Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

59From New York Times bestselling author comes The Wedding Dress.
Four brides. One Dress.
A tale of faith, redemption, and timeless love.

Charlotte owns a chic Birmingham bridal boutique. Dressing brides for their big day is her gift . . . and her passion. But with her own wedding day approaching, why can’t she find the perfect dress…or feel certain she should marry Tim?

Then Charlotte discovers a vintage dress in a battered trunk at an estate sale. It looks brand-new—shimmering with pearls and satin, hand-stitched and  timeless in its design. But where did it come from? Who wore it? Who welded the lock shut and tucked the dog tags in that little sachet? Who left it in the basement for a ten-year-old girl? And what about the mysterious man in the purple vest who insists the dress had been “redeemed.”

Charlotte’s search for the gown’s history—and its new bride—begins as a distraction from her sputtering love life. But it takes on a life of its own as she comes to know the women who have worn the dress. Emily from 1912. Mary Grace from 1939. Hillary from 1968. Each with her own story of promise, pain, and destiny. And each with something unique to share. For woven within the threads of the beautiful hundred-year-old gown is the truth about Charlotte’s heritage, the power of courage and faith, and the timeless beauty of finding true love.

 

I’m going to state up front that this will not be a book for everyone. I want to lay out what I found and let you decide for yourself whether to add it to your list or not. 

My Thoughts: First of all, the book starts off so strongly. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the overall plot. I liked how Hauck bounced between two eras to tell this story and I was invested in both of these ladies and their struggling relationships with the men in their lives.
For me, the story took a wrong turn when Hauck introduced a mystical thread. It almost reads as a fantasy, except it isn’t. I don’t want to ruin the story, but I do want to point out some of what was found here. There is a dress with magical properties and the ability to fit “any woman who accepts it and believes in it” (quote from the novel), a mysterious man who appears to be a heavenly visitor, scenes where the characters mention smelling something spicy (think anointing oil here), among other things. This no longer lined up with my theology and I grew uncomfortable at times while reading it.
Without this mystical thread, The Wedding Dress would have been a hit for me. I found no fault with Hauck’s writing style or overall plot and even cared a great deal about the characters. But I can’t get passed what I can’t agree with.
There’s my honest opinion. Now, dear reader, decide for yourself what you want to do with it.

~I received a copy from The Fiction Guild. I was not required to review this book. All thoughts are my own. 

Posted in Fiction Diner

Fiction Diner: Cherry Almond Bread

I found this recipe on The Recipe Critic. The beautiful color called out to me the moment I saw it. View the link to see her lovely pictures. 

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Cherry Almond Bread

I’ve already mentioned that what drew me to this recipe was the vibrant pink color of the bread that I saw on the original blog post. Naturally, my pink-loving heart was disappointed with the pinky-orange that I saw in my version. A few drops of food coloring will cure this next time.
The bread was super easy to make as all quick breads are. It came out dense but not dry. It wasn’t too sweet. The powder sugar was a perfect addition. This bread would go great with a cup of tea.
I’m giving this recipe 9 stars.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 c. sugar
  • ½ c. vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1½ tsp. almond extract
  • 2¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 (8 oz.) jar maraschino cherries, chopped, juice reserved
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour (or line with parchment paper) two 8×4-inch loaf pans; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and oil; add eggs, vanilla and almond extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Measure out ½ cup of the reserved maraschino cherry juice. If juice does not equal ½ cup, add enough water to make up the rest. Alternately add the flour mixture and cherry juice to the sugar mixture until it is just combined. Stir in the chopped cherries.
  2. Divide batter evenly between both loaf pans. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert to a wire rack and cool completely. Dust tops of bread with powdered sugar, if desired, slice and serve. Makes: 2 loaves.

Note: If you’re looking for a more vibrant color, add a few drops of red food coloring.

I baked mine in the Pampered Chef loaf stone which is a tad larger than the one she mentions in the directions above. It fit perfectly in mine and I only baked one loaf.

