Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Offering by Angela Hunt

While searching for a way to help support her young family, Amanda Lisandra decides to act as a gestational carrier for a childless couple. After she finally establishes a pregnancy with another couple’s embryo, her soldier husband is killed on a special forces mission. Devastated by grief, she surrenders the child she was carrying and struggles to regain her emotional equilibrium.

Two years later she studies a photograph of the child she bore and wonders if the unthinkable has happened—could she have given birth to her own biological child and inadvertently given him away? Over the next few months Amanda struggles to decide between the desires of her grief-stricken heart and what’s best for the little boy she has never known.

My Review:
I get so excited whenever Angela Hunt releases another book because she never disappoints me. Her characters ring true, the situations they face are believable, and plots move along at a nice pace. I appreciate the depth the author goes to with her research. I always learn from her novels.

This is a story about a military wife who decides to serve as a gestational carrier for a couple who cannot carry their own child. There is a side story about foster parenting and adoption. The first person point of view allows the reader to walk hand-in-hand with Amanda (Mandy) as she moves through her experiences. I think she reasoned her dilemma out quite well, and I agree with her decision.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Merry Humbug Christmas by Sandra D. Bricker

A Merry Humbug Christmas features two holiday romance novellas from hilarious and heartwarming author Sandra D. Bricker--the perfect gift to yourself or someone else at this most wonderfully stressful time of year.

In Once Upon a Jingle Bell, A Bah! Humbug cruise to the Mexican Riviera is Joss Snow’s answer to this year’s quest to avoid the holidays completely; at least until she’s rebooked on a different kind of cruise altogether. Candy canes, holly wreaths, reindeer and ornaments seem to be stalking her on the Twelve Days of Christmas holiday cruise extravaganza. An escape back to land is her only goal . . . until she meets a kindred spirit in rugged Irishman Patrick Brenneman, and then the game is on! Avoid Christmas festivities at all costs . . . except maybe for that one stop under the mistletoe.

In It Came Upon a Midnight Deer, Reese’s guilt over abandoning best friend Joss on their holiday tradition of avoiding all things Christmas is trumped by the joy of her recent engagement. Meeting Damian’s family for the first time on idyllic Sugarloaf Mountain is about as far from that Bah! Humbug cruise as she can get, and Reese can hardly wait to get there. But from the moment they hit that deer in the road just two miles from the cabin, everything seems to go wrong. There are no drummers drumming or pipers piping this particular year! And once she sets her future in-laws’ family cabin ablaze, she’s pretty sure there won’t be even ONE golden ring in her future.

My Review:
These two Christmas novellas tie in together with some of the same characters. Because of childhood experiences, Joss and Reese are BFFs who cling together each Christmastime as they try to avoid the season. Everything goes smoothly until Reese gets engaged and plans to spend Christmas with her fiance's family. The changes will keep you chuckling.

This lighthearted book is fun and easy to read. The author tells two stories within this one title. Chapters are short and titled with lines from The Twelve Days of Christmas. All things Christmas are covered. This would make a pleasant read for most anyone. Good Christmas gift!

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and BandH Books for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Unspoken by Dee Henderson

Charlotte Graham is at the center of the most famous kidnapping in Chicago history.

The task force of FBI and local cops found her two abductors, killed them, rescued her, but it took four very long years. The fact she was found less than three miles from her home, had been there the entire time, haunts them. She's changed her identity, found a profession she loves, and rebuilt her life.

She's never said a word--to the cops, to her doctors, to family--about those four years.

A family legacy has brought her back to Chicago where a reporter is writing a book about the kidnapping. The cops who worked the case are cooperating with him. Her options are limited: Hope the reporter doesn't find the full truth, or break her silence about what happened. And her silence is what has protected her family for years.

Bryce Bishop doesn't know her past, he only knows she has coins to sell from her grandfather's estate--and that the FBI director for the Chicago office made the introduction. The more he gets to know Charlotte, the more interested he becomes, an interest encouraged by those closest to her. But nothing else is working in his favor--she's decided she is single for life, she struggles with her faith, and she's willing to forego a huge inheritance to keep her privacy. She's not giving him much of an opening to work with.

Charlotte wants to trust him. She needs to tell him what happened. Because a crime cops thought was solved, has only opened another chapter...

My Review:
Charlotte is a fragile character. She remains tortured because of her horrible experience. At age sixteen, she was kidnapped and held for four years. She has not been able to speak about it. She never says much in this novel, but the reader is able to perceive some of her horrors. Turns out, Charlotte has a secret that she must keep. This twist keeps the reader turning pages.

Charlotte wrestles with the question: how can she trust in a God who allowed this? The novel doesn't fully answer this question.

Bryce is a bored coin collector. He and Charlotte meet when she sells him coins she's inherited from her Grandfather's estate. A good bit of the tale is a study of unbelievable wealth. What would you do with a ton of money? It's interesting to see how Charlotte and Bryce settle this problem.

The romance is as fragile as Charlotte. Bryce is a master at the art of gentling. I can say no more without spoiling your read.

Thank you to Amy Green at Bethany House Publishers for my copy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Aloha Rose by Lisa Carter

Quilts of Love (Book 12)

When Laney Carrigan sets out to find her birth family, her only clue is the Hawaiian quilt—a red rose snowflake appliquéd on a white background—in which she was found wrapped as an infant. Centering her search on the Big Island and battling fears of rejection, Laney begins a painstaking journey toward her true heritage. 

Kai Barnes, however, is determined to protect the people he’s come to regard as family. He thinks Laney is nothing more than a gold digger and blocks every move she makes toward her Hawaiian family. 

As their conflict escalates, it puts at risk the one thing that Kai and Laney both want most—a family.

 My Review:
I appreciate the author's choice of Hawaii for the setting as it helped this reader better appreciate America's 50th state. Not only are fauna and volcanoes described, but many customs of the land are included. In addition, a liberal use of Hawaii's language allow the reader to better understand the ways of the island.

Scenes showing quilting techniques added interest to the storyline.

This Christian fiction handles adoption, cancer, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease. One of the characters wrestles with abandonment and trust.

Sadly, stilted writing runs throughout the story. Many of the sentences are awkward. For example, on page 90, "With Daniel, for safety's sake, encased in a florescent yellow life vest, Laney and Kai kept him between them." This makes reading difficult.

This is the third novel I've read in the Quilts of Love series. I thoroughly enjoyed the other two. (Each title is written by a different author and is a stand alone novel, connected only by the quilt theme.) I would encourage readers to continue enjoying others in the series.

Discussion Questions are included.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Abingdon Press for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Critical Reaction by Todd M. Johnson

After decades of turning out plutonium for the arms race, the Hanford Nuclear Facility has long been shuttered, though its deadly legacy cannot be fully contained. The men who guard the facility from sabotage or monitor its buildings for radiation leaks are told the risks are under control. They believe it, until the worst happens: a thunderous explosion in the dead of night.

Two workers, lifer Poppy Martin and new hire Kieran Mullaney, believe themselves lucky to survive the blast. But as the debris is cleared, they discover their safety is not assured. Dead ends and closed doors halt their efforts to discover what really happened--and what radiation may have poisoned them. When stalling and threats force them into the hands of experienced trial lawyer Ryan Hart, they learn that theirs is no ordinary lawsuit. There is something still hidden in the desert of eastern Washington, and someone is willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure it never sees the light of day.

