Thursday, December 6, 2012

No Safe Harbor - Elizabeth Ludwig

Elizabeth Ludwig writes an exciting novel!  Her main character, Cara Hamilton, disembarks her ship as an Irish immigrant to America.  She's on a quest to find her long lost twin brother that she previously believed to be dead.  When she arrives, things are not as easy as she had hoped.  Her brother's cryptic message instructed her to trust no one, and the more she learns the more his reputation is thrown into question.  The longer she stays in America the more dangerous her situation gets.  Will he come out of hiding soon enough to prevent her murder, or will they both die?  What has he done to deserve this man hunt?
My only criticism is that I had a hard time believing the all the coincidences.  Her adversary spots her just as she exits the ship in New York City, and her brother also finds her immediately.  I initially chalked this up to the fact that because New York is so diverse, it could be that she went directly to a part of the city densely populated with Irish immigrants.  However, her connection to a major character introduced more fully later in the book is also an unlikely coincidence, and as a result her connection to one of her roommates is as well.
Other than the notes above, this novel is excellently plotted and keeps the energy and mystery the entire length of the book.  If you enjoy historical romance/mysteries, this would be a good fit for you.  I personally enjoyed it very much.  "No Safe Harbor" is the first in the Edge of Freedom series published by Bethany House.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, November 26, 2012

At Every Turn - Anne Mateer

"At Every Turn" is Anne Mateer's second novel published with Bethany House.  Since I didn't have the pleasure of reading her first novel, "Wings of a Dream," I was looking forward to seeing what she had in store for us.
In this novel, the main character, Alyce Benson, impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to a missionary couple and challenges her church to match the donation. The near-impossible figure is comparable to many people's annual salary. The problem is, Alyce doesn't have a job or any money of her own.  Since her wealthy father has always given her everything she's ever asked for she is depending on him to simply give her the money.  Her father refuses, however, because he wants nothing to do with religion.  Alyce must decide whether to confess to her church publicly her inability to follow through or to raise the money herself. She decides the only viable option is to race cars and collect the prize money. Her close relationship with the estate's mechanic, Webster, allows her the privilege of doing this without anyone else's knowledge -- even her father's, who is sponsoring the driver and paying his (her!) salary.
This was a fun, light romance with not much emotion shared between the two characters.  I would have liked to see a much stronger attraction there, especially with the additional drama of the employee/employer's daughter factor.  The author worked in a mild mystery that added depth to the plot.  All in all, it was a good book and kept me interested to the very end.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Against the Tide - Elizabeth Camden

"Against the Tide" is the book we have all been waiting for!  Ever since reading "The Lady of Bolten Hill," I have been craving a follow-up book focusing on Alexander Banebridge as the main character.  This is not considered a series, because the main characters from the first book are not re-introduced in this book, nor are you required to read the first book in order to be up to speed.  However, with both books being so good, you'll definitely want to read both starting with "The Lady of Bolten Hill."
The author ramped up the attraction between the characters to an exciting degree.  I'm hoping more authors will follow her lead.  The book was romantic, but also rife with mystery and suspense -- an absolutely perfect combination.
Alexander Banebridge was kidnapped as a young boy and raised in an opium den.  His evil adopted father crafted him to take over the opium  empire when he got older.  When Bane left the opium industry he had a target on his back and still does.  He meets Lydia Pallas and convinces her to start working with him on his crusade against opium use.  She loses her job, and consequently her beloved apartment, as a result.  To make matters even worse, Lydia can't seem to stay away from Bane.  He needs her help, but she'll have to risk her life to give it.
This will be one of the best books you read all year.  It certainly was for me!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Courting Cate - Leslie Gould

I thoroughly enjoyed this rendition of "The Taming of the Shrew"!  "Courting Cate" was unique enough to stand on its own merit, but the connections between this novel and Shakespeare's original added interest and dimension.  This is not your average Amish novel!
Leslie Gould is a talented author that held my attention the entire way through the book. She crafted the main character in such a way that I could easily relate and identify with her right from the start.
When Cate's father makes the unbending decision that he will not allow her younger sister to court until Cate courts, and marry until Cate marries it makes for a very stressful family environment.  The tension increases as Cate realizes that her sister is plotting along with her friends to set her up so that her sis can continue to court.  When the unexpected happens, Cate is compelled to go through with a marriage of convenience in order that her sister can marry quickly.  Throughout the rest of the book we get to watch Cate's demeanor change as she faces challenges.  This isn't a fairy tale, but it does have a satisfying ending that I was very happy with.  The story was fun, light, and heartily satisfying.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

When a Heart Stops - Lynette Eason

This super fast-moving novel by Lynette Eason takes off like a shot in the first chapter.  I greatly appreciated the rocket-fast start -- in fact, slow starts are one of my pet peeves as a reader.  This one is very edgy and will keep your heart racing the entire time.
The main character, Serena, is called in to examine a death.  As a medical examiner, that isn't alarming.  However, her suspicions rise when she recognizes the victim.  She gets pulled into the murder investigation and finds her own life in imminent danger.  Add to this the element of romance when she works with her crush from school days, and the novel is a winner.
My only criticism of the novel, and it is a light one, is that it was so realistic (if there is such a thing) that it kept me up at night thinking about the murder plot.  It was a bit more graphic than I am used to, and I reacted emotionally right from the beginning.  For readers who like a thrilling crime scene this is the novel for you.  The romance helps tone it down, but I would have appreciated a bit more of that.
Lynette Eason is an experienced writer with several novels under her belt.  This book is #2 in the Deadly Reunions series, and is a brand new release as of October 1, 2012.  Since I haven't read the first book in the series, I can vouch that you can jump right in without feeling like you've missed any backstory.  However, I am confident that by starting with the first novel in the series your experience reading "When a Heart Stops" will be that much richer.
This novel is available at your favorite bookseller as well as at Amazon.com.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Promise to Love - Serena B. Miller

It was an absolute pleasure reading this novel from Serena B. Miller.  Since I had never read one of her books before, I really didn't know what to expect.  The story was compelling, realistic, and very well-researched.  As the story developed it continued to get better and better.
The main character, Ingrid, is a Swedish immigrant that impulsively agrees to marry a widower in order that he does not lose custody of his children.  She is resourceful, industrious, and quickly brings his home into a state of organization and productivity.  However, as grateful as he is to Ingrid for all her help, he cannot bring himself to love her.  This breaks Ingrid's heart many times over, but she perseveres giving only her very best throughout the book.
When I reached the end of the novel I read the author's note.  It appears that the author's own grandmother was the inspiration for this novel.  Life was so difficult, and the real-life account of the Michigan fire added to the heartache.  As with many true stories, the reality is sobering.  However, the author has written a fictional novel, and has included encouragement, high points, and ultimately gives this story a happy ending.
I highly recommend "A Promise to Love" by Serena B. Miller, and I will personally be keeping an eye out for more of her novels.
Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
This book was a complimentary copy given to my by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You Don't Know Me - Susan May Warren

