Monday, December 31, 2012

A Lady in the Making by Susan Page Davis


When Millie Evans boards the stagecoach, she’s determined to leave her past—and her brother’s gang—behind to start a new life. Instead she finds herself face to face with David Stone, the man she and her brother once tried to swindle out of his fortune. Millie attempts to explain her regret—but David remains unconvinced even as he sees proof of Millie’s changed heart. Can Millie prove she’s changed in time for David to save his own life? Or will mistakes from the past prove too much to overcome?

A Lady in The Making is the third book in Susan Page Davis' Prairie Dreams Series. I was unaware that it was the third novel, but after reading it I will definitely be going back to read The Lady's Maid and Lady Anne's Quest. I found A Lady in the Making to be a perfectly excellent stand-alone story, but I would recommend reading the other two novels first in order to have a more rounded understanding of the back stories and other characters in this novel. The plot line of A Lady in the Making was well written and moved at a reasonable pace. The story was filled with instances of danger, intrigue, suspense, and of course romance. The story was told from the alternating perspectives of Millie, David, the unfortunate cousin Peregrin and his scheming sister. These different characters allowed for more of the story to be explained and reduced confusion. It also heightened suspense when the story would switch from Oregon to London and back again.

The characters in A Lady in the Making were well developed and realistic. I really enjoyed seeing Millie's growth in character as she began to understand how to live as a Christian. Her persistence in receiving forgiveness from David and her care for him during tragedy was admirable. David was a character that I liked immensely. He was cautious in his trust of Millie initially because of her past sins against him, but he still showed kindness and care towards her. He also demonstrated the need to forgive and trust again that is often so hard for us to do after an act of deceit. Peregrin was a character that I simultaneously felt sorry for and was disgusted with because of his poor choices. He was an integral part of the story, and I hope that maybe there will be some mention of how he turned out in another novel.

In A Lady in the Making, I enjoyed seeing Millie and David grow closer and learn to trust one another. I liked the slow speed of the relationship throughout most the novel, but I was not too fond of how their friendship sped up towards the end. It did not really fit with the rest of the novel. However, overall I found A Lady in the Making to be one of the better romance novels that I have read recently, and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking a good ol' western romance mixed with some British spice.

I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Iscariot by Tosca Lee


In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—a miracle-worker. The promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, Judas joins the Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life.

But Judas’ vision of a nation free from Roman rule is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems in the end to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Iscariot is the story of Judas—from his tumultuous childhood and tenuous entry into a career and family life as a devout Jew, to a man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus himself that forces us all to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

Iscariot by Tosca Lee is a poignant and stirring novel of Judas, Jesus, and the tumultuous events that surround them. The novel follows Judas through his heartbreaking childhood that Judas feels is all his fault. Judas struggles to ever feel clean of guilt, shame, and sin. He is swept up in seeing John the Baptist and then begins to find the truth in Jesus' teachings. But as he learns more about Jesus, his way of thinking is threatened, and he does not understand what Jesus' true goal is.

Iscariot truly made me think about and ponder what it would have been like to be Judas and how hard it would have been to be a disciple of Jesus. The novel paints a startling picture of what the men would have experienced as they left everything they had to follow a man that seemed bent on seeing them killing by the religious leaders and estranging them all 'good company'. I was forced to really focus on what it would have been like to watch Jesus seemingly fall apart as he became more and more withdrawn and alienated himself from the religious leaders and the crowds as the time for his death drew closer. Iscariot beautifully laid out the Judas' reasoning for his betrayal of Jesus and how even he potentially did not realize what he had done until after the fact. For the first time I found myself sympathizing with Judas and pitying him for missing out on the true meaning of Jesus' birth and death. As Judas' end drew near, I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and stop him before he missed out on the chance for true life and salvation.

Overall, Iscariot by Tosca Lee was a truly convicting and stunningly well written story that brought to light new thoughts and feelings for me about the life and actions of Judas. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a dramatic, thought provoking read that will leave you weeping at the close.

I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love


Sophie Caldwell has returned to Hickory Ridge, Tennessee after years away. Despite the heartaches of her childhood, Sophie is determined to make a home, and a name, for herself in the growing town. A gifted writer, she plans to resurrect the local newspaper that so enchanted her as a girl.

Ethan Heyward’s idyllic childhood was shattered by a tragedy he has spent years trying to forget. An accomplished businessman and architect, he has built a majestic resort in the mountains above Hickory Ridge, drawing wealthy tourists from all over the country.

When Sophie interviews Ethan for the paper, he is impressed with her intelligence and astounded by her beauty. She's equally intrigued with him but fears he will reject her if he learns about her shadowed past. Just as she summons the courage to tell him, Ethan’s own past unexpectedly and violently catches up with him, threatening not only his life but their budding romance.

Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love was an exciting and enjoyable novel that kept me enthralled throughout the entire story. This novel is the third book in the A Hickory Ridge Romance Series, but it is not necessary to read the other two novels (Beyond All Measure and Beauty For Ashes) first in order to be able to connect and enjoy Every Perfect Gift. The story stands well on its own, but it was neat to see connections and resolutions to unfinished side stories from the other two novels. The plot line was well written and contained a good mixture of romance, mystery, suspense, and sadness. The story was told from the perspective of Sophie with a couple of chapters being told from Ethan's point of view. The themes of Every Perfect Gift included honesty to others, trusting God in the unknown, and forgiving those who wrong you.

The characters of Every Perfect Gift were realistic and fairly well developed. The interactions between Sophie and Ethan were interesting and entertaining. Sophie is a headstrong, clever, and independent young woman who is convinced that she can run a newspaper on her own. She quickly learns that she does need help and that she does not actually want to be alone in life. She also discovers the importance of forgiveness and honesty in her interactions with new people and old enemies. Ethan is a conflicted young man who is dealing with a horrible past history and a boss who is mean and uncaring to others. He is forced to face his past, forgive the wrongs against him, and begin to learn to love, live, and make his own life. The other minor characters were interesting, helped support the plot, and connected this novel to the other two Hickory Ridge Romance novels.

Overall Every Perfect Gift was a well written and interesting novel that I truly enjoyed. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a book to curl up with on a rainy, wintry day.
I received this novel for free from Booksneeze.com in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

 
She's off to the races!
Caught up in a whirlwind of religious enthusiasm, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. Now she just has to find a way to get the money.
Alyce harbors a secret passion for speed and automobiles, and she's spent many an afternoon driving around the rustic track in the field behind her home. When she discovers that her father's company has sponsored a racing car that will compete in several upcoming events--races in which the driver will be paid and could win as much as five thousand dollars in prize money--she conspires with her father's mechanic, Webster, to train and compete.
But when her friends cast aspersions on Webster's past, she realizes she may have trusted the wrong person with her secret. Will Alyce come up with the money in time, or will she have to choose between her hasty promise and the man who holds a piece of her heart?

At Every Turn is a great story about honesty, love, and trusting God. The plot line was excellent, and it was filled with mystery, romance, and the importance of giving to God for the right reasons. The setting for At Every Turn was an interesting time period in America's history, where racing was becoming popular and women were only beginning to have more rights. The writing style was well done and clearly portrayed the characters' emotions and feelings. The story was written from the perspective of Alyce Benson, and it was easy to see her thoughts, emotions, and the reasons for her decisions.

