Friday, December 12, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride (Refined by Love Book #1), by Judith Miller

From the Publisher:

In the clay-rich hills of the newly founded state of West Virginia, two families tentatively come together to rebuild a war-torn brickmaking business.

Ewan McKay has immigrated to West Virginia with his aunt and uncle, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial help. Uncle Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, and it's Ewan's job to get the company up and running again.

Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he quickly feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man--a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Resolving that he'll make the brickworks enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Ireland, Ewan pours all his energy into the new job.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work is put in jeopardy. As his hopes for the future crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. Can she help him save the brickworks, and will Ewan finally get a shot at winning her heart?

My Review:

Judith Miller has outdone herself again! I really enjoy her books and this one was no exception. She has written this one with the perfect combination of a few of my time periods and cultures -- the antebellum time period and the Irish.

I really enjoyed the conflict between right and wrong and the ethical debate in this book -- though it wasn't much of a debate. Ewan was a character who was easy to love, Hugh easy to dislike, Laura gives mixed feelings... Laura is a strong female character who does what she believes to be right and what she wants to do despite how others might think or feel... except in regards to who she is going to marry. But God has other plans and works those out.

I highly recommend this book if you like conflict between right and wrong, a girl who MIGHT marry the wrong guy if something doesn't change, and you like to see people change and improve.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Lady's Honor, Laurie Alice Eakes

From the Publisher:

On the cliffs of 19th-century Cornwall, a spirited, impetuous young woman is torn between the honor of her family and the longing of her heart.
England, 1811
A tarnished reputation. A distant home. A forced engagement to a dangerous man. When Elizabeth Trelawny flees London, she has more than one reason to run. And when her carriage, pursued by her would-be fiancé, is caught in a storm, she quickly accepts the help of a dark stranger. Anything to get back to Cornwall.

But Rowan Curnow is not exactly a stranger. He’s not quite a gentleman either. Class disparity once kept him from courting Elizabeth . . . even if it didn’t keep him from kissing her.

The couple elude their pursuers and reach Bastion Point, Elizabeth’s future inheritance and the one place she calls home. But in the very act of spiriting her to safety, Rowan has jeopardized Elizabeth’s inheritance—if her grandfather ever learns she spent the night, however innocently, in the company of a man.

When smugglers unite the pair in a reckless, flirtatious alliance—an alliance that both challenges the social norms Elizabeth has been raised to revere and rattles Rowan’s fledgling faith in God. Elizabeth must choose between the obedience of a child and the desires of a woman: cling to the safety of her home or follow the man she loves.

My Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. It never really connected with me on an emotional level. It was a good story, but I felt like it was a little scattered...

There were too many storylines and people went by different names. There were too many relationship connections and things that seemed insignificant while you were reading them, but later became significant enough that you wish you would have paid more attention.

It was a good enough book to finish reading, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Truth be Told, by Carol Cox

From the Publisher:

Sometimes the truth can be dangerous...
When Amelia Wagner takes over her father's newspaper in 1893 Granite Springs, Arizona, she vows to carry on the paper's commitment to reporting only the truth. But Amelia soon learns that even the truth can have serious consequences. Her father's revealing articles about the Great Western Investment Company have caught the attention of the wrong people, and pressure mounts for Amelia to retract her father's statements.

Determined to find out the real story, Amelia begins her own investigation. She's joined by Benjamin Stone, a Great Western employee who's been assigned to keep tabs on her for the good of the company, a man Amelia finds both perplexing and intriguing.

What they uncover stuns them both--and has far-reaching implications for not only Ben and Amelia but all of Granite Springs. Can they reveal the truth before the enemy finds a way to silence them for good?

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. It was suspenseful with well-developed characters and a love story that unfolded slowly.

I enjoyed Amelia's character -- her strength, her integrity, her tenacity. She stands for right despite personal hardship.

Ben's character was a good one as well... a man of integrity, willing to set aside his own aspirations for God's plan for his life.

There is a healthy mixture of deceit, family drama, greed, romance, spiritual development, suspense, etc in this book.

I highly recommend it!

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Thursday, September 11, 2014

With Every Breath, by Elizabeth Camden

From the Publisher:

In the shadow of the nation's capital, Kate Livingston's respectable life as a government worker is disrupted by an encounter with the insufferable Trevor McDonough, the one man she'd hoped never to see again. A Harvard-trained physician, Trevor never showed the tiniest flicker of interest in Kate, and business is the only reason he has sought her out now.

Despite her misgivings, Kate agrees to Trevor's risky proposal to join him in his work to find a cure for tuberculosis. As Kate begins to unlock the mysteries of Trevor's past, his hidden depths fascinate her. However, a shadowy enemy lies in wait and Trevor's closely guarded secrets are darker than she ever suspected.

As revelations from the past threaten to destroy their careers, their dreams, and even their lives, Trevor and Kate find themselves in a painfully impossible situation. With everything to lose, they must find the strength to trust that hope and love can prevail over all.

My review:

With Every Breath was a very enjoyable book. Elizabeth Camden did an excellent job of weaving history and facts in with her story without losing on or the other. The competitive relationship between Trevor and Kate provides endearing and amusing moments, but also emotionally charged moments.

Through the story, Trevor's character unfolds to reveal a man of many layers. I give this book highest praises for character development. Elizabeth created multi-layered characters that were still easy to follow. She built on small bits of information and you were always left wanting to know the next little bit without being overwhelmed. She wrote in such a way as to create real people with real personalities. Kate, too, has many layers and she doesn't begin to truly know herself until the end of the book... and her moment of figuring it all out is... wonderful.

Elizabeth wove mystery and romance and history all into one excellent book that I highly recommend.

I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Match of Wits, by Jen Turano

From the Publisher:

After his departure from New York two years ago to meet up with his almost-fiancée, Zayne Beckett is the last person Agatha Watson wanted to stumble upon in her travels as a reporter with the New York Tribune. Quite pathetically bedraggled, he clearly needs to be taken in hand and sent back East to his family. Although she no longer has feelings for him, Agatha realizes, by hook or by crook, she'll have to be the one to get the obstinate man home.

Zayne has no desire to be taken anywhere and is prepared to drag his heels all the way home... until he finds himself slipping back into the familiar banter of his former friendship with Agatha. Once they arrive in New York, Zayne realizes Agatha's determined nose for news has earned her a few enemies, and he hopes to repay her help with some help of his own. When she rebuffs all his attempts to prove himself a knight in shining armor, the lengths to which they'll go to win this battle of wills lead to some memorable antics.

Everyone else may think them a match, but nothing could be further from the truth--until Agatha finds herself in real trouble. Have these two stubborn, too-smart-for-their-own-good people been meant for each other all along?

My Review:

I really liked the characters in this book a lot. Agatha is interesting, feisty, independent... but also a lady. She is unconventional, but still wants love and romance. Zayne is completely clueless when it comes to women, but has a kind heart and is chivalrous. The supporting characters are equally as interesting. The book is worth reading for the characters alone.

The storyline was somewhat flat. Agatha got herself into a little trouble, but it was never very interesting and there was never really a climax to the plot... or it was a very small one. The plot could have been much more well-developed in this book.