Before starting "You Don't Know Me," I had already read one of Susan May Warren's novels and been blown away.  However, the novels were so different in style and setting that I wasn't sure if they were actually written by the same person.  Turns out, they were!  Each book was amazing in its own right.  The author is so creative, and she isn't limited to one particular setting or era.
"You Don't Know Me" is about a young woman who is placed into Witness Protection, and eventually marries and has several children.  After twenty years of relative peace, the threat that sent her into hiding has returned.  Only problem is, she's the only one that knows about it. Her husband, children, and mother-in-law have no knowledge of her past and the threats that could destroy their entire family.
The novel took off like a rocket and didn't slow down once.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There was encouragement in this novel that I have been looking for over the past fifteen years.  I'll share it with you, but I still hope you'll take time to read this book.  Susan May Warren suggests in the novel that the key to contentment and forgiveness is gratefulness.  When I read this, it clicked for me.  I started applying it right away, and my life has changed because of it.  Even if this book hadn't been completely entertaining -- which it was -- I still would have been thankful to have read it due to the effect it has had on my life since then.
You can enter the contest and join the Facebook party on October 22, 2012.  In the meantime, be sure the check out the book!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay trilogy - Suzanne Collins

After reading the hottest series in America right now, I can vouch that it is completely and utterly riveting.  I lost an entire week of productivity as my world slowed to a stop so I could finish this group of books.  You should probably get all three at the same time so you don't experience any lag time between books.
In this series, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale star as the main characters, but there are countless others.  I think the most noticeable difference between the first book and the movie is that only a fraction of the characters are introduced in the movie.  They simply don't have enough time to fully develop every character the way that Suzanne Collins does.  Also, the big political picture movements are not reflected in the movie like they are detailed in the books.  There was so much there that wasn't introduced.  However, that said, the movie itself was one of the best I have seen in a couple years.
Since this series is so packed with drama, twists, and turns I can't afford to spoil it for you.  Any word could tip you off.  If you like to read, chances are you -- just like every other American right now -- will love these books.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To Love and Cherish (Bridal Veil Island #1) - Tracie Peterson & Judith Miller

"To Love and Cherish" is the first in the new series released by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller.  Both are veteran writers and resoundingly popular in the Christian fiction world.  Both have been a great influence of new authors of Christian fiction, and they have shaped the way we view historical fiction.
"To Love and Cherish" is about a couple that doesn't see eye to eye about when to get married.  The main character, Melinda Colson, believes that their love should be enough to sustain a marriage without the comfort of financial security.  Evan, however, believes it is more important to wait until his financial situation is secure before moving forward in marriage.
This classic tug of war between a young woman and man is familiar to many people.  They work through their own differing opinions, changes to careers, and for Melinda, the frustration of allowing other events which is beyond her control dictate when she will be married.
As a reader, I questioned the couple's compatibility and whether they should marry.  Secretly, I kept hoping that a third party would enter the storyline to steal the girl's heart before Evan proposed.  We waited for quite a long while before the marriage happened.  I think a love triangle would have added just the extra touch of drama that this novel needs.
If you enjoy the relaxing, romantic tone of Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller's work, you will not be disappointed in this sweet story.  The title is now available, and you may order this online at Amazon.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Unending Devotion - Jody Hedlund

Unending Devotion is the most recently released of Jody Hedlund's books published by Bethany House.  The emotions of the characters were spot on, the romance was the right balance, and the historical events were woven into the book so well that I couldn't tell where the fiction stopped and the history began.
The story revolves around Lily, an orphan who is on a journey to find her sister, Daisy.  The only information she has is that Daisy is a slave of the prostitution industry in the areas where logging is being done.  She follows the trail or loggers, and her task continues to get more and more dangerous the closer she gets.  She meets Connell, a supervisor of three logging operations, who leads a moral lifestyle himself, but does not see a need to interfere in the choices of other men to frequent taverns and brothels.  Lily's opinion is far different -- she wants to do everything she possibly can to eradicate these operations, clean the town up, and make it a place appropriate to raise a family.  There is a relationship budding between Lily and Connell, but their opinions are so different that unless one bends, they cannot have a future together.
The plot is well-crafted, moves along at the perfect pace, has the right quantities of drama, romance, and even a small amount of mystery is worked in.
I have a special place in my heart for women and children currently enslaved in the human trafficking industry right now in 2012.  Jody Hedlund, perhaps intentionally, created a parallel between the characters in the nineteenth century that were dragged into prostitution against their will and the people today that are oppressed by the sex trafficking industry.  In the Author's Note she clarified which examples were true to life, and I was surprised by how similar the experiences of those past women are to the women of today.  Sex trafficking is not a new thing, but what it is called changes from time to time.
I can't brag enough about this book.  Fortunately for me and many other fans, Jody Hedlund has yet another stunner being released soon.  A Noble Groom is available on Amazon.com for pre-order.  Until then, be sure to pick up a copy of Unending Devotion.
This was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

With Every Letter - Sarah Sundin


"With Every Letter" is the first in the "Wings of the Nightingale" series by Sarah Sundin.  This was my first experience reading a Sundin book, and I will remember it for a long time.  This author is an expert at depicting the emotions of the characters in a compelling way while still keeping the plot moving quickly.  I will most definitely have this series on my radar as the books are released!
The plot of the novel centers around Mellie, a misfit woman raised by a single dad in the jungle.  She advances in her career in the military and is among the first of the nurses to fly overseas to provide medical support to our troops during World War II.  The protagonist is Tom MacGilliver, an engineer with a past as different as hers is.  Together, the begin exchanging anonymous letters during the war.  When the inadvertently meet on the field, Mellie realizes this right away.  Tom, however, stays clueless.  If you liked "The Shop Around the Corner," or "You've Got Mail" this novel will be just as enjoyable.  I personally loved it.
The effect "With Every Letter" had on me is due to the scene depicted on pages 252-253.  It talks about what forgiveness often looks like, and questions the legitimacy of that forgiveness.  I am currently being mentored each week by an older lady at my church.  I was so affected by this scene that I discussed it with her.  The question of the hour is this: "Without restoration, what good was forgiveness?"  It brought me to the question "If forgiveness requires restoration to be legitimate, then what does that restoration need to look like?"  We talked about various situations where restoration might look completely different.  If safety is involved, for example, restoration may not necessarily mean that a relationship reverts to exactly where it was beforehand.  We decided that in most situations, however, genuine forgiveness does result in complete restoration.  Sometimes, that restoration brings us to a better place in our relationship with the other party than we were in before the infraction.  Even in the most tragic of circumstances, restoration means healing for the parties involved, even if their lives change as a result of the sin.  Restoration may take hard work and time, but genuine forgiveness does result in restoration.
One of the main reasons I came to this conclusion is that I consider God's love to be the perfect love.  While our love to each other is imperfect, because we are imperfect, God's love is absolutely perfect.  In our sin, God provided not only forgiveness through his son, Jesus Christ, but also complete restoration.  This is God's example of forgiveness, so therefore, our forgiveness should result in restoration even when that restoration takes supernatural strength and character.
I highly recommend this book.  Take some time to read it when you have a chance.  The storyline and characters are top notch.  The application is priceless.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Taming the Wind - Tracie Peterson

