Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: "Justified" by Varina Denman

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: After reading "Jaded," the first novel in Varina Denman's "Mended Hearts" series, I immediately began "Justified."  I was so invested in the characters, that I put other books aside in favor of jumping right into the second novel.  Although "Justified" can stand on its own, readers will miss out on the strong character connection developed in "Jaded."

Denman proves to be a very gifted storyteller, creating plots that feel like real life. Trapp is like a snapshot of life in most towns, big or small.  We can probably all relate to the judgmental and gossipy behavior of some of Trapp's townfolk.  Like "Jaded," "Justified" is built on messages of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.  Though the themes and the setting are the same, the details of the stories are unique.  

Denman's character development quickly draws readers into the lives of not only the main characters, but also the secondary characters. For me, the "Mended Hearts" series is the ideal style for a series: each novel has a new story at the center of the plot, but there are subplots and characters that form a common bond throughout each novel. Taking center stage in this novel are Fawn Blaylock and JohnScott Pickett.  JohnScott establishes himself as a loveable character with the thoughtful ways of a southern gentleman.  Anyone who isn't won over by him in the first novel, will certainly become fans by the end of this novel.  Fawn doesn't easily gain favor in "Jaded," but as Denman uncovers the vulnerable side of Fawn's personality, she quickly becomes more likeable. I enjoyed watching her grow into a strong and forgiving young woman. 

Set against the hot and dusty background of northwest Texas, "Justified" is a novel that I highly recommend.  It deals with serious topics like abusive relationships and prejudice, but Denman never allows the plot to become too heavy.  There is a sense of hope that spans the length of the book, and Denman shows that the presence of hope and faith can lead us to beauty and love.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook 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 David C. Cook: When the privileged daughter of a Texas rancher becomes pregnant by her abusive boyfriend, her small town casts judgment... except for one man who reaches out with tender strength as she learns to forgive herself.

In a forgotten town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her sins. Yet a yearning in her soul instills hope for a second chance when the head football coach treats her with gentle respect.

Varina Denman's novel Justified perfectly captures the rhythm and romance of life in a small town. It is the story of a woman searching for renewal, a man looking beyond what others see, and a community struggling to understand them both

Review of "Together With You"

Rating:  4 Stars

Review:  Although Victoria Bylin has written many novels,  "Together With You" marks the second novel published by Bethany House and my first introduction to her writing.  "Together With You" is a novel that is multi-layered and rich in self-discovery, forgiveness, redemption, and nurturing relationships. The title and cover might suggest a simple and light-hearted love story, but the first chapter reveals deeper issues.  While Dr. Ryan Tremaine has a thriving medical business, his family is broken, and he is struggling from the guilt, pain, and consequences unleashed after having an affair that destroyed his marriage and his integrity.  Carly Mason is a compassionate college student and former social worker living far from her Kentucky roots.  After finding Dr. Tremaine's young daughter, Penny, Carly interacts with her in a warm manner that tugs at both the reader's and Ryan's hearts.  Despite Carly's reluctance to become emotionally invested in Penny, the relationship that develops between them has lasting effects on Penny and each member of the family.  

Victoria Bylin skillfully draws readers into the pain, joy, heartache, and struggles that can exist within a family and individual's hearts.  From Ryan's pain to the hurt and anger boiling within his young teenage son and the jumbled thoughts of young Penny, "Together With You" is a serious and thought-provoking novel.   Yet, these characters only represent a portion of the complete story.  Carly is a young woman who enters their home and seems to have the conviction and ability to meld each of their lives together.  Readers realize that she is also struggling with guilt from her past and a faith that has been tested.  

The tender and tentative relationship that develops between Carly and Ryan is masterfully developed between them as they work to respect each other, their differences, and their past mistakes.  The conclusion of "Together With You" offers readers a powerful message of forgiveness and of building faith and family.  

