Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Mistaken by Karen Barnett

175Since booze and prohibition have made criminals out of every man in her world, Laurie Burke resolves to find at least one honorable man to fill her life. Convinced that handsome newcomer Daniel Shepherd is connected with her brother’s rum-running gang, Laurie quickly scratches his name off her list. Daniel has mixed feelings about returning to the dirty mill town of his youth, but grudgingly agrees to manage his grandfather’s drug store until a replacement can be found. The moment he meets Laurie on the windswept bluff overlooking the beach, he knows that if he can earn her love, he might have a reason to stay. But when Laurie pushes him away–for none other than Federal Agent Samuel Brown–Daniel wonders if Laurie really is the upstanding woman he thought her to be. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, just off the beaches of Port Angeles, Washington, was treacherous water for reckless rum-runners—and the agents who tried to catch them. So when she realizes her brother is in danger, romance is the last thing on Laurie’s mind. Yet the people she believes she can trust, may not be so honorable after all.

What I Loved: What a ride!!!! I absolutely LOVED this novel! Let me try to put into words why . . . I think one of the things that quickly jumped out at me was the setting. While the prohibition setting isn’t “new,” it’s not a common setting used in Christian Fiction. Not as common as the Wild West anyways. So finding a  well-written book in this setting is always a treat. It is the small details of the era and nature walks the characters went on that beautifully builds on the setting, making it come to life.
The characters were complex and realistic, but the plot is where this novel really shines!! It wasn’t until I had picked up Mistaken that I realized I hadn’t had my hands on a novel with a truly sticky plot in quite some time. It seemed like the characters were constantly being backed into this impossible corner where either direction spelled disaster.
The passion level on this one was a slightly more than expected. It stayed well within the bounds of Christian fiction, but for those who don’t appreciate romance or passion, they’d like to know that there was a character who had a habit of putting his hands on the lady. Again, it never went too far but the character was meant to make you uncomfortable, and he did just that.

Rating and Recommendation: Mistaken is an older novel by Karen Barnett, but I highly recommend Christian Historical fans to go back and pick this one up if they haven’t already. I’m giving it 5 stars.

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Book Review: One Enchanted Noel by Melissa Tagg

193Secrets, Sparks and Second Chances…a Heartwarming Holiday Romance

Seb Pierce isn’t exactly a cowboy, but after fifteen years on a ranch in Texas, he might as well be. And he’d do just about anything to keep the rancher who took him in so many years ago from losing his land…including returning to the wealthy roots he’s long since abandoned. Seb agrees to work for his stern grandfather for one year in return for an early draw on his inheritance. But he never expected the agreement to land him in a quirky small town in Iowa at Christmas-time, renovating a dilapidated theater…and running into a woman he never thought he’d see again. She might not remember him, but he remembers her.

After too many years away from her hometown—and too many failures to count—Leigh Renwycke is finally back in Maple Valley and living the stable life she used to wish for. If only she could shake the old restlessness that used to get her into trouble. When Seb Pierce waltzes into her world and begs for her help planning the theater’s holiday reopening, it could be the solution to her discontent. If she pulls it off, it might be enough to jumpstart a new career…and to prove once and for all that the new-and-improved Leigh is here to stay. 

But between old secrets and new sparks, restoring a town treasure in time for Christmas may not be as easy as it seems…especially once Leigh learns the truth about Seb. 

What I Loved: There’s nothing like coming to a satisfying ending to a beloved series. One Enchanted Noel was one of those moments.
Once again, we find ourselves watching a previous “bad girl” pull her act together. By the time we meet Leigh, she’s done with her drug abuse but her past sins still haunt her and steal away her joy. It was refreshing to walk alongside Leigh as she discovered just how forgiving our Lord and her friends and family can be.
One Enchanted Noel is a warm Christmas story just perfect for curling up with during your downtime. And if you haven’t read the first two books of the series, I recommend you start at the beginning. One Enchanted Noel can be understood as a standalone, but I have a feeling you won’t want to miss a moment with the Renwycke family.

Rating and Recommendation: I give it 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy Christmas novellas or Christian Contemporary.

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Book Review: Lady Jane Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano

187When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.

When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance–and perhaps even her father’s death.

Author Joanna Davidson Politano’s stunning debut set in Victorian England will delight readers with its highly original plot, lush setting, vibrant characters, and reluctant romance.