The characters of At Every Turn were excellently developed and entertaining. I really liked Alyce Benson with her impetuousness, crazy schemes, and true desire to help others. She started out with a few misplaced ideas about what the importance of honesty, what true devotion to God is, and the reason for giving to God's Kingdom work; however, as the book progresses Alyce grows in her love and understanding of God and realizes she needs to be honest and trustworthy with others. Webster was an interesting and remarkable character that I truly enjoyed. He had some surprising characteristics and history that were intriguing and that added to his positive attributes. I do not want to go into too much detail about his character because it gives away important parts of the story, but I really liked Webster and the depth he added to the story. The other minor characters such as Alyce's parents and grandmother also added to the story and acted as both supporting and opposing persons to the plot line.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel because of its realistic and intriguing characters, exciting plot line, and well written storyline.

I received this novel for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Secretly Smitten by Colleen Coble, Kristen Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, Denise Hunter


Summer, fall, winter, spring—Smitten, Vermont, is the place for love . . . and mystery!

There’s a secret in Grandma Rose’s attic—a forgotten set of dog tags belonging to her first love. But David Hutchins was killed in action and never returned to Smitten. How did the dog tags end up in the attic?

The mystery intrigues Rose’s three granddaughters—Tess, Clare, and Zoe—and they decide to investigate, though their mother, Anna, warns against meddling. But as the seasons turn and the mystery unravels, the three young women and their mother encounter some intriguing mystery men of their own. Has a sixty-year-old puzzle sparked something new for this close-knit family of women?

Join popular romance novelists—and real-life BFFs—Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter for four delightful intertwined tales of mystery and sweet intrigue.

Secretly Smitten is a sweet collection of four novellas each written by a different author and connected by a thread of mystery and romance. The stories are short and completely romance focused, so if romance is not your cup of tea, this book is not for you. Secretly Smitten follows in the footsteps of the previously released Smitten, but it is not critical to read the other novel first. It does give background on many of the other characters, but this novel is understandable on its own.

The first novella is called Love Between the Lines and is by Colleen Coble. It stars the smart, kind, yet insecure Tess Thomas as she struggles to find true love, herself, and solve a puzzling mystery. I found Colleen Coble's novella to be the most interesting of Secretly Smitten. She did a great job setting the stage for the rest of the stories, and she introduced and developed her main characters in a way that made them enjoyable and relatable for the reader. I did not like the light in which she painted the mother, Anna, because it did not really match up with the character I saw in the other three novellas. While I am not sure that I related the best to the two main characters of this novella as compared to the other characters, I did have the strongest connection to the characters because of the way they were developed.

The second novella is called Make Me a Match by Kristen Billerbeck. This story focuses on Zoe Thomas, the youngest daughter who is filled with bright ideas, dreams of romance, and uncontained energy. This was my least favorite story of the four because the romance seemed unrealistic and occurred far too quickly and there was very little plot development even for a novella. I had little connection to the male character simply because I did not know anything about him. I liked Zoe, but I knew little about her either. I also did not feel that the main connecting plot line was well carried out through this novella.

The third novella is Knit One, Love Two by Diann Hunt. The character that this story focuses on is Anna Thomas, the mother of Tess, Zoe, and Clare. This novella was interesting because it focused on an older woman finding new love. It was also disconcerting at points because Anna did not act or have thoughts that one would typically expect from a mother and older woman. While this could simply be a misconception on my part, it did make it harder for me to read and certainly harder for me to connect to her character. I found this story very interesting and well written, but I had little connection with the characters.

The fourth novella is Love Blooms by Denise Hunter. Starring in this final novella was Clare Thomas, the middle Thomas sister. After learning some things about Clare during the other stories, it was interesting to see how Clare viewed herself and watching her realize her flaws and change as the story progressed. I think Clare may have had the most growth of the characters, and I found myself able to connect to many of her attributes, such as an inability to accept change or trust others. I also enjoyed the male character in this novella, and his positive influence on Clare and other characters. This novella wrapped up the overall thread of Secretly Smitten in a way that was satisfying and interesting. I was left feeling pleased as the story ended.

Overall, I found Secretly Smitten to be a quick yet enjoyable collection of novellas. There were aspects that I enjoyed about each and there were stories and parts that I liked more than others. I found the overall storyline to be intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing familiar characters and settings from the first collection. I also liked how the four authors worked together and how their characters each viewed the other characters differently. If you are looking for a heartwarming yet easy read to curl up with in front of the fire this holiday, this is the book for you.

I received this novel for free from Booksneeze.com in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deployed by Mel Odom


 
 
Lance Corporal Bekah Shaw joined the United States Marine reserves to help support herself and her son when her ex-husband, Billy Roy, decided they were no longer his responsibility. But when her team is activated and sent to Somalia on a peacekeeping mission, Bekah struggles with being separated from her son and vows to return safely.

Once a successful Somalian businessman, Rageh Daud has lost everything. Determined to seek revenge on the terrorists who killed his wife and son, he teams up with a group of thieves, killers, and others displaced by war. Despite his better judgment, Daud becomes the protector of a young orphaned boy—who becomes a pawn between the warring factions.

To defeat the terrorists and bring peace to the region, Bekah and her team must convince Daud that they are on the same side.
 
Deployed by Mel Odom was an exciting novel that clearly displayed the struggles of deployed soldiers, the issues that they often face, and the seemingly unlikely alliances that can occur. The plot moved quickly throughout the book, and it jumped from Daud's perspective in Somalia to Bekah's perspective at home in the United States to the perspective of her lieutenant as he struggled with moral issues as a lawyer. The narrative setup allowed for the reader to meet more characters and have a wider perspective on the setting and storyline as it developed. It did make the story seemed jumbled at times, and it disconnected me from the characters and what was going on sometimes. However, it was still a neat way to present the story.
 
The characters were a mix of ruffians and criminals and diverse group of Marine reservists that were all thrust into an explosive situation in Somalia. Bekah Shaw was the only character that was really fleshed out during the novel. As the reader we were allowed to view her thoughts and experience the struggles she had as a single mom leaving her child at home while dealing with prejudices abroad in the Marine Corp. I enjoyed learning about her feelings and experiences, but I would have liked to see more development in Daud's character. He was a very conflicted and devastated man, and it would have been interesting to have learned more about him. I also would have liked to been able to connect more with Bekah's lieutenant and the other soldiers that were with her.
 
Overall, I thought Mel Odom did a great job crafting a well researched and exciting novel that clearly portrayed the issues that our soldiers face at home and abroad.
 
I received this novel for free from Tyndale Press in exchange for an honest review.

 


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Right Where I Belong by Krista McGee


Natalia’s about to discover her place in the world . . . and it’s not following in her father’s footsteps.

After watching her father jump from one marriage to the next, Natalia has completely written off love. And when her father divorces his third wife—the only one who has been a mother to her—Natalia is ready to write him off too.

Needing a change of scenery, Natalia leaves her home in Spain and relocates with her stepmother to sun-soaked Florida. But she didn’t realize just how far a new school, a new culture, and a new lifestyle would push her out of her comfort zone.

One of her biggest surprises comes from Brian, a pastor’s son with an adorable smile, who loves God with a sincerity that astounds Natalia. She doesn’t want to fall for him, but she can’t seem to avoid him long enough to get him out of her mind.

Love is the last thing Natalia wants. Even so, God has her right where she belongs.

Right Where I Belong by Krista McGee is a very interesting and adorable novel that kept me glued to the pages throughout. I finished the book in about one sitting. The plot line was exciting, and it contained elements of romance, humor, and helping others. The intriguing aspect of the storyline of this book is that Krista McGee crafted it after the story of Ruth and Naomi in the Bible. There were of course many differences in the story, but it was interesting to see the parallels between the story of Ruth and this novel. The narrative of the story was accounted mostly from the perspective of Natalia, but also from Brian.

