31 May 2014

Four Weddings & a Kiss by Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Mary Connealy & Robin Lee Hatcher

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Four best-­selling romance novelists bring tales of feisty heroines, stubborn heroes, and unlikely love in the Wild West.

"Spitfire Sweetheart" by Mary Connealy: Maizy Place is an unruly tomboy. When she causes an accident, injuring neighbor Rylan Carstens, she becomes his unlikely caregiver. Rylan has never noticed how pretty his infuriating neighbor is, and he never expected to fall in love.

"Love Letter to the Editor" by Robin Lee Hatcher: Molly Everton is the outspoken daughter of the town newspaper's owner. When her father brings in an outsider to be editor, she tries to drive him out of town. But Jack Ludgrove is not intimidated. He's resolved to change Molly's mind about him  as an editor and as a man.

"A Cowboy for Katie" by Debra Clopton: Katie Pearl is uninterested in men and love. But she needs help on her ranch and hires Treb Rayburn, a wandering cowboy looking to make a buck. Will Treb change Katie's mind?

"Courting Trouble" by Margaret Brownley: Grace Davenport is either the unluckiest woman alive – or a killer. When her third husband is found dead, Grace is arrested. Attorney Brock Daniels isn't interested in the case – until he meets Grace. Only a miracle will prove her innocence, but the joining of two lonely hearts may be their saving grace.

Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Mary Connealy and Robin Lee Hatcher do it again. Four Weddings & a Kiss is another charming and riveting novella collection, full of fun adventure and sweet romance. Like those of A Bride for All Seasons, this collection’s novellas offer everything I enjoy about novels, but just in fewer pages. Wonderfully perfect. Each story had me addicted, eagerly turning pages for the promised wedding, and I simply could not stop reading. As a sucker for romance and the Wild West, Four Weddings & a Kiss is just what I love to read  with four times the romance, four times the Western adventure. Along with A Bride for All Seasons, I recommend this new collection to anyone interested in historical romance, and I look forward to reading more from these authors. Thanks to BookLook Bloggers, I received a copy of this novella collection and the opportunity to honestly review it. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed 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.”)

29 May 2014

Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble

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Amy came to Rosemary Cottage to grieve, to heal, maybe even find love. But there’s a deadly undertow of secrets around Hope Island...

The charming Rosemary Cottage on the beach offers Amy Lang respite she needs to mourn her brother, Ben. She’s even thinking of moving her midwife practice to the Outer Banks community. It’s always been a refuge for her and her family. She also wants to investigate Ben’s disappearance at sea. Everyone blames a surfing accident, but Amy has reason to wonder.

Coast Guard officer Curtis Ireland has lost a sibling too. His sister, Gina, was run down by a boat, leaving him to raise her infant daughter. If anyone knew who little Raine’s father was, Curtis could lose his beloved niece. Yet he can’t help being drawn to Hope Beach’s new midwife, Amy. He even agrees to help her investigate what happened to both Ben and Gina.

Can two grieving people with secrets find healing on beautiful Hope Island? Or will their quest for truth set them at odds with each other…and with those who will go to any length to keep hidden things hidden?

I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have read by Colleen Coble, and Rosemary Cottage is no exception. With the fantastic blend of mystery and romance I have come to expect from Coble, this novel kept me hooked from the first page to the last. What an adventure. An added treat to the story is the appearance of Libby and other characters from Tidewater Inn, the first Hope Beach novel – it always makes me smile to know what characters are up to after the end of their novel. (Note: reading Tidewater Inn is not a prerequisite to Rosemary Cottage. Each novel can be read on its own). I highly recommend reading Rosemary Cottage and most definitely look forward to reading more from Colleen Coble. I thank Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review.

27 May 2014

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar

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A hidden message, treachery, opposition, and a God-given success, will lead to an unlikely bounty.

The scribe, Sarah married Darius, and at times she feels as if she has married the Persian aristocracy, too. There is another point she did not count on in her marriage - Sarah has grown to love her husband. Sarah has wealth, property, honor, and power, but her husband's love still seems unattainable.

Although his mother was an Israelite, Darius remains skeptical that his Jewish wife is the right choice for him, particularly when she conspires with her cousin Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ordered to assist in the effort, the couple begins a journey to the homeland of his mother's people. Will the road filled with danger, conflict, and surprising memories, help Darius to see the hand of God at work in his life - and even in his marriage?

