Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: From the Start by Melissa Tagg

Book Summary (from Goodreads): 
Kate Walker used to believe in true love and happily ever after. While her own love life may have left her brokenhearted, it hasn't kept her from churning out made-for-TV romance movie screenplays...until a major career slump and a longing to do something meaningful send her running back to her hometown of Maple Valley. 

Permanently sidelined by an injury, former NFL quarterback Colton Greene is temporarily hiding out in a friend's hometown to avoid the media and the reminders of all he's lost. Maple Valley seems like the perfect place to learn how to adjust to normal life. The only trouble is he's never really done normal before.

While Kate plays things safe and Colton is all about big risks and grand gestures, they both get what it's like to desperately need direction in life. An unexpected project gives them both a chance to jumpstart their new lives, but old wounds and new dreams are hard to ignore. Starting over wasn't part of the plan, but could it be the best thing that's ever happened to them?

My thoughts...
Colton and Kate have both had traumatic experiences in their past.  Because of their experiences, both hold back when it comes to love and commitment.  Particularly romantic love, as both show an open heart to loving others who are like family.  When they happen to meet in Kate's hometown, this hesitation on both of their parts creates a nice romantic tension that continues to build throughout the novel.  I loved turning the pages to see what was going to happen next with their relationship and how they were going to respond to one another.

Both hero and heroine have a genuine desire to do what they think is right for them, career wise.  But there's  something missing for both of them.  What they're doing may have been right for a time, but a big part of their inner conflict is knowing what is right for them now.  Both of them go through this search to find themselves and who they really are, what God has gifted them with and how He wants to use them.  This struggle was not easy, as their pasts tangle up with their hopes for the future.  

This book was filled with a lot of heavy topics, ranging from child neglect, traumatic death, heartache, unmarried pregnancy, childhood cancer, and more.  I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as a lighthearted romance, but it did have some fun, lighthearted moments.  This novel is about a journey to heal, to love again, and to begin life anew.  With that, you can read the last page with a sense of hope and resolution.  

A few favorite quotes:
"It's okay to admit what you want. When you do, you might finally get brave enough to go after it." 

"Don't assume saying yes to one dream automatically means saying no to another."

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher to give an unbiased review, which I did.**

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hallmark Channel's "When Calls the Heart" GIVEAWAY!!

**The winner of the giveaway is Kim Stanley!  Congrats!**
This has got to be one of my favorite reviews and giveaways I've ever had on my blog!  I'm so excited about the upcoming premier of season 2 of Hallmark channel's series, "When Calls the Heart." If you've never seen this fantastic series, here is a synopsis:

The series is inspired by Janette Oke’s bestselling book series about the Canadian West. “When Calls the Heart” tells the captivating story of Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), a young teacher accustomed to her high society life, who receives her first classroom assignment in Coal Valley, a small coal mining town where life is simple, but often fraught with challenges. Lori Loughlin plays Abigail Stanton, a wife and mother whose husband, the foreman of the mine, along with a dozen other miners, has just been killed in an explosion. The newly widowed women find their faith is tested when they must go to work in the mines to keep a roof over their heads. Elizabeth charms most everyone in Coal Valley, except Constable Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing) who believes Thatcher’s wealthy father has doomed the lawman’s career by insisting he be assigned in town to protect the shipping magnate’s daughter. Living in a turn of the century coal town, Elizabeth will have to learn the ways of the frontier if she wishes to thrive in the rural west on her own.

In season 2, all of our favorite characters return and the town of Coal Valley is on the verge of change.  Preparations are being made for a new church and schoolhouse and the widows of the mine explosion, led by Abigail Stanton, are seeking justice for what they believe was a preventable tragedy.  Love is also in the air as Elizabeth and Jack continue to explore their growing attraction to one another and Abigail wonders if her heart is ready to put the past behind and love again.  When Elizabeth suddenly receives a telegram that her mother is ill, she must make a trip back home.  Jack accompanies her, and he begins to see another side of Elizabeth.  The life she had before Coal Valley was pampered and luxurious, filled with dinner parties, shopping, and even the attention of another man.  Will Jack's insecurities about his station in life cause him to pull away from Elizabeth?  Will she be drawn back into the life she knew, surrounded by wealth and family, or will she continue the life she made in Coal Valley? 