The characters of this novel were my favorite part of this novel. They were realistic, well-developed, and I was able to identify with their struggles. Right Where I Belong is the third novel, following in the footsteps of First Date and Starring Me. While it is not necessary to read the other two novels before this one, I did enjoy seeing characters that I knew and loved in Right Where I belong. Addie from First Date was a mentor of sorts for Natalia, and Kara from Starring Me was also present at times. However, I really enjoyed the new characters of Natalia and Brian. They were so different yet they complemented each other well. I really enjoyed Brian's humor, his kindness, and his patience. It saddened me that he felt like he was an idiot who had no purpose at times. I had less connection to Natalia because many of our characteristics are different. She loves fashion and is too afraid to fall in love. Both Brian and Natalia struggled with what their callings were in life, for both were under pressure to choose differently than what God had called them to do with their lives. It was extremely neat to see how their paths meshed and to see their growth as Christians as they learned to trust in God alone.

Overall, I really enjoyed Right Where I Belong. The plot line was exciting and enjoyable, the characters were realistic and engaging, and the book was crafted after a well-loved story in the Bible. I would highly recommend this book and the two novels that come before it.

I received this novel for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

If We Survive by Andrew Klavan



They came on a mission of mercy, but now they’re in a fight for their lives.

High schooler Will Peterson and three friends journeyed to Central America to help rebuild a school. In a poor, secluded mountain village, they won the hearts of the local people with their energy and kindness.

But in one sudden moment, everything went horribly wrong. A revolution swept the country. Now, guns and terror are everywhere—and Americans are being targeted as the first to die.

Will and his friends have got to get out fast. But streets full of killers . . . hills patrolled by armies . . . and a jungle rife with danger stand between them and the border. Their one hope of escape lies with a veteran warrior who has lost his faith and may betray them at any moment. Their one dream is to reach freedom and safety and home.

If they can just survive.

If We Survive by Andrew Klavan was an exciting and suspenseful novel that filled with action, some romance, and mystery. The plot line flowed well and moved at a quick and exciting pace. There was a good mix of action, suspense, and a little romance as well. There were several surprising occurrences and unexpected twists that kept me glued to the pages. The story was told from the perspective of Will Peterson, and all the events were displayed along with his thoughts and feelings.

The characters of If We Survive were interesting and somewhat realistic. I liked how Palmer was initially viewed as a wicked, uncaring man but as the book progressed his true colors were revealed and his character began to improve. All of the characters were very different and each had their own unique flaws and weaknesses. However, as the story continued the characters each discovered their strengths and became heroes as they all contributed to their escape from danger. All of the characters experienced growth and development throughout the novel, and I really enjoyed watching their changes.

There some aspects of this novel that I did not like. I was not too enthusiastic about how Christianity and God were portrayed by some of the characters. I thought that some of the comments they made were untrue, and I felt let down by how the book concluded and what Will thought about God. I did appreciate the honesty that was portrayed about the harm can occur when governments intervene with other countries before they know all the facts.

Overall, I thought If We Survive was very exciting, suspenseful, and interesting and that the characters were realistic and developed over the course of the novel.

I received this novel for free in exchange for an honest review from Booksneeze.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lovelier Than Daylight by Rossyln Elliot


Susanna is a lady of principles who values family above all. Johann seems to represent all she despises . . . but appearances can be deceiving.

In 1875, Susanna Hanby is headed off to college in Westerville, Ohio, when she discovers her sister Rachel and Rachel’s children have disappeared. Susanna suspects that Rachel’s alcoholic husband knows more than he’s saying and she vows to uncover the truth.

Johann Giere is heir to a successful German-American brewery in Columbus, but longs for a career in journalism in New York City. When Johann signs on as the supplier for a new saloon in Westerville, his and Susanna’s paths cross and sparks fly. A fiery temperance crusader, Susanna despises Johann’s profession, but she cannot deny the attraction.

When Susanna learns that Rachel’s children have been indentured to orphanages in the city, she despairs that her family will be fractured forever. But Johann makes Susanna an offer she can’t refuse—pitting her passion and her principles against one another.

If she can find a way for her head and her heart to be in harmony, a future lovelier than daylight awaits her.

Lovelier than Daylight is a story of love and faith based on the Westerville Whiskey War of 1875, a dramatic real historical event featured in the 2011 documentary Prohibition by Ken Burns.

Lovelier than Daylight by Rosslyn Elliot is a well written story that was a neat mix of romance, intrigue, truth and fiction. It is the third book in the The Saddler Legacy Series, but it is not imperative that you read the other two first in order to enjoy this novel. The plot line was interesting and held my attention throughout. The plot started quickly, but then went into a lull as more background information was given about the situation and characters. However, after a few chapters I was captured by the storyline and the characters, and I read well into the night in order to finish the novel. The plot contained a good mesh of themes such as love, overcoming prejudice, suspense, and intrigue. I was completely satisfied with the ending, and I enjoyed how the novel alternated between the perspective of Susanna and Johann.

The characters were well developed, realistic, and captured my affection. Susanna was a character that had her share of both strengths and flaws. She started out extremely prejudiced against Johann and his trade, but the words of Johann, his family, and her aunt caused her to have a better understanding of what God can do with any business and any people. Johann was a truly admirable character whom I really liked. He was kind, compassionate, gentle, and he trusted God and His leading even when he felt like his heart was leading him somewhere else. The supporting characters of Will and Ann Hanby were exceptional, and I was convicted over and over by their wise words.

Overall, I truly enjoyed Lovelier than Daylight, and I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys historical fiction/romance read the Saddler Legacy Series.

I received this novel for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers and Booksneeze.com.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Kingsbury Collection by Karen Kingsbury

Read Chapter one here

Three Page-Turning Novels in One Volume!

Where Yesterday Lives


Ellen Barrett is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist with an uncertain marriage, a forgotten faith, and haunting memories of her picturesque hometown and the love she left behind. The eldest of five siblings, she longs for the time, long ago, when they were a happy family. Now Ellen’s beloved father is dead, and she returns to her childhood home to make peace–with the people who still live there, with the losses and changes that time has wrought, and with the future God has set before her.

When Joy Came to Stay

Maggie Stovall is one of the golden people. She has it all together...at least on the surface. Ben Stovall is a godly husband and successful attorney. He has no idea of the darkness about to overtake his life. Amanda Joy is a child of society–abused, broken, thrown away. But her trust in God is still alive. When Joy Came to Stay is the heart-wrenching story of one woman’s descent into the shadows of depression, her husband’s search for understanding, and a precious child’s unwavering faith.

On Every Side

Faith Evans is an up-and-coming newscaster, a woman of honor and integrity who must take a stand against the one man she never imagined would be her enemy. A beloved, hundred-year-old statue of Jesus stands in a small-town park–but some say it’s a clear violation of separation of church and state that must come down. Jordan Riley is a powerful attorney fighting for human rights and against God, but still reckoning with bitter boyhood losses. Amid political intrigue, social injustice, and personal conflicts, will love be enough when the battle rages on every side?
All three of the novels in this collection by Karen Kingsbury were excellent. All three novels addressed different issues that both women and men face in their struggles in life and with their beliefs in God, but all three novels clearly portrayed the importance of prayer and having a prayer life. The plots were all rich and contained elements that were either unexpected, tear jerking, or suspenseful.