Oh my goodness. What a beautiful read… I absolutely loved it. Recently, I have not been in the mood for multi-book series containing the same main characters (generally I opt instead for fresh characters with excitingly new locations), but Tessa Afshar’s follow-up to Harvest of Rubies, Harvest of Gold, is well-worth the return trip to Sarah and Darius in ancient Persia. In this novel, Afshar explores the perspectives of Darius and Nehemiah, in addition to Sarah’s. This variety of perspective alone helps to uniquely distinguish Harvest of Gold from the previous novel, allowing readers to gain an even more intimate understanding of these now beloved characters, and sucked me right in from the very first page. Add in the expected imaginative depictions of history and setting, thought-provoking spiritual ruminations and gripping storylines – Afshar’s Harvest of Gold is a compelling and worthwhile read. Again, I found myself debating late into the night between reading and sleeping. Such a difficult decision… I definitely recommend this novel, (However, I do not recommend reading this novel without reading Harvest of Rubies first.) and I cannot wait to read more enticing novels from Tessa Afshar. Thanks to Moody Publishers, I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. 

25 May 2014

Smitten Book Club by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt & Denise Hunter

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The century-old Gentlewoman’s Guide to Love and Courtship is no ordinary book club choice. But for the little book club in Smitten, Vermont, it might be their best pick yet!

The thick, leathery tome Heather pulled out of the dusty cardboard box was definitely coming home with her. Not only was The Gentlewoman’s Guide to Love and Courtship an appealing curiosity by virtue of its title; it was also written by Smitten, Vermont native Pearl Chambers, a local gentlewoman from three generations back.

Little did Heather know the repercussions this little curiosity would have on her and her friends’ romantic exploits.

When Heather and her fellow book club members begin passing the book around, their respective interpretations are unleashed on their respective love lives... for better or for worse. Is it a mystery? An idealist fantasy? An intimation of Jane Austen? As romantic love finds its way to each woman, the Guide proves itself both surprisingly prescient and hilariously irrelevant.

What’s more, a handwritten inscription indicates that the arcane book might hold the only extant clues leading to buried gold — exactly what one of the members needs to keep her house. How could they not go treasure hunting?

In this remarkable collaborative novel, besties Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, and Diann Hunt tackle the tale of the Gentlewoman’s Guide by writing for one book club member apiece. Smitten Book Club is a hopeful, hilarious story of friendship and healing, written by friends for friends.

At the moment, I really love reading novellas and novella collections, so Smitten Book Club, written by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter, presented me with perfectly enjoyable material. Each of the four stories – charming and fun in its own way – individually shows a bit of the friendship and romance in the town of Smitten, Vermont and still connects together with the others in a single, overarching narrative. Smitten Book Club is a sweet read – especially with the added humorous nuggets from Pearl Chambers’ The Gentlewoman’s Guide to Love and Courtship – and I definitely recommend it for a quick, lighthearted read. This is the first Smitten book I have read, but now, after reading Smitten Book Club, I certainly plan on changing that as soon as I can. Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley, I received a digital copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

24 May 2014

A May Bride by Meg Moseley

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She thinks she has prepared for her wedding all her life... but it seems she may have forgotten the most important part.

Ellie Martin, a country girl in Atlanta, has dreamed of a traditional wedding all her life-a wedding just like the one her younger sister is planning back home. Their single mom will pay for Alexa's wedding, but Ellie started her own wedding fund years ago. She only needs to find a groom.

At a wedding at her church, Ellie bumps into a man who's one of the guests. She's noticed him around the neighborhood, but today he introduces himself as Gray Whitby. They embark on a whirlwind romance, but her mother doesn't trust freewheeling men like Gray.

When Ellie risks her own future for her sister's sake, Gray feels betrayed. Will he always play second fiddle to Ellie's family?

Will Ellie and Gray reconcile their differences so her dream wedding can come true, or will the romance they've begun come crashing down?