You will not want to miss the 2 hour season premiere of "When Calls the Heart" on April 25th!  I thoroughly enjoyed it!  I loved seeing the direction that Elizabeth and Jack's relationship is going, but also the new struggles they face as Elizabeth has stepped back into her old life.  This is the first time that Jack has seen her in this setting, and the way they both respond will direct the course of this season.  I also enjoyed the other plots happening in this episode.  Abigail goes through the hardship of a legal trial, fighting the corrupt forces behind the mine of Coal Valley.  We are introduced to new, interesting characters and a few plot twists that make the upcoming season highly anticipated!  "Hearties" (fans of When Calls the Heart) will be very pleased!!

To celebrate the newest season of this wonderful series, I will be giving away 1 boxed dvd set of the complete first season of "When Calls the Heart"!!! (supplied by Word Films)  I am SO excited to be part of this giveaway.  Please post a comment on this blog post (and include your email address) in order to be entered into the giveaway. I will draw a winner one week from the day of this post...so don't be shy!  You can also stay updated with news and events through various Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.  I personally follow Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, and Daniel Lissing and love seeing their posts that include their lives on and off the screen.  Hearties fans also have various social media pages that you can follow.  Here are some links:

Just for Fun!
A few days ago I was able to participate in a conference call with fans of When Calls the Heart, other bloggers, and Erin Krakow!  It was so much fun to hear about her experiences as Elizabeth Thatcher and real life.  Did you  know that Erin is from South Florida and attended Julliard?  I had no idea!  I was even able to personally ask her about her rapport with her fellow cast mates and how that affected the success of the show.  Her answer?  That she and the rest of the cast really enjoyed working together and felt privileged to be on set each day, which definitely translated onscreen.  As a fan, I totally agree!  Another question was what was one of her (Erin's) favorite things to wear on the show.  The first thing she mentioned was this pink ensemble:
I love this picture! : )  Thanks so much to Erin and FlyBy promotions for the wonderful opportunity to come together for the conference call.  It was truly a privilege for this fangirl ; ).

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to tune in to Hallmark channel on April 25th at 8pm!!

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reviewer's bookshelf: "The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest" by Melanie Dickerson

Book Summary (from Goodreads): "Swan Lake" meets Robin Hood when the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant by day becomes the region's most notorious poacher by night, and falls in love with the forester.

Jorgen is the forester for the wealthy margrave, and must find and capture the poacher who has been killing and stealing the margrave's game. When he meets the lovely and refined Odette at the festival and shares a connection during a dance, he has no idea she is the one who has been poaching the margrave's game.

Odette justifies her crime of poaching because she thinks the game is going to feed the poor, who are all but starving, both in the city and just outside its walls. But will the discovery of a local poaching ring reveal a terrible secret? Has the meat she thought she was providing for the poor actually been sold on the black market, profiting no one except the ring of black market sellers?

The one person Odette knows can help her could also find out her own secret and turn her over to the margrave, but she has no choice. Jorgen and Odette will band together to stop the dangerous poaching ring . . . and fall in love. But what will the margrave do when he discovers his forester is protecting a notorious poacher?

My thoughts...
I must begin with this beautiful cover!  I'm a visual person and when I see a cover like this, it draws me in, makes me curious about what the story is behind the young woman on the front, and takes me to another place.  I love it.

Melanie Dickerson's books are like a breath of fresh air.  Each time I've read one, it has been a refreshing reminder of how sweet young love can be.  In a day where books geared towards adults are filled with profanity and freely giving themselves physically to someone else, not to mention what books for young adults have in them, it's nice to read a book that is romantic but still keeps the innocence of the main characters intact.  

