Monday, December 29, 2014

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden

United in a quest to cure tuberculosis, can Trevor and Kate overcome past secrets and current threats to find hope for a future together?

In the shadow of the nation's capital, Kate Livingston's respectable life as a government worker is disrupted by an encounter with the insufferable Trevor McDonough, the one man she'd hoped never to see again. A Harvard-trained physician, Trevor never showed the tiniest flicker of interest in Kate, and business is the only reason he has sought her out now.

Despite her misgivings, Kate agrees to Trevor's risky proposal to join him in his work to find a cure for tuberculosis. As Kate begins to unlock the mysteries of Trevor's past, his hidden depths fascinate her. However, a shadowy enemy lies in wait and Trevor's closely guarded secrets are darker than she ever suspected.

As revelations from the past threaten to destroy their careers, their dreams, and even their lives, Trevor and Kate find themselves in a painfully impossible situation. With everything to lose, they must find the strength to trust that hope and love can prevail over all.

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden was an interesting and insightful novel that delved into the history of medical research and the jobs available to young women in the early 1900's. I was inspired by the dedication, hard work, and willingness to accept disease that drove the young researchers in this novel, and I was also slightly shocked by the methods and 'cures' that were experimented with in an attempt to cure tuberculosis. In addition, I also appreciated the perseverance of Kate and other young women who strove to break new ground and to work in the scientific and medical world that only accepted men at the time. 

While the back story and research were well done and interesting, the plot line was also compelling and enjoyable. There was a good mixture of a struggling romance, a past and crippling pain, crushing secrets, and an unknown danger. I was completely drawn in by the story, and I enjoyed the suspense of how the novel would actually play out. The characters were also well developed and interesting. I loved both Kate and Trevor, especially their sometimes humorous reactions to one another and their family members.They both had their own personal struggles to work through, and it was very inspiring to see them learn from their mistakes and to begin to trust and to follow God's leading for their lives. Overall, I enjoyed With Every Breath immensely, and I would highly recommend it to those who love a good historical mystery/romance.

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

The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter

Living side-by-side, a fledgling chef and a big-hearted contractor find a delicious attraction.
Trouble is, their chemistry could spoil their dreams.

Spirited PJ McKinley has the touch when it comes to food. Her dream of opening her own restaurant is just one building short of reality. So when a Chapel Springs resident offers her beloved ancestral home to the applicant with the best plan for the house, PJ believes it’s a contest she was meant to win.

Contractor Cole Evans is confident, professional, and swoon-worthy—but this former foster kid knows his life could have turned out very differently. When Cole discovers the contest, he believes his home for foster kids in transition has found its saving grace. All he has to do is convince the owner that an out-of-towner with a not-for-profit enterprise is good for the community.

But when the eccentric philanthropist sees PJ and Cole’s proposals, she makes an unexpected decision: the pair will share the house for a year to show what their ideas are made of. Now, with Cole and the foster kids upstairs and PJ and the restaurant below, day-to-day life has turned into out-and-out competition—with some seriously flirtatious hallway encounters on the side. Turns out in this competition, it’s not just the house on the line, it’s their hearts.

The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter is the third novel in the Chapel Springs Romance series, and it was a sweet and enjoyable read. While the novels are connected within the series, it is possible to read them out of order and understand what happens as I accidentally skipped the second one when I read this novel. The plot of The Wishing Season is well written and includes moments of romance, sadness, humor, and enduring even when life is difficult. The main characters, Cole and PJ, were developed well and easy to connect with. I enjoyed learning more about each of them and how they related to each other and with other people. They each had their own struggles and difficulties to work through, but I found their growth as characters to be inspiring as they began to trust and to rely on God and family more instead of trying to do or to fix everything themselves. Overall, I enjoyed this novel, and I look forward to reading the fourth novel when it comes out next year!

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton

Two decades into her calling at a New Mexico monastery, Sister Evangeline Divine (pronounced Diveen) breaks her daily routine when a police officer appears, carrying a message from her father. Sister Eve is no stranger to the law, having grown up with a police captain turned private detective. She's seen her fair share of crime—and knows a thing or two about solving mysteries.

But when Captain Jackson Divine needs her to return home and help him recover from surgery, Sister Eve finds herself taking on his latest case.

A Hollywood director has disappeared, and the sultry starlet he's been running around with isn't talking. When the missing man turns up dead, Captain Divine's case escalates into a full-blown murder case, and Sister Eve's crime-solving instincts kick in with an almost God-given grace. Soon Sister Eve finds herself soul-searching every step of the way:

How can she choose between the vocation in her heart and the job in her blood?

Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton was an interesting novel but did not really hold my attention that well. I had trouble identifying with the characters, particularly the main character, Eve. I thought that the mystery was scattered, unimpressive, and weirdly complicated at times. While I did enjoy the interaction between Ivy and her father, I had trouble connecting to the storyline and the other aspects of the story. Overall, I was not a huge fan of this novel, which is unfortunate because I do like the other Lynne Hinton novels I have read.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Buttermilk Sky by Jan Watson

Read an excerpt here

Weary of the expectations imposed on her by her strict upbringing, eighteen-year-old Mazy Pelfrey prepares to leave her home in the Kentucky mountains for the genteel city of Lexington, where she’ll attend secretarial school. She knows her life is about to change—and only for the better. Everything will be blue skies from now on.

But business school is harder than she thought it would be and the big city not as friendly, until she meets a charming young man from a wealthy family, Loyal Chambers. When Loyal sets his sights on her, Mazy begins to see that everything she’d ever wished to have is right before her eyes. The only hindrance to her budding romance is a former beau, Chanis Clay, the young sheriff she thought she’d left firmly behind.

Danger rumbles like thunder on a high mountain ridge when Mazy’s cosseted past collides with her clouded future and forces her to come to terms with what she really wants.

If you have read Skip Rock Shallows or Tattler's Branch, you will be excited to finally read a novel that focuses on primarily Mazy, Lilly's younger sister, and Chanis. Both of these characters have appearances in previous novels, but this is the first time they are the main characters. While Buttermilk Sky could be read on its own, I felt like the character development in this novel was rather limited. I understood more about these characters from previous novels, there was certainly more character development for both Chanis and Mazy in this novel. The other characters in this novel received absolutely no development at all, and at several points I thought they completely detracted from the story because I was too busy trying to figure out how they connected and what their role was. Loyal was a terrible addition as a potential beau because he completely lacked dimension and was completely unbelievable in his role as a result. Cinnamon was a cute character, but I thought she completely detracted from the story at hand and could have been developed into the story in a much better way.

The pace of this novel was also rather drawn out, and it was hard for me to stay involved in the story at times. However, once the story reached the climax, the speed picks up so much that I had no idea what was going on and the resolution seemed completely unbelievable. I wish the story had moved at a quicker pace to begin with so that the author could have spent more time on the ending. The epilogue was disappointing at best.

Overall, I was not a huge fan of Buttermilk Sky. I have loved all of the other Jan Watson novels I have read, so if this is your first time reading her novels, I would highly recommend reading her other works instead if you are disappointed with this read.

