Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Good Year

I set a goal of reading 60 books this year; it felt attainable, without feeling like too much stress to reach my goal.  Two years ago, I read 77 books, but when I set the goal of 75 books last year, I didn't make it.  Sometimes, I read such a good book that I get spoiled and the first several books I pick up after it just won't do, and I set them aside without finishing them.  Sometimes, I just get too busy, or too caught up in TV shows, or other time wasters, to get much reading in.  But this year was a good year, a good balance of books that held my attention, with a few great ones along the way; overall, I finished 87 books!  (According to Goodreads, and trusting that I remembered to add every book I read)  Goodreads tells me that I read almost 26,500 pages; to me, that's a more telling number than just the number of books I read.  I didn't just read books this year, I read BIG books.  (Hello? The Goldfinch?)

As I look back over my books from this year, I realize yet again, that I am incredibly stingy with 5-star ratings.  To me, 3-stars means average, and over the course of the books I read, most of them should average out to 3 stars.  I still like 3-star books; I love 4-star books; but 5-star books are something extra special - a book I can't put down, or stop thinking about, one that sticks with me long after I put it on the shelf, return it to the library, or archive it on my Kindle.  Sometimes, to be fair to the author, because I really do think my 3-stars and 4-stars are good books, I will adjust my rating upwards on a public review.

Anywho - without further ado, here are some of my favorite books from the year, spanning random genres, topics and authors!

Middle Grade
Counting by 7s - Holly Goldberg Sloan

My book club seemed to have a running theme of orphans and/or gifted kids this year, and this book had both.  But it was so quirky and fun that it rose above the others as one of my favorites this year.

Love Mercy - Lisa Samson and Ty Samson

I picked this up from my church library on a whim, because it was on an end cap, but I was so glad I did.  I have loved a lot of Lisa Samson's fictional work (see below!), and I loved this non-fictional account by her and her daughter of not only their trip to Africa, but their transition to a new lifestyle that they were being called to.  It was humorous, but it was also eye opening and heart changing.  It's difficult, if not impossible, to read an account like this and not feel more compassionate to "others."

Runaway Saint - Lisa Samson (again)

Another book that I loved for a storyline that made me think and that wasn't afraid to break traditional Christian fiction boundaries to talk about family dysfunction and the impacts on people's lives.  I mentioned that this was a book I planned to re-read, and it's definitely going on my 2015 TBR list again.

Some other books that weren't maybe my favorite-favorites of the year, but that I enjoyed nonetheless:

Unspoken/Undetected  - Dee Henderson

Although I didn't love Full Disclosure, I did love these two books that joined the series.  I love Dee Henderson's military books, and I still have high hopes that there will be a book about the third brother from this family!

Cress, audio book - Marissa Meyer

I'm not usually one for audio books, because I tend to get distracted by the narrator's character interpretations, but I really really enjoyed this one, mostly because the narrator was fantastic.  I enjoyed the other books in The Lunar Chronicles, but the narrator made this book even better for me.

And as an extra bonus, here are some of the books I'm most excited to see come to print in 2015.  (I'm not usually a reader who looks ahead, but several of my favorite authors have new releases coming out that I've been waiting anxiously for!)

Reservations for Two, by Hillary Manton Lodge

This is book 2 in the Blue Door Series, of which book one was Table by the Window - a book I immediately purchased for a friend before I'd even finished it.

The Art of Losing Yourself - by Katie Ganshert
I have loved every book by this author, and I can't wait to read more!  Every book has depth, and growth, and great characters.

Flames - by Ginny Yttrup

Ginny Yttrup is one of those authors whose words and stories are so carefully chosen and woven together that they impact me far beyond the few days I spend devouring them.  She has chosen to publish this one independently, and I am eagerly awaiting its debut!

Still Life - by Christa Parrish
Christa Parrish is another author whom I can't get enough of; her plots and characters are so unusual, yet so well-written, that I enjoy each one immensely.

This Quiet Sky - by Joanne Bischof
Okay, this one's a cheat, because I already own it, but I just haven't had time to read it yet.  This is a novella based on the early life of one of her characters from her earlier series, The Cadence of Grace series, every one of which I loved.

SOOO,,,,There we go!
What were your favorite books of 2014?
What books are you looking forward to in 2015?
Do you set reading goals?

Note: While some of the books above were provided to me for review (and I've tried to link to my reviews where applicable), this post was solely written as a recollection of the books I've enjoyed and look forward to.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

To Know You - Shannon Ethridge, Kathryn Mackel

Julia Whittaker lives a good life running a boutique wedding planning business with her husband Matt.  Even as they share their success, however, not all is well.  Their son, Dillon, has suffered from a liver disease that requires a transplant, and time is running out to find a donor.  Every person in their lives that has been willing to be tested has not been a match, and their options are almost out.  Except for the option of locating Julia's two daughters who were born out of wedlock within 18 months of each other to different fathers and each given up for adoption before Dillon was born.  Can Julia face the risk of seeking out her daughters for her son's sake?  Will they be willing to even meet with her, much less hear her out and be willing to be tested for a surgery to help a brother they've never known?  What about their new families and all of the twists and turns that this will cause in relationships with siblings, adoptive parents, birth parents and more?

While I've read several books where a previous child given up for adoption turns up out of nowhere to wreak havoc on a "stable" marriage, this was a turn on the adoption story that I'd not read before.  Julia had been upfront with her husband about her past, and he knew that there were daughters, and the men who'd fathered them, in Julia's past life.  Her love for Dillon, her fear of his dying, but the risk of opening herself up to these daughters she'd loved enough to let go of was an interesting storyline that worked pretty well.  How do you get someone to agree to something this big when you've had no relationship established in the past?  How quickly can you find common ground to relate to each other on when every day could be the last day to make the decision?  Although some things happened perhaps a little too quickly for real life (would anyone just jump on a private jet with the "mom" you'd just met, to fly across the country?), for the most part, people's reactions and emotions were realistic.  There were a lot of tangled knots to work through, and they were handled fairly thoroughly.  There was a side plot with Julia's second daughter that I wasn't entirely sure needed to be in the storyline, but it did draw the characters together and further their relationships.  It felt like it was there for the shock value, though, and may be tough for some readers to handle.