My Review:
Attention, Hollywood . . . what an action film this would make! This legal thriller keeps the reader taking deep breathes while flipping pages. Short chapters keep the pace. I'm so glad it is a work of fiction, but even so, it could be true! (shudder)

The characters are believable. A father and daughter's strained relationship is nicely woven into the plot. This alone would make the book a worthwhile read. My favorite character is Poppy Martin, a blue collar family man who experiences the explosion.

I enjoyed the courtroom scenes. The author is an attorney and knows how to bring courtroom drama to life.

I noticed one small error on page 331, the recused judge's name is used. However, with such a compelling story, most readers will not let it hinder their reading.

Thank you to Amy Green at Bethany House for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Saving Grace by Lesley Ann McDaniel

Madison Falls, Book 1 

What happens when a New York City opera singer flees to a small town in Montana to escape a stalker? Tracy Fontaine is about to find out.

When an obsessive fan forces Tracy to change her name to Grace Addison and go into hiding, the last thing she wants is to get to know the locals. Now, not one but two men have worked their way into her daily routine, much to the chagrin of jealous local girl Sophia, who insists on prying into Grace’s past and stirring up deadly trouble.

Will Grace find love in Madison Falls…or will her stalker find her?

Madison Falls. Home of faith, love, peach pie…and a dollop of danger.

My Review:
I like the character Grace Addison. She's had to change her identity and flee from her home to escape. Grace is jumpy and doesn't trust anyone. In a small town, this proves impossible.

The reader worries for Grace and her safety but doesn't quite know just why she feels the necessity to relocate. Like a carrot on a stick, the reader is given hints as to Grace's back story. I kept flipping those pages to discover "why is she so afraid?"

There's a bit of romance, more than a little suspense, and an expected happy ending. I liked peeking backstage. The Plan of Salvation is laid out. All in all, a satisfying read.

Thank you to FirstWildCard and Ark Ink for my copy.

And now, the first chapter:

Warm air prickled the back of Grace’s neck. The porch creaked under her feet as she stole a glance over her shoulder at the dark street. Nothing.

“...excited to have you here ....”

The real estate agent’s lilting voice hummed in Grace’s ear. She turned, marveling not only at the whiteness of the agent’s slacks, but at the boldness of that fashion choice for a woman whose figure resembled that of a snowman.

“ ride even longer than your flight.”

Something pinged against the wooden planks. Grace jolted, dizzied by days of wakefulness. The agent dipped down gracefully as her plump fingers extended.

Just a dropped key.

“I know you’ll fall in love with this adorable house. The pictures on our website don’t do it justice.”

Her chipper tone set Grace’s tired nerves on edge. Why couldn’t the woman move a little faster? Casting a wary eye down the shadowy street, Grace eased the strap of her computer bag off the tense spot on her shoulder. Her over-worked adrenal glands pulsed as the agent—what was her name...Cookie? No. Spritz. Spritz Cole, that was it. As Spritz righted herself and lifted the rescued key toward the mahogany Craftsman door.

“Of course,” Spritz lobbed her an encouraging smile. “Most people want to actually see a house first before signing the papers. You must be anxious to start out fresh.”

“Yes.” Grace coerced a steady tone. “This place just felt right.”

An air of confidence spread over Spritz’s carefully made-up face. “You won’t be disappointed.” She clicked the key, and the deadbolt gave an obliging swoosh. Pushing the door open, she took a theatrical step back. “Welcome home.”

Grace’s heart made a thump that could have come from the score to a Hitchcock movie. She peered in. Her lungs filled with paint-infused air as she took a careful step across the doorsill and into the foyer.

She blinked away welling emotion, plunking her suitcase down on the polished wood floor of the vacant bungalow. Her chest ached as she perused the living room, which looked bigger than her entire studio apartment back home. Its white walls stared at her like a vast canvas.

“Well?” Spritz’s voice glistened with just enough gusto to instill consumer confidence without falling into phoniness.

Grace forced a step further into the house which now bore her name on the title—or rather her chosen name. She found it impossible to whip up much enthusiasm when all she really wanted was her life back. “It’s...adorable. Just like you said.”

The door ka-thunked shut, sending Grace’s heart into her throat.

Spritz let out a pleased breath. “You were smart to snap it up. Houses like this don’t come on the market very often. Why, folks in Madison Falls tend to stay put till they die.”

Grace shot her a fretful glance. Was she being funny or merely factual?

Apparently oblivious to Grace’s unease, Spritz breezed into the living room. “Let me just give you a quick tour.”

Exhaustion jabbed at Grace like a maestro’s baton. “No, you don’t have to—”

“You’ve come all this way,” Spritz cajoled. “I can’t just abandon you at the door. I don’t mind at all.”

Too weary to argue, Grace ran a jittery hand through her hair. Startled once again by the shortness of her cut, she flinched. “Alright then.”

As Spritz took center stage with a clearing of her throat, Grace backed up just enough to secure the deadbolt. She forced attentiveness, though frankly her only architectural concern was the structure’s ability to keep danger at bay.

Spritz stepped seamlessly into tour guide mode. “The key feature of this cozy room is of course the striking Craftsman brick fireplace.” She recited the painstakingly penned text of her own website.

Feeling like a reluctant audience to a friend’s baby-picture-slideshow, Grace swallowed her protest and stepped into the living room.

“...loads of light from this generous picture window.” Spritz pulled a cord, sending the front blinds clattering upward.

Grace shrank back, feeling the same vulnerability as she did whenever someone burst into her dressing room unannounced. The darkness outside chilled her. Why hadn’t she planned for a day-lit arrival?

“...cut glass...original to the house.” Spritz dropped the cord. Her arm extended toward the smaller windows above the built-in bookcases which flanked the fireplace.

Keeping a polite focus on her guide, Grace slid toward the picture window. She felt for the cold metal of the latch, breathing easier at its firmness. She gave the cord to the blinds a quick yank then twisted the wand to smooth the slats.

“...1920’s charm.” Spritz clasped her hands in front of her, clearly moved by her own narrative of the home’s features. A well-rehearsed pause, then a twirl toward the dining room.

Forcing her tired eyes to stay focused, Grace pulled shut the blinds on the smaller windows. 1920’s charm, indeed. Feigning cheerful interest, she crossed under the wide arch which separated this room from the next.

Spritz drew her arm with a flourish in the direction of a built-in china hutch. “This room is perfect for entertaining.”

Grace huffed at the suggestion that she would actually invite people over. Spritz’s eyes narrowed.

“I...I...” Grace stuttered, dismayed that fatigue had wiped out her ability to self-censor. “I just never had my own dining room before. I didn’t know I needed one.”

Spritz’s face lit like a make-up mirror. “Our neighborhood progressive dinner is coming up. I’ll be sure to add you to the circuit.”

Grace shivered, giving in to a long blink. Just what she needed. An invitation to the biggest event of the Mayberry social season.

Spritz swung open a double-hinged door, taking a calculated step through it as she spoke. “I just love the charm of this vintage style kitchen.”

Grace cast a polite look through the doorway. Vintage style? Was that real estate lingo for badly-in-need-of-an-update?

“Cute.” Too bad she couldn’t cook. All those years of dorm food and take-out had made that skill superfluous. At least she knew how to make coffee.

Thoughts of a comforting beverage warmed her momentarily, then vanished as her inaugural step into the kitchen almost sent her plummeting.