Where Yesterday Lives was an excellent novel that displayed the importance of family, forgiveness, and fidelity particularly in marriage. Ellen and her sisters Jane, Amy and Megan and her brother Aaron were realistic characters, each with an exaggerated but still realistic character flaw. Ellen was completely self focused, Jane embittered and angry, Aaron felt unable to communicate so he blew up at people, Megan used to be rebel and had abandoned her family, and Amy was overly quiet, ignored, and gave in easily to her siblings. However, despite all of these attributes that pushed the family apart, as the book progressed, it was beautiful to see them beginning to work through their issues and actually begin to understand one another. The book was written so that at points in the story events that occurred in the characters' past was revealed in order that the reader would have a better understanding as to why the characters were acting and feeling a certain way.

When Joy Came to Stay was a compelling story that revealed the pain that secrets, lies, and bad choices can have on a person's mental health and their marriage or relationships with others. Maggie had a secret that she never told her husband that caused her to start having mental issues. She had stopped, or never really started, trusting God and relying on Him for answers, and it caused her to make some not so great decisions and become severely depressed. Ben, her husband, was an excellent character who stuck by his wife in the midst of it all and went to extreme lengths to discover the truth, get his wife back, and redeem their mistakes and their relationship with God and each other. I was truly inspired by his perseverance, and I was touched and moved watching Maggie's growth and her revitalization as she revealed her story and worked through her issues with the Lord. Amanda Joy was my favorite character because she always had an overwhelming faith in God even in the midst of some truly frightening circumstances. Despite these events, she never once stopped trusting and praying to her Savior.


On Every Side was a beautiful tale of one man's battle against God even as countless people in his life were praying for Him and as God was working on his heart. Jordan was very interesting to watch as he struggled against his feelings of rejection and hatred towards God for the death of his mother and loss of his sister. Faith Evans, his old childhood sweetheart, was an inspiring character who never stopped believing in Jordan and at the same time discovered that she had begun to trust in her own abilities instead of putting her faith in God and acting out in obedience and trust. There were several other minor characters that helped pull the novel together, and it was lovely to watch the story and characters begin to connect and to see how God was working out the events in their lives for good.

Overall, I really enjoyed all three novels, and I would highly recommend this collection of novels to any Karen Kinsgbury fans or readers that want to try out a Karen Kingsbury book for the first time.

I received this collection for free from the Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner

“The Girl in the Glass is possibly the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. Susan Meissner lifted her book to the level of poetry at the same time she drew me in so deeply to the story that I was lost in the world she created. The story comes in three threads that twist together into a stunning, compelling, enchanting whole. I absolutely loved it.”
—Mary Connealy, author of The Kincaid Brides series

Renaissance is a word with hope infused in every letter.
Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy, and being able to finally step into the place captured in a picture at her grandmother’s house. But after her grandmother passes away and it falls to her less-than-reliable father to take her instead, Meg’s long-anticipated travel plans seem permanently on hold.

When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. But when Meg arrives in Florence, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving aspiring memoir-writer Sophia Borelli to introduce Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims to be one of the last surviving members of the Medici family and that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives will be indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be?
 
Girl in the Glass is hands down one of the best books I have read in awhile. It was not an action packed, fast moving book by any means. But the attraction of this novel lies in its slow moving flow that matches the beauty and the timeless pull of Florence, Italy. I had the opportunity to visit Florence, Italy over a year ago, and this novel both reminds me of its beauty and makes me yearn to spend a month or more exploring this city's exquisite depth. The plot of Girl in the Glass fits beautifully into the setting of Florence. It is rich, deep, and full of surprises. There are several moments in this book are completely unexpected and add to its enchantment. The narration of this book is beautifully intertwined between the perspective of Meg as she finally experiences Florence, the story of Nora, the Medici princess, and Sophia, the 'last Medici'. The connection and flow of this story is confusing at first, but it quickly adds to the beauty and complexity of the story. There is a final level of narration that is discovered at the end of the book, but I will leave that for you to discover yourself.
 
I loved the beauty and flow of the language used in the Girl in the Glass. It was varied, descriptive, and perfectly fit the world of Florence. Here are some examples:
"Florence, my father told me long ago, is like a dance. It is more than streets and buildings and a steady river; it's a presence you feel, a rhythm you fall in step with."
"Grief is a river like the Arno, the depths of its dark bed you cannot see. To swim in it is to tire in it and sink in it and be lost forever in it."
"Heaven's rules don't just ell us what to do and what not do. They tell us what God is like. People searching for God only need to look at what God says is important. I think love is important to Him. So there are rules about it. Not to make us feel bad about how far we fall short, but to show us how wonderful the real thing is."
Florence itself is also described exquisitely. I felt like I was back in Florence, and I also discovered other places, museums, statues, etc. that I want to return to Florence to see.

The characters in the Girl in the Glass were interesting as well. I really liked Meg, Lorenzo, and Sophia. They were all very different and added their own dimension to the story. They all experienced growth during the novel, and I was very pleased to see how their stories ended. I wish the epilogue that been longer, but I was given plenty for my imagination.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story, and I am seriously considering visiting Florence again because of the Girl in the Glass.

I received this novel for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for an honest review.

Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke


Maureen O’Reilly and her younger sister flee Ireland in hope of claiming the life promised to their father over twenty years before. After surviving the rigors of Ellis Island, Maureen learns that their benefactor, Colonel Wakefield, has died. His family, refusing to own his Civil War debt, casts her out. Alone, impoverished, and in danger of deportation, Maureen connives to obtain employment in a prominent department store. But she soon discovers that the elegant facade hides a secret that threatens every vulnerable woman in the city.

Despite her family’s disapproval, Olivia Wakefield determines to honor her father’s debt but can’t find Maureen. Unexpected help comes from a local businessman, whom Olivia begins to see as more than an ally, even as she fears the secrets he’s hiding. As women begin disappearing from the store, Olivia rallies influential ladies in her circle to help Maureen take a stand against injustice and fight for the lives of their growing band of sisters. But can either woman open her heart to divine leading or the love it might bring?

Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke was an interesting and truly captivating story that illustrated the presence of trafficking even in the early 1900's. The plot line was engaging and moved at the perfect pace. There were chapters that moved quickly and there were also chapters that were slower and focused more on the characters' feelings and thoughts. The book had instances of suspense, mystery, romance, sadness, and joy that nicely combined to keep me emotionally engaged in the storyline. The plot followed the life events of the characters primarily, but it also had a broad enough scope to clearly portray the poor living and working conditions the Irish immigrants had in America. This allows the plight of the characters to really shine through and cause that sympathetic connection with the reader. The narration of the story alternated primarily between Maureen and Olivia, but Maureen's younger sister and one of Maureen's friends also have a couple chapters from their perspective.

The characters in this novel were excellently developed and realistic. The main characters all had their strengths and weaknesses, and their struggles to overcome their flaws was realistic and inspiring. I really liked Maureen. She was strong willed, stubborn, and unafraid to stand up for what she felt was right. I enjoyed watching her grow in her knowledge of God, her trust towards others, and her courage to fight against injustice. I had more trouble connecting with Olivia because her troubles as a wealthy woman seemed less important in comparison to Maureen's. I did admire her persistence in seeking out Maureen, her relationship with God, and her desire to do more to help the oppressed immigrant women. I especially loved her discussion of the book In His Steps and her  application of it to the proper mindset the 'band of sisters' should have -what is the Holy Spirit calling us to do? The other minor characters supported the main characters well and added a nice variety and depth to the story.

The themes of the Band of Sisters were clear and convicting. These included the importance of following God's will for your life, the reality of trafficking and slavery for women in America, and the call we have to help those who are suffering.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and I would highly recommend The Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Darkness Rising: East Salem Novel by Lis Wiehl and Pete Nelson


The evil in East Salem is no longer content to hide in the shadows. The stakes—and the darkness—are rising.

