Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden

116Acclaimed and Award-Winning Author’s Talent Continues to Win Fans

It has been six years since army nurse Jenny Bennett’s heart was broken by a dashing naval officer. Now Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher has abruptly reappeared in her life at the Presidio army base but refuses to discuss the inexplicable behavior that destroyed their happiness.

Ryan is in an impossible situation. One of the few men in the world qualified to carry out a daring assignment, he accepted a government mission overseas that caused his reputation to be destroyed and broke the heart of the only woman he ever loved. Honor bound never to reveal where he had been during those six years, he can’t tell Jenny the truth or it will endanger an ongoing mission and put thousands of lives at risk.

Although Ryan thinks he may have finally found a solution, he can’t pull it off on his own. Loyalty to her country compels Jenny to help, but she never could have imagined the intrigue she and Ryan will have to face or the lengths to which they will have to go to succeed.

My Thoughts: Camden has a way with words that I’ve always enjoyed. She is one of those authors I know I can count on to deliver a well-rounded story with fully developed characters and a plot that entertains. To the Farthest Shores was no exception.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll speak vaguely of Ryan’s “inexplicable behavior that destroyed their happiness.” It’s nothing that sensitive readers should be cautious over so rest assured there. However, it’s the type of storyline that I personally don’t care for and try to avoid anytime I can. Because it’s something that I don’t like, I found myself struggling more with this particular novel. And yet…I also found myself relating to Jenny more and more as the story unfolded. The last 100 pages brought me to tears as I watched her struggle with unforgiveness in ways that were all too familiar to me. Our circumstances were different but our hearts were the same. It was a blessing to know and cheer on the heroine in such an intimate way as the novel reached its end.
In the midst of all of this, Camden brought to life a lovely message on forgiveness.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving it 4.5 stars and recommending it to anyone who enjoys Christian Historical Fiction.

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

*If you HAVE to know what about this storyline bothered me and don’t mind a small spoiler, feel free to email me. 🙂

Posted in Book Reviews

Becky Wade’s “True to You” Author Chat Party

Raise your hand if you’re ready for Becky Wade’s new series! Celebrate the release of book one, True to You, with Becky and other readers on Facebook on May 4th during a fun author chat party at 8:00 PM EDT (that’s 7:00 Central, 6:00 Mountain, & 5:00 Pacific)! Becky will be chatting about the book and answering your questions about the new series, and of course, there will be plenty of fun giveaways too!

Pre-order your copy of True to You so you’re ready for a fun book discussion. Find out more about the book here.

Hope to see you on May 4 for Becky’s True to You Facebook Party!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Life After by Katie Ganshert

121It could have been me.

Snow whirls around an elevated train platform in Chicago. A distracted woman boards the train, takes her seat, and moments later a fiery explosion rips through the frigid air, tearing the car apart in a horrific attack on the city’s transit system. One life is spared. Twenty-two are lost.
 
A year later, Autumn Manning can’t remember the day of the bombing and she is tormented by grief—by guilt. Twelve months of the question constantly echoing. Why? Why? Why? Searching for answers, she haunts the lives of the victims, unable to rest. 
 
Paul Elliott lost his wife in the train bombing and wants to let the dead rest in peace, undisturbed and unable to cause more pain for his loved ones. He wants normalcy for his twelve-year-old daughter and young son, to see them move beyond the heartbreak. But when the Elliotts and Autumn are unexpectedly forced together, he fears she’ll bring more wreckage in her wake. 
 
In Life After, Katie Ganshert’s most complex and unforgettable novel yet, the stirring prose and authentic characters pose questions of truth, goodness, and ultimate purpose in this emotionally resonant tale.

What I Loved: Wow! Just wow! What I’d like to do is just remain in my awestruck stupor and tell you that this book is more than worth your time, but I’ll put forth some effort and try to explain to you why this was such a memorable hit for me.
The characters! There was such raw emotion radiating off of the characters. It’s the type of depth that you rarely find in fiction. From the very beginning, Ganshert draws you in with her narrative prologue, and she never lets you go.
If I’m forced to be super picky, I would point out that there were some basics about Autumn that weren’t clear until the end of chapter one or some point of chapter two. I remember thinking that it felt a little late to learn these things about a main character. But even this doesn’t really hurt the book so much. I mention it only for those who might start it and scratch their head a bit. If you feel a tad confused in the beginning, I recommend that you keep going, it really does level out rather quickly from there.
But back to the praises, I felt like I walked away with a deeper understanding of the type of lingering trauma that victims suffer through. Autumn was the lone survivor of a tragic attack, and yet in many ways, she stopped living that day too. Ganshert really forces the reader to notice things they may not have before and sympathize with someone in ways they may not have considered necessary before reading this book.
And throughout it all, she wove a beautiful message about trusting God when you can’t see His hand anymore. It was a blessing to watch each of these characters struggle with their faith and watch their healing take place.
I think she stayed true to reality. This wasn’t a story with a quick fix. But real, deep, emotional struggles. It was a battle of the heart and the mind, and I loved every minute of it.