I give this book 3.5 stars.  I wish that I'd read it before Veil of Secrets, but even still, it was enjoyable and I didn't feel like I knew *too* much of what was going to happen.

You can find To Know You HERE.
You can find Shannon Ethridge's site HERE.
You can find Kathryn Mackel's site HERE.

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

Meant to Be Mine - Becky Wade

Ty Porter and Celia Park connected in high school as friends, although Celia would have loved more.  Given the chance to see Ty show his stuff as a champion bullrider in Las Vegas, Celia finds herself caught up in a whirlwind romance that she's always dreamed of, ending up at the cheesiest of Las Vegas wedding chapels.  Those dreams are quickly dashed with Ty's first words the morning after, and Celia finds herself alone again, although, not exactly.

While there were aspects of this plot that were foreseeable, I appreciated that the author did stray away from the particular trap of having the girl catch the guy in a situation that looked worse than it was.  I appreciated Celia's feistiness and reluctance to allow Ty back in wholeheartedly.  Even her struggle with forgiveness felt authentic, and not trite.  Forgiving what Ty had done should not have come easily, and it didn't.  Uncle Danny, Addie, Ty's family, and other side characters helped round out the story.  It looks like this a series, with the first book being about Ty's brother Bo and his wife Meg; I can hope that there will be another book about their brother Jake.  This is a family I'd like to read more about!

I give this book 4 stars; I was invested in the characters and sucked into the story of their personal and interpersonal development and healing.

You can find Meant to Be Mine HERE.
You can find Becky Wade's site HERE.
You can like her on FB HERE and follow her fun Pinterest challenges with Katie Ganshert , including one where they tried to replicate this very cover!

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

House of Living Stones - Katie Schuermann

Emily Duke has come to Bradbury, Illinois, to seek a fresh start.  Hired by Pastor Fletcher to be the new choir director at Zion Lutheran Church, and teaching classes at the local college, she feels like this small town will be the perfect place to settle in and move on with her life.  However, as seems typical for small towns, there are histories and quarrels and jealousies inherent with the community that Emily unwittingly sets herself into the middle of.  Can she be open about her past? Can  she find a way to actually move on, trust people, and God with her future?

This book had so much potential: small-town gossips and rivalries and broken relationships; a young, single, woman moving to a town home to a young, unmarried, cleric, and a handsome English professor at the college, an eccentric organist at the Lutheran church, and a brilliant piano student with piercings and black eyeliner who agrees to accompany the choir.  The book was full of quirky, interesting characters, and I loved them, but I wanted more.  I wanted to see the friendship between Emily and Rebecca be more; the little that there was was precious, and they could have added so much more to the story.  I loved Ben Schmidt, the lawnmower, and Caroline, the tortured heiress.  Mrs. Scheinberg, the church secretary was well-developed, turning into a character you couldn't be irritated at, even after her rough introduction.  But in the end, the book was just a little too clunky for me to fully enjoy; some of the characters seemed to be there only to serve a means to the end of the plot the author had envisioned, without giving them enough weight to be enjoyed in their own right.  There were several sections that encompassed a single analogy, but ones that didn't fit the book.  Comparing communion to a football game?  Maybe if the pastor is an NFL fan.  An entire scene compared to fishing and boating? Would make sense if the characters involved shared a passion for bass, or trout, or anything related to fish.  But they didn't, and it made those scenes feel like the author was reaching for a tool that wasn't quite right for the job.  Additionally, the title was intriguing and grabbed me immediately, but other than a question in the discussion questions, the author didn't build upon it.  It felt like a title worthy of entering the story to enrich it, but it was left to the reader to ponder it, or leave it behind on the cover.

It looks like this book is to be part of a series, and I liked the characters enough that I'm looking forward to see how the town moves forward.  I hope that the writing will smooth out as the author settles into her characters, and that the writing itself will enhance the story rather than detract from it.

I give this book 3 stars; I loved the cover and loved the characters, but felt that the book didn't reach its potential.

You can find House of Living Stones HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A November Bride - Beth Vogt

In A November Bride, personal chef Sadie McAllister has just been dumped by text. Again.  She grapples with lingering childhood insecurity over the teasing she endured, and wonders if she'll ever find someone who makes her feel beautiful.  Just as she's offered a great job several states away, her long-time friend and serial dater, Erik, asks her out.  On a real date.  Can she trust him?  Will they ruin their friendship?  Or can they build something beautiful out of a lifelong friendship?

I enjoyed Sadie and Erik's story; their friendship and the leap it took to let them move beyond it felt real, and even with the compressed storyline of a novella didn't feel extremely rushed.  As with many of the Year of Weddings novella, I did feel that the wedding itself was forced into a timeslot due to the construct of the series.  While I can appreciate the desire for a short engagement, especially between friends who have known each other so long, going from *just* friends to married in just a month feels incredibly short.  However, I did enjoy the unusual twist to the wedding scene.

I give this novella 3.5 stars; I enjoyed the characters, and their relationship - both as friends and as more.

You can find A November Bride HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.  This is a new author to me, but one whom I intend to look for again!

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

October Bride - Katie Ganshert

Emma's dad has terminal cancer, and when she discovers his Bucket List only has 1 item remaining on it, she will do whatever she can to help him complete it.  Only, the last item is to walk her down the aisle, and she's missing a groom to meet at the other end.  When she confesses her wish to her long-time friend, Jake, he offers to be that man for her - a fake wedding to give her dad what he dreams of.  But can Emma follow through?  Can she fool her dad, and her heart, into a fake wedding?

The Year of Weddings series has been a little hit or miss for me, but this one was definitely a hit.  My only problem with it was that I wanted it to be a full novel!  I wanted more of Jake and Emma's story!  While the author managed to not make the story feel overly rushed in so few pages, I really wanted to be able to savor their connection and history, and let it build up to the inevitable ending.  I wanted to get to know the side characters, too - the best friend Lily, the smirky brother Liam - oh and I want their story, too!

As far as novellas go, I give this one 5 stars - It's hard to make a novella compact but satisfying.  I can only hope that the author decides to expand this story though and give us some longer books!

You can find October Bride HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE. (I highly recommend all of her books!)

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride - Judith Miller

Laura Woodfield and her mother are looking to sell her late father's brickyard to someone who will make it a  success and carry on the legacy of her father's work ethic.  Ewan McKay and his Uncle Hugh are looking to buy a brickyard and establish a new life in America.  Ewan has his sisters in Ireland to think of, and his own personal faith and commitment to making fair deals and working honestly, but his uncle has different ideas of success.  Can there be any common ground between such disparate goals?