Dani Harris thought there wasn’t much left that could surprise her after serving as a forensic psychiatrist in East Salem. And Tommy Gunderson has faced few challenges in his life that he couldn’t overcome by either physical strength or his celebrity status.

But as they race to uncover what’s really happening behind the high walls of St. Adrian’s Academy, it becomes clear that supernatural forces have been at work here for generations. And now their focus is on making sure Dani and Tommy don’t interfere.

When the unseen becomes seen, faith is the only weapon strong enough to fight in a battle involving not just murder and betrayal—but angels and demons.

Darkness Rising by Lis Wiehl and Pete Nelson is the second novel in the East Salem Trilogy. Occurring only a few months after the first novel, Waking Hours, the plot line flows quickly and never stops moving. The plot is exciting, action packed, and filled with suspenseful moments.  Some important facts are revealed to the reader in the first few chapters, but the characters do not realize what is going on until near the end of the book. This causes the reader to be literally on the edge of their seat waiting to discover if the characters will unveil the truth in time. The story is told alternatively between Dani and Tommy's point of view. There are also a couple of other characters who are focused on from time to time. These changing perspectives allow the reader to have a greater understanding and wider view of the situations at hand.

The characters in Darkness Rising were interesting and had their flaws. I felt like there was less character development in this novel than in the first one. I did not learn very much that was new about Dani Harris nor Tommy Gunderson, and the new characters that entered this novel only received the merest of development. However, there were still some interesting elements of the story related to the characters, and the interactions between the characters were entertaining and added to the plot. Some of the characters did have unexpected roles or changes in the story, and other characters' flaws and strengths were made more apparent.

Darkness Rising deals significantly more with demons, demon possession, and angel-demonic warfare than the first novel did. Some of these aspects were interesting, but I was put off by many of Lis Wiehl's assumptions about spiritual warfare and how demons and angels interact with humans. I do not want to ruin the story for anyone, but there was one time in particular in this story where I completely disagree with Lis Wiehl's view on demon possession. Suffice it to say, I could not find any biblical support for that type of demon possession, and I found plenty of biblical references that indicate that it cannot occur.

Overall, I found Darkness Rising to be an incredibly interesting and nail biting read that I was glued to for several hours. My only warning would be to read it carefully and evaluate the ideas and concepts wisely from what you know.

I received this novel for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers and Booksneeze.com in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman


"Cushman crafts strong characters that are easy to connect with."--Romantic Times

Julie Charlton is at the breaking point. She's overwhelmed and burned out, and in today's unrelenting society, her kids are, too. When her sister-in-law Susan, a Martha Stewart-in-training, lands the chance to participate in a reality TV series promoting simple living, and needs another family to join her, it seems like the perfect opportunity.

The location is an idyllic farm outside an Amish community in Tennessee. Julie, with her two children, joins Susan and her teenage daughter for a summer adventure. Susan needs to succeed in order to become self-sufficient after an ugly divorce, Julie needs to slow down long enough to remember what her priorities are and regain a sense of purpose and meaning. It becomes clear from the start that "living simple" is no simple matter. With the camera watching every move, Susan's drive for perfection feels a lot like what they left behind, while Julie suddenly finds herself needing to stand up for slowing down. With each new challenge, their season of "going Amish" gets more and more complicated, as each woman learns unexpected lessons about herself and her family.

Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman was a truly enjoyable novel that went beyond being simply Amish and really delved into the importance of family, trust, and slowing down in life. At first, I had trouble getting connected to the storyline, but after the first few chapters, I was completely drawn in and did not want to put the book down. I really enjoyed the storyline and how events unfolded in this novel. There was a never a point after the beginning where I was bored or could completely predict what going to happen. The plot line was interesting and had an engaging mixture of humorous, suspenseful, saddening, and joyful situations. The tone varied nicely within the story, and the language was easy to understand yet not overly simple. The perspective from which the story was narrated was primarily Julie's, but there were a few chapters where the reader saw everything from her sister in law, Susan's, point of view. The thoughts and feelings of the children were not neglected either; these were expressed through the conversations between characters and a couple of sections of the novel that were told more from their perspectives.

The characters of this novel were realistic and engaging. I enjoyed Julie's quirks and her ability to find positives even in the weird or ugly situations. Her growth into her personality as she began to understand her worth as a person and child of God and the gifts God had given her was a beautiful and compelling change to behold. Susan was a harder character to sympathize with because of her complete lack of emotion and her bossy and controlling personality. Even so, I was able to identify with her struggles because I have many of the same personality traits and have siblings that are more like Julie. I was convicted by the realizations that Susan had about life, letting go, and surrendering to God and His will. The supporting characters, such as the children, Chris, and Gary were great characters who provided a lot of laughs, cries, and helped both Julie and Susan realize and make changes in their lives and characters.

The themes in Almost Amish were clear, convicting, and expertly woven throughout the story. Some of these themes included the importance of taking time for family, being able to say 'no', slowing down in life, surrendering control to God, taking time to understand others before passing judgment, and really listening to the needs and issues that others have. These are truly critical themes to dwell and meditate on, especially in the busy and hectic culture that we live in.

Overall, I really enjoyed Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants an interesting and compelling read.

I received this novel for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Twice a Bride by Mona Hodgson

Love lost doesn’t mean love lost forever.
Can unexpected romance deliver a second chance for two deserving widows?

Full of resolve, young widow Willow Peterson decides to pursue her dreams to be an artist as she settles into a new life in the growing mountain town of Cripple Creek. When she lands a job working as a portrait painter with handsome entrepreneur and photographer Trenton Van Der Veer, the road before Willow seems to be taking a better-than-anticipated turn.

With questions tugging at several hearts in town, including the Sinclair Sisters’ beloved Miss Hattie, change is traveling down the tracks as several unexpected visitors make their way out West. Will the new arrivals threaten the deep family bonds of the Sinclair sisters and the roots of love that are just taking hold for Willow?

Filled with the resonating questions that all women face, this romance awakens hope against grief, love against loss, and dreams against life’s unexpected turns.
 
Twice a Bride by Mona Hodgson is the fourth novel in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek series, and this novel explores the lives of the Sinclair sisters' beloved Miss Hattie and sister-in-law Willow Peterson. The novel picked up about a year after the third novel, The Bride Wore Blue. The plot line of Twice a Bride is similar to the rest of the series and for me seemed rather predictable. There were several of unexpected events that did occur that added suspense to the story. Another positive aspect of the story was the the courage and faith that the Sinclair sisters displayed as their friends and relatives were struggling in different areas of their lives. I did enjoy seeing how the characters all worked together and helped bear one another's burdens. Overall, I was not really taken in by the storyline, and I thought that the plot did not flow well nor did the speed at which events moved in the story seem very realistic.

The characters of Twice a Bride were also hard to connect with and follow in the story. The character development seemed very limited, and I felt separated and disconnected from the characters. Even when the reader was allowed to glimpse Willow's thoughts, I had trouble sympathizing or identifying with her struggles because there was little development of her character. The man that Willow begins to fall in love with has even less character development, which works out alright because it adds to his mysterious background, but it makes it hard to experience his feelings and thoughts. While I was not pulled in my Willow's love story, Miss Hattie's love story was more of a surprise for me, and I did enjoy seeing her growth. I felt the most connection with her, and I had more background on her struggles and character from the previous novels. I wish the romance between Miss Hattie and her man (not to give it away!) had been more prolonged; I felt like that the couple had little time to understand each other and made their romance seem contrived and unrealistic.

Overall, while I enjoyed Twice a Bride as a quick, easy read, I was somewhat disappointed by the story line and the lack of development in the characters.

