Sunday, December 29, 2019

Reviewer's bookshelf: "The Piper's Pursuit" by Melanie Dickerson

Book Summary: A fairy-tale journey of intrigue and romance that reimagines the classic Pied Piper story.
A plague of rats. A giant beast outside the village walls. A host of missing children. And one young woman determined to save her people.
In 1424 Hamlin, Katerina faces threats from all sides. An outbreak of rats has overtaken the village, a mysterious beast is on a killing rampage of the village’s children, and Katerina’s evil stepfather is a dark presence inside the walls of her own home. Katerina is determined to hunt and kill the Beast of Hamlin herself before more lives are lost.
When Steffan, the handsome but brash duke’s son, comes to town seeking glory and reward, Katerina decides he might be the ally she’s been looking for—even though the only gentle thing about him seems to be the sweet music he plays on his pipe. But there’s more to Steffan than she suspects, and she finds herself drawn to him despite her misgivings.
Together Katerina and Steffan must stop the enemy from stealing the children of Hamlin. But their interference might create an even worse fate for the entire village.

My thoughts.... From the very beginning, this novel had non-stop action. There is also mystery as the main characters try to solve why the children of the town of Hamlin are disappearing. Melanie Dickerson writes strong female characters, which is exactly what I want my daughter to read as she is always looking for a new book to dive into. In the case of Katarina, she has to learn to trust again as she has been hurt by those who were supposed to protect her. The positive and spiritual messages that were conveyed through the journey that Katarina went on were so well written. I also liked that despite the wounds of her past, Katarina did not use it as an excuse to be bitter and withdrawn...she was brave and never gave up fighting for those who weren't as strong as she was. Life lessons were not only taught through Katarina's story, but also through Steffan's story. In Dickerson's previous book, Steffan makes an appearance as a selfish younger son who tries to bring fortune and fame to himself through some bad choices. "The Piper's Pursuit" shows Steffan's journey is one of humbling himself and pursing forgiveness from those that he has hurt. He also realizes that there are other ways that one can go about being brave and strong. As I read the book, I tried to see it through the intended audience, which is Young Adult. There is a wonderful balance of age appropriate action, romantic tension, and addressing situations that are difficult but described in just the right amount of detail. On a personal note, I love that my daughter (who is 12) and I can share in our love of books together through authors like Melanie. Thanks for another great read!

**I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Rebel Bride" by Shannon McNear

Book Summary...Can Love Form Amidst Tensions of War?During the clash between Union and Confederacy, quiet Tennessean Pearl MacFarlane is compelled to nurse both Rebel and Yankee wounded who seek refuge at her family’s farm. She is determined to remain unmoved by the Yankee cause—until she faces the silent struggle of Union soldier Joshua Wheeler, a recent amputee. The MacFarlane family fits no stereotype Joshua believed in; still he is desperate to regain his footing—as a soldier, as a man, as a Christian—in the aftermath of his debilitating injury. He will use his time behind enemy lines to gather useful intelligence for the Union—if the courageous Rebel woman will stay out of the line of danger.

My thoughts....The Civil War was such a complex time in our nation's history. Each book I've read in this time period presents a different perspective and always interesting food for thought. In this tenth book of  The Daughters of the Mayflower series, both the North and the South are well represented through Pearl and Joshua as well as other supporting characters. I really appreciated that there was no definitive right or wrong side in this story...the reader had to decide for him/herself which position they wanted to take. Even this, however, was not easy to come by. History shows that there really wasn't a "right" or "wrong"...both sides paid dearly with many lives lost and much blood spilled. Pearl and Joshua both had to take a moment to see the war from the "enemy" perspective and both had to serve each other in ways they did not anticipate. The tomantic tension between them was also influenced by their political tension...almost a Romeo and Juliet effect. Thankfully, while the death toll in the Civil War was tragic, this story does not end in the same way that Romeo and Juliet did. I would definitely recommend this novel along with others in this series! Check out my reviews of a few other books I've reviewed in the Daughters of the Mayflower series:
The Liberty Bride
The Cumberland Bride (also by Shannon McNear)
The Captured Bride

**I was given a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Monday, December 2, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Painted Castle" by Kristy Cambron

Book Summary (Amazon): When art historian Keira Foley is hired to authenticate a painting at a centuries-old East Suffolk manor, she hopes this is just the thing to get her career and life back on track. But from the time she arrives at Parham Hill Estate and begins working alongside rumored art thief Emory Scott, she’s left with far more questions than answers. Could this lost painting of Queen Victoria be a duplicate of the original Winterhalter masterpiece, and if so, who is the artist?
As Keira begins to unravel the mystery behind the portrait, two women emerge from the estate’s forgotten past. In Victorian England, talented sketch artist Elizabeth Meade is engaged to Viscount Huxley, then owner of Parham Hill. However, Elizabeth’s real motive for being at Parham Hill has nothing to do with art or marriage. She’s determined to avenge her father’s brutal murder—even if it means a betrothal to the very man she believes committed the crime.
A century later, Amelia Woods—a World War II widow who has turned Parham Hill and its beloved library into a boarding school for refugee children—receives military orders to house a troop of American pilots. She is determined the children in her care will remain untouched by the war, but the task is proving difficult with officers taking up every square inch of their world . . . and one in particular vying for a space in Amelia’s long-shut up heart.
Set in three time periods—the rapid change of Victorian England, the peak of England’s home-front tensions at the end of WWII, and modern day—The Painted Castle unfolds a story of heartache and hope and unlocks secrets lost for generations just waiting to be found.
My thoughts... When I read a time slip novel, I'm looking for a couple of things. I want all of the plot lines to be interesting and for each have their own unique contribution to the novel as a whole. When one plot line stands out above another, it just makes it harder to get through...I just want to skip to my favorite part. It's always nice, too, when each story line comes together in a clever way. The Painted Castle is the third book in The Lost Castle series by Kristy Cambron. In my opinion, each book in this series just gets better and better! Those things I look for...all of them were in this novel! Each story was very unique, had its own mysteries to unravel, and had an incredible amount of romantic tension..almost to the point of frustration ;-). This book did not feel like three get what feels like a full novel in each time period, which I appreciated. I also loved how a singular painting of Queen Victoria connected all three stories. Kristy Cambron added so much rich detail, which always draws me in. I'm a visual person, so being able to create images in my mind is important to me as a reader, and I was certainly able to do that throughout this novel. If you haven't read any of this series, I would suggest starting at the beginning. Each book brings a unique set of stories all connected with the castle theme...which is, honestly, a big part of why I picked them up in the first place. 