This was the first book that I've read from Jen Turano, and I would read another one. I recommend this book, but if there is another that you'd really like to read... then read the other one first. Don't put this at the top of your reading list.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Waiting, by Cathy LaGrow

From the Publisher:

An unforgettable true story that will touch your heart and make you believe in love’s enduring legacy, and in the power of prayer.
In 1928, 16-year-old Minka was on a picnic in the woods when she was assaulted and raped. And suddenly this innocent farm girl—who still thought the stork brought babies—was pregnant. The baby was secretly born, named Betty Jane, and given up for adoption. For decades, Minka wrote letters trying to get news of her daughter; she kept loving and praying for her, even though she never dared believe they would meet again. Until nearly eighty years later, when Minka whispered her secret, impossible prayer for the first time: Lord, I’d like to see Betty Jane before I die. I promise I won’t bother her or interrupt her life. I just want to lay eyes on her. Unbeknownst to Minka, that very same day, a judge was releasing the sealed adoption records to her 77-year-old daughter. And soon, Minka’s phone would ring. Written by Cathy LaGrow (Minka’s granddaughter), The Waiting brings three generations of this most unusual family together over the course of a century to tell a story of faith that triumphs, forgiveness that sets us free, and love that never forgets.
My Review:

I knew that I wanted to read this book as soon I as I saw it listed on the Tyndale Blog Network offerings. It took FOREVER for me to get it; it was lost in the mail or not sent or something. Finally, I received the book after waiting a long time. I started reading it and it was really good... then I met Brian, my wonderful and amazing boyfriend. So, my two books read a week reduced down to one book read every two months and I finally finished this book today.

The Waiting is very well written. It's easy to read and flows well. I really liked that it's a true story. Minka's story will really touch your heart and the reunion between Minka and Betty Jane/ Ruth was beautiful.

I would have liked to have a little more information about Betty Jane/ Ruth's life, but I understand that since the book was written more about Minka and her love and her waiting and by her granddaughter that it would contain much more about Minka than Betty Jane/ Ruth.

I like that the book contained details about things like the weather... details that make you feel like you were really there. Everything was very well researched.

I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

One More Last Chance (A Place to Call Home Book #2), by Cathleen Armstrong

From the Publisher:

Sarah Cooley has come home to Last Chance, New Mexico, for one reason--because it doesn't change. After an engagement gone bad with a man who wanted to change everything about her, Sarah is more than ready for the town whose motto may as well be, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Chris Reed, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to spark some change in the little town. As the new owner of the Dip 'n' Dine, he's shaking things up to draw folks from all over the Southwest into his restaurant.

As it turns out, the winds of change are blowing into Last Chance--just not in the ways that Sarah or Chris might expect.

My review:

One More Last Chance is the first novel that I've read by Cathleen Armstrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Sarah is an immature, selfish recent college graduate. She is going through a breakup from a bad relationship, is completely unimpressed with Chris Reed, and hates change.

Chris is mature, kind, honorable and wants to see his dreams for the Dip 'n' Dine come to fruition, but the town is resisting change. Of course, life is all about change as all the characters discover.

I really did not like Sarah. Her character was very well-developed, I just really didn't like her at first. By the end of the book, some of her finer qualities started to show up. Chris was very likable and I felt a lot of sympathy toward him.
There were a few other interesting secondary characters that really added to this book.
Overall, the story was a very good one, full of interesting details that added to the story, rather than detracting from it. The relationships in the book are complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex that you get lost.
I would love to read another book by this author, and recommend One More Last Chance.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gathering Shadows (Finding Sanctuary Book #1), by Nancy Mehl

From the Publisher:

Wynter Evans is a promising young reporter for a television station in St. Louis, but even a bright future doesn't take away her pain over the disappearance of her brother nine years ago. So when she stumbles across a photograph of a boy with an eerie resemblance to him, she can't pass up the chance to track him down. With research for work as her cover, she sets out with one of the station's photogs for the place where the picture was taken: the town of Sanctuary.

Almost as soon as she arrives, she meets the town's handsome young mayor, Rueben King, and together they begin to uncover long held secrets that could tear the small town apart and change everything Wynter thought she knew about her life. As the truth of her family's past hides in the shadows, it's clear someone will stop at nothing to keep the answers she's searching for hidden forever--even if the cost is Wynter's very life.

My Review:

This was a really good book. Full of suspense and mystery... you didn't figure it out who was doing what (or who did what and why) until the very end of the book. The entire time I was reading I kept trying to figure out what happened. The plot was fantastic.

I really like the friendship that developed between Wynter and Zac (her photographer). I actually would have preferred them to be in a relationship than her and Rueben. That was actually the one downfall this book had... the relationship between Wynter and Rueben didn't develop. It was he's cute/ she's cute one minute and declarations of love 100 pages later with nothing really happening in between. It almost seemed as if Rueben was an after thought... a character created to help find answers to the family secrets... and he had to have a connection so he was thrown into a relationship with Wynter. In fact, it almost seems as if the author originally intended for Wynter and Zac to be a thing.

This book was a great one in terms of mystery and suspense... but the people/ relational aspects could use improvement. That being said... I recommend this book.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money, by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze

From the Publisher:

In Smart Money Smart Kids, financial expert and best-selling author Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze equip parents to teach their children how to win with money. Starting with the basics like working, spending, saving, and giving, and moving into more challenging issues like avoiding debt for life, paying cash for college, and battling discontentment, Dave and Rachel present a no-nonsense, common-sense approach for changing your family tree.

My Review:

I have loosely followed the Dave Ramsey plan since I got my first "real" job and started budgeting and recently heard he and Rachel discussing this book on one of the radio stations I listen to. Naturally, when I saw it offered through BookLook, I had to have it.

This book is excellent. It offers practical, age appropriate advice on how to raise your kids to be smart with money, starting at a very young age (3ish?) and into adulthood. It covers things like buying your first car, saving for college, paying for a wedding, etc. I wish my parents would have had this book when I was born!! Maybe then I wouldn't be paying off student loans!

Not only is the content great, but it's written in a format that is almost conversational. Dave and Rachel both tell stories about when things went right... and when they went wrong. It's entertaining, informative, and doesn't put you to sleep. There are sections written by Dave and then sections that are written by Rachel. (Everytime I read a Dave section, I could hear his voice in my head... voice inflections and everything.)

I requested the hard copy of this book so that I would have it physically in my library to reference when I have children. It's not only a keeper, but one I plan to use. You should buy this book!

I received this book for free from the publisher through BookLook in exchange for an honest review.

Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

From the Publisher: 

When love simmers between a reclusive scientist and a wealthy debutante, will they abandon ship or is it full steam ahead?

Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston, Texas, to find her father deathly ill. Though she loves him, Nicole's father has always focused on what she's not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run Renard Shipping.

Vowing to find a suitable husband to give her father the heir he desires before it's too late, Nicole sets out with the Renard family's greatest treasure as her dowry: the highly coveted Lafitte Dagger. But her father's rivals come after the dagger, forcing a change in Nicole's plans.

After a boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana nearly took his life, Darius Thornton has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. Even if it means letting a female secretary into his secluded world.

Nicole is determined not to let her odd employer scare her off with his explosive experiments, yet when respect and mutual attraction grow between them, a new fear arises. How can she acquire an heir for her father when her heart belongs to another? And when her father's rivals discover her hiding place, will she have to choose between that love and her family's legacy?

My Review:

I started this book around 9:30 Friday night. I read the last page around 2:30 Saturday morning. 'nuf said. :)

This was an amazing book. The characters were likable and they had histories and personalities and thoughts and feelings!! Darius was amazing... a heroic gentleman created with some complexity to his character. He's so noble. Interestingly, the name Darius means "upholder of the good". I wonder if that was intentional. Both characters were unconventional for their time... I loved that.

The plot was SO good. There was some suspense and danger in the book. Darius's life sort of came full circle. Darius and Nicole both had issues unrelated to one another that they helped the other work through. This was a really good book. So good, in fact, that I gave my mom an extremely thorough summary of it when I woke up Saturday morning.


I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Out of Control, by Mary Connealy

From the Publisher: 
Julia Gilliland has always been interested in the natural world around her. She particularly enjoys her outings to the cavern near her father's homestead, where she explores for fossils and formations, and plans to write a book about her discoveries. The cave seems plenty safe--until the day a mysterious intruder steals the rope she uses to find her way out.