I received this novel for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof

Night’s chill tickled her skin. Lonnie pressed her hands together and glanced up. He was even more handsome up close. Having grown up the shy, awkward daughter of Joel Sawyer, she’d hardly spoken to any boy, let alone the one who had mothers whispering warnings in their daughter’s ears and fathers loading shotguns.

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith. But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob.

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life. What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?
 
Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof was a sweet and spellbinding novel that I really enjoyed. The plot line was interesting and had several unexpected twists that really added to the suspense of the novel. The story was intriguing and held my interest so well that I finished the novel in one sitting. The story was told in third person, but it still alternated between Gideon and Lonnie's point of views.
 
The characters of Be Still My Soul were definitely my favorite part of the novel. The characters had their strengths, but their flaws were clear and realistic. The couple that Gideon and Lonnie meet halfway through the novel were beautiful foils to the flaws that both Lonnie and Gideon had. The farmer, Jeremiah, was eccentric and craggy in temperament, but he was loyal and caring and taught Gideon new lessons about love and faithfulness. Jeremiah's wife helped soothe Lonnie's wounded heart and prepare her for being a loving yet confident wife. Lonnie was a sweet character who had been slightly mistreated by her father much of her life. She began to experience an expansion in her character in the novel, and she learned to trust in God and His faithfulness and peace even when Gideon was a selfish jerk. Gideon was my favorite character in the novel because of the incredible transformations that occurred in his life. I do not want to give too much away, but his growth as a man and husband were amazing to watch.
 
The themes in this novel were clear and convicting. Some the topic and themes the author explored included was the need for love and respect in marriage, trusting in God's love and faithfulness, a willingness to forgive, and the importance of unselfishness and turning to God for guidance.
 
I really enjoyed Joanne Bischof's first installment in her Cadence of Grace series, and I look forward to reading her other novels.
 
I received this novel for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for an honest review.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Prayers of a Stranger by Davis Bunn


Amanda is ambivalent about her husband's idea for a big family holiday up north. Last year she planned a special Christmas in their own home, carefully preparing a nursery and the keepsake ornaments for their newborn. Now that room stands as empty as her heart.

Then a neighbor's mishap turns into a last minute chance for Amanda to take a much needed vacation to tour the Holy Land.

An extraordinary turn of events allows Amanda to help answer a young mother's plea for healing. Then, filled with a sense of awe, Amanda visits the place of Jesus' birth. There she discovers anew the miracle of the Christ child.

Her return to Florida marks a momentous shift in her soul and in her marriage as she begins to realize that her journey did not end in the Holy Land. And that God does not just answer the prayers of strangers...but also those of her own heart.

Prayers of a Stranger by Davis Bunn was a sweet and captivating novel that resonated with my own heart. I know someone who went through a similar journey after a loss. She came back from the Holy Land with a deeper relationship with God, a renewed spirit, and even more happiness less than a year later. This novel parallels my friend's journey and shows the mercy and love of our Heavenly Father in all circumstances.

The plot of Prayers of a Stranger is simple yet powerful. The story has unexpected twists, convicting scenes, and incredible revelations. The tone of the novel follows the storyline and the characters' journeys beautifully.

The characters of Prayers of a Stranger are well developed and realistic as well. Amanda is a flawed character that clearly struggles with her faith, relationships, and other issues. She has her strengths, but she is overwhelmed by her own weakness. The other characters are developed realistically as well and support Amanda on her journey to a new heart and spirit.

Overall, I felt that Prayers of a Stranger was a beautifully crafted and highly convicting novel that displayed anew the glory of our Savor's birth and its impact in all of our lives.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson through Booksneeze.com in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg


The world is on the brink of disaster, and the clock is ticking.

Iran has just conducted its first atomic weapons test. Millions of Muslims around the world are convinced their messiah—known as the Twelfth Imam—has just arrived on earth. Israeli leaders fear Tehran, under the Twelfth Imam’s spell, will soon launch a nuclear attack that could bring about a second Holocaust and the annihilation of Israel. The White House fears Jerusalem will strike first, launching a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities that could cause the entire Middle East to go up in flames, oil prices to skyrocket, and the global economy to collapse. With the stakes high and few viable options left, the president of the United States orders CIA operative David Shirazi and his team to track down and sabotage Iran’s nuclear warheads before Iran or Israel can launch a devastating first strike.
But will they be too late?
 
The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg is the sequel to the The Twelfth Imam. Starting with a short preface from the first novel, The Tehran Initiative jumps right into the action left behind by The Twelfth Imam. The plot line of this book is quick, action-packed, yet still saturated with the Gospel message, the Muslim ideals and prophecies, and the political tensions surrounding the arrival of the Twelfth Imam. There is a good mix of the action segments and the slower, more political events. I enjoyed the variety, and it increased the suspense of the scenes as I had to wait sometimes to see what was going to happen to the characters. The action scenes were excellent and exciting, but I was also surprised by the brutality often displayed by the CIA. The political intrigue and the rising Middle Eastern tensions were interesting and striking,  and I was able to clearly see parallels to what is occurring abroad right now. There were several unexpected twists to the story that kept me on the edge of my seat, and one scene in particular that deeply satisfied me.

The point of views from which this novel is told switch between multiple people.  These include CIA director Robert Allen, Tom Murray, Will Jackson, David Shirazi, Marseille Harper, Eva Fischer, and Najjar Malik. These perspectives change quickly and often, though the story primarily lies with David. These changes help the reader understand that much of the passage of information in the story is fractured and that the situation is rapidly moving out of the control of the world leaders.

The characters of The Tehran Initiative were well developed and kept growing and changing from the previous novel. David Shirazi definitely experienced the most growth, and I enjoyed seeing his character change and deepen throughout the novel. The President, William Jackson, was introduced on a deeper level in this novel, but I was not impressed by his character. He came off, as he was intended to, as a weak and indecisive man who was more concerned with a fake 'peace' then saving Israel as well as America from the plan of the Twelfth Imam. The Israeli Prime Minister and his minister of defense, however, were incredibly strong characters that were afraid to defy America in order to save their country. Other characters whose characteristics continued to be revealed were Marseille Harper, Eva Fischer, and Najjar Malik. Both Eva and Najjar took stands during this novel for what they believed in and were not afraid to face the consequences. Marseille was more involved in the story and began to discover the truth about several people, including the Twelfth Imam. More of her past and character came out as she investigated.

Overall, I enjoyed The Tehran Initiative immensely. I thought it picked up smoothly from The Twelfth Imam, had a great plot, neat narrator changes, and excellent character development. I would highly recommend both The Twelfth Imam and The Tehran Initiative to anyone who enjoys action or political thrillers. These books are also a great way to learn more about the tensions in the Middle East in an exciting and only slightly more fictional manner.

I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones

Read the first chapter here
Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart.
Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life—anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten—when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole.

Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It’s about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover.

A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardener reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.

The First Gardener was a heart wrenching story that left me in tears but that renewed me at the same time. The plot line was well written and included many unexpected occurrences. I was not expecting such horrible events to befall the London family, and the final chapter also came as a complete shock. The storyline was beautifully woven and kept engaged the entire time. I read the entire book in a single evening because I could not put it down. The tone of the book varied with the characters' feelings and situations, and the language change between the chapters told from Jeremiah's perspectives versus the other chapters was excellent. 