Spritz let out a yelp, catching her by the elbow. “Sweetie! Are you okay?”

Her heart racing, Grace clutched Spritz’s arm as her feet surfed for solid flooring. “I… I’m fine. Thanks.” She let go, testing the tiles using the care of a person treading through a minefield. One tile near the door had a definite trampoline-like quality. Funny that hadn’t made the web site’s list of fancy features.

Spritz gave the floor a healthy stomp with the heel of her Easy Spirit pump. “I really had no idea there was a problem here.” She patted Grace’s bicep. “Not to worry. We’ve got a wonderful handyman in town who’ll fix it for a song.”

Grace’s stomach fluttered. The last thing she needed was some strange man in her house expecting her to sing. “I’m sure I can take care of it myself.”

“Oh, a DIY girl, huh?” She looked impressed. “Why not let Sam handle this, and put your energy into the fun projects?”

With a decisive nod, Spritz stepped over the aberrant flooring to the rectangle of a hallway. Grace followed, anxious to finish the tour and get on with her plan. All she needed was to be left alone, to let down her guard at last, and fall into a deep sleep.

“Storage closet. Linen closet. Basement.” Spritz flung open each door in turn. “The floor is original to the house, but it’s been refinished. Let me show you the back bedroom.” She disappeared, rattling off facts as if her audience still needed convincing.

Grace’s body followed her eyes to the cracked-open bathroom door. A golden trail of light across the floor taunted her. Flashes of that last moment before her life had changed for good. She looked intently at the light—an eerie implication that someone else had recently been in the house. Be strong. What other choice did she have?

She reached out. A light touch to the crystal doorknob. Good grief, it’s only a bathroom. Wouldn’t be practical to avoid it indefinitely.

Shoving the heavy door with one hand while instinctively clenching the other, her own breath threatened to choke her.

The bathtub held a dead body.

No! Reflexively, her hands shielded her eyes. Then through parted fingers, she forced a second look. It was just a bathtub. Clean, white...and empty.

It had been more than two years now, but the image of the blood splattered porcelain still haunted her.

“Don’t you just love the claw foot tub?”

Grace sucked in a sharp breath, jolted by the perky voice from behind. She shook off the memory. Why couldn’t the place just have a shower, like her apartment?

“Let’s take a look at the front bedroom,” Spritz chirped with an air of unruffled confidence. She stepped into the room to her left, flicking a switch to illuminate it.

Grace followed, heavy with fatigue. She hovered in the doorway of the big white box that would be her bedroom, piqued by Spritz’s unnecessary perkiness.

Spritz beamed with professional pride. “The bedrooms are the same square footage, so it really depends on which view you prefer.”

Grace heaved an anxious sigh. She had already decided she’d sleep in this room. Best to keep track of the world out front—as if anything would happen in a town this size. Yawning, she lifted her wrist slightly, shocked at the hour—nearly eleven. One o’clock in the morning back home. Her eyelids felt like they had stage weights in them.

“Where’s my head?” Spritz crossed toward her, hands outstretched. “You flew all the way from Seattle, then had that long cab ride from Missoula. You must be dead on your feet.”

Grace’s stomach pitched at the ill-chosen words, but she coerced a smile. Spritz had shown such kindness without even knowing how much Grace had needed it. She allowed the realtor to enclose both her hands in a solid, warm grasp.

“I’ll see myself out.” Spritz gave Grace’s hands an extra squeeze. “You just call if you need anything.” She turned for the door, speaking over her shoulder as she walked. “Or stop by my office. It’s on Main, right across from the park. You can’t miss it.”

Grace chuckled to herself. As if finding anything in this town would require the use of MapQuest.

Grateful for her long-awaited solitude, she bolted the door after Spritz’s exit and lowered the blinds over its small cut glass pane. Talk about impractical. Why would anyone want a window in their front door?

Looking around the quiet house, she surrendered to a welcome yawn. She hadn’t been this tired in a very long time. All she needed was a refreshing night’s sleep to plan her next step for surviving this ordeal.

She dragged her feet back to the bedroom and stopped. Looking down at the hard wood of the floor, she let out a throaty moan. Where had her head been? She had always prided herself on her ability to think things through down to the minutest detail. How could she have neglected to arrange for a bed?

She sat down with a thud and buried her face in her hands, not knowing if she would burst out in laughter or sobs.

“Good grief, Grace Addison.” A quiet laugh escorted her words. “Or whatever your name is. Get your act together, would you?”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Paige Rewritten by Erynn Mangum

Paige Alder series

Paige Alder is in a really good place. She’s dating nice guy, Tyler. Her boss has offered her a raise. Her walk with God is strong. Life is great—and that’s when things start to change.

First, the youth pastor at church keeps asking Paige to work with him full-time. Then her sister shows up newly engaged and wanting to reconnect, even though they haven’t spoken in years. And now former boyfriend Luke has come back into her life. How is Paige supposed to know what the right decisions are?

This warm and humorous book will help young girls work through important issues, such as forgiving others and obeying God.

My Review:
I enjoyed this second installment of Paige Alder's humorous life. Paige's twenty-third birthday comes with a couple of surprises, but not the traditional, happy kind.

Since the first installment of Paige's life, Paige Torn, the protagonist has returned to her daily Bible devotions. Her boss has offered her a raise, and Luke seems to have renewed his interest.

I do not like non-endings. The author enjoys cliff hangers and tantalizes the reader into purchasing the next book in the series. Tsk tsk.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and NavPress for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek by Jane Myers Perrine

The Widows are very disappointed in Pastor Adam. Not only has he not set a date for his nuptials, he hasn't even proposed. The Widows' skills know no bounds, but even they find it difficult to plan a wedding under those circumstances. Of course, what they don't know is Adam has proposed to Gussie, but the couple is trying to keep the engagement a secret--not easy in Butternut Creek.

Meanwhile, Adam's sister Hannah, a doctor, has returned from a two-year trip to Kenya where she was working in refugee camps. She is staying at the parsonage until she recovers from a bout of malaria, and is having difficutly adjusting to life back in the US after the horrors she's witnessed. Though physically weak, she becomes animated when verbally sparring with Gabe Borden, her adopted nephew Hector's high school basketball coach. The Widows spot sparks of a different color between the two, and are soon up to their matchmaking ways once again.

My Review:
This Christian fiction is a fun book to read. There are several humorous moments. Two I particularly enjoyed are the scene where Hannah and Gabe are first pushed together by the Widows, and Charley and the ceiling tiles. It takes talent to write such funny stuff.

Butternut Creek is a place I'd like to live. It's a small town filled with people who care, led by the Widows, an important group of church ladies, who live to inflict their will on others (ahem) serve.

Romance blossoms whenever the Widows spot any single. I like the way the author tells the story of love blooming.

Reading Group Guide is included.

Thank you to Sarah Reck at Hachette Book Group for my copy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where Hope Starts by Angela D. Meyer

Karen Marino’s life is a nightmare. The New York City restaurant manager is a professional success, but her marriage is in shambles. When her husband, Barry shows up drunk at her restaurant, she loses both.

She flees The Big Apple and returns to her Midwestern home to sort through her options. But instead of answers, she finds an old boyfriend ready to rekindle romance, a family full of secrets, and an angry brother bent on revenge.

Karen wants to do the right thing, but how do you forgive someone when you don’t feel like it? As she searches for the answer, she uncovers the family secret that threatens to tear them all apart. Can she find her way back to the place Where Hope Starts?

