30 April 2014

A June Bride by Marybeth Whalen

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It takes a reality TV show for Wynne to realize love isn't just a game.

Wynne Hardy never thought she'd get engaged on a reality TV show, but when she met Andy on The Rejection Connection, the two of them hit it off. Now he's asked her to marry him, much to the public's delight and fascination. They're all set to wed on live TV in a seaside ceremony at the height of the wedding season.

But just as Wynne thinks all her dreams are coming true, her ex-boyfriend walks back into her life at the worst possible time. Callum Royce broke her heart years ago, and she's still sorting through her feelings for him. Her heart isn't as clear as her head that it's past time to move on – even though she's engaged to Andy.

At a local TV talk show appearance, Wynne meets Meredith, who won another reality TV show – Marathon Mom – proving herself nothing short of a superhero. As Wynne's beach wedding plans spin out of control, Meredith offers to help, unknowingly stepping on Wynne's secret feelings… and exposing some secrets Meredith has been keeping to herself. Can these two reality stars get real about their feelings? Will Wynne go through with her televised wedding and be the perfect June bride the network is looking for?

In “A June Bride,” the seventh installment of Zondervan’s A Year of Weddings, Marybeth Whalen crafts a lighthearted and fun read. I enjoyed how she engages the cultural fascination with competitive, romantic reality TV (exemplified in multi-season shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette) as the backdrop for the wedding whirlwind. And telling the story singularly from Wynne’s perspective, Whalen, I think, offers a new approach to this wedding-themed novella collection (though she does comment on the wedding-versus-marriage theme reminiscent of “An April Bride”), which lead to an ending I really liked. It was a refreshing thought. “A June Bride” is great for a nice, quick read on a lazy afternoon. I can’t wait to read what else is in store for A Year of Weddings. Thanks to Zondervan, NetGalley and BookLook Bloggers, I received a digital copy of this novella to read and review honestly. 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.”)

26 April 2014

An April Bride by Lenora Worth

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War changes everything… even their love.

Bride-to-be Stella Carson can't wait to marry her longtime sweetheart Marshall Henderson. But Marshall has been away serving his country and has suffered a head wound. After being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he has distanced himself from Stella, asking her not to visit him in a Washington, D.C., hospital. Marshall returns to Louisiana just four weeks before the wedding, but as the big day draws near, Stella wonders if the man she's loved for most of her life has become someone else. Can true love conquer all for Stella and Marshall, even the tragedy of war?

Lenora Worth’s “An April Bride” is the fifth installment in Zondervan’s novella collection, A Year of Weddings. In reading each novella, I have been amazed at how each author crafts her story uniquely, bring together a bride and a groom under completely differing circumstances from those preceding. Lenora Worth provides no exception, exploring the repercussions of going to and returning from war. Yet, while the relational circumstances intrigued me, the redundancy in many of the conversations of whether or not to call off the wedding became a bit wearying – my only qualm with this novella. Nevertheless, as a sucker for happy endings, I enjoyed “An April Bride” and would recommend it along with the other A Year of Weddings novellas for a quick afternoon read. As always, I cannot conclude my review until I thank BookLook Bloggers for providing me with 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.”)

25 April 2014

Seasons of Tomorrow by Cindy Woodsmall

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As love restores Rhoda, a sudden tragedy is the test of faith she never saw coming.

More settled in her heart than ever before, Rhoda Byler feels a newfound confidence living in the Old Order Amish settlement she helped establish in Orchard Bend, Maine. Time has helped to heal the wounds of Rhoda’s recent severed relationship, and she finds that even her unusual gift of profound intuition is less of a burden as she continues to seek God’s wisdom for her future. She is happy to be working alongside the King family and the love of her life as they tend and nurture the settlement’s orchard.

Yet when Leah King’s involvement with Englischer Landon Olson becomes known outside of the Maine community, her disregard of the Ordnung could threaten all the Orchard Bend Amish are building. In the midst of addressing the discord, a shocking tragedy challenges the young settlement like never before, threatening to uproot Rhoda’s peace and the future of everything she holds dear.

When several members of Orchard Bend Farms are displaced, the estranged King brother is called upon to return. Can those who founded the new Amish community in Maine unite Or will the lingering pain of past hurts and present struggles result in the end of their dreams?

[Now, I know in a previous review, for Murder Simply Brewed, I mentioned my general rule against reading Amish fiction. However, in light of my enjoyment of that novel, I decided I might need to give the genre a bit more of a chance. When I saw Seasons of Tomorrow available for review, I found my opportunity. Not one to jump into the middle of a series, I started at the beginning of Cindy Woodsmall's Amish Vines and Orchards series with A Season for Tending (find chapter one here) and moved to The Winnowing Season and For Every Season (find chapter one here) before reading Seasons of Tomorrow.]

