Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley - by Katherine Reay

Due to a past where the only characters she could trust were fictional, Samantha Moore has developed a habit of retreating from reality when things get tough.  Her life is peppered with "she does not relate" comments and rejections. Now, faced with one last chance for a better future, she is not only pushed into a graduate major she doesn't want, but she is asked to write regular letters to her anonymous donor.  Can she find a way into this future, or will she continue to seek solace between the pages that have encompassed her past?

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this book; I liked the idea of Sam's character, who felt more comfortable with fictional characters than real people.  However, and I hesitate to even admit this on a book blog, I am not really a fan of Jane Austen, so most of the references to her works blew by me without adding anything to the book.  Once Sam began to be more of herself and reveal more of her past, she became much more interesting to me, and I became engrossed in her search for how to handle real relationships. While I saw the ending coming fairly early on, it didn't seem ridiculous that Sam did not.  I could really appreciate Sam's efforts to pull herself out of her fictional world and engage with the people in front of her, especially her self-realizations that she had hurt others by retreating.

I give this book 3 stars.  If I were a true Jane Austen fan, I think that my rating would not fall in the middle; I would either hate what the author had done with Austen's fictional characters, or I would love the story with the added understanding of the wealth of quotes and characters.

You can find Dear Mr. Knightley HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sisterchicks Do the Hula - by Robin Jones Gunn

Hope and Laurie have been best friends since college - when they first made plans to travel to Hawaii together.  That plan fell through, but now, as they approach their 40th birthdays, they have reconnected and decide that now is the time to do it.  While enjoying the beautiful sites the islands have to offer, they also find themselves digging a little deeper into what they've been made for by the One who created such beauty for them to enjoy.

This was the first Sisterchicks book I've read.  It was light, it was enjoyable; Hope and Laurie weren't especially deep characters, but that's what I was expecting when I started the book.  I loved the idea of two friends turning 40 and taking a trip of a lifetime together to enjoy the trip their way.  It didn't quite ring true that Hope would be concerned about the price of a "bargain" sun tanning lotion, versus the "expensive" one, but then order room service over and over again without blinking an eye, but if you suspend some disbelief and just enjoy the trip with them, then the book is a fun read.  It certainly made me wish I could take a trip like this!

I give this book 3 stars.  It didn't exceed any expectations, but it was a light, easy read.  There's a time and a place for such a book, and this was a good time for one for me.

You can find Sisterchicks Do the Hula HERE.
You can find Robin Jones Gunn's website HERE.

Please consider rating my review:

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, as part of their Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Stones for Bread - by Christa Parrish

Liesl McNamara's life revolves around bread and the bakery she has opened to follow her passion for the bread.  Her memories of her mother and grandmother are wrapped up in the bread and she has sacrificed her dreams of travel for the bread.  When it comes down to it, will the bread be more important than her relationships?  And how does she fit faith into her life when she's so consumed with the bread?

How do I express how much I loved this book?  While it's not very plot-driven, it is rich with characters and emotions and vulnerability.  It took me awhile to adjust to the switches between current story, back story, and church history, but in the end, it was woven together so well that it made the book full and deep.  The history of bread would not normally be exciting for me to read by itself, but as integral as it was to Liesl's life, it made me care about the bread.  So much so, that I actually felt guilty buying plain white sandwich bread while reading this book.  That's an absorbing story!

There were so many relationships tied into the story that revolved around bread, but they were intricate and deep and real.  At first, I thought that the half-sister story line was distracting, and then I thought maybe it just wasn't filled out enough, but in the end, the purpose of the story was for Liesl to find herself both in the story of the bread and who she was without it, and the family story line served its purpose to help her.

I did find the recipes for bread sprinkled throughout the story a bit distracting; I would have preferred that they maybe be in an appendix at the end, but it did give me an appreciation for how much of an art these breads are.

As with Christa Parrish's other novels, I loved this one, and I give it 5 stars.  I will continue to eagerly await her future releases!

You can find Stones for Bread HERE.
You can find Christa Parrish's site HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson publishers, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Talent for Trouble - by Jen Turano

Felicia Murdock thought she'd been called to marry a minister; until she attends his wedding to someone else.  She then comes to the realization that not only was this man not for her, but she had turned herself into someone else completely while she was trying to capture his heart.  Slowly, she rediscovers who she truly is, and finds that maybe being herself is what she's been meant to be all along.

I love this author, I loved this book, and I love this series.  I love the quirky, spunky, adventurous heroines, and I love the men strong enough to handle them.  I love that the women frequently find themselves in jail for all sorts of ridiculous reasons.  Even while these books are amusing and enjoyable, however, the author embeds truth throughout.  Felicia thought that being a pastor's wife, and turning herself into what she thought that looked like, was the only way to truly serve God and His people.  Yet, as she rediscovers herself as God made her, she finds that there is more than one way to look while serving God, and it doesn't mean what she thought it did.  I loved watching her see others' reactions as she cast off the disguise she'd put on during her infatuation with the pastor.  Even Felicia hadn't realized how much of her true self she had put aside to please others.

I give this book 4 stars.  I really hope the author continues this series, because I am not ready to be done with these characters.

You can find A Talent for Trouble HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
You can find my review of the first book, A Change of Fortune, HERE.
You can find my review of the second Book, A Most Peculiar Circumstance, HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from Bethany House, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Eyes Wide Open - by Ted Dekker

Christy and Austin are not your average 17-year-olds, but not for the reasons they think.  Neither one of them have memories of their childhoods before they met four years ago in an orphanage.  Now, at 17, they're each living on their own, with very few real connections to anybody other than each other.  One day, they stumble into a situation so strange that they can't even trust what they thought to be true about themselves or each other.

This was not the book for me.  I don't mind the occasional thriller novel, or a good mystery, but I do not enjoy psychological mind games; especially when the plot gets so twisted that even the reader can no longer tell what is real and what is delusion.  And in no scenario do I find a story that includes convincing a young girl that her worst self-image is not only true, but that she's uglier than she thinks, and then using horrific cosmetic surgery to alter her body, in no way do I think that's an enjoyable storyline.  No matter the lessons that she supposedly learns at the end, the ends did not justify the means in this story for me.

I give this book 2 stars.  It was not badly written, it was just not, in any way, the type of book I enjoy.  If you enjoyed Dekker's Showdown, then you may enjoy this.