**I was given a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Open Hands...a recap of a day in Nashville

About this time a year ago, I looked longingly at Facebook photos of authors I loved and book fans gathered at a restaurant in Nashville, TN for the first Reader and Writer Brunch. More than anything I wished I could be there. I've been a Christian fiction reader for at least twenty years, if not more. I would raid the church library from the time I was a kid, and once books went digital, my first Kindle given to me by my parents for my birthday one year became a prized possession. As many of you know, I love doing book reviews and supporting as many authors as I can. There are just too many reasons why I've never stopped, but one of the big reasons is the connections I've made with some of these authors that I admire so much.

A few months ago when a Facebook post about buying a ticket to The Art of Writing conference and The Christy Awards gala popped into my feed, that longing rose up again in my heart...and I hoped more than anything that this would be the year I could go. It seemed basically impossible. I would have to take off a few days from teaching (and we don't get a lot of personal days ;-) ), arrange for the kids schedule to be taken care of, etc. I presented the idea to my husband and I think he was feeling a lot like I was...this would kind of be a long shot. The best thing I could do was go to God with open hands; to surrender the longings of my heart and receive the blessings He wanted to give, whether it be what I wanted or not.

What seemed like a long shot became a reality when God provided the cost of the ticket, my loving husband agreed to take care of our children's needs, and my brother and sister in law welcomed me to stay in their home while I was in Nashville. My excitement, and even some anxiety, grew as the day drew near for me to take off to "Nashvegas". On the way up I called one of my best friends and we talked about what I hoped to see God do while I was there. She knew about my interest in writing, along with insecurities I had about being good enough or if it was even something God was calling me to. It could be that God just wanted me to continue being a reader, fan, and book reviewer, which I was totally OK with, too. I told her I was going in with open hands, once again, ready to receive whatever God wanted to show me and do in my life through the experience.

Last Wednesday morning my heart was beating so fast. I sent a text to my husband and asked him to pray for me. I wasn't used to driving around in a big, unfamiliar city by myself and I simply wanted to find good parking and not have a wreck or something before I had a chance to arrive at this year's Reader and Writer Brunch. He replied, "Praying. No need to be nervous." He was right! God provided an awesome parking space, for free, right where I needed to be. Deep breath. Now I needed to walk into this restaurant by myself and start mingling with people I've never met in person before. I like meeting new people, but it was still a little intimidating. As I walked in and looked around, I caught sight of one of my favorite Christian fiction authors, Becky Wade. When she saw me, she
stood up, walked over to me and said something like, "Hi Stacey! I recognized you from Facebook and I'm so glad you're here!" To be seen and of the most beautiful gifts a person can be given, especially when they've been having a rough season. We were able to have a lovely conversation and she introduced me to Courtney Walsh, another author that I have connected with some online. Courtney also made me feel so welcomed and we proceeded to have a great conversation. The morning went on and I was able to meet several other kind and generous authors and even some fellow readers like myself who happen to live only 20 minutes from me! God never ceases to amaze me. The whole morning was like an infusion of joy to my heart.

Right after the brunch I decided to go ahead to Lipscomb University where the conference and gala were being held. I wanted to make sure I was able to park (why was I so stressed about parking?! lol) and figure out where I was supposed to go. I met some other authors and readers while I was waiting and it was so much fun! My tank was getting so full....but I was just getting started. As I was checking in, I saw one of the people I've longed to meet for years. Laura Frantz is an award-winning author, but for many years we've also been friends...however, we've never met in person! Our acquaintance started about 7 plus years ago when I requested a bookplate to go inside one of her books and she sent me the sweetest note of encouragement with it. It just so happened I received that note at a time when I was experiencing some heartbreak over a broken friendship and it blessed my heart so deeply. Our friendship grew as we exchanged notes and messages online over the years. To say I was happy when we were finally able to hug each others' necks is a gross understatement. We spent the next several minutes talking like old friends, which made me feel so special and cared for. Simple acts can feel so deeply fulfilling and holy. We spent the day hanging out with another sweet friend I've known for about 8 years, Melanie Dickerson. She is also an award-winning author and has been so kind and generous to me, encouraging me to write and has helped point me forward when I wanted to pursue it. Two amazing and beautiful people that I was blessed to spend time with.