Tracie Peterson is a veteran writer with dozens of novels under her belt.   She's been a Bethany House author for as long as I can remember.  One of her newest books is "Taming the Wind," book 3 in the "Land of the Lone Star" series.
This story begins with Carissa Lowe, who was widowed at an early age.  Tyler Atherton saved her life some time ago, and even though time has passed he hasn't forgotten Carissa.  Unfortunately, bitterness and fear -- results of her previous marriage to an unsavory man -- hold her back from welcoming a new relationship.  However, Carissa is nothing if not practical, and her daughter needs a father.  Gloria, her small daughter, adores Tyler.  Likewise, Tyler seems to genuinely care about Carissa and Gloria.  After losing his farm, Tyler feels he has no house of his own to provide her with.  The story unfolds as this couple conquers their fears and works to pull a relationship together.
If you are a fan of Tracie Peterson, you won't be disappointed with "Taming the Wind."  It's a classic Peterson novel with emotional ups and downs, conservative romance, and a well-researched historical setting.  This author definitely knows her sweet spot and is one of Bethany House's finest.  Click here if you would like to purchase this book.  Don't forget books 1 & 2!  This trilogy will keep you busy for hours.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Love's Reckoning - Laura Frantz

I recently had the pleasure of reading "Courting Morrow Little," a previous novel by Laura Frantz.  I remember it as being one of my favorite novels read all year.
"Love's Reckoning" is, if I am not mistaken, Laura's fifth novel.  As with the historical background in "Courting Morrow Little," I appreciated  the attention to detail in her descriptions of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Ms. Frantz is obviously a talented writer.
The plot centers around Eden Lee, who was raised by an overbearing father and weak-willed mother.  Her sister, Elspeth, has a nearly equal part in the first half of the book and quickly earns a reputation as the nemesis.  Silas Ballantyne comes to Eden's family as an apprentice to finish his apprenticeship as a master blacksmith.  When their father mandates that one of his girls must marry Ballantyne, things become explosive.  As the plot moves along, Eden and Silas become separated when one moves to Pittsburgh and the other to Philadelphia.  A series of events brings them back together, and they must face the past.
The length of the book is on the longer side, which I liked.  However, the book didn't move quickly enough to hold my attention.  Also, I didn't feel the connection between Eden and Silas like I wanted to.  Their relationship seemed to be on the apathetic side and without much emotion.  Eden, as a character, was weak-willed and fearful.  This meant I couldn't relate to her as an individual.  Although Elspeth was the antagonist, I could relate to her gutsy, strong-mindedness much better.  This left me feeling conflicted during the first half of the book.
The second novel in the Ballantyne series is due to be released in Fall 2013.  I'm happy to see Laura Frantz on track to bring us one book per year, and I have high hopes that they will begin to come more frequently later on.  She has the ability to form strong plots, use exceptional detail, and turn out a lengthy, enjoyable novel.  You can find this book at Amazon.com or your local Christian retailer.
This book was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Over the Edge - Mary Connealy

"Over the Edge" is the third book in "The Kincaid Brides" series by Mary Connealy.  The plot was ever changing, fun, and less serious than most novels published by Bethany House.  This lighter side is new for me, but I enjoyed it.
The plot centers around Callie and Seth.  She comes from Texas with her little boy to find the husband that abandoned her after the end of the Civil War.  She finds him, and the novel is about their journey as they learn how to live and work together again.
The book starts with a bang as Callie almost single-handedly defends a stagecoach from ruffians.  The author paints her character as being tough, skilled, and a little on the mannish side.  In comparison to Callie's talents, her husband, Seth, seemed too soft.  However, the author took time growing the characters into the people she saw them as in the end.  For example, near the beginning I was frustrated and slightly put off by her lack of empathy for others.  Toward the end, she exhibits selflessness as she works to save someone undeserving of favor.  I appreciated the contrast the author took time to develop while staying inside the storyline.
My only criticism is of the protagonist, Seth.  He is a little on the flaky side, and it was hard for me to really respect his character as a man.  It was seemed to me that the author was painting a picture of a man who has severe post traumatic stress disorder.  After I finished the book, I Googled PTSD to see how the symptoms compared with the author's description.  The symptoms were all there.  Mary did a fantastic job of working in all the details without sending the reader into a depression of their own.
All in all, this was a pleasant read and if light-hearted cowboy romance is your thing, this might just fit the bill perfectly.
Below, I have a book trailer of Mona Hodgson's newest novel, soon to be released.  Enjoy a previous of "Twice a Bride"!


This book was a complimentary copy given to me by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Widow of Saunders Creek - Tracy Bateman

Tracy Bateman lives near Springfield, MO, which is only forty miles from my home, Branson, MO.  So, I was particularly excited to read her newest novel, and was additionally psyched to see that it was actually set in small town, MO just outside of Springfield.  I immediately recognized some of the landmarks and she had me guessing which small town was the inspiration for this book. 
Unfortunately, it violated some of my core Christian beliefs.  Primarily, I am referring to dabbling in witchcraft and magic.  The plot is about the spiritual war for a young woman's soul as she struggles to work through the death of her husband.  However, the overt use of spirits, demons, ghosts and the like was too informative.  The Bible speaks clearly and unwaveringly that we are not to willingly introduce thoughts or actions involving witchcraft into our lives.  I believe this means making the choice not to read material that introduces a deluge of facts and data about Wiccan practices and folk magic.  Included in the text were references to covens and even a seance of sorts.  The novel did not allude to spirits and magic, it inundated the book.  In many places, I felt like I was getting an education on local magic practices. 
In order to give the author the benefit of the doubt, I must believe that her goal is to demonstrate that our God -- the one and only God of the universe -- is higher than any other.  The book is about the journey of a young woman as she questions which path to take.  She has two choices.  One is to embrace the spirit (demon) of her deceased husband and invite his presence into her life.  The other is to recognize the demon as evil and, in the name of Jesus, make it leave. 
I am not discounting the data presented in the book, nor am I criticizing the writing style.  In fact, the writing was enjoyable and the romance was perfect.  Lately I have read several books were the two main characters are drawn together, but it isn't particularly evident until the last chapter.  Tracy Bateman creates an attraction and keeps it growing the whole way through.  On those notes, the book was wonderfully written.  However, I firmly believe that the topic of witchcraft should not have been brought up as subject matter to dwell on, and certainly not in the recreational reading (fiction) arena.  Bringing these topics up open doors in the mind and heart that should remain closed.  I know that my God can and will conquer everything thrown into my path by Satan, but I remain concerned for many who read this and leave more fearful spiritually than ever before.
Again, I want to reinforce that the author most likely intended to encourage with this novel.  Personally, I left with far more information about Wiccan practices that I had every hoped to accumulate in a lifetime.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Inescapable - Nancy Mehl