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

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef with Ron Brackin

Since he was a small boy, Mosab Hassan Yousef has had an inside view of the deadly terrorist group Hamas. The oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas and its most popular leader, young Mosab assisted his father for years in his political activities while being groomed to assume his legacy, politics, status . . . and power. But everything changed when Mosab turned away from terror and violence, and embraced instead the teachings of another famous Middle East leader. In Son of Hamas, Mosab reveals new information about the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization and unveils the truth about his own role, his agonizing separation from family and homeland, the dangerous decision to make his newfound faith public, and his belief that the Christian mandate to “love your enemies” is the only way to peace in the Middle East. - See more at:
Since he was a small boy, Mosab Hassan Yousef has had an inside view of the deadly terrorist group Hamas. The oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas and its most popular leader, young Mosab assisted his father for years in his political activities while being groomed to assume his legacy, politics, status . . . and power. But everything changed when Mosab turned away from terror and violence, and embraced instead the teachings of another famous Middle East leader. In Son of Hamas, Mosab reveals new information about the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization and unveils the truth about his own role, his agonizing separation from family and homeland, the dangerous decision to make his newfound faith public, and his belief that the Christian mandate to “love your enemies” is the only way to peace in the Middle East.
Son of Hamas is now available in softcover with an all-new chapter about events since the book’s release such as the revelation of Mosab’s Israeli intelligence handler’s true identity, and Homeland Security’s effort to deport the author.
Since he was a small boy, Mosab Hassan Yousef has had an inside view of the deadly terrorist group Hamas. The oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas and its most popular leader, young Mosab assisted his father for years in his political activities while being groomed to assume his legacy, politics, status . . . and power. But everything changed when Mosab turned away from terror and violence, and embraced instead the teachings of another famous Middle East leader. In Son of Hamas, Mosab reveals new information about the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization and unveils the truth about his own role, his agonizing separation from family and homeland, the dangerous decision to make his newfound faith public, and his belief that the Christian mandate to “love your enemies” is the only way to peace in the Middle East. - See more at:

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef with Ron Brackin was an illuminating book that displayed the intricacies of the Hamas organization, the IDF, and the tensions between Israel and Palestine. I enjoyed the clarity of this book as Yousef outlined the different fights that broke out between Israel and Palestine, the rise of Hamas, and the political decisions that only increased the strife between the two groups. I did not know that much about Hamas, and I appreciated being able to understand and experience the movement through the eyes of Yousef, an inside and very influential member. I did not realize how much of the conflict between Israel and Palestine was influenced by corrupt Palestinian leaders who pushed the conflict forward for their own goals. I also was shocked by the conditions that existed in both the Palestinian and Israeli prisons; the amount of power that Hamas was still able to demonstrate from inside prison was incredible.

 I also loved the relationship that grew up between Yousef and the Israeli captain who first led him to become a spy for Israel. I appreciated the integrity of both men as they sought to reduce the deaths of both Israelis and Palestinians alike through the removal of dangerous Hamas men. Yousef is an incredible man who found himself in very dangerous circumstances, but who still chose to pursue honesty and eventually the Bible and God. I loved seeing his relationship with God grow and develop, even as he risked being ostracized from his family and even death. Overall, I found Son of Hamas to be an excellent read and thoroughly showed both the intricacies of the Hamas movement and the conflict that still exists between Israel and Palestine.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Revolutionary by Krista McGee

Back in the hands of the State after months above-ground, Thalli, Berk, Alex, and Kristie find themselves caught in a horrible game of power . . . with consequences reaching farther than they ever imagined.

After months in New Hope and Athens, Thalli had almost forgotten what living in the State was like. Programmed to be without emotions or curiosity, she was always an anomaly there. Too emotional. Too curious. Citizens of the State should behave exactly the way the Scientists designed them to behave: working in their assigned fields, maintaining productivity.

Now, a pawn in a mad game of manipulation, held hostage and tortured in the name of the State, Thalli can barely summon the strength to hope that the future of humanity could be any better. She clings to her new faith in the Designer. But when Thalli discovers that even the surviving above-ground villages are in danger of State domination, her fragile faith begins to crumble.

As Thalli, Berk, and Alex make plans to overthrow the evil Dr. Loudin, a chilling secret explains why they have been left alive at all . . . a personal secret that will haunt Thalli forever. And as she struggles with this new truth, she also struggles with decisions of the heart.

Can the State’s expansion be stopped? Or will humanity—above and below the surface—be irreparably damaged? 

Revolutionary by Krista McGee is the third novel in the Anomaly trilogy, and it brings the story to a close in a powerful way. The plot line of the novel is interesting and well written, and it includes mystery, suspense, betrayal, romance, and pain. The story picks up right where Luminary ends, and it continues to add more complexity and intrigue to the issues already at hand. The themes of the novel were well developed and poignant, and it included topics such as trusting God and others, showing love rather than hate to enemies, being willing to show emotion, and having faith in God even when it seems impossible.

The characters of the novel were all characters from the first two novels, but they continued to develop more and show more depth in Revolutionary. I was torn between Alex and Berk for Thalli, but I found that once this novel began that I thought the resolution was very predictable. And I was right. However, despite that I enjoyed Berk and Thalli's growth as individuals, and I appreciated Thalli's attempts to reach the good in Dr. Loudin and to love instead of hate him. I did wish that more time had been spent on developing Alex as I still did not feel like he was a very strong character when he easily could have been. I also really liked the development between Rhen and Dallas as they were very different yet helped make each other better. I also appreciated the changes that Dr. James experienced as the novel continued. 

Overall, I enjoyed Revolutionary, and I appreciated the inspirational approach that Krista McGee took to the dystopian genre with this trilogy.

I received this novel from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

Joan of Kent, renowned beauty and cousin to King Edward III, is destined for a politically strategic marriage. As the king begins a long dynastic struggle to claim the crown of France, plunging England into the Hundred Years’ War, he negotiates her betrothal to a potential ally and heir of a powerful lordship.

But Joan, haunted by nightmares of her father’s execution at the hands of her treacherous royal kin, fears the king’s selection and is not resigned to her fate. She secretly pledges herself to one of the king’s own knights, one who has become a trusted friend and protector. Now she must defend her vow as the king—furious at Joan’s defiance—prepares to marry her off to another man.

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion was an interesting novel that wove an intriguing story about the enigmatic Joan. The plot is full of danger, death, betrayal, intrigue, and, of course, secret romances. I was very interested to read this novel because I have not read many novels set during the Hundred Years' War, and I enjoyed learning more about the power struggles that occurred during this time period. I enjoyed the character clashes, and I was saddened during the times of betrayal and hurt that happened during the novel. I thought the characters were fairly well developed, and I enjoyed learning more about the main characters as the story developed and their true personalities came to light. I found this novel to be a little slow at first and hard to connect with, but I thought the plot was more enjoyable as I continued to read. Overall, I thought A Triple Knot was an interesting read about a very intriguing character.

I received this novel from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

All Right Here by Carre Armstrong Gardner

Read first chapter excerpt here

Ivy Darling can’t have children of her own, and her husband Nick’s resentment is forcing them apart. And while Ivy has the support and love of her large, close-knit family, Nick’s family has never welcomed her into the fold.

When the three children next door are abandoned by their mother, Ivy and Nick take them in for the night. One night becomes several, and suddenly Ivy and Nick find themselves foster parents to the only African-American kids in the town of Copper Cove, Maine. As Ivy grows more attached to the children, Nick refuses to accept their eclectic household as a permanent family. Just as Ivy begins to question whether or not she wants to save her emotionally barren marriage, Nick begins to discover how much Ivy and the children mean to him. But is his change of heart too little, too late?