This book was a mixed bag for me; I liked Laura and her commitment to not giving in to a bad deal.  I liked that she stood her ground against people trying to take advantage of her or her mother.  I liked Ewan and his commitment to helping his sisters and to honesty, even when it angered the people who held the key to getting his sisters to America.  But beyond those two, most of the characters in the book just angered me.  And not the "every book needs an antagonist" kind of way.  Truly annoyed me.  The lying, the dishonest dealings, the using people for political gain, the dissatisfaction with anything less than perfect, the need for social rules and status - it was too much for me.  There were too many characters I didn't like, and they overshadowed the parts I did enjoy.

I give this book 2.5 stars.  Books don't need to be all happy, all the time for me to enjoy, but I don't like feeling so angry at the characters within a book for so much of it.

You can find The Brickmaker's Bride (Refined by Love #1) HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playing by Heart - Anne Mateer

Lula Bowman, formerly known by friends and family as Fruity Lu for her flightiness, has not only settled down but is pursuing a path to become the first female in Oklahoma with a PhD in mathematics.  She enjoys math and teaching, but she also desperately wants her father's approval for such pursuit, and she wants her family to take her seriously.  But when her brother-in-law dies suddenly, and her sister is left with four kids to raise, her family tells Lula that she is the only one who can put her life aside to come to Jewel's aid.  Can Lula put aside not only her dreams, but her father's?  Can she be taken seriously as a music teacher and, of all things, as a girls' basketball coach when she knows nothing of the new sport?  Can she put aside her own ambitions and listen to God's calling to serve her family?

The decision between one's own responsibilities and a family's needs is never an easy one; and this book did not make light of Lula's choice.  She struggled with her own need to be taken seriously, and delighting her father who had only noticed her when she chose an academic path.  Yet, her compassionate heart couldn't leave her sister stranded and she felt the weight of all Jewel had done for her when her mother died.  Even as she made the decision, however, life didn't suddenly fall into place and get easier.  There were continual choices to make and consequences to either decision.

I found the basketball storyline amusing - it's hard to imagine the start of the sport where girls were not to cross beyond their sections of the court, so as to not cause them "strenuous physical exertion." A time where coaches were not allowed to speak to their team during the game, and where there were 6 girls to a side.  But it was interesting to see Lula throw herself into learning the game, at least the academics of it, and watch her realize that, much like her music, she couldn't truly understand or enjoy it until she let her heart and passion get involved.

There were many strong points to this story - Lula's conflict of career and family, her struggle between academics and passion, and her turmoil over her job's code of conduct, and the direction her heart pulled her.  While definitely a romance, this book had several deeper themes to give the reader things to think about beyond its pages.

I give this book 3.5 stars.
You can find a copy of Playing by Heart HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Full Steam Ahead - Karen Witemeyer

Nicole Renard is the only daughter of the successful business owner of Renard Shipping.  Rumors abound that her father's success is directly tied to his possession of the Lafitte Dagger, a rumor pervasive enough to drive her father's competitors to threats and violence to possess it themselves.  Determined to find her father a worthy heir, in the form of a husband that she chooses, Nicole sets off for New Orleans, only to be waylaid in a small town along the way.  The small town where Darius Thornton is known as the eccentric hermit who occasionally blows things up at his property outside of town.  Most people don't know that he is actually doggedly pursuing ways to prevent steamship disasters.  In need of money to continue her journey, Nicole ignores Darius' request for a male secretary and the town's warnings about him, and proves her worthiness as not only a transcriber of notes, but of a contributor to his experiments.  But what of her own pursuit, and pursuers?  Will she risk the lives of those she's come to care for if she's found, or will she run away again?  And what of the heir for her father?

Once again, I felt misled by a cover; I expected a much fluffier book, with a sort of wilting heroine.  I found much the opposite; Nicole Renard was an intelligent, brave, independent woman, with a strong sense of family loyalty.  She was willing to make necessary sacrifices for her father, but with an eye to not sacrificing her own well-being along with them.  I loved watching her relationship with Darius develop, as she proved that she was not only capable of copying his chicken scratch, but interpreting it and correcting it as necessary.  I may have a weak spot for heroines who excel at math. Ahem.  Additionally, watching the other characters come to care for her and her for them made the story warm and gave it depth.   Nothing was solved easily, but there was hope for all, and it was enjoyable watching it all come together.

I give this book 3.5 stars.  I'm glad that I picked it up to read, despite the cover!

You can find Full Steam Ahead HERE.
You can find Karen Witemeyer's site HERE.
I have enjoyed several of Ms. Witemeyer's books; you can find my review of Stealing the Preacher HERE.

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

Red Gloves Series - Karen Kingsbury

Red gloves: a symbol of giving, of hope, of Christmas miracles.

Gideon's Gift:
Earl is mired in misery and grief, living a life on the streets with only his red gloves for comfort.  When they're stolen, is all hope gone?  Gideon is living with leukemia and praying for a Christmas miracle; her parents want that miracle to be her remission, she wants something bigger - for Earl to believe again.  Will either get their miracle?

Hannah's Hope:
Hannah is driven, wealthy, and has strong political connections.  She's also lonely, living the majority of her life alone with her overly formal grandmother while her parents serve as ambassadors in Sweden.  Her wish for a Christmas miracle is to spend Christmas with her parents.  Until her mother drops the bomb that her dad is really her stepfather, and she hasn't seen Hannah's biological father in 11 years.  Could she find her father and see her mother for Christmas?

Maggie's Miracle:
Megan's son is floundering, spending his days with a grandma who can't keep up with his energy and having a mom whose career goals keep her chained to her office.  In desperation, Megan signs her son up with a mentor program that connects single adults with grieving children; in this case, connecting a grieving young widower with the son of a woman who has long given up on love.  Perhaps this connection could be healing for more than just a child.