I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying Zondervan’s A Year of Weddings novella collection. Each new story is delightful and sweet and provides a quick read for a lazy afternoon. And Meg Moseley’s “A May Bride” fits right in. After reading Gone South and A Stillness of Chimes, I have come to love the way Moseley tells her stories, creating relatable characters and relationships. Admittedly, this novella has much more “telling” than “showing” in comparison to Moseley’s novels. In many moments, only Ellie’s thoughts and recollections of events show the whirlwind-romantic relationship between Ellie and Gray. However, for me, this worked for the story, because while the romance is crucial, the focus lies more with the character development in Ellie to reconcile her family relationships with her budding romance. All in all, “A May Bride” is a fun story and I would recommend it along with the rest of A Year of Weddings novellas. Thanks to BookLook Bloggers, I received a free digital copy of this novella and the opportunity to honestly review it. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed 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.”)

23 May 2014

The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen

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A surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world... move on.

On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina - this time to buy their own home.

But that dream was not to be. A few years into a beautiful marriage, Emily is left a widow, heartbroken, and way past caring about anything.

Until a man approaches her, claiming to have something left to her from Ryan. Something secret.

Unsure if she can ever embrace a new life without her husband, but even less sure about continuing to stay where she is, Emily heads to the coast to keep her end of the promise she once made.

Without delay, she becomes immersed in the lives of locals, including the reclusive bridge tender with an unexpected past. As the community debates over building a new bridge, Emily must decide whether she will build a bridge of her own, one that will take her out of a painful past and into the new life - and new love - that her lost love made possible.

Marybeth Whalen’s newest novel, The Bridge Tender, is a charmingly sweet read. With a few moments that brought tears to my eyes and many more that made me laugh out loud, this story drew me in and would not let me go. Whalen beautifully explores love and loss and grief and hope, using the bridge as a central image to develop these themes. While I must admit that the intention behind the bridge metaphor comes across a bit overstated and obvious at times, I believe Whalen makes an important commentary on moving forward into the future - important to remember no matter the tragedies and trials of life. I enjoyed reading Whalen’s The Bridge Tender and would recommend it to anyone looking for an encouraging, heartwarming story. I am certainly looking forward to reading more novels by Marybeth Whalen. I greatly appreciate BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a copy of this novel and the opportunity to honestly review it. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed 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.”)

21 May 2014

A Short Walk to the Edge of Life: How My Simple Adventure Became a Dance with Death — and Taught Me What Really Matters by Scott Hubbartt

Read the first chapter here.
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"They say I'm crazy. That's OK. I'm just curious and determined."
—From Scott Hubbartt's diary, November 2, 2011

How Could He Possibly Make It Out Alive?

It was supposed to be a simple day hike. Scott Hubbartt was a military veteran with years of survival training. Everyone who knew him considered him an expert adventurer.

But Scott’s trek into the treacherous backcountry canyons of the Peruvian Andes turned into a desperate fight to survive after he became hopelessly lost. As his eight-hour hike lengthened into days, Scott faced dehydration, hunger, and exhaustion. And that’s when his true journey began.

Chronicling the failures and miracles of a remarkable physical and spiritual passage, A Short Walk to the Edge of Life is the gripping, true story of a man who had to come to the end of himself before he could find his way home.

What an incredible adventure – or, I suppose, more aptly, misadventure. I could not put it down. Scott Hubbartt’s A Short Walk to the Edge of Life captures my attention because I love to hike – with my fair share of misadventures – yet none of my experiences have come anywhere near this epic. It boggles my mind to think of an eight-hour hike becoming a five-day trek, yet it happened to Hubbartt – and now he has a crazy, thought-provoking testament to God’s miraculous power and peace. A Short Walk to the Edge of Life is an engaging and enthralling read, serving as a great reminder of how God chooses to use faults and failures for greater, glorious purposes. Even now, He shows Himself in the wilderness, in the face of weakness. A truly powerful, captivating story. I definitely recommend A Short Walk to the Edge of Life, and I thank the Blogging for Books program for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. 

19 May 2014

Snow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma

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A stranger’s life hangs in the balance. But to save him is to risk everything.

The war is drawing to a close, but the Nazis still occupy part of the Netherlands. After the losses she’s endured, war widow Cornelia is only a shadow of the woman she once was. She fights now to protect her younger brother, Johan, who lives in hiding.