The characters were wonderfully developed and complex. Jeremiah had incredible faith in God, knowledge about different flowers' meanings, and the confidence to witness to those who were hurting. The final revealing piece of his character and life fit in so well and only increased my admiration of his strength and faith. Mackenzie experienced the most devastating grief and the complete shutdown of all emotions. This made me sympathize with her and grieve with her, but made it hard for me to connect with her simply because I have never experienced such great devastation. However, many people do go through that kind of suffering and grief, and her growth and recovery were critical to the story and important for all readers to see. Gray was amazing. He continued to love and pursue his wife even as she withered away on the inside. Gray was not without his faults, and he did experience several complete breakdowns as he grieved and as he refused to acknowledge that he needed help. Eugenia, Mackenzie's mom, was the complete opposite of her daughter and provided an excellent foil to her and Grey. She was bossy, controlling, and critical, but she loved her family immensely and only sought their good and to help them in their time of need. She and her friends had many hilarious scenes and provided critical comic relief in the dark moments of the novel.

The First Gardener was filled with powerful themes that really spoke to me. These included the need to grieve openly and not hold it inside, be open to the work of God, and the faithfulness of God even in the midst of great tragedy. This novel was convicting and heart wrenching and beautifully spoke of loss, love, and open arms of the First Gardener who loves us and holds us through it all.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Go and Do by Jay Milbrandt

Read first chapter here
With an MBA and a law degree from Pepperdine University, Jay Milbrandt had the world at his feet. But rather than following his peers into big firms with high profile clients and even higher salaries, Jay has chosen a completely different road—a journey that has led him across large portions of the globe to “go and do likewise,” as Jesus modeled and instructed in His life on this earth. In his efforts to bring justice and healing to people all around the world, Jay’s pursuit of justice has become an adventure far greater than he could have ever dreamed or imagined.

As Christians, we are called to take a step of faith for Christ, to change ourselves, and perhaps by doing that, to change those we encounter along the way. Go and Do is an invitation for all of us to join in the adventure of God’s story arc. It is an opportunity to understand why so many are finding such satisfaction and joy in reaching out to others. It is a chance to climb on board and discover exactly what role each of us can play in actively engaging this world as we, too, “go and do.”


Go and Do is an engaging book that challenged me and left me daring to do more for God's kingdom. Jay Milbrandt's energy and passion clearly speaks from his book, and he writes in an exciting and dynamic way that kept me turning the pages as if Go and Do was a novel. Go and Do is written clearly, concisely, and pulls in scriptures and biblical examples throughout its pages. This book was convicting to me because, as a college student, I have been struggling to know what I want to do with my life, how I can make an impact in others' lives. I do not want to simply live and plod through a job. I want to be a bright shining star that lives to bring glory to God and brings others into His kingdom. One of my favorite quotes from Go and Do was "Nothing is as dangerous as encountering the true and living God. Why? Because meeting God redefines everything we call normal and commands us to seek first his kingdom."

While I agreed with many of Jay Milbrandt's convictions and revelations, there were times where I felt like he was putting too much emphasis on what we can do as humans instead of focusing on the complete power and sovereignty of God and the power that He gives us to step out in faith and bring people into His Kingdom. While Mr. Milbrandt does refer to this, such as in the quote above, many of his points seem all about what we can do in seemingly our own strength.

Overall though, I really enjoyed Go and Do. It was convicting, engaging, and pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and follow the call God has given me. The author's points were true and convicting, and I believe this book could really have an impact on creating a worldwide call to GO and DO!

I received this eBook for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Last Temple by Sigmund Brouwer and Hank Hanegraaff


and see the book trailer Here

Set in the turbulent years just before one of the most horrendous events in Jewish history, The Last Temple concludes the trilogy of The Last Disciple and The Last Sacrifice. Vitas is reunited with his wife and retires to Alexandria, determined to live a quiet, domestic life. But he can’t avoid the debts that he owes to the men who saved him, and he becomes a key figure in the plot to rid the empire of Nero. It sweeps him into the “year of four emperors,” when the Roman Empire is nearly destroyed, and takes him back to Jerusalem as Titus lays siege to the great city. Only then, as the prophecy of Jesus begins to unfold, does Vitas discover the true mission set before him and the astounding conspiracy behind it.

 
The Last Temple was a spectacular end to the Last Disciple series by Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer. As an avid fan of all of Sigmund Brouwer's books and this series as well, I really thought this novel ended the Last Disciple series well. The plot line picked up several years after the Last Sacrifice left off and culminated in the destruction of the temple, as prophesied by Christ in the Bible. There were instances of sacrifice, suspense, and deception that kept the plot flowing well. The story clearly showed the wickedness and corruption in the Roman Empire's leaders and the pain and suffering they caused to believers. I was drawn in by the accuracy of the novel and the truths that the authors so expertly wove into the fiction. I did not agree with all of the authors' views about the many/all of the prophecies in Revelation being fulfilled during the Roman era, and I also did not think they provided much support for many of their arguments. However, it was enlightening to see their ideas and how some of the prophecies could have been fulfilled during those times, just like how Jesus' prophecy of the fall of the Temple was certainly fulfilled then.

The characters of The Last Temple were also well developed and continued to grow from the two previous books. Vitas continued in his quest to discover the truth about Jesus, and I was quite happy with his final decision. The other supporting characters also grow and become more complex as the series continued.

Overall, I thought that The Last Temple was a good conclusion to the Last Disciple series, and I enjoyed the plot and character development.

I received this book for free from Tyndale House in exchange for an honest review. 

The Betrayal by Jerry B. Jenkins


Detective Boone Drake has just masterminded the most massive sting in Chicago history, bringing down the heads of not only the biggest street gangs in the city but also the old crime syndicate. The story is the biggest in decades, and the Chicago Police Department must protect the key witness at all costs. Despite top-secret plans to transfer the witness ahead of his testimony before the grand jury, an attempt is made on his life. And the person suspected of leaking this information may be one of the CPD’s own.

The Betrayal by Jerry B. Jenkins is the second book in the Precinct 11 series. It was an interesting book that was filled with suspense, deception, and the loyalty of friends. I did not read the first book, the Brotherhood, but the Betrayal's plot line seems to follow immediately after where the first novel ends. The plot line was exciting and filled with mystery. I was captivated by the book and read it in one sitting. I quickly figured out who was the betrayer in this novel, but the suspense in this book was still phenomenal. Throughout the entire novel I had no idea who was working with the main antagonist or how everything would be resolved in the novel. The tone of the plot line of the novel varied nicely, and there was a good mix of slower, more reflective moments and action packed scenes throughout the novel. The book followed the perspective of Boone Drake and gave the reader a good idea about what he was thinking during the novel.

The characters in The Betrayal were excellently developed and very realistic. Boone Drake was a very flawed character, but he did experience considerable growth in the novel. I did not read the first book in the Precinct 11 series, but I gathered from this novel that his relationship with God had already grown significantly from the events that had happened previously. His character had many admirable qualities, such as, loyalty to those he loved and incredible perseverance and honesty. His boss, Jack, was a great character as well. He was an unbeliever, but I enjoyed seeing his steps toward discovering the power of God's love. His interactions with Boone were hilarious and definitely my favorite part of the book. They had a really awesome friendship and camaraderie. Not only were the main characters developed well, but I thought that all of the supporting character were very dynamic as well. They all had unique and varying personalities that added a lot of flavor to the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and I would highly recommend the Precinct 11 series by Jerry B. Jenkins to anyone who likes a good ol' mystery and detective work. I would suggest starting with the Brotherhood before this book, however, just so more of the connecting plot lines are clear.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Path Toward Love by Cara Lynn James


Katherine came home at the insistence of her parents because she was trying to forget her past.
The last thing she expected is a hopeful future.