Another aspect of this story that stood out to me was the theme of integrity.  Even though Odette truly felt that her lawbreaking was justified because she was helping others, the story takes her on a journey to see how important it is to have integrity with all things.  For Jorgen, he also had to have integrity and stand for what was right even if it might hurt the one he cares about the most.  Several of the characters had to be held accountable for their actions.  The margrave, who was seen as very harsh and often cold, didn't abuse his position, but administered fair justice as well as grace to those he was in authority over.  What a great message in a day and age that often encourages to do just the opposite: lie, steal and cheat to get what you can to get ahead.

This is the sixth book of Melanie's that I've read, and I have yet to be even a bit disappointed!  When I finished the last page of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, I had so many good things to take with me to think about beyond just a lovely romance.  Jorgan and Odette's desire to risk almost all they had to help the outcasts and low in their community made me think of how my attitude should be for those in my own path in life. So many people we come in contact with have a history that we may know nothing about, and a small, or big, act of kindness towards them can change their life.  I was reminded that wealth is a blessing, and it can be there one minute and gone the next.  We must be thankful and use the provisions God has given us wisely.  These things and so many more have stuck with me.  I would definitely recommend this book!

Happy reading! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blog tour review! Dawn Crandall's "The Captive Imposter"

I'm so excited to be able to review Dawn Crandall's latest book, The Captive Imposter, today on my blog!
Book Summary (Goodreads): Sent away for protection, hotel heiress Estella Everstone finds herself living undercover as a lady’s companion named Elle Stoneburner at one of her father’s opulent hotels in the mountains of Maine—the one she'd always loved best and always hoped to own one day, Everston. The one thing she doesn't like about the situation is that her ex-fiancĂ© is in the area and is set on marrying someone else. Reeling from her feelings of being unwanted and unworthy, Estella reluctantly forms a friendship with the gruff manager of Everston, Dexter Blakeley, who seems to have something against wealthy young socialites with too much money, although they are just the kind of people Everston caters to. 

When Estella finds herself in need of help, Dexter comes to the rescue with an offer she can't refuse. She sees no other choice aside from going back home to her family and accepts the position as companion to his sister. Throughout her interactions with Dexter, she can't deny the pull that's evidenced between them every time he comes near. Estella realizes that while she's been hiding behind a false name and identity, she’s never been freer to be herself than when she's with Dexter Blakeley. But will he still love her when he finds out she's Estella Everstone? She's not entirely sure.

My thoughts...
Once again, Dawn Crandall has taken me back in time, to the rugged mountains of Maine, and into the heart and mind of another heroine.  When I read this story, which is also told in first person, it's more like reading the pages of someone's journal than a piece of fiction.  Crandall has told each story in the Everstone Chronicles in first person, and has done so expertly in each one.  Not every author can create an page turner told primarily from one character's perspective...but that's exactly what it was.  A page turner!

Estella was not a character that stood out to me from the previous novels in the series...and that's exactly why I was drawn in to her story.  The author did this in The Bound Heart as well.  She took a character that we are introduced to before but don't know much about and lets us into their world...all of their fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams.  So because I didn't know much about Estella, I wanted to know why she acted the way she did, how she felt about things that happened in the previous novel, and I was completely drawn in from the beginning.

Estella, even though she is an heiress, has all the struggles that any girl may go through...very relateable.  Her whole life she has been judged by her family name, and feels she must act a certain way with everyone, masking who she truly is inside.  When there is a threat to her family (some events happened in the previous novel that explain this), Estella must assume a secret identity to protect herself from harm.  But the secret identity allowed her to experience freedom for the first time.  Freedom to be herself, to show her emotions, and love and be loved by a man who could see her for who she really was.  Her journey is a pleasure to read and at times my heart ached for her as she struggled with all the pain from her past.