You can find Eyes Wide Open HERE.
You can find Ted Dekker's site HERE.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Forever Friday - by Timothy Lewis

Adam Colby has discovered a photo album of postcards that hint at a lifelong romance between sender and receiver.  A romance so strong that he feels the need to know more, to find their secret to lasting love after divorce has left him hurt and disenfranchised.  As he wades into the depths of the love story between Huck and Gabe, perhaps he can not only find healing, but his second chance at finding his soul mate.

I was not wowed by this book; the comparisons to Nicholas Sparks books seem founded, and it was very reminiscent of The Notebook, so perhaps if that's what you enjoy, you may like this book more than I did.  I loved the idea of a 60-year-long romance, cemented by sending love poems from husband to wife every Friday.  I loved Huck's character - starting with her insistence that friends and family call her after a male literary character, all the way to her dialing 911 because a lady "needs" to get her hair done.  However, I wasn't in love with the rest of the book.  Even their love story fell a little flat to me; yes, they worked on sharing their secrets, and not letting the "Long Division" separate them, but there was no growth, no work on bettering each other or helping people around them.  They saw their housekeeper, Priscilla, as the daughter they'd never had, but there wasn't even any depth to that part of the story; the reader didn't get to see any affect on her life from having interacted with the Alexanders.  And the part of the story that fell flattest to me was the faith aspect; several times, the reader was told that Huck had a strong faith, and it kept her going, yet there were no examples of this faith, and it the only real "faith" discussed was her faith in her "guardian angel," Mister Jack.  Believing in an angel who supposedly predicts your future and saves you from harm is not a deep faith.

I enjoyed the writing, I enjoyed the characters of Gabe and Huck for what they were.  But there just wasn't enough to this book to make me love it.  I give it 3 stars.

You can find Forever Friday HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

Please consider rating my review:

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beloved - by Robin Lee Hatcher

Beloved is the third book in Robin Lee Hatcher's Where the Heart Lives series.  Dianna Brennan has been living in Idaho with her adoptive mother, waiting for her husband Tyson to be declared dead so that she may move on with her life and marry Brooke Calhoun.  However, on the evening of their engagement party, instead of being presented with a death certificate, Dianna is confronted with Tyson himself, not only alive, but desiring for Dianna to stand by his side as his wife during his campaign for Senator.  Can she pretend to be the happy, smiling wife required for a candidate's appearances?  Can she live in his home and continue to hate him?  Or will she be convinced that he's changed and allow her heart to be open to possibilities she'd thought gone forever?

When I requested this book, I didn't realize it was part of a series I'd read and reviewed before.  I read the first book Belonging, which focused on Dianna's sister, Felicia, and reviewed it here, but never read book 2, Betrayal, which follows the story of their brother, Hugh.  Even with not having the complete story to this point, this book read well as a standalone novel.  I just found myself wishing I knew what had happened to Dianna's siblings along the way.

Tyson Applegate had a lot of reasons to ask for forgiveness, and was determined to not only tell people he'd changed, but also to demonstrate that the change went deeper than appearances.  While he worked hard to show Dianna and his father his remorse, they were also forced to look within and examine their own hearts and motivations.  I enjoyed that, while all of the characters were flawed in their own way, the growth that occurred was neither quick nor easy.  Each character had to make their own decision whether they could actually change, or whether they would remain mired in the mistakes of their pasts.  As Diana remembered her adopted father asking her, "Do you want to be right...or would you rather be righteous?"

I enjoyed this book, and while I wish I had read book 2 as well, the characters and story in this book were enjoyable on their own.  I give this book 3.5 stars.

You can find Beloved HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Zondervan, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Governess of Highland Hall - Carrie Toransky

Julia Foster has returned to England after spending 12 years assisting her parents as medical missionaries in India.  Due to her father's ill health, Miss Foster finds herself needing to seek employment to help her parents while her father recovers, after which, she assumes the family will return to their calling in India.  Feeling herself to be qualified to serve as a governess, having taught Indian orphans for 9 years, she is still surprised to find that this position at Highland Hall will include not only tutoring the motherless six and nine-year-old children of the master of the Hall, but also keeping his recently orphaned teen aged cousins in-line, as well as prepare them for the upcoming social season in London.  It's a lot to handle, and it doesn't help to add in a moody master, a challenging head housekeeper, and a rising doubt on just how strong her missionary calling might be.

The characters in this book really made it enjoyable for me; I cared about Julia and how she was working very hard to do her job and honor God at every turn.  Yet, she was not infallible, but was usually quick to apologize for her actions and seek to make them right.  Sir William was under so much pressure, both internally and without, that it would have been easy to make him one-sided and appear to be nothing but gruff to those around him, but with the viewpoint shared equally from his and hers, it made him a much more well-rounded character to see how deeply afraid he was to let down the people he loved.  Or to be let down yet again by someone else.  It was a struggle for him to believe that anyone could be as completely forthright and genuine as Miss Foster, but her depth of character couldn't be maligned even after several attempts by those seeking to discredit her in his eyes.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars.  It was decently written, with good depth to the characters.  The story was just average though, with nothing super exciting or challenging to make it stand out.  A decent read, and I will likely read the next installment in the series.

You can find The Governess of Highland Hall HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

Please consider ranking my review; it helps me continue to get great books to review!

I received a copy of this book from Watebrook Multnomah Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Hope is Found - Joanne Bischof

**Review is spoiler-free IF you've read the first 2 books of the series**

My Hope is Found is the third installment in the Cadence of Grace series.  Gideon has been released from Cassie to return to Lonnie, soon to be free to remarry her and reclaim his family.  Yet, it's not quite that easy.  First, the paperwork hasn't cleared, so Gideon isn't quite free after all, and when he does return to Lonnie, he finds that another man has tried to stake a claim on her heart.  While Gideon waits to be legally allowed to marry Lonnie again, he has to determine whether he really is the right man for her.  Meanwhile, Toby can acknowledge that the "right" thing to do would be to allow Lonnie to remarry her son's father, but he is unwilling to give up easily.

As excited as I was to receive this book to review, I put off starting it because I hated to have this story come to an end.  I have come to love these characters and I wasn't ready to let them go just yet.  Just as before, the fringe characters in this book really give the book life and vulnerability, yet this was really Gideon's book.  His time to change, or not.  His chance to grow up, or not.  His chance to really find God, or not.  Having loved Gideon's journey throughout the series, it was both hard and truthful to watch him work through these struggles of facing how his past mistakes had brought him to his present troubles.  While I would have liked a bit more of Lonnie's side and Toby's thoughts, the book was rich and deep the way it was written.  I spent much of the book on the verge of tears, feeling each man's troubled heart and Lonnie's struggle to be loyal, yet true to her heart.