Rating and Recommendation: I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Christian Fiction and give it 5 stars.

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

Posted in Christian

The Silent Servant

5

There are two things I want to do in this blog today. I want to talk to you about the overlooked areas of service. And then I want to open up and share something from my personal writing journey that most readers wouldn’t know about. I hope you’ll walk away feeling encouraged about your own place of service and enlightened about the life of a common author.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that each individual is gifted, crafted, and designed to perform a different task. Are some jobs worth more than others? Is a doctor’s efforts worth more than a janitor’s? Is the teacher’s job more important than the factory worker’s? Is the police officer’s service more meaningful than the mailman’s?

That all depends on who it is you’re working for.

The Bible tells us that we are to work not unto man but unto God. Everything we do, we’re to do it for Him. For His glory. For His purposes. For His kingdom.
You see, it’s not our work or society’s ideals that determine the value of our labor. It’s unto Who we’re doing it for. Anything done for the Lord is important and of GREAT value.

I love the book of Nehemiah and the image of service God offers through it. The people were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. This was no small task! Worse than that, they were threatened by their enemies. So much so that half of the men worked while the other half stood guard. What an image! We need people working with us and also people standing behind us, covering our backs with prayers.
But there’s more. The people were assigned a specific section of the wall to rebuild. I hope you noted that word, specific. They didn’t rebuild their favorite sections. They didn’t get bored with their section and work on someone else’s. They worked on the section assigned to them. AND their work was recorded. NONE of it went unnoticed. Not only do we have a record of it preserved in our Bible but God, Himself, has noted everything done in His name and is waiting to reward His faithful servants.

So I come to you today to remind you to do your work cheerfully, not despising the small stuff, because when it’s done for Christ it has great value.

And now I want to tear down that wall between author and reader and allow you to peek inside and take notice of something that you may not have known.

As an author, I’m expected to do one thing: Publish books. And yet I wasn’t able to publish anything in 2016. It wasn’t from a lack of wanting to, or from a lack of story, or any other such thing. I didn’t publish anything in 2016 because the Lord wouldn’t allow it. For reasons only known to Him I was delayed, sick, overwhelmed, and just unable to do all that my little heart desired to do. And yet…I’ve been busy. Much busier than even I knew. While I continued to work on my own manuscript, God enabled me to keep up with a different sort of work on the side. The work of a silent servant. Publication is one of those rare moments when you’re ushered into the limelight. But this work kept me hidden away, which was perfectly fine with me. Despite what this may sound like, I’m not sharing this with you so I can step back into the limelight. I really think it’ll bless your heart to know that there’s so much more going on behind the scenes of your favorite books.

While I didn’t publish anything in 2016, I spent countless hours with other authors. I spent time encouraging them, fellowshipping with them in ways that only another author can do, and even helping them.
My fans are wondering where my next book is, but did you know that I’ve had my hands in FIVE different publications in 2016 alone? I joined critique teams for other authors and offered them sound advice and loving encouragement for their work. While their stories are uniquely their own and their writing styles differ from mine, the same me-ness that marks my pages reached out and touched a few others.
I love to help another author strengthen their work. I love to come along side them as they sweat through the writing process and offer them a cool drink of water and a pat on the back.

As I reflected on my writing year, I was surprised to see that while I didn’t put out anything with my name on it in 2016, the fruit of my labors had gone out. These books are challenging and encouraging readers as we speak. I’m grateful to the Lord and the beloved authors for allowing me to take part in it. And may my experience remind you that the small things we do behind the scenes really do count. You may not be the doctor who saved a life today, but he’s grateful to the one who fixed his breakfast and helped him to get his day started. You may not be the general, but a general is nothing without a regiment of privates. You may not be the pastor, but your prayers are working in his life.