Rafe Kincaid has spent years keeping his family's cattle ranch going, all without help from his two younger brothers, who fled the ranch--and Rafe's controlling ways--as soon as they were able. He's haunted by one terrible day at the cave on a far-flung corner of the Kincaid property, a day that changed his life forever. Ready to put the past behind him, he plans to visit the cave one final time. He sure doesn't expect to find a young woman trapped in one of the tunnels--or to be forced to kiss her!

Rafe is more intrigued by Julia than any woman he's ever known, but how can he overlook her fascination with the cave he despises? And when his developing relationship with Julia threatens his chance at reconciliation with his brothers, will he be forced to choose between the family bonds that could restore his trust and the love that could heal his heart?

My Review:

This was an interesting book.There were some very strong and strong-willed characters in it, so there was some conflict between characters. The characters each had back stories, which I really enjoyed. They were relatively complex.

The plot was pretty good although it seemed to drag at times.

I enjoyed and recommend this book. I am not obligated to review this.

Talk of the Town, by Lisa Wingate

From the Publisher:

Between Hollywood glamour and small-town secrets, what is the truth? The show American Superstars is the hottest thing on television, but its associate producer, Mandalay Florentino, is worried. She's just arrived in the tiny town of Daily, Texas, to arrange a surprise "reunion concert" for hometown finalist Amber Amberson. Only it turns out everyone in town seems to know the secret. And paparazzi are arriving. And word from Hollywood is that Amber has disappeared with a "bad boy" actor. Can anything go right in this tumbleweed town?

Imagene Doll loves her town of Daily, Texas, but things are lonelier without her beloved husband. Life seems dull. At least until that fancy-dressed woman pulls into town, looking terrified and glamorous all at once. Soon life's not the least bit boring as Imagene--and the rest of Daily--find themselves at the center of a media maelstrom...with a young girl's future on the line.

My Review:

Sometimes people will surprise you if you allow yourself to look beyond the stereotypes and rumors and actually get to know them. In Talk of the Town each character seems to be different than what they're believed to be... in good and bad ways. Amber isn't the wild girl that the tabloids think she is, the "bad boy" actor has a good and caring heart, Mandalay's fiance isn't quite Mr. Right, Carter isn't "just Carter", Imagene isn't just a useless, meddling old lady...

This book was entertaining and the romance was woven into the story. I wouldn't say it had a strong focus on romance... this book was more about the character's lives in general.

The plot was interesting and kept me wondering why people did the things they did, who they really were, and what was going to happen next. It wasn't a particularly complex plot and the characters weren't complex either, but both were likeable.

I recommend this book as a nice, light read.

I received this book for free from Amazon as a special offer and wasn't obligated to review it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One Perfect Spring, by Irene Hannon

From the Publisher:

Claire Summers is a determined, independent single mother who is doing her best to make lemonade out of the lemons life has handed her. Keith Watson is a results-oriented workaholic with no time for a social life. As the executive assistant to a local philanthropic businessman, he's used to fielding requests for donations. But when a letter from Claire's eleven-year-old daughter reaches his desk, everything changes. The girl isn't asking for money, but for help finding the long-lost son of an elderly neighbor.

As Keith digs reluctantly into this complicated assignment, he has no idea how intertwined his life and Claire's will become--nor how one little girl's kindhearted request will touch so many lives and reap so many blessings.

Through compelling characters and surprising plot twists, Irene Hannon offers readers this tenderhearted story of family connections that demonstrates how life is like lilacs--the biggest blooms often come only after the harshest winters.

My Review:

The characters in this book are wonderful because they are multilayered and evolve and grow throughout the story. In my opinion, the characters make a book worth reading just as much, if not more, than the plot. The characters are what move the story along.

The plot is also very important to a book, and this one had lots of twists and turns and surprises... but you were led to them so you thought you might know what's coming before it happened. The plot was great in this book.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is that I felt like the interactions between two of the supporting characters (David's daughter and son-in-law) might have been just a little too suggestive (and unnecessary
) for a Christian novel. Had they been in a secular novel, they would have been entirely appropriate and expected, by I feel like Christian novels should have not just a higher standard, but the highest standard.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 2, 2014

While Love Stirs (The Gregory Sisters Book #2), by Lorna Seilstad

From the Publisher:

After graduating from Fannie Farmer's School of Cookery in 1910, Charlotte Gregory is ready to stir things up. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to travel, lecture, and give cooking demonstrations on the very latest kitchen revolution--the gas stove--and certainly doesn't mind that the gas company has hired the handsome Lewis Mathis to perform at her lectures. Lewis encourages her work, especially her crusade to introduce fresh, appetizing, nutritious food to those convalescing in hospitals. But young hospital superintendent Dr. Joel Brooks is not convinced any changes should be made--especially by this outspoken young woman.

When Charlotte and Joel are coerced into planning a fund-raising gala for the hospital, will this combustible pair explode?

Fan favorite Lorna Seilstad is back with a breezy, lighthearted love triangle that will keep readers guessing. Attention to historic detail adorns the timeless story of a young woman looking for true love and making her way in a rapidly changing world.
My Review: 

This was a nice book, though not particularly memorable. The characters weren't all that complex. The love story was a typical I-hated-you-but-you-grew-on-me-until-I-loved-you kind of story.

 Despite how this review will sound, I really did enjoy this book, I just think it could have been improved to be even better and worth remembering. The tense moments weren't really all that tense. Lewis was awkward and weak. The characters annoyed me with their assumptions of each other. I would have liked to have seen more emotion and in the book. It has so much potential.
The history regarding Fannie Farmer's School of Cookery and the gas stove was very interesting. I never considered how many incidents must have happened when the gas stove first came out or how many people were injured or made ill from gas leaks. I liked the focus on increasing awareness of the connection between nutrition and health/ healing.
I recommend this book, keeping in mind that it's a nice book, but could be better.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Table by the Window, by Hillary Manton Lodge

From the Publisher:

Heirloom recipes, family secrets…and a chance for love

The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?

After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story.

Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?

My Review:

The Plot -- I enjoyed the plot of this book and the subject matter. I love cooking, so reading about others with a passion for cooking interested me. I liked the mystery of the Juliette's family secret and the struggle that she had with deciding the direction of her life.

The Characters -- I feel that the characters fell a little flat. That being said, they were very likable. While they could have been more developed and more complex, they are still interesting as they are.

The Writing -- I think that this book was written in such a way that it flowed easily and made you want to keep turning the pages for more!

What I didn't like -- I didn't like that the book didn't tie up loose ends. I assume that there will be a sequel. If you like sequels, you'll like this book. I'm not a big fan, myself. I prefer stand-alone novels.

What I did like -- RECIPES!!!!! And cooking techniques. I loved all the cooking stuff and want to bake now!!

Summary -- This is a 3-star book. I enjoyed it and don't feel like it was a waste of time, but neither was it memorable. If a sequel was put in my hands tomorrow, I'd read it. If it is more than a month from now, I will have completely moved on with my life and forgotten this book.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, by Dan Jurafsky

From the Publisher:

Stanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.

Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.

From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

Engaging and informed, Jurafsky's unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.

My Review:

I loved this book!!! First of all, I love words. I love etymology. I love food. I love knowing the origins of food and how foods have evolved over time. This book was totally my thing!

The subject matter was right up my alley so that kept me interested, but the quality of information was also very good! The chapters followed a format that seemed to continue throughout the book. The author introduced a food, it's country of origin, what it was, what changed about it, where it traveled to, and so on until voila! we have the common food that we know of today. Fascinating stuff. Each chapter also ends with a brief paragraph about what the evolution of language/ food teaches us with a real-life, and often moral, application. That was a nice touch.

I was very surprised by some of the things I learned such as ketchup didn't originally contain tomatoes and it's not as American as you might think. Fish and chips didn't originate with fish. I learned what salad, salsa, fleur de sel, and flour all have in common. Also, ice cream and fireworks have more in common than the 4th of July. You'll have to read to find out more!