The night ended with a wonderful dinner, fun conversation with my new reader friends, and cheering on the authors who presented and won for their categories. What a wonderful privilege it was! As I said my goodbyes all I could think of was what an incredible day I had. I went into this day with open hands, wondering if God was going to give me some insight about writing and if I wanted to try to move forward or if I should stay where I'm at. At the end of the day, I didn't necessarily have the answer to that question. What I did walk away with was what the Lord knew I needed most: a day to feel loved, known, of joy overflowing, and belonging. Those are just a few of the things. It's not that I never have those feelings in my everyday life, but there have been a lot of hard days lately. Open hands to the gifts He wants to give me, receiving His blessings and responding with gratitude, is the way I want to move forward.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Aiming for Love" by Mary Connealy

Book Summary (Goodreads): Growing up in Colorado, Josephine Madson has been fascinated by but has shied away from the outside world--one she's been raised to believe killed her parents. When Dave Warden, a rancher, shows up to their secret home with his wounded father, will Josephine and her sisters risk stepping into the world to help or remain separated but safe on Hope Mountain?

My thoughts...What a great way to start a new series by Mary Connealy! I loved the cover...reminded me of a female Robin Hood...which is fun to me. The concept of this novel had several interesting aspects. A trio of sisters who have basically raised themselves on a mountain in the wilds of the west, living without disturbance until a family from the bottom of the mountain enters their territory. This throws their controlled environment off kilter. Suddenly men are around, men who are younger than the only man they ever really knew, their grandpa. This challenges all they know...and don't know...about the opposite sex. There is also a new woman in their midst, a woman who acts and treats them much differently than their grandmother. While these three sisters are so courageous and strong with so many things, they have been raised on a hefty dose of fear about others. I also found their perspectives on the Bible and how they were taught to "read" very interesting...a nice element to the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Josephine and look forward to reading the next book in the series!

**I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give my honest opinion, which I did.**

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Hope's Highest Mountain" by Misty M. Beller

Book Summary (Goodreads)...On her way to deliver vaccines to a mining town in the Montana Territory, Ingrid Chastain never anticipated a terrible accident would leave her alone and badly injured in the wilderness. When rescue comes in the form of a mysterious mountain man, she's hesitant to trust him, but the journey ahead will change their lives more than they could have known.

My thoughts...This was my first book by Misty M. Beller and I REALLY enjoyed it! My expectation was that this was just going to be a little easy read in between a few other books I was reading...and it turned out to be so much more than I expected. The vulnerability of Ingrid as she is injured in a terrible accident creates a connection between her and her rescuer. As she struggles to survive, her hero is dedicated to doing all that he can to keep her alive, even if it brings up difficult memories of his own. His battle with a form of PTSD due to his experiences in trying to bring healing to those in need challenges him mentally and emotionally, even as he is battling the physical elements of being on a mountain with winter approaching. While these characters began as strangers, they had to learn to trust each other with their lives. I liked the plot twists as well, especially as Ingrid began to heal and wanted to complete the mission she set out to do. Ingrid's stubbornness was a character trait that I have mixed thoughts about. At times, it certainly served its purpose in the story...other times it was kind of irritating ; ). But the overall outcome was definitely one I liked. I could definitely see myself reading this one again!

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give my honest opinions, which I did.**

Monday, October 7, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Spice King" by Elizabeth Camden

Book Summary (Goodreads): Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building an acclaimed global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before they spiral out of control, he returns to his ancestral home for good after years of traveling the world.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience.

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?
My thoughts... I immediately fell in love with this cover the first time I saw it. I found myself curious...who is the Spice King? What's his story? I also knew from past books I've read from Elizabeth Camden that this would have some ties to historical events. How would Camden weave true events and fictional characters into a compelling story? 
Gray and Annabelle have contrasting histories. Gray comes from a wealthy family that lost their wealth in the Civil War and had to build it back up from nothing. Gray knows what it's like to be wealthy, lose it all, and gain wealth once again. Annabelle has never had the wealth that Gray has, but through her poverty and desire to help her family, she sacrifices almost everything to provide them with a better life. Yet even in her sacrifice she is able to something she with plants.  That's something I appreciate about her character, yet it's also at times a flaw. She is willing to sacrifice everything out of duty instead of fight for what she wants at times. This could just be another cultural aspect of that time period, but I mentally wanted to say, "Come on, girl!" When she is approached by those who are in positions of power and manipulated to spy for them, that's when the moral conflict begins. 
Part of me wanted Annabelle to outsmart those "bad guys"...and her naivete was at times frustrating. Yet I was pleasantly surprised that there were twists in the plot that didn't follow the typical. Predictability is not always a bad thing...because let's be honest...I love a happy ending. It's how the characters get there that makes it fun. The journey Gray and Annabelle take is interesting, entertaining, and redemptive. If you enjoy historical Christian fiction, you'll enjoy this newest novel by Elizabeth Camden. 

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give my honest opinions, which I did.** 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Words Between Us" by Erin Bartels

Book Summary (Goodreads)...Robin Windsor has spent most of her life under an assumed name, running from her family's ignominious past. She thought she'd finally found sanctuary in her rather unremarkable used bookstore just up the street from the marina in River City, Michigan. But the store is struggling and the past is hot on her heels.

When she receives an eerily familiar book in the mail on the morning of her father's scheduled execution, Robin is thrown back to the long-lost summer she met Peter Flynt, the perfect boy who ruined everything. That book--a first edition Catcher in the Rye--is soon followed by the other books she shared with Peter nearly twenty years ago, with one arriving in the mail each day. But why would Peter be making contact after all these years? And why does she have a sinking feeling that she's about to be exposed all over again?

