and temptation to evil.  It is a theme that weaves throughout the trilogy, even more tangibly in "Dark Halo."  The demons that are present throughout the series are formidable and overtly evil.  But the Prince of Darkness hides his evil behind beauty.  Both he and his promises are alluring and disguised to trick the mind. Dittemore saves the earthly manifestation of the Prince of Darkness until the final novel, when Brielle's emotionally and spiritually exhausted.   Although Brielle has seen the beauty of angels and the strength of faith, she finds her defenses weakened to temptations that will destroy her life. The Dark Halo is a weighty reminder of Brielle's encounter with the devil and her struggle to resist his promises. 

Shannon Dittemore compels readers to take the seemingly supernatural events of her "Angel Eyes" novels and compare them to reality. "Dark Halo" concludes the series with a message of promise and the impetus to fight darkness and conquer the barriers that try to hide true beauty.

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

Summary from Thomas Nelson: One halo brought sight to Brielle. Another offers sweet relief from what she sees.

Brielle can’t help but see the Celestial. Even without the halo, the invisible realm is everywhere she looks. It’s impossibly beautiful—and terrifying, especially now. Because a battle rages above Stratus, Oregon.
The Terrestrial Veil is ripping, and demons walk the streets past unseeing mortals. Dark, sticky fear drips from every face, and nightmares haunt Brielle’s sleep.
Worst of all, Jake is gone. The only boy she’s ever loved has been taken by the demon, Damien. When she receives instructions from the Throne Room leading her to Jake, she unknowingly walks into a diabolical and heartbreaking trap.
Now she’s stranded in a sulfurous desert with the Prince of Darkness himself, and he’s offering her another halo—a mirrored ring that will destroy her Celestial vision. All she has to do is wear it and she’ll see no more of the invisible world. No more fear. No more nightmares. No more demons. It’s a gift. And best of all: it comes with the promise of a future with Jake, something the Throne Room seems to be taking from her.
Will Brielle trade the beauty of the Celestial and the truth of the world around her just to feel ordinary again?

Review of "The Governess of Highland Hall"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: In a story reminiscent of "Upstairs, Downstairs," "Downton Abbey," and even "Jane Eyre," Carrie Turansky introduces readers to Highland Hall and its residents.  "The Governess of Highland Hall" has an appealing British air with plenty of drama on the vast and beautiful estate.  Julia Foster arrives from serving as a missionary in India to work as a governess on William Ramsey's newly inherited estate.  A world away from India, Julia confronts new challenges from her pupils, the household staff, and the stirrings of her heart. Despite finding herself in a brand new environment, Julia seems overly confident of her opinions. Sir William even consults with Julia over estate problems and they work together to find a solution for economizing the estate's expenditures.  Although their partnership is good for developing their relationship, it seems a bit unrealistic that Julia would be so knowledgeable and self-assured.  I could relate to the head housekeeper's annoyance with Julia at times, but not her vindictiveness.  

There are two romances that cross societal boundaries in "The Governess of Highland Hall."  The main focus is the relationship between Julia and Sir William.  Sir William transitions from a distant father and broken-hearted man to a more open and accessible family and estate leader.  Much of the change is driven by Julia's presence, but both characters keep their feelings suppressed, constrained by their class differences.  There is a touch of "Jane Eyre" in the situation, without the heaviness and mystery.  Casting convention aside in favor of true love is an appealing recipe for romance, and adds romantic drama.  Sir William's sister, Sarah, also embarks on an upstairs, downstairs relationship with the estate's gardener.  I most enjoyed Sarah's story, and her gentle demeanor and quiet strength pulled on my heartstrings.  I would have loved to read more about her background and disability, especially since I found myself anticipating her scenes.    

Carrie Turansky delivers drama and romance in "The Governess of Highland Hall."  Highland Hall is a grand estate with intriguing residents that will take readers on a trip to the English countryside.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah. 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.

Summary from WaterBrook Multnomah: Worlds lie between the marketplaces of India and the halls of a magnificent country estate like Highland Hall. Will Julia be able to find her place when a governess is neither upstairs family nor downstairs help? 
Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the estate’s preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey.

Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin Randolph’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from the financial ruin. The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith.