Ever since the beginning of this blog I have posted a copy of the cover of the book being reviewed.  This time, Bethany House has provided me with a book "trailer."  It's like a movie trailer, but for... you get it.  Very cool!  Now, for the review...
I am a first time ever Nancy Mehl reader!  After finishing "Inescapable" I was so eager to find out if there were more Mehl books out there that I Googled it.  In fact, Nancy has authored thirteen books total.  Previously published by Barbour, Thorndike, and Greenbriar Book Company Nancy Mehl's new Road to Kingdom series has been picked up by Bethany House.  If "Inescapable" is any indication, Bethany House made a very good call.  I can't wait to see what Book 2, "Unbreakable" is about!
Here, the main character, Lizzie Engel, has been gone from her Mennonite town for five years with good reason.  She experienced violence and abuse at home and has no meaningful relationship with her parents.  After becoming pregnant and treated with contempt by the townspeople, she left for a chance at life in the city.  Lizzie planned never to come back, but when she is accused of theft and embezzlement at her workplace in Kansas City she needs a place to retreat.  In addition, she's being followed and threatened.  Lizzie can't afford to take chances with her daughter's safety, so she  returns home to her Mennonite roots. Unfortunately, this doesn't fix anything, and the threats get even worse.  Suddenly, two men enter her life as potential suitors and complicate everything for Lizzie.
The entire book had me from page one, and I couldn't have enjoyed it more.  I would compare this novel with something from Mindy Starns Clark.  If you enjoy mystery with romance, this is a fantastic place to start.  I wish the second book, "Unbreakable" was already out, but alas -- it will be released February 1, 2013.  This one will definitely be on my radar!
The book was a free gift from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Scent of Rain - Kristin Billerbeck

To date, I have read eleven of Kristin Billerbeck's novels.  I am, and always will be, a fan.  She is one of the very few Christian writers that focus on the chick-lit genre, so I am eager to see her stay "in the business" so that we can look forward to more chick-lit!
"The Scent of Rain" is about Daphne Sweeten, a professional nose who has been trained in Paris and comes back to the United States to get married.  As bad luck would have it, her groom fails to show up.  In the meantime, she has already accepted a job at a household goods supplier to develop the scents of the products they sell.  After giving up her dream job in Paris for marriage in the States and experiencing a failed wedding she then loses her most valuable asset - her sense of smell.
The plot gets slightly better as we learn more about her ex-fiancee, but it's too little to draw me in.  I cruise through the short novel before I realize it.  Since I was reading on a Kindle, it's difficult to tell how "thick" the book is initially.  I started and finished it in one day.
The romance was barely there.  All we felt was a draw between the characters until the very last chapter.  It's so safe, I might recommend it to a pre-teen.
FYI, Givauden and Gibralter were too closely named (in my opinion) and throughout the book, I had to back up several times to make sure I was reading it correctly.  Given that Daphne is a professional nose, I thought the last name "Sweeten" was a bit too much.
This review is rather harsh, but I do remain a fan of Kristin Billerbeck's.  I heartily recommend the "Trophy Wives Club" series.  Even after five years, I still remember the characters and their journey from Book #1!  Other favorites are "Split Ends," and the "Spa Girls" series.
This book was a free gift from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Win a $500 Weekend Giveaway Package & RSVP for 8/23 Facebook Party!


Celebrate with Colleen by entering to win a $500 gift certificate to BedandBreakfast.com!

One grand prize winner will receive:
• A $500 gift certificate to BedandBreakfast.com
• A copy of Tidewater Inn by Colleen Coble

Enter today by clicking here. But hurry, the giveaway ends on August 22nd. Winner will be announced at the "Tidewater Inn" Author Chat Facebook Party on 8/23. Colleen will chat with guests, share a sneak peek of her next book, host a trivia contest, and more. She’ll also be giving away gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack (10 copies for your book club or small group.)!

So grab your copy of Tidewater Inn and join Colleen on the evening of the August 22nd for a chance to connect with Colleen and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)
Don't miss a moment of the RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 23rd!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tidewater Inn - Colleen Coble

I truly doubt I got anything done around the house while "Tidewater Inn" was left unfinished -- which wasn't long!  I recommend waiting to start this novel when you have a day to really sit down and enjoy this romance and mystery of a tiny island off the East coast.
The main character, Libby, hears from her business partner Nicole that she recently inherited a property worth over ten million dollars from a father that she had believed to have died over twenty years ago.  She decides to have a "face to face" meeting with Nicole on a beach with a video cam and sees two thugs grab her friend and carry her away.  Nicole's kidnapping rocks the island, and Libby is the main suspect.  It's up to her and her new friend, Alec, to solve the mystery, because the local law support isn't looking any farther than Libby.
As with all of Colleen Coble's novel, the plot grabs you right from the beginning and holds your attention tightly until the very end.  I recommend every single one of her novels.
My only critique is that there were no clues or hints for the reader to build a case against the villain revealed at the end.  When reading a mystery, I prefer for there to be some details sparingly added to the plot throughout the novel so that the reader has a chance (however slight) to solve the mystery.
This was a complimentary copy given to me by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Bride Wore Blue - Mona Hodgson

This is the fourth novel in the "Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek" series by Mona Hodgson, and in my opinion it was the very best of her books so far.  I loved the storyline, and the main character made so many poor choices it was easy for me to identify with her!  All of Mona's main characters have a a strong desire to achieve their goals and aren't afraid to take chances.  I love the adventurous spirit reflected throughout the entire book.
The storyline revolved around Vivian, the youngest Sinclair sister, who moves to Cripple Creek with dreams of being a fashion designer.  When those dreams are squashed, followed by the failure of two successive jobs, she resorts to working in a brothel as a hostess for Pearl DeVere.  One day she shockingly finds Pearl dead.  Unfortunately, Pearl's boyfriend assumes that Vivian is the killer and sets out on revenge.  The story only gets better when Vivian's love interest, the deputy of Cripple Creek, rescues her and discovers -- upon his dismay -- where she has been working.
What a beautiful story of redemption and joy!  Mona keeps it light and fun the entire way through.  My favorite quote of the book came from Miss Hattie when she said, "It's what we do in our future, dear, that decides how important our past truly was."
Currently, this novel retails on Amazon for $11.40, or you can purchase the Kindle edition for only $9.99.  Don't forget to order books 1, 2, and 3, though.  They are all very good.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Heiress - Susan May Warren

"Heiress" is Book 1 in the "Daughters of Fortune" series by Susan May Warren.  This was my first experience reading a novel by Susan May Warren, and I am definitely hooked for life.  Clearly, this author is not only talented but an experienced writer as well.  The plot was detailed, moved quickly, and the characters were well-written.  The historical information was accurate and researched thoroughly.  I felt completely transported to the pre-war Gilded Age of New York society.
It's difficult to summarize the story, because there is so much to it.  Esme, the older sister, fights her birthright, while, Jinx, the younger sister is eager to embrace their family's way of life.  These leads to failed relationships and tragedies.  The author managed to work in scandal, sabotage, deception, jealousy, arson, adultery, and even an element of organized crime.
I have seen several Susan May Warren books available in previous years, but the title and cover of this particular novel really grabbed my attention.  In the future, every time I see her name I'll snatch it up.  This lengthy novel was read in two days flat.
I was dismayed when I read another review claiming that this did not have a strong enough Christian message.  That is absolutely untrue.  Most women read Christian fiction for enjoyment that is also positive and edifying.  It is not designed to replace quiet time.  I found the novel very encouraging, and felt that it laid out the path to salvation in a clear cut manner while remaining non-offensive.  My opinion is that the novel very much held a Christian slant, and as such was realistic regarding common temptations of people everywhere.
"Baroness" is Book 2 in the "Daughters of Fortune" series, and I can't wait to dig in.  Susan May Warren, let's do it!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bees in the Butterfly Garden - Maureen Lang