With evocative prose that recalls the classic novels we love, Erin Bartels pens a story that shows that words--the ones we say, the ones we read, and the ones we write--have more power than we imagine.
My thoughts... I've been branching out a little bit with a few different authors this year, and I've really enjoyed the variety of writing. This is my first book by Erin Bartels and I'm happy to say that I'm now a fan! 
The cover, title, and description of this book really drew me in. This is not your average, neat and tidy story with a happy ending. I like those kind of books, too, but this is a lot more raw and gritty. Complex characters that are each trying to navigate the trauma they experienced as children as they grow into adulthood. The story hops from one time period to another: childhood, teen years, and adulthood, all told from Robin's perspective. At times I was kind of surprised at some of the plot twists and directions the story went, but it was all part of the revelation of the trauma and coping mechanisms of the main character, Robin. Even though Robin's life has been one trauma after another, she finds acceptance, friendship, and even a degree of love through the words she shares with a young man she meets at the cemetery near her house. Later finding out that they went to the same school, him being a popular senior and she being a younger, new girl, it didn't stop them from exchanging books and poetry with one another. 
All Peter has left of his mother are the books she left behind. He shares this part of himself with Robin and she "pays" for them by writing poems to Peter, also sharing a piece of herself that no one else knows. Even though so many words are exchanged, a miscommunication drives them apart until Peter begins to reach out to Robin the only way he knows how...through the beloved books she hastily left on his doorstep before she disappeared.
This novel had a little bit of everything...all of which created stirs of emotion. I love the is a perfect fit in so many ways. I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to reading more by Erin Bartels!

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, via Netgalley, in order to give my honest opinion and review, which I did.**

Friday, September 6, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Killing Tide" by Dani Pettrey

Book Summary....When one Coast Guard officer is found dead and another goes missing, Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent Finn Walker faces his most dangerous crime yet. His only clues are what little evidence remains aboard the dead officer's boat, and the direction the clues point to will test Finn and the Guard to their limits.

When investigative reporter--and Finn's boss's sister--Gabby Rowley arrives, her unrelenting questions complicate an already volatile situation. Now that she's back, the tug on Finn's heart is strong, but with the risks she's taking for her next big story, he fears she might not live through it.

Thrown together by the heinous crime, Finn and Gabby can't ignore the sparks or judgments flying between them. But will they be able to see past their preconceptions long enough to track down an elusive killer, or will they become his next mark?

My thoughts....Another great beginning and a host of interesting characters in the newest series by Dani Pettrey. And how about that awesome cover?!! After reading Pettrey's two previous series, I kind of know what to expect: suspense, romantic tension, and a subtle faith aspect. What keeps me coming back is that I love the high speed pace and the plot aspects I mentioned before. The unexpected ending was was probably my favorite part of the novel. I'm not sure if it was just the digital copy I had, but there were times when the story would jump from one person's perspective to another, without a paragraph or chapter break. I had to go back a few times and reread just to follow what was going on. I also found Gabby's tendency to ignore the warnings of those who were trying to protect her and go investigate irritating. People were putting their lives on hold and willing to do anything for her, but her lack of respect for them in order to pursue her own interests left a sour taste in my mouth. She does have some positive traits that I liked, such as courage and persistence, but it was kind of overshadowed at times. Finn basically seemed like the guy who could be or do no wrong, and that made him very likable. Definitely hero material! You should also expect, as in the other series, a large cast of characters. It can seem like a lot to keep up with, but it does offer a lot of variety. Overall, I enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing what happens next!

*I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher to give an honest review, which I did. All opinions are my own.* 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Yours Truly, Thomas" by Rachel Fordham

Book Summary (Goodreads): For three years, Penny Ercanbeck has been opening other people's mail. Dead ends are a reality for clerks at the Dead Letter Office. Still she dreams of something more--a bit of intrigue, a taste of romance, or at least a touch less loneliness. When a letter from a brokenhearted man to his one true love falls into her hands, Penny seizes this chance to do something heroic. It becomes her mission to place this lost letter into the hands of its intended recipient.

Thomas left his former life with no intention of ending up in Azure Springs, Iowa. He certainly didn't expect a happy ending after what he had done. All he wanted to do was run and never look back. In a moment of desperation, he began to write, never really expecting a reply.

When Penny's undertaking leads her to the intriguing man who touched her soul with his words, everything grows more complicated. She wants to find the rightful owner of the letter and yet she finds herself caring--perhaps too much--for the one who wrote it.

My thoughts...I picked up this book to review because I'd heard so many good things about it. I've never read anything by Rachel Fordham, so I was interested to experience her writing style and was curious about the story line of "Yours Truly, Thomas." My overall impression was very good! The story was very sweet, and when I finished I had that happy, satisfied feeling. 
     The premise of this novel is one that I haven't read before. Penny works for the Dead Letter Office (which reminded me of a show I really love called "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" that has a similar plot line), and takes a personal interest in Thomas, a man that writes deeply heartfelt letters. I love Penny's character. She genuinely wants to help someone without gain for herself. Her compassion really shines in this story. Thomas is a vulnerable, broken man, which is honestly the kind of male character I love the most. They have space to grow in a story, with so much potential to soften and change, especially when a heroine enters their life. 
     I love the journey these two go on, especially the courage they both display to face their fears. The pace is steady and the romantic tension is more sweet than edgy. Overall, I enjoyed this novel and would read more by Rachel Fordham. 

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give an honest, unbiased review, which I did.**

Friday, July 5, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Number of Love" by Roseanna M. White

Book Summary (Amazon)...Three years into the Great War, England's greatest asset is their intelligence network--field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren't enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by an enemy who just won't give up. He's smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life's answers lie in the heart?

Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves from the very secrets that brought them together.