When Johan brings Gerrit Laninga, a wounded Dutch Resistance member, to Cornelia’s doorstep, their lives are forever altered. Although scared of the consequences of harboring a wanted man, Cornelia’s faith won’t let her turn him out.

As she nurses Gerrit back to health, she is drawn to his fierce passion and ideals, and notices a shift within herself. Gerrit’s intensity challenges her, making her want to live fully, despite the fear that constrains her. When the opportunity to join him in the Resistance presents itself, Cornelia must summon every ounce of courage imaginable.

She is as terrified of loving Gerrit as she is of losing him. But as the winter landscape thaws, so too does her heart. Will she get a second chance at true love? She fears their story will end before it even begins.

Just when I thought I had read enough fictional books about World War II, I found myself picking up Liz Tolsma’s Snow on the Tulips. Recently I read Tolsma’s newer Daisies Are Forever, which left me wanting to read more of her work, so I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. But I am definitely glad I took this opportunity to read Snow on the Tulips now – Liz Tolsma delighted me once again with an aspect of the horrific war I had not previously known. Her story engages the experience in the Netherlands towards the end of its Nazi occupation and the Dutch Resistance that sought its survival and freedom. At the end, she includes – like in Daisies Are Forever – “The Story Behind the Story,” which shocked me as I realized the actual experiences serving as the basis for several of the novel’s scenarios. Incredible. Tolsma beautifully weaves the history within the fiction, telling a fantastic story of loss and love. I would definitely recommend this novel along with Daisies Are Forever to any historical fiction lovers, and I thank Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this novel and the opportunity to review it honestly. 

13 May 2014

Life Behind the Wall: Candy Bombers, Hidden Bunkers and Smuggler's Treasure by Robert Elmer

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Cut off by the Iron Curtain…

This epic tale extends across generations and unfolds against the backdrop of a dangerous Cold War Berlin. This historically accurate, action-packed, three-books-in-one edition features three generations of resourceful teens living in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

"Candy Bombers": In spring 1948, teenage cousins Erich and Katarina are simply trying to survive in war-ravaged Berlin when the Soviets blockade the east side of the city, isolating its citizens – and starving them – behind the Iron Curtain.

"Beetle Bunker": In August 1961, Sabine discovers a forgotten underground bunker. Though she first uses it to escape her crowded home, she soon realizes her hideout could possibly take her family under the wall to West Berlin and freedom!

"Smuggler's Treasure": In spring 1989, life is good in West Germany, and even the Cold War seems to be thawing in the warmer weather. But as Liesl works on a class project about the history of the wall, she stumbles onto a startling secret no one will talk about.

I absolutely loved the stories of Robert Elmer’s Life Behind the Wall. Elmer engages a period in history that I have not seen portrayed a lot in literature (but I could just be picking up the wrong books…) and engrossed me in the experience of it all. Each of his stories, filled with fast-paced danger, suspense and adventure, vividly depicts life within Cold War Berlin. I think Elmer successfully makes this history accessible and real for young readers, but crafts stories for a reader of any age to enjoy. I certainly enjoyed them and would recommend Life Behind the Wall to any fan of historical fiction. (My only complaint is, as Elmer connects the three stories, a few details are mismatched and do not fit quite right) Thank you, BookLook Bloggers, for providing me with a copy of these stories and the opportunity to honestly review them. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed 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.”)

12 May 2014

Until I Found You by Victoria Bylin

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Finding each other was only the beginning…

When Kate Darby swerves off a mountain road to avoid hitting a California condor, she ends up trapped in her car, teetering on the edge of a cliff. Terrified, she breathes a prayer that changes her life.

It's Nick Sheridan who comes to Kate's rescue. Nick is handsome and confident, and he seems to develop a habit of rescuing her, but Kate is in town only until her grandmother recuperates from a stroke. She's not planning to get involved with one of the locals.

Nick is a reformed veteran of life in the fast lane, a new Christian, and a travel writer. When he sees a car dangling on the edge of a cliff, the daredevil in him jumps into action. He doesn't expect to be swept off his feet by the car's occupant. He's made a vow 
 no dating for a year  but keeping that vow is going to be a lot more difficult now that he's met Kate Darby...