While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart and faith over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

Review of "All for a Story"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Allison Pittman consistently delivers novels rooted firmly in faith and history.  I am always excited to delve into her stories and experience the past.  "All for a Story" reads like a 1920's movie, with flappers, speakeasies, dancing, and dialogue that seems completely authentic to the time period.  Pittman also introduces readers to another product of the 1920s - the Anti-Flirt Society. The incorporation of less well-known pieces of history is one of the reasons that I love Allison Pittman's novels. She is an expert in blending historical facts into the body of a meaningful plot. Pittman delves deeper than the flappers of the Roaring Twenties to give readers a new perspective on the era.

From speakeasies to anti-flirt meetings, Monica Brisbaine will go almost anywhere for a story for her Monkey Business newspaper column. The Monkey Business columns are clever additions to the plot with turns of phrase that seem like they could be straight from the 1920s. They show Monica as a woman who is well-versed in worldly ways, a cynical character with rough edges behind a polished veneer.  Her flirtatious, flapper facade hides her true emotions.  The layers begin to peel away when she meets her new boss, Max Moore, a man who is much more innocent than she. He challenges Monica's newspaper column and her entire way of life.

Max is a sweet hero, striving to live an honest and clean life and quietly showing his love for Monica. Unfortunately, Monica is not accustomed to being treated like a lady, and the road to her heart is a challenging journey.  It is frustrating to watch Monica continue to keep Max at a distance, and she never seems to fully open up to him. As a result, the love story aspect of the plot feels a little unfinished.  When the novel concludes, Monica seems to finally begin to open her heart to both Max and the readers.  I have never had difficulty connecting with Pittman's characters in the past, but Monica is a challenge. Although her character softens throughout the plot, her wall never completely comes down, leaving me feeling detached. Regardless of my lack of connection, Monica's flapper persona is solidly constructed and a stark contrast to Max's more staid personality.

"All for a Story" is a well-written novel with fascinating history. I always recommend Allison Pittman's novels to other readers, and this one is no exception.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers through Netgalley. 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.

Summary from Tyndale House Publishers: Monica Brisbaine loves being a modern girl in the Roaring Twenties. Her job writing a gossip column allows her access to all the local speakeasys in Washington, D.C., where she can dance the night away—and find fodder for her next article. But when the owner of the Capitol Chatter newspaper passes away, Monica wonders what will happen to her job, and the lifestyle she loves.

Max Moore may hold the title of editor-in-chief for evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’s paper, The Bridal Call, but Aimee calls all the shots. So when Max learns that his great-uncle has passed away, leaving him all his earthly possessions, Max resigns and heads to D.C. Determined to take over the Capitol Chatter, infuse it with his values, and turn it into a respectable paper, Max is soon bumping up against the equally determined Monica Brisbane.

Under Max’s direction, Monica embarks on her most challenging assignment yet: infiltrating and reporting on the Anti-Flirt Society. Though reluctant at first, as Monica meets and mingles with the young women of the club, she begins to question the innocence of her flirtatious lifestyle. And when romance begins to blossom between Max and Monica, she must choose where her loyalties lie: with the young women of the society or the alluring pull of the speakeasy and its inhabitants.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review of "Dear Mr. Knightley"

Rating: 5 Stars
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Review: As a Jane Austen fan, the title "Dear Mr. Knightley" immediately caught my attention. I wasn't sure what to expect from Katherine Reay's debut novel, especially since it is written as a series of one-way letters from Samantha Moore to the mysterious "Mr. Knightley." The format is fresh, and completely grabbed my attention. The more I read, the more engrossed I became.  So engrossed that I spent almost an entire day reading, which is rare.  "Dear Mr. Knightley" is not strictly an "Emma" spin-off; it is a modern combination of elements seen in the works of the classic authors mentioned throughout the novel - Dickens, Bronte, Gaskell, and Austen.  The plot has pain, triumph, love, trust, belonging, and self-discovery.  Samantha's Mr. Knightley adds an air of mystery.  Although he is largely silent, it is impossible not to wonder who is behind the pseudonym.