My thoughts...This novel was unlike many of the historical Christian fiction that I've read lately. I particularly found the heroine to be very unique. Margot De Wilde is a highly intelligent code breaker that works practically around the clock to solve complex German messages, but number codes aren't just her job. Her whole life revolves around them. It's how she communicates love, spirituality, and how she relates to people...which can be awkward at times because most people don't communicate that way. It makes her character very complex and at times hard to relate to, but at the same time the author does a great job at inviting us into her world. 
The hero in the story helps balance out Margot's character with an intensity of his own. Drake is courageous...a dedicated soldier and spy who will risk everything to defeat the enemy. He and Margot have a connection before they even realize it, and when they do finally meet they are drawn to one another. I really liked that Drake wasn't just written as a big, strong man who swoops in to win the day, but has needs, weaknesses and intelligence that makes him a good counterpart to Margot. 
Overall, I was impressed with all the detail in this novel. The depth of everything from the game Margot and her mysterious rival played with one another to the descriptions of the messages Margot decoded...practically everything about this novel displayed the author's research skills and applying that research to create an intriguing novel. It could feel a bit heavy at times, as there was a lot of pieces to this story, including psychological and emotional aspects. It did enhance the story and make the characters more believable, but it wasn't always easy to read. 

**I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Reluctant Bride" by Jody Hedlund

Book Summary (Amazon): Living in London's poorest slum, Mercy Wilkins has little hope of a better life. When she's offered an opportunity to join a bride ship sailing to British Columbia, she agrees. After witnessing so much painful heartache and loss in the slums, the bride ship is her only prospect to escape a bleak future, not only for herself but, she hopes, someday for her sister.

Wealthy and titled Joseph Colville leaves home and takes to the sea in order to escape the pain of losing his family. As ship's surgeon, he's in charge of the passengers' welfare aboard the Tynemouth, including sixty brides-to-be. He has no immediate intention of settling down, but when Mercy becomes his assistant, the two must fight against a forbidden love. 

With hundreds of single men congregating on the shore eager to claim a bride from the Tynemouth, will Mercy and Joseph lose their chance at true love, or will they be able to overcome the obstacles that threaten to keep them apart?

My thoughts...A Reluctant Bride is the first book in a new historical series by Jody Hedlund. As a loyal fan of Jody's books, I was really excited for this new perspective on a type of mail order bride story. The romantic aspect of this genre is usually my favorite part, and Hedlund is able to write those moments of romantic tension like no other! The building up of anticipation between the hero and heroine are fantastic! There is so much more to this story, though, than romance. The historical detail, the sights, sounds, and smells that Mercy, Joseph and the other passengers encountered on the ship, made the story come to life. This story is also parallel to true events, so imagining what these poor women went through that led up to the decision of being promised to strangers in a wild land, then all that they experienced on the long ship voyage, really tugged at my heart strings. They endured so much hardship. These women were extremely vulnerable physically but many of them also didn't have a formal education, which was displayed in Mercy's character. Despite her lack of schooling, she showed a determination to learn, support herself, and independently make her way in her new homeland. I really loved Mercy's fighting spirit! And what would a good story be without a hero who champions the cause of those in need?! Joseph is conflicted throughout the novel between his feelings and obligations. His character development was also a satisfying part of the story. 

If you like historical Christian fiction, you'll certainly enjoy this new series!

**I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The King's Mercy" by Lori Benton

Book Summary (Goodreads)...When captured rebel Scotsman Alex MacKinnon is granted the king's mercy--exile to the Colony of North Carolina--he's indentured to Englishman Edmund Carey as a blacksmith. Against his will Alex is drawn into the struggles of Carey's slaves--and those of his stepdaughter, Joanna Carey. A mistress with a servant's heart, Joanna is expected to wed her father's overseer, Phineas Reeves, but finds herself drawn instead to the new blacksmith. As their unlikely relationship deepens, successive tragedies strike the Careys. When blame falls unfairly upon Alex he flees to the distant mountains where he encounters Reverend Pauling, itinerate preacher and friend of the Careys, now a prisoner of the Cherokees. Haunted by his abandoning of Joanna, Alex tries to settle into life with the Cherokees, until circumstances thwart yet another attempt to forge his freedom and he's faced with the choice that's long hounded him: continue down his rebellious path or embrace the faith of a man like Pauling, whose freedom in Christ no man can steal. But the price of such mercy is total surrender, and perhaps Alex's very life.

My thoughts... Every book I've read by Lori Benton is like an epic journey into a time and place in history that hits on all points of the 5 senses. You are literally able to see, hear, touch, smell and taste what the characters do. Granted, these characters are fictional, but their story is written in such a detailed manner, and reflect the lives of those who really did live in that time period, that it has the feel of reading a true account. That's the appeal of her books, in my opinion. While she doesn't go into all of the details of the evil that was done to some of the characters, I physically felt the rise and fall in the tension as my heart sped up along with the angst that the author, I'm sure, wanted her readers to feel. Lori Benton also knows how to write some great romantic tension. And thank you for a Scotsman as a hero...they rarely disappoint ; ). 
The book is also cleverly titled, as "the king's mercy" is the way a person given his or her life by mercy of the king of England. Although Alex MacKinnon initially doesn't see his path to an indenture at Severn Plantation an act of mercy. At every turn, Alex is being mistreated and betrayed. His one bright spot there is Joanna Carey, but she struggles with the hold that Severn has on her as well. The story takes many twists and turns, several of which were unexpected. I really enjoyed those surprise twists, although they addressed the heartache of what many slaves, Native Americans, indentures, and others faced during that time. As the story went on, Alex saw the work of God, and His mercy, on his life. I would certainly recommend this novel if you're a fan of historical Christian fiction. While it is long (400 pages), it is worth the time!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley, in order to give an honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Friday, June 7, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "More Than Words Can Say" by Karen Witemeyer

Book Summary (Goodreads)...After fulfilling a pledge to a dying friend, Zacharias Hamilton is finally free. No family entanglements. No disappointing those around him. Just the quiet bachelor existence he's always craved. Until fate snatches his freedom away when the baker of his favorite breakfast bun is railroaded by the city council. Despite not wanting to get involved, he can't turn a blind eye to her predicament . . . or her adorable dimples.

