29 March 2014

A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes by Hillary Manton Lodge

Feel free to read the first chapter from 
A Table by the Window here.
Goodreads | Amazon
Heirloom recipes, family secrets… and a chance for love.
The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn – does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?
After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story. 
Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her grandmother’s story can help show the way?

Hillary Manton Lodge filled A Table by the Window with the warmth of family and food. The antics of the French-Italian D’Alisa clan often left me laughing, reminding me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, while the sensory descriptions of cooking and recipes made my mouth water. A well-written and engaging story, A Table by the Window is a definite treat to read. I finished novel wanting to jump immediately into the (upcoming, though not yet available) second book, Reservations for Two. For now, I’ll simply have to wait… A Table by the Window is a delicious read I would definitely recommend and I cannot help but thank WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing for providing me with a copy of it, along with the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

28 March 2014

Nashville Sweetheart by Rachel Hauck

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What do you do when the past you've been dodging shows up at your door with cameras rolling?

Aubrey James ruled the charts as the queen of country for over a decade. She'd rocketed to fame in the shadow of her parents' death – both of them pioneers in gospel music. But while her public life – high-profile romances and fights with Music Row execs – made for juicy tabloid headlines, the real and private Aubrey has remained a media mystery.

When a former band member betrays Aubrey's trust and sells an "exclusive" to a tabloid, the star knows she must go public with her story. But Aubrey's private world is rocked when the Inside NashVegas interviewer is someone from her past – someone she'd hoped to forget.

All the moxie in the world won't let this diva run any longer.

Rachel Hauck’s Nashville Sweetheart (previously titled Diva NashVegas, I believe) is a lot of fun to read. Switching between classic first-person narrative, interview dialogue and media snippets to explore life in the spotlight of the country music world, Hauck kept me on my toes and I couldn’t put the novel down. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick inspirational read. Thanks again to BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free digital copy of this novel, as well as 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 March 2014

Take This Cup by Bodie and Brock Thoene

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Nehemiah, the young son of a Jewish woman, a weaver from Jerusalem, is born and raised among the Jews who didn't return to Jerusalem from the Exile. Educated by Rabbi Kagba, one of the magi present at Jesus' birth thirty years earlier, Nehemiah grows up with the expectation of a soon-coming Messiah. Could the Yeshua of Nazareth, who is walking the earth, reportedly doing miracles, be that Messiah?

When young Nehemiah must travel the long caravan road to Jerusalem, he is charged with an unusual mission – to carry a mysterious object back to the holy city of Jerusalem… an object whose reappearance heralds the Messiah's arrival. Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem just as the final events of Jesus' earthly ministry are coming to a climax: the Feast of Dedication, the Triumphal Entry, the last cleansing of the Temple, and culminating at the Last Supper in the Upper Room. Only Nehemiah understands the true sacrifice that is to come as he makes the cup worthy of his Savior.

Bodie and Brock Thoene’s Take This Cup fascinated me. The Thoenes have an extraordinary ability to weave together prophecies and histories and teachings from all over the Scriptures into one brilliant and cohesive story. The narrative presents and connects the material in an original way, one I hadn’t previously considered even though I am familiar with the referenced texts. In light of Indiana Jones and Monty Python, this exploration of the Holy Grail’s theoretical origins and history leading to the Last Supper continually and completely intrigued me, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in biblical literature. Although it is the second novel in The Jerusalem Chronicles series (following When Jesus Wept), Take This Cup can be read on its own without confusion. Thanks to BookLook Bloggers, I received a free copy of this book, as well as 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.”)

Through the Deep Waters by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Start reading chapter one of
Through the Deep Waters here.
Goodreads | Amazon
A past filled with shame can be washed away with a love that conquers all.
Born to an unloving prostitute in a popular Chicago brothel, timid seventeen-year-old Dinah Hubley was raised amidst the secrets held in every dark, grimy room of her home. Anxious to escape, Dinah pursues her dream of becoming a Harvey Girl, waiting tables along the railroad in an upscale hotel. But when she finds out she isn’t old enough, her only option is to accept a job as a chambermaid at the Clifton Hotel in Florence, Kansas. Eager to put everything behind her, Dinah feels more worthless than ever, based on a single horrible decision she made to survive.
The Clifton offers a life Dinah has never known, but blinded to the love around her, Dinah remains buried in the shame of her past. When a handsome chicken farmer named Amos Ackerman starts to show interest, Dinah withdraws further, convinced no one could want a sullied woman like her.  Despite his self-consciousness about his handicapped leg and her strange behavior, Amos resolves to show Dinah Christ’s love. But can she ever accept a gift she so desperately needs?