Samantha mentions a few times in her first letters that she has trouble connecting with others.  She carries emotional baggage from a childhood spent in foster homes and living with troubled parents. Reay reveals Samantha's story gradually, building a strong emotional connection as Samantha opens up and shares her life experiences.  Reading Samantha's letters feels more personal than reading a novel told in a traditional first person format.  There is a casual, journal-like quality that makes Samantha's story more engaging and real. There are a few love stories built in the pages, both familial and romantic love, equally sweet and captivating.

Fans of Jane Austen will appreciate the references to the famous authoress and her contemporaries throughout "Dear Mr. Knightley." In fact, we might even gain a new appreciation for Austen's Mr. Knightley, who is often overshadowed by another Mister of Austen's creation. Reay presents her own version of Mr. Knightley, who despite his own mistakes, possesses the strength of character and devotion as his namesake. I believe Ms. Austen would be quite proud.

Kathering Reay makes a stunning debut, sharing her creativity and talent with readers.  She is certainly an author whose next novel I will anticipate.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Litfuse. 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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Summary from Thomas Nelson: Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Growing up orphaned and alone, Sam found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the BrontĂ« sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.
Sometimes we lose ourselves in the things we care about most.
But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself “Mr. Knightley”) offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.
As Sam’s program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it’s pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is – once again – made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.  
Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

Meet the author: Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, she worked as a marketer for Proctor & Gamble and Sears before returning to school to earn her MTS. Her works have been published in "Focus on the Family" and the "Upper Room." Katherine currently lives with her husband and three children in Seattle. "Dear Mr. Knightley" is her first novel.

Learn more about Katherine at:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review of "Beloved"

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Review: "Beloved" is the third book in Robin Lee Hatcher's "Where the Heart Lives" series. Unlike many romances that focus on new love, Hatcher crafts a story about an estranged married couple who are reunited under unusual circumstances.  Both Diana and Tyson have been shaped by past experiences and hardships that give dimension to their characters.  Each chapter ends with a glimpse into Diana's and Tyson's courtship, marriage, and separation.  Although brief, these insights provide necessary background to the range of emotions that Diana and Tyson experience. 

There aren't many surprises in the plot; it progressed as I anticipated based on the synopsis. Various conflicts both within the characters and among them, provide tension.  Two characters in particular seem determined to sabotage any attachment between Diana and Tyson. I felt that the climax and resolution was relatively predictable.

"Beloved" is a story of relationships, and there are a few relationships besides the one between Diana and Tyson. I particularly liked young Ned, a local orphan who easily finds a way into Diana's heart. The mother-son bond that develops between them is sweet, though not without conflict.  Each of the protagonists undergoes transformation and healing, which leads to a happy ending.  "Beloved" is an enjoyable novel that is well-written and developed.  Hatcher introduces themes of redemption, forgiveness, and love to create a more meaningful romance novel. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from 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.

Summary from Zondervan: A most unwelcome guest surprises Diana at her engagement party---the husband she thought was dead!

Diana Brennan came west on the orphan train and was given a home with a loving couple who cherished and spoiled her. At 17, she fell hard for Tyson Applegate, the son of a wealthy mine owner. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Tyson took o for adventures around the world, including fighting with the Rough Riders in Cuba. Receiving no word of him in years, Diana is ready to move past the old pain and marry again, just as soon as Tyson is declared legally dead.

But when Tyson returns, supposedly a changed man, he wants to reunite with his wife and run for the senate. While Diana suspects the election is his real reason for wanting her by his side, she agrees to maintain his home and to campaign with him, but when it is over, win or lose, she wants her freedom.

He agrees with one condition---she must give him a chance to change her mind about him.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review of "Healer of Carthage"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Part medical drama, part romance, part time-travel fantasy, Lynne Gentry's new novel "Healer of Carthage" is just the beginning of an adventure that will continue in "The Carthage Chronicles."  When I began reading "Healer of Carthage," I was reminded of Lisa T. Bergren's time-travel series "The River of Time." The novels are similar in many ways, but the specifics of the plots are very divergent.  Gentry takes her readers to the third century Roman city of Carthage, now in Tunisia. Present-day doctor Lisbeth Hastings finds herself transported to an era when Gladiator games, slave trade, political corruption, Christian persecution, and disease are rampant. We are swept along in her adventure, learning the nuances of survival in such a tempestuous city. There is a small degree of closure at the end of the novel, but there are clearly many more stories to delve into further in a sequel.