I don't think I can give a complete review of my thoughts on this book without spoiling it for other readers.  But I will say that if you read the first two books, this will be a satisfying conclusion; and if you haven't read them - you should!

I give this book 4 stars - I have loved this entire series, and I am sad to see it end.  I look forward to seeing where the author takes us next!

You can find Joanne Bischof's site HERE.
You can follow her on Twitter HERE.
You can find my review of Be Still My Soul HERE,
and my review of Though My Heart is Torn HERE.

Please consider rating my review so that I can continue to receive great books to review!

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers, as part of their Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dark Road Home - Elizabeth Ludwig

Ana Kavanaugh has settled into her life in America, far from her childhood home of Ireland.  Her memories of her childhood are marred by the horrific fire that took her mother's and sister's lives and left her scarred.  She was fortunate to be swept away by a loving priest, who sent her across the ocean to be given a new name and a new life.  Why did she need to leave her home though?  What was the fire hiding, and what was behind it?  Eoghan Hamilton has been banished from Ireland, and was under suspicion of murder, which led to what he felt was betrayal by his twin sister.  When Ana and Eoghan's paths cross, their lives become intertwined as she discovers he is the lost brother her friend Cara has been looking for.  Can the hurts in their pasts be resolved?  Can Eoghan and Ana escape the people who are out to hurt them?

Dark Road Home is the second book in the Edge of Freedom series.  While I found myself wishing I had read the first book, this book was written well enough that I was able to enjoy it as a stand-alone novel.  The story quickly sucked me in, as both Ana and Eoghan were trying to reconcile the pain of their past experiences with God and the church against the loving, caring people they were encountering in the church where they were both drawn into serving.  Knowing that each of them had been badly hurt by people they thought loved them, their struggles with the church felt real and honest.  It was not an easy thing for them to heal or trust.  The ending of the book, however, was not satisfactory as a stand-alone novel; I definitely feel the need to read the third book!

This book was a fairly quick read, and I give it 3.5 stars.  I think if I'd had the background of the first novel and known more about the supporting characters' backgrounds, it would have been even more enjoyable.  But there was enough heart to the main characters, and enough intrigue and suspense to draw me in even without the benefit of the first book.

You can connect with the author HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

An Accidental Life - Pamela Binnings Ewen

Rebecca and Peter are a happily-married, career-driven couple, content in their long work days with an agreement that this is not a marriage for children.  Peter works hard as a district attorney, moving his way up, and Rebecca has paid her dues to work towards becoming the first female partner in her law firm.  She has neither time nor desire to be a mother.  However, as she starts to suspect she's pregnant, she finds herself weighing her options and wondering whether their agreement to stay childless is as concrete as she originally thought.  Meanwhile, Peter has encountered a case that involves live births at an abortion clinic and he and the detective on the case are gathering evidence to bring the doctor to trial.  As Peter and Rebecca are both dealing with the idea of new lives, how will this affect their marriage, their careers, and their faith?

This was a hard book to read, but very well written.  The idea of late-term abortions, live births, and infants left to die is hard enough to read about in a fictional setting, but knowing that a lot of the situation was based on real research and was very real to life, made it that much harder to process mentally.  I had to take about a week off of reading altogether once I finished this book because it sat that heavily on my heart and on my mind.  The book did not take the idea of abortion lightly; although the book clearly came on the side of life being a precious gift from God, it was not harsh in its treatment of women who'd opted for the procedure.  Even as Peter and Rebecca worked through what a child might mean to their lives and their careers, it was vulnerable, and real, and not an easy decision.

I give this book 4 stars, not without reservation.  This was a tough book to read, and I don't think it's for everybody.  However, the fact that the author tackled this topic, and tackled it well, makes it stand out to me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

You can find An Accidental Life HERE.
You can find the author's site HERE.

Monday, July 22, 2013

When Mockingbirds Sing - by Billy Coffey

Leah and her parents have moved from the city to the small town of Mattingly to reunite as a family.  Tom and Ellen even invite the whole town to Leah's birthday party, in an attempt to connect to the people of this outsider-averse community.  Things start out well, with Leah befriending a town girl named Allie, who looks past Leah's stutter and sticks with her, even as Leah's life begins to get stranger and stranger.  First, there's the Rainbow Man, who sings only to Leah and tells her things that nobody else should know.  Then there are the paintings - the first of which brings great blessings upon the town's forgotten.  But is this Rainbow Man real?  Is he good?  And are these paintings and prophecies of Leah's meant to help the town, or break it apart?

When Mockingbird Sings reminded me a lot of a book I read years ago, Keeping Faith, by Jodi Picoult.  A small girl who seemingly is tuned in to a powerful force, with the public divided over whether it's good, evil, or even real.  I won't do a comparison of the books here, but Picoult's book was in my head for most of the reading of this one.

I wasn't sure how to feel about this book; while I admired Leah's commitment to her journey, the story itself was so dark.  Leah's life was not easy; the Rainbow Man did not make things sunshine and roses.  Leah was outcast, doubted, and mocked.  At one point, almost the entire town teams up on her.  Yet, she stands her ground;  she believes in the Rainbow Man, and she believes she needs to do what he says and deliver his message to the people of Mattingly, no matter the cost to herself or her family, or her very best friend.  Additionally, there are multiple mentions of other "magic" that has happened in this town, hints that Leah is not the first person to experience strange things here, yet the stories of the past are never explained, even though one character promises to tell Leah's Father Tom the whole thing.  While Mr. Coffey has other books available that reference "a small Virginia town," there is no indication of these books being a cohesive series, and no reference to the order they're meant to be read in, if they're even connected.  This left me feeling like I'd missed a big part of the story, and it made it much harder for me to connect to the townsfolk.

Even with my frustration about the plot holes, I was drawn into Leah's world, and anxious to see how things turned out.  I wanted to know whether the Rainbow Man was on the side of good or evil, and I wanted to know what the prophecies meant for the town.

I give this book 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their Booksneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

You can read the first three chapters of the book HERE.
You can buy the book HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

The Language of Sparrows - by Rachel Phifer

Sierra Wright is a brilliant 15-year-old girl living in a rough part of Houston.  Only, most folks look past her brilliance because she works so hard to hide it, not talking to others, not turning in homework assignments, and not making friends.  A chance walk through a neighborhood across the bayou brings her to Luca's house, a house bare of any touches to make it a home, yet with a library filled with books and a man filled with insight for those other than his son.  People are suspicious of why a 15-year-old girl would be spending time in an old man's house, and accusations are cast.  Yet, Sierra's mother, April, can't discount the fascination her brilliant, withdrawn daughter has for this man, and April finds herself caught up in his story, and that of his son, Nick, the teacher who recognized Sierra's brilliance and kept her from bottoming out.  Four people, equally broken, yet for very different reasons.  Can they find a way to expose their truths and heal each other?