All Right Here by Carre Armstrong Gardner was an enjoyable read that showed family life as it really is...complicated, difficult, and challenging, but still the most important and deepest relationships possible to have. This is the first novel in the Darling Family Series, and it ended in a way that left me waiting expectantly for the next novel to come out so that I could figure out what was going to happen next. The plot line moved at a steady pace that allowed me to connect with the characters and their past and present challenges. The story also contained a good mixture of humor, tragedy, conflict, and suspense, but no real romance. I appreciated that romance was not the focus of this novel, but unfortunately it is also a sign of the unhappy state of Ivy's marriage. The focal point of this novel was relationships, particularly between Ivy and her husband as well her extended family. I thought at times that the story dragged along too much and that there was not enough redemption in the story. I am hoping that the next novel introduces some hope and clarity to the situation between Nick and Ivy as well as Ivy's twin sister's situation. The characters in this novel were very interesting and unique, and I did feel like I had a very good understanding of the characters by the end. I appreciated the conflicted and realistic nature of the characters and their relationships, but I also liked how both Ivy and Nick reached breaking points where they surrendered their mistakes and pride to God. I did wish there had been more resolution to Lisa's plight, but I am hoping this will be part of the next novel. 

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

Mindwar by Andrew Klavan

New High Score! New Record Time!
Rick nodded with grim satisfaction. He laid the game controller aside on the sofa and reached for his crutches.

Rick Dial was the best quarterback Putnam Hills High School had ever seen. Unflappable. Unstoppable. Number 12. But when a car accident left him crippled, Rick’s life as he knew it ended. He disavowed his triumphant past. He ignored his girlfriend. He disappeared into his bedroom—and into the glowing video screen.
But Rick’s uncanny gaming skills have attracted attention. Dangerous attention. Government agents have uncovered a potentially devastating cyber-threat: a Russian genius has created a digital reality called the Realm, from which he can enter, control, and disrupt American computer systems . . . from transportation to defense. The agents want Rick, quick-thinking quarterback and gaming master, to enter the Realm and stop the madman—before he sends America into chaos.
Entering the Realm will give Rick what he thought he’d never have again: a body as strong and fast as it was before the accident. But this is no game, there are no extra lives, and what happens to Rick in the Realm happens to Rick’s body in reality.
Even after Rick agrees to help, he can’t shake the sense that he’s being kept in the dark. Why would a government agency act so aggressively? Can anyone inside the Realm be trusted? How many others have entered before him . . . and failed to return?

Mindwar by Andrew Klavan was an interesting and intriguing young adult novel that delves into the virtual world of 'video games' games that can have serious physical consequences. The plot line was well written and exciting with a healthy dose of mystery, suspense, danger, and romance. I liked how the author wove the real and virtual worlds together seamlessly as well as how repercussions in one world affected the other. The themes of the novel were clear and well developed and included topics such as trusting God and others, forgiving others, and being honest. The characters in Mindwar were also interesting and well developed. Rick was a very conflicted character who pushed away all of his friends and family after his accident and spent his time playing video games. However, his talents soon pulled him into a new game where his life and his family's lives hung in the balance. The other characters in this novel were less developed than Rick, but they still added important elements to the overall story and helped Rick's character stand out more. Overall, I enjoyed this first installment in the Andrew Klavan's new trilogy, and I look forward to reading the next two novels!

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Annie's Stories by Cindy Thomson

 Read first chapter excerpt here

The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.

But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.

Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.

Annie's Stories is Cindy Thomson's second novel in the Ellis Island series, following the release of Grace's Pictures. I have not read Grace's Pictures yet, so I can confidently say that it is not necessary to read them in order. Grace is in this second novel, but a reader is perfectly able to understand what is going on without reading the first book. I do think, however, Annie's Stories would be a welcome read to those who connected with Grace and her beau in Grace's Pictures because they are included in the second novel. Annie's Stories has an interesting and spell binding plot, and it includes both the internal struggle in Annie as she tries to reconcile the hurt in her past, the love of seemingly distant God, and the biblical truths in her deceased father's stories, as well as the plot against one of the other boarders. While there is certainly a lot going on in this novel, I was still able to connect with the story, particularly the honest emotions that Annie was dealing with. I enjoyed seeing both her and Stephen struggle and then grow as people (and Christians) as they surrendered their pain and bitterness to God and trusted Him. The characters in this novel were well written and easy to connect with as a reader. I liked seeing how they interacted with one another and as they learned from their past mistakes. Overall, I would highly recommend this novel, and I look forward to going back and reading Grace's Pictures now!

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

 Read the first chapter excerpt here

Near the end of the Civil War, inhumane conditions at Andersonville Prison caused the deaths of 13,000 Union soldiers in only one year. In this gripping and affecting novel, three young Confederates and an entire town come face-to-face with the prison’s atrocities and will learn the cost of compassion, when withheld and when given.

Sentry Dance Pickett has watched, helpless, for months as conditions in the camp worsen by the day. He knows any mercy will be seen as treason. Southern belle Violet Stiles cannot believe the good folk of Americus would knowingly condone such barbarism, despite the losses they’ve suffered. When her goodwill campaign stirs up accusations of Union sympathies and endangers her family, however, she realizes she must tread carefully. Confederate corporal Emery Jones didn’t expect to find camaraderie with the Union prisoner he escorted to Andersonville. But the soldier’s wit and integrity strike a chord in Emery. How could this man be an enemy? Emery vows that their unlikely friendship will survive the war—little knowing what that promise will cost him.

As these three young Rebels cross paths, Emery leads Dance and Violet to a daring act that could hang them for treason. Wrestling with God’s harsh truth, they must decide, once and for all, Who is my neighbor?

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot was a moving novel that described the Andersonville prison in shocking detail, and which convicted me to the core. This was the second book that I read in as many days about harsh conditions in war prisons; the first was The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenberg, and I was saddened to see the terrible similarities between both the dreadful conditions within the prison camps and even more so by the lack of protest and care shown by those on the outside. As Dance, Violet, and Emery discovered, most people, even if they profess to be Christians, are unwilling to take off the "blindfold" and to respond to the need around them, particularly when they are already hurting and those that are needy are their enemies. Tracy Groot, in her author's note, asked the readers to imagine if we had a prison nearby filled with terrorists who had killed our friends and family, would we want to reach out to them if they were starving and dying of preventable diseases?

I was convicted both by the attitudes of those in the novel and by Tracy's challenge to us in the note as it is so easy to ignore the needs of those we dislike when we are hurting ourselves. Another theme that resonated with me was a lesson that Dance learned near the end of the novel. Dance had worked at the prison for months and had seen so many soldiers die, starved and helpless. While he wants to help them, he knows that anything he does will not only sentence him to death but will probably only aid one prisoner. However, what Dance realizes in the end is that everyone should do what they can to help those in need even if the result seems small. Every little bit helps, even if only one person receives the care, and that is all that really matters -helping one's neighbor, no matter how hated they are.

The plot line of The Sentinels of Andersonville was masterfully written and wove together elements of suspense, sorrow, humor, and even romance in a touching way. I appreciated the amount of detail that the author put into the novel, particularly the truthful descriptions of the prison that have been preserved through the diaries and words of the Andersonville survivors. While sad and even horrifying, these descriptions and the journal excerpts helped me become more immersed in the story and understand the conditions the prisoners faced. The characters were also well developed and very realistic. I immediately felt like they were friends of mine, and I was brought to tears and even anger as the story continued and as the main characters faced hardships, loss, and failure. I loved Violet and her family. She and her father were not afraid to fight for what was right even if it meant 'treason'. Her siblings were amusing and charming in their own ways, especially the youngest, Posie, who won my heart and the hearts of the soldiers (on both sides) that she came in contact with. I also really liked Emery and Dance. Both men had tender yet courageous hearts and were willing to die to save others. The relationship that developed between Emery and Lew was also both amusing at times as well as truly touching. I liked how it showed that friendships can develop in the most unlikely of places and that the Civil War really was fought between brothers, between men who had shared experiences, livelihoods, and interests.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel immensely. Sentinels of Andersonville was not a lighthearted read, but it caused me not only to think but to laugh, to cry, and to be angry at the injustices that occurred along with the main characters in the novel. This is definitely one of the best books I have read this summer, and I would highly recommend this novel to any reader who appreciates a heartfelt historical novel that challenges the reader to become a more compassionate person.