The medical scenes fluctuate in prevalence throughout the story.  Gentry's research is evident in the descriptions of injuries, illnesses, and treatments.  Lisbeth's struggle to adapt modern-day medicine to third world resources gives the scenes a new twist. Some of the "healing" became a bit dry for me and a little chaotic at the beginning. When Lisbeth was initially transported through time and landed in the middle of a bidding war, I felt as uprooted and disoriented as Lisbeth at times.  Between the odd names, the political factions, and the medical emergencies, the first part of the novel felt cluttered and overwhelming. The plot settled into a comfortable pace, and became especially engaging when focusing on the plights of Christians and innocent, oppressed citizens.

Lisbeth's relationship with Cyprian transitions from distrust to love. Cyprian possesses all of the noble qualities of an ancient hero, and holds much promise to continue as a pivotal character in the upcoming novels.  I look forward to the Lisbeth's and Cyprian's romance progressing to a deeper love.

"Healer of Carthage" comes full circle from beginning to end.  Gentry offers satisfying closure to some of Lisbeth's present-day problems, but the past is calling her back as surely as it calls the reader to await the next chapters in the "Carthage Chronicles."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Howard Books through Net Galley. 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.

Summary from Howard Books: A modern-day doctor gets trapped in third-century Carthage, Rome, where she uncovers buried secrets, confronts Christian persecution, and battles a deadly epidemic to save the man she loves.

Dr. Lisbeth Hastings, a first-year resident, is summoned by her eccentric father to join him at his archaeological dig. She is hesitant to accept his invitation, but when a tragic mistake ends her medical career, Lisbeth decides the only way to redeem her failure is to care for her confused father.

While exploring the haunting cave at her father’s dig, Lisbeth falls through a hidden hole and awakens to find herself the object of a slave bidding war! She tries to escape her captor, a wealthy Roman lawyer named Cyprian Thascius, and discovers that the city she remembers as ruins has somehow become brand-new. Who restored Carthage to a thriving metropolis? And if she is in the third century, how did this happen?

Cyprian believes God called him to rescue the beautiful and strange woman being auctioned off as a slave. He doesn’t understand why saving the church of his newfound faith requires him to love a mysterious woman who seems determined to get him killed by her stubbornness. But who is he to question God?

Their colliding worlds spark an intense attraction as Lisbeth and Cyprian soon find themselves united in a battle against a deadly epidemic. Together they confront Christian persecution, uncover buried secrets, and witness the beginnings of a medical revolution, but they fear Roman wrath will separate them forever. Will Lisbeth save the man she loves and the family she longs for—or will their separate worlds pull them apart forever?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review of "Under a Blackberry Moon"

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Review: Serena B. Miller shows readers another perspective of life in 1860s Michigan in "Under a Blackberry Moon."  Moon Song and Skypilot are intriguing characters in "The Measure of Katie Calloway," 
and they have plenty of past and present experiences to fill the pages of their own novel.  Although two of her previous books are set in Michigan as well, "Under a Blackberry Moon" ventures into the rugged wilds of the state and into Native American villages.  I enjoy the fresh historical perspective that Miller brings into the plot with topics ranging from the dangers of early steamship travel to the plight of Native Americans.

Moon Song is a refreshing departure from the traditional heroines.  As a Native American, she faces prejudices and misconceptions from strangers and even her close friends.  Skypilot cares for and protects Moon Song from the beginning of the novel, but views her like an innocent and incapable child. Some of Moon Song's conversations and observations paint her into a more child-like character, so it is easy to view her as younger than her years.  Throughout their shared adventure, she proves that she is a strong and brave woman and Skypilot begins to view her as such in his mind and heart. The romance is more about Skypilot's acceptance of Moon Song as a woman and Native American.  The love story feels a little one-sided at times. It is clear that Skypilot desires marriage and is willing to work through the barriers to build a life together.  While Moon Song shares his love, she doesn't seem as vested in a relationship.  I like both characters, but I don't feel a complete emotional connection with them. Other parts also fall a bit flat for me as well.  Moon Song's conversion to Christianity and her reconciliation with her past are pivotal events that are rushed at the end of the novel.  Overall, "Under a Blackberry Moon" is a pleasant read with themes of love and acceptance and glimpses into a small segment of American history.