Victoria Bylin delivers a serious and reflective novel that will likely stir each reader's heart. Although "Together With You" was the first novel that I have read by her,  I anticipate reading more of Victoria Bylin's books in the future, beginning with  "Until I Found You," which was released May 2014.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House 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 Bethany House:   Sometimes the most unexpected love can be exactly what a heart needs...

When a Lost Child warning blares over the mall's PA system, Carly Mason finds the little girl playing with a stuffed rabbit. Something about Penny Tremaine is different. An ex-social worker, Carly recognizes that the child suffers fetal alcohol effects, and a piece of Carly's past suddenly confronts her. Never again will she become personally involved with a client. The risks are far too great. But something about Penny--and Penny's handsome father--tugs at Carly's heart.
Dr. Ryan Tremaine is trying to put his life back together. With his ex-wife remarried and on a trip far away, his two teenage sons and Penny are living under his roof full time. Ryan has put his faith in his Sink-or-Swim list, a plan to reconnect with his children. The first step: recruit Carly Mason to be Penny's nanny.
Ryan never anticipated being so drawn to Carly, an attraction Carly seems to fight as much as he does. Could Carly be the missing piece that helps his family stay afloat, or will their blossoming romance only complicate things further?

Known for her realistic and engaging characters, Victoria Bylin delivers an emotion-packed story reminiscent of The Sound of Music, one that reminds us all to believe in the power of faith and love.

Book Review: "Jaded" by Varina Denman

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: Varina Denman delivers a promising debut with "Jaded," the first novel in the three book "Mended Hearts" series. "Jaded" is full of genuine emotion that pulls at heart strings and encourages introspection. The message of faith is stronger than what is found in many novels, but it is presented in a non-preachy manner.  The town of Trapp pulled me into its community and captured my interest with its social dynamics and secrets. Denman creates a cast of characters that are reflective of real life.  We've all probably met or behaved like some of the Trapp townsfolk.  It is that level of personal relevancy that makes "Jaded" impactful.

Ruthie and Dodd's relationship is more than a simple love story.  Their interactions bring layers of complexity and depth. I definitely found their relationship to be more realistic than many that are portrayed in novels.  Ruthie and Dodd's love story goes far beyond physical attraction and delves into deeper issues and emotions.  The journey is filled with ups and downs; and along the way. I became invested in not only Ruthie, Dodd, and their families, but in all of the Trapp citizens. When I read the final page of "Jaded," I immediately downloaded the next book in the series "Justified."  There are plenty of other stories waiting to be told in more detail, and I am ready to read them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook 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 David C. Cook: As a child, Ruthie was shunned by the local congregation. Thirteen years later, Ruthie's heart begins to stir when an attractive single preacher arrives. But their relationship is bitterly opposed—unearthing a string of secrets which threaten to turn the church, the town, and her world upside-down.

Jaded is the rare novel that is both love story between a woman and man ... and God and His church. Plunging deep into the waters of shame, forgiveness and restoration, it will resonate with every woman who's experienced a loss of heart ... and a thirst for hope.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Review of "Married 'til Monday"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: If a book was judged by its title alone, I would guess that "Married 'til Monday" would be a light and fun romance.  Denise Hunter gives readers much more in book 4 of "The Chapel Springs Romance" series.  Readers of the previous novels in the series will be familiar with Ryan and his past with his ex-wife, Abby. Although this can be read as a stand-alone novel, there is a sense of connection to the McKinley family that can only be developed after reading all of the preceding books. Reconnecting with past characters is almost like enjoying an extended epilogue, while hearing a new tale that has been waiting to be told.

Hunter combines humor, fun, and romance with emotional depth to capture readers.  The scenario of "Married 'til Monday" is completely different than the other Chapel Springs Romances. Between a failed marriage, broken hearts, and a long distance road trip in a tiny car, there is a lot of opportunity for revealing emotional conversations alongside romantic attraction. There are some funny scenes to lighten the mood, but the emotional journey of Ryan and Abby is most memorable.  They are both carrying heavy baggage from their marriage, and as more of Abby's childhood is revealed, the baggage gets heavier. I always appreciate the way that Denise Hunter develops her characters with dimension that makes them realistic and engaging. "Married 'til Monday" is no exception, and Ryan, Abby, and their struggles become very real throughout the novel.