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  The characters are so broken, yet so real.  Their need for truth is so apparent, yet their wounds keep them from being able to spill their own stories until they learn that they will not only heal themselves, but their loved ones through telling them.  And overall, the knowledge that God is truth, and that He is there, even in the pain, is so real it's heartbreaking.  No, God doesn't heal all wounds.  No, God isn't always there in the way you want Him to be.  But He IS there.

In addition to the writing and the characters, I loved all the small details in this book.  I loved Sierra's fascination with languages, and the way she saw art in words.  I loved that Luca found peace through cooking and that he was always offering food to those who made it past his door.  I loved Nick's care of his father, even though he had been so hurt by him.  I loved how they all came together and apart and together again throughout the book as they healed and hurt and grieved and loved.  Even the side characters in this book were well-done and lent weight to the story and the main characters without making the plot too busy.

I very rarely give 5 stars to fiction books, but this one has earned it.  It was well-written, well-paced, and steeped in truth and vulnerability.  I highly recommend it.

You can find The Language of Sparrows HERE for only $2.39 on e-book right now!
You can find the author's website HERE.  I hope to hear more from this author soon!

Please tell me if you read this book and if it affected you as deeply as it affected me!

I received a copy of this ebook from David C. Cook publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stealing the Preacher - by Karen Witemeyer

Silas Robbins had given up his outlaw ways 16 years ago, for his wife and daughter; yet, for his daughter's birthday, he takes them up again to get her the one thing she wants most - a preacher for their abandoned church.  Little does Silas know that Joanna's reason for wanting a preacher is that she might have assistance in saving Silas's soul, a miracle for which Joanna has taken up the mantle of prayer from her mother who passed away several years ago.  An initially unwilling participant in this plan, Crockett Archer, the preacher whom Silas manages to kidnap, is drawn in by Joanna's gentle spirit and determination to demonstrate her faith to her father.  Can Crockett convince Silas that he's not the same as the preachers in Silas's past?  Can an old outlaw find his way to God when he's spent his whole life looking out for himself?

This book had much more heart than I initially expected.  If it weren't for the fact that I had accepted this book for review, I probably would have put it down after the first couple of chapters and not picked it up again.  However, I was glad that I persevered, because once I got past the awkward, cliched opening, the depth of the characters and meat of the plot made it worth the read.  Joanna's love for her father and desperation to see him become a believer was compelling; her depth of faith, yet need for a community of worshipers was thought provoking.  Crockett was a complicated character - a man of faith with the background of an orphaned cowboy, an oddity in his world, yet exactly what Silas needed.  If I could wish for one thing more from this book, I would have liked more depth to some of the side characters.  There were several characters with interesting stories or tidbits, but not enough information to make me invested in them.

I give this book 3.5 stars; it had more depth than your typical western romance, and I enjoyed it more than I expected.

You can find Stealing the Preacher HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE. (You can find a trailer for the book and read the first chapter there, as well)

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Anomaly - by Krista McGee

Within the State, productivity is paramount.  To this end, emotions, curiosity, and relationships are not only frowned upon, but they have been mostly eradicated through DNA manipulation of the generations.  However, Thalli is considered an Anomaly; created to be her pod's musician, she pours all of her illicit emotions into her music.  The creators of the State, the Ten Scientists, watch Thalli closely, and when it becomes obvious through her reactions to an ancient piece of music that she cannot function within the confines of the State's rules, they schedule her for annihilation.  Removed from her Pod, with only her childhood friend Berk, now a promising Scientist, fighting for her survival, Thalli meets John who speaks to her about the Designer.  What is Thalli to believe now?  Is there more to life than the Scientists allow?  Is there a purpose to her "malformation"? Is there any hope for her to escape death?  Does she even want to, or is death really only the beginning?

I was very excited to get this book for review - I really enjoyed Krista McGee's first trilogy, First Date, Starring Me, and Right Where I Belong.  This book did not disappoint.  Although a departure from the author's initial genre, delving into dystopia, her characters are just as well developed, and her fictionally generated world draws the reader in, making it easy to imagine living in a world where the earth's surface has been eradicated and the only remaining civilization is contained underground.  Eerily possible, too, is a world where the Scientists controlling such a world have erased any emotion or connection to God.  Yet, even there, there is a remnant of God's faithful, a sole believer who has survived to teach others of His existence.  This portion of the story really drew me in - as Thalli not only had to learn of a God she never heard of, but also concepts like love and marriage that were foreign to her.

Although the levels of manipulation within the story toed the line of implausible, the story was still well done, and I enjoyed it very much.  I was excited to see that it's the first in a trilogy, but heavily disappointed to see that #2 isn't due out until next summer!

I give this book 4 stars, and I can't wait to see where Ms. McGee takes this story!

You can find Anomaly HERE.
You can find Krista McGee's blog HERE. (She's even doing an iPad Mini Giveaway right NOW!)

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson publishers, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Wishing Tree - by Marybeth Whalen

Ivy Marshall left Sunset Beach, North Carolina, five years ago, turning her back on everything that her family expected of her, and assuming they slammed the doors behind her.  Now, the husband she left everything behind for has cheated on her, and so Ivy decides to use the excuse of helping her sister, Shea, with her televised wedding as a reason to run away from Elliott and return home to her family, her childhood memories, and...her ex-fiancee.  Can she mend fences within her family while she's here?  Can she re-fan an old flame?  As she is asked to work on Shea's Wishing Tree, an old family wedding tradition, Ivy is forced  to face her own wishes for the wedding she never had, and try to figure out what wishes she has for her future.

This book did not wow me.  Ivy, as the main character, drove me a little crazy.  For most of the book, she is so focused on reconnecting with Michael, her ex-fiancee, and ignoring Elliott, that she's not even trying to evaluate how she's gotten where she is.  She unceremoniously dumped Michael 5 years ago for Elliott, and now she's equally quick to want to switch back.  There is no sense of her even wondering if this is the right thing for her to do.  She eventually comes to realize that she needs to be forgiven as much as she needs to extend forgiveness, but it was hard to care about things working out for her when she seemed to care so little for the lives of the people around her.  While some of the other characters in the book were more likable, none of them were really given enough depth to save the book.  The theme of forgiveness and family, and looking to make a better future, no matter your mistakes in the past, could have been hit a little harder and made this book much richer.