“Available October 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell, a division 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

Summary from Revell: Which wilderness is more treacherous--the one she must cross to find her home... or the one she must traverse to find love?

Just a few days after she gave birth alone in the northwoods, a recently widowed young Chippewa woman stumbled into a nearby lumber camp in search of refuge from the winter snows. Come summer, it is clear that Moon Song cannot stay among the rough-and-tumble world of white lumbermen, and so the camp owner sends Skypilot, his most trusted friend, to accompany her on the long and treacherous journey back to her people. 

But when tragedy strikes off the shore of Lake Superior, Moon Song and Skypilot must depend on each other for survival. With every step they take into the forbidding woods, they are drawn closer together, until it seems the unanswerable questions must be asked. Can she leave her culture to enter his? Can he leave his world to enter hers? Or will they simply walk away from a love that seems too complicated to last?

Get swept into a wild realm where beauty masks danger and only the truly courageous survive in a story that will grip your heart and your imagination.

Review of "Made to Last"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: How many of us wonder what really happens behind the scenes of our favorite home improvement or reality television shows? Melissa Tagg explores these possibilities in her debut novel, "Made to Last."  The basic scenario is familiar: the main character need a spouse, someone is hired to play the part, and the pretense begins with the threat of being discovered constantly looming on the sidelines. Tagg puts a new spin on the situation with a plot that is both humorous and serious and involves a love "rectangle."  Humor is more prevalent at the beginning of the novel and takes a backseat mid-way through.  Delving into deeper topics deserves a more serious tone, but I found myself wishing for more of the light-hearted moments to make their way back into the plot. 

Miranda finds herself in quite a quandary, in a pretend marriage with three potential love interests.  "Made to Last" is told from both Miranda's and Matthew's perspectives, and they both bring depth to the plot with their less-than-perfect pasts.  They are both believably flawed with stories worth telling. Miranda's fake husband situation is not completely realistic, but the scenario leading up to her ongoing lie is believable.  In regards to the love story, limiting the perspective to just Miranda's would have kept me in more suspense about the outcome.  From the beginning, it was clear that Matthew captured Miranda's heart, although part of me hoped it would be Blaze. Blaze offers sometimes over-the-top comedic relief in a surfer dude style, but has untapped potential to become a very dynamic character.  I definitely hope that we see him in one of Tagg's future novels, but "Made to Last" tackled enough issues without introducing Blaze's as well.

Tagg's contemporary romance reminds me of novels by authors like Denise Hunter and Lisa Wingate.  She creates a plot reminiscent of a movie with characters and situations to capture a reader's interest.  After getting our attention, Tagg incorporates meaningful themes of honesty, faith, forgiveness, and true love.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through Net Galley. 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

Summary from Bethany House: Miranda Woodruff has it all. At least, that's how it looks when she's starring in her homebuilding television show, From the Ground Up. So when her network begins to talk about making cuts, she'll do anything to boost ratings and save her show--even if it means pretending to be married to a man who's definitely not the fiance who ran out on her three years ago.
When a handsome reporter starts shadowing Miranda's every move, all his digging into her personal life brings him a little too close to the truth--and to her. Can the girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her on-screen persona finally find the nerve to set the record straight? And if she does, will the life she's built come crashing down just as she's found a love to last?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Review of "The Courier of Caswell Hall"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: "The Courier of Caswell Hall" by Melanie Dobson served as my introduction to Summerside Press' "American Tapestry" series.   History and love share the stage in this story set during the turbulent American Revolution.  The plot brims with historical details and give a new perspective on the turning point in our nation's history.  Overall, I enjoyed the abundance of history and Dobson's descriptions of the beautiful Williamsburg area.  There were times in the beginning of the novel when the plot seemed a bit stilted by the emphasis on historical facts; and while the narration flowed well, the conversation felt stilted.  Fortunately, once the historical foundation was laid, the plot became more emotionally engaging and the characters became more dimensional.   