I received this novel from Tyndale House, and the opinions in this review are my own. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund

 Read first chapter excerpt here
Michigan Territory, 1814

It is near the end of the War of 1812, and the British Army has taken control of Michilimackinac Island and its fort, forcing the Americans to swear an oath of loyalty to the crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a fur trader who returns after being away from the island for years, only to find the family farm a shambles and those he cares about starving and at the mercy of British invaders.

Torn between the adventurous life of fur trading and guilt over neglecting his defenseless mother, Pierre is drawn deeper into the fight against the British--and into a relationship with Angelique MacKenzie, a childhood friend who's grown into a beautiful woman. She now finds herself trapped by the circumstances of war and poverty, and the cruelty of her guardian, Ebenezer Whiley. Not only that, but she is engaged to be married to Pierre's younger brother Jean, and now she must choose where her love and her honor lies.

As tensions mount and the violence rages on, Pierre and Angelique must decide where their loyalties rest and how much they'll risk for love.

Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund was a sweet and enjoyable read that captured me from the first page. I was immediately drawn into Angelique's life as she struggled to take care of Miriam Durant, to find food for herself, and to stay out of the way of her step-father's cruel eye and punishments. Pierre was a welcome breath of fresh air to their lives as he returned a new man, redeemed and changed for the better. He brought happiness and laughter to both women (and to the reader) as his antics were both amusing and charming. The reader did not know the old Pierre, but I could imagine his past life, and I was glad that he had changed and was continuing to try to live a more Christian life, following after the Holy Spirit's guidance even as new failures occurred. I also enjoyed how he interacted with Angelique, how he protected her from others, and how he sought to make her feel beautiful and worthy the way she was. Angelique was a sweet girl who I was glad to see become more carefree as Pierre reentered her life even while she struggled to trust him again and to find the line between friendship and betraying her brother. Both Pierre and Angelique made poor decisions at times, but it was refreshing to see characters that were not perfect and owned up to their mistakes afterwards.

The plot line of Captured by Love was very well written, and it contained a good mixture of mystery, danger, suspense, and romance. There were a couple unexpected occurrences in the story, and there were also times when I was not sure what was going to happen between Pierre, Angelique, and Jean. I also appreciated the history that surrounded the characters in the story. The War of 1812 is a subject I am not very familiar with, especially what happened near the Great Lakes in Michigan as American citizens found themselves under the rule of the British again. I also enjoyed all of the descriptions of the island and the surrounding area, as well as the lives of those who were voyageurs and traded furs for a living.

Overall, I found this novel to be very informative, exciting, and enjoyable, and I would highly recommend Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund to any reader who enjoys a good historical romance. I received this novel for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

4 Weddings and a Kiss by Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher, Debra Clopton, and Margaret Brownley

In 1885 five western preachers sit around a campfire talking about unlikely couples they've seen God bring together.

Spitfire Sweetheart by Mary Connealy
Maizy Place is an unruly tomboy. When she causes an accident, injuring neighbor Rylan Carstens, she becomes his unlikely caregiver. Rylan has never noticed how pretty his infuriating neighbor is, and he never expected to fall in love.
This was my favorite of the novellas in the set. I really liked both Maizy and Rylan, especially Maizy's tomboy nature as she reminded me of myself. The two also had a really funny relationship as they fought over their differences in opinion. I also appreciated Maizy's desire to be loved for who she was not for how she could be different.

Love Letter to the Editor by Robin Lee Hatcher
Molly Everton is the outspoken daughter of the town newspaper's owner. When her father brings in an outsider to be editor, she tries to drive him out of town. But Jack Ludgrove is not intimidated. He’s resolved to change Molly's mind about him—as an editor and as a man.
This novella was a sweet read as Molly finally found someone (against her will) that appreciated her for her intelligence, wit, and character instead of those who disagreed with her 'unladylike' attributes.I also liked Jack because he was willing to sacrifice some of his own dreams in exchange for love. And what he found instead was that the greatest adventure he could have was with the person he loved.

A Cowboy for Katie by Debra Clopton
Katie Pearl is uninterested in men and love. But she needs help on her ranch and hires Treb Rayburn, a wandering cowboy looking to make a buck. Will Treb change Katie’s mind?
This novella was both sweet and sad as both Katie and Treb had hidden secrets that threatened to ruin both their lives and their relationship. Katie struggled to return to living under shelter after being trapped in her house after a tornado destroys her house. Treb is still being eaten up by the loss of his family a few years earlier. I enjoyed how each began to change and trust one another and God as they grew to know each other better. 

Courting Trouble by Margaret Brownley
Grace Davenport is either the unluckiest woman alive—or a killer. When her third husband is found dead, Grace is arrested. Attorney Brock Daniels isn't interested in the case—until he meets Grace. Only a miracle will prove her innocence, but the joining of two lonely hearts may be their saving grace.
 This novella was a great ending story because Grace really did have the worst luck with keeping men alive, and it was sweet to see her finally pick the right one. Brock was a man haunted by past mistakes but willing to try again in order to save a life. I loved how he was willing to sacrifice it all to save Grace and her son. I also really liked Grace's son; his determination and perseverance were admirable.

Overall, I liked the style and set up of this novella set, and I really enjoyed the plot line of all of the novellas. I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All for a Sister by Allison Pittman

Read the first chapter excerpt here

In Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties, Celeste DuFrane has it all. Her father’s work with color movie film opens doors that lead to the stardom she’s always aspired to. But after losing her mother, she discovers that half the estate has been left to a woman accused of killing Celeste’s baby sister before Celeste was even born.

Dana Lundgren arrives on the steps of the DuFrane mansion having spent most of her life imprisoned for a crime that never happened. After accusing her of murder so many years ago, why did Marguerite DuFrane leave her a sizeable inheritance?

As Celeste and Dana learn each other’s stories, they come up with more questions than answers. Then a surprising discovery begins to fill in the missing pieces: Marguerite DuFrane’s written confession, penned shortly before her death. Uncovering the treachery and deceit that changed the course of countless lives—most of all, their own—the two women find more than they ever dreamed of.

All For a Sister by Allison Pittman is her third novel set during the Roaring Twenties and connected in some way to the enigmatic Aimee Semple McPherson. While any of these novels can be read on their own, those who have read All for a Song will notice the familiar suave face of Roland in this novel. The formatting of this novel was a little odd, and it took me a few chapters to get into the story as a result. The chapters bounced between Dana's point of view as she is reintroduced into society and into Celeste's life at Ms. DuFrane's request, Dana's point of view as a young girl as she experienced different aspects of jail (but presented from the perspective of a movie script), Mrs. DuFrane's written confession of her wrongs, and Celeste perspective as a young girl. While it was a lot at first, as I learned more about the past and the present situations, the formatting worked well to tie the two time periods together. The author began to use this formatting to tie certain characters and situations into the story as a whole. The plot line was interesting and suspenseful. The way the story was orchestrated the reader was left in the dark about certain details and situations as much as Dana and Celeste were, though I was able to guess on a few things based on hints in Ms. DuFrane's confession. However, the plot also got so convoluted at points during the novel that I completely lost track of what actually happened the night Mary died and how the father was involved in the story. There were a few other points in the story that were also left confusing and not fully resolved.