My Review:
A lot happens in this Christian novel. The protagonist, Karen Marino, goes through a rough season of life. Even though several friends urge her to turn to God, she steadfastly refuses to believe that God could be interested in helping her. (After all, He never has.) She loses her job, her marriage is in shreds, she's tempted by her former boyfriend, she's estranged from her family, and her mother is dying. Obviously, she needs help.

The author tackles some tough issues: control of temper, pornography addiction, alcoholism, spousal abuse, infidelity, and inability to forgive to name a few. It's interesting to see how the characters wrestle with these issues and untangle their lives.

I especially liked Karen's struggle to forgive the people who wronged her. (How do you forgive someone when you don’t feel like it?) Forgiveness is taught in this novel.

However, the writing is somewhat choppy; scenes change without supplying details that need to be told. Loose ends tie up too easily.

Thank you to FirstWildCard and Cross River Media for my copy.

And now, the first chapter:AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Come home.

Karen Marino choked back a cry as she stared at the words scribbled on the front of the envelope. She slid her fingernail under the flap and gaped at the plane ticket nestled inside a letter. Why now? She gritted her teeth. Heat flushed from her neck to the top of her head as she remembered the look of disgust on her father’s face.

The clash of pans in the restaurant kitchen startled her back to the present. “What the...?”

She glanced at her watch. Almost eleven. She slid the ticket and letter back inside the envelope and tucked it into her purse. She took a deep breath before stepping out of her office.

“Steve, how does the schedule look?” Karen hired him straight out of culinary school. His lack of experience paled next to his talent, and within a year his specialties had drawn in customers from all over New York City’s five boroughs, earning the restaurant a five-star reputation.

“Perfect, my love.” He crossed his arms and smiled. “Now, when are you going to marry me?”

She laughed. “Your mother would be disappointed. I have more red hair than Irish blood.” She enjoyed the attention her hair brought in The City, where she no longer stood out like an apple on an orange tree.

“My ma would love you anyway.” Steve placed his hand over his heart.

She shook her head and waved him back to work, then strode through the kitchen inspecting the line cooks as they prepped for the noon rush. “Be sure and clean up as you go....No, not that dish. Use the glass one. And keep a towel nearby.…How long have you worked here?…Don’t wipe your hands on your apron.”

She stopped. “Jimmy,” she yelled above the din of the kitchen. Her voice carried to the break room where the young man sauntered out with a donut in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.


She glared at him. “What’s with all these dirty pots and pans?”

The guy shrugged. “Had somewhere to be last night, so I saved them.”

“Get rid of that donut now and finish your job in the next half hour, or you’re fired, no matter who your cousin is.”

He threw the donut and coffee in the trash can and plodded off to his station.



“You okay?” Her assistant manager, Cathy, raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to snap.” Karen took a deep breath. “Is the dining room ready?”

“No problems there. But…” Cathy glanced over her shoulder. “Barry’s at the bar.”

“Not with the new owner coming in.” Karen clenched her fists. If she talked to her husband now she would lose her cool. “Did you tell him I was busy?”

“Yes. But, he’s got that look.”

Karen rolled her eyes. That meant another of Barry’s money-making ideas. Ideas didn’t pay the rent. “I better go talk to him.”

Barry grinned as she approached and she paused at the sight of his dark wavy hair and strong jaw line. If life were a photo, he would take her breath away. But once you added sound and action, that fantasy vanished.

She bit her lip. A part of her longed for what they used to have. How does a man change so much? He used to lead people. Now he controlled them, like the other night. Karen shuddered, then closed the gap between them. “We’re about to open. You need to go. We can talk tonight.”

“Like all those other times? Please.” He leaned against the bar.

“I said, we’ll talk.”

Barry slid off the bar stool. Although he stood only a few inches taller than her five foot seven frame and didn’t work out enough to have an impressive build, he carried himself with a bravado that demanded attention. “We’ll talk now. You’ll like this idea. It’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of a start-up company.”

Karen caught a whiff of liquor on his breath. “A little early to be drinking, don’t you think?”

“Don’t change the subject.” He banged his fist on the bar.

She jumped. His eyes grew dark. She backed away, her eyes frozen on his hands. “You need to leave. Now.”

“Why?” Barry’s voice grew louder.

“So I won’t lose my job.” The new owner was a powerful man. Barry could blow it for her.

“Miss Indispensable? Lose her job?” His empty laugh bounced around the deserted room.

“Please.” Karen reigned in her hostility.

“I will do as I please.” He took a step toward her.

“If you hope to get your hands on my money, try honey not vinegar.” She crossed her arms and stared at him.

“What are you talking about?”

“This approach will not get you what you want.”

He looked behind her and backed away. “Yeah, maybe we should talk tonight.”

Karen wrinkled her brow. What’s got into him now? She turned. The new owner walked toward her. He reminded her of Danny Devito. Short, stout, and balding. Add a bit of swagger to his walk and you would have her new boss. She groaned. Glancing Barry’s direction she saw him leave through the kitchen. I hope he didn’t just cost me my job.

She turned to face the man. She mustered a smile and extended her hand. “Karen Marino. You must be Mr. Simon.”

The man stared at her. “You’re fired.” He smiled like a kid who just lifted a trinket from the store and got away with it.

“You can’t do that.” Her throat closed up. Breathe.

“I own this place, I can and will clean house as I see fit.”

His reputation was well earned. She forced herself to unclench her hands. “I built this restaurant into what it is today.”

“There’s no place in any of my restaurants for what I just witnessed. Home stays at home.”

“You’d get rid of me for one incident?”

“It’s not just one incident.”

She bit her tongue and glared at the man. Who talked?

“Leave now. Come back and clear out your desk after lunch.”

“Fine, I don’t need you or your restaurant. I have my reputation.” She regretted the words as soon as she said them.

“When I’m done, you won’t have a reputation.”

She turned and fled to her office. A man that powerful didn’t make idle threats. She grabbed her purse, squared her shoulders, and marched through the kitchen. She would not be shamed out of here. She did nothing wrong.

Her assistant manager barked orders at the staff. The new owner smiled while he watched. So Cathy betrayed me. An old pain grabbed at Karen’s heart. Why do people turn on me?

Letting the door slam on her way out, she rushed into the flow of human traffic. The wall of buildings hid the breadth of the sky and pressed in around her. Exhaust fumes mingled with the aroma of pizza from a nearby kiosk. She jumped when a taxi blared its horn. Two people shoved each other to get in, arguing over appointments. She picked up her pace, needing to escape the surroundings that for the last fifteen years had made her feel so alive. An image of the family orchard in Missouri filled her heart.

Her past caught up to her present and the old emotions, released from their prison, pinballed around inside her. She ducked into a nearby alley and leaned against the wall. Pressing her hands against the wall, she took several calming breaths against the tears welling up in her chest. She needed to think, not cry.

She pressed her fingertips against her eyes. I don’t want to go back to the apartment yet, and I don’t have an office anymore. Where can I go? She fought the desire to throw things and stomp her feet. She would not lose control.

Something brushed against her elbow and she jerked away. A pungent odor assaulted her nose as a man in a tattered jacket stepped closer.

“Some money for food?” He reached out his hands.