The novel is divided into three parts, parts 2 and 3 were when the story really took off for me. Dobson built tension among the characters as loyalties were divided. Lydia's transformation from a loyalist to a true Patriot was gradual and her resistance was understandable, given the constant presence of British soldiers at her family's plantation.  Dobson highlights the role of women in the Revolution through a few other characters, including Sarah, Lydia's friend and neighbor. I applauded the bravery that each woman exhibited when she chose to aid her country in spite of overwhelming danger. Sarah and Lydia were neighbors but were impacted by the war in divergent ways, which was probably very representative of the reality of the Revolutionary War. I was surprised, and saddened at times, by some of the turns of events in both Lydia's and Sarah's lives.  Dobson concludes each story on a bittersweet note, but leaves the reader with an appreciation for the lasting legacy of the women and men who gave America her freedom. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from LitFuse. 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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Summary: An unlikely spy discovers freedom and love in the midst of the American Revolution.

As the British and Continental armies wage war in 1781, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner feels conflict raging in her own heart. Lydia Caswell comes from a family of staunch Loyalists, but she cares only about peace. Her friend Sarah Hammond, however, longs to join the fight. Both women's families have already been divided by a costly war that sets father against son and neighbor against neighbor; a war that makes it impossible to guess who can be trusted.

One snowy night Lydia discovers a wounded man on the riverbank near Caswell Hall, and her decision to save him will change her life. Nathan introduces her to a secret network of spies, couriers, disguises, and coded messages---a network that may be the Patriots' only hope for winning the war. When British officers take over Caswell Hall and wreak havoc on neighboring plantations, Lydia will have to choose between loyalty and freedom; between her family's protection and her own heart's desires.

As both armies gather near Williamsburg for a pivotal battle, both Lydia and Sarah must decide how high a price they are willing to pay to help the men they love.

Part of the American Tapestries™ series: Each standalone novel in this line sets a heart-stirring love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. This is the fifth book in the series.

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About the Author: Melanie Dobson is the author of twelve novels; her writing has received numerous accolades including two Carol Awards. Melanie worked in public relations for fifteen years before she began writing fiction full-time. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides with her husband and two daughters in Oregon.  Connect with Melanie at:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review of "Rebellious Heart"

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review:  Jody Hedlund has the gift of bringing history to life in stories inspired by real events. "Rebellious Heart" is loosely based on the love between John and Abigail Adams. The connection to the famous historical figures is not directly tangible, but their fictional counterparts show courage, faith, mercy, and love that the Adamses likely possessed. Hedlund weaves a story of love and mystery that keeps the plot interesting.  Susanna's connection to a runaway indentured servant and Ben's loyalty to the Patriot cause create tense moments. The central mystery revolves around a murder case that impacts the entire town.  It lends a sense of darkness in the details, somewhat reminiscent of Dickens. There are elements of the murder mystery threaded throughout the plot, so I expected a significant climax leading to its resolution. The novel ties up neatly and completely, but almost too easily. 

Susanna and Ben find themselves on opposing sides of the mounting rebellion and living in different social spheres.  Circumstances repeatedly throw them together, creating the perfect recipe for romantic tensions. Ben allows statements that Susanna made when she was just 5 years old to act as a barrier to his growing feelings for her as an adult.  This strikes me as a bit unrealistic, but it is a small detail in the overall story.

"Rebellious Heart" is the second novel I have read in as many weeks that is set around America's fight for independence. Although both books focus on the same topic, they are executed differently to give readers unique views of a pivotal time in history.  Hedlund depicts the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, when loyalties were fractured. Reading about the Revolution has renewed my appreciation for the brave individuals who stand up for justice and freedom. Hedlund reminds her readers that a "rebellious" heart can be an asset to the world when its motives are pure and just. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through Net Galley. 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.
Summary from Bethany House: A Love That Would Shape History Forever

Because she's a woman, higher learning was always closed to Susanna Smith. But her quick mind and quicker tongue never back down from a challenge. And she's determined to marry well, so she'll be able to continue her work with the less fortunate.

Growing up with little to his name, poor country lawyer Benjamin Ross dreams of impacting the world for the better. When introduced to the Smiths he's taken by Susanna's intelligence and independent spirit, but her parents refuse to see him as a suitor for their daughter. 