I give this book 2 stars.  I kept hoping that Ivy would get beyond herself to make some changes, and so I kept reading, but I wish there had been more.

You can find The Wishing Tree HERE.
You can find the author's blog HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Zondervan, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Barefoot Summer - by Denise Hunter

Madison is determined to put her twin brother's death, and the resulting nightmares, behind her, and she thinks that fulfilling Michael's dream of winning the town's annual regatta before their 27th birthday will accomplish both.  Only two things stand in her way: her terror of water, and her fear of Beckett O'Reilly - the man who is going to teach her to sail.  Beckett has his own reasons for being apprehensive about this arrangement, but is determined to see it through.  Can Madison win the race?  Can she find a way to move on?  Will Beckett be the key to helping her heal, or will he only bring more pain?

I found myself really enjoying this book.  I loved Madison's determination to train and win the regatta, even though she froze at the mere sight of water, and didn't even know how to swim.  Although storylines of dead twins are really starting to freak me out, I could feel her grief that she'd refused to release about the loss of her other half.  Her search for healing, and how faith might relate to that, was compelling, and I wanted her to find a way to live her life well without Michael.  Beckett was an intriguing character on his own; his past and how he'd overcome it felt realistic and honest.  He had scars from his past that still affected the way he saw himself, but he was trusting God to see him through his new life.

I was excited to see that this was the first book in a series; I hope that the following books continue to expand on the other characters in Madison's family and that we continue to keep tabs on Madison and Beckett.

I give this book 4 stars for enjoyability.

You can find Barefoot Summer HERE.
You can find Denise Hunter's website HERE and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter from her site.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Most Peculiar Circumstance - by Jen Turano

A Most Peculiar Circumstance is a sequel to A Change of Fortune, the second in the Ladies of Distinction series, picking up with the rescue of Hamilton Beckett's wandering, adventurous sister, Arabella Beckett, who has found herself in jail after taking a detour from her speaking engagements to save a stranger's daughter from being sold into prostitution.  Predictably, the people she encounters during the rescue do not take kindly to their merchandise being stolen, nor to being shot by a woman, and so danger continues to follow her home.  Theodore Wilder, the private investigator sent to find Miss Beckett, finds himself in the position of continuing to protect this woman who both intrigues and enrages him.  While Arabella's eyes are being opened to the discord between her privileged, rich, life and the lives of the women she has encountered during her latest escapades, she has to search within herself to see whether she's trying to serve others or serve herself and her own causes.

I was very excited to read this book, since I loved Ms. Turano's first novel, and I wasn't disappointed.  Her characters are strong, deep, and humorous.  I absolutely loved the friendships that developed between Arabella, her sister-in-law Eliza (from Book 1), and Agatha (also from Book 1), and the addition of Theodore's sister Katherine.  They were funny and strong, yet never too independent to seek guidance from God, or to accept help from others.  Arabella was able to promote the cause of women's right to vote, yet  realize that she may have not been altogether altruistic.  She says "I've been so smug in my belief that God specifically chose me to change the lives of women, when in actuality it seems I'm the one whose life needs to change."  And change she does.  I love watching her growth through the book, even through her "peculiar circumstance[s]."

This book was also really well tied to the first novel, with a brief yet effective synopsis delivered via other characters filling in Arabella on what she missed while she was traveling.  I'm especially excited now to read book 3, looking forward to more of this writing style and continuing to enjoy the characters I've already come to love.

I give this book 4 stars.  Ms. Turano is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Perfecting Kate - by Tamara Leigh

Kate Meadows may not be living the "perfect" life, but she has always been fairly confident with who she is.  Even though she struggles with her frequently renewed vow of "Thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy," she continues to search for "the One."  When she and her fashionable housemate, Maia, are approached to be part of a roommate makeover article, she gives in, and finds herself enjoying not only the attention from the makeup artist, Michael Palmier, but also the attention she gets from the makeover.  However, as Michael continues to suggest additional things she should fix, and her client Dr. Clive Alexander continues to express doubt over her "improvements," she starts to wonder whether there's something deeper she needs to work on perfecting.

This book started out rough for me.  The character's description of herself as "twenty-nine years young (and holding, five foot seven (on tiptoe), 110 pounds (wrung out)...." felt so unrealistic that it immediately turned me off to the story.  (Seriously, 5'7" and 110 pounds would put her BMI at 17.2 - Underweight).  She later admits that those measurements were a stretch, and she's more like 5'3" and 125 pounds, much more realistic, and still healthy.  But the damage of her initial self-assessment was already done for me.  I couldn't get past her, and by extension the author's view of what constitutes beauty.  Kate does eventually realize that no matter what she does to change her appearance, that it can't change her heart, and she takes on a different project "Perfect Faith," which helps elevate the book to where I at least managed to finish it.

I give this book 2 stars.  I liked Kate, and wanted her to like herself - without all the crazy surgeries and cosmetic changes.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, and pushing herself to exercise was a noble goal, but I couldn't get on board with the overall focus of the book on unrealistic outward appearances.

Please consider rating my review (NOT the same as rating the book!)

You can find Perfecting Kate HERE.
You can find the Tamara Leigh's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not by Sight - by Kathy Herman

Five years ago, Micah Cummings and his daughter Riley Jo disappeared without a trace, and leaving behind only questions.  Had Micah chosen Riley Jo over his other sons and daughter to run away with and start a new life?  Had they gotten lost in the woods that Micah knew like the back of his hands?  Or had something darker and more sinister happened to them?  The biggest question, of course, is: are they alive or not?  Abby, Riley Jo's now 16-year-old sister, holds onto faith that they are still alive.  She tells her family she has seen a little girl who looks just like Riley Jo would now, but her mother and older brother refuse to give in to the hope that Abby tries to bring them, writing it off just like the other times Abby has thought she saw her sister.  However, Abby won't let this one go, and when she begins to receive threatening phone calls telling her to stop looking for the girl, she feels the need to figure out what's going on, because even if this little girl isn't her sister, she may still be in danger.