While there was a lot of mystery and intrigue, there was also a great amount of greed, selfishness, sadness, and sin that was shown in this story. Mr. DuFrane's actions were never truly condemned as sin while Ms. DuFrane's actions were. I did not like this discrepancy as both sinned and needed to confess and to ask forgiveness, especially as both sets of actions negatively affected many people. However, I did appreciate that Ms. DuFrane experienced remorse at the end, though I did not completely agree with McPherson's (and therefore possibly the author's) take on giving/receiving forgiveness. The characters in this book were interesting and intriguing, but I was not able to identify with some of them. I appreciated Dana's strength of character and her perseverance during the injustice served her. I also enjoyed experiencing the Roaring Twenties and California through her eyes after she had missed out on decades of society. I also really liked the producer/director that took her under his wing and showed such care for her. I was not as big a fan of grown up Celeste. She just seemed spoiled, but near the end of the story she did show a more adult side to her. I felt sympathy for the Celeste of years earlier who struggled to cope with fame hungry father, an almost insane mother, and the ghosts of her siblings' memories. Overall, I found All for a Sister to be a compelling read that really delved into the evils that exist in the heart and in society as a whole, even if it was not my favorite of the "All For" novels by Allison Pittman.

I think my favorite was probably All for a Story, but I would still recommend this novel to those looking for a thoughtful novel about the Roaring Twenties.

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

A December Bride by Denise Hunter

What started as a whim turned into an accidental - and very public - engagement. Can Layla and Seth keep up the facade in Chapel Springs this holiday season - for the sake of her career . . . and his heart?

Under normal circumstances, Seth Murphy, the best friend of Layla O'Reilly's ex-fiance would be the last person she'd marry. But the news of their upcoming (and phony) nuptials convinces a big client that Layla may be high-society enough to work for his agency, a coup that would put her fledgling home-staging business on the map. Seth has secretly loved Layla for years, even when she was dating his best friend. Maybe she'll never forgive him for the way he hurt her back then, but he has to try. And Layla is willing to keep up their engagement farce until she's landed her client. For Layla, it's the chance to save her career. But for Seth, it's his last chance to win her heart.

A December Bride by Denise Hunter is one of the twelve Year of Weddings Novellas, each written by a different inspirational romance author. This novella was a quick and easy read, but it was sweet and enjoyable. Despite the length, I was still able to identify with the characters and sympathize with their mixed emotions. For any readers of Denise Hunter's novels, they will find an added bonus in this novella as the main characters and other characters mentioned in this novella are characters that are also seen in Barefoot Summer since both books are set in Chapel Springs. However, for any reader who has not read Denise Hunter's other novels, the characters were easy to connect with and it is definitely not necessary to read any of the other books first. I really liked Seth Murphy and his devotion to winning Layla's heart even at cost to himself. Layla had a lot of bitterness and distrust to work through, but I was glad to see her begin to trust again and to be willing to open her heart up to love. I was not a huge fan of how easily both Seth and Layla were willing to lie and to keep lying to the others even if it did add some suspense to the novella. However, overall I enjoyed this novella, and I look forward to reading the second Chapel Springs novel, Dancing with Fireflies, which I have not had a chance to read yet.

I received this novella from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Down South by Donald Link

Perhaps best known as the James Beard Award-winning chef behind some of New Orleans’s most beloved restaurants, including Cochon and Herbsaint, Donald Link also has a knack for sniffing out a backyard barbecue wherever he travels and scoring an invitation to sample some of the best food around. In Down South he combines his talents to unearth true down home Southern cooking so everyone can pull up a seat at the table and sample some of the region’s finest flavors.
Link rejoices in the slow-cooked pork barbecue of Memphis, fresh seafood all along the Gulf coast, peas and shell beans from the farmlands in Mississippi and Alabama, Kentucky single barrel bourbon, and other regional standouts in 110 recipes and 100 color photographs. Along the way, he introduces all sorts of characters and places, including pitmaster Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ, Louisiana goat farmer Bill Ryal, beloved Southern writer Julia Reed, a true Tupelo honey apiary in Florida, and a Texas lamb ranch with a llama named Fritz.

This cookbook is not just a cookbook; it is more than that. It tells the story of a culture. The stories behind the recipes and styles of food are heartwarming, and I was drawn in by the photographs of the landscapes, people, and other landmarks in each chapter. The pictures in this book are spectacular. I immediately wanted to make and eat many of the recipes because they looked delicious. The recipes themselves are a unique mixture of drinks, meats, sides, and desserts that show the wide array of different foods that are enjoyed in particular places in the South. I look forward to crafting meals that broaden my tastes and that introduce me to more delicious Southern style foods. I would definitely recommend Down South not only as a cookbook but also as a book to put on a side table and to spark interesting conversations with guests.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Life of Miracles by Don Schulze

Read first chapter excerpt here

At first, Don Schulze wasn’t sure he was really hearing from God . . . because what he was hearing didn’t make sense. Could God really be calling him to leave a good career and a stable life to take his family on a journey of ministry across the country and around the world? And could Don trust God to take care of his loved ones on that journey? Would they trust and understand God’s call as well?

With a deep breath and a lot of faith, Don and his family took the leap and said yes—stepping forward into what would become a lifelong quest to follow God’s calling. In A Life of Miracles, you’ll travel with this ordinary family across the years as you witness inspiring encounters with God—dramatic rescues, just-in-time provisions, amazing miracles of healing, and God’s surprising answers to “everyday” prayers. As you read, you’ll see evidence of just how closely God sticks by us, even in our most uncomfortable moments.

This modern-day spiritual odyssey takes you on a heartwarming, soul-stirring exploration of faith. Join Don and his family on their unexpected adventures . . . and discover how your own daily walk with God can add up to a life of miracles.

Life of Miracles by Don Schulze tells the incredible story of the work God has done in and through the Schulze family over the decades. The book starts with Don's life right before he accepted Christ, and it then continues to convey the majority of his ministries over the years and how God has shown up in big ways for him, his family, and his ministries. The miracles that the Schulze family experience are incredible, and it really humbled and challenged me to take a new perspective on how I view prayer, miracles, and the work that God can do. I liked how Gospel oriented Don was both in his book and in his ministry. I also appreciated how each chapter ended with a biblical application related to miracles, faith, and prayer, and then a passage of Scripture that was related to the application and chapter. This book also really challenged me to listen to God and His leading in my life. Oftentimes we pray but we do not stop to listen to what God is telling us in response. Another application I got from reading Life of Miracles is to pray specific prayers and to then trust in faith that God will answer, especially when praying for others. I often will pray very general prayers instead of trusting God to be able to answer the specific ones as well. Overall, I found this book to be a very interesting and certainly convicting read, and I pray that we all live our lives glorifying God and spreading His truth to every nation and people group.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mark of Distinction by Jessica Dotta

Read first chapter excerpt here 
London is said to be the glittering jewel of society, a world unto itself—but to Julia Elliston it is a city of shadows. Her life is swiftly dissolving into scandal. And in Victorian society, even a whisper of scandal—substantiated or not—can be the death of a young woman’s reputation.

Now under the watchful eye of Lord Roy Pierson, one of most influential men in England, Julia begrudgingly accepts his protection. But Chance Macy’s power is far-reaching as well, and he is eager to assert his claim over her.

Thrust into society as the Emerald Heiress, Julia is the toast of London, a celebrated curiosity. But in reality she’s trapped between the clutches of two powerful men. Aided only by a gentleman whose intentions she prays she can trust, Julia must finally take control of her own fate—but outwitting one’s foe rarely goes according to plan.