The first thing to note about this series is that it appears to be a re-release with new covers.  When I requested these for review, I did not realize they were several years old.  I may have, in fact, read some of them closer to their original release; however, it was fun to read several of them back-to-back to gain a continuity of the theme.  Being that these are Karen Kingsbury books, you can count on everything working out well for everyone in the story, even if there are rough patches along the way.  But sometimes you need that kind of story, for hope, for encouragement, or just for something light to read that might make you cry, but still turns out okay.  The addition of the Christmas setting to these stories only serves to emphasize the miracles that occur, and the faith of those waiting for them.  I did enjoy the variety of characters and settings, although all three that I read include children, they range from a child with cancer, to a single mom trying to help her son, to an independent, well-off teenager searching for love and answers.

I give this series 3 stars; I would recommend the set as a gift for some light Christmas reading.

You can find Karen Kingsbury's site HERE.

I received a copy of these e-books from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sheerluck Holmes and The Case of the Missing Friend

Sniffy has gone missing, and Sheerluck Holmes is on the case!  Who has hurt Sniffy's feelings?  Can the veggies make him feel better?

My kids love the Veggie Tales books, and having one they could read themselves was fantastic.  My first grader was able to read this book the whole way through, with help on just a few words.  Not only were the words simple enough for a first grader, but the story was sweet and clear.  My sons quickly caught that the veggies had made Sniffy feel bad, even without meaning it, and that the way they made him feel better was to apologize.  I see this being a book that gets read over and over in our house, by the 5-year-old, the 6-year-olds, and Mommy!

4 stars to this cute easy reader.

You can find Sheerluck Holmes and The Case of the Missing Friend HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Zonderkidz, in exchange for my honest review, as part of the Booklook bloggers program.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes - by Betsy St. Amant

Kat Varland enjoys baking in her aunt's bakery, Sweetie Pies, but she longs to serve more gourmet flavors than vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, the only recipes allowed in the bakery.  So she practices her unique combinations on Lucas Brannen, high school football coach and her best friend.  Her best friend who happens to have fallen in love with her, and to show her, decides to sign her up for a reality baking show. He wants Kat to know how good she is, but he didn't count on the show's grand prize being a year's internship in New York - a long way from Bayou Bend, Louisiana.  If she wins, can he let her go?  Or does he hope she loses?

In general, there were no big surprises in this plot, best friends who have individually realized they have feelings for the other, yet don't want to ruin their friendship by putting those feelings out there if the other person doesn't feel the same way.  However, the reality competition was fun, and Kat and Lucas were fairly cute in their attempts to preserve their friendship while hiding their feelings.  Kat's cupcakes sounded delicious, and I really wished my copy had included the recipes she prepared (It looks like the final editions will include at least some of them, but the early release left them out).

This was a good summer read, and I really really want a cupcake now.
I give this book 3 stars.

You can find All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes 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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Revolutionary - Krista McGee

Revolutionary  is the third and final installment in the Anomaly trilogy.  Thalli, Berk, Rhen, Dallas, and Alex are back in the State, under the control of Dr. Loudin.  They are trying to find a way to work together to thwart his plans to remain in control of not just the State, but to reach out and control or annihilate the remaining pockets of survivors on the surface.  Can Thalli trust the Designer to work all things for good?  How does she explain the things she learns of and the horrors she witnesses?  Can she and her friends stop Dr. Loudin?

I have enjoyed this series, beginning with Anomaly, and found this to be a fairly satisfying conclusion.  Dr. Loudin is written as so truly evil that I hated him passionately as I read, and I ached for Thalli and her friends as they experienced his torture and twisted plans.  He was truly a futuristic-based Hitler.  As true to character as his plotline fell, it was hard to read; the torture and deaths were agonizing and grievous.  My biggest issue was that I felt that the ending was abrupt, and it left me feeling unresolved.

Overall, I feel like this trilogy is a viable alternative to the current YA dystopia trend.  There may be more complex storylines and settings, but this trilogy's search for meaning and the Designer gives this series depth and purpose that a secular book would leave untapped.  Thalli's experiences, within her constructed setting, of searching for faith and experiencing God - as well as her doubts - rang true, and not over-the-top.  I could definitely see this trilogy as a set of movies or a mini-series; the cast of developed characters was small, but well-rounded, and the setting was intriguing and easily visualized.

I give this book 3.5 stars.  Having read everything the author has written thus far, I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

You can find Revolutionary HERE.
You can find Krista's website HERE.

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Veil of Secrets - Shannon Ethridge and Kathryn Mackel

Melanie Connors has been through the stress and excitement of a campaign battle before, with her father as the candidate.  Now that her husband is running a presidential campaign, and her daughter is involved with the process, she can't ignore the toll it has taken on her marriage and the scars she suffered in her past.  Will loves Melanie, but can't seem to break through to her heart to get their marriage back on track.  How can they find each other again, in the midst of election chaos, while also dealing with potential terrorists, political scandals, and family trouble all around them?

I've said this before about other books, but it fits well here: this is not an easy book to read.  That isn't to say it isn't a good book, or that it doesn't hold the reader's attention, but that there are several trigger areas that may be difficult for many readers.  Marriage struggles, infidelity, miscarriage, unplanned pregnancy, statutory rape, drug and alcohol use, and prostitutes - all topics included in this book.  Logical in the storyline, dealt with sensitively, but there all the same.  The overarching theme of the story is what Will and Melanie have to do to heal their marriage, and whether they're willing to deal with their pasts and their individual mistakes and scars to get to a better place, together.  Their storyline is done well; it's not glossed over, it's not made to seem easy, but they both have to put a lot of work into understanding where the other person is coming from.  Society frequently tells us that if a marriage is broken, it's easier to dispose of it and move on than to invest in the reparation of the relationship.  This book says differently, and it's an important message.

I give this book 4 stars; books that tackle hard topics can't be easy to write, but this book does it well.
I do wish I had known this was book 2, however, because I would have liked knowing some of the characters better from their earlier story.

You can find Veil of Secrets HERE.
You can find Shannon Ethridge's site HERE (along with lots of resources related to the topics she writes about).
You can find Kathryn Mackel's site HERE.

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Miracle in a Dry Season - Sarah Loudin Thomas

Perla Long arrives in 1954 Wise, West Virginia with a daughter, no husband, and a mysterious gift with food.  The fatherless daughter raises eyebrows and turns some backs, but when the town experiences a horrible drought, can they allow themselves to see Perla's gift as a miracle, or will they continue to suspect the devil's work?  Can Casewell Phillips see past his initial judgement of Perla to the woman she is and the lessons she can teach if he's willing to open his heart to the God of forgiveness?