Admittedly, I wanted to love Victoria Bylin’s Until I Found You a lot more than I did. Perhaps I set my expectations a bit high because of a beautiful cover and exciting summary blurb… For me, after the initial chapters detailing the edge-of-a-cliff car accident and subsequent modern-day-knight-in-shining-armor rescue, the pace of the novel slowed down, and I did not feel driven by a plot-based urgency to keep reading. I think this kept me from being fully engrossed in the characters and their paths to the ending. Yet, Until I Found You is still a pleasant, heartwarming read. Bylin engages her characters in real struggles of fear and trust and love, showing faith as a decision and a process instead of a one-time cure-all and happily-ever-after. So, it is a worthwhile read on a lazy weekend, and I thank Bethany House and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the novel and the opportunity to honestly review it.

11 May 2014

Harvest of Rubies by Tessa Afshar

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Remarkable talent threatens to cloud a life.

The prophet Nehemiah’s cousin has been catapulted into the center of Persian court – working long hours, rubbing elbows with royalty, and becoming the queen’s favorite scribe.

Not bad, for a woman living in a man’s world. But a devastating past has left Sarah believing that God doesn’t love her and her achievements are the measure of her worth – a measure she can never quite live up to.

Darius Passargadae is accustomed to having his way. A wealthy and admired aristocrat, the last thing he expects is an arranged marriage to the queen’s scribe, an intelligent woman who scorns him.

Can two such different people help one another overcome the idols that bind them?

Tessa Afshar’s Harvest of Rubies is another one of those books that sat on my “To Read” list for ages, and now, I cannot imagine why I waited so long to pick it up. Within the context of life in the Persian Empire, Afshar takes her readers on a page-turning journey with Sarah, as she attempts to understand from where her worth truly comes. Most of the night I spent debating whether to go to sleep or keep reading – in most cases, reading won. Afshar’s beautiful writing and storytelling make the book hard to put down.

While reading, I found Sarah to be a highly relatable character. She is witty, smart, respected, extraordinary for her time, and yet she still feels unsure, insecure and anxious. At many points, she believes she only has value because of the skills she offers as a scribe. But the spiritual growth she experiences from different events and conversations over the course of the novel serves as a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness despite suffering and pain. Very encouraging.  

All in all, I loved reading Harvest of Rubies – with its endearing characters, fascinating history and setting, clever (and many times, laughter-inducing) dialogue and situations, thoughtful spiritual exploration. A fantastic example of biblical fiction, I think it definitely worth a read. Without a doubt, I plan on reading Harvest of Gold, Afshar’s sequel to Harvest of Rubies, as soon as I possibly can. Of course, I want to thank Moody Publishers for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. 

08 May 2014

Sincerely Yours: A Novella Collection by Jane Kirkpatrick, Amanda Cabot, Laurie Alice Eakes & Ann Shorey

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In this collection of brand-new historical novellas from four outstanding storytellers, four young women find their lives altered after each receives a letter that sets her on a new path toward a changed life – and perhaps lifelong love. From a Hudson River steamboat to a lush drawing room, from a carousel carver's workshop to a remote and controversial hospital, readers will love being swept into the lives of four young women who are making their way in the world and finding love where they least expect it.

Sincerely Yours, a collection of novellas contributed by Jane Kirkpatrick, Amanda Cabot, Laurie Alice Eakes and Ann Shorey, captures everything I love about historical fiction. Using various fascinating points in history, each author crafts a story around the premise that a single letter changes the course of the heroine’s future. I thoroughly enjoyed the reprieve from being surrounded by instant communication in this era of technology, being transported instead to times when writing and sending a letter could make a difference. Add to that the charming characters and heartwarming romance  this collection is a great read! Sincerely Yours is perfect for those looking a few quick reads of historical fiction  I definitely recommend it. Thanks to Revell and NetGalley, I received a digital copy of this novella collection in exchange for an honest review. 

When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman

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In the strange, us-versus-them Christian subculture of the 1990s, a person’s faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets she wore and whether he had kissed dating goodbye.

Evangelical poster child Addie Zierman wore three bracelets asking what Jesus would do. She also led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian music. She was on fire for God and unaware that the flame was dwindling — until it burned out.

Addie chronicles her journey through church culture and first love, and her entrance —unprepared and angry — into marriage. When she drops out of church and very nearly her marriage as well, it is on a sea of tequila and depression. She isn’t sure if she’ll ever go back.