The fears and what ifs in this book felt very real - what would I do if somebody I loved disappeared without reason?  Would I hold on to hope, contrary to what everyone around me was telling me?  Would I see their faces everywhere I turned?  It was so easy to see the story from both sides - Abby holding onto faith that God would bring her father and little sister back to her alive, and Kate - so afraid to hope, yet unable to truly grieve after so much time without answers.  Abby's journey of faith, as she encourages her little brother Jesse to believe, was captured so completely in her explanation to Jesse of why she loves the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: "I love that story too.  What's also amazing is that they told the king they would trust God even if He didn't save them.  I'd love to have that kind of faith.  I don't yet."  The Christians in this book had to deal with real-world struggles - could they continue to believe even if it felt like God wasn't answering their prayers?

I give this book 3.5 stars.  It was well-written, and I could feel the characters' fears, hopes, and struggles.  It's the first in a series, and I look forward to following along with this family!

You can find Not by Sight HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Open Heart - by Harry Kraus, M.D.

Jace Rawlings has made a good life for himself in the United States as a cardiac surgeon, far away from his childhood as an MK - missionary kid - in Africa, and far from the God of his childhood.  And yet, due to extreme circumstances where Jace almost dies and believes his dead sister calls him to return to the place from their past, he doesn't hesitate.  Believing he's been sent by his sister, and perhaps by God Himself, Jace willingly returns to Africa to start a heart surgery program.  However, no matter how called he feels, the road isn't easy, and there seems to be much more at work than just the complicated politics of Kenya.  Can Jace let go of his past, find healing, and find the God who has chosen him?

This book was fast-paced, and a compelling read.  Jace struggles with deep loss and disappointment from his past, and has to decide whether he can trust the God he feels has forsaken him.  As the twin brother of a girl who loved God with her whole heart, Jace identifies with Esau and the Bible verse that says "Jacob have I loved. Esau have I hated."  That's a powerful image for him to get over, and his struggle to feel accepted by God is honest and heartwrenching.  His childhood as a missionary kid in a boarding school for missionary kids has turned him off to "Christianese," and that also feels very real in a world where people don't want to just hear big words that don't mean anything to them.   Additionally, Jace faces a spiritual battle that is very real to the world of Kenya, and the book even discusses how missionaries don't really talk about such things in the States, because nobody would believe it here.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars.  I liked it, it kept my interest, but I didn't love it.
I do enjoy the author's writing, and like how, for the most part, his inclusion of medical information enhances the story without confusing the reader.

You can find An Open Heart HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

afloat - by Erin Healy

Danielle Clement isn't completely satisfied with the choices she's made in allowing Tony Dean to become more than just protector and provider for her and her son, Simeon, but she figures as long as Simeon is taken care of, then it must be okay.  Until she and Simeon become stranded in the condo building that Tony has paid for during a sequence of events that cuts them and a small group of people off from the rest of the world. A sequence of not-entirely-natural events that not everybody will make it out of, and those that are left will be forced to confront not only their past choices, but make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.  Can Vance Nolan, the architect of the floating condominiums, convince Danielle that she deserves better and that she should trust him?  Or will Tony convince her that her only choice is to stick with him through it all?

This book was a little bit outside of my typical genre choice; there were floating silver lights, and unnatural floods and sun-darkening, and a man who appears and disappears at odd times.  However, it was well-done, and I thought that the stories that were woven together about fear and faith and how our choices affect our lives and relationships were engaging and thought-provoking.  Given the same situation, who would we trust?  How could we make choices to protect ourselves and our children given such limited information?  On the other hand, this sort of situation really revealed each person's inner character, and showed that you can hide your motives and true self for so long.

My favorite quote from the book was "It was a devastating kind of grace, but maybe all new beginnings were."  I think that sums up the book's impact nicely - letting go of the past and reaching for a new future is never easy, but oftentimes the only thing to do.

I give this book 3 stars.  Although the characters felt very true-to-life in that a lot of them weren't very likable, it made it hard to love the book.  I could root for Danielle to make better choices from here out, but I couldn't applaud her choices to this point.  One extra plus that the book had going for it, though, is that when I skimmed the Book Discussion questions at the end, I was impressed with their depth and the potential for meaningful conversation based upon them above and beyond the characters within the book.

You can find afloat HERE.
The author's website is HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Rescue Team - by Candace Calvert

Kate Callison has been running from her past for years, never staying in one place for long.  10 hospitals in 6 years, with the latest resting point being at Austin Grace Hospital as their interim Emergency Department Director.  While she hopes to make this stop permanent, she has some big shoes to fill of the previous ER Director who went missing six months ago.  In addition to Sunni's disappearance, the ER has been plagued with issues and the team Kate has stepped into isn't sure she's the one to help solve their problems.  The issues she's dealing with are stirring up Kate's own troubles, and while she's drawn to Wes Tanner, a member of the area's search and rescue team, she continues to insist she doesn't need rescuing.  Can Kate work with her team to get the hospital out of the media's hot water?  Can she reveal her past to Wes?  Can she find her own healing?

This book drew me in, and I found myself liking it more than I expected to.  Kate presents such a tragic figure of one who feels like her past is so unforgivable that she would rather run from it and try to hide it than to try to work through it for healing.  She keeps everyone at arm's length, certain that they would cast stones if they knew what she'd done.  Wes Tanner was a great love interest, having his own past to work through - a past that was definitely at odds with Kate's.  Although he had it in him to want to rescue everyone, he wasn't over-the-top in his interactions with Kate - he fell for her genuinely, and not for her unaccepted need to be rescued.  

There were, I felt, some inconsistencies within the story's characters - for instance, could a nurse really change jobs 10 times in 6 years?  Wouldn't that look sketchy on a resume?  But for the most part, it didn't affect the story enough to detract from it, it just added to the sense that Kate wasn't going to be able to settle down until she actually dealt with her past.  

I loved that there were no "perfect" characters within this novel.  Even those who were so busy helping others were dealing with their own messes, and nobody really pretended to be perfect.  

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars.  The focus of the book is really on Kate's path to healing, but the surrounding stories and characters help to get her there without getting in the way of her story.

You can find Rescue Team, and the first book in the Grace Medical series, Trauma Plan, HERE and HERE. (While Rescue Team is the second in the series, it stood well on its own, and appears to maybe have only a slight character carry-over.

You can find the author's website HERE. Her background as an ER nurse added a very real-life feel to this book.  I plan to look into some of her other books!
There is a Q&A from Tyndale with the author HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gone South - by Meg Moseley

"I am Letitia McComb. You can't change who I am."