These would also make good muffins.

19Novel Quote: 

“Because I think it’s wise for the man who is king, as you say, to remember what it’s like…not to be.” – A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

Such a helpful tip on how to stay humble.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: A Beauty so Rare by Tamera Alexander

19Pink is not what Eleanor Braddock ordered, but maybe it would soften the tempered steel of a woman who came through a war–and still had one to fight.

Eleanor Braddock–plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty–knows she will never marry. But with a dying soldier’s last whisper, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. Impoverished and struggling to care for her ailing father, Eleanor arrives at Belmont Mansion, home of her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America–and possibly the most demanding, as well. Adelicia insists on finding her niece a husband, but a simple act of kindness leads Eleanor down a far different path–building a home for destitute widows and fatherless children from the Civil War. While Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve of this endeavor. Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come to Nashville from Austria in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Hiding his royal heritage, Marcus longs to combine his passion for nature with his expertise in architecture, but his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widows’ and children’s home run contrary to Eleanor’s wishes. As work on the home draws them closer together, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground–and a love neither of them expects. 

But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor, and even if he were, someone who knows his secrets is about to reveal them all.

  
From the USA Today bestselling author of To Whisper Her Name and A Lasting Impression comes a moving historical novel about a bold young woman drawn to a group of people forgotten by Nashville society–and to the one man with whom she has no business falling in love.
What I Loved: I’ll be honest, I had mixed feelings about this book for the first half of it. While I connected and cared about the characters, the story felt extremely slow for me. I was tempted to set it aside but persevered, and, I must say, I’m very grateful that I did! From the very beginning, I enjoyed watching Marcus and Eleanor together and this only improved as the story continued. By the ending, I had forgotten why I struggled so much in the beginning and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe the problem was slow building tension or maybe it was just me. Either way, I’m glad that I had finally read it.
As always with Tamera Alexander, you can expect a rich historic setting and she doesn’t disappoint here.
Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving A Beauty so Rare 5 stars and recommending it to anyone who enjoys Christian Historical Fiction.
Posted in Fiction Diner

Fiction Diner Recipe: Gummy Bear Heart Cookies

I found this recipe on One Little Project at a Time just in time for Valentine’s Day. The kids adored them, especially when they knew that the main ingredient was Gummy Bears.

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Gummy Bear Heart Cookies

First of all, I want to say how great these went over. But sadly, they weren’t without fail. I’ll share my personal pitfalls and tips further down. I hope you give them a  try. I’m giving the over all recipe 9 stars.
The cookie itself was similar to a shortbread. It was slightly bland but this wasn’t a hardship since the gummy bears offer a punch of flavor. The two balanced each other nicely. However, the cookies were extremely crumbly, so make sure your sweethearts enjoy these over a plate.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2¼ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 24 gummy bears, cut in half

 

Directions: 

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone liners.
  • In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg yolk, and mix until smooth. Add the flour and salt, and mix to form a thick dough.
  • Roll the dough into one inch balls and place on prepared baking sheets. Use your finger to press down twice on each ball, making a heart-shaped indent. Place two gummy bear halves into each indent in a v shape.
  • Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until the cookies are just slightly golden at the bottom and the gummy bears are melty. If the gummy bears do not melt all the way, use a toothpick to gently spread them throughout the indent in the cookie.
  • Cool completely before eating.

 

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A dose of reality! While these cookies were super yummy, they were also a bit on the messy side. I encourage you to check out the blog where I had first found the recipe (the link is at the top of this page). She offers several pictures and a tip for working with gummy bears when they don’t melt all the way. Clearly, that was NOT my problem. Lol

Tips:
I used the Kroger gummy bear brand. The flavors were fantastic. I don’t recall gummy bears having different flavors but maybe I had never slowed down to taste them when I was younger.

If you’re using the Kroger brand, you’ll want to know that these melt REALLY well as you can tell from the picture above. When I make these in the future, I plan to bake the cookies 1/2 – 3/4 of the way before adding the gummy bears.