What I Loved: Lady Jayne Disappears was one of those fantastic novels that leave you speechless and wanting to gush all at the same time. I seriously loved everything here. The characters: There was a wide range of complex characters making up the cast.
The plot: This was such a fun ride from start to finish. The plot twisted and turned in unexpected ways. The mystery evolved at a slow and steady pace. And where the title may lead you to think it will be a suspenseful read, that wasn’t the case at all. It was mysterious but not life-threatening.
Politano brings a new, fresh voice to the Christian Historical Fiction genre and I can’t wait to see what she has for us next! Lady Jayne Disappears was delightful in every way and I plan to keep it on my re-read list.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving it 5 stars and recommending it to those who enjoy Christian Historical Fiction.

~I received a copy from Revell through Net Galley. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own.

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Book Review: The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

173Outstanding Debut Novel from an Author to Watch

Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather’s Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house’s dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide. 

A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy’s search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives–
including her own–are lost?

What I Loved: Wow. Just wow. I didn’t know what to expect from a new author or this mysterious house but now that I know, I wish I had time to read it all over again.
I enjoy a good mystery and Wright really pulled it off here. This was one of the best mysteries I had read in a long time. I think what made it work so well was that the mystery was unfolding in two different timelines and yet they interconnected as well. This takes some master plotting and uber creativeness, so Wright gets a standing ovation from me.
But this novel will not be for everyone. As for myself, I prefer mystery without suspense, so the House on Foster Hill was a leave-the-lights-on sort of book. But I loved it. I seriously could not put this book down. There are however some darker tones to the novel. The main character has worked with abused women or victims of sex-trafficking so these subject lines are interspersed throughout the story. As a sensitive reader, I felt that Wright handled the tough subjects well but other sensitive readers may like to know that they will brush up against some of the harder realities of life.
Wright is certainly an author to keep an eye on. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving The House on Foster Hill 5 stars and recommending it those who enjoy Christian Mystery/Suspense and those who enjoy dual timelines.

~I received a copy from Net Galley. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own. 

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Holly, Ivy, and Intrigue: A Christmas Novella Set

189Christmas Murder Mix-Up

“I have to get rid of her now.”

After four months of a blissful marriage, Paige is devastated to overhear her husband, Cooper, say those words to his best friend. Because of a suspicious Christmas gift, a gas leak, and a home invasion, Paige’s love for Cooper is tested to the limit. Will their marriage survive the Christmas Murder Mix-up?

Holiday Pursuit

When Brianna Rockwell’s brother finds himself in danger and disappears three days before Christmas, she does everything to rescue him. Brianna dodges bullets, escapes fire, and even turns to her longtime crush for help. But the closer she gets to solving the mystery and finding her only sibling, the more desperate someone gets to silence her forever…

A Holiday Intruder

Kelsey Jordan prefers upcycling junk and refinishing antiques for her store in a Georgia mountains town to being the center of attention. When a robbery and an unknown benefactor shove her in the middle of a decades-old mystery, and a real estate developer and a former baseball star compete for her attention, Kelsey isn’t sure who to trust.

My Thoughts: All together, this was a cozy read. The first two stories start off with a bang and include lots of fast-paced action and even some shootouts. The third one carried more of a family mystery. Each story brought a little romance to the table. As well as a sound Christian message. The novellas are not connected so it makes it easier to pick up or set aside during the busy holiday season.

Christmas Murder Mix-up: This starts off in an almost comical way, but things turn deadly pretty quickly. This was a very interesting, original story.

Holiday Pursuit: Wow! Talk about starting off with a bang. Bullets are flying on the very first page and the story doesn’t slow down much from there.

A Holiday Intruder: This one was more relaxed in terms of action. The love triangle made it a favorite of mine.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving Holly, Ivy, and Intrigue 4 stars and recommending it to those who enjoy a bit of action with their Christmas novellas.

~ I received a copy from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own. 

Posted in Book Reviews

Interview and Book Review: 18 Hours To Us by Krista Noorman

192

When Natalie Rhodes left her house early that fateful morning to catch the bus to her senior class trip, she never expected to end up in a car with Colton Daynes – the guy she’s had a crush on since first grade, the guy who has no idea who she is. But when Colton’s irresponsible driving causes them both to miss the bus, the unlikely pair set off on a road trip from Michigan to Virginia Beach to catch up with their classmates.

From the little village of Middleville, the popular football star and the quiet gymnast will navigate back roads and highways, travel from lake towns to waterfalls to mountaintops and beyond, all the while fielding texts from Colton’s friends and mean girl, Lexi, who also happens to be Colton’s girlfriend and Natalie’s former best friend.

Hours spent together on the road will lead them to places they’ve never been, discovering hidden talents, revealing secrets and fears. And they just might realize they have more in common than they know.