In this second installment of the Price of Privilege Trilogy, Jessica Dotta is a genius. I do not know of many books other than Mark of Distinction that ends on a cliffhanger because the novel ends happily. If someone just picked up and read the last couple pages of this novel, they would think that all was well and there did not even need to be a third novel. However, after reading Born of Persuasion and Mark of Distinction, I knew that there was no way events could end happily for Julia. Plus, after reading this second installment, I was rather annoyed with Julia. Julia certainly had more than her share of misfortunes and deceptions in her short life, but at the same time she remains complacent and allows the men in her life to just walk over her. I understand that during this time period women did not have a lot of say in their choices and lives, but Julia refuses or is completely unable to respond to what is going on around her even when she has the opportunity. It was not until the end of the novel that she begins to make her own decisions, which I was glad to see, but she still turns to malleable putty and tells all to Macy when she meets him near the end. That is not to say that Macy is not a fantastically charming character and makes it very hard for Julia (and the reader) to believe all the wicked things he has done. Still, I hope she can grow a backbone around him in the next novel before she gets more people she loves killed.

Needless to say, Julia is not my favorite character. However, Lord Dalry, who is seen briefly at the end of the first novel, quickly became my favorite character in this trilogy. He cares for Julia,  befriends her, teaches her about society, intercedes for her, and even begins to help Julia understand who God is and about His Word as she struggles to understand who she is and what she is to do. I liked how Julia began to turn to God and to trust Him. I did wish that it showed up a little more in her life after the fact. It did not really change how she acted nor how she treated particular people. I was glad though to see Julia and Isaac's relationship grow, and I enjoyed seeing them grow closer to one another and to God. As a result, I was not too happy with how it all culminated, though I understood Julia's choices, just not how it was implemented by certain characters. I am also intrigued to see how it will all turn out in the next novel. Julia's relationship with her father is also an interesting part of this book. Julia is very intimidated by her prickly and temperamental father, and she just wants to be loved, but he has trouble showing that to her. I hope that they are able to break through each others' barriers more and learn to love one another in the next installment.

Overall, I highly enjoyed Mark of Distinction with its intriguing plot, suspenseful twists, and captivating characters. I was pulled in from the beginning, and I read it all in one afternoon. I would definitely recommend this trilogy to any reader who loves the novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte and Emily Bronte.

Friday, July 18, 2014

While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

On September 15, 1963, a Klan-planted bomb went off in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Fourteen-year-old Carolyn Maull was just a few feet away when the bomb exploded, killing four of her friends in the girl’s restroom she had just exited. It was one of the seminal moments in the Civil Rights movement, a sad day in American history . . . and the turning point in a young girl’s life.

While the World Watched is a poignant and gripping eyewitness account of life in the Jim Crow South: from the bombings, riots, and assassinations to the historic marches and triumphs that characterized the Civil Rights movement. A uniquely moving exploration of how racial relations have evolved over the past 5 decades, While the World Watched is an incredible testament to how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

While the World Watched is a compelling story of how the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing affected and shaped one girl and how she viewed the world. The majority of the book described the events that occurred both in the South and in Carolyn's experiences before and after the bombing. I was really moved by how racial prejudices hindered Carolyn's early life, even when she was not actually aware that they existed. I was shamed to see how cruelly whites of all ages, both male and female, treated their black neighbors, especially in the case of the children. I was shocked by the suffering and trauma inflicted on the members of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the bombing, particularly the young children like Carolyn and her brothers. And since violence was a regular occurrence for that community, Carolyn's family and her community never discussed what occurred or worked through the emotions the bombing incited. As a result, it took Carolyn years, many unhealthy choices, and finally God's hand at work before Carolyn even realized that she was bitter, depressed, and grief-stricken as a result of the bombing. I found Carolyn's redemption story to be convicting and moving, especially as she struggled to forgive those who were responsible for the bombings, something she could only do through a relationship with God.

Another aspect of While the World Watched that I found very interesting was the quotes from the Bible, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders of the time that were interspersed throughout the pages. They were well placed and picked to go along with the topics of the chapters, and they gave a broader and more thorough picture to what was going on at the time. I also enjoyed learning more about this particular time in the Civil Rights movement and how it transpired in Birmingham Al., especially from the firsthand perspective of Carolyn who was involved in the thick of things. However, at the same time I was saddened by the cruel and prejudiced treatment towards Carolyn and her friends that existed both when she was a child and even when she was older.
Overall, I found While the World Watched to be a very moving and compelling read that gave me a fuller picture of what happened in Birmingham, how the bombings affected those involved, and how God can redeem any situation and person.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

 Read first chapter excerpt here

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

With an intricate mixture of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta puts together a compelling story of intrigue and romance. The plot line was very interesting but complex, so it made it a little hard for me to follow at first. However, once I understood more of the back story, I quickly was drawn into the story. There were several unexpected twists and turns, suspenseful moments, danger, forbidden romance, and mystery. The narration was from Julia's perspective as if she was retelling the story from later on in her life, which made it interesting because the reader learned about her thoughts, and also added an element of foreboding because there was a sense of dark shadow hanging over her narrative. I also really enjoyed the storyline, particularly the second half of the story, as Julia struggled to understand what was going on and who to trust. The characters were complex and intriguing as well. I did not particularly like or understand Julia. Her personal feelings and thoughts did not seem to meld with the timid and shy way Julia acted around people. I think this was because Julia was telling the story from the future, so her way of telling it reflected how her personality and character had grown over the years. However, even though Julia did not change much in this story, she did begin to grasp the seriousness of her actions near the end, and I think that she will begin to grow as a character during the next two novels. Mr. Macy was definitely an interesting character; very smooth and charming. I was immediately drawn to him like Julia was, but I still liked Edmund better. Edmund was also a complex character who struggled to balance his beliefs with his desires, and he ended up having a much harder road to travel because he could not come to a decision. Overall, I highly enjoyed this novel. The dark mood, the brooding characters, the danger, and the old mansions all fit the style of Bronte, and the dialogue, love triangles, the silly characters like Ms. W matched the Austenian style as well. I really liked how these styles merged together in this novel, and I look forward to reading the next novel, A Mark of Distinction.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Isle of Shadows by Tracy L. Higley

As a courtesan, Tessa of Delos enjoyed unparalleled luxury and influence. But even in the grand palaces of Rhodes, she felt herself a prisoner.
On the island of Rhodes, 227 BC, Tessa of Delos has served for ten years as a hetaira—a high-priced Greek courtesan—to a wealthy politician. In that time, she's lived in luxury, but as a virtual prisoner, serving at her master's whim. Though intelligent and beautiful, Tessa has learned to numb herself to all desires for freedom and love.
But when her owner meets a violent death, Tessa is given the chance to be free—if she can hide the truth of his death and maintain a masquerade until escape is possible. She joins forces with unlikely allies—a Hebrew houseservant named Simeon and Nikos, a seafarer who wants to work in the house of Tessa's owner.
As Tessa seeks freedom for herself and for those she is beginning to love, forces collide that will literally shatter the island’s peace, bringing even the mighty statue of Rhodes, Colossus, to its knees.
A powerful story showing how the love of God can transform and bring back to life a soul jaded by sin and grief.