I would also suggest baking one cookie solo to see how your candy melts before you pop the entire tray in the oven on good faith.

If you manage to melt your gummies, you’ll notice that the cookie soaks up a great deal of the liquid. I didn’t think the cookies would have baked all the way underneath this and was afraid I accidentally made a bread pudding…which I hate, by the way. I was surprised to see how dry and perfect they were once they cooled.

Clean up tip: If some of your gummies wind up on the tray, don’t fret. Just run hot water over the tray until all is melted off. For some strange reason, scrapping the cooked gummy bears wasn’t an option no matter how hard I tried. I left water running over the pan while I wandered off to answer a text message and came back to disappearing goo! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was since I was about to toss the entire tray.

Novel Quote: 
In light of Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing a quote from the Queen of classic romance. 🙂 Enjoy!! Feel free to share your favorite Austen quote with me!

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bounty Hunter’s Baby by Erica Vetsch

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Brought Together by a Baby 

Bounty hunter Thomas Beaufort has no problem handling outlaws, but when he’s left with a criminal’s baby to care for, he’s in over his head. And the only person he can think of to ask for help is Esther Jensen, the woman whose heart he broke when he left town. But can he convince her to put aside the past until he tracks down the baby’s outlaw father? 

Esther is ready to run Thomas off her Texas ranch—until she spies the abandoned newborn in his arms. Soon, working together to care for the precious babe stirs old hopes of a family. With trouble heading to their door, they could overcome it together—if she’ll entrust her wary heart to this sweet, second-chance family…

What I Loved: I’ve come to rely on Erica Vetsch to deliver a solid western and The Bounty Hunter’s Baby hit the spot. There was a bit of danger, lots of dust, an adorable newborn, two characters that you can’t help but root for, a message for the heart, and a bit of clean romance to top it all off.
I was drawn into the story the moment Thomas Beaufort burst onto the page, bringing with him the greatest dog I’ve ever met in a novel before. Rip was a delight! Hats off to you, Erica, for creating such a lovable pooch.

Rating and Recommendation: I recommend The Bounty Hunter’s Baby to anyone who enjoys Christian Historical Fiction, Christian Western, or for those who can’t wait to meet the delightful Rip. I’m giving it 5 stars.

~I received a copy from the author but was not compensated for this review or required to give a favorable one. All thoughts are my own. 

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green

48Sweeping Historical Fiction Set at the Edge of the Continent

After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.

When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne’s brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?

With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king’s mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

What I Loved: History lovers, get ready! The Mark of the King was so chocked full of rich historic details in a time and setting that is rarely dusted off. This gripping tale will grab your attention and not let go until long after you’ve finished it. It was so easy to sympathize with each of the characters. Their struggles and desires were so real. The plot’s twists will keep you guessing and turning the pages. The thread of mystery was a nice touch.
There’s one warning that I feel I should state: Due to the type of violence, various midwife scenes, and sexual circumstances more sensitive or younger readers need to be cautious. I think with all my heart that Green tackled the tough and gritty truths in an appropriate way and I greatly appreciate that. But at the end of the day, the content has a stronger tone to it and sensitive readers would appreciate the heads up.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving The Mark of the King 5 stars and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Christian Historical Fiction.

~ I received a copy from Bethany House but was not compensated for this review or required to give a favorable one. All thoughts are my own. 

Posted in About the Book

My Desk: New Novel Quotes and Updates

Are you ready to hear the latest about the two novels sitting on my desk? I’ll share my writing update and a few quotes. Enjoy!

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Out of the Ashes had spent November and December with my critique team. I wish I could give you a release date to circle on your calendars but that’s not possible right now. Just keep praying and we’ll keep working. I’m in the middle of a phase where the manuscript spends time in the hands of others which frees me up to work elsewhere or grab a little break of my own.
Now that Ashes has been approved by my team, it has several rounds of clean up to endure. We call this Line Editing. It’s where gifted people read over the manuscript and study each line, poking and prodding it, questioning every comma and word on the page.