I recently read "Whisper on the Wind," the second novel in the Great War series by Maureen Lang.  When I saw the opportunity to read "Bees in the Butterfly Garden," I leapt at the chance.  Since the plot and setting is completely different, I was interested to compare this book to the first one I read.
"Whisper on the Wind" was a somber, slow-moving book set in the middle of the World War.  There was a transparent plot with a very limited amount of romance.  "Bees in the Butterfly Garden" was as far from that as possible.
The book is about Meg Davenport, a lifelong student at Madame Marisse's ladies school.  As such a student, she is welcomed into the inner circles of New York's elite.  When she discovers her father has died, she journeys to his funeral and meets his surrogate son, Ian Maguire, who seems to have taken her place as rightful child.  Not understanding why her father would send her away for her lifetime, and then nearly adopt Ian as his own, she has some issues initially to work through.  Once she arrives, she learns that her father -- highly esteemed by Madame Marisse -- was a professional thief and swindler.  
Ian was her father's partner in crime, and Meg decides that she will show her deceased father what a mistake he made in replacing her with Ian by partnering with Ian in a heist to rob a prominent 5th Avenue family.  She successfully garners an invitation to visit the Pemberton home for the summer, and works with Ian to formulate a plan to burglarize the home for the famous Pemberton gold.
Within a few pages the author hooked my attention.  The plot for "Bees in the Butterfly Garden" is compelling and fast-moving.  This book was interesting and enjoyable to read from start to finish.  I loved the plot.  I commend the author for creating fallible, believable characters.  The twist at the end was genius.  All around, this was a much more enjoyable book to read than "Whisper on the Wind."  
My critique is aimed at the romance in the book.  I would have been more excited to see a romantic dilemma.  I was disappointed in the end, because I felt that the main character, Meg, chose the wrong man.  The plot could have been enhanced by giving one of the other characters (George or Nelson) more of a spotlight starting about midway through the book, then gradually building to a point at the end at which she must decide which man holds her heart.  It is common in romance to introduce the winning man right at the start, so my expectation was that Ian would win her heart.  However, about 75% into the book I began to question whether the author was playing with me, and a more worthy opponent would win Meg (namely George, given his role in the book from the beginning, but I was silently hoping the author would write Nelson in at the end as the final romantic interest).  If memory serves, this was well done by Julie Klassen in her novel, "The Apothecary's Daughter."
Maureen Lang is an author unafraid to take risks.  I again commend her on the plot.  Involving the main character in an illegal heist was one of the most fun, exciting, and risky plots I've seen in Christian fiction so far.
To the author... please keep writing risky plots.  If you will, I will be among your most loyal readers.
This book was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Glamorous Illusions - Lisa T. Bergren

"Glamorous Illusions" is a women's Christian historical fiction novel written by Lisa Bergren, known famously for her Little Cub children's books.  You might recognizer her name from such books as "God Gave Us You," "God Gave Us Two," "God Gave Us Love," and many more.
This novel centers around Cora Diehl, who learns that the father she has known her entire life adopted her, and that she is actually the illegitimate daughter of a well-known copper king.  I genuinely enjoyed the characters in the book, and very much appreciate the author creating flaws within the characters to emphasize their humanness.  Lisa did a fantastic job with every character.  
Cora is transported to a small town where she meets her half-siblings and joins them on a Grand Tour of Europe.  I consider this a strong start to the novel.  There is a lot of potential for plot, but I thought we spent quite a bit reading time focusing on the changing setting.  
After reading "Glamorous Illusions," I can tell that children's books are her sweet spot.  The story line was lacking in interest, and the excitement at the end (in my opinion) should have been drawn out longer.  The deal-breaker for me was the ending.  I had no more told my husband "The book just got good!" and within a couple minutes it was over.  I couldn't believe it!  It was as if the back pages were missing. (In a traditional book you know the ending is coming, because you notice only a few pages left.  I was using an e-reader, and had lost track of where in the book I was picking up from.  I didn't realize I was nearing the end until it was over.)
My recommendation is to write in more dialogue between characters and start the excitement much earlier in the book.  The ending did not resolve, and I was left completely hanging.  Even pieces of a series should provide a sense resolution when you finish the novel.  Unfortunately, it wasn't enough suspense to tempt me to read the second book in the series.
I believe this author is exceptionally talented and has a lot to offer the world of Christian fiction.  Because of this, I look forward to seeing some changes in future novels.  Lisa T. Bergren will continue to have our business, since we adore her children's books.  I highly recommend them to every family.
This was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Stubborn Heart - Becky Wade

Bethany House is branching out, and I'm so happy to see it!  Considering Bethany House's undefeated streak with their historical novels, I was eager to try this contemporary novel.  I wasn't disappointed.  You'll feel its newness when you read things like "I'm holding out for Prince Harry."  There are parts that are serious, but mostly this is a light, fun romance novel with believable characters facing today's issues.  
The plot centers around thirty-one year old Kate, disappointed (but resigned) to her singleness and athletic Matt Jarreau, an ex-professional hockey player with tragedy in his past.  When her grandma hires him to remodel their historical house in Pennsylvania, a this-could-maybe-happen-to-me romance ensues.
The author didn't overdo it with too many characters.  In fact, the majority of the time you spend reading dialogue between the two main characters.  This makes for fast, easy reading that keeps you hooked.  My attention span never wandered.  I was so addicted to this book I read it straight through in one day.  Thank goodness I started it on the morning of my day off, or I would have had to go through withdrawal to put it down for work!
My only criticism for the author is directed toward the end in chapters twenty and twenty-one.  I didn't feel like the crisis was necessary.  Okay, a crisis was necessary for the plot to dip and rise like it should, but this particular crisis didn't feel justified from the characters' perspectives.  I think a juicy secret one person had deliberately kept from the other person might have justified it, though.  Certainly food for thought.
That said, I adored the author's writing and can't wait to see more from her.  In fact, I had to search Amazon just to see if there were any others released yet.  Sadly, no.  Thank you, Becky Wade, for one of the most enjoyable novels I've read all year!  Please don't make us wait too long for the next one!
This book was a gift from the publisher in exchange for my objective opinion.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Rose of Winslow Street - Elizabeth Camden

I recently read "The Lady of Bolton Hill" by Elizabeth Camden and gave it the highest possible rating online.  So, naturally, when I saw "The Rose of Winslow Street" also written by Elizabeth Camden, I snatched it up a.s.a.p.!  As I was reading, I noticed this book has something in common with the first Camden book I'd read.  Just when you get the feeling it's over -- WOW -- she brings in more characters and more story.  I love this about her writing!  It seems that with many novels, you can laboriously read the entire book before the plot ever escalates, and when it does the books wraps up summarily.  Not so with Ms. Camden.  She creates a masterpiece that escalates at several different times in the story.  It's very much like reading a trilogy all packed into one book.
This book, "The Rose of Winslow Street," is about a young woman who has a difficult relationship with her father, who she lives with.  While they are gone on a summer vacation, a Romanian and his family move into their beautiful home and claim ownership.  Since notice was never served to the Romanians, and the former owner had left it to him in his will, the gentleman feels the house is his fair and square.  A court case ensues... and so does a romance between the two main characters!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I am absolutely looking forward to Elizabeth Camden's next book "Against the Tide," due to be released in October 2012.  Pre-order?  YES!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Love Forbidden - Kathleen Morgan