Isle of Shadows by Tracy L. Higley is a revised and significantly updated version of the original title The Shadow of Colossus, and I found it to be an intriguing and moving read. The story is set on the island of Rhodes and includes many of the politcal battles between the Greek politicians that existed during that time. I thought that the descriptions of the island and the statue Colossus to be very well done, and I definitely felt immersed in the culture of the time period. The plot line was well written and included elements of mystery, suspense, romance, and a whole lot of danger for the characters involved in the cover up plot. There are also clear themes in this novel, such as the importance of asking God for forgiveness and then relying on His overwhelming love and power to transform broken lives. I found that theme to be very prevelant and convicting in this story. The characters are also realistic and well developed. I felt an immediate connection with Tessa, and I was drawn into her feelings and thoughts as she struggled with her degrading and difficult lifestyle. I enjoyed seeing her heart change and watching her begin to move past her mistakes and begin to seek after the one true God as she spent time in the Jewish quarters of the island. I also found Nikos to be a dynamic character as he tried to understand what was happening and how he could get revenge. He also experienced character growth as he was influenced both by the Jews' beliefs as well as by Tessa. Overall, I thought Isle of Shadows was an interesting and exciting book with very realistic and intriguing characters.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano

Read First Chapter Excerpt Here

After his departure from New York two years ago to meet up with his almost-fiancée, Zayne Beckett is the last person Agatha Watson wanted to stumble upon in her travels as a reporter with the New York Tribune. Quite pathetically bedraggled, he clearly needs to be taken in hand and sent back East to his family. Although she no longer has feelings for him, Agatha realizes, by hook or by crook, she'll have to be the one to get the obstinate man home.

Zayne has no desire to be taken anywhere and is prepared to drag his heels all the way home... until he finds himself slipping back into the familiar banter of his former friendship with Agatha. Once they arrive in New York, Zayne realizes Agatha's determined nose for news has earned her a few enemies, and he hopes to repay her help with some help of his own. When she rebuffs all his attempts to prove himself a knight in shining armor, the lengths to which they'll go to win this battle of wills lead to some memorable antics.

Everyone else may think them a match, but nothing could be further from the truth--until Agatha finds herself in real trouble. Have these two stubborn, too-smart-for-their-own-good people been meant for each other all along?

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano was a sweet and fun novel that kept me laughing to the point of tears and had me pulling for the Agatha and Zayne. This novel is the fourth in the Ladies of Distinction series and while it would be possible to read this novel on its own, you would be missing out on a lot of interesting back story concerning the two main characters as well as the multitude of other characters that are mentioned. This novel even ties in with the novella, A Gentleman of Her Dreams, which is the prequel to the series and stars Charlotte St. John. The plot line of A Match of Wits centers around the antics of Agatha and Zayne, which have always been two of my favorite characters in the series. The story is interesting and moves at a quick pace. It also includes great moments of humor, sarcasm, and comic relief, especially between Agatha and Zayne as well as between Agatha and anyone. There are also more tender moments, which is nice to see because Agatha had never really shown much vulnerability in past novels. One thing that I did not really like about the plot was that at about three fourths through the book, the plot kind of gets hung up on Zayne's botched proposals, but then immediately jumps into a not very believable kidnapping. While I have enjoyed the larger than life nature of the characters and the danger, I thought a little more development of that part of the story would have been helpful. However, the fantastic interactions between Agatha and Zayne more than made up for this minor detail. They definitely have the best comments and actions between the two of them, and Zayne's clueless attitude is just great. I also liked how both characters had to learn to grow up a little bit and to begin to let go of pride and to trust one another and God with their lives. Both Agatha and Zayne had flaws that hindered their relationship until they began to work through their weaknesses. Piper, of course, stepped in and saved the day in her little wise way, which was great. Overall, I found A Match of Wits to be highly amusing and a fun summer read, and I look forward to seeing if there will be another novel in the series. I would love to see what happens to poor Jeffrey Murdock.

EDIT: I cannot believe I almost forgot to mention Matilda. Possibly the best and most intelligent pet ever. Who thought a pet pig could be so hilarious or get Agatha in even more trouble than she can herself? Definitely an excellent part of the story. She really is quite funny and even manages to save the day a few times.

I received this novel from Netgalley and Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Left Behind by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

 Read the first chapter here

An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.
A repackage of the New York Times best-selling novel Left Behind.

Left Behind is the first novel of thirteen in the Left Behind series, though if you want to read the series right then there are three prequels that help add a lot of interesting background to both the situations and the main characters seen both in this book and in the entire series. I read the Left Behind series a few years ago, but I thought it was a very interesting and suspenseful series. The characters seemed very shallow at first, but over the course of thirteen (or fifteen) books, I grew to really connect with many of them as they struggled to survive and to save others. I do not particularly agree with this series' take on the End Times, but I did appreciate how the authors had significant portions of the Bible, such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and other books, included in the series to back up their interpretations of the End Times. This series does include a lot of sadness and violence because of its apocalyptic nature, but there are still many moments of redemption as well as little romance. Overall, I would recommend this series to readers who enjoy apocalyptic novels and are willing to read through to the very end. 

Firewall by DiAnn Mills

 Read an excerpt here

After a whirlwind romance, Taryn Young is preparing to board a plane at Houston International Airport, bound for a dream honeymoon, when a bomb decimates the terminal. Injured but still alive, she awakens to discover her husband is missing and they’re both considered prime suspects in the attack. Further, the FBI is convinced her husband isn’t who he appears to be.

Agent Grayson Hall’s number-one priority is to catch those responsible for the day’s act of terror. All evidence is pointing to Taryn and her new husband. But his instinct tells him her pleas of innocence are genuine. Is her naivetĂ© just for show, or could she truly be another victim of a master scheme, possibly linked to the software she recently developed for her company?

With both their lives and reputations on the line, and the media outcry for justice increasing with each passing minute, Taryn and Grayson have no choice but to trust one another . . . and pray they can uncover the truth before they become two more casualties.

Firewall by DiAnn Mills was an suspenseful and intriguing novel that kept me glued to the pages. The plot line was fast paced and well written, and it included the interesting idea of how technology could be (and probably often is) used for both terrorism and to further a person's greed. The storyline included several unexpected twists and turns, including a very huge plot twist in the first few chapters, and I was left not knowing who to trust and who was behind the attacks until the very end. I was shocked to discover who the real killer was and why they were motivated to kill and blow up so many civilians. The narration of the novel was very interesting and continued the suspense of the story. Most of the chapters were in third person narration but still told from either Taryn Young or Grayson Hall's perspective. However, a few chapters were in first person narration from the perspective of an unknown person who was involved in organizing much of the plot surrounding Nehemiah. The characters in Firewall were interesting and fairly well developed. Many of the characters had secrets that threatened the United States' security and there were so many unknowns that even the reader was not sure which characters were trustworthy. I really liked Grayson and his uncle Joe; they worked well together and were dedicated to protecting Taryn. I also liked Taryn's character. She had her own set of flaws and struggles, but I enjoyed seeing how she began to turn to God again for stability and to trust him again. I cannot say too much about Taryn and Grayson, but I liked how they interacted with one another, and I really enjoyed the epilogue. There were a couple things I thought seemed a little unrealistic about their interactions, but I cannot say more without giving away a major plot twist. Overall, I enjoyed Firewall, and I look forward to reading more of DiAnn Mills' novels.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

Read first chapter excerpt here

Increasingly wary of her father’s genetic research, Rachel Kramer has determined that this trip with him to Germany—in the summer of 1939—will be her last. But a cryptic letter from her estranged friend, begging Rachel for help, changes everything. Married to SS officer Gerhardt Schlick, Kristine sees the dark tides turning and fears her husband views their daughter, Amelie, deaf since birth, as a blight on his Aryan bloodline.

Once courted by Schlick, Rachel knows he’s as dangerous as the swastikas that hang like ebony spiders from every government building in Berlin. She fears her father’s files may hold answers about Hitler’s plans for others, like Amelie, whom the regime deems “unworthy of life.” She risks searching his classified documents only to uncover shocking secrets about her own history and a family she’s never known.

