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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sweeter Than Birdsong by Rossyn Elliott

In Westerville, Ohio, 1855, Kate Winter's dreams are almost within reach. When she becomes the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she will be able to finally leave and escape the dark secrets that haunt her family. However, with her mother scheming to have her marry a wealthy man, Kate has to face reality. She has to run before she is trapped forever. She decides to join the upcoming musical at the college, despite her incredible shyness, and use the opportunity to mask her flight.

Ben Hanby, Otterbein College's musical genius, sees Kate Winter as one notable for her beauty, yet overcome by her shyness. However, when he hears her sing, her voice moves him like nothing else. He decides to cast Kate in his musical and discover the mysteries that surround her. Still, he has to keep his own secrets to himself. Not even the beautiful woman can know about his work with the Underground Railroad, aiding fugitives to escape into Canada.

However, a terrifying accident soon brings Ben and Kate together, and threatens to shatter their secrets and dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage -and her voice- if she is to sing a new song for their future.

Sweeter than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott is an incredible second installation in the Saddler's Legacy Series. This series is loosely based on the incredible Hanby family who lived and worked around the time of the Civil War. Sweeter than Birdsong focuses on Ben Hanby, a wonderfully gifted young man who also has a heart for the slaves and fugitives in the South.

This novel was written extremely well, with beautiful descriptions and well researched mannerisms of the pre-Civil War era. The plot line flowed smoothly, with some suspense and mystery as well as times of romance. The tone of the novel was also varied and reflected the changes in the plot. There were occurrences in the novel where I was brought to tears -both happy and sad - and other times where I had no choice but to laugh. The main characters in Sweeter Than Birdsong, Kate Winter and Ben Hanby, were well developed and very relatable. Kate's progression in faith and her determination to overcome her extreme shyness as her opinions about life were developed was clearly shown throughout the novel and made the reader love Kate and relate with her even more. Ben Hanby's struggles with his feelings, his beliefs, and his determination to rescue slaves from bondage were clearly visible during the book. His growth through these struggles only increased my admiration of him and his character.

Overall, Sweeter than Birdsong was a truly wonderful novel that I enjoyed immensely. The book was made even better more me knowing that it was based on a true story. I highly recommend Sweeter Than Birdsong, and its prequel, Fairer Than Morning. If you do pick up Sweeter Than Birdsong, make sure you read the Afterword once you finish the book, for it relates the true story of Ben Hanby and Kate Winter, which was truly interesting. I cannot wait to more of Rosslyn Elliott's works.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Last Plea Bargan by Randy Singer

Plea bargains may grease the rails of justice, but for Jamie Brock, prosecuting criminals is not about cutting deals. In her three years as an assistant DA, she has never plea-bargained a case and is convinced she never will. However, when her nemesis Caleb Tate, a powerful defense attorney, is indicted for murder, he comes up with a plan to bring down the entire justice system. Suddenly all the prisoners begin rejecting the deals. If they try to plea, then they are mysteriously killed. Prosecutors become helplessly overwhelmed, and criminals start to be let free on mere technicalities. To break the logjam and convict Caleb, Jamie may have to violate every principle that has guided her career. However, it seems she has little choice. To convict the devil, sometimes you have to a cut a deal with one of his demons.

Randy Singer delivers an absolutely powerful legal thriller in The Last Plea Bargain. The plot line flows quickly and is well thought out. There were several times throughout the novel where I thought I had figured out the perpetrator and those employed by him, but I was constantly stunned by yet another twist. I never figured out the method and the person behind the madness until the very last chapter. The central characters, particularly Jamie Brock and Mace James, were very realistic. Despite being Christian characters, they all had character flaws and sins they had to work through and repent from. The tone of The Last Plea Bargain was also well done. There were instances of melancholy, happiness, forgiveness, etc.

The Last Plea Bargain was a well crafted novel which brought up many important issues to consider about the legal system. The book made me truly consider the role of plea bargains in the legal system and whether they were truly brought justice to the victims and protected the rest of the community when the felons were being released through those plea bargains. The novel also brought up whether it is moral to have a death penalty, especially when the person has repented and may not have been guilty of the crime in the first place.

I truly enjoyed The Last Plea Bargain, and Randy Singer is one of my all time favorite authors. I highly recommend this novel to those who wish to be challenged in the morals of the legal system and who enjoy great legal mysteries.

I received this galley for free from Net Galley and Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole Seitz

Sixty-five year old Ally Green has been all over the world as a flight attendant, but she has finally returned to her home in Lowcountry to bury her past for good -and her father. However, Vesey Washington still lives across the creek, and while he was her best friend...he is also the reason that Ally has stayed away for such a long time. When Ally finds a note that her father left her asking her to stop running away, she realizes her past still is still not through with her.

While Ally's wandering spirit is wrestling with the desire to run away again, a young woman escapes slavery in the quarries of Nepal. A sketchbook causes Sunila Kunari to believe that there is more to her life than she has ever been told, and she is determined to find the truth at all costs.

There is a mystery that connects Ally, Sunila, and Vesey - will they find freedom from the past, faith in God, and friendship from one another, or will they continue to run and hide from their pasts?

Beyond Molasses Creek was full of unexpected connections and suspense. The storyline was masterfully written, describing and connecting the characters in great detail.The description and overall tone of the book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was written mostly from the perspective of Ally, with only a couple chapters told from Vesey's perspective, and then intermittent chapters throughout chronicling Sunila's journey. This format allowed the reader to figure out the truth about Sunila before the other characters or even Sunila knew. It also revealed some background on Vesey's feelings which the other main characters never realized.