Abigail Kemp needs a man's name on her bakery's deed. A marriage of convenience seems the best solution . . . if it involves a man she can control. That person definitely isn't the stoic lumberman who oozes silent confidence whenever he enters her shop. Control Zacharias Hamilton? She can't even control her pulse when she's around him.
When vows are spoken, Abigail's troubles should be over. Yet threats to the bakery worsen, and darker dangers hound her sister. Can she put ever more trust in Zach without losing her dreams of independence?

My thoughts...This book is the second in a series, but could be read as a stand alone novel. Reading the first book, "More Than Meets the Eye," will, however, provide some good background for Zach's character and honestly is a great read so...bonus! I've been a Karen Witemeyer fan for a LONG time, and one reason is that every book feels like a new, sweet surprise. I love the dialogue she creates between the characters, the way she weaves in a faith aspect without it feeling forced, and romantic tension that's real! In this book, there's obviously going to be some tension if two people, who are basically strangers, get married and start living together in the same house. I'm glad the author didn't skirt around that but addressed it throughout the novel...which led to some fun scenes between the two main characters. Loved it! 
     I also loved the hero, Zacharias. The protector in him, even though he initially resisted a commitment to Abigail, won out. He wasn't afraid to stand up to those who mistreated her and stepped into his role in the story quite well. Abigail was a very likable character. Sweet, kind hearted, and "curvy" were some of the words I would use to describe her. I liked the connection she had with Zach in the story. My only wish for curvy girls in all the novels I read is for there to occasionally be one that is proud and confident in her curviness and not always feeling self conscious because of it. In real life, many girls who are not slim feel like they're not attractive enough to have a handsome guy like them (like Abigail did). I would love to see a heroine who may not fit the mold with her body type and have confidence that goes through the roof ; ). Personal preferences aside, I still loved this story and couldn't put it down. I would certainly recommend it!
     Karen Witemeyer was so gracious to be my very first author spotlight....way back in 2012! It's hard to believe it's been that long ago. In the interview I asked Karen what one of her favorite recipes was. Click here to find out! : )

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Noble Guardian" by Michelle Griep

Book Summary (Amazon): The must-read conclusion to Michelle Griep’s Bow Street Runners Trilogy: Life couldn’t be better for Abigail Gilbert—but it’s been a long time in coming. Having lived with a family who hated her, it’s finally her time for love. Abby sets off on a journey across England to marry one of the most prestigious gentlemen in the land—until highwaymen upset her plans and threaten her life.

Horse patrol captain Samuel Thatcher arrives just in time to save Abby. But she’s simply another victim in a job he’s come to despise. Tired of the dark side of humanity, he intends to buy land and retire.

Abby pleads with him to escort her for the rest of her journey. He refuses—until she offers him something he desperately needs to achieve his goal. . .money. Delivering her safely will give him more than enough to buy property.

So begins an impossible trek for the cynical lawman and the proper lady. Each will be indelibly changed by the time they reach her betrothed, if they don’t kill one another first—or fall in love.

My thoughts... I have only read the first, and now the last, books in the Bow Street Runners Trilogy, but you don't have to read all three to follow the story in this book. I would, however, recommend them! I really love Michelle Griep's style of writing. It has a little extra edge to it than your traditional Christian fiction, which I really enjoy. When I say "edge", I mean that there was more in-depth descriptive language when it came to the danger and suspense aspect of the plot, along with the romantic aspect. This created so many more detailed pictures in my mind and made me have all the feelings that the author wanted me to have: excitement, fear, suspense, angst, romance, attraction, etc. You're also still getting the internal wrestling of the characters with their spiritual path. 
     Abby and Samuel's characters have a great balance. Both have had a harsh childhood and are deeply affected by it. Both have dealt with their past in different ways. Abby is determined to escape by marrying someone she barely knows, Samuel, who has been hardened by years of pursuing dangerous criminals, wants to live the rest of his days as a farmer...alone. It isn't until they meet that both of them start to envision a different kind of future than they planned on. I liked how their characters played off of each other, but my personal favorite was Samuel. Give me a strong, tough, vulnerable hero and I'm done. 
     I would highly recommend this book. I loved the plot twists, characters, romantic tension, steady plot, and descriptive language. I would also recommend to read all the books in this series, starting with Brentwood's Ward

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Friday, May 24, 2019

Reviewer's bookshelf: "Sweet on You" by Becky Wade

Book Summary (Amazon): Britt Bradford and Zander Ford have been the best of friends since they met thirteen years ago. Unbeknown to Britt, Zander has been in love with her for just as long.

Independent and adventurous Britt channels her talent into creating chocolates at her hometown shop. Zander is a bestselling author who's spent the past 18 months traveling the world. He's achieved a great deal but still lacks the only thing that ever truly mattered to him--Britt's heart.

When Zander's uncle dies of mysterious causes, he returns to Merryweather, Washington, to investigate, and Britt is immediately there to help. Although this throws them into close proximity, both understand that an attempt at romance could jeopardize their once-in-a-lifetime friendship. But while Britt is determined to resist any change in their relationship, Zander finds it increasingly difficult to keep his feelings hidden.

As they work together to uncover his uncle's tangled past, will the truth of what lies between them also, finally, come to light?