I enjoyed seeing the way words are used in menus. Words give us clues as to the caliber of the restaurant and if you read a menu carefully, it will also clue you in to the price range of the food being served.

I highly recommend this book if you are a lover of etymology, and even more so, if you are a lover of food.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Here to Stay, by Melissa Tagg

From the Publisher:
After playing nomad for five years, Blake Hunziker has finally had enough of adventure. Not sure what reception he'll get from everyone back in Whisper Shore, he's stunned at not only a warm welcome from his hometown but also a job offer. The job is his if he can successfully pull off the annual Christmas Festival. If only he knew the first thing about coordinating events...

If there's one thing Autumn Kingsley knows, it's Whisper Shore. For years, she's been stuck running her family's inn when all she wants is to see the world. Now she has a visit scheduled from a potential investor who could take over the inn, as well as a dream job offer in Paris. But with just two weeks to whip the inn into shape, her chance at escape is a long shot.

The Hunzikers and the Kingsleys may not get along, but Blake knows Autumn's the only one who can help him. She agrees to a trade--she'll help with the Festival and he'll help with inn repairs. But what was meant to be a simple deal quickly becomes much more than that when the guy who's done running away joins forces with the girl who can't wait to leave.

My Review:

I loved this book! I loved the drama between the two families and the history there, I loved the setting and the idea of an old inn and a more modern hotel. The characters were well-developed with good personalities and a history and emotions. This love story unfolds in the midst of controversy and drama, while Autumn and Blake decide to act like Christians despite the history between the two families... The plot is very good.

This is a great book and I highly recommend it.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Until I Found You, by Victoria Bylin

From the Publisher:

Finding each other was only the beginning . . .

When Kate Darby swerves off a mountain road to avoid hitting a California condor, she ends up trapped in her car, teetering on the edge of a cliff. Terrified, she breathes a prayer that changes her life.

It's Nick Sheridan who comes to Kate's rescue. Nick is handsome and confident, and he seems to develop a habit of rescuing her, but Kate is in town only until her grandmother recuperates from a stroke. She's not planning to get involved with one of the locals.

Nick is a reformed veteran of life in the fast lane, a new Christian, and a travel writer. When he sees a car dangling on the edge of a cliff, the daredevil in him jumps into action. He doesn't expect to be swept off his feet by the car's occupant. He's made a vow--no dating for a year--but keeping that vow is going to be a lot more difficult now that he's met Kate Darby. . . .

My Review:

This was my first Victoria Bylin book and I really enjoyed it! There was a lot of suspense written into this story with Kate's accident and her grandmother's health and a few other things that kept me turning page after page wondering what happened next and where Nick would become the hero and how they would fall in love.

I feel like this story was very realistic in the way that it dealt with the struggles that a "baby" Christian goes through when leaving the old life behind. A relationship with God is a growth process and while you're no less saved at the beginning of the process than you are when you're further along in it, it's a gradient of growth that this book reflects. From the struggles of leaving the old temptations behind and counting the cost of your desire versus God's plans for you, to being ashamed of and disgusted by your old life, to accepting that it's your history and God has used it to shape you into who you are... this book was spot on.

The characters were very likeable. I preferred Nick over Kate, because he was less flaky. Kate was just very uncertain about everything and started to annoy me.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable book. I really only had one problem with this book... Nick had told himself that he wasn't dating for a year... and yet everything he did with Kate during that year implied that he was dating her... right up to the giant leap made from his no-dating vow to what happened when the year was up. The words of the book continued to stand by his no-dating vow, yet his actions in the book clearly showed otherwise. If you're not dating her, why are you kissing her all the time and well, dating her? I also have a problem with the frequency that Kate stayed at Nick's house, even though nothing happened. Why place yourself in that situation? At one point, she didn't go to her grandmother's house because she didn't want to disturb her or wake her... something like that. Not really a good excuse, and it seems like that was exactly what it was... an excuse. I can understand an emergency situation or at one point, the roads being too icy and it being too dangerous. But for a Christian book, I don't feel like this always demonstrated the highest of standards. I'm not sure I would recommend this book to a young (spiritually or age-wise) Christian based on the example set by the characters.

I highly recommend this book based on quality and based on the story, but suggest reading it with an understanding that as a Christian we should set our standards high and recommend using discretion when recommending it to a younger audience.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Undetected, by Dee Henderson

From the Publisher:
When asked what he does for a living . . .

Commander Mark Bishop is deliberately low-key: "I'm in the Navy." But commanding the ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada, keeping her crew trained and alert during ninety-day submerged patrols, and being prepared to launch weapons on valid presidential orders, carries a burden of command like few other jobs in the military. Mark Bishop is a man who accepts that responsibility, and handles it well. And at a time when tensions are escalating around the Pacific Rim, the Navy is glad to have him.

Mark wants someone to come home to after sea patrols. The woman he has in mind is young, with a lovely smile, and very smart. She's a civilian, yet she understands the U.S. Navy culture. And he has a strong sense that life with her would never be boring. But she may be too deep in her work to see the potential in a relationship with him.

Gina Gray would love to be married. She has always envisioned her life that way. A breakup she didn't see coming, though, has her focusing all her attention on what she does best--ocean science research. She's on the cusp of a major breakthrough, and she needs Mark Bishop's perspective and help. Because what she told the Navy she's figured out is only the beginning. If she's right, submarine warfare is about to enter a new and dangerous chapter.
My review:
This was my first Dee Henderson book and I was very disappointed. Based on my reading speed according to my Kindle, I estimated this book to be about 500 pages long, and was only off by 19 pages. I've read books that length a lot faster than I read this one!

The first 20% or so of the book was pretty much all submarine stuff or Navy base stuff. I was bored, but pressed on. It was just all too technical and uninteresting and I was waiting for the book to get more personal. Which kind of happened, eventually. This book has a LOT of Navy talk and submarine talk and scientific discovery type stuff. If you want to read a romance, I'd suggest picking up another book because the love story part of the book comes very slowly and is disappointing when it does come. If you want a less romance-heavy book that has some interesting information, then this one is good. I, personally, was not that interested in the subject, but it was informative.
Another reviewer identified on Amazon as "Kathleen" really summed it up when she wrote, " I slogged through paragraph after paragraph of fine detail about submarines and their workings, I had to wonder. Was this really written by a woman? It felt like a man’s writing to me. Very analytical with emphasis on settings rather than characters. The author’s in-depth research impressed me, as I assume her descriptions of submarine life are correct. The plot was laid out well, despite what I thought was too many unnecessary details."

The characters had layers, but not really. There was a lot told about them, but not a lot shown about them. There wasn't a lot of emotion to this love story. I was turned off by Mark. I don't want to give away a spoiler, so I'll just say that I feel like he came on very strong. Too much, too fast not just for Gina, but for the development of the love story. I think he was a gentleman and there were some things I respected about his character, but I just wasn't into the way their story unfolded.

Gina was... weak and insecure and needy and I think she could have used some serious weekly "dates" with a counselor rather than another boyfriend or two. She grew and matured throughout the story... but when? How? What really changed? One minute she's insecure and the next thing you know, she's independent-ish and strong.

I feel like this book could have been written with half the words and been just as interesting. While I made it through the book, I wouldn't call it good. It was just ok. I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this book to you based on personal preference and interest. It was well written and if you're into the Navy thing and submarine details and all of that, you'll really enjoy it. Just don't expect a sweep-you-off-your-feet romance.
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Stubborn Heart, by Becky Wade

From the Publisher:
Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When her grandmother
asks Kate to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance,
takes a leave of absence from her job as a social worker, and the two of them set off.