She pushed the man away and tucked her purse close to her body as she stumbled out of the alley and hurried away. Her thoughts latched onto her husband and the impossibility of the situation. Lost in a daze she walked several blocks before her stomach growled, reminding her of the time. She paused and looked around. Carnegie Deli looked like a good choice. Crossing the street, she stood in line for her turn, anxious for the line to move, yet longing for a slower pace.

Pressure built up in her right eye and tension grew between her shoulders. She dug through her purse for some pain reliever and popped two in her mouth.


She looked up at the man behind the counter. “Uh, I’m not sure, what—”

“I’ll take a Woody Allen and a coffee.” A construction worker shouldered his way past Karen, slapping some bills on the counter.

Karen glared at him, then raised her voice above the next person trying to steal her place in line. “Give me a Woody Allen, too.”

Within minutes her order sat next to the construction worker’s sandwich. She grabbed her plate and cup of coffee, and turned to find a seat in the crowded dining room. From across the room, she saw two women get up from their table. She rushed to grab one of the empty chair.

She settled in to her seat and thought of the first time she came here. She was on a blind date, and he wanted to share his favorite place to eat. Crowded elbow to elbow with strangers at the shared table, it was not exactly romantic, but the food was delicious and plentiful. Her sandwich was piled so high with meat she ate for several days off of the leftovers.

Now, the deli gave her the anonymity she needed.

Cradling the coffee mug in her hands, she allowed the heat to calm her nerves. The day had not gone the way she planned. Lately, not much had. She rubbed her temples then scooted her plate forward to make room for her note pad. Avoiding the glares of her table mates, she pulled out a pen and began to list her options.

Find a job. In this economy? Right.

Barry find a job. She laughed.

Dip into her savings. She ripped the paper off the pad and wadded it up. Not again. That money was for the future.

Her head pounded as she fought back the tears. Barry’s scheme might be all they had. Maybe not.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the letter. Karen remembered how special it felt to be a daughter of Charles and Annibel Hannigan. They were well respected in the community and at church, and then everything changed.

What’s so important that they want me to come home now? She laid the ticket aside and unfolded the letter.

Dear Karen,

Please come home. Your mother is dying and she needs to see you. She needs to know you understand. You need to hear what she has to say.

We are both sorry for the past and ask your forgiveness. I’ve enclosed a plane ticket. Change the date to what works best.

Love, Dad

Her hands trembled as she held the letter. Mom’s dying?

She laid the letter down and leaned her head onto her hands. She lost their favor with no explanation, and now they offered it to her again on a silver platter. It felt fake. What had she done to lose their favor in the first place? She wiped at tears she couldn’t stop. Did they think an apology could make up for everything?

“Hey lady, if you’re done, why don’t you move on. There’s folks waiting for a seat.”

Looking the bus boy directly in the eye, she reached for her sandwich and took a bite. He waved at her in dismissal and went back to work.

She glanced out the window as a mother bent down to look her child in the eye. She pointed at a large bulldozer across the street. The little boy smiled, looked back at her and nodded. They hugged. She grabbed his hand and continued walking.

She and her mother used to have a relationship like that. Carrying on like they were the only two people in the world. She looked away. Maybe going home wasn’t a viable option either.

She bit her lip. Am I supposed to just forgive them? How could they ask that of her? She hit the table with her fist and the coffee mug jumped, spilling onto the letter.

“Hey, watch it!” The man next to her grabbed his paper and picked it up ahead of the offending liquid.

“Sorry.” She grabbed some napkins and sopped up the mess. Blowing out a hard breath and tapping her fingers on the table, she checked her phone for the time before dialing her best friend.

Megan and Robert Fletcher reserved a table every Tuesday night at the restaurant Karen managed. Over time she became friends with Megan despite her penchant for religion. She always listened and gave good feedback.

And she’s the only person I trust.

Karen wouldn’t get the same attentive ear once Megan and Robert had their baby. The call went straight to voice mail, so she left a message. Megan must be at the women’s shelter she managed.

Karen picked up the letter and airline ticket and stuffed them in her purse. A walk might help her think better. Catching the waitress’ attention, she asked for a to-go bag.

Back on the street, her mind quickly turned to what her lack of employment meant for her life. Stay in New York and try to find another job without a reference. Give Barry’s scheme a chance. Or go home.

She cringed at all of those options. Like it or not, she had to consider them or maybe…her steps faltered as she did some quick mental calculations.

It would be risky and Barry wouldn’t like it, but she didn’t care. She quickened her step. She needed to stop by the bank.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Greetings from the Flipside by Rene Gutteridge, Cheryl McKay

Hope Landon has been rewriting other people's greeting cards since she was six years old -- there's always a funnier caption. She's all set to chase those creative dreams with her musician fiance in New York City until he leaves Hope at the altar, deciding he must not really love this girl if he can't write a song for her. That may give her something to write about . . .

Hope disappears alone on what was supposed to be the couple's month long honeymoon. Upon returning she learns of her funeral -- everyone in her life concluded Hope must have killed herself after being jilted. Needing a fresh start more than ever, she heads for the Big Apple only to discover it's not that easy to rent a place when you've been declared dead.

Taking shelter at the YWCA, Hope soon lands a job at a Christian inspirational greeting card company as an assistant to Jake, a guy who shut down his organization's humor department. She has lost her faith in love; he needs to find something or someone that will make him laugh.

Is there anything in the cards for these two?

My Review:
This is a frame story, or rather a story within a story. More accurately, it's a coma within a coma. Let me explain. The protagonist, Hope Landon, experiences the worst day of her life when she is first left at the altar, then knocked unconscious, and finally falls into a coma. Her doctor and nurse warn Hope's visitors that those in a coma hear what is being said. This only seems to encourage her "current-decade challenged" mother to frequently LOUDLY pray by reciting all of the negative things that make up Hope's sorry life. The town florist, Jake, has had a crush on Hope ever since elementary school, and he witnessed her tragic injury. He visits and brings a more positive voice into Hope's life.

The reader gets to experience Hope's coma by reading "GREETINGS FROM MY LIFE" sections which run concurrent with the storyline. We see how words and Coma Arousal Therapy translate to help or hinder. This is a humorous, light-hearted read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Discussion questions included.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and B&H Books for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Before-You-Marry Book of Questions by Bill and Pam Farrel

From Bill and Pam Farrel, bestselling authors of Men Are Like Waffles— Women Are Like Spaghetti and Red-Hot Monogamy, comes a new book especially for dating and engaged couples.

Filled with their trademark wisdom, humor, and insight, The Before-You-Marry Book of Questions will help couples:

  • delight in their differences
  • plan their financial future
  • sort through family obstacles
  • lay a strong foundation for a marriage that goes the distance
  • give their marriage to God
With “his and hers” quizzes and ideas for dates where couples can talk openly and freely about their relationship and future, The Before You Marry Book of Questions is a practical and essential guide for any couple building a life together.

My Review:
The Farrels did it again! This husband/wife marital expert team have produced an excellent book that should be mandated for every couple seriously dating, thinking of becoming engaged, or married.  Their marital stability will have a firmer foundation after sharing this study.

Chapter titles reveal how fully the material is covered:
  • Are You Ready for Love?
  • Do We Have a Strong Enough Friendship?
  • Are We Compatible?
  • Are We Making Progress?
  • Can We Handle Our Families?
  • How Is Our Emotional Fitness?
  • How Will You Propose?
  • What Will Our Wedding Day Be Like?
This is an interactive book. There are charts, thought-provoking questions, anecdotes, jokes, and challenges. At the end of every chapter is a section titled, "Date to Discover." Dates are suggested to help couples grow together.