This story revolved around Estella's journey, but a big part of her journey was Dexter.  He had a broody demeanor when we are first introduced to him.  Dexter has past hurts as well, and his comes out initially as hardness towards Estella, but as she continues to interact with him, we see a different side.  Dexter struggles with letting go and allowing himself to love, just as Estella did, but as both of their walls they've built up around their hearts begin to crumble...beautiful things begin to happen.  Crandall does an amazing job at balancing the interaction between Estella and Dexter.  There are the much needed serious moments, where they are discovering who they are and how they feel....and then there are the sizzling moments where they cannot deny the physical attraction they have for one another!  A definite page-turner!

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I know you will, too!  

**I was given a free copy of this novel by the publisher for an unbiased review...which I gave**
Dawn is a wife and mom to a cute little boy named Rhett.  She is already winning awards for her debut novel, The Hesitant Heiress, the first book in the Everstone Chronicles.  Be sure to stop by Dawn's blog for lots of giveaways, updates, and links to other great reviews of her books. I would also love for you to check out my reviews of The Bound HeartThe Hesitant Heiress and my interview with Dawn.
Happy Reading!!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "To Win Her Favor" by Tamera Alexander

Book Summary (from Goodreads): A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who can help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing for good.

An Irish-born son far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and start a farm, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden’s father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the annual Drayton Stakes at Nashville’s racetrack––the richest race run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance, and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder, Maggie’s father––aging, yet wily as ever––makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail––Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself. 

Cullen and Maggie need each other in order to achieve their dreams. But their stubborn, wounded hearts––and the escalating violence from a "secret society" responsible for lynchings and midnight raids––may prove too much for even two determined souls.

My thoughts...
The first word that comes to mind when I think of this novel is "passion."  This word is displayed throughout the novel, and not just in reference to romantic passion.  But let me tell you...Tamera Alexander had the romance sizzling more than ever!

Maggie's passion at the beginning of the novel is for her horse, Bourbon Belle.  She and her father have sacrificed so much to be able to keep the well-bred horse, who Maggie is confident will win in the races.  But Bourbon Belle is more than just a race horse to Maggie.  She raised the horse from a foal and has a connection to the horse like no one else.  When she rides her horse, flying across the fields, Maggie's free, untamed spirit  shines through.  To give up Bourbon Belle would be like losing part of herself.  So Maggie is determined to do whatever she can to keep her and the farm that she and her father love.

Cullen McGrath is passion personified.  He's passionate about the land, making his way in the world, in his desire to be a good, honest man, and the woman he loves.  He's not afraid to back down from a fight or stand up to evil.  And he's Irish.  So he's basically every girl's dream guy ; ).  But he's not perfect.  There are a lot of ghosts in his past that he struggles with, and they prevent him from being completely open with Maggie.

And....the sparks were flying between Cullen and Maggie!  Both of them are such passionate characters individually, so when they interact the fireworks begin.  Sometimes that means the opposite of romance as they both know how to put up a good fight.  The fact that they basically had an arranged marriage meant they had to get to know one another under difficult circumstances.  At times my stomach would be in knots over the conflict they were dealing with...at other times I couldn't turn the pages fast enough as the romance heated up!

Passion is not the only theme in this novel.  Alexander does a fantastic job of addressing the prejudices faced by so many during this time period.  As a woman, Maggie wasn't able to manage Belle like she wanted to as a man had to officially own her horse for it to be entered into a race.  Everyone was astonished to find out that Maggie actually trained her horse and not a man.  When trying to find a jockey, it was assumed that a boy would be chosen, as girls were not seen at that time as being able to do it. 

 Cullen, as an Irish man, saw the ugly face of prejudice as he tried to buy land, do business at the bank, get a loan for building supplies, and basically find support in his new town.  Even Maggie, when she first found out Cullen was Irish, turned her nose up at him.  But when she saw beyond her misconceptions, she was able to see the kind of man Cullen really was.  It was just another reminder to me how prejudice can show itself in so many ways.  