Upon her arrival in Redbud, Kate meets Matt Jarreau, the man her grandmother has hired to renovate the house. From the first moment
she meets Matt, Kate can't help but be attracted to him--he's got a combination of good looks and charisma that draw and tug at her. But she knows there's zero chance of a romance between them. Matt's in love with his dead wife, and even if he weren't, Kate realizes that she's way too ordinary for him. For Matt Jarreau is no ordinary guy. Kate discovers that he was once a great NHL hockey player who left the sport when his wife--an honest-to-goodness former Miss America--was diagnosed with brain cancer. Matt's been hiding from people, from God, and from his past ever since. Yet Kate is absolutely determined to befriend him, to try to reach him, to help him in some small way.

No, Kate's not looking for love. She knows better than that by now. But when the stilted, uncomfortable interactions between Kate and
Matt slowly shift into something more, is God finally answering the longing of her heart? Or will Kate be required to give up more than she ever dreamed?

My Review:
I hated this book. No, I loved this book. I don't know!! It was a great book, it just hit too close to home.

Matt has this brooding thing going on that makes you want to love him to release him from his inner turmoil. Kate has this need to rescue him from himself. They were both fairly well-developed characters and the supporting characters were awesome as well. Each character in this book was unique and had their own personality and set of quirks. Becky wade does an amazing job with this.

I probably related to Kate more than I've ever related to any character in a book, ever. Kate is 31 and still single and very much struggling to reconcile that fact to God's will and her desires. "The hardest and the truest thing was the supremacy of God's will, which meant that no matter how much she had prayed for a husband and a family, she wasn't guaranteed that she'd ever receive what she asked for." Ouch. See why I hated this book?

But there were some valuable gems in there like this quote from one of the old ladies,

"'Women who've made peace with living alone,' she stared, counting off one finger, 'and women with healthy self-confidence....' She counted off a second finger, then cocked her head at Kate. 'Are you getting this?'

"Kate nodded. 'Women who've made peace with living alone and women who have a healthy self-confidence...'

'Can always, but always, afford to be picky.'"

One thing that I did not like about the book was the lack of spiritual depth. Kate heard God's voice and followed, but then she basically quits talking to God after she does? Yet she's still hearing his voice? She rarely seems to pick up her Bible and spend any real quality time with God. Matt has virtually no relationship with God, but then something changes but it seems like that is never really acknowledged between he and Kate. So Kate is falling in love with the "perfect guy" who has nothing to do with God and... the only problem is that he's not playing hockey? Not that he doesn't have any relationship with God, to speak of, but that he isn't playing hockey. Alrighty then. As someone who probably could be in a relationship if I were willing to settle for someone without a relationship with God... this really bothers me. I've met a lot of "perfect" guys, but you know... if they don't have an active relationship with God, they aren't quite as perfect as I thought they were. And it seems like this was never an issue for Kate when, in a Christian novel, it should have been. In fact, God shouldn't have been telling Kate to wait for the sake of Matt's hockey career in this book, God should have been telling Kate to wait for the sake of Matt's relationship with Him.

This was another good book by Becky Wade. I do recommend it, but in my opinion, it is not her best   book so if it's the first of hers that you ever read, don't be afraid to read more of hers, because the others are much better.

I was under no obligation to review this book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Meant to be Mine, by Becky Wade

From the publisher
Ty Porter has always been irresistible to Celia Park. All through high school--irresistible. When their paths cross again after college--still irresistible. This time, though, Ty seems to feel exactly the same way about Celia. Their whirlwind romance deposits them at a street-corner Las Vegas wedding chapel.

The next morning they wake to a marriage certificate and a dose of cold reality. Celia's ready to be Ty's wife, but Ty's not ready to be her husband. He's a professional bull rider, he lives on the road, and he's long planned to settle down with the hometown girl he's known since childhood.

Five and a half years pass. Celia's buried her dreams so that she can afford to raise her daughter. Ty's achieved all of his goals. Or thought he had, until he looks again into the eyes of the woman he couldn't forget and into the face of the child he never knew he had.

How much will Ty sacrifice to win back Celia's trust and prove to her that their spontaneous marriage can still become the love of a lifetime?

My Review
Another winner from Becky Wade for sure!! I loved this book! Using a minor character from her book Undeniably Yours, Becky focuses on Ty and Celia's love story. And boy is it an amazing love story!

This book is filled with amusing, snarky banter between Ty and Celia. Ty is as lovable as his brother, Bo, from Undeniably Yours. You will fall in love with Celia and her daughter and you'll get to know the Porter family a little better.

True to form, Becky has created fantastic characters, excellent dialogue, and sufficient interaction between the characters to justify their romance.

This is a very sweet love story! I highly recommend Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Undeniably Yours, by Becky Wade

From the Publisher:

Winsome and Romantic--the Perfect Summer Read!

When Meg Cole's father dies unexpectedly, she becomes the majority shareholder of his oil company and the single inheritor of his fortune. Though Meg is soft-spoken and tenderhearted--more interested in art than in oil--she's forced to return home to Texas and to Whispering Creek Ranch to take up the reins of her father's empire.

The last thing she has the patience or the sanity to deal with? Her father's thoroughbred racehorse farm. She gives its manager, Bo Porter, six months to close the place down.

Bo's determined to resent the woman who's decided to rob him of his dream. But instead of anger, Meg evokes within him a profound desire to protect. The more time he spends with her, the more he longs to overcome every obstacle that separates them--her wealth, his unworthiness, her family's outrage--and earn the right to love her.

But just when Meg begins to realize that Bo might be the one thing on the ranch worth keeping, their fragile bond is viciously broken by a force from Meg's past. Can their love--and their belief that God can work through every circumstance--survive?

My Review:

Oh my, I love love loved this book!!! I read it in one day and could hardly put it down.

The setting was incredible. A sprawling Texas ranch owned by an oil tycoon... in my head I saw acre upon acre of lush green pasture with the most beautiful and magnificent thoroughbreds grazing. I could see it, because Becky painted that picture for me. She did an awesome job!

And the people... ahhh!! I definitely fell in love with Bo! So masculine and strong and trustworthy and safe and protective and full of integrity and a southern gentleman and... I'm swooning. Meg... so sweet and beautiful and vulnerable and strong and sensitive. The secondary characters were just as amazing. Each of them had something unique that made them easy to keep separate and identify and remember. There wasn't an overwhelming amount of secondary characters and the ones that Becky did use were very well used and strong. I loved them! You will absolutely love the characters in this book.

Becky does an incredible job with the story. She creates a lot of interaction between the characters and not just individual introspection without any outward action. This book draws you into the story and makes you want to know what's going to happen next, while wanting to stop to savor the moment. This book went way too fast in the way that your favorite newborn is suddenly twelve years old. You missed nothing but just wanted to stop time to enjoy every single moment of this book.

I loved the spiritual message of complete trust in God's will for your life and His love for you and that His plan is for good things.

I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this book! I wouldn't change a thing!

I HIGHLY recommend Undeniably Yours!!!

This book was offered for free on Amazon at one point in the past, so I got it. I was under no obligation to review it. It was just that good.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

She Walks in Beauty, by Siri Mitchell

From the Publisher:

For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage in the late 1890s, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling.

Yet Clara wonders if this is the life she really wants, especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is, and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her heart at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.

My Review:

I loved this book!!! It has been sitting on my Kindle for a very long time waiting to be read. I am so glad I finally read it!

There wasn't a lot of spiritual matter in this book; however, it was present and everything else was Christian-appropriate. The historical parts of this book were fascinating... the ways women tortured themselves for the sake of beauty is just crazy.

I enjoyed the characters in this book as well as the storyline. I was not planning to write a review because this was just a "just because" book, but it was so good. The author must have done a fantastic job showing instead of telling because I could see Clara dancing and see the parlor or whatever was happening in each scene.