Having read the three previous books in the “Amish Vines and Orchards” series, I have to admit I was a bit nervous (though excitedly so) to see how Cindy Woodsmall decided to conclude the series in Seasons of Tomorrow. After all the drama these characters already faced, I couldn't imagine a satisfying ending – especially in light of the hardships still to face. Yet, Woodsmall surprised me. In the midst of the nail-biting, sitting-on-the-edge-of-my-seat drama, I caught glimpses of the hope-filled, end-result possibilities. What a ride. The ending left me giddy, feeling a bit bittersweet to let go of these captivating characters I had grown to know and love, and I couldn't be more pleased. I would definitely recommend this novel – and this series – and cannot wait to read more from Cindy Woodsmall. As per usual, I appreciate WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing for providing me with a copy of this novel to read and review honestly.

22 April 2014

Daisies Are Forever by Liz Tolsma

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In the final days of Nazi Germany, the strength of one woman’s heart will determine the fate of a family.

Prussia, 1945. The fall of the Third Reich is imminent. As the merciless Red Army advances from the East, the German people of Prussia await the worst.

Among them is twenty-year-old Gisela Cramer, an American living in Heiligenbeil with her cousin Ella and their ailing grandfather. When word arrives that the Russians will invade overnight, Ella urges Gisela to escape to Berlin – and take Ella’s two small daughters with

The journey is miserable and relentless. But when Gisela hears the British accent of a phony SS officer, she poses as his wife to keep him safe among the indignant German refugees. In the blink of an eye, Mitch Edwards and Gisela are Herr and Frau Joseph Cramer.

Through their tragic and difficult journey, the fabricated couple strives to protect Ella’s daughters, hoping against hope for a reunion. But even as Gisela and Mitch develop feelings beyond the make-believe, the reality of war terrorizes their makeshift family.

With the world at its darkest, and the lives of two children at stake, the counterfeit couple finds in each other a source of faith, hope, and the love they need to survive.

I have this (bad) habit of peeking at the end of a book before digging into the beginning. So, when I first picked up Liz Tolsma’s Daises Are Forever, I found “The Story Behind the Story,” which explains the basis for the events of the novel on the harrowing World War II experiences of two very real and very courageous women. Wow. Knowing this made Tolsma’s narrative all the more realistic and shocking. Page after page, Tolsma’s words capture the horrors experienced by civilians during World War II, and I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for the glimmer of hope amidst the bleak hopelessness. Before Daisies Are Forever, I hadn’t read a book that dealt with the realities of the war along the German-Russian front, so I appreciate the new, vivid perspective Tolsma provided. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in historical fiction, especially within the World-War-II era, and I cannot wait to read more from Liz Tolsma. Thanks to BookLook Bloggers, I received a copy of this novel free in exchange for an honest review. 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.”)

14 April 2014

A Lady's Honor by Laurie Alice Eakes

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England, 1811. 
A tarnished reputation. 
A distant home. 
A forced engagement to a dangerous man. 

On the cliffs of 19th-century Cornwall, a spirited, impetuous young woman is torn between the honor of her family and the longing of her heart.

When Elizabeth Trelawny flees London, she has more than one reason to run. And when her carriage, pursued by her would-be fiancĂ©, is caught in a storm, she quickly accepts the help of a dark stranger. Anything to get back to Cornwall. Rowan Curnow is not exactly a stranger. Not quite a gentleman either, class disparity once kept him from courting Elizabeth… even if it didn't keep him from kissing her.

The couple elude their pursuers and reach Bastian Point, Elizabeth's future inheritance and the one place she calls home. But in the very act of spiriting her to safety, Rowan has jeopardized Elizabeth's inheritance – if her grandfather ever learns she spent the night, however innocently, in the company of a man.

When smugglers unite the pair in a reckless, flirtatious alliance – an alliance that challenges the social norms that Elizabeth has been raised to revere and rattles Rowan's fledgling faith in God – Elizabeth must choose between the obedience of a child and the desires of a woman: whether to cling to the safety of her family home or follow the man she loves.

A Lady’s Honor, by Laurie Alice Eakes, brings to life relationships and social interaction in early 19th-century England. What a different world these characters know – so very unlike 21st-century America. The formality, the calculations, the suppositions. The novel transported me, completely captivated, wondering if I could have survived in such a time period. With the romance and suspense added to this setting and its characters, A Lady’s Honor is an enjoyable read – one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in historical fiction. So, I cannot help but thank BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free 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.”)