When We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from what is expected to arrive at faith that is not bound by tradition or current church fashion. Addie looks for what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping. It’s a story for doubters, cynics, and anyone who has felt alone in church.

To write a review of Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were on Fire, I must start by saying: I loved it. No doubt about it. Page after page, I loved it  the honesty, the vulnerability, the brokenness, the healing, the hope… Zierman’s writing is beautiful and captivating, and I could not stop reading. And reading this memoir so soon after finishing Elizabeth Esther’s Girl at the End of the World struck me with the power of memoir and the personal narrative. I deeply respect and appreciate Zierman and her ability to write openly, emotionally, thoughtfully, sincerely. To connect fragmented moments of her past in a lyrical arc of faith and grace and love. To speak to similarities and differences in human experience and the beauty of both. Much of When We Were on Fire resonated with my experience within and because of my evangelical upbringing, yet Zierman’s bold storytelling still left me with fresh, thought-provoking insight. I know in the weeks to come, in unsuspecting moments, fragments and phrases of her well-written narrative will spark again in my mind, accompanying me in my own journey of faith. I definitely recommend Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and I thank Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy of this book, along with the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

07 May 2014

Fair Play by Deeanne Gist

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Saddled with a man’s name, the captivating Billy Jack Tate makes no apologies for taking on a man’s profession. As a doctor at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she is one step closer to having her very own medical practice — until Hunter Scott asks her to give it all up to become his wife.

Hunter is one of the elite. A Texas Ranger and World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character, and skill. Hailed as the toughest man west of any place east, he has no patience for big cities and women who think they belong anywhere but home...

Despite their difference of opinion on the role of women, Hunter and Billy find a growing attraction between them — until Hunter discovers an abandoned baby in the corner of a White City exhibit. He and Billy team up to make sure this foundling isn’t left in the slums of Chicago with only the flea-riddled, garbage-infested streets for a playground. As they fight for the underprivileged children in the Nineteenth Ward, an entire Playground Movement is birthed. But when the Fair comes to an end, one of them will have to give up their dream.

Will Billy exchange her doctor’s shingle for the domesticated role of a southern wife, or will Hunter abandon the wide open spaces of home for a life in the “gray city,” a woman who insists on being the wage earner, and a group of ragamuffins who need more than a playground for breathing space?

Deeanne Gist’s novels first introduced me to, hooked me on, and spurred my (at times embarrassing) addiction to the genre I understand as “inspirational fiction.” For this reason, her novels hold a special place in my heart, even as I have branched out to other authors, and every time I see a new Gist novel, I cannot help but jump to read it. Thus, I eagerly sat down with my copy of Fair Play.

Especially after reading It Happened at the Fair and the related teaser, “Tempest in the White City,” the premise of revisiting the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with new characters thrilled me. Admittedly, I have lived in Chicagoland for most of my life, and still so much of its history has remained unknown to me. So, I greatly appreciate Gist’s well-researched, eye-opening  albeit fictitious  exploration of more life at the fair, as well as of the conditions in the Nineteenth Ward, in Fair Play, showing me the history behind places so familiar in the present. It fascinated me. Imagining a time when playgrounds (which I always took for granted) were not commonplace and instead children grew up in bars continues to astound me. What a different world…

Of course, entwined within this engrossing history, Gist delivers her classic romance. So sweet, so heartwarming. Yet, compared to previous Gist romances, the relationship between Billy and Hunter seems different  flatter, if that makes sense  to me, lacking the expected and anticipated spiritual aspect. This absence disappointed me a bit, but I still managed to thoroughly enjoyed Fair Play and I would recommend it to any lovers of historical romance. I look forward to more books by Deeanne Gist. Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley, I received a digital copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.   