Now hunted by the SS, Rachel turns to Jason Young—a driven, disarming American journalist and unlikely ally—who connects her to the resistance and to controversial theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Forced into hiding, Rachel’s every ideal is challenged as she and Jason walk a knife’s edge, risking their lives—and asking others to do the same—for those they barely know but come to love.

“Germany is at stake—heart and soul…When the church stops standing for Jews—for anyone—then we stop being the church. Grace is costly—it took the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, to achieve that grace. It requires just as much from each of us.
But we’ve come to practice cheap grace—grace that appears as a godly form but costs us nothing—and that is an abomination, a stench in the nostrils of God.”

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke was a stirring novel that demonstrated the power of love and it means to lay down your life for your friends and family. True discipleship. The message Bonhoeffer preached to his German congregation and wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship was one of the main themes of this novel and is a message that is still relevant today. As Christians, people who love and follow Jesus, are we justified in remaining mute and inactive when people are scorned or even killed because of their race or physical capabilities, or are we called to stand up, to choose to save the unlovable even when it is dangerous? Saving Amelie captures the attitude of inaction and purposeful ignorance of both the German people and America at the beginning of World War II when the Nazis started using eugenics to first sterilize the "impure" and then to round up the weak, the deaf, the old, the 'imperfect' and to kill them. Both people groups simply stood by and did not respond until it was too late. As Edmund Burke says, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." However, this novel also demonstrates that not everyone refuses to act and that people can be saved even if just a few respond and help. In addition, there is a portion of this novel that reveals the atrocities that German soldiers found themselves forced to enact on Polish Jews when they invaded Poland and their reactions to their jobs. I had never thought about what these actions might have cost the simple German farmers who were Christians and did not hate the Jews or the Poles and how it might have caused them to choose death over a life with these memories.

Saving Amelie was researched very well and felt very genuine and real. I was astounded by the ruthlessness of the German Institutes in their sterilization and then killing of those they deemed to be imperfect. Even American scientists who believed in eugenics were taken in by the Nazi's schemes. The plot line of this novel was very well written and moved at the perfect pace so that I could connect with both the story and the characters. The descriptions of both the German cities and the small towns like the Passion town were beautifully done and really allowed me to picture what they must have been like in the 1940's. I also enjoyed learning about the real Passion town and also seeing how the townspeople worked together to save both their traditions and eventually those the Nazis wished to kill. The characters were realistic and well developed. There are two parallel storylines at the beginning of the novel; Rachel's life and Leah's. However, as the novel goes on, these storylines finally intersect and allow the reader to have a better idea what is occurring. At first, I really did not like Rachel's character. She was extremely selfish, jealous, and unwilling to believe what was actually happening. However, as the story progressed, she begins to change as she meets Christians, reads the Bible and The Cost of Discipleship, and experiences the love of a family. Leah is another important character who I liked more but who I quickly found had her own set of faults and prejudices that she had to work through. I was happy to see these two women begin to trust one another and God and to place their imperfections in His hands. Jason was probably one of my favorite characters because he was steady and determined to discover the truth. He did experience character growth as he met Bonhoeffer and as he realized there was more to life than having his byline on an important article. Overall, I highly enjoyed this novel. There was a great amount of sadness and despair in Saving Amelie, but the hope that can only come from showing love and trusting in God ultimately guided the story even through the dark times in Germany.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Safe in His Arms by Colleen Coble

Born and raised on sprawling Texas land, Margaret O’Brien prides herself on her competence as a rancher. But her father believes she’s made for more than just dawn-to-dusk work. He wants her to have the love of a good man, to raise children, to build a life. But Margaret gave up such dreams years ago. She’s convinced no man would have her, that the ranch is her life now.

So when Margaret’s father hires Daniel Cutler as a new foreman, she’s frustrated and suspicious. Then an overheard conversation links him with a gang of bank robbers, and she’s downright worried. Daniel swears he’s not involved, but Margaret’s not convinced. She knows the man still has secrets. But would a criminal be so kind and talk so convincingly of his faith? As a series of tragic “accidents” threatens all she holds dear, Margaret must decide what to trust: her own ears, her best judgment . . . or what her heart keeps telling her.

Safe in His Arms by Colleen Coble was an interesting and romantic novel. The plot line was filled with mystery, romance, and suspense, and there were definitely unexpected developments that kept me riveted to the pages. The characters were intriguing and well developed, and I enjoyed seeing Margaret and Daniel interact with one another as they tried to figure each other out. They each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and as the story progressed, each had to learn to work past their misgivings in order to prevent the dangers that surround them. Overall, I enjoyed this second installment in the Under the Stars series, and I would recommend both Blue Moon Promise and Safe in His Arms to readers who enjoy western novels that have equal parts romance and mystery.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Water Walker by Ted Dekker

Second in the new series from Ted Dekker, master of suspense, whose books have sold 9 million copies. Humming with intensity, Water Walker is a raw adrenaline rush from first page to last.

"My name is Alice Ringwald, but the man who kidnapped me says that's a lie." Thirteen-ear old orphan Alice Ringwald has no memory beyond six months ago. The only life she knows is the new one she's creating one day at a time with the loving couple that recently adopted her and gave her new hope. That hope, however, is shattered one night when she is abducted by a strange man. In a frantic FBI manhunt, he vanishes. So begins Water Walker, a modern day parable that examines the staggering power of forgiveness, and reminds us that it's possible to live free of the hurt that keeps our souls in chains.

Water Walker by Ted Dekker is part of the Outlaw Chronicles and continues on with same thrilling intensity as seen in Eyes Wide Open. The novel Water Walker contains characters previously seen in Eyes Wide Open (like Alice), themes and characters found in Outlaw, and mentions situations/characters that were first seen in Ted Dekker's Paradise novels.  The plot line was intriguing and spellbinding, containing elements of mystery, suspense, and danger that added to the intensity of the novel. The themes were well developed and convicting, and they were founded on topics such as the importance of forgiveness (both asking for it and accepting it), the great love and mercy offered by God, and having faith to trust God and His power, even when it seems impossible. I really enjoyed the images used to describe these important themes, and I liked the imagery and analogies the Outlaw used to illustrate important concepts to Alice. The characters of the novel were relatable and intriguing, and while not completely realistic, they all had different sins, desires, and problems that the majority of humanity experiences during life. Alice was the main character, and the majority of the novel was from her perspective, which really gave the reader insight to her in-depth thoughts, feelings, and emotions throughout the story. Overall, I highly enjoyed Water Walker, and I would certainly recommend all of the novels in the Outlaw Chronicles to those who enjoy psychological thrillers that are built on positive concepts and truth.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Vanishings by Jerry B Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

 Read first chapter excerpt here

This book is the first book in the Left Behind: The Kids series, which is based on the best-selling adult Left Behind series. Readers will see the Rapture and Tribulation through the eyes of four kids who have been left behind. The Vanishings is equivalent to first quarter of Left Behind (Book 1 of the adult series) as only one fourth of the events that occurred in that book happen in the kids' novel. This novel is recommended for children betweenn 10-14 years old, but I would caution against letting kids younger than 13 read this series unless they are highly mature. I read this series when I was probably 14, and I had already read the adult series, so it was not too mature for me. However, the issues and past sins addressed in this novel cause this novel to possibly be too much for some young readers. I would recommend that parents read the books first so that they can discuss the issues and apocalyptic situations with their children. I would also suggest reading more than just this first novel as not much of the redemptive side of the story is expressed in this novel. The Vanishings kind of sets the stage for the rest of the series. I thought this novel and this series fit together quite well with the adult Left Behind series as many of the adult characters show up in the kids series. The plot line moves very quickly and the chapters are quite short. Overall, I enjoyed this series, but I would definitely recommend that parents read the books first to determine if their children are ready yet.