I especially liked the part where the authors divulged their story.

Thank you to Christianne Debysingh at Harvest House Publishers for my copy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Heart Failure by Richard Mabry

When her fiancé’s dangerous secrets turn her work upside down, a beautiful doctor must choose between her own safety and the man she loves—and thought she knew.

Dr. Carrie Markham’s heart was broken by the death of her husband two years ago. Now, just as her medical practice is taking off, her fresh engagement to paralegal Adam Davidson seems almost too good to be true . . . until a drive-by shooting leaves Carrie on the floor of his car with glass falling around her.

When he confesses that Adam isn’t his real name and that he fled the witness protection program, Carrie is left with an impossible choice: should she abandon the fiancé she isn’t sure she really knows, or accept his claim of innocence and help him fight back against this faceless menace?

While Carrie struggles to decide whether to follow her heart or her head, the threats against them continue to escalate. Her life—as well as Adam’s—depends on making the right choice . . . and the clock is ticking.

My Review:
I enjoyed this Christian fiction suspense novel. The characters are believable, and the plot is fast-paced. There's just enough connection between Carrie and Adam for those who would choose a romance novel. Suspense kept this reader turning the pages. I finished the book in two days. The ending came as a surprise to me.

The fact that the author is a physician helps the medical parts come alive. I liked learning medical school tidbits like "When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras" (137) when diagnosing a patient. I know that I'm not fully explaining it here, but when you get the book, you'll see for yourself the wisdom in this statement.

The book is almost perfect. The second paragraph on page 114, Carrie has a "d" on the end of her name. A simple mistake, but a jarring one.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book. Includes Reading Group Guide.

Thank you to Booksneeze and Thomas Nelson Publishing for my copy.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Our God Comes by AntiochLive

This CD is a passionate and thrilling worship captured at Antioch Community Church in Waco, TX.

The worship music and lyrics express the heart cry, prayers and joy of the worship team, songwriters, and musicians from Antioch, led by James Mark Gulley. From the opening strains of audience approval, joyous praise and worship floods the listeners’ ears and ageless unchanging truths find a new sound for today!

The 72-minute, live recording was produced by James Mark Gulley and assistant Owen Wible, recorded by Randy Adams and mastered at Marcussen Mastering in Hollywood, CA by Stephen Marcussen. Featuring songwriters James Mark Gulley, Stephen Gulley, Brandon Seibert, Thomas Wilson and Johanna Six, OUR GOD COMES also features worship leaders James Mark Gulley, Stephen Gulley, Johanna Six and Clare Berlinsky.

The full track listing is as follows:

  • Come
  • God And King
  • Wonderful Counselor
  • God Who Saves
  • How Much More
  • I Will Raise
  • …Response
  • Light Me Up
  • Awaken Us
  • One Hundred Three
  • …Return
  • Savior Forever
  • …Selah
  • Our God Comes

My Review:
Here is today's worship music. Lyrics are clear and easy to learn so that the listener will soon find himself singing along and worshiping God. (Of course, lyrics are included.) It truly is interactive music. I especially connected to "How Much More."

With a strong beat and powerful lyrics, it's no surprise that this contemporary Christian CD debuted at #2 on iTunes.

If you like up-to-date praise music, this CD is for you!

Thank you to Rick Roberson at The BandB Media Group for my copy.

You may preview this CD here.

You may purchase this CD here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dark Justice by Brandilyn Collins

If I’d had any idea what those words would mean to me, to my mother and daughter, I’d have fled California without looking back.

While driving a rural road, Hannah Shire and her aging mother, who suffers from dementia, stop to help a man at the scene of a car accident. The man whispers mysterious words in Hannah’s ear. Soon people want to kill Hannah and her mother for what they “know.” Even law enforcement may be involved.

The two women must flee for their lives. But how does Hannah hide her confused mother? Carol just wants to listen to her pop music, wear her favorite purple hat, and go home. And if they turn to Hannah’s twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Emily, for help, will she fall into danger as well?

Pressed on all sides, Hannah must keep all three generations of women in her family alive. Only then does she learn the threat is not just to her loved ones, but the entire country . . .

My Review:
What a good read! The plot moves at a brisk pace, the characters are well-written and flawed enough to be quite believable. I especially liked the character of Carol, the eighty-two-year-old mother of Hannah Shire, who suffers from dementia. She can be pushed only so far. When she gets frustrated and begins her high-pitched scream, I can almost hear her!

The story is told by Hannah in a first-person account. This keeps the reader informed and flipping those pages as quickly as they're read. Interspersed throughout the novel is the transcript of an investigation of the terrorist activity. Therefore, the reader understands what the good guys are doing while Hannah struggles with her newly complicated life. Third-person point of view is used for the bad guys, allowing the reader to "be a fly on the wall" during those scenes. All of these writing techniques add up to create one terrific, fast-paced novel.

The big question is: "who are the Bad Guys?" and "who can Hannah trust if anyone?" The author holds this information until the very dramatic and surprising end. I give this one a five-star rating.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and BH Publishing for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tickled Pink: Class Reunion Series by Debby Mayne

Class Reunion Series, Book 3

Priscilla Slater shows up at her twenty-year reunion as a national celebrity. Her hair salon dynasty has skyrocketed, and to top it off, she has her own line of hair products. She has become a huge success with the “Ms. Prissy Big Hair” line that lets women with the thinnest of locks get the coveted “big hair” look so popular in the South.

Her classmates have finally come to terms with adulthood, but they’re handling it with the grace of a Southern woman wearing white after Labor Day. It’s just downright awkward! Asserting the maturity that her classmates have often lacked, Priscilla holds her head high.

But she can’t ignore everything. When she catches her mother in the arms of her former high school principal, Priscilla can’t get out of town fast enough. Eager to get back to her more comfortable life, Priscilla runs head on into an ultimatum: Tim tells her they’re not getting any younger—as if she has to be reminded.

My Review:
Although this is the third book in the Class Reunion Series, it's the first one I've read. Even though I'd not read the first two, I found the plot easy to follow. I enjoyed Tickled Pink so much that I plan to go back and read the first two: Pretty is as Pretty Does and Bless Her Heart.

Characters are well written such that they sound like real people I'd enjoy knowing. They have flaws--just as we all do. Each chapter is titled with the name of one of five characters--Priscilla Slater, Laura Moss, Tim Puckett, Trudy Baynard, and Celeste Boudreaux Shackleford. They rotate and tell the story in first-person point of view. All five characters are involved in the twenty-year high school reunion, and their situations ring true to life.

Dialog from characters in Mississippi is spot on. Scenes in the beauty salon and TV production studio is informative.

Discussion questions are included. Folks, I highly recommend this chick-lit!

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Abingdon Press for my copy.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here or on each title of the first two books in the series.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith by Michael Wittmer

In a world that says faith is all about taking risks—leaping into uncharted territory and expecting everything to be okay—many Christians struggle with the concept of walking by faith. How can you have confidence in God and follow His will when everyone around you is placing so much emphasis on doubt and the unknown as the driving force of faith? In Despite Doubt, Michael E. Wittmer reexamines this popular viewpoint and encourages you to get a clear understanding of your assurance in God and your salvation. Wittmer says, “Doubt is not the fuel of faith. Scripture repeatedly presents faith as our reliance upon what we know. Faith begins when we know the facts about God and His great salvation.”