Tish McComb has moved a lot in her life; when she finally decides to buy a house and put down her own roots where her family tree was planted many generations back, she finds that the name "McComb" may not be exactly something to be proud of.  In fact, she will find that many people wish they'd never heard the name McComb.  In addition, when she takes in the town's prodigal daughter, she further alienates her new community.  Can she change the perception of the name McComb?  Will people be willing to give her and her house guest a second chance?

I was really torn on how I felt about this book.  On the plus side, the characters were really well written, and I felt myself drawn into their lives.  I wanted Tish to find how to be a McComb in this town that hated McCombs.  I wanted her to succeed and to find friendship and love.  I wanted Mel to reunite with her family and find a path different from the one she'd traveled in the past.  Even the side characters, George and Calv and Mr. Farris - they had enough depth to make the town feel real, if not quite inviting.  Yet, maybe it's precisely because I liked the characters so much that I wasn't satisfied with their stories.  Mel not only doesn't seem to change, she never even truly acknowledges that she's messed up.

I give this book 3 stars.  I liked the story of Tish starting over, and helping Mel when nobody else would, and George being there for both of them.  However, as well as the characters related to each other, I wanted them to help each other to really grow and change, and that didn't happen.

You can find Gone South HERE.
You can find Meg's website HERE.
You can find more info about the book from the publisher HERE.

Please consider rating my review on the publisher's website!

This book is due to be released May 7, 2013, and is available for pre-order now!

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, as part of their Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Grave Consequences - by Lisa T. Bergren

Grave Consequences is the second book in the Grand Tour series.  This installment picks up after the Kensingtons and Morgans have survived an apparent kidnapping attempt in Paris.  The group has decided to continue on their tour of Europe, along with their guides and added security.  Pierre plans to meet up with them, to continue his pursuit of Cora's heart.  Have they lost their kidnappers?  Can they trust their own traveling companions?  And can Cora's heart decides whom it wants - Will, the faithful, steady, "normal" man who fits her old life, or Pierre, the dashing, wealthy, powerful man who epitomizes her new life?  Which life does Cora even want for herself?

I have to say that I was disappointed in this sequel to Glamorous Illusions.  When I read the first book, I was able to enjoy the story with the caveat that I wanted more - I wanted Cora to search harder for what this new life adventure meant for her and her relationship with God.  If possible, this book had even less of that - it was really about Cora deciding which suitor she wanted to accept.  There was a little bit in there of how this Tour had changed her life and changed who she was, but it didn't seem to be for the better, except that it made her richer and made her lief easier.  Her continuous doubts over whether to choose Will or Pierre felt very shallow.  It took her maid, Anna, talking about how working for the Kensingtons changed her own life, for Cora to even really evaluate whether she could make something good of the changes that had been forced upon her. And as much as Will fell in love with Cora for her intelligence and lack of airs, it didn't take long for her to become at ease with the grand dresses and to become more interested in Will instead of the lessons and education he was presenting on the tour.

Overall, I did not enjoy this book, even as much as the first.  I can only give it 2 stars.  It felt drawn out, and even the descriptions of the cities and sites were languorous.  Too much shallow pursuit, and too little internal soul-searching or depth of relationship made this book a rough read.  I will probably still read book 3 to see how it finishes, and I will continue to read Ms. Bergren's other works, as I have found them to be much more enjoyable, but this one was not a favorite.

You can find Lisa T. Bergren's site HERE. (I adore her children's books, and her River of Time series was a really fun Young Adult set!)
You can purchase the book or read an excerpt HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Though My Heart is Torn - by Joanne Bischof

Though My Heart is Torn is the second book in The Cadence of Grace series, the continuation of the story of Lonnie and Gideon.  In this installment of their story, we learn that Gideon was not free to marry Lonnie and live the life they've worked so hard to build together, but instead, that he is still legally married to Cassie Allan, a fact that her brothers and father intend to hold him to.  Irregardless of Lonnie and Gideon's love, or even their child together, in the eyes of the church and the law, Gideon is legally bound to Cassie.  Is there any way out of this mess?  Are the consequences of Gideon's past still haunting him and his new family, the family that has convinced him to finally step away from his selfish life and live for something greater than himself?  What will become of Lonnie and Jacob if this mess can't be fixed?

Wow.  I was so excited to be given the chance to review this book, given how much I loved the author's first installment, Be Still My Soul. This book didn't disappoint.  The characters were so rich and their struggles so engaging, that Though My Heart is Torn was an apt title for both the characters within and me, as a reader, on the outside.  My heart was torn with Gideon as he struggled to know what was right; the desperate need to be who he was now - the man who tried to live for God and others, even when the consequences of his selfish past choices could be pulling him away from the very people who changed him for the better.  My heart was torn with Lonnie as she was the one most affected by this past choice that she had no part in and yet because of it was about to lose the man, whom against her better judgement, she had come to love so deeply.  Perhaps the most surprising twist, however, was that my heart was even torn for Cassie - the woman who was coming between Lonnie and Gideon's love.  Even though Cassie was as much a part of the problem as Gideon, she was a real woman who had her own hurts and desires, and just wanted to be loved and accepted.  My heart was so torn that I didn't even know how I wanted the story to go.  Did I want Cassie to "conveniently" die so that the problem could be "solved" and Lonnie and Gideon could be back together?  Sometimes, but that would have done a great injustice to these characters and their depth.  Did I want Gideon to accept that Cassie was his true wife and love her as such?  Sometimes, but then I felt so hurt for Lonnie that I wasn't sure that would be a good answer either.  Did I want Lonnie to move on and find new love and be loved as she should?  Sometimes, but then that did a disservice to the love and growth and struggles that she and Gideon had come through.  Like I said, my own heart was torn throughout this book.

There were so many strengths in this novel that made me enjoy it.  It was a very strong sequel, standing alone as a complete and engaging story - I can't wait for the conclusion in Book 3, but it didn't leave me feeling incomplete.  (However!  I do HIGHLY recommend reading Book 1 before reading Book 2 - you really do need to get to know Lonnie and Gideon from the beginning)  Mostly, I enjoyed that Gideon's journey wasn't over.  Just because he changed in Book 1, and was getting to know who God is, didn't mean that he had it all together now, or that his faith was full.  He, very clearly, was still learning, as he still called God "that God of yours" to Lonnie, and was still trying to figure out what this faith thing looked like.  Having to deal with the actions of his past, the "old" Gideon, was such a compelling part of who he is now - turning to God didn't magically erase who he used to be, but it did greatly affect how he dealt with the consequences.

I highly recommend this series.  It is so atypical from much of the Christian fiction available; there is so much depth, and the author doesn't shy away from the hard things in life, yet deals with them honestly and sensitively.  I gladly give this book 4 stars, and can't wait to see what happens with the rest of the story!