When the life of a runaway indentured servant is threatened, Susanna is forced to choose between justice and mercy, and Ben becomes her unlikely advisor. But drawing closer to this man of principle and intellect lands her in a dangerous, secret world of rebellion and revolution against everything she once held dear.

Review of "Love's Awakening"

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review: Laura Frantz continues "The Ballantyne Legacy" in "Love's Awakening," focusing on Ellie, the youngest daughter of Eden and Silas. The title and the cover design evoke the gentle beauty of dawn and the quiet and gradual beginning of a new day. "Love's Awakening" is subtly beautiful, a subdued romance. The direct interaction between Ellie and Jack is somewhat limited. Their story has a "Romeo and Juliet" quality, and despite the differences between the Ballantynes and the Turlocks, there is a sense of rightness to the growing love between Ellie and Jack.  

Frantz goes beyond the romance and adds the drama of forbidden love, prejudice, and social change. "Love's Awakening" is not as gripping as its predecessor, "Love's Reckoning."  It is more predictable in comparison; but in true Frantz style, it is beautifully written and finely crafted.  The history of the abolitionist movement blends seamlessly into the Ballantyne saga.  History can sometimes feel forced, but this is not the case in Frantz's novels.  The Ballantynes' involvement in the abolitionist cause is not surprising, and I could expect nothing less from Eden and Silas, given their history.   Courage and strength are part of the Ballantyne legacy, and so is hardship.  Tragedy finds its way into "Love's Awakening" adding a bittersweet quality to triumph.  While there is a degree of closure with a happy ending, the stage is immediately set for the sequel. But we must wait until 2014 for the new questions to be answered; for now mystery surrounds the ongoing saga. 

“Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell, a division 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.

Summary from Revell: The path to true love lies somewhere between two feuding families

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan--particularly the handsome Jack Turlock--she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Summertime in the Shaker Village

This year we embarked on a road trip for our summer vacation, stopping in Lexington and Harrodsburg, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Abingdon, Virginia.  One of the highlights of our trip was our day spent at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg.  I read about the village in Southern Living several years ago and have wanted to visit it since then.  The area was more picturesque and tranquil than I even imagined, with rolling green hills and pastures stretching to the horizon. The Shaker buildings, most original to the 1850s settlement, were stunning as well.  I have always thought of the Shaker style as simple and unembellished.  While it is simple and functional, it is also refined, stately, and graceful.

The Shakers were socially progressive, believing in equality among all people regardless of gender or race. They were also quite wealthy and self-reliant, even harvesting silk worms to create silk fibers for garments. The Shakers relied on new converts to grow their population, but the majority of potential converts did not make it past their trial period.  It is easy to see why outsiders would have been drawn to the community, but the lifestyle restrictions were quite inflexible.  To experience a taste of the Shaker lifestyle, you can stay in some of the original buildings, and we hope to stay there on a future trip.   This year, we opted to spend a night at the Maple Hill Manor in Springfield, Kentucky.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill - Very aptly named!

Centre Family Dwelling, the second largest building in KY in the 1850s.
Only the state capitol building was larger.
Interior of the Centre Family Dwelling

Basement in the Centre Family Dwelling
One staircase for men and one for women
Shaker Brooms - These are all handmade using the
Shaker method and stand on their own.

Main meeting space in the Centre Family Dwelling

A place for everything

Silk worms on mulberry leaves

Beautiful winding staircase in the Trustees' Building

Harrodsburg, Kentucky and The Old Kentucky Fudge Company

The Old Kentucky Fudge Company and Good Eats Eatery are located in an old pharmacy.
The built-ins are original and still have the nameplates on the drawers for the herbs and
medicines that would have been store in them, 

 Maple Hill Manor, Circa 1851

Review of "A Home for My Heart"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Anne Mateer tugs on heartstrings in "A Home for My Heart," a gentle love story. The characters and setting combine to create a tender plot. Although it is slow in places, there is enough conflict to keep attention and interest.  Not only is Sadie nursing a breaking heart and settling into a new job, but the futures of the Raystown Home and its children are at stake.  It was nearly impossible not to be moved by the plight of the orphans and think about real-life orphans of the past and the present. Sadie's love and care for her charges adds sentiment and reflects genuine emotion, which makes her a realistic character. I related to the doubts and challenges that plagued Sadie as the new Raystown matron.  At some point, we all search for our unique path in life, the home for our heart. Mateer shows that our right path may not always be the one we dream of for ourselves and it may be more rocky than smooth.