You’ll find wisdom from the Word and practical examples to help you develop a freeing perspective on doubt that opens the door to asking questions, finding answers, and gaining knowledge about securing your trust in God. Take a look at the flipside of doubt and discover how much you already know about God and how you can embrace a confident faith. Despite Doubt includes questions for reflection and discussion and is excellent for both individual and small group study.

My Review:
The author is a seminary professor, and he has laid out this informative book in such a way that it can be easily read and understood. Written for believers who doubt--even a tiny bit--this study will strengthen faith.

As a believer who sometimes questions how to know the will of God, I especially enjoyed chapters 18 and 19: "Command" and "Call." Here, the author uses life lessons to illustrate biblical truths. I've never before had the answer explained quite so clearly.

This little book carries a ton of truth. I recommend it!

The book includes three study questions for each of the twenty-three chapters that I think would be useful in a small group setting.

Thank you to Anne Bauman at Discovery House Publishers for my copy.

Compass: The Study Bible for Navigating Your Life by Ecclesia Bible Society

Compass is about helping you find the answers you’re looking for in the pages of the Scriptures and allowing that truth navigate your life. Packed with Bible-reading helps and using an energizing, new Bible translation, Compass is a Bible designed with you in mind.

Do you want to start reading and applying the Bible to your life, but aren’t quite sure where to start? Let Compass point you in the right direction.

Part of the Signature Series line of Thomas Nelson Bibles

Features include:

  • In-text notes that include cultural, historical, theological, and devotional thoughts
  • God’s Promises®—Thomas Nelson’s bestselling guide to Scripture for your every need
  • Book introductions
  • Reading plans for every day of the year
  • Topical Guides to Scripture and notes
  • In-text maps
My Review:
When I first held my copy of Compass, I was impressed with the heft of it. It's a substantial book, weighing over 2½ pounds. Secondly, I noticed the impressive gray cover done in smooth, imitation leather. It's quite attractive.

This book is meant to be read and studied. At the beginning of each book, the theme is presented along with an introduction informing the reader of the identity of the writer, the history behind the writing, and a brief glimpse of what to expect. To further assist study, themes are expanded with delineated material separated in a different color section. Maps are placed right where the reader might need them as well as in the back of the book. Notes explaining customs are found throughout. Italic type placed in the text brings out the nuance of the original language. Things that might be missed are brought to light.

I like the way the text is laid out such that who is speaking is clear--much like a script of a play. It becomes easy to understand. Reading flows.

All in all, I like this new study Bible. I can see it as a valuable tool for scholars and for those who know little about the things of God. It removes the anxiety of Bible study.

Thank you to Andrea Sanchez at Shelton Interactive and Thomas Nelson for my copy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Beloved by Robin Lee Hatcher

Where the Heart Lives

When Diana Brennan’s husband returns eight years after abandoning her, can she find it in her heart to forgive him?

Diana Brennan came west on the orphan train and was given a home with a loving couple who cherished and spoiled her. At 17, she fell hard for Tyson Applegate, the son of a wealthy mine owner. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Tyson took off for adventures around the world, including fighting with the Rough Riders in Cuba. Receiving no word of him for eight years, Diana’s infatuation with her dashing husband died an ugly death, and she is ready to move past the old pain and marry again, just as soon as Tyson is declared legally dead.

But when her husband returns, supposedly a changed man, he wants to reunite with his wife and run for the senate. While Diana suspects the election is his real reason for wanting her by his side, she agrees to maintain his home and to campaign with him, but when it is over, win or lose, she wants her freedom. He agrees with one condition––she must give him a chance to change her mind about him.

My Review:
One of the first impressions I had with this historical fiction was how difficult life was for women in the late 1800s. Diana's husband, Tyson, just up and leaves her--with no warning--simply to avoid his controlling father! Not a word or a sign came from him for years, until one day, he's listed in the newspaper as someone who died in action while fighting with the Rough Riders in Cuba. Diana therefore, "gets on with her life." When Diana plans to announce her engagement to another, Tyson shows up and "stakes" his claim! Indeed, life was hard.

Not having much of a choice, Diana agrees to participate in a sham of a marriage for six months while Tyson runs for public office. I found it interesting to watch this novel of second chances unfold. Hatcher correctly took time for the characters to vacillate between love and hatre, intolerance and forgiveness.

This is the third in a series and can easily be read and understood without having read the first two titles.

NOTE: At the end of every chapter a flashback helps fill in the backstory. (I loved this unique touch.)

Thank you to Booksneeze for my copy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Made to Last by Melissa Tagg

Miranda Woodruff has it all. At least, that's how it looks when she's starring in her homebuilding television show, From the Ground Up. So when her network begins to talk about making cuts, she'll do anything to boost ratings and save her show--even if it means pretending to be married to a man who's definitely not the fiance who ran out on her three years ago.

When a handsome reporter starts shadowing Miranda's every move, all his digging into her personal life brings him a little too close to the truth--and to her. Can the girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her on-screen persona finally find the nerve to set the record straight? And if she does, will the life she's built come crashing down just as she's found a love to last?

My Review:
Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practise to deceive. Sir Walter Scott
Remember that cliche? The protagonist in this Christian contemporary romance, Miranda Woodruff, should have heeded it. She's the star of a reality TV show with a problem. The ratings are slipping, so to keep the interest of her fans, she's pretending to be happily married. To further complicate things, Miranda, "Randi," allows a reporter to shadow her for an entire week! Her dilemma is keeping him from finding out that the handsome guy "playing" her husband is really just pretend.

I appreciate a lighthearted read--a "sugar candy for the brain" book. Here is an interesting one with a happy ending.

Discussion questions are included.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Bethany House Publishers for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Raw Edges by Sandra D. Bricker

Quilts of Love Series (Book 10)

Grayson McDonough has no use for teal ribbons, 5k runs, or ovarian cancer support groups now that his beautiful wife Jenna is gone. But their nine-year-old daughter Sadie seems to need the connection.

When Annabelle Curtis, the beautiful cancer survivor organizing the memory quilt project for the Ovacome support group, begins to bring out the silly and fun side of his precious daughter again, Gray must set aside his own grief to support the healing of Sadie’s young heart.

But is there hope for Gray’s heart too along the way?

My Review:
As an ovarian cancer survivor, I was intrigued with this novel. In addition, I love that the setting is Tampa, Florida--my home. The characters drive down familiar streets and eat in places that I'm acquainted with; they even attend a Rays Baseball game wearing jerseys with team members names on the back! They participate in an organization called, Ovacome, a group of volunteer survivors and members of lost loved ones, located in the Tampa area. I never knew it existed. Clearly, the author knows Tampa.

Grayson, AKA Gray, is a model father. (He's unbelievably perfect. How I wish parents really were like him.) Nine-year-old Sadie is a sweetie pie. She's the apple of her Daddy's eye and wise beyond her years. Gray sees her mother in Sadie's speech and mannerisms. The novel begins a year after Gray's wife and Sadie's mommy died from ovarian cancer. They meet Annabelle at Ovacome and seem to hit it off immediately. It's all too perfect, too expected; however, I enjoyed it.

At the end of each chapter is a short letter from Jenna to Sadie, along with a Bible verse. These notes contain wisdom that any person would cherish. Warning: they will produce tears.

This is a quick read--a sweet book.