If you enjoy a good, long book (that doesn't drag), great characters, a fantastic story, and an interesting time-period... read this book!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Rachel (Wives of the Patriarchs, book 3), by Jill Eileen Smith

From the Publisher:

Beautiful Rachel wants nothing more than for her older half sister Leah to wed and move out of their household. Maybe then she would not feel so scrutinized, so managed, so judged. Plain Leah wishes her father Laban would find a good man for her, someone who would love her alone and make her his only bride. Unbeknownst to either of them, Jacob is making his way to their home, trying to escape a past laced with deceit and find the future God has promised him.

But the past comes back to haunt Jacob when he finds himself on the receiving end of treachery and the victim of a cruel bait and switch. The man who wanted only one woman will end up with sisters who have never gotten along and now must spend the rest of their lives sharing a husband. In the power struggles that follow, only one woman will triumph . . . or will she?

Combining meticulous research with her own imaginings, Jill Eileen Smith not only tells one of the most famous love stories of all time but will manage to surprise even those who think they know the story inside and out.

My Review:

This book surprised me by its length. I wouldn't have thought that there would be so much more to write about the story of Jacob and Rachel. What I loved so much about this book is that the author used the details the Bible gives us and as far as I can tell, used the accurately, but also filled in some of the gaps with her own imagination. One example is that we're never told about the mothers of Rachel and Leah, but they have mothers who take an active role in the book.

I don't know about you, but every time I've read about Jacob and Rachel and Leah, my thoughts have been "poor Jacob". I have never really read the story from the perspective of Rachel or of Leah, but the author focused more on Rachel and Leah than Jacob. It was interesting to consider things from their perspective.

One thing that I didn't like about the book was that I felt like a lot of time was devoted to who Jacob slept with that night. Details weren't really given, I just felt like a lot of focus ended up being on that. And a lot was implied through his and Rachel's interactions that I felt the book would have still been just as good without.

This book was very well written and I was happy to discover that this author has many other similar books about various Bible characters. I highly recommend this and hope to read some of her others one day.

*I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Sunday, May 4, 2014

To Whisper Her Name, by Tamera Alexander

From the Publisher:

Olivia Aberdeen, destitute widow of a man shot as a traitor to the South, is shunned by proper society and gratefully accepts an invitation from "Aunt" Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation. Expecting to be the Harding's head housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned when she learns the real reason Elizabeth's husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Not finding the safe haven she expects, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a Southern man who seems anything but a Southern gentleman.

Branded a traitor by some, Ridley Cooper, a Southern son who chose to fight for the Union, is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him. Determined to learn "the gift" that Belle Meade's head horse trainer and former slave, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley harbors secrets that threaten both their lives.

As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for "betraying" the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again.

My Review:

I actually purchased this book. That's how much I liked the last one that I read by Tamera Alexander. This book did not disappoint.

The characters were great! Tamera creates some really stubborn female characters who are very resistant to being loved. Olivia was no exception. Ridley (love the name!) was charming. Uncle Bob was wonderful. Elizabeth was sweet, and surprising. General Harding was an interesting paradox. I really enjoyed the characters and, once again, Tamera did not fail to deliver well-developed characters. My only complaint was that some of the female's names were too similar! Lizzy, Livvy, Elizabeth... I had to really think to keep track of who she was talking about.

There are some surprising twists to the plot that make this book very worth reading. You'll think you know a character, but then they surprise you...

Tamera draws a brilliant analogy between Ridley gaining Seabird's trust and his courtship of Olivia. At first it's subtle and then there is one paragraph that just makes you say, "ooooh!!! Genius!"

I really enjoyed the plot of the book. The romance was good although it seems like it happened very suddenly... at one point, I wasn't sure whether I missed a couple of pages of something happening or not. I would have enjoyed more dialogue between Oliva and Ridley.

The historical facts are fantastic. I want to visit Belle Meade!

This was a great book. :) I recommend it!

Lost and Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life, by Sarah Jakes

From the publisher:

Don't let your past keep you from a full future.
Like every girl, Sarah Jakes dreamed of a life full of love, laughter, and happy endings. But her dreams changed dramatically when she became pregnant at age thirteen, a reality only compounded by the fact that her father, Bishop T.D. Jakes, was one of the most influential megachurch pastors in the nation. As a teen mom and a high-profile preacher's kid, her road was lonely. She was shunned at school, gossiped about at church. And a few years later, when a fairy-tale marriage ended in a spiral of hurt and rejection, she could have let her pain dictate her future.
Instead, she found herself surrounded by a God she'd given up on, crashing headlong with Him into a destiny she'd never dreamed of. Sarah's captivating story, unflinchingly honest and deeply vulnerable, is a vivid reminder that God can turn even the deepest pain into His perfection.
More than a memoir, Lost and Found offers hope and encouragement. Perhaps you, like Sarah, find yourself wandering the detours of life. Regardless of how lost you feel, you, too, can be found.

My Review:

Where do I even begin? I'm not sure how I first heard about this book, but I distinctly remember that from the moment I did, I wanted to read it. This book called my name and after reading it, I think maybe it was the voice of God that was leading me to it. As I began writing this review, the tears were still drying on my cheeks and my face still puffy from crying.

I am finding it difficult to review this book from my normal angles -- the quality of the writing, the word choices, the flow of the book, whether or not the point was made, etc. I really can't tell you much about any of those things except for the last... I got the message. Loud and clear. I'm sure that the writing was fine, although at times I was a little like, "What is she talking about???? Huh???" but I didn't miss the message. I recommend this book from the stand-point of a book reviewer; no doubt about it, Sarah's story is inspiring.

From the perspective of a woman needing the message that God had for her in the pages of this book, I highly recommend this book. Sarah has been through a lot of difficult things based on poor choices that she has made in her life, and even in the times that she lost sight of the fact that God has a plan for her, God never lost sight of Sarah.

I've made mistakes... a lot of them. I have suffered the consequences of my poor choices and have been in the depths of discouragement over my sins, my disappointment in myself, feeling like a failure, feeling like I've let others down, like I've let myself down. I have wondered, despite what I know to be true, if I have stood in the way of God's plan for my life and irreversibly altered my destiny. But the unchangeable truth is that God is God and I am not. God says, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). The God I serve is bigger than my sins and before He laid the foundations of the earth, He mapped out the plan of salvation. Nothing I do can ever separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (see Rom. 8:38, 39). This is the message of the book.

Sarah tried to direct her own life and create what she thought she should be doing. It was only when she fully surrendered her pain and her past to Christ that He began to work out His plans for her that would allow her to shine for His glory. "Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps. 46:10). When we quit trying to steer our own destiny, when we "cease striving" and know that HE is God, He is a God of love, He is a God who does not fail, He is a God of mercy and grace, He is a God who abounds in goodness, He is a God with a plan, He is the creator, the sustainer, the alpha, omega... When we stop and realize that He is the I AM, then He can work out His plans in us that will exalt Him above all.

I relate so much to many parts of Sarah's story. Not necessarily the specific scenarios of her life, but where her heart was, her personal struggles... the symptoms might look a little different, but the struggle is the same.

As 2013 wrapped up, I passed my wedding day that didn't happen, still dealing with the pain of a broken engagement only one month prior... As painful as it was, God's grace flowed out of that experience. All I have ever wanted is to be married, to have children... I was so close. In her book, Sarah writes, "What are you willing to sacrifice on the quest for God's will? Are you willing to give up on what you want, how you want it, and when you want it? Or are you so obsessed with having everything right now that He stops fighting with you? God let me have my way. He gave me everything I asked for, and it all tore me apart. I had a successful husband, a beautiful home, amazing children, and a wonderful family. It just didn't seem as pretty anymore once I finally got it." I thank God for not giving me everything I asked for; because I almost had it... and in hindsight, it wasn't that great. I still hurt; not over my loss of J, but over the loss of the dream, the what could have beens... of being in that position in the first place, led there by desperation, loneliness, and settling for less than what God desired for me. Led there by my own insecurities.