What I Loved: 18 Hours To Us is fun and flirty. There is this tension and chemistry between Colton and Natalie that keeps the pages turning. But what I really liked was the message Krista was able to bring to the table about sex, love, and teenage relationships. We see Natalie dealing with temptation and the struggle to the right thing, which I found very realistic. The characters felt authentic, they acted, reacted, and talked much like teens. Over and over again, I kept thinking back to my teenage years. There’s something about the overall feel of the story that kept bringing to mind the old movie, She’s All That, or the newer, Geek Charming. 18 Hours To Us isn’t a remake of either but it is a classic teen story with a classic teen feel.

Rating and Recommendation: I give 18 Hours To Us 5 stars and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA fiction or a romantic journey story.

~ I was given an early copy by the author. I chose to review it and all thoughts are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

405

krista_4x6highresInterview:

Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell as I talk with Krista about her latest novel.

Where did the idea for 18 Hours to Us come to mind?

Last spring, my daughter went on a trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park with her 8th grade class. We had to get her to the school super early in the morning, and while waiting for the buses to arrive, my mind wandered and I thought, “What if someone missed the bus?” I kept thinking about the teenage drivers who squeal their tires out of the parking lot every day after school and that led me to the idea for the book–two teens on their way to catch the bus to their senior class trip and one of them causes the other to get in an accident, making them miss the bus and have to ride together to get there. Two unlikely people stuck in a car for two days. And the road trip fun and romance ensue. 😉

What is your goal for the novel?

There are some more serious topics within this story (depression, bullying, suicide) that I’ve touched on. They are hard topics, and I hope some people will relate to the struggle. My daughter dealt with some bullying in her middle school years (not to the extent that Natalie did in the book), but it’s a very real problem, especially if you’re the one being targeted. I tried to show the reasons behind the bullying in this particular case as well, and there’s also a good lesson in forgiveness. While this book is pretty sweet and light for the most part, I hope that I did this particular part of the story justice.

What scene was a favorite to write?

Oh goodness. I’m not sure. I loved writing the dialogue and cute banter between Natalie and Colton. It came pretty easily to me, and they are pretty adorable. I think one of my favorite scenes is when they finally make it to Virginia Beach. They are standing in the water after splashing each other and he hugs her and tells her that he’s glad he got to see the look on her face when she saw the ocean for the first time. “He hugged her. So tight she felt like crying.” That part brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know why. It’s just sweet, and it’s also when they are about to part ways and go back to their own little friend groups when the buses arrive. They are both confused after the bond they developed on their trip.

What do we have to look forward to from you in the future?

I have a couple projects in the works right now. One is a contemporary/historical romance set at an amusement park that once existed here in Michigan. Another is a contemporary second chance romance–a wedding photographer and her first love are reunited when he’s the best man at the wedding she’s photographing.

Eeek!! Sounds exciting! Will you ever return to YA fiction?

For sure. I have a YA dystopian trilogy in the works. The first two books have been written. The first is in the editing process, but I have no solid release plans for those yet.

Having 2 teens, do you see either of them in any of the characters?

Natalie definitely has some of my daughter’s personality. She’s kind-hearted and loyal and forgiving. She loves her friends and gymnastics and Jesus. There might even be a little of my son in Natalie’s personality–more on the quiet side with a few close friends. My daughter is the opposite–loud and outgoing with a lot of friends (maybe more like Colton). 😉

 

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Book Review: Hometown Girl by Courtney Walsh

190

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Walsh returns with a hopeful and emotional new book about seizing second chances, finding yourself, and forging your own path.

Beth Whitaker isn’t supposed to be a small-town girl. She’s always dreamed of leaving Willow Grove, Illinois, for the big city, but she feels trapped, struggling to make up for a mistake that’s haunted her for years. Just when Beth is finally ready to break free, her sister impulsively buys a beloved but run-down farm on the outskirts of town, and she begs Beth to help with the restoration. Reluctantly, Beth agrees to help—and puts her own dreams on hold once again.

Drew Barlow hasn’t been back to Fairwind Farm since he was a boy, and he’s spent all these years trying to outrun the pain of a past he thought he buried long ago. When he learns that the owner has passed away, his heart knows it’s finally time to do the right thing. Returning to Willow Grove, Drew revisits the old farm, where he attempts to piece together his memories and the puzzle of the crime he witnessed so long ago.

Both on a journey to find peace, Beth and Drew are surprised when they begin to experience a restoration of their own. But when long-buried secrets break through the soil and the truth unfurls, will it threaten their budding relationship—and the very future of the farm?