I've been in a book slump lately, picking up several books and not getting more than a chapter or two into them before setting them aside.  This novel, however, didn't get set down much at all in the day and a half it took me to read it.  While Perla's gift with food should seem illogical, it fits within the book and serves as a catalyst to change for so many of the characters, bringing healing and forgiveness and opening doors long since closed.  As she says at one point in the book, "All too often sorrow and joy come skipping into your life holding hands."  This could be the summary statement for this book; even as the town withers away within the drought, miracles happen, lives are changed, love is found, and fresh chances are given.

I loved how the author not only weaved together so many stories of characters needing forgiveness, but she used unusual folks to deliver the messages they needed to hear.  For instance, the town drunk, long left alone, turns out to have his own story to tell, and forgiveness to both extend and receive.  As a reader, I felt invested in this small town, its people, and their need for a healed community to move forward.  The circumstances of a drought forcing them to rely on each other and to get past their misconceptions gave depth to a story and intriguing cast of characters.

I give this story 4 stars.  I'm excited that it's the first in a series, and I look forward to reading more from this author!

You can find A Miracle in a Dry Season HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE. (I may have to try the peach cobbler recipe;  I only wish I had seen the apron contest before it ended - my children look adorable in their aprons!)
You can connect with the author on Facebook HERE.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Woman of Courage - Wanda E. Brunstetter

Amanda Pearson has essentially been left at the altar, as her fiance tells her just before their wedding that he's leaving her for her best friend.  Rather than remain in shame within their Quaker community, Amanda convinces her father that they should set out for the Oregon Territory to bring the Good News to the Nez Perce Indians.  Trials and hardships shadow Amanda as she travels, and she is forced to examine her faith and her decisions to pursue this path.

I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I do enjoy the time period of the expansion west.  I can't even imagine the hardships of crossing the country on horseback, with very few comfort items and months on the trail.  Amanda doesn't immediately strike the reader as one of hardy stock, yet she perseveres through tragedy and difficult circumstances while keeping her faith intact and even attempting to share the Word with all she comes in contact with.  Her character comes across as naive, yet sincere, and it's believable that she would grow on the people who initially resist her "Bible thumping."  However, I did find it difficult to believe that that many tragedies could befall both her and every person she met.  Maybe not the tragedies themselves, but the catalyst they provided to turn the characters to God felt too neat and tidy.  Not all tragedies lead to conversions, and not all conversions are proceeded by tragedy, but you wouldn't know that from this book.

Overall, I give this book 3 stars.  It could have felt a little deeper, with more examination of the faith that Amanda was sharing, but the characters were tied together well; and as a reader, I cared about them enough to be happy when things turned out well for them.

Edited to add:
This book contains several references to, and scenes of abuse - both domestic and child.  I wouldn't want any readers to be unaware of this facet, whether it might affect them personally, or be something they'd want to be aware of before recommending it to others.

You can find Woman of Courage HERE.
You can find Wanda's website HERE.

Odd disclaimer: I was supposed to receive a copy of this book from Barbour Books, in exchange for my honest review.  However, there seems to be a mix-up, and I never received my copy.  But no big deal, I borrowed the e-book from my library so that I could still review it as I promised!

Heaven Sent Rain - Lauraine Snelling

Dinah Taylor has structured her life around being a biochemist and CEO of a nutritional supplement company that aims to help people live healthier lives.  Her career and her homelife have been orderly, clean, and fulfilling, and have also served to distance her from her past.  However, now, she finds herself investing in a child she knows little about, her company is under fire, and she comes into contact with a man who seems to hate her at first impression.  What is happening to her neatly compartmentalized life, and who can she turn to when nothing makes sense anymore?

There were several compelling components to this story: I was completely intrigued by Dinah's need for white everywhere, and I was drawn into Jonah's life and his interactions with Dinah.  I also though Garrett to be an unusual character - a veterinarian who's an amazing artist on the side?  Unfortunately, I felt like the story didn't fully realize its potential, and had some pacing troubles along the way.  There were so many aspects of Dinah's past that were hinted at several times throughout the book, and then there was one conversation where she dumped most of the personal details, yet others were never explained at all.  Jonah, also a character with lots of potential, a seemingly gifted second-grader, who's had a complicated life, yet managed to thrive anyway, his emotions and reactions were made to seem tangential to Dinah and he was never completely filled out on his own.

I really thought this plot line was an interesting, and I'm sad that it fell short of what I felt that it could be.  I would have liked a little less of Dinah's wallowing, and more character development with the rest of the people in her life, as well as a more thorough, natural unveiling of her past problems.  I give this book 3 stars - mostly for feeling different than so many of the other books that I've read lately.

You can find Heaven Sent Rain HERE.
You can find the author's site HERE.

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

A Match of Wits - Jen Turano

Agatha Watson has been given a traveling assignment for her newspaper because there are people in New York City who want her dead.  Who does she happen upon in her travels, but Zayne Beckett, the man she has loved from afar who left to marry his fiance 2 years ago.  However, due to injury and disappointment, Zayne is not the man he was when he left.  Agatha, being Agatha, plots and plans to restore Zayne to his family and to the man and friend he was.  Meanwhile, those around Agatha, including Zayne are busy trying to keep her alive.

I have loved this Ladies of Distinction series by Jen Turano:
A Change of Fortune
A Most Peculiar Circumstance
A Talent for Trouble

I have loved the characters, and have enjoyed following them through all of the books and watching their friendships and relationships develop.  Even though I liked A Match of Wits, it didn't grab me quite as much as the rest of the series. I think that what was missing was the relationships between the women that made the first three books so entertaining.  Their interactions, their mischief, and their friendships were what gave the books humor and depth, but for most of this book Agatha was on her own.  Even her strong character was dulled a bit by not having others to involve in her hi-jinks.  Part of it was logical - her friends were married and having babies, and that's a natural progression in their timelines, but it made Agatha seem more lonely.

I still loved this series, and I enjoyed seeing more of Agatha's story.  I still highly recommend this series the whole way through, and I hope that Jen Turano continues to write - either more with these characters, or an entirely new set to love!
I give this book 3.5 stars, but the series as a whole gets 4 stars!