I hate that I'm single at almost 27. It is painful, it is lonely, and it is discouraging. I wonder if my poor choices throughout my life have robbed me of what my heart desires most... not punishment, per se, but just forcing God to move on to plan B (or C or D...). "This is a reminder that one detour doesn't cancel our destination. These words are for the whispers that haunt us and tell us life is over. This book is for your shattered pieces. You have been beautifully wounded." I wonder what God's plan is for me... I question whether or not a husband and children are part of that plan. I struggle with knowing that what I desire is a God-given desire placed in the heart of man, from the moment Adam realized that all creatures except him had a mate and God created Eve to be his help-meet. What I desire is not sinful or bad, but yet God chooses to not give me my desire right now and I don't know that He ever will. I think He wants me to desire Him, His will, His plan more than any ideas I might have for myself. I have been beautifully wounded, and through Lost and Found, I have been reminded that God has a plan that is not altered by my poor choices; He is just waiting for me to say yes. Waiting for me to sacrifice my own will in exchange for His."You have to try to trust Him with the parts of you that still hurt. He's not expecting perfection. All He needs is a yes."

"If there is anything more devastating than heartbreak, it has to be the feelings we carry when we feel we've lost our destiny. When the things we hoped for feel so incredibly out of reach, we resent our surroundings because it's not what we envisioned. Somehow during these times we must learn to thank God for His provision. I'm convinced how you handle a setback will determine the strength of your comeback." This is not the life I envisioned, but it's the one I have. "Even though your life may not be what you wanted, it's still a life that someone else isn't here to enjoy. It's yours." Lately I've been trying to thank God for His provision... for the character He's building in me through these painful experiences. For the opportunities that I've had to be independent and strong and learn to do things on my own because I've had no other choice.

In addition to those included above, here are a few other quotes from the book:

"Maybe we aren't as lost as we think we are. We just can't see beyond the shame of being lost in the first place."

"Perhaps our biggest issue is not that we can't see ourselves; it's that we can't accept that even when we're broken, His love for us has not been distorted."

"When God chooses to trust us with grace, it's because He believes that we're capable fo doing things better than we did before.

Merciful God that He is, He doesn't just leave us in our misery to suffer. When we learn to find peace in trial, He knows that our season of suffering can come to an end. So often we look for Him to calm the storms of our lives. But there are times when the storm can't go away because we need the rain. 

Can you stop being afraid of the thunder long enough to feel the rain?"

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 28, 2014

For Such A Time, by Kate Breslin

From the publisher:

Powerful Retelling of the Story of Esther

In 1944, blond and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric's secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.

Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric's compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.

Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp's prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?

My review:

I really liked this book!! I enjoy long books if they're good ones, and this was a good one. It had a lot of twists and turns and suspense but was easy to follow. The only part that was challenging to follow was the SS this and SS that of various rankings when they were all having a conversation. I had to re-read those sections a few times to figure out who was talking.

This book was a retelling of the story of Esther set during WWII. I really like retellings of Bible stories. This one worked out, except for trying to make it Christian fiction. Since the author was staying true to Stella's Jewish faith, her awkward attempts at turning this into christian fiction were, well, awkward. If you are an avid historian, please keep in mind that this is fiction and not intended to be accurate in every part. While, in many ways, the author was true to history, she also takes some creative liberty when needed.

The characters were wonderful! You will fall in love with Stella's compassion and you will ache as you feel the weight of the baggage Aric carries. Some of the secondary characters will win your heart and others will evoke emotions of anger (exactly the intent).

There are just a couple of insignificant loose ends. They don't take away from the story, but rather lend an air of mystery that hangs around... however, my curiosity and need for closure wants all the little ends tied up!

This is the second WWII setting book that I've read this year and it has really increased an awareness in me of the horrors of the Holocaust. Being born in the late 80s, WWII always seemed so long ago to me until recently due to it being brought to my attention from these books that I've read. In reality, WWII wasn't that long ago and there are still people who lived through the horrific events that unfolded during the Holocaust. Reading the fictional depictions is heartbreaking, but to know that they mirror reality is awful. I appreciate this book for raising awareness and remembrance of those horrible events and the incredible strength and faith of people who endured that great trial.

Pros: Great story, interesting characters, couldn't put it down!
Cons: Difficult to separate SS rankings at times, awkward trying to make it Christian fiction, a couple of loose ends.
Summary: Buy this book and read it. You won't regret it!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Nesting Place, by Myquillin Smith

From the Publisher:

This (in)courage Dayspring writer, with a strong endorsement from Ann Voskamp, will appeal to women who love God and want their home to be a place of welcome to all.

Popular blogger and self-taught decorator Myquillyn Smith realized years ago that although immaculate-looking homes are pretty in pictures, when she's actually in one, she's not comfortable. Instead, she's worried that she'll spill her drink on the rug, or she's wondering if it's okay to move the pillow out of the way to sit down.

This stay-at-home mom in stretchy yoga pants with expired milk in her refrigerator has stumbled upon the secret to decorating for real people, and it has nothing to do with trying to convince others of our perfection. Myquillyn believes that there is beauty in imperfection, in the lived-in and loved-on and used-just-about-up. Imperfections put people at ease and free us to take risks and create the home-and the life-we've always wanted.

Myquillyn's warm and insightful words are paired with her own gorgeous four-color photos and creative, easy ideas for arranging, decorating, and building a home that welcomes everyone. Readers will learn how to create their own style-without breaking the bank or stressing over comparisons.

My Review:

I was trying to choose between a couple of books that were offered through BookLook (I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review) and decided to get this one first since it was an ebook, that way I could skim through it enough to write a review, and then request my other book to read. Well... I didn't skim. I read.

I have referred to The Nester's blog a few times while decorating... to see how window "mis"treatments are done or just to get ideas. I love the way she decorates but I've never actually read the stuff she writes unless it's a how-to. I made the mistake of thinking that this book would just be about decorating, and it was just about decorating on the surface, but it spoke to me so much deeper than that.

In this book, you will find decorating tips and a lot of encouragement to overlook imperfections and rather than trying to make your home a magazine cover, instead turn it into a beautiful dwelling place that suits the purpose you have for it. Myquillin will advise you to go to thrift stores and not expect to find something every time, to re-purpose old pieces, to take a risk, to rearrange furniture not just within a room but from other rooms, etc. She will reassure you that paint is just paint and if you hate it, it's a small risk and can be fixed/ redone. And a nail hole is just a nail hole... they're easily fillable, so don't be afraid to hang pictures on walls, to work with opposites,

Myquillin will also tell you to quit looking for the perfection in your home and to embrace the imperfections, to prioritize and gain a little perspective, to be grateful for what you have rather than longing for what you lack.

"Allowing things in our homes and in our lives to be incomplete, imperfect, and undone in some ways is a form of trust. an you give up and allow some imperfections in your life?"

"You don't have to get perfect to have a pretty house. Most of us simply need to learn to see the beauty in the imperfect. Because life is gloriously messy. We can find rest in our less than perfect circumstances when we igre out that no amount of striving can create the perfect life we think we are looking for. Trust rest comes when we realize that we can't get it from trying extra hard. We find rest when we give up."

Is it me, or is she talking about a lot more than a house? :)

"A home's greatest purpose is to serve people, not the other way around."

"All my life I thought my dream was a pretty house, but really, my dream was to create a home.... Home. A place of rest while we are on this earth. A safe place for our children. A place to love and be loved. A place that is beautiful. A haven.... I decided to trust that the God who is in charge of my eternal life could also be trusted with my everyday life."

3 words: Read this book.

Purchase The Nesting Place
The Nesting Place Blog

Friday, April 25, 2014

Moon Over Edisto by Beth Hart

From the Publisher:

Edisto Island was where it all came apart. Can the Bennett girls ever be whole again?