My thoughts.... Oh, the tension!! I loved the romantic tension in this novel! Becky Wade is an expert at drawing you into the hearts of her characters, and I believe "Sweet on You" is one of her best examples. This is the third book in the Bradford Sisters series (and yes...all of them are fantastic!), so there are hints to Britt and Zander's story throughout each book leading up to this one. By the time I finished the second book in the series, "Falling for You," I was eagerly anticipating Britt's story. In each novel, Wade adds fun little insights into what is happening with the characters. In "Sweet on You," there are a set of text messages Britt and Zander sent to one another, a note Britt wrote to her friend about Zander in high school, a letter Britt sent on Zander's behalf (without his knowledge), and several more fun tidbits. It is a creative and clever way to give backstory over several years' time without pages of explanation. Loved it!
     Not only was there romantic tension, but there was also an element of suspense. As they worked together to solve the mystery of Zander's uncle, they encountered some dangerous people which led to some intense situations. I liked this added dimension to their story. It certainly complemented the romantic aspect in that Britt and Zander had to depend on one another in a way that they never had before, which brought out conflict but also drew them closer together. 
     There were certainly times when I wanted to throttle Britt and Zander for the choices they made, but I appreciated their character flaws in the well as their strengths. It really made this book a fantastic read and a wonderful conclusion to the series. I would highly recommend all three books, as well as the prequel novella. 

**I received a copy of this book from the publisher in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Verity" by Lisa T. Bergren

Book Summary (Goodreads): After leaving England behind for a new life in the West Indies with her sisters, Verity Banning wants something to call her own. Her affinity for animals inspires her to set up a business importing horses, as well as other goods in demand by the island residents. But when she arrives in the Colonies to purchase her goods, unexpected news of Captain Duncan McKintrick awaits her—as does the captain's handsome brother, Ian—whose sympathies lie with the fledgling Patriot cause.

As the great-granddaughter of a British general and friend to many Loyalists, Verity believed all she wanted was a peaceful resolution. But both the Patriots and the impassioned Ian McKintrick are steadily laying claim to her heart. When faced with the decision of what—and for whom—she will fight, can she set her feet on a new path despite the danger that awaits?

My thoughts...I would highly recommend reading the first book in this series, "Keturah," before reading "Verity." It explains the events leading up to the Banning sisters traveling to the West Indies as well as all the things that have happened before Verity's story. 
     I have really liked this series because of its unique setting and interesting plot lines. There are a lot of twists, but it keeps the plot intriguing and at a great pace. I have never read books that were set in the West Indies until this series, so I have enjoyed the mental imagery that Lisa Bergren has created through descriptive language. Not only is this book set in the Indies, but also the shores of a young America. This made an interesting contrast. Both settings played a part and were affected by America's fight for independence, which was also a learning point for me. 
     There was a lot going on in the plot of this novel. Verity is one who is dedicated to her sisters, but also wants to make her own way in life. As she branches out pursue her dreams of owning her own business, she also searches for Duncan McKintrick, her lost love. In the process she meets his brother, Ian, and they become business partners. Their partnership takes them from one shore to another and into situations that helped them grow in courage and faith. There were also moments of suspense when Verity faced a villainous man bent on revenge in the Indies, as well as British soldiers who suspected Ian and Verity of treason. 
     I would definitely recommend "Verity." Exciting plot, interesting characters, suspense, and romantic tension come together to make a very interesting read!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley to give an honest review, which I did.**

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Memory House" by Rachel Hauck

Book Summary (Amazon)...When Beck Holiday lost her father in the North Tower on 9/11, she also lost her memories of him. Eighteen years later, she’s a tough New York City cop burdened with a damaging secret, suspended for misconduct, and struggling to get her life in order. Meanwhile a mysterious letter arrives informing her she’s inherited a house along Florida’s northern coast, and what she discovers there will change her life forever. Matters of the heart only become more complicated when she runs into handsome Bruno Endicott, a driven sports agent who fondly recalls the connection they shared as teenagers. But Beck doesn’t remember that either.
Decades earlier, widow Everleigh Applegate lives a steady, uneventful life with her widowed mother after a tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, and destroyed her new, young married life. When she runs into old high school friend Don Callahan, she begins to yearn for change. Yet no matter how much she longs to love again, she is hindered by a secret she can never share.
Fifty years separate the women but through the power of love and miracle of faith, they each find healing in a beautiful Victorian known affectionately as The Memory House.
My thoughts...I wasn't sure what to expect with this book when I started it, but once I started, I could hardly put it down! I LOVED this story! The rawness of the circumstances of each character, the journey of heartache and redemption each one experiences brought me to tears several times. I rarely cry in a book, but I caught myself empathizing with each character so deeply that the tears just came without warning.
     I really loved that Rachel Hauck wrote a clean, Christian fiction novel, yet didn't skirt around the ugly parts of life. I might describe it as "edgy", but it felt more raw and real to me than anything. The parts where people make mistakes, really serious mistakes with very difficult consequences, and yet God can redeem them. I kept thinking of the phrase, He can make beauty from ashes, more than once. As typical with many of Hauck's novels, there was a supernatural element that helped play a part in resolving the conflicts the characters faced. This is a bit unique in that it was more than just your normal divine involved what was probably an angel and characters having scenes practically brought to life before their eyes as opposed to just remembering something. It was not a turn off, but added a special element to the story.
     I have enjoyed several of Rachel Hauck's novels, but I believe this is my new favorite! I would definitely recommend The Memory House, a split-time novel that connects through the generations.

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Friday, March 29, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Far Side of the Sea" by Kate Breslin

Book Summary (Amazon): In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life--a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield. 

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel's half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel's diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives.