You can find A Match of Wits HERE.
You can find Jen Turano's website HERE.
Or you can interact with her on Facebook, HERE, where she's about to do some more giveaways!

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Critical Condition - Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Shannon Frasier has spent 10 years trying to overcome the tragedy of her almost-fiance dying in her arms after a gunshot.  Now, on her front lawn, another man dies in her arms, leaving a cryptic message and a trail of danger to her door.  While Shannon works through the ramifications on her emotions from this event, her sister calls on her for help, her parents battle bad news, and suddenly she's no longer who she can turn to to keep her life in order.

There were a few strong points to this story line - I appreciated Shannon's boyfriend Mark's attempts to draw Shannon back to God, but without pushing her too hard, or trying to manipulate her into dependence on him for her welfare, spiritual or physical.  Shannon's own need to work through her past and how it affected her present was honest and I appreciated her realization of her own weaknesses.  However. the rest of the book felt very scattered.  There were so many tangents and extra characters that they couldn't possibly be all tied together.  The book tried to cover Shannon's past, her family, her career, her sister, her relationships, and her faith, and it was just too much for one book to handle.  Every scene should move a story along in some way, whether directly tied to the plot line, or serving to give development to a character.  This book had too many extraneous scenes to flow well, and the resulting impression was of bits and pieces that had no bearing on the story.

I give this book 2 stars.  I felt too disconnected from the characters, due to the scattered story pieces, to really feel drawn into the book.

You can find Critical Condition HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Undetected - Dee Henderson

Commander Mark Bishop is one of only a few people in the world with the particular power he holds - the command of a ballistic missile submarine.  His job is tough, but he carries the responsibility well, and is respected by those under his command.  Gina Gray is the sister of one of Mark's friends and fellow submarine captain Jeff, and she's profoundly gifted.  She could have studied anything, but with her brother in the Navy, she has turned to researching ways to improve submarine defenses and capabilities, and she has turned everything the Navy knows upside down.  Riding the two-edged sword of making our own submarine's capabilities stronger, while knowing that some day other countries may use that knowledge against us, Gina needs someone to protect her while encouraging her gifts and discoveries.

I typically enjoy Dee Henderson's novels, and I especially enjoy her military ones.  This was no exception; well-written, thrilling, and just enough romance that you can see coming, but isn't the focus of the story, so it fits in nicely.  I have no military background, so I can't speak to her authenticity regarding military matters, but it certainly feels respectful and honoring of those who serve.  I love the handling of Gina's gift, and how those who are meant to be in her life don't feel threatened by her success, but encourage her to use what God has given her and led her to discover.

When I finished this book, I found that it was the third in a series, and I quickly rushed to find the others.  Turns out I had already read (and reviewed) the first: Full Disclosure, and I loved the second: Unspoken. I definitely recommend reading them in order (And Full Disclosure makes the most sense if you've already read the O'Malley series.)  I also REALLY hope this series continues - I want to read about the 3rd brother!

I give this book 4 stars.  I loved the action, I loved the characters, and I enjoyed filling in the story by going back and reading the missing book in the series.

You can find Undetected HERE.
You can find Dee Henderson's website HERE. (Although it is a rather bare bones site, I can attest that if you request bookmarks, you receive them quickly!)

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

Waters Fall - Becky Doughty

Jake and Nora do not have a perfect marriage; Nora wants Jake to step it up in providing for their family, and Jake feels discouraged by Nora's lack of respect and his own failure to get his business off the ground.  However, they're trying to make it work and sticking together, until the night Jake turns up drunk after 10 years of sobriety, and alludes to an incident with a waitress.  Everything begins to spiral down from there on both their parts, until they're not sure there's any common ground left to stand on.  Nor are they sure they want to find any.

This is not an easy book to read.  While it's vulnerable, and honest, and probably far too realistic, Jake and Nora each choose paths that you would not expect to read about in detail in a Christian fiction book.  With that fair warning, the book does an admirable job of drawing each of them through their own choices and failures until they realize what has happened to them, and they get to the place where they need to decide whether to continue to lean on themselves, each other, or God, and to see where that final choice leads them. I like that the plot took the characters to counseling, but showed that counseling is not a fix-all.  They had to work through their own messes and decide to be fixed.

I'm not sure how to rate this book; it was well-written, but I don't know that there are many folks I would recommend it to, due to detailed affair plot line.  True grace requires a real fall, and there is plenty of both in this book. I'll give it 3 stars - it's rare to find a book that delves into the sinful choices we make with no excuses, but I fear there's a line that this book may have crossed to get there.

You can find Waters Fall HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Here to Stay - Melissa Tagg

In a plot reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life, Autumn Kingsley has ended up stuck in her small town of Whisper Shore, taking care of the inn that's been in her family for generations, temporarily giving up her dream of traveling and living in Paris.  Now, she has a job offer in Paris, but with the town's tourism failing, what's to become of the inn and its employees?  Feeling the responsibility to the town and to the inn, Autumn works to rejuvenate the town's charm by teaming up with Blake Hunziker, the youngest son of the family who has continued to war with the Kingsleys since the death of the elder Hunziker son.  Not only her family's enemy, but their direct competitor, Blake and Autumn are now co-chairs of the town's Christmas festival, in an effort to bring the town back to life.  Also, in another attempt to save her inn, Autumn has learned that a known investor in a large hotel chain has reserved a room at her in, and she hopes that this is the open door she and her staff need.  Can Blake and Autumn let the past be past and work together to help the town?  Can Autumn find a way to preserve her family's legacy in the hotel, and still live her dream?

Between the Jimmy Stewart dream plot, and the small town that felt eerily similar to Star's Hollow, (including the single innkeeper and her chef friend, the quirky hotel desk staff, and the rugged handyman, but missing the teenage pregnancy), this story didn't exactly feel original.  Add to that the predictable twists of secrets kept turning out badly, and it should have felt tired.  However, Autumn and Blake were enjoyable characters, and the Hatfield and McCoy aspect to their relationship made it a bit more interesting.  I happen to like the town of Stars Hollow, and It's a Wonderful Life, so the similarities didn't bother me much.

I give the book 3 stars.  It was a fun romance, perfect for easy summer reading.