Once, they were the happiest family under the sun, crabbing and fishing and painting on beautiful Edisto Island in South Carolina’s lowcountry.

Then everything went wrong, and twenty years later the Bennett family is still in pieces. Mary Ellen still struggles to understand why her picture-perfect marriage came apart. Daughter Meg keeps a death grip on her own family, controlling her relationships at a distance. And eldest daughter, Julia, left it all behind years ago, forging a whole new life as an artist and academic in Manhattan. She’s engaged to an art dealer and has no intentions of returning to Edisto. Ever.

Then an emergency forces Julia back to Edisto to care for her three young half-siblings. She grudgingly agrees to stay a week. But there’s something about Edisto that changes people. Can Julia and her fractured family somehow manage to come together again under that low-hanging Edisto moon?

My Review:

I picked this book up to read because it was set on Edisto Island and at the time I was living in South Carolina (though a different part of the state) and was somewhat familiar with Edisto.

I enjoyed this book. The story was heart breaking and touching. I liked the main character, Julia, and it was nice to read along as she won the kids over and they won her heart as well. I couldn't stand Julia's sister, Meg. Her attitude annoyed me. I appreciated how gracious Julia's mother was despite her own heartache.

The setting was wonderful. I liked the author's descriptions of Edisto Island and Charleston and could almost picture myself there. Based on what I remember from those places, they were pretty accurage descriptions.

The story was good and I wasn't left with a ton of unanswered questions. I liked the way things unfolded.

I recommend this book and would be interested in reading more by this author.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through the BookLook Bloggers program.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Caught in the Middle, by Regina Jennings

 From the Publisher:

She Wants the Freedom of the Open Plains.
He Wants the Prestige of a Successful Career.
Neither is Ready for What Comes Instead.

The train to Garber, Texas, is supposed to bring life's next victory to Nicholas Lovelace. Instead, it gets held up by robbers who are thwarted by the last person Nick ever expected--Anne Tillerton from back home in Prairie Lea.

Anne's been hiding away as a buffalo hunter. She's only in town to find their runaway cook, but the woman flees--leaving Anne with her infant son. With Nick the only person Anne knows in town, the two form an unlikely team as they try to figure out what to do with the child.

But being in town means acting and dressing for polite society--and it's not going well for Anne. Meanwhile, Nick's work is bringing new pressures, and being seen with a rough-around-the-edges woman isn't helping his reputation. Caught between their own dreams, a deepening relationship, and others' expectations, can the pair find their way to love?

My Review:

A friend of mine recently read this book and said that it got off to a slow start for her. She was still in the process of reading it when we last spoke, so I wasn't sure what I would find when I read the book for myself.

I had only read a few pages but fell asleep... this has nothing to do with the quality of a book for me. I just have a problem with reading in bed at night. LOL Anyway, a few days later, I finally had time to pick it back up and once I did, I could not put it down! I read until I finished, which happened to be 1:30 AM.

I really liked Nick's character... eventually. He annoyed me at first with his single-mindedness toward success. Nick has little bits of faith, but his faith in God is based on the fact that he and God have a "deal" worked out that if Nick obeys, God blesses. Nick comes from a great family and has had a great life without his faith ever really being tested. Circumstances change and he reaches a point where his faith is tested and he chooses to trust God rather than go his own way. Nick is kind and thoughtful, but struggles with peer pressure.

I didn't connect with Anne at first, but she won me over as she started to soften around the edges. I feel like her character wasn't entirely believable or realistic. Her stubborn refusal to bend to polite society's rules was a little forced. Overall, I really enjoyed her and watching her grow and change. Anne has had a rough life and is angry at God, but she comes around and learns to surrender and give up control which is very difficult for her.

The story was really good. Some of the railroad details were a little boring to me, but it wasn't bad enough to make me skim through those parts. I really like how things played out and how the characters struggled when their faith was tested and had to work out their faith.

The author tied up loose ends nicely. The story sort of ended, and then skipped ahead a little bit to show how things turned out. I like that. It could have ended a chapter before it did, but the last chapter gave you that little "extra" to satisfy curiosity.

I would love to read more books by Regina Jennings and I highly recommend Caught in the Middle.

I received this book for free from Bethany House through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Sensible Arrangement, by Tracie Peterson

From the Publisher:
Marty Dandridge Olson is ready to leave behind the pain of the past.Answering an advertisement for a "Lone Star bride," she leaves her Texas ranch and heads to Denver to marry a man she doesn't know.

Jake Wythe is the man waiting for her.Burned by love, he marries now simply to satisfy the board of Morgan Bank, which believes a man of his standing in society should be wed. Together Jake and Marty agree they are done with romance and love and will make this nothing more than a marriage of convenience.

When missing money and a collapsing economy threaten his job, Jake's yearning to return to ranching grows ever stronger, much to Marty's dismay. But a fondness has grown between them, as well, further complicating matters.

What will happen when their relationship shifts in unexpected ways...
and dreams and secrets collide?
My Review:
I think that this is my first book written, and not co-authored, by Tracie Peterson. I have read several that she has co-authored and have either strongly disliked them, or had very mixed feelings about them. With that in mind, I was unsure of what I would find when I read this book.
The characters were somewhat flat. I felt like I knew enough about the main character's backgrounds to understand who they were in the present time. I liked Jake; he was sweet and kind and humble. I also liked Marty, but not quite as much. Jake seemed to be a stronger character. Marty was sweet and kind and strong. I finally connected with her when she **minor spoiler alert** told off the high society women. That may have been the most passionate part of the whole book. I would have liked to have seen that same passion put into Marty and Jake's relationship.
There is very little interaction between Jake and Marty. He broods over things (but why? and what?) and she notices and tries to ease his stress. She's bored. They go out a few times, but we're not really told what happens on those dates and how they connect and communicate and how they start falling in love. In short -- He's handsome, she's pretty, they have a lot in common, though they tend to find this out through other people.

Jake is constantly talking about wanting a ranch, but he becomes more like a broken record than a man with a dream. I want a ranch. I want a ranch. I want a ranch. I'm saving money for my ranch. I want a ranch.

Marty is always thinking about the fact that she has a ranch and needs to get rid of it because she doesn't want to go back to Texas. Keep the ranch a secret. Tell him. Keep the ranch a secret. Tell him. Also a broken record.

One thing that would have made their differing ideas about ranching/ Texas better is for some drama to have happened regarding the ranch or regarding Texas. I felt like there needed to be a pivotal moment in the book that was about something other than to tell him about the ranch or not.

Alice, a supporting character, was probably my favorite. I am glad to see that the next book in the series is her story.

This book was full of spiritual truths such as the age-old question of, "If God is good, why is the world so bad? How can a God of love let bad things happen to good people?" That was the major spiritual theme of the book. The secondary spiritual theme was about deceit. It also subtly addressed growing one's trust in God through personal Bible study and prayer time. I appreciated these spiritual truths.

There was a lot of blah blah blah in this book. The changing of clothes, talk about boredom, going from one high society event to another... If the author had just chosen one major part to write about and write it REALLY REALLY well, and then throw in tiny bits and pieces about other things, it would have been a much better book. As it is, too many stories were being told halfway and without enough detail.

I'm not that fond of the cover. What's the look on Marty's face about? Where is this scene? What story is the cover telling? The background scene that it portrays is only a very small part of the story, almost insignificant in the big picture.
I feel like Tracie wrapped things up in this one slightly more than in the others that I've read, but just like with all the others, I feel like there were too many loose ends. I wish that she would tie up all the loose ends of the main characters, and leave one or two loose ends on the supporting characters, since her books do tend to be series and the sequel usually makes a supporting character, the main character. If you're looking for a good book worth your time, then I recommend going with another author.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.