My Thoughts: Hometown Girl carried the cozy, small-town feeling that you would expect based on the title. It was complete with a delightful family and all the dynamics that the close-knit family of various personalities would have. Walsh left some open doors with  Beth’s siblings that make me curious to know if we’ll revisit this town again in the future. There was a variety of townspeople as well, adding to the cast in every good way.
The one hiccup for me was that I found portions of the story to be repetitive. Certain aspects of the characters backgrounds and feelings seemed to be on an unending loop. Thankfully, there was an intriguing mystery that held my attention the entire time that led to a very satisfying ending.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving Hometown Girl 4 stars and recommending it to those who enjoy small-town settings or Christian Contemporary fiction.

~ I received a copy from Net Galley. I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts are my own. 

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Book Review: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

186Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

My Thoughts: From the first page I was struck by Turner’s comedic voice and smooth story-telling tone. There were two factors that made this novel a memorable one: Turner nicely dealt with an often-debated topic among Christian fiction readers. And she incorporated a strong message on repentance, new life in Christ, and dealing with the consequences of previous sins. I really appreciated watching the character turn to Christ in a real-to-life moment of conversion then proceed to turn away from her previous lifestyle on a day-to-day basis. It’s the type of real Christian living that we don’t always see in fiction. A lot of fictional characters are either already saved at the start of the book or they’re saved at the end, so Turner was working in a different “setting” here, and I  enjoyed it. I will say, that there were times when I felt like the message started to feel unbalanced as if God cared more about getting these two together than anything else. While I would have appreciated seeing a little less “God did it in order for us to meet” tones, Turner knocked it out of the park in terms of repentance and living for Christ.
As a conservative reader, I want to point out that I feel that the book is best suited for a mature audience. However, I want to point out the difference I found here in Turner’s work compared to some other “mature” works I’ve read in the past. Turner allows her character to talk or think about sex in a very blunt, matter-of-fact way. I’ve read some novels that I felt were too steamy for my taste but  I don’t think this one falls into that category. The reason is that in other too-steamy-for-me novels the author describes things in a very detailed, slow, and lustful manner. Turner just said it. I don’t think I’ve read the word “sex” in a Christian novel as many times as I’ve read it in this one . . . and yet, it really didn’t come across as over the top to me. Fellow sensitive readers will have to take that into consideration and decide what they’ll do with it. For me, I found it surprising but I didn’t feel the need to put it down as I have others in the past.

Rating and Recommendation: I recommend this to those who enjoy Christian Contemporary or to those who are looking for something fresh in Christian Fiction. I’m giving it 4.5 stars.

~I received a copy from Revell through Net Galley. I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Hinds’ Feet on High Places, An Engaging Visual Journey

191My Thoughts: Beautiful! Simply beautiful!! I love how they took a well-loved classic and recreated the packaging for today’s audience. The paintings are breath-taking. There are small images sprinkled throughout that you can color and a few full-page coloring sheets at the end. But this isn’t primarily a coloring book. They did weave in small sections for you to take notes. I found these areas to be extremely small and few and far between. While I would have liked for the journal pages to have been larger, I’m overall pleased with the book and am giving it 5 stars. This would make a great gift!

~ I received a copy from Tyndale. I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts are my own. 

Sample Pages: 

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Book Review: The Engagement Plot

182Can Hanna and Will Find True Love amid the Bright Lights of Reality TV? 
Perfect for the fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette!

Six months ago, William stole Hanna’s heart and shattered it in front of millions of people on a reality TV dating show. And now the big-wig CEO is back on Hanna’s home turf in Minnesota and wants her to forgive him? Fat chance of that. But life is swirling around faster than snow in a blizzard, and despite her objections, teaming up with William seems like the only option to rescue her reputation.
              
William has never regretted anything more than the day he gave that ill-fated interview for the reality show, The Price of Love. But while he can’t change the past, he’s determined to fix the future. He just needs to convince Hanna to forgive him—and pretend to be engaged with him. Simple, right?

When the media erupts with even worse accusations, teaming up and pretending to be engaged seems to be the only way to salvage their reputations.  Despite the media frenzy that swirls around them, an attraction neither of them can fight off begins to surface. Could this love run deeper than a scandal, or will old wounds tear them apart once and for all?  When all seems lost, it’s only with help from above that Hanna and Will may find their happily-ever-after.

My Thoughts:  This was such a fun story. I loved the way Phillips kept the plot moving and changing at every turn. The one thing that bugged me was how naive the main characters suddenly were toward the end. But even this hiccup couldn’t keep me from enjoying the story and their delightful ending. The chemistry was well done and I enjoyed all the insight into a dating tv show and the aftermath of suddenly being in the public eye.

Rating and Recommendation: I’d recommend this to those who enjoy a light-hearted Christian Contemporary and am giving it 4 stars.

~ I received a copy from Net Galley. I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts are my own.