My thoughts... In most novels, I tend to gravitate towards relating most to the heroine. In this novel, however, I was most drawn to the hero, Colin, and his story. His journey from being a wounded war hero with PTSD, anxiety, and no desire to do anything beyond a quiet routine to someone who is willing to reengage and take risks for love was beautifully written. The vulnerability he had is something that always appeals to me in a hero, but he also had courage to overcome. Maybe it's just me, but Johanna's character was kind of hard for me to connect to. I guess I couldn't completely figure her out. Was she the savvy tough girl who likes to wear men's clothes that was raised by an Irish militant or was she the feminine French young lady who wears fashionable clothes and is so stubborn that she makes some unwise choices in order to get her way? She's Irish, but lives in France and her hero is Napoleon. In my mind I was trying to imagine her accent as she spoke, but just couldn't. There was just a lot going on there for me. Maybe she's supposed to be mysterious and I missed it. 
     Other than my connection issues with the characters, the novel had the same kind of plot twists and exciting moments that previous Breslin novels have. I really started getting that fun jittery feeling about mid-way through the book. I thought the romantic tension was nice as the characters had obstacles to overcome. Overall I believe most Christian fiction readers will find this book quite enjoyable, but Kate Breslin's "For Such a Time" still holds the top spot for me. 

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Friday, March 15, 2019

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Daughters of Northern Shores" by Joanne Bischof

Book summaryAven Norgaard understands courage. Orphaned within an Irish workhouse, then widowed at just nineteen, she voyaged to America where she was wooed and wed by Thor Norgaard, a Deaf man in rural Appalachia. That the Lord saw her along the winding journey and that Aven now carries Thor's child are blessings beyond measure. Yet while Thor holds her heart, it is his younger brother and rival who haunts her memories. Haakon--whose selfish choices shattered her trust in him.

Having fled the Norgaard orchard after trying to take Aven as his own, Haakon sails on the North Atlantic ice trade, where his soul is plagued with regrets that distance cannot heal. Not even the beautiful Norwegian woman he's pursued can ease the torment. When the winds bear him home after four years away, Haakon finds the family on the brink of tragedy. A decades-old feud with the neighboring farm has wrenched them into the fiercest confrontation on Blackbird Mountain since the Civil War. Haakon's cunning and strength hold the power to seal many fates, including Thor's--which is already imperiled due to a grave illness brought to him at the first prick of warfare.

Now Haakon faces the hardest choice of his life. One that shapes a battlefield where pride must be broken enough to be restored, and where a prodigal son may finally know the healing peace of surrender and the boundless gift of forgiveness. And when it comes to the woman he left behind in Norway, he just might discover that while his heart belongs to a daughter of the north, she's been awaiting him on shores more distant than the land he's fighting for.

My thoughts... Reading this book reminds me of the amazing bread pudding I had for dessert the other day: warm, comforting, delicious with every bite, and I didn't want it to end! This is just how I felt while reading "Daughters of Northern Shores."
     When I finished the first book in this series, "Sons of Blackbird Mountain," I was in love with the Norgaard family. The way that Joanne Bischof wrote each character endeared them to me. I immediately wanted more of their story. When I saw that there would be a sequel I waiting in eager anticipation then downloaded as fast as I could!
     After years of living peacefully, the Norgaard's family life is shaken up again with the return of Haakon and the sudden illness of Thor, which impacts the rest of the family, particularly Aven. The tension is high as the family navigates how to extend forgiveness to Haakon. The parallel to the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son is so beautifully written. There is also a mysterious element as they try to discover the source of Thor's illness.
     I really can't say enough about how much I love this series (because you really need to read both books)! The balance of romance, tension, spirituality, and exquisite detail make for an excellent reading experience!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via netgalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Monday, March 11, 2019

Reviewer's bookshelf: "The Unexpected Champion" by Mary Connealy

Book Summary: City dweller John McCall never expected to be out in the High Sierras of 1868 on a wild-goose chase to find the Chiltons' supposedly lost grandson. But now that he's out here, things have gotten even more complicated, mostly due to wildcat Penny Scott. She's not like any woman he's ever met--comfortable in the woods, with a horse, and with a gun. 

When Penny and John are taken against their will by a shadowy figure looking for evidence they don't have, both realize they've stumbled into something dangerous and complicated. With their friends and family desperately searching for them, Penny and John must make a daring escape. 

When they emerge back into the real world, they are confronted with a kidnapper who just won't stop. They must bring a powerful, ruthless man to justice, even as this city man and country woman fight a very inconvenient attraction to each other.

My thoughts... The Unexpected Champion is book three in this series. It's hard for me to say which of the three I liked more...all of them were fantastic! This book wraps up the dilemma that started in book one: who is the bad guy and why is this family being tormented by him? There's also a side story that began in book two of family members seeking to get custody of their grandson...with bad intentions. This story is a perfect balance of humor, intensity, romantic tension, danger...all set in a beautiful western landscape. I honestly get pretty excited when I see that Mary Connealy has written a new book because I love the contrast she creates with the different elements in the plot. Between the wit and humor that she injects into her characters (with some moments that I actually laughed out loud) and the very intense danger scenes, there's a little surprise on every page. 
     And let's not forget the romance. I love the way these characters interact with each other. The push and pull between attraction and hesitancy create some fun tension. The way this couple got thrown together (literally!), was a little on the far fetched side for me, but I honestly just went with it. It kind of fit into the humor of the story, but also provided the situation these two characters needed to move forward with their growing attraction (which I was all in for that ; )). 
     This book...and the a big thumbs up from me! I loved the setting, the cast of characters, the plot..basically all of it. I haven't elaborated much on the spiritual aspect of the novel, but there was a faith aspect that fit right in with the rest of the story line. It was a fun read!

**I was given a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**