"A Love Forbidden" is the second in the Heart of the Rockies series by Kathleen Morgan.  Morgan is an experienced writer, and you may recognize her name from some of her earlier series, such as These Highland Hills or Brides of Culdee Creek.
This particular series is one you can jump into mid-stream and never know you missed the first book.  I didn't have the opportunity to read book one, "A Heart Divided," and didn't realize it until just now.  I love it when an author does such a good job of including back story that, as a reader, we don't feel left out!
In "A Love Forbidden," the main character, Shiloh Wainwright, decides to go into Colorado Territory to educate the Ute Indian children.  The book is set during the time the U.S. government was hustling American Indians out of their native homes and into reservations.  Battles ensue, and tension is high.  Meanwhile, Shiloh comes back into contact with Jesse, a man she met many years ago when he worked at her parents' ranch.  As half-Ute, half-white, Jesse doesn't easily fit in and their relationship promises to be rocky right from the beginning.  It gets much more difficult when the Utes attack the American fort, massacring the agency employees and taking the women hostage.  Shiloh is one of those women.  As was common at that time, as a captive she was about to be taken as an unwilling "wife" of one of the Indian warriors.  In the nick of time, Jesse steps in and takes her as a wife instead.  At this point, the story really begins for me.  As a married couple, they must work through many issues, including that during a battle he chooses to fight with the Indians against the white man, which is Shiloh's people.  Other issues include the fact that Shiloh feels a great need for a church wedding, while Jesse feels that the Ute way of taking a wife is perfectly acceptable and refuses to a wedding white-style.
Unbeknownst to me, the book is based on a true story.  I appreciated the author writing the story as if it were entirely fictional, then clarifying in the end which points were factual.  This allowed me to dive into the story without constantly second-guessing which parts were fact versus fiction.
I highly recommend this book, and by extension, the first book "A Heart Divided," which I haven't yet had a chance to read.  I was able to do some research and saw the plot for "A Heart Divided" looked very exciting.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning - Olivia Newport

Olivia Newport is an exciting new author for Revell, and "The Pursuit of Lucy Banning" is her debut novel.  The book is set in 1892 Chicago and is very grounded historically.  Eighteen ninety-two was a very busy time for Chicago.  Chicago hosted the Chicago World's Fair the following year, which influenced art and architecture for decades to come.  During this time, capitalist giants such as Marshall Fields, George Pullman, William Wallace Kimball, and John J. Glessner lived on Prairie Avenue, which is the street the author chose her main character to live on.  I was continually amazed at how much factual information kept popping up.  I soon understood why 1892 was the beginning of the Gilded Age of Chicago.  I believe this age has been very overlooked by many authors as potential reading material (with the exception of Judith Miller's "Postcards from Pullman" series).  I was hooked!  My only hope is that the author plans to write more books set during this timeframe, possibly a series?
The author did quite a lot of research, but you still feel like you are reading a fictional novel for entertainment.  I loved the storyline, and it just keeps getting better as you move along.  She introduces new plot material every so often, which builds on the existing story.  This keeps you interested and moving along.  I got more attached to the story and characters with every chapter.
The basis of the plot is that Lucy Banning is engaged to her longtime friend and respected citizen, Daniel.  However, when she meets someone else, she realizes she doesn't love Daniel and can't follow through with the engagement.  This causes great upset between the families.  She also chooses to attend art classes at a local university, which is very modern for young ladies at that time.  Her family does not accept that choice.  Drama is introduced with malicious acts begin to take place in retribution for her choice to break her engagement.  A second plot, and very important piece of the book, focuses on the house maid, Charlotte, who has brought a tiny baby with her to her job and hides it in her closet for fear that she will be dismissed if anyone learns of the infant.  This can't last long, and we follow Charlotte closely through the book.  Lucy's work with the local orphanage is very rewarding for her, but her family and friends don't agree that it's fitting for her station. 
The book is aptly named, and as I read it I felt empowered to make choices that were right for me in the short and long term.  Lucy shows great strength of character, and it was enjoyable to read.  There were a couple very late nights for me, because I couldn't put the book down!
Sometimes the author actually reads the book reviews published by the bloggers.  If this is the case here, my comment to the author is this... after finishing the book, I am so eager to read the second of this series.  I do hope this will become a series, because Charlotte's story has a lot of telling left to do.  A girl this sweet deserves a happy ending, don't you think?  Since she is so conveniently serving in a mansion on Prairie Avenue, this gives her immediate access to one of the most eligible bachelors in town -- Leo Banning.  Can you write that story, please?
This was a complimentary copy given to me by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Messenger - Siri Mitchell

Hannah Sunderland, a Quaker, becomes a spy against her will during the Revolutionary War so that she can regularly visit her brother in prison.  She forms a tentative relationship with Jeremiah Jones who helps procure her prison visitor's pass, but in exchange he requires that she deliver illegal information to one of the prisoners.  Their relationship gets stronger, but meanwhile Hannah's relationship with her Quaker family disintegrates.  She struggles through her religious peacemaker beliefs, because she feels compelled to help her brother in his fight against the British.  Her secret life begins to wear on her, and she must come to a resolution soon. 
The book is told narrator-style in a subdued, serious way.  It volleys in first person between Hannah and Jeremiah's perspectives.  I would compare it to journal entries from both characters.  In the author's notes, there was so much good information about which parts of the story were based on historical facts. 
After reading the author's note, I began to research some of the real-life characters of the story.  I loved Google-ing the drawings of the costumes worn for the general's ball.
My critique of this book is that the emotional connection between the two main characters was lacking.  I couldn't construe much of a romantic story, and they seemed unlikely friends right up until the near end.  There wasn't much drama in the book until the end, but what was there was very good.
I have read several of Siri Mitchell's books, and I will continue to do so.  Of those that I have read, my favorites are "She Walks in Beauty," and "A Heart Most Worthy."  Both of those have very clever plots and are rewarding to read.  "She Walks in Beauty" is similar in style to a Jane Austen novel, and it is well-loved by many.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't Panic - Quick, Easy, and Delicious Meals for Your Family

Let me introduce you to my new favorite cookbook!  The "Don't Panic" cookbook is now a staple I keep inside my minivan for spur of the moment grocery runs.  The recipes are very family-oriented.  Meaning, yours kids and your husband are going to love them.  The ingredients are moderately priced.  The recipes are delicious, and you can serve them to guests.  Many of these dishes refrigerate well and can be reheated for great leftovers.  I want to share with you my favorite recipe in the book (so far!), Baked Ziti, found on page 99.  Don't skip the goat cheese -- in my opinion that is what really gives it that restaurant quality taste!

Four Cheese Baked Ziti
Yield: 6 servings

3 cups marinara sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
3/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese (regular or sharp)
1 t. salt
12 oz ziti or penne pasta
3 T. olive oil
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. dried basil (or 1 T. fresh basil, chopped)
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (pork, turkey, or chicken), cooked

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350º.  In a medium saucepan, bring marinara sauce to a simmer and keep heated.  In a medium bowl, mix together 1 cup of mozzarella and the remaining cheeses.  Set aside. 
  2. In a large pot, cook pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (approx. 9-11 minutes).  Drain, return hot pasta to pot and toss with olive oil, pepper, basil, and remained 1 cup of mozzarella.  Pour the heated marinara sauce over pasta and mix together (if using sausage, add with sauce). 
  3. Pour pasta into 8 x 8 baking dish.  Top with blended cheeses.  Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly bubbly.  Serve with hot garlic bread. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Who's Hungry for Enchiladas?