"Married 'til Monday" is not a typical romance.  It is a tale of a broken marriage and two ex-spouses in need of healing and forgiveness.  After catching glimpses of Ryan in the other Chapel Springs Romance books, I was anticipating reading his story.  Denise Hunter delivered another solid story that will capture hearts.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson 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 Thomas Nelson: With a big anniversary party in the works for her parents, Ryan will pretend to be Abby's husband for just one last weekend.

Ryan McKinley has tried to move on from his ex-wife, Abby. He’s sulked, he’s gotten angry, and ultimately he bought her dream house. Big mistake. Living alone in the massive 2-story has only made him miss her more. When her parents call him out of the blue about their anniversary party in Summer Harbor, Maine, Ryan believes God has dropped a golden opportunity straight in his lap.
Abby McKinley never exactly told her parents about the divorce. A strained relationship with her dad has culminated in a distant relationship with her parents, but she’s finally succumbed to her mom’s pressure to make the drive for their 35th-anniversary party.
Then Ryan shows up on her doorstep, looking as devastatingly handsome as ever. When he insists he’s going to Seabrook, with or without her, Abby knows she can’t say no. Her parents still think they’re married and now Ryan knows it too. Besides, he only wants to check in with his best friend from college—her cousin Beau, who just lost his dad. It’s just a one-week road-trip with the man who broke her heart. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review of "An Uncertain Choice"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: "An Uncertain Choice" is Jody Hedlund's debut novel in the Young Adult market.  The plot is a combination of traditional fairy tale meets "The Bachelor."  Lady Rosemarie is a young ruler bound by an ancient vow to enter a convent on her eighteenth birthday. Her only escape from such a solitary fate is finding true love and marrying before she turns eighteen. Enter three knights tasked with winning Lady Rosemarie's heart. The story has enough clean romance and adventure to grab the attention of young readers. Hedlund introduces some of the depth and historical detail that defines her adult novels, but in a manner that is more suited to younger audiences.

The story begins with a scene of Medieval torture and a valiant rescue by a brave knight. That sets the scene for the ribbons of danger and excitement that weave throughout the novel. True to any fairy tale, there are sinister characters carrying out dark schemes. It is quite easy to figure out the person behind various deadly and dangerous situations. The mastermind behind certain events isn't actually revealed until the end of the novel, but most readers won't be surprised by the revelation. The tension created by the events is engaging, and Hedlund gives glimpses into the horrors of Medieval life. Hedlund reveals realities of life beyond castle walls as Lady Rosemarie ventures into poor sections of her kingdom, mingling among the poor. Lady Rosemarie displays a compassionate heart, making her an admirable heroine for teenage readers.

Descriptions of starving citizens, punishment, and dark dungeons are tempered by a more lighthearted quest for Lady Rosemarie to find true love. Rosemarie is presented with three knights to save her from a solitary life. The knights' attempts to woo Lady Rosemarie add some fun and humor to the plot. For me, this aspect of the plot most defines "An Uncertain Choice" as a young adult novel. The concept of the ancient vow is also too much of a fairy tale concept for me.  Still, "An Uncertain Choice" is a quick, quality read. Readers who want to discover more about Lady Rosemarie's parents and the ancient vow can read more in the prequel, "The Vow."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zonderkidz-Books 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 Zondervan: Due to her parents’ promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, shortly before her birthday, a friend of her father’s enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents’ will left a second choice—if Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow. 

Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the knights’ arrival results in a series of attacks within her land, she begins to wonder if the convent is the best place after all. If only one of the knights—the one who appears the most guilty—had not already captured her heart.


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