You can find Here to Stay HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I was given a copy of this e-book, courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Through the Deep Waters - Kim Vogel Sawyer

Dinah Hubley is the daughter of a prostitute, living in her mother's brothel in Chicago.  When her mother falls ill, and her madam threatens Dinah with eviction for both of them, Dinah agrees to sacrifice her innocence for her mother's security and her own escape.  However, the choice damages Dinah more than she could have foreseen, and as she flees to Kansas to work in a Harvey hotel, she longs to put her past behind her and work her way to a life of respect.  Once in Kansas, she's forced to hide her true self from all of those around her, lest she be fired for an immoral past.  This includes distancing herself from her friendly roommate Ruthie, their coworkers, and the intriguing egg man Amos Ackerman.  Can she continue to keep herself removed from the people in her life who are trying to show her kindness?  If they learn her secrets, will they distance themselves from her?

Oh, how this book made me hurt for Dinah.  Everything she'd worked so hard to avoid while living in the brothel came crashing in on her in one self-sacrificing decision.  It's easy to look at what was coming for her and think that she should have known what she was sacrificing, but the author does such a good job of painting Dinah's innocent nature and remorse, that Dinah becomes the wronged party and you only hope for things to turn out well for her.

I also appreciated the author's handling of Dinah's search for God's love.  She desperately wanted to believe when Ruthie told her that God loved her, but her internal guilt and shame make it hard for her to trust that God cares for her.  Even Ruthie's relationship with Dinah felt realistic - she'd been raised as a pastor's daughter to treat others with kindness and point them to God, but in her own desires she found that jealousy and envy sometimes got in the way of doing the right thing.

There were several side story lines that I wish the author had followed up on with more detail, but it would probably have made for a more scattered feeling story, or else it would have made the book too long to be enjoyable.  Overall, I give this book 4 stars.  It dealt with topics not discussed easily, and it did it well, while keeping the characters well-rounded and honest.  Not everything worked out the way the characters wanted, there were consequences to their actions, yet there was God's grace and love to bring healing.

You can find Through the Deep Waters HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review

Bluebonnet Bride - Colleen Coble

Elli Korpela has come from Finland to America to find a husband, and to escape the man most benefits from her being gone.  When she arrives, she finds her husband, Nathan White, to be more than she anticipated and hopes that the marriage may become one of more than just convenience for both of them.  However, before they can settle into any kind of married life, they need to find out who's behind the attacks on Elli at their new house.  Is it her past tracking her across the ocean, or is it someone angry at Nathan's new position of foreman?

I am not typically a fan of novellas, and this book is a good demonstration of my reasons.  Even though I liked the characters and was excited for the chance for both Elli and Nathan to find more than they'd hoped for in this mail-order marriage, there was just not enough time for the story to develop.  There was not enough time for their romance to develop at a natural pace, and there was not enough time to develop depth to the mystery and its solution.  This short book did intrigue me enough that I intend to read the full Butterfly Palace novel, and hope for more insight into the characters who only made brief appearances in this novella.

I give this novella 2.5 stars, rounded to 3.  While the short story/novella format does not appeal to me, the characters and writing were still decently enjoyable.  Perhaps, once the series is rounded out, it will make a nice bridge between books 1 and 2.

You can find Bluebonnet Bride HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
You can follow her on Twitter HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the Booklook Bloggers program, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Table by the Window - Hillary Manton Lodge

Juliette D'Alisa comes from a big family with big personalities, and a genetic predisposition for good cooking.  Having decided she didn't like the pressure of cooking in somebody else's kitchen, Juliette has ended up in the food writing business, where she is content, if not happy.  Now, with her beloved Grand-Mere having passed away, and her mother announcing her own shocking news, Juliette and her family are forced to reevaluate their dreams for their lives, and what they want for each other as well as themselves.  Does this include a new career? A new love?  How can Juliette start living life for herself?

This book pulled me in immediately.  So much so that, before I was even 50 pages in, I ordered a copy for a friend, because the book called to me that she would love it.  Cooking, love, an Italian/French/American family - it all sung from the pages and created a family and story that I wanted to immerse myself in and stay for awhile.  Juliette had some hard decisions to make that made her feel very real, but there was enough humor and lightheartedness, especially in her correspondence with her new online friend, that it made for a very enjoyable, rich story.  While books with a cooking theme usually make me wish that I was a better cook, this one made me want to get up and cook the recipes included within its pages.  Most of them are too complicated and gourmet for me to actually prepare, but there were several that I may return to and attempt.  I do wish that there were links for the recipes, though, so that I didn't have to risk getting ingredients on the books' pages!

I enjoyed this book thoroughly and give it 4 stars.  The characters were strong, the writing was good, and I was super excited to see that there's going to be a sequel, because I wasn't ready for the story to end.

You can find A Table by the Window HERE.
You can find the Author's website HERE.
You can read an excerpt HERE.

And just for fun - take this QUIZ to see which character you are from the book! I got Juliette, and I'm totally okay with that.

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Until I Found You - Victoria Bylin

Kate Darby has taken a leave of absence from her marketing job to help her grandmother, Leona, recover from a stroke.  The agency is also struggling, and she hopes that while she's gone, the account that she's been excited to work on will go national and there will be enough work for her to return to.  While she's visiting her grandmother, however, she will encounter several things that will make her question her path in life: Nick, a man who's sworn off dating for a year, Mistoyo, a California condor descended from the condors her grandfather pushed to save, and God, who she's known of via her grandmother's faith, but has never really known for herself.  What impact will these meetings have on Kate?  What choices will she be forced to make, and on what basis will she decide her answers?

I have to admit, the cover and back copy of this book made me hesitant to read it - it looked and sounded more girly and fluffy than the books I tend to reach for.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a much more solid book than it appeared.  While certainly still a romance, both Kate and Nick had to face real choices and make real decisions with their lives that would affect not only their relationship, but their lives and careers.  There were moments where Kate's decisions appeared far too instant to be realistic, but there were others - where she would wrestle with knowing whether God was there, or struggle over what she wanted from life - those felt more authentic.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars.  It engaged me, and I wanted to see Kate make good decisions, but I don't see the characters sticking with me for long.