Mateer has a talent for writing love stories that don't focus solely on romance, and "A Home for My Heart" is an excellent example. Sadie's passion for orphaned children takes precedence over romantic love. The relationship between Sadie and her beau, Blaine, is already established at the beginning of the novel. Their love is put to the test when their plans diverge. Although the relationship between Sadie and Blaine suffers a rift that lasts throughout the plot, it allows their love to grow in a manner that is more emotional and less physical.  Because the story is told from Sadie's perspective only, it is hard to be certain of Blaine's emotions, but his actions demonstrate his love in ways that more physical scenes cannot.  I appreciate that Mateer chooses to build a deeper love between her characters and focus on many types of love, not just that of a romantic nature.

"A Home for My Heart" is not overly exciting or eventful, but its focus on everyday issues and challenges make it more realistic.  I have enjoyed Anne Mateer's other novels more, but this is a touching story that evokes emotion.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through Net Galley. 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.

Summary from Bethany House: A sweet story of hope and love set against the poignant backdrop of a 1910 orphanage.

Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children, pouring all her energy into caring for the boys and girls who live there and dreaming of the day she'll marry her beau, Blaine, and have children of her own. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the esteemed job of running the orphanage.

There's one glitch. The matron cannot be married. She must focus her attention on the financial, legal, and logistical matters of the Home. Sadie's heart is torn. Should she give up her plans for a life with Blaine in order to continue serving these children who have no one else? Does she, a young woman who was once an orphan herself, have what it takes to succeed in such a challenging career? And when the future of the Home begins to look bleak, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review of Longing for Home

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review:  After reading many favorable reviews about Sarah Eden's novels, I eagerly anticipated reading, "Longing for Home: A Proper Romance."  Set in the small town of Hope Springs, Wyoming Territory,  the novel is anything but small in its scope of weighty issues regarding relationships.   Katie enters town with the hope of securing a position as a housekeeper with Joseph Archer and earning enough money to finally return to her childhood home of Ireland.  As the novel progresses, it becomes evident that the town is scarred by discrimination and prejudices.  Like the political turmoil and famine that Katie left behind in Ireland,  she finds herself in the middle of mounting tension within the town. Her presence has only become fuel for the growing fire of hatred that wishes to consume all hope from the town.  Despite these circumstances,  Katie finds her heart opening to friendships and the interest of two men.   She faces inner struggles as she yearns for the love, friendship, and acceptance that she has experienced as a young child.  Her past been scarred by tragedy,  loss, and rejection, and she struggles to find peace and forgiveness. 

Sarah Eden masterfully weaves historical details and Katie's past in Ireland, within the pages of "Longing for Home."  I was drawn to Katie's plight and hoping for a "happily ever after" ending for this novel.  I even found myself torn between the two men, Tavish and Joseph, who possibly offer Katie an opportunity to find love and happiness.  Like the town and Katie, both men struggle with their own pasts and personal circumstances.  Sarah Eden shows that, like real-life, there are sometimes no simple solutions and neatly packaged "happily ever afters."  While "Longing for Home" has somewhat of a conclusion,  there are many unanswered questions and perhaps deadly consequences for each resident in the tension-filled town of Hope Springs.  Only the sequel to "Longing for Home" will hold some of these answers within its pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing through Net Galley. 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.

Summary from Shadow Mountain Publishing:    Twenty-six-year-old Katie Macauley needs to convince the influential Joseph Archer to hold true to his word and keep her on his payroll as his housekeeper—despite her Irish roots. When Joseph agrees to keep Katie as his housekeeper, the feud between the Irish immigrants and frontiersmen in the 1870 Wyoming Territory erupts anew, and Katie becomes the reluctant figurehead of hope for the Irish townsfolk. As the violence escalates throughout the town, Katie must choose between the two men who have been vying for her love—though only one might be able to restore hope to her own heart.


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