04 May 2014

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

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Happily Ever After... or Happily Nevermore?
Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke’s son, Valten 
– the boy she has daydreamed about for years – is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

Melanie Dickerson’s works have been on my “To Read” list of books for quite a while now, but after reading The Captive Maiden, I cannot believe I put them off for so long. As a fan of fairy tales (admittedly, Walt Disney’s in particular), I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience with Dickerson’s writings. The Captive Maiden introduces a new spin on the classic story of Cinderella. While Dickerson retains the essentials  the beautiful yet underappreciated maiden, her chivalrous “Prince Charming,” the wicked stepmother and mean-spirited stepsisters  she refreshes the narrative within a distinct and dramatic medieval context (happily reminding me of A Knight’s Tale in certain moments), adding an unrelenting evil villain and subsequent kidnapping. The mounting obstacles and suspenseful twists and turns, though peppered with encouraging, inspirational moments of introspection on purpose and forgiveness, kept me questioning how Gisela and Valten could possibly find their “happily ever after” ending  I could not stop reading until I knew the answer! I definitely recommend The Captive Maiden, especially for fans of fairy tale retellings, and I look forward to reading more from Melanie Dickerson. Thanks to Zondervan, I received an advanced review copy of this novel to read and review honestly. 

03 May 2014

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

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Pink is not what Eleanor Braddock ordered, but maybe it would soften the tempered steel of a woman who came through a war – and still had one to fight.

Eleanor Braddock – plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty – knows she will never marry. But with a dying soldier's last whisper, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. Impoverished and struggling to care for her ailing father, Eleanor arrives at Belmont Mansion, home of her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America – and possibly the most demanding, as well. Adelicia insists on finding her niece a husband, but a simple act of kindness leads Eleanor down a far different path – building a home for destitute widows and fatherless children from the Civil War. While Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve of this endeavor.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come to Nashville from Austria in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Hiding his royal heritage, Marcus longs to combine his passion for nature with his expertise in architecture, but his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widows' and children's home run contrary to Eleanor's wishes. As work on the home draws them closer together, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground – and a love neither of them expects.

But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor, and even if he were, someone who knows his secrets is about to reveal them all.

After finishing A Lasting Impression, I knew I had to read Tamera Alexander’s A Beauty So Rare, the second book in her “Belmont Mansion” series. Alexander fills her storylines with enticing history, enchanting characters and intriguing scenarios, making the opportunity to read this novel too irresistible to pass. From the get-go, I fell in love with the characters of Eleanor and Marcus, especially enjoying the playful banter the two constantly exchange, and they brought many smiles to my face. I could not help but root for them as they struggled and dealt with a whole slew of difficult issues – many social, including post-war aftermath, poverty and asylums, and others thematic, including love, loss, purpose and beauty. These characters’ story is simply captivating. A Beauty So Rare is a must-read (and can be read on its own, though A Lasting Impression introduces many of the secondary characters). I cannot wait to see what Tamera Alexander has in store next for Belmont Mansion. I most definitely thank Bethany House and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this novel, along with the opportunity to read and review it honestly.

02 May 2014

The Heart's Pursuit by Robin Lee Hatcher

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A jilted bride desperate to save her family from ruin.
A bounty hunter seeking vengeance for a ravaged past.
An arduous trek toward justice – or redemption.

Silver Matlock and Jared Newman know traveling together is a bad idea. Bad for Silver's already tarnished reputation in her small Colorado town. Bad for bounty hunter Jared's secret, single-minded mission for revenge. But Silver is determined to track down the rogue who left her at the altar and stole the last remnant of her father's fortune. And Jared's in a hurry to hunt down the murderer who destroyed his family – even if Silver is too distractingly beautiful for comfort.

The pair takes off over mountain and desert, past bleak homesteads and raw mining towns, hot on the trail of the two villains who took what wasn't theirs to take. Soon supplies dwindle, secrets emerge, and suspicion leave Silver and Jared at odds when they need each other most. To confront an enemy deadlier than desert rattlesnakes and rocky cliffs, Silver and Jared must learn to forgive and trust and face the question they haven't dared voice: What happens next?

What a delightful, fast-paced, adventuresome treat. As Silver and Jared follow the twists and turns of their relentless pursuit, Robin Lee Hatcher’s The Heart’s Pursuit beautifully weaves together suspense, intrigue and romance against the backdrop of the nineteenth-century Wild West. Her storytelling entertains with whimsy and nostalgia, while provoking thoughts of trust, forgiveness, redemption. I definitely recommend The Heart’s Pursuit and plan to read more from Robin Lee Hatcher in the near future. I appreciate BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a copy of this novel and the opportunity to honestly review it. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed 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.”)