Since Ashes is the third of a series, how about I share with you THREE (pre-proofed) quotes from the novel? Enjoy!

The major theme of the novel is finding healing in Christ, so naturally bitterness also becomes a reoccurring theme for the characters. Here’s a couple of my personal favorites on bitterness:

Bitterness becomes a prison and forgiveness is the only key. By the grace of God, you can release yourself from your homemade prison walls if you’ll only use the key set before you.” – Brother Mark

“Focusing on what you once had isn’t going to make the plants grow. It’ll only grow bitterness.” – Frank

This one was a favorite among my critique team:

“Out of fear, I call him Mr. Williams, and out of resentment he calls me nothing at all.” – Melissa

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If you’re already a fan of the series, you might be interested to know that Ralph’s birthday is coming up and I’m searching for the perfect cranberry cake for him. I’m extending the contest one more week. You can catch all the details on how to submit your recipe and enter to win one of the cake recipe books up for grabs by following the link

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If Only it were Yesterday:

I spent most of November adding to the first draft. The word count is currently up to 30,950. According to my mental outline, I’m about 45% through. After working with Ashes for so long, it still seems odd to look at such small numbers and to celebrate those small 10,000 word markers. But it’s also exciting to see it grow and to watch the characters and their story evolve.
I’m having fun. I never would have imagined that a break from my Maple Grove cast would have been needed but the Lord knew what He was about when He led me to start a new series. It’s been refreshing, not that I’m tired of my old friends. 😉 But it’s refreshing nonetheless.

And since If Only it were Yesterday is the first book of its series, I’ll leave you with only one quote from the new novel in progress.

“Don’t make the mistake of comparing a great reality with a flimsy fairytale.” – Betty Tanner

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

13The lifeblood of the Wiltshire village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. But when the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant owner. Jane has no notion of how to run a business. However, with the town’s livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must find a way to bring new life to the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to find her place in the world. As she and Jane work together, they form a measure of trust, and Thora’s wounded heart begins to heal. When she encounters two men from her past, she sees them–and her future–in a different light.

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane employs innovative methods to turn the inn around, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place. Will her efforts be enough to save The Bell? And will Thora embrace the possibility of a second chance at love?

What I Loved: Ahhh Is there anything quite like a Klassen novel? I often find myself comparing other novels to Klassen’s so it’s only natural that I would compare a Klassen to all the other Klassens that have come before. I must say that while The InnKeeper of Ivy Hill was not as gripping as what I’m used to finding, there was a sense of mystery throughout the story that kept my attention. I’ve come to notice two things about Klassen’s work: She tends to weave in threads of mystery and she KNOWS how to write a love triangle that keeps the reader guessing. And for me, THIS is where the book really shines.
I make no secret of my love for an old-fashioned love triangle. But what Klassen did here will certainly become a highlight of my reading year. You have three main heroines here and each of them has multiple options. Not only did Klassen keep me guessing at every turn, but I also couldn’t decide which hero I wanted to see win the lady’s hand.
Aside from the mystery and romance, I enjoyed all the historic detail involving an early 1800s English Inn.
While the beginning started off in a more subdued fashion, the last third picked up the pace and became the engaging story that I knew Klassen was gifted at. There were twists and turns around every corner. And I cannot wait to see what is in store for these characters next!

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill 5 stars and highly recommend it to Regency fans and Christian Historical Fiction fans.

~ I received a copy from Net Galley. I was not compensated for this review or required to give a favorable one. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in Book Reviews

Reading Challenges for 2017

2016_0815summer20160156We’re a month into a new reading year. If you’re an avid reader, this is something to celebrate. A whole new year of books, characters, adventures, and all of it is waiting for you! What fun!