There were several important themes and topics addressed in Beyond Molasses Creek. This novel revealed some of the horrors that occur for the untouchable caste in India and Nepal and the slavery that occurs. One of the other topics mentioned in this novel is the injustice of the segregation of the South and how it hurt black families as well as killed love between white and black lovers. The themes of Beyond Molasses Creek included faithfulness to your family and friends, loving despite the costs, and not running away from life.

There were a couple of aspects that I did not like about the novel. First of all, the novel implied that little while lies that hid the truth when it was hard was alright. Ally's father lied to her when she was young and then tried to continue the lie as he was dying in order to try to make Ally believe in heaven and God. Ally committed a similar lie later to save someone she loved from knowing the uncomfortable truth about something. There were definitely more moral ways to inform the person than lying. Secondly, there was little to no mention of God in the book, other than both Vesey and Ally's father believed and Ally did not. That would have been fine by me other than Ally supposedly comes to some kind of belief near the end. However, the 'conversion' is brushed over and felt really fake when it could have been used for so much more.

Overall, Beyond Molasses Creek was an excellent book that brought up some interesting questions and really tugged at my heart. I was brought to tears several times. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a slow, heart-tugging romance that also resonates with the soul.

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

Monday, January 9, 2012

Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall

Sylvia Fisher knows that most Amish women her age spend their days doing housework and raising children, but she has only one goal -taking care of her family's dairy farm. However, when a relationship with an old beau threatens her family, she is forced to move far from home and to begin work anew reviving another family's debt-ridden farm.

After months in Paul Waddell's rehab, Aaron Blank returns home to convince his family to sell their failing farm and begin an easier life. Only two people stand in his way: his father who refuses to see that Aaron has changed and the stubborn farmhand his parents love like a daughter. Her influence on his parents could ruin his plans to escape the farm and begin a new life.

Will Aaron and Sylvia find common ground? Or will their beliefs in two different goals blur the bigger picture - a path to finding forgiveness, grace, and love?

Harvest of Grace was a very interesting and enjoyable read. The plot line was expertly woven, continuing the stories of Cora, Ephraim, Grey, Lena, and Aaron, while beginning the story of Sylvia. This novel is the third book of the Ada House series, so it was neat to see the growth of character and love in previous characters as well as to watch how they interact with newer characters. Harvest of Grace really emphasized topics such as respect, true forgiveness, love, and honor. Cindy Woodsmall truly did an excellent job revealing the depths of human emotion through her characters and the importance of following after God's will. Overall, Harvest of Grace was a wonderful books with a satisfying conclusion.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Waking Hours by Lis Wiehl

Welcome to East Salem. In this deceptively quiet town, old supernatural forces are awakening.

And they cannot be controlled.....

An East Salem high school girl is found murdered in a park amid horse farms and wealthy homes of northern Westchester County, New York. The manner of her death shocks the town and intrigues Dani Harris, forensic psychiatrist, who becomes determined to solve the mystery. All of the suspects were teenagers at the same party, yet none remember what happened. Is one of them the killer, or is the death linked to a darker, more ancient and sinister evil?


However, Dani is being plagued by her own nightmares. Each night at 2:13 Dani is awakened by troubling noises and dreams. Dreams of blood, water, and destruction. Is it a clue, or a supernatural sign?


Meanwhile former NFL linebacker Tommy Gunderson finds an elderly woman who has somehow breached his state of the art security system. Cursing at him in Latin, the woman attacks him with uncanny and unnatural strength. Before Tommy even has time to process the attack, someone close to him is implicated in the girl's murder at the park. Tommy agrees to help solve the murder, then finds himself working with Dani, the only girl who did not respond to his charms in high school.


Will Tommy and Dani be able to put past differences aside and solve this murder? And will they realize in time that they are a facing a deeper and darker evil than a mere human killer?


Waking Hours was a thrilling and scary roller coaster ride of a novel, filled with demonic murmurs and cold blooded killers. The tone of the novel was expertly done to leave the reader on the edge of their seat just waiting for the next unexpected turn or twist. The plot line of the novel was written very well and kept the reader guessing until the very end on the identity of the killer and whether Dani and Tommy would realize it in time. The undertone of the demonic forces at work in East Salem was very disturbing and brought to mind books on spiritual warfare. In the end, though the killer was found, the supernatural forces were still right under the surface, biding their time. These forces created a perfect cliff hanger for the next East Salem novel. Waking Hours by Lis Wiehl was an excellent, though dark read, and I cannot wait for her next novel.


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

Bittersweet Surrender by Diann Hunt

It seems like Carly Westlake is living the dream life. She works and owns a chocolate spa, she is dating her forever crush, and she is surrounded by chocolate -chocolate she uses for her spa's famous chocolate facials.  But when long buried secrets about Carly's family, friends, and business surface, they threaten to tear her spa and her friendship with her business partner Scott apart. Carly fights for all she is worth to keep both her dream -and the illusions- afloat.
Will it take a miracle for Carly to finally make that bittersweet surrender to love and to live a real life?

Bittersweet Surrender was an interesting novel. When it first began I was not sure what to expect all. What the novel revealed surprised and intrigued me. Carly is a woman scarred by life and people who betrayed her. She hangs on to many of the feelings women often face: a hatred for her body, a rejection and hollowness she has yet to let go, and a feeling of ugliness left from past issues. However, as Cary begins to work through these issues with the help of Scott; her sister-in-law, Rita; and her step-mother, she discovers new faith and new realizations about life and those she loves.

I really enjoyed the plot line of the novel. Bittersweet Surrender started slowly, but as new twists and mysteries arose, the story moved at a quicker, more interesting pace. All of the main and supporting characters of the novel had secrets and characteristics hidden from the others' views which slowly were revealed throughout the book.

Overall, Bittersweet Surrender by Diann Hunt was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading more of Diann's novels and seeing this book in paperback form in addition to eBook format.

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