Monday, December 26, 2011

Bittersweet Surrender - Diann Hunt

"Bittersweet Surrender" by Diann Hunt is a women's Christian fiction romance novel released December 20, 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  I realized right from the start that the key character is the owner of a chocolate spa, and I fell right into the book.  I work in a spa part time, and I feel the author did an excellent job of portraying the different types of clientele encountered at a high-end spa.  Topics like plastic surgery along with various other kinds of things women consider were talked about openly in a fun, realistic way.  Since Carly had a mastectomy a couple years earlier, reconstructive surgery was at the top of her want list.  We stayed with her fun, romantic character as she searched for love and finally found a way to be at peace with her body the way it was -- while still maintaining a healthy desire to have the surgery.  I felt like the novel was romantic and showed strong attraction between the two key characters.  It also had a fantastic ending. 
 Although I fully expected this novel to be a romance (and it did not disappoint), what I wasn't expecting and was happily surprised to discover was that it is also a very well-written mystery with a detailed plot.  The author managed to include adult situations like gambling addiction, embezzlement, and adultery all in the same book.  It held me from the first to the last page. 
    My last word on this novel is this.... buy this book and keep it for a time when you can sit down and read straight through it.  Because you won't want to stop until you reach the end.
    This book was a complimentary review copy from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Stuck" - a Women of God 8-week Bible study starting January 26th

"Stuck," a study written by Jennie Allen and published by Lifeway is an 8-session study focusing on breaking free from brokenness, anger, discontentment, fear, and sadness.  Many women struggle in these areas.  As someone who has, after 3 long years, overcome debilitating depression I can testify that there is hope!  Join me at my home for this DVD/workbook hybrid study on becoming unstuck.  This is a study designed for women to grow closer to God and each other.  This study has a 5-star rating on Amazon -- nearly impossible to achieve.  I can't wait to dig in!
"We are often so stuck in invisible struggles in our hearts and minds, we barely have space for God. These deep struggles, these stuck places, are familiar to every one of us: brokenness, anger, discontentment, fear, and sadness. "Stuck" takes on these struggles within us so that we can encounter God. Because until we recognize that we are stuck and in need of God, we will miss what He has for us."
The cost for the workbook is $10.  You can get the workbook through Branson First Baptist Church  by calling (417) 334-7437 or signing up at the information booth.  You can also order it at Amazon for $9.99 + shipping. 
Meeting time will be 10:00 AM Thursday mornings starting January 26th. 
This study will be held at my home, which is located north of Branson.  Directions are (as if coming from from Branson):
  • Go north of Hwy 65.
  • Turn right on Rose O'Neill Rd.
  • When you see the mailboxes, go straight thru the green gates onto private property.
  • Make the first left onto a small, gravel road.  This is our driveway.  Brick home ahead.
You can sign up for this study by calling FBC Branson or by emailing me at

Friday, December 16, 2011

There You'll Find Me - Jenny B. Jones

"There You'll Find Me" is a teenage romance written by Jenny B. Jones, who you may remember from "Save the Date," which was one of my very first book reviews on this blog.  "There You'll Find Me" highlights the more serious concepts of overcoming grief, dealing with emotional issues, and working through the past.  The author uses humor (the hallmark of a novel by Jenny B. Jones) to convey the important messages, so the reader never feels depressed.  The romance is well-written and age appropriate. 
The characters of the story strongly resemble modern day Paris Hilton (daughter of a wealthy American hotelier) and Robert Pattison (one of the stars from the Twilight series) with a modest, Christian twist.  The premis of the story is that Finley flies to Ireland as a foreign exchange student in an effort to track her deceased brother's journey.  She does this so that she can connect with his memory and move on in her grief.  When she meets Beckett, the vampire movie star, and gets to know him sparks fly (in a rather subdued, safe way) and new situations arise that she needs to work through.
Overall, the book is well-written for the age group that it is intended, but I don't feel that it should be considered an adult novel.  I would recommend it to girls ages 15-18. 
I received this book as a complimentary review copy from BookSneeze in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck - Kathleen Y'Barbo