13 April 2014

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton

Start the pursuit with chapter one here.
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Frontier dangers cannot hold a candle to the risks one woman takes by falling in love.
In an act of brave defiance, Tamsen Littlejohn escapes the life her harsh stepfather has forced upon her. Forsaking security and an arranged marriage, she enlists frontiersman Jesse Bird to guide her to the Watauga settlement in western North Carolina. But shedding her old life doesn’t come without cost. As the two cross a vast mountain wilderness, Tamsen faces hardships that test the limits of her faith and endurance.  
Convinced that Tamsen has been kidnapped, wealthy suitor Ambrose Kincaid follows after her, in company with her equally determined stepfather. With trouble in pursuit, Tamsen and Jesse find themselves thrust into the conflict of a divided community of Overmountain settlers. The State of Franklin has been declared, but many remain loyal to North Carolina. With one life left behind and chaos on the horizon, Tamsen struggles to adapt to a life for which she was never prepared. But could this challenging frontier life be what her soul has longed for, what God has been leading her toward? As pursuit draws ever nearer, will her faith see her through the greatest danger of all – loving a man who has risked everything for her?

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, by Lori Benton, is an engaging frontier tale, reminding me of Laura Frantz’s wonderful novels. Benton sets the story well, sprinkling just enough historical details to set the context, showing me a glimpse of North Carolina history I previously did not know. Against this backdrop, Benton’s fascinating characters encounter adventures and romance and surprises, drawing me page after page with the nearly constant motion of the plot. Definitely a page-turner with a satisfying ending, I would recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in historical fiction. The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is a great read, and I know I’m looking forward to reading more from Lori Benton. I appreciate WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing for providing me with a copy of this novel to read and review honestly.

05 April 2014

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape From Fundamentalism in Search of Faith With a Future by Elizabeth Esther

Start reading the first chapter of
Girl at the End of the World here
(and you won't want to stop).

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"I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group – which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalypse stock-piling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor-sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away.

Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the End of the World. Selah."

A story of mind control, the Apocalypse, and modest attire.

Elizabeth Esther grew up in love with Jesus but in fear of daily spankings (to “break her will”). Trained in her family-run church to confess sins real and imagined, she knew her parents loved her and God probably hated her. Not until she was grown and married did she find the courage to attempt the unthinkable. To leave.

In her memoir, readers will recognize questions every believer faces: When is spiritual zeal a gift, and when is it a trap? What happens when a pastor holds unchecked sway over his followers? And how can we leave behind the harm inflicted in the name of God without losing God in the process?

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Girl at the End of the World is a story of the lingering effects of spiritual abuse and the growing hope that God can still be good when His people fail.

From the first page, with a story of a nine-year-old preaching on a street corner, Elizabeth Esther’s memoir, Girl at the End of the World, had me hook, line and sinker. I zipped through the book, enthralled by the unfathomable craziness conveyed with such eloquent and honest prose. Elizabeth Esther doesn’t allow chronology to bog down her novel and instead relies on thematic connections to hop from one story to another, leading to the awe-inspiring truth of the Gospel. The book’s front cover highlights a quote of praise from Rachel Held Evans – “Witty, insightful, courageous, and compelling–the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day. I cannot commend it enough.” – and I cannot help but agree wholeheartedly. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing, I received a copy of this novel, along with the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

01 April 2014

Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman

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When the coffee shop manager is murdered in Middlebury's Amish Artisan Village, two women from different walks of life must join together to solve the mystery.

Spring has arrived in Middlebury, Indiana, and Amber Wright is optimistic about the growing profit from her collection of Amish shops – until she receives a call that Ethan Gray is dead. Hurrying over to A Simple Blend, she finds a solitary hole in the front window and the store manager lying next to the espresso machine, dead from an apparent heart attack. All the money is still in his register.

When Amber hires a young Amish woman, Hannah Troyer, to take over the shop's duties, the two women become fast friends – as well as amateur sleuths. The police believe Gray's death is a by-product of vandalism, but Amber and Hannah aren't convinced.

Clues that don't add up, a neighbor who is pulled into the midst of the investigation, a town with secrets to hide, and a blossoming romance – all will combine to push Amber and Hannah into unfamiliar roles in order to reveal answers to the mysteries around them.

As a general rule, I avoid Amish fiction. But the synopsis of Vannetta Chapman’s Murder Simply Brewed (and the title’s reference to coffee) had me intrigued, so I hesitantly made an exception and read the novel. Surprisingly, not a bad choice, I have to admit. With her two main characters and their individual perspectives, Chapman nicely balances the Amish and non-Amish lifestyle, so neither overwhelms the storyline, which helped to ease my hesitancy. It only took a few pages to hook me. A well-paced and gripping mystery with a bit of hopeful romance, Murder Simply Brewed is an excellent and worthwhile read – I just may have to make a few more exceptions and look into reading Chapman’s other novels. As always, I thank 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.”)