 The heaviest display of prejudice was with the African American slaves/free men that played a big part in the story.  Cullen treated the men and women with dignity and respect, offering them a better place to live and a fair wage for their work.  He protected them as best he could, but he couldn't always prevent the havoc wreaked by evil men.  As Maggie saw how Cullen treated everyone equally, she realized her need to change.  There were some difficult moments to read in this novel, as it is always hard for me to see evil done to those who don't deserve it.  Even harder was knowing that this really took place in our history, and that many suffered the ridicule and pain that was unjustly inflicted upon them.  Just as I've felt when reading stories of the Holocaust or other evil periods in our world's history...may we never forget.

I have enjoyed every novel I've read by Tamera Alexander, but this novel stands out in particular.  I loved the chemistry between the main characters, I found the bond between Maggie's father and Cullen endearing, and the struggles each character went through, even down to a precious African American child, gave the novel a more than satisfying journey.  I would highly recommend it!

Happy reading!

**I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review, which I gave.**

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Sparrow in Terezin" by Kristy Cambron

Book Summary (from Goodreads): Two women, one in the present day and one in 1942, each hope for a brighter future. But they'll both have to battle through their darkest days to reach it.

"Today." With the grand opening of her new gallery and a fairytale wedding months away, Sera James appears to have a charmed life. But in an instant, the prospect of a devastating legal battle surrounding her fiance threatens to tear her dreams apart. Sera and William rush to marry and are thrust into a world of doubt and fear as they defend charges that could separate them for life.

"June 1942." After surviving the Blitz bombings that left many Londoners with shattered lives, Kaja Makovsky prayed for the war to end so she could return home to Prague. But despite the horrors of war, the gifted journalist never expected to see a headline screaming the extermination of Jews in work camps. Half-Jewish with her family in danger, Kaja has no choice but to risk everything to get her family out of Prague. But with the clutches of evil all around, her escape plan crumbles into deportation, and Kaja finds herself in a new reality as the art teacher to the children of Terezin.

Bound by a story of hope and the survival of one little girl, both Sera and Kaja will fight to protect all they hold dear.

My thoughts....
Even though this is a work of fiction, A Sparrow in Terezin carries you away into a real place in our world's history and connects history to present day.  As I turned each page, I was swept away by the fight to survive, do battle against evil and injustice, and the love that motivated each of the character's to do what was right.  
Sera and William's story picks right up where it left off in the previous novel.  A beach wedding filled with love and hope for the future is interrupted and their world is shifted upside down.  Sera trusts William, but feels she must help him fight this battle.  Their story, for me, was just as interesting as Kaja's story, and even better was the fact that both tales were woven together.  It made me think about how many times I've said to someone, "It's a small world!," when we've found amazing connections.  God writes all of our stories and weaves them together.  Our stories are not without their hardships....and even horrors...but it is possible for beauty to come out in the end.

Kaja's courage and determination led her to persevere in her personal mission to help her family, despite physical injury at one point and even the growing feelings of love she had for a man she worked with.  She was willing to sacrifice it all, even her own life, to help those who needed it.  This kind of love was moving to read, parallel to the love Christ has for us, and the embodiment of the verse, "Greater love has no man that this than he who would lay his life down for his friends."

When I saw this book available for review...I was filled with excitement and anticipation.  I knew before I even started page one that this book was going to take me on a journey, just as Kristy Cambron's first book in this series, The Butterfly and the Violin, did.   But I also knew that I would be haunted by the atrocities that took place in WWII Germany and the beauty that would come from the ashes of those horrific days.  After I read The Butterfly and the Violin, I began looking at the art that was created by Holocaust victims.  It was hard to look at, seeing what no human being should be forced to endure.  After reading A Sparrow in Terezin, there is another opportunity to research the art of the young children who were also victims.  I haven't started that journey yet...I'm not sure I'm ready.  I do know this....we must never forget!  

I would highly recommend this novel.  You get the satisfaction of a Christian fiction novel, in that it tells you a story, one that includes romantic love.  But there is so much more to this book.  You walk into the pages of real history.  The names may be different, some of the details might be fictionalized, but within beats the heart of truth: real struggles, true courage, self-sacrifice, and faith.

**I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley to give an unbiased review, which I gave.**