One of the way we readers enjoy ourselves is by setting out goals for the year. Almost in the form of New Year’s Resolutions, avid readers tend to have a goal in mind as they approach the new reading year.
Last year my goal had been to try some new authors and I had made a list of authors that I wanted to make time for. I didn’t get too far on my list, but it’s a new year so I can try again.
I also focused on finishing series that I had opened. I finished 4 series last year.
This year my goal is to read more from my personal collection. On Goodreads this year I’m tracking how many books I borrow, read from my personal stash, and pick up through a review program.
But I’d love to hear from you! Did you reach any goals last year? What are your reading goals for 2017? 

One of my favorite things to do each year is to pick up a challenge or two to work on throughout the year. These challenges work like a scavenger hunt as you try to find and read books that qualify in each category. Here are 3 of the challenges that I’m working on this year. Feel free to snag them and play along. Don’t forget to review your reads in January to see if you cross anything off already!

The Disney Challenge
I think this challenge is the one I’m most excited about this year. It’s so creative. I found this challenge on a Goodreads group for Christian Fiction fans. You can join the group here: Christian Fiction Devourers.

1.The Little Mermaid – a character who is out of their element, a “fish out of water”.

2. Cinderella – a character who goes through a major transformation.

3. Snow White – a book with an eclectic cast of characters.

4. The Lion King- a book about a royal family, king, queen, prince, or princess.

5. Sleeping Beauty- a book you lost precious hours of sleep staying up all night reading.

6. Beauty and the Beast – A beast of a book (a big book) that you were intimidated by, but found the story to be beautiful.

7. Mulan – a character who pretends to be someone or something they are not.

8.Toy Story – a book with characters you wish would come to life

9. Pinocchio- When lying got a character into big trouble.

10. Tarzan- a story about man and nature.

11. Aladdin- a book character who travels to a “new world” whether it be a new country, time travel… (Along those lines).

12. Frozen: a book that takes place in a snowy location OR a book in which a character sacrifices (or tries to ) himself/herself for others [the second one would be harder to find books for]

What’s in a Name Challenge
This one also comes from Christian Fiction Devours. Of all the groups I’ve seen, they do the most in the way of challenges each year. The two I’ve shared are the two that I’m participating in. Feel free to visit the group and see what else they have in store!

1) A book with “something you would set your table with” . (Not food) Think cutlery- knife spoon, fork, napkin, tablecloth, goblets, cups, , etc., in the title.
eg.- Take This Cup
(Hint- the biggest variety seems to be under “cup” and “glass”)

2) A book with A compass direction in the title- North, South, East, West or any combination thereof- Northwest, SouthEast, etc.
eg.-Treasures of the North

3) A city name in the book title.
eg.-London Tides

4) A book with one of the Fruit of the spirit in it’s title – LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENTLENESS FAITHFULNESS, GOODNESS or SELF-CONTROL
eg. Quilt of Joy: Stories of Hope from the Patchwork Life

5) A “profession” in the title
eg. The Doctor’s Lady

6) An abbreviated word in the Title.
eg- Bride of a Distant Isle (Isle–>Island)
or
One Enchanted Eve(Eve—->Evening)

26 Book Challenge
A friend found this one on Facebook and sent it to me. This one seems the be a bit more challenging but it’ll be fun to see how far I get.

1 Something you read in school
2 Young Adult fiction
3 Published over 100 years ago
4 Published in 2016
5 Nonfiction book
6 Male author
7 Female author
8 Someone who isn’t a writer
9 Book that became a film
10 Published between 1900-1999
11 A book set in your home state
12 A book with the character’s name in the title
13 A book with a number in the title
14 A character with your first name (if your name is uncommon, change it to a character with the same name of someone you know or starts with the same letter as your own name)
15 Recommended to you
16 Over 500 pages
17 Something you can finish in one day
18 Previously banned book
19 1 word title
20 Translated from another language
21 A book that will improve a specific area of your life
22 Memoir or journal
23 Written by someone younger than you
24 Setting is a place you’d like to travel
25 Award-winning book
26 Self-published book

I’d love to hear about any personal reading challenges you have for 2017 and how you did in 2016. Happy reading!!