After reading Kim Vogel Sawyer’s Echoes of Mercy, the opportunity to read and review her Through the Deep Waters seemed too good to pass up. And after finishing the novel, I can say Sawyer does not disappoint. Again, with her genuine characters and well-researched historical backdrop, she creates a truly captivating story. Brimming with the truth of grace, worth and forgiveness, I found this novel reminiscent of Francine River’s Redeeming Love in many ways, while still remaining uniquely enjoyable. Through the Deep Waters is definitely worth reading and I absolutely appreciate receiving a copy of it from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, with the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

Now, enter for a chance to win a copy of Kim Vogel Sawyer's Through the Deep Waters before the giveaway ends. The contest starts on July 31, 2014 at 6:00am EST and ends on August 20, 2014 at 11:59pm EST. One winner will be chosen at random on August 21, 2014 and will be alerted by email. For a complete listing of the rules, please see below.

20 March 2014

Bluebonnet Bride by Colleen Coble

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At the turn of the 20th century, Elli Korpela boarded The Baltic as a mail order bride. But the threat she thought she was escaping somehow followed her to America…

Escaping a forced engagement, Elli sought refuge in an arranged, mail-order marriage. Her betrothed is a Texan named Nathan White. As she glimpses her future husband and his darling niece at the train station, she instantly knows her risk will prove the best decision she's ever made.

Nathan White never took an interest in marriage until he became the guardian of four-year-old Hannah. He’s arranged a mail order wife to love and care for his orphaned niece. But his mind changes when he first sees the beautiful Elli Korpela.

After a glorious wedding ceremony in the gardens of a place called Butterfly Palace – the grandest estate Elli's ever seen – a peaceful beginning takes a disquieting turn. An intruder brutally attacks Elli. Nathan intervenes, but the devil escapes unidentified, leaving Elli to face two chilling possibilities: either the attack was arranged by strike workers in Nathan's employ or her shadowy past followed her across the sea.

As the danger mounts, Elli and Nathan must face their enemy together, fighting for their newfound marriage – and for their lives.

Like other novellas I have read recently, Colleen Coble’s “Bluebonnet Bride” is a quick yet thoroughly enjoyable read. The fast-moving mix of romance and intrigue, combined with the perfect amount of character description and backstory, compelled me to turn page after page until reaching the satisfying resolution. At the end, I found myself eager to read Coble’s Butterfly Palace, which I believe precedes “Bluebonnet Bride” and introduces several of the mentioned characters. Yet, this novella still can stand on its own and I would recommend it to anyone with a couple hours available, looking for a heart-racing and heartwarming read. I thank BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free 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.”)

16 March 2014

The Quilted Heart Omnibus by Mona Hodgson

Begin your reading here.
Goodreads | Amazon
“A quilted heart is a transformed heart.”

Like a beautiful patchwork quilt, the three novellas in The Quilted Heart tell stories of lives stitched together with love and God’s unending grace. 
Once a week, Elsa Brantenberg hosts the Saint Charles Quilting Circle at her farmhouse on the outskirts of the riverside town of St. Charles, Missouri. The ladies who gather there have all experienced heartache related to the intense hardships of the Civil War, and together, they are facing their painful circumstances with friendship and prayer. Can the tattered pieces of their hearts be stitched together by God’s grace? 
Dandelions on the Wind”: When Maren Jensen took a job on Elsa Brantenberg’s St. Charles, Missouri farm, she never expected to call the place her home. As she grows to love Mrs. Brantenberg and her granddaughter, Gabi, Maren is transformed from a lonely mail-order bride-without-a-groom to a beloved member of the Brantenberg household. But when Gabi’s father, Rutherford “Wooly” Wainwright, returns to the farm unexpectedly, everything changes for Maren, and she feels compelled to find another job. Are her choices in obedience to God, or is she running from His plan? 
Bending Toward the Sun”: Dedicated to her education and to helping her father in his general store, Emilie Heinrich is convinced she doesn't have time for love. But when a childhood friend returns to St. Charles, Missouri, after serving in the Civil War, his smile and charm captures Emilie’s eye and her heart. Will she be forced to choose between honoring her father and a future with a husband and family of her own? 
Ripples Along the Shore”: Change is brewing in St. Charles. A group of brave souls are preparing to head west on the Boone's Lick Wagon Train, led by the mysterious and handsome Garrett Cowlishaw, who served as a Confederate soldier in the war that killed Caroline’s husband. Despite her dislike for him, Caroline is tempted to join the wagon train and start fresh somewhere new, but when Mr. Cowlishaw forbids her – a single woman – to travel with them, will one man’s prejudice destroy Caroline’s hope for a new future? Or will the ripples of God’s love bring the answer she needs?