Discussion questions are included.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Abingdon Press for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stranded (Alaskan Courage #3) by Dani Pettrey

Alaskan Courage Series #3

When Her Friend Goes Missing, Every Minute Counts!

Darcy St. James returns to Alaska to join a journalist friend undercover on the trail of a big story. But when Darcy arrives, she finds her friend has disappeared. Troubled by the cruise ship's vague explanation, Darcy uses her cover as a travel reporter to investigate further.

The last person Gage McKenna expects to see during his summer aboard a cruise ship leading adventure excursions is Darcy. And in typical Darcy fashion, she's digging up more trouble.

He'd love to just forget her--but something won't let him. And he can't help but worry about her as they are heading into more remote regions of Alaska and eventually into foreign waters. Something sinister is going on, and the deeper they push, the more Gage fears they've only discovered the tip of the iceberg.

My Review:
I did not read the first two titles in this series, and I think I'd have liked this Christian fiction better if I had. The author worked hard to fill in gaps for readers like me, but still there were times I had to shrug my shoulders and press on with the reading. I suppose it's difficult with a large cast of characters to fill in the background of everyone involved.

The main character, Darcy, is hard to admire because she falls for so many obvious ploys in this novel about cruise ship crime. I could not understand how she and her romantic interest, Gage, could be so blind to the dangers around them.

Obviously, this is not one of my favorites. Perhaps you'll feel differently.

Thank you to Noelle Buss at Bethany House Publishers for my copy.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trapped (Private Justice Series #2) by Irene Hannon

Private Justice Series #2

A runaway teen, a desperate sister, and an intrepid PI determined to discover the truth.

When Laura Griffith's sixteen-year-old sister disappears on a frigid February day, leaving only a brief note behind, Laura resolves to do whatever it takes to track down the runaway teen. That includes recruiting ATF agent turned private investigator James Devlin to help. Dev knows time is of the essence with runaways--just forty-eight hours can mean the difference between recovery and ruin.

But the deeper he and Laura dig, the more Dev begins to suspect that something sinister is at work in the girl's disappearance. And in the icy winter weather, the trail is going cold...

In her latest thrilling read, queen of romantic suspense Irene Hannon outdoes herself with a fast-paced tale of fear, deception, and just the right dose of romance.

My Review:
Do you have a sibling who rubs you the wrong way? There are two sisters in this Christian fiction novel that experience a tug-of-war. What a compelling story! It contains a TON of suspense and a bit of romance.The pace is perfect--not a dip in the tension. Situations are true to life. The ending surprised me. I loved this book!

Characters are written so that the reader quickly connects. It's as if I really know them and can feel their struggles. I enjoyed reconnecting with Phoenix, Inc. private investigator Cal Burke and his bride, Moira. I admire the way this firm conducts business. This is one advantage the reader has by reading each book in a series. I look forward to reading the third in this series.

Although this novel is the second in a series, it can easily be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Thank you to Lanette Haskins at Baker Publishing Group for my copy.

The Promise (The Restoration Series) by Dan Walsh & Gary Smalley

One home, two hearts, and the power of a promise kept . . .

For the last five months, Tom Anderson has been without a job, a fact he's been hiding from his wife Jean--and everyone else. He leaves each morning, pretending nothing has changed, and spends his disheartening day rotating through coffee shops and the library, using their wifi to search job listings online. The stress of keeping this secret is beginning to put serious strain on his marriage.

But Tom's not the only one hiding something. Jean Anderson has a secret of her own--one that will seriously complicate their situation. Will the promises they made on their wedding day hold firm?

My Review:
I enjoyed being updated about Marilyn and Jim Anderson, the parents of Tom. They were the main characters from the first book in this series, and I am happy that the authors included them in this story. So often in a series, characters are contained in only one title. Here, the reader gets to know the Anderson family a bit better with each new book. However, if you did not read the first in The Restoration Series, The Dance, no problem. This is a stand-alone novel.

The major theme is one of supporting those you love. Children need to be encouraged so that they will grow up to become loving parents. For five months Tom has been self-centered. He can barely smile at his young son. The tangled web he's woven catches him and . . . . Well, you'll have to read the book to see what happens.

Thank you to Lanette Haskins at Baker Publishing Group and Revell for my copy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It Is Well with My Soul by Shelly Beach

Meditations for Those Living with Illness, Pain, and the Challenges of Aging

Living with chronic illness, growing older, or facing the end of life can be a frightening experience.

In this insightful devotional designed for care receivers, you’ll find a collection of short meditations to encourage you or someone you love.

Gain a deeper understanding of God’s purposes in situations of suffering through engaging narrative, personal experience stories, and the use of humor.

Discover how you can find hope and contentment in Jesus.

My Review:
This title grabbed my attention right away because this is my favorite hymn. Then the subtitle spoke to me as I live with illness, pain, and the challenges of aging. As I read, I happily discovered that the author had put some of my experiences down on paper. (She and I have many similar experiences, so I quickly connected!)

What a treasure this small book is. The author writes of her life experiences as well as some situations that others face. All are penned in an uplifting manner. Everyone faces these bumps--or steep mountains in life or knows someone who does. Shelly Beach helps the reader understand that God is ever present, even when it feels as if He is far away.

This collection of snippets and anecdotes are turned into meditations that point the reader toward the things of God. Each offering comes with a Bible verse and two thought-provoking questions along with a short prayer. It's perfect for use as a devotional, but could also be well used for a group study guide. It would make a nice gift for anyone "living with illness, pain, and the challenges of aging."

Thank you to Anne Bauman at Discovery House Publishers for my copy.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Icing on the Cake by Janice Thompson

Weddings by Design (Book 2)

Scarlet Lindsey's Aunt Wilhelmina may be Texas's most popular cake baker extraordinaire, but she's also getting on in years. When Scarlet decides to take on the role of cake decorator at her cranky aunt's bidding, it's just the beginning of a series of misunderstandings and mishaps that will lead her to compete in a cake challenge on national television--and might even lead her to finding true love.

Fan favorite Janice Thompson is back with more wit, more weddings, and more of what her readers love best--bridal business drama. Bella and the gang are all here and readers will fall in love with the newest quirky characters straight from the creative mind of a fantastic storyteller.

My Review:
I love the characters that Janice Thompson creates. Boy, do I connect with Scarlet, the main protagonist in this novel. She is the first overweight female I've "met" through reading. Poor thing, Scarlet feels self-conscious about her abundant backside--her "sticky buns," a thoughtless nickname her Aunt Wilhelmina gave her long ago. To further complicate things, Scarlet owns and operates a bakery named, "Let Them Eat Cake" which is financed by the same Auntie, who makes a habit of popping in often to offer her advice.

Scarlet's love interest, Armando Rossi, doesn't notice her (ahem) thickness. In fact, he seems to think she looks just fine. He's an Italian bad boy who has come home to temporarily work in the family business--Parma John's Pizzeria, located next door to the bakery.

I learned about the business of running a bakery, a bake-off competition for a national television show (as in Food Network), and the work involved with raising money for a mission trip. Included is a recipe for an Italian Wedding Cake that I plan to try, even though I know my "sticky buns" will surely expand!

I recommend reading the first book in the Weddings by Design series Picture Perfect. Nonetheless, Icing on the Cake is a delightful stand-alone novel and certainly can be enjoyed without reading any other.

Available August, 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Thank you to Lanette Haskins at Baker Publishing Group for my copy.