Young widow Katherine Osborne returns to her family’s rustic camp on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. She’s determined to live a quiet life, but her socialite mother is equally determined to push her into a new marriage while she’s still young.
Andrew Townsend has known Katherine since they were children. An attorney who is successful, but not wealthy, he knows she is socially out of his reach. But he’s curious what changed the free-spirited girl he once knew into this private, somber young woman.
Katherine has kept hidden the details of her unsuccessful marriage. When past sins come to light, she must turn to God for the courage to be honest. But how can she trust the God she feels has let her down? When she confides in Andrew, their relationship takes a dramatic turn into uncharted territory.
Amid impossible obstacles, two young people must learn to trust enough to walk the path that God has cleared for them. A path that leads to healing and restoration. A path toward love.

A Path Toward Love by Cara Lynn James is an exciting and enjoyable read that kept me glued to the pages. The plot line was interesting, exciting, and filled with romantic tension. There were unexpected twists and there were moments of sadness, adventure, and arguments. The story alternated between Katherine and Andrew's perspectives and the tone changed to match their personalities beautifully.

The characters in A Path Toward Love were excellent, well developed and realistic. I loved Katherine and Andrew both. Katherine was a beautiful example of God's never-ending work in our lives. She had to learn to forgive those who had sinned horribly against her, and she had to discover, through prayer and other Christians' guidance, what God's path for her was. She had completely sworn off marriage after first marriage, and it was amazing to see God's work in her life. Andrew was an awesome character that I completely loved. He was kind, encouraging, understanding, and willing to give up anything for the girl he loved. Despite his many strengths and his trust in God, he still had several flaws that he had to grow through, such as fear of failure and loss and standing up for what he loved. The minor supporting characters were also well developed. Katherine's Aunt Letty was hilarious, and she supported and guided Katherine toward God and His plan for her life when no other relative would.

Overall, I really enjoyed A Path Toward Love. It was well written, the plot was great, and the characters absolutely spectacular. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an interesting, romantic read that is superbly blended with Christian truth.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers through Booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson


PAUL FALCON AND ANN SILVER: A LOVE STORY
Check out the Full Disclosure Website at http://fulldisclosurenovel.com/
Ann Silver is a cop's cop. As the Midwest Homicide Investigator, she is called in to help local law enforcement on the worst of cases, looking for answers to murder. Hers is one of the region's most trusted investigative positions.
Paul Falcon is the FBI's top murder cop in the Midwest. If the victim carried a federal badge or had a security clearance, odds are good Paul and his team see the case file or work the murder.
Their lives intersect when Ann arrives to pass a case off her desk and onto his. A car wreck and a suspicious death offer a lead on a hired shooter he is tracking. Paul isn't expecting to meet someone, the kind that goes on the personal side of the ledger, but Ann Silver has his attention.
The better he gets to know her, the more Paul realizes her job barely scratches the surface of who she is. She knows spies and soldiers and U.S. Marshals, and has written books about them. She is friends with the former vice president. People with good reason to be cautious about who they let into their lives deeply trust her. Paul wonders just what secrets Ann is keeping, until she shows him something earthshattering, and he starts to realize just who this lady is that he is falling in love with....

Full Disclosure was a wonderful book. It ties in beautifully with the O'Malley series and the Uncommon Hero series, but it is also an excellent standalone novel. Dee Henderson does an amazing job making a novel that gracefully concludes the other two series she has written as well as opening the door for new readers to experience the O'Malley and Uncommon Hero series after reading this book.

The plot line of Full Disclosure was well written and multi-layered. The twists and turns were well-crafted, and I was left in complete suspense as I neared the end. I figured out the final twist before it happened, but it was still excellently planned and mind-blowing. I felt that the pace of this novel was much slower than many of Dee Henderson's other books. Full Disclosure is not a novel you can rush. It is a slow, drawn-out love story that requires time and patient. At first I was put off by this slower pace, but as I learned more about Ann Silver, I realized that the pace of the novel matched her character perfectly. After that I just sank into the book and reveled in its tone and pace.

The main characters in Full Disclosure were incredibly well developed and had intense depth. I loved watching Paul's journey throughout the novel as he strove to understand and reach Ann under all her layers and her quiet personality. He was so kind, patient, and understanding with Ann that you wanted to hug him for all his persistence. Paul did not experience a lot of growth throughout the book. He was willing to be flexible for Ann, but the changes he made were something that you could already see was part of his character. He did not seem to have any obvious flaws which was a bit odd. Ann, on the other hand, was not as much flawed as scarred. Seeing her growth as she accepted Paul's presence and learned to live more openly, not burying everything away, was admirable. I enjoyed seeing her retain her personality yet still have the willingness to compromise. Both her and Paul's relationships with God were sweet and realistic. I loved the intimate relationships they had with God and their openness about their beliefs.

My absolute favorite part of Full Disclosure was its tie-in with the other series that Dee Henderson has written simply because she did it so well. Having the other characters pop in and out of the novel was like seeing old friends again, and I enjoyed their contributions. Ann's involvement in the other characters lives and stories was a wonderful connection, and I thought Dee Henderson wove that together brilliantly. I cannot wait to reread the Uncommon Hero Series and the O'Malley Series.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Full Disclosure, and I highly recommend it to those old time fans and those new to Dee Henderson alike!

I received an ARC of this novel for free from http://fulldisclosurenovel.com/ in exchange for a honest review.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nothing to Hide by J. Mark Bertrand


A grisly homicide.
An international threat.
The stakes have never been higher for Detective Roland March.
The victim's head is missing, but what intrigues Detective Roland March is the hand. The pointing finger must be a clue--but to what? According to the FBI, the dead man was an undercover asset tracking the flow of illegal arms to the Mexican cartels. To protect the operation, they want March to play along with the cover story. With a little digging, though, he discovers the Feds are lying. And they're not the only ones.
In an upside-down world of paranoia and conspiracy, March finds himself dogged by injury and haunted by a tragic failure. Forced to take justice into his own hands, his twisting investigation leads him into the very heart of darkness, leaving March with nothing to lose--and nothing to hide.

Nothing to Hide by J. Mark Bertrand is the third novel in the Roland March Mystery series which follows the cases of Roland March, homicide detective. It is not critical to read the books in order, as I had not read the first two novels, but if you plan to read all three, then you should read them in order so that the results of the first two mysteries are not spoiled by the third. The plot line of Nothing to Hide was well crafted and contained many unexpected twists as March raced to discover the truth of what had happened. This novel contains an incredible mystery and I was hooked from beginning to end. The storyline is graphic and grisly at times, but it clearly displays the tough case that March has to deal with. At intervals throughout the book the story goes back almost thirty years to when March was in the army and was dealing with corruption and the CIA. The first few times that the novel goes back into March's memories, it seems unrelated to the case at hand, but it is eventually drawn brilliantly into the overall storyline. The story is told from the perspective of Roland March and is set primarily in present tense which engages the reader and really pulls them into the story.

The characters were gritty and realistic. Roland March was a complex and flawed character who was open in his struggles. He is not a Christian, but he is surrounded by others, such as his wife and a close friend, who are Christians and live their lives honestly and show him Christlike love. I got the feeling that March has grown significantly through the series in his spiritual journey, and I was able to see his continued progress through Nothing to Hide as secrets were laid bare and as he had to decide between the right choice and the wrong. The other supporting characters were significantly less complex than Roland, but they were still interesting and added to the story's depth. There were even surprising twists in certain characters as their true colors were revealed.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and cannot wait to read the first two novels in the Roland March Mystery Series. The plot line was gripping and intense, the narrative style and flashbacks interesting, and the characters complex, flawed, and realistic. I enjoyed seeing March's growth as a character even as he struggled against the reality of a loving God at work in his life.

I received this novel for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.