Enchiladas are on my go-to list for dinner.  I usually prepare them during the kids naptime, refrigerate, then pop them in the oven later that evening.  That way, making dinner doesn't take over my evening.  It's also good if company is coming, since they can be prepared in advance.  Since it takes almost no extra time, I double the recipe and freeze the other 9x13. 
Normally, I would post a picture of the recipe also, but we ate them so fast I didn't have a chance!  Here is the basic beef enchilada recipe that always ends up a favorite with the kids and my husband.
Yield: (1) 9x13

Beef Enchiladas
2 lb. ground beef
1 small white onion
1 can chili with beans
"Mission" corn tortillas
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1 can "Taco Bell" mild enchilada red sauce
2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese
Lettuce, shredded
Tomatoes, chopped
Sour cream
Directions:
  1. Brown ground beef.  Add onion and cook til clear.  Drain well.
  2. Add can of chili and sour cream to beef.  Mix well.
  3. Warm corn tortillas on skillet.  Fill with beef mixture.  Lay in 9x13 casserole dish.
  4. Pour can of enchilada sauce over the top.  Top with cheese.
  5. Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes.
Before serving, top with:
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Sour cream
This recipe can be prepared in advance and refrigerated for up to 48 hours or frozen. If freezing, when ready to bake, refrigerate overnight to defrost first.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Area Summer Camps for Kids




Like so many moms right now, I am planning the events for the summer. When I was a kid, I had a lot of fun at summer camps, and I definitely want to work in a camp experience for my kids! Last week I started my hunt for quality camps that kids could enjoy and decided to publish them here for everyone else, too.

White River Youth Camp (Forsyth, MO)
I had the privilege of attending WRYC as a child, and I still remember the songs I learned while there. Even today, it ranks as my very favorite camp experience, proving that cost does not always equal fun. This camp has several sessions, divided by age. As I was talking to the director (he and his wife have been directors of WRYC for over 20 years!) my jaw dropped to the ground when he said all campers (even the high schoolers) attend for FREE. Seriously? This will be a must-attend for my kids. It's located off East Hwy 76 as you head from Branson to Forsyth. For more information, call (417) 546-5920.

2012 dates for Kiddie CampJune 1-2, 2012 Kiddie Camp is a 1-night camp that starts at 6:00 PM Friday, June 1st and ends at 3:00 PM Saturday, June 2nd. Arrive 30 minutes early for registration. It includes dinner Friday night, breakfast and lunch on Saturday, crafts, children's worship, playtime, and tons more. For ages 2 years old (potty trained) to children going into 1st grade. Parents must stay overnight with their child. Your child will remember the quality time you spend with them at this camp for the rest of their lives. Great family fun that is FREE!!

2012 dates for Overnight Camps for the Big Kids:June 4-8, 2012 Sr. Camp (9th - 12th grades)
June 11-15, 2012 Jr. High (7th & 8th grades)
June 18-22, 2012 Intermediate camp (5th & 6th grades)
June 25-28, 2012 Junior Camp (3rd & 4th grades)

Just bring your overnight bags and a registration form with you or fill one out at the door. No charge.

Camp Lookout (Hollister, MO)
Camp Lookout is a 1-week camp designed for children age 8-12 from Stone and Taney Counties. Another bonus is that this camp is FREE -- even the meals! Very popular in this area, and has an excellent reputation. They go hiking, sing to the geriatrics at the nursing home, and visit Silver Dollar City. Camp always fills up quickly so turning in registration early (read: NOW) is recommended. Call (417) 690-3454 for more information.

Here are some comments I got on Facebook within minutes when I put a shout out for info on Camp Lookout:

"Haygn went until she out grew it, and Austin goes there now... its AWESOME!! HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!"

"camp look out is free for the week! kelsey had a lot of friends that went to Kanakuk and would tell her that it was the best camp. kelsey told me, 'I don't know how it could be any better, Mom, because Camp Look-out is AWESOME!'"

2012 dates for Camp Lookout are: 
8-10 yr. olds
June 4-8
June 11-15
June 18-22
June 25-29

11-12 yr. olds
July 9-13
July 16-20
July 23-27
July 30-Aug 3

8-12 yr. olds
August 6-10

Kanakuk Kamps (Branson/Lampe, MO)
The is the premium camp experience -- hands down nationwide -- for children ages 7-18. Children come from all corners of the nation to Kanakuk Kamp to be blown away. Since there are so many different camp locations, dates, and they vary from 7 days to 28 days, I couldn't list them all here. Thankfully, they have a fantastic website you can visit to see what Kanakuk is all about.

Mighty Mini Camp - May 18-20, 2012 (Branson, MO)
Mighty Mini Camp is a weekend-long camp for kids grades 1st - 6th.  They will spend (2) nights, so be sure to bring a sleeping bag!  This will be held at fbc Branson beginning at 6:30 pm on on Friday evening, May 18 - May 20.  Kids can be picked up in the Children's Area Blast Zone after 10:55 am worship service on Sunday.  Early bird registration is $20 ($15 for each additional child in the family) and after May 6th registration cost is $30.  Register online here.

VBS at First Presbyterian - June 18-22
VBS is a fun, exciting day camp for kids pre-school - 6th grade.   Half-days in the morning at First Presbyterian in BransonRegister online or call (417) 334-3468.  This VBS always blows the kids away.  They love it, and we listen to the CD long after the camp is over.  I highly recommend it.  Event is free. There is crafts, music, and memory verses.

SummerBash VBS 2012 at fbc Branson - June 18-22
June 18-22 5:00 - 8:30 PM will be the SummerBash VBS 2012 at fbc Branson. This is for age 4 - 6th grade (completed).  Pre-registration is available.  Event is free.  Complimentary dinner served from 5:00 - 5:45 pm.  Call (417) 334-7437 for a registration form and they will be happy to mail you one!

P.E.E.P.S. Retreat - May 19, 2012 (Branson, MO)
This is a one-day retreat for children ages 4, 5, and Kindergarten.  They will have fun with games, music, fun, food, and stories.  Drop off is at 8:45 am, and pick up at 12:00 pm.  Lunch will be provided.  This will be hosted at fbc Branson in the Life Center.  Early bird registration is $10.  Registration after May 6th is $15.  Registration forms available at the fbc Branson office.

Branson Parks and Recreation Summer Day Camp
The Branson Rec Plex provides a day camp for kids from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM Monday through Friday. If you have a tight schedule, you can drop off/pick up as much as 2 hours before/after camp. You can sign up for one week or even the whole summer! There are fantastic activities and programs such as games, sports, swimming, arts and crafts, movies, field trips, and much more. The cost is $85.00 per week. Campers do need to bring a sack lunch each day.