You can find the author's website HERE.  (She is so down-to-earth and easy to relate to - and she responds personally to comments on her blog!)
There is more info about Though My Heart is Torn HERE.
And you can read the first chapter HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, in exchange for my honest review.

Please consider ranking my review so that I can continue to receive great books to review!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Heiress of Winterwood - by Sarah E. Ladd

It's 1814, and Amelia Barrett has promised her friend Katherine that she will care for Katherine's daughter, Lucy, as her very own, as Katherine is dying.  However, her fiance Edward Littleton is deadset against raising a child who isn't his.  Amelia is committed to keeping Lucy, to the point of proposing a marriage of convenience to the child's father, Captain Graham Sterling, when he returns from sea, regardless of the scandal this could cause within her family.  In addition, Amelia's very inheritance is dependent on her being married before her 24th birthday, a mere 5 weeks away.  Will Amelia find a solution?  Will Captain Sterling agree to marry her?  Or will Edward agree to let her keep Lucy? Is everyone who they seem to be, or is someone looking for more than they say they are out of these arrangements?

The plot of this story was intriguing; the idea of a woman proposing marriage to a man she didn't know in 1814 did feel extreme and scandalous.  Amelia seemed to be a strong, confident woman for the time, and her commitment to Lucy was admirable.  Captain Sterling was also an interesting character of his own, dealing with his own issues and guilt from his past.  I especially enjoyed that both main characters had their own issues that were shaping their faith separate from each other.  Neither character was set up to be the savior of the other, and in fact, both Amelia and Captain Sterling had their own mentors in the form of an older woman and man, respectively.  That was a big reason that I enjoyed this book, watching each of them travel their own roads and deal with their own struggles without depending on the other.  And their mentors, Jane Hammond, and Captain Sulter, were able to talk them through by relaying their own difficult pasts, and how they had relied on God through their troubles.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  While the conclusion was fairly obvious from early in the book, and was a bit over-the-top drama wise, I did enjoy the main characters and their journey towards God and towards a relationship that was more than just convenient.  I did wish for a bit more of their story after where the book chose to end, but maybe that's the sign of a good book.  I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.  This is the first book in a series; I'll be interested to see where the series goes - whether it follows the same characters, or picks up with somebody new.

You can find The Heiress of Winterwood HERE.
Sarah E. Ladd's Goodreads page is HERE.  (While a page for the author comes up on Google, the link did not appear to be working.)

I received a copy of this e-book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Invisible - by Ginny L. Yttrup

In Invisible, Ellyn, Sabina, Twila are all women struggling with issues that they think that nobody else can see.  Well, except maybe Ellyn, who thinks that the only thing people see when they look at her is her weight.  Sabina has come to Ellyn's town ostensibly to heal, but is she looking to be healed or merely trying to hide?  Twila has a gift from God that allows her to sense others struggles, but what about her own struggles with her father and how that relationship has manifested itself upon her life and health?  These three women are fighting separate battles, yet they find their paths and lives woven together and may find that helping each other leads to healing within their own lives.

I was eager to read a second book by Ginny L. Yttrup, and while the first book I read may have impacted me more deeply, this one did not disappoint.  The depth of the relationships and how the author weaves them together so seamlessly, so that each woman is integral in the healing of the other two was engaging and felt honest and vulnerable.  The individual characters are so deep and layered that they quickly become people that the reader will care about.  Ellyn's struggles with not only her weight, but with the voice in her head that tells her that she doesn't deserve more in life, is understandable.  Twila's insight into other people and her courage to face her fears knowing that she is created in the image of God is unexpected, refreshing, and adds depth to the story.  Sabina's own struggles with depression, even though she has her doctorate in psychology, gives her a base from which to help her friends, but it also makes her vulnerable, imperfect, and allows others to show her the love of God.

As in the first book I read, Ms. Yttrup uses a single author's quotes, in this case Saint Augustine, to open each chapter.  The quotes lend an extra weight of thoughtfulness to the story, and the continuity of a single voice gives a cohesion to the journey of the characters as they discover their need for God's healing.

Perhaps the strongest theme from this book that will stick with me can be echoed in a character's thought: "I don't have to be all things to all people.  I'm not the only person God will use in someone's life."  Each of the characters within this book, even the "minor" ones had a very real impact on the lives of those they touched.  It's a wise thought to keep with us as we interact with those in our own lives.

I give this book 4 stars.  It was well-written, with depth and insight that will continue to make me think.

You can find more about the author HERE.  (I certainly plan to keep up with her upcoming novels!)

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stress Test - by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Dr, Matt Newman is trying to make some positive changes in his life.  He thinks he's met the woman he wants to marry, and he is adjusting his career to make marriage possible.  However, one last, late-night, on-call visit to the hospital where he's been working results in his kidnapping and attempted murder.  Now, he's trying to avoid being charged with homicide himself, while trying to stay away from the men who keep trying to finish the job they botched.  Can he, along with his new attorney, find a way to keep him alive and clear his charges?  And what state will his life and career be in even if they do succeed?

For the most part, I thought this was a well-written book.  I was turning pages as fast as I could read them to make sure that Matt would survive.  I liked watching the attorney-client relationship develop, and tentatively stretch a little further.  The romance aspect was slow and subtle, and only added to the book.  Also realistic and engaging, was Matt's search for a deeper faith to grab hold of during this crazy, tumultuous ride.  He didn't reach for God for anyone else's benefit, but he found peace in knowing that God was in control, no matter whether his desperate pleas for help were answered or not.

However, there were several gaps in the plot that detracted from the overall enjoyment of the book for me.  I felt that instead of just trying to get Matt cleared of charges, he and his attorney would have been working to find out the reason he'd been targeted in the first place.  The answers he was eventually given felt a little thin given the complexity of the plot to kill and/or frame him for murder.  There were so many shady characters involved in the crimes and cover-ups that I wanted it to tie together a little more neatly.  Also, Matt's character, as a doctor and surgeon with a quick-working mind, should have been  more observant of things like missing keys and planted evidence.  It didn't ring true that the criminals were able to get to him so easily and so often.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.  I really did like Matt and Sandra, the attorney; I wanted Matt to get his life back, but make it better along the way.  I liked several of the minor characters, and they added key components to the story without feeling contrived.

You can find Stress Test HERE, including a video to watch.

The author is a retired physician, adding medical details that make the characters authentic, without being over the reader's head.  You can find his website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.