So while you’re waiting for my next release, may I encourage you to pick up something else that I’ve had my hands in? 🙂
Journey of a Letter and Befriending the Beast by Amanda Tero
Hello, Forever and Until Then by Krista Noorman (You’ll want to read this series in order, so start with Goodbye, Magnolia. I was a part of the critique team for that one too. 😉 )
A Love to Come Home to by Alicia Ruggieri (This is another series that you’ll want to read in order. I had the pleasure of helping with books 2 and 3).

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes

140

Kat Varland has had enough of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.

At twenty-six years old, Kat is still living in the shadows of her family in Bayou Bend, Louisiana. Still working shifts at her Aunt Maggie’s bakery. Still wondering what to do with her passion for baking and her business degree. And still single.

But when Lucas Brannen, Kat’s best friend, signs her up for a reality TV bake-off on Cupcake Combat, everything Kat ever wanted is suddenly dangled in front of her: creative license as a baker, recognition as a visionary . . . and a job at a famous bakery in New York.

As the competition heats up, Lucas realizes he might have made a huge mistake. As much as he wants the best for Kat, the only thing he wants for himself—her—is suddenly in danger of slipping away.

The bright lights of reality cooking wars and the chance at a successful career dazzle Kat’s senses and Lucas is faced with a difficult choice: help his friend achieve her dreams . . . or sabotage her chances to keep her in Louisiana.

My Thoughts: What a sweet treat!! The cover snagged me, the plot hooked me, and St. Amant entertained me. The story starts off a little on the slow side, and we seem to be revisiting the same problems and ideas again and again. But once Kat shows up in LA for the taping of Cupcake Combat, things really start to heat up.
Kat lacked moral support and confidence and this weighs very heavily on her throughout the book and colors her every thought and action. While her character began to wear on me at times, I was very satisfied with the resolution St. Amant gave her in the end.
I’m a long-time fan of the real show, Cupcake Wars, so it was easy to see things playing out in my mind. You better grab some cupcakes before sitting down to read this one, because you’re bound to be craving them before too long!

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving it 4.5 stars and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys Christian Contemporary or reality show based fiction.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Pony Express Romance Collection

120Nine historical romances revive the brief era of the Pony Express.

Join the race from Missouri, across the plains and mountains to California and back again as brave Pony Express riders and their supporters along the route work to get mail across country in just ten days. It is an outstanding task in the years 1860 to 1861, and only a few are up to the job. Faced with challenges of terrain, weather, hostile natives, sickness, and more, can these adventurous pioneers hold fast, and can they also find lasting love in the midst of daily trials?

A Place to Belong by Barbara Tifft Blakey
An Express rider promises to help fulfill Abigail’s dream to return to her childhood home. Jacob doesn’t trust him, but what other option does she have?

An Unlikely Hero by Mary Davis
BethAnn along with her little sister are running from a mistake and find security at a Pony Express station and love in the quiet affection of a shy Pony Express rider.

The Gambler’s Daughter by Darlene Franklin
Gambling debts drive Caroline Adams’s estranged father away from the Chelan Swing Station before her arrival. Can his replacement conquer the temptations goading them both to prove himself worthy of Caroline’s love?

Her Lonely Heart by Cynthia Hickey
Widow Sadie Mathewson wants to find love again. But when an injured pony express rider shows up at her station, love finds her in an unexpected way.

My Dear Adora by Maureen Lang
Chip Nolan must dispatch the letters his brother can’t after being left for dead on the Pony Express trail. One letter stands out, addressed to “My Dear Adora”— stirring Chip’s heart before he even meets its recipient.

Ride into My Heart by Debby Lee
Kimimela works at a Pony Express station where she struggles to cope with the death of her sister. When she’s kidnapped by gun smugglers, can her friend, Pony Express rider Gabe, rescue her in time?

Echoes of the Heart by Donna Schlachter
A mail order bride. A crippled stationmaster. No way out for either of them—except with each other. Can they surrender their hearts and find true love?

Abundance of the Heart by Connie Stevens
Unfulfilled goals haunt Fletcher and Mercy at a remote Nebraska outpost, but unexpected circumstances may offer a last-chance opportunity to pursue the dream of riding for the Pony Express.