The title "The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck" grabbed me as being quirky and creative.  The cover art and title made me think I would enjoy this light, fun read.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it had much more depth.  A plus was that the chemistry between the two main characters was believeable.  As a former "Heartsong," "Love Inspired," and "Romance Club" writer, this is what Kathleen Y'Barbo does best.  But don't think that this is simply a longer version of a dime store novel, because it's not.
I'll let you in on a secret... I didn't actually know that it was the third in a series until just now when I was doing research on the author.  If you had asked me just minutes ago, I would have told you it was a stand alone novel.    The first book in the series is "the Secret Life of Eugenia Cooper" and the second is "Anna Finch and the Hired Gun."  Both look like excellent novels, and I will probably take time to read them.  I'm glad I didn't find out until just now, because normally I will wait to read a book if I know there are others that come before it in a series which I have not previously read.  Never once did I feel like I was missing information or backstory. 
The author did a fantastic job of grabbing my attention from the very first page.  I fell in love with all the characters, and felt like everyone got the right amount of page space.  The plot was good, although not intricate, and kept moving.  I thought it was very creative of the author to split the book into two time periods.  I didn't see that coming, and I love to be surprised. 
My only criticism of the novel is that the character of Miss Pence seemed superficial and slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the book.  She was clearly a fictional character.  I wish that the author had instead included similar quotes from actual people who lived and breathed during that era.  A few true historical quotes is a nice accent to an otherwise fictional book.  This way, the same goal that Miss Pence served could have been met in a more interesting and less superficial way.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Renae's Christmas Wish List 2011

CNN Money published that shoppers will spend approximately $704.18 this year on Christmas gifts.  Their source (Big Research) learned that "peace and happiness" came in at 4th place this year, while it came in at 1st place in 2010.  Very interesting.
So instead of publishing my 2011 Christmas list on the world wide web, I should probably demur... but I won't.  Even though I firmly believe that the birth of Jesus Christ is the true origin and meaning of Christmas I am also one of the many who enjoy giving and receiving (gulp, it's true) gifts.  I'll post my list here (no holding back!), and below that will include the top gift items for year 2011 as published by USA Today.

Renae's 2011 Christmas Wish List:
  • Butcher block cutting board from Blue Mountain Woodwork.  I saw these multi-color wood cutting boards almost 2 years ago at a craft fair and fell in love with the workmanship.   Wow! 
  • A light for my Kindle.  Tom gave me an unexpected gift last year -- an e-Reader.  I hadn't asked for one, but he really nailed it!  I use my Kindle all the time.  Since so many books are available free for the Kindle, this gift has saved me money over the last year.
  • Cozy pajamas.  I always wondered as a child why my mother wanted pajamas every single year.  Now I know.  New pajamas are just sooooooo cozy!
  • Sara Bareilles CDs -- Kaleidoscope Heart and Little Voice.  I Pandora her every chance I get.
  • iPad.  Yes, I am a statistic.  I have no immediate plans to acquire one of these, but it makes the list nonetheless.
  • Silver jeans in the "Suki" fit.
  • Piano music.  Most especially, the 12-song collection from the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack (Keira Knightly version).  I'd also like the 100-song Hal Leonard Christmas book.
  • A book on how to photograph your children.  It's called "Mamarazzi: Every Mom's Guide to Photographing Kids"
  • I won't wish for health plan reforms or the end of world hunger, but I can't stop myself from begging for the end of child sex trafficking.  It won't happen without us fighting.  It is a growing problem, and is spiraling out of control.  Please help!  Here are some ways you can help end human trafficking.... You can donate to a trustworthy organization that is actively fighting human trafficking such as The A21 Campaign.  You can purchase a beautiful handbag (maybe as a Christmas gift?!?) from Sak Saum, an organization that provides rehabilitation, shelter, job-skill training and food to exploited, victimized women that have been rescued from human trafficking.  Your purchase helps this ministry to continue their rehabilitation program.  Another thing you can do is purchase your every day goods wisely.  Please make sure that you are buying products from fair-trade organizations.  You can do your research and continue to buy locally, or purchase items from a company that has already done this for you, such as Yobel Market
If you can't save the world tonight, but you do need a good gift for your spouse, read on and take your pick from the following (almost) guaranteed winners, per USA Today:
  • Apple iPod touch (newest model) for $299.00
  • Apple iPad 2 starting at $499.00
  • Amazon Kindle Fire for $199.00
  • Xbox 360 with Kinect for $299.00
As always, a pair of pajamas might just do the trick.