Mona Hodgson’s The Quilted Heart Omnibus collects three sweet novellas: “Dandelions on the Wind,” “Bending Toward the Sun” and “Ripples Along the Shore.” With quilting and its correlation with God’s unending grace as the connecting theme, each novella explores the lives of a different set of characters within this post-Civil War society of Saint Charles, Missouri. Hodgson creates characters and stories I would love to delve into even deeper, though I understand with the limitations of a novella all the details cannot always be explained and elaborated. Admittedly, I would have liked a bit more closure with the storyline at the end of the collection (but I have no problem reading Prairie Song to find the answers to my questions). Regardless, I honestly enjoyed each of Hodgson’s quick stories and would recommend them for an easy afternoon read. I thank WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this novella collection. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

*Previously I wrote a review specifically for the novella, "Dandelions on the Winds," and it can be found here.

11 March 2014

The Queen's Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

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A jealous Egyptian queen. A lascivious Galilean governor. A beautiful servant girl. Theirs is a story of prophecy, self-discovery, and revelation.

The year is 39 BC. All of Alexandria awaits the arrival of Herod, the Galilean governor with his eye on the Judean kingship. The handmaid of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, receives a troubling visit from her aging mentor.

An orphan since birth, Lydia lives in the palace at the demand of Cleopatra and her royal child, the son of Julius Caesar. But Lydia has a growing problem on her hands: her beauty is becoming a liability to the aging queen, and the visiting Herod’s undisguised interest only makes matters worse.

When Lydia’s mentor is murdered, the handmaid inherits a daunting task. An ancient set of sealed scrolls, the secret writings of the prophet Daniel, must be returned to Jerusalem – before those who killed her mentor destroy the scrolls as well. The future of the Israelites depends on it. So Lydia leaves the palace to serve as lady’s maid to Herod’s wife in the Holy City.

As Lydia is absorbed into the machinations of Herod’s household, her mission – and her people’s hope of a Messianic King – are endangered at every turn. Can Lydia avoid the adulterous intentions of Herod? Can she deliver the scrolls to the mysterious man on the steps of the Temple? Will the true King of Israel ever rise?

Lured by my enjoyment of So Shines the Night, I eagerly journeyed once more into the past via Tracy L. Higley’s The Queen’s Handmaid. This time exploring the era just a few decades before the birth of Christ, Higley brings infamously well-known characters – Herod the Great, Cleopatra, Marc Antony among many others – to life vibrantly among the pages of this well-researched yet imaginative narrative. These appalling and fascinating depictions mix with political intrigue, forbidden romance, heartbreaking tragedy, a search for worth and belonging, and moments of lighthearted humor to create a thoroughly engaging work of historical fiction. Unable to stop reading, I turned page after page with bated breath until I knew with certainty how Lydia fared amongst the consuming and corrupting politics and its figureheads of the time. This novel is a definite recommendation to anyone with an interest in historical, biblical fiction.  I cannot help but thank Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free copy of this book 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.”)

08 March 2014

A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert

Begin reading chapter one here.
Goodreads | Amazon
“‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” –Isaiah 43:1

Sometimes everything you ever learned about yourself is wrong.
Fashion is a fickle industry, a frightening fact for twenty-four year old model Ivy Clark. Ten years in and she’s learned a sacred truth – appearance is everything. Nobody cares about her broken past as long as she looks beautiful for the camera. This is the only life Ivy knows – so when it starts to unravel, she’ll do anything to hold on. Even if that means moving to the quaint island town of Greenbrier, South Carolina, to be the new face of her stepmother’s bridal wear line – an irony too rich for words, since Ivy is far from the pure bride in white. 

If only her tenuous future didn’t rest in the hands of Davis Knight, her mysterious new photographer. Not only did he walk away from the kind of success Ivy longs for to work maintenance at a local church, he treats her differently than any man ever has. Somehow, Davis sees through the fa├žade she works so hard to maintain. He, along with a cast of other characters, challenges everything Ivy has come to believe about beauty and worth. Is it possible that God sees her – a woman stained and broken by the world – yet wants her still? Can Isaiah’s words possibly be true, even for her?