Embattled Hearts by Pegg Thomas
Alannah Fagan escaped from a battle she wouldn’t survive. Stewart McCann left behind a battle he couldn’t face. Thrown together at Horseshoe Station, can they find something worth fighting for?

My Thoughts on the collection: I wanted to like this collection so much more than I did. While there were some areas to be commended, overall I was really disappointed. I first fell in love with the concept behind this collection. The Pony Express Romance Collection will appeal to those who enjoy a clean western. I loved the idea of focusing on this one area in history. Each of the authors did a great job in bringing the setting to life. Each story felt authentic, and I was surprised at how vastly different each plot was from one another. I never felt like there was a repeat in the stories even though they worked with the same elements.
With the exception of one or two, the stories lacked depth that left me wanting more. In most cases, the characters fell flat for me, and the plots didn’t have enough space to be properly developed.
In the case of the final three novellas, I was put off by their spiritual journey. Each of these novellas used characters that didn’t believe God cared for them or listened to them when they prayed. They all seemed to be in a state of rejection of God. And each went from thinking God didn’t care to believing that He did. I would have liked to have seen a more clear understanding of salvation in each of these. There’s a difference between believing some things about God and believing unto salvation. In a Christian work, I expect more.

A Place to Belong: I was immediately taken in by Abigail and Jacob. Overall I really liked their story. There was a sweet innocence to it and she carried a strong biblical message throughout the novella. However, I did struggle with two points. There was something oddly simplistic in the dialogue that kept tripping me up. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what wasn’t working for me. And I’m sorry to say that while she kept a great message, I couldn’t agree with where Abigail refers to God as her mother. I understand the concept behind the idea–God is our All in All. But I’m not comfortable with anyone calling God something that He never calls Himself in the Bible.

An Unlikely Hero: Davis crafted a solid story here. I can always appreciate a shy hero and a spunky child. However, the heroine felt flat to me.

The Gambler’s Daughter: There’s a great message here on overcoming sin. Sadly, I had a hard time following the conversations. Several of the conversations didn’t flow naturally.

Her Lonely Heart: The story was very promising, but suffered from one-dimensional characters, especially when it came to the antagonists.

My Dear Adora: Another promising story. I was drawn in quickly but lost interest further in. There was something lacking here that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Ride into my Heart: This one started very strongly, but then fell apart. It felt like large sections of the story was summarized. This is one of those novellas that either the plot needed to be trimmed or given more space.

Echoes of the Heart: I found this one to be highly entertaining. I sympathized with the characters a great deal. Sadly, the characters contradicted themselves way too often, and it weighed on an otherwise good story.

Abundance of the Heart: This was one of the only stories that felt full and complete to me. My struggle here was with the heroine’s hostility. It seemed a little over the top to me considering the circumstances.

Embattled Hearts: Like a breath of fresh air, Thomas really wrapped up this collection in a big way. The plot was the right size for a novella. The characters were spot on. Great job!

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

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

119Harry Houdini’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric–even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.

My Thoughts: I appreciated the direction Cambron took when dealing with magicians and illusionists. Upfront, her main character made it clear that she doesn’t believe in or claim to have magic. She’s an illusionist, which means she sets out to trick you, but at no point does she call upon the power of magic to perform the trick.
There are elements of magic and mediums, but the main characters are set against these things and set out to prove them wrong. Because of this, I was able to enjoy the novel without compromising what I understand the Bible to teach on these subjects.
Aside from all of that, Cambron had well-developed characters and a unique setting. But what really shined here was the mystery. It unfolded very slowly as Wren’s past comes to life. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the mystery.
The only thing I struggled with is how at times the characters seemed spiritually unbalanced. Cambron always brought them back to Christ and they always claimed to be humble Christians in need of their Savior on a daily basis, and, yet, I found them at times relying on self. This wasn’t something that characters struggled with and repented of so much as they simply forgot and then started doing it again. Other than that, I found it to be a safe story in a controversial setting. And she did an excellent job.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving The Illusionist’s Apprentice 5 stars and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys Christian historical or Christian suspense/mystery.

~I received a copy from Book Look Bloggers. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The One True Love of Alice-Ann by Eva Marie Everson

115Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves.
Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé in the Great War. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters cease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear history repeating itself.
Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops into something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?