You can find Until I Found You HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Broken Kind of Beautiful - Katie Ganshert

Ivy Clark, at only 24-years-old, is desperately trying to hold on to a modeling career where she's constantly competing with younger "fresher" models.  Eager to take anything that might spark new life into the only realm she's comfortable within, she agrees to take a job modeling wedding dresses for her stepmother in Greenbrier, North Carolina.  Thrown together with a man she's known since childhood, she uses the weapons and armor she's grown accustomed to throw him off balance and maintain her distance.  Yet, somehow, the two of them manage to bring things to the surface that each thought they'd buried and moved past.  Can Ivy ever see past her outer beauty to the beauty God has created within her? Can Davis accept God's forgiveness and see past his guilt?

Once again, Katie Ganshert has written a deeply impacting novel that weaves characters and their stories together in such a way that you care about them, you root for them, and you feel their pain throughout their journey, and she leaves you wanting to continue with the characters' lives to see what happens next.  This novel is not neat, clean, and happy.  There is real pain.  There is real struggle.  But there is also real growth, vulnerability, and healing.  I ached for Ivy, for all she'd been through, and her need to see past what the modeling industry saw when they looked at her - both as the fresh young girl she'd been, and at the 24-year-old model past her "prime."  I love books where I don't feel invested in just one character, but where all of the characters - main and secondary - come to life for me, and this book does that well.  Marilyn, Ivy's stepmother, is a minor character and yet her endeavors to be a real mother to Ivy and all of the hurt and grief that has brought her are vividly portrayed in just short, yet heartfelt glimpses into their past together.  Davis and Sarah, with their own past tragedies, manage to also work through some major issues alongside Ivy's.

I give this book 4 stars, bordering on 5.  There is so much to be taken from this book as life lessons for anyone, that I can see myself reading it again just to glean more perspective on the characters' journeys.
As with any Katie Ganshert book, thus far, I wish that there would be more stories with these characters!

You can find A Broken Kind of Beautiful HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
You can connect with the author on Facebook HERE.
You can read an excerpt from the book HERE.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Out of the Depths - Edgar Harrell. USMC

Out of the Depths is the true story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, during WWII.  Written by one of the survivors, it recounts his enlistment, service, harrowing ordeal and his survival.  As he spent 5 days in the open sea, he watched his fellow shipmates sickened, attacked by sharks, taken by hallucinations, and separated by the ocean swells.  During the entire ordeal, he turned to his God and trusted Him for his salvation - both physical and spiritual.

Reviewing a non-fiction book is always difficult, especially one with such a horrific, true story of shipwreck and survival.  Who am I to look at this man's indescribable memories and suggest he should have recounted them differently?  I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering that occurred, let alone the emotional turmoil required to relive them through telling his tale for others.  And yet, he does so - not for the drama or any recognition, but to chronicle his journey of faith from head knowledge to heart-felt passion about his dependence on the God who saved him from the depths.  He does so to inspire faith and patriotism in others, and in this he succeeds.

Given my reluctance to criticize this man's tale, there were a few things that could have made the story more reader-friendly.  There were a lot of naval details included, which could have enriched the story if I understood them; overall, the author did a good shop of describing ships' sizes and travels, but there were several sections I glossed over because there were a lot of technical details that weren't explained.  Additionally, the quotes from other survivors that are sprinkled throughout the book lent weight to the horrors of the situation, but they felt disconnected from the story itself.

The book does do a good job of opening the reader's eyes to the horrors of war and the unspeakable things our troops go through to ensure our freedom.  For this reason, and for the undeniable glory given to God, I give this book 4 stars for the story it has to tell.

You can find more about the author, the book, the crew, and other resources regarding the USS Indianapolis HERE.
You can order the book there, or HERE (includes an excerpt).

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Nashville Sweetheart - by Rachel Hauck

The orphaned daughter of famous gospel singers Ray and Myra James, Aubrey James never set out to become a multi-platinum, award-winning, country singer.  Yet, here she is, hounded by the paparazzi, trashed in the tabloids, betrayed by a personal friend within her crew, and surprisingly engaged to a true Nashville blue blood.  How did she get here?  Is here where she wants to be?  And what happened to the faith her parents lived for?

I recently found Rachel Hauck through her installment of the Year of Weddings, and then followed that into the Royal Wedding series.  I've found her books to be fun, engaging, and quick-paced, and this one was no different.  I could feel Aubrey's struggle with where her life had taken her and how she had been changed by all that had befallen her.  She was a lovably imperfect character, with real flaws, and real life decisions gone wrong.  She fully admitted her faults and sought her way out from them by looking to the Man her parents taught her about.

I give this book 4 stars, and now have a need to go find the rest of the series so that I can read more about some of the side characters in this story.  Just a friendly warning, because this is the sort of thing that bothers me - it does appear that these books have been re-titled and re-released as ebooks.  From what I can tell, Nashville Sweetheart was formerly titled Diva NashVegas, and was #2 in the NashVegas Series.

You can find Nashville Sweetheart HERE.
You can find Rachel Hauck's website HERE.

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookLook program, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cloak of Light - by Chuck Black

Drew Carter's life has already been marked with tragedy and upheaval, when he befriends the school geek at his new school, an unlikely pairing for the standout football player.  However, as his life continues to be spun around, Ben becomes one of the few things he can count on, until the day something happens to Ben's physics experiment, and Drew is left blind.  Ben disappears shortly after, and Drew is left to figure out what happened to him, what happened to Ben, and what are all of these "invaders" he can suddenly see in the midst of humans' daily lives.

I don't read a lot of young adult fiction, so I found this writing to be on the simplistic side for my usual tastes.  However, I did find myself engrossed in the story at points, finding it to be very much like a scaled down This Present Darkness.  I liked the idea of the jock making friends with the geek, not just because he could get homework help (although he did), but because his dad and his dad-figure had taught him integrity and honesty, and doing the right thing.  There were several plot lines that bothered me, though; Drew goes through and awful lot for one person, even before he gets mixed up in the invader business.  Second, I find it hard to believe that it would take him so long to figure out what the invaders were, or that he wouldn't have confided in someone that would help him understand the dimension he was seeing into.  I also didn't realize that this was going to be the first book in a series, until I came to the very end of the book and nothing had resolved.  I dislike not knowing when books are part of a series.

For the action and content, and themes of integrity and honor, I give this book 3 stars.  I hope that the story continues to develop well and that the rest of the series might include some more depth and growth and understanding on the parts of the characters.

You can find Cloak of Light HERE.
You can connect with Chuck Black on Facebook HERE.

Please consider ranking my review: you could win a FREE copy!

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