Katie Ganshert’s A Broken Kind of Beautiful is absolutely beautiful. Honestly, hauntingly, hopefully beautiful. A novel filled with authentic, vulnerable characters and raw, intense emotions that refuse to remain solely within its pages, it expresses a poignantly-truthful spiritual journey without blatant, unnecessary sermonizing. With her vividly mellifluous and tender storytelling, Ganshert captures the romance of redemption, the essence of God’s endless pursuit to restore our broken hearts. A Broken Kind of Beautiful is another novel with my wholehearted recommendation, definitely well-worth a read. What a privilege it was to receive a copy of this novel from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, with the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

03 March 2014

A Stillness of Chimes by Meg Moseley

Begin with chapter one here.
Goodreads | Amazon
What if the pain of the past revealed an unknown sacrifice that changes everything?
When teacher Laura Gantt comes home to Prospect, Georgia to settle her recently-deceased mother’s household, the last thing she expects to encounter is a swirl of rumors about the father she lost to the lake twelve years ago – that he has reportedly been seen around town. Elliott Gantt’s body was never found and he was presumed dead. 
Reeling from the sharp loss of a parent, Laura must now grapple with painful memories surrounding her father’s disappearance and the sense of abandonment she experienced after his death. Life-long friend and former beau Sean Halloran wants nothing more than to protect Laura from the far-fetched stories of Elliott’s resurrection and to care for her, but he has his own reasons, troubling echoes from his childhood, to put Elliott’s disappearance to rest.
Working together, Laura and Sean begin to uncover the truth, one mired in the wooded peaks and deep waters of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Prospect. Can they fathom how many secrets the steep hills hold? With surprising facts revealed, will Laura be able to understand the sacrificial choices made that forever changed her life? And can love and a peace with God be rekindled in her heart after so much time has passed?

Intrigued from the start by the enigmatic combination of title and cover, Meg Moseley’s A Stillness of Chimes held me captive with the same spellbinding storytelling I found in Gone South. Painting a vivid and entrancing small-town Georgia setting, Moseley creates another tale with a desperate pursuit of truth and redemption, exposing the twists and turns of Laura’s relationships against the background of discovering her father’s mysterious fate. Drawn by the quirky, relatable characters and the creative interactions, I was kept questioning and conjecturing until the book’s final, explosive pages – a both heart-wrenching and heartwarming conclusion to be sure. Moseley’s A Stillness of Chimes is well-worth a read and I would have no problem recommending it wholeheartedly. I am very grateful I received a copy of this novel from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, with the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

A March Bride by Rachel Hauck

Goodreads | Amazon
Susanna has found her true prince, and their happily ever after is just around the corner. But when Nate asks her to give up something precious to her, Susanna can’t help but wonder if it’s a sign that their love is not meant to be.

Susanna Truitt is three weeks from royalty. She’ll soon marry King Nathaniel II of Brighton Kingdom. But when the government insists she renounce her American citizenship before the wedding, coupled with the lack of involvement by family and friends, Susanna’s heart begins to doubt whether this marriage is God's plan for her.

Nathaniel would do anything for his bride-to-be. But he knows his position requires that she give up a lot to be with him. Her life will never be her own – right down to her very identity. When she travels home to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, right before the wedding, Nathaniel fears she won’t return. Gathering his courage, he devises a plan to win his bride all over again, and together they seek out a kingdom to treasure above all.

The fourth installment in A Year of Weddings, Rachel Hauck’s “A March Bride” provides a follow-up to the heartfelt romance of Once Upon a Prince. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to once again be swept away in Susanna’s modern-day fairytale. I could not wait to see how Susanna and Nathaniel reached the altar. Though Susanna’s doubt and Nathaniel’s determination, Hauck revives her characters with realistic – and heart-aching – conflicts and swiftly brings them to life-altering, reassuring conclusions on identity and sacrifice. To completely understand this challenging and growing relationship between Susanna and Nathaniel, I would recommend reading Once Upon a Prince prior to “A March Bride.” However, I believe it would function as a quick and heartwarming read for anyone with an interest in inspiration romance and a few free hours. And once again, I cannot conclude my review until I thank BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free copy of this book 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.”)