What I Loved: This was my first Everson novel so I didn’t know what to expect. From the very beginning, I was struck by how warm and welcoming her writing style is. It’s as inviting as peach pie fresh from the oven! Not heavy. Not fluffy. Just cozy.
I really loved the small town setting, and Alice-Ann was easy to relate to and cheer for. It’s interesting to see the cares of the world during a time of war through the eyes of a girl on the brink of womanhood. Everson had outdone herself with this realistic setting. You’ll certainly feel like you have just walked in the back door of the Alice-Ann’s farmhouse. All of her characters were wonderfully crafted. The story moved steadily. And the love story was beautifully done.
This was a great book from start to finish, and it’ll be a highlight of my reading year.

Rating and Recommendation: I highly recommend The One True Love of Alice-Ann to anyone who enjoys Christian romance or Christian historical. I’m giving it 5 stars.

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

Question and Answers with Eva Marie Everson: 
How do you expect this story to resonate with your audience? What are you most excited for your readers to experience through reading this novel? We have all had to make life choices. I heard a line in a movie (just this morning) that went like this: Every time you make a decision, you take a gamble. Maybe it’s the right choice. Maybe it’s not. How do you know? This is Alice-Ann’s dilemma. Does she have one true love . . . or two? We’ve all been there. We’ve all made decisions and then wondered if we made the right one. Sometimes those choices follow us for years. Sometimes we know the answer right away. I’m most excited for readers to experience life in the States during WWII. So often we read of what happened in Europe or in the Pacific, but we don’t usually read about how our citizens who stayed back home sacrificed for the greater good. I’m also excited for them to experience Alice-Ann’s love story and maturity as she grows from a starry-eyed 16-year-old to a grown woman.

What role does faith play in the story? Alice-Ann has a major life decision to make, and she can only make it with God’s help. But also, I think faith was much more of a natural reality in the ’40s. People went to Kristen Schumacher | kristenschumacher@tyndale.com | 630.784.5126 church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night . . . They prayed for the troops. Actively. Sincerely. This was a different time in America (and one I wouldn’t mind seeing us go back to—as far as faith is concerned!).

What lessons or truths do you hope readers will take away from The One True Love of Alice-Ann? That when we take our distresses to God, he not only hears our cries, but he and he alone can wrap us up in his great big arms and show us the right path to take. He alone can ease our pain. You know, he loves us so much . . . he sent his Son to die for us. He won’t let us down now. 5. As an author, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story? The entire thing! I love this story so much. I loved researching the era. I loved creating

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin

118When fun-loving glamour girl Quintessa Beaumont learns the Navy has established the WAVES program for women, she enlists, determined to throw off her frivolous ways and contribute to the war effort. No-nonsense and hoping to make admiral, Lt. Dan Avery has been using his skills to fight German U-boats. The last thing he wants to see on his radar is a girl like Tess. For her part, Tess works hard to prove her worth in the Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit in Boston–both to her commanding officers and to the man with whom she is smitten. When Dan is assigned to a new escort carrier at the peak of the Battle of the Atlantic, he’s torn between his lifelong career goals and his desire to help Tess root out a possible spy on shore. The Germans put up quite a fight, but he wages a deeper battle within his heart. Could Tess be the one for him?

With precision and pizazz, fan favorite Sarah Sundin carries readers through the rough waters of love in a time when every action might have unforeseen world-changing consequences.

What I Loved: There comes a time when you feel the need to clap at the end of a book, or in this case a series. This was one of those times. When Tides Turn brought a satisfactory ending to the series as a whole and the novel as an individual.
Sundin is amazingly talented in weaving the details of military life into her stories. In the case of When Tides Turn, there were areas when the information was a bit too technical for my mind to comprehend. And likewise, there were moments, especially early on in Tess’s story, when the mystery of the spy and French conflict was over my head. I couldn’t quite grasp what was happening in France and what this group in America was talking about. If you find yourself struggling, I’d advise you to “stay the course” 😉 and trust that the most important aspects will make sense in due time. As a mystery lover, I was still able to hone in on the characters’ actions and reactions…even if I didn’t always understand the present problem.
As usual, Sundin can be trusted to craft a well thought out character and even more beautiful, a solid and timeless message for the soul. I was very impressed with the layers of truth and application she was able to bring to light, especially concerning Dan’s ending.

Rating and Recommendation: I can’t speak of When Tides Turn and the entire Waves of Freedom series enough. I’m giving it 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys Christian Historical fiction and WWII fiction.

~I received a copy from Revell. I was not required to give a favorable review. All thoughts are my own.