2012 Dates for Rec Plex Summer Camp
Week 1 *May 29-June 1
Week 2 June 4-8
Week 3 June 11-15
Week 4 June 18-22
Week 5 June 25-June 29
Week 6 July 2-6
Week 7 July 9-13
Week 8 July 16-20
Week 9 July 23-27
Week 10 July 30-Aug 3

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Case for Love - Kaye Dacus

As soon as I finished this book, I got onto Amazon to find out how many other books Kaye Dacus has written so I could order more!  You can imagine my disappointment when I realized that I had inadvertently read the last installment of the trilogy, "The Brides of Bonneterre."  That said, the good news is that you can pick up any book in this series and not feel like you are tuning into a show halfway through!
This story is based on a newscaster, Alaine, who falls for her attorney, that just happens to be representing her parents in a class action lawsuit -- against his parents.  At first I was concerned that this obvious conflict of interest would not be believable, but it appears that Kaye spoke to an attorney when doing the research for this novel.  The situation was very believable, and the pieces of the story came together perfectly.  Since his parents are represented by the same law firm he is a partner of, the actions that follow add an interesting element to the story line. The emotions of both sets of parents and their children who were dragged into the controversy were well-represented.  There was a little suspense, but this was mostly a romance novel.
Reading the romance was such a refreshing change from the more intense and serious books that I have read recently.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I will most definitely be ordering her other two trilogies, "The Ransome Trilogy" and "The Matchmakers."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Love Amid the Ashes - Mesu Andrews

"Love Amid the Ashes" is a fictional book focused on the story of Dinah and Job of the Bible.  The author is very talented, and the amount of research she did for this really pays off.
There are several storylines, and all are individually compelling.  We see life from the perspective of Job, Sitis (Job's wife), and Dinah.  Although much of the book is fictional, I did learn a lot about Dinah's story from "Love Amid the Ashes."  Reasonable assumptions were drawn about the personalities of Jacob, Esau, and many other historically correct characters.
The basic outline of the plot stays true to the Biblical account, but the majority of the book is completely fictional.  It became difficult for me to draw lines in my mind as to what was true and what was creative interpretation.
I have always held the opinion that it is unfair to judge Job's wife for her moment of weakness recorded in the Book of Job.  We know very little about Job's wife other than that she said "Curse God and die."  We must remember that she, too, had lost all her children and possessions in one day.  A normal person, Christian or not, would be in agony and most likely say something they would regret.  I didn't think this one quote was enough to make the book believable when painting a picture of Sitis as an idolater and would-be adulteress.  As I read, this continued to nag at me.  More likely, a man of integrity like Job would have placed a high value on an excellent wife similar to what is described in Proverbs 31.  Because I was distracted by how much information was given in the novel that was not included in the Bible's version, I think I would have enjoyed this beautifully written story much more if the names and a few other details had been changed so that this appeared unrelated to the story of Job.  I left more confused about Job's story rather than enlightened, as I felt after reading Dinah's story.
That said, the book was captivating and held my attention solidly all the say through.  I am looking forward to more from Mesu Andrews.  She has an extraordinary talent for writing and I can't wait to see what else she has in store for us.
This book was a free gift from the publisher in exchange for a non-biased review.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to Perform a Professional Pedicure

Every now and then I blog about something fun and completely unrelated to books.  This is such a time.  Since I am a licensed cosmo and have done many (read: a LOT) of pedicures, I thought it might be a fun idea to post the official pedi steps.  This way, you can save some money and do a pro-quality job at home.  This article will tell you how to do a basic pedicure, the correct order of events, and the products I recommend.  Most everything listed below can be purchased at Sally's Beauty Supply, except for the foot file (best in class) which you will need to hunt down and order online -- but it's worth it. The links give you brand name/price information.  If you can't spring for everything all at once, a good start would be the Seche products and the Checi Pro foot file.

Assemble the following items:
Foot bath
Antibacterial soap
2 towels
Toenail clippers
Metal spoon shaped cuticle pusher
1 medium/fine grit nail file
Sanding block
Checi Pro Titanica foot file in "coarse"
Cotton gauze (if you cannot find gauze, cotton pads are fine)
100% acetone nail polish remover
Toe separators
Seche Clear base coat
OPI Nail polish
Seche Vite top coat
Nail dryer
Lotion (optional)

  1. Fill the foot bath with hot/warm water.  Squirt a very small amount of antibacterial soap into bath and turn on jets.  Soak feet.
  2. Remove one foot and rest on front of bath.  Dry with towel.  Remove any existing nail polish with acetone and cotton pad.  Clip toenails straight across.  File straight across, then soften sharp edges with file.  Clean under nails.  
  3. Use the spoon-shaped cuticle pusher to push back cuticles. 
  4. Use the sanding block to remove ridges and lightly roughen nail bed.  Do not use a buffer to shine.  Leave the nail bed roughened, which is going to help the polish stay much longer.
  5. Use foot file on heels, sides, and sole of foot.  Return to bath.
  6. Remove other foot.  Repeat steps 2-5.  Rinse, then dry with towel.  Massage lotion into foot/leg (optional).  Leave foot out, and do not return to bath.
  7. Bring first foot back out of bath.  Dry with towel.  Apply lotion (optional).
  8. Drain foot bath.  Insert toe separators.
  9. Thoroughly clean nail beds with cotton pads soaked in acetone to remove all dust, oil, and lotion from nails.  Repeat.  Do a third time if necessary.  You need the nail beds completely free of all oil before moving forward.
  10. Apply Seche Clear base coat 1x.
  11. Apply OPI color 2x.
  12. Apply Seche Vite top coat 1x.
  13. Spray with aerosol nail dryer.
While you can certainly achieve professional results at home, nothing can replace the relaxing and pampering environment of a spa.  If you have a chance to visit Spa Chateau in Branson, MO I highly recommend their Signature Dogwood pedicure.  It involves quite a bit more than what is listed above and is well worth the price.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Garden of Madness - Tracy L. Higley

"Garden of Madness" is the story of Tiamat, daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.  The writer did a fantastic job of painting a picture of ancient Babylon, life inside the palace, and the customs of the people there.  I felt like I was in a time machine of some kind and had the opportunity to travel back to 570 B.C.! It was obvious the author has a lot of talent, and I personally cannot fathom taking on a project this big.  The historical research alone must have been overwhelming.  You can't tell it from reading, though.  Even with all the stress of including historically accurate data, the author keeps her cool.  The story flows as it should -- never too fast paced, never a lull.  "Garden of Madness" by Tracy Higley was an incredibly insightful novel.
For those of you who are wondering how much of this is fiction, and how much is truth... this is based on a true story.  The truth lays in the history of the city, and the madness that overtook King Nebuchadnezzar.  Some of the characters actually did exist, and the book represents well their part in history.  Amytis, Amel-Marduk, and a few others.  The location of Nebuchadnezzer during his seven years of madness was assumption.  Tiamat, the main character, was fictional.  Both Pedaiah and Sheltiel actually existed, but little is known about them.  One of them did bear a son, Zerrubabel, who led the Israelites back to their homeland from their captivity in Babylon.  Which son it was and who the wife was is a mystery.  It was difficult while reading to separate fact from fiction, but she explains which was which in the back of the book if you read the Author's Notes.  All in all, I thought the author did a very good job of including as much history as possible in the novel without sacrificing the entertainment and imagination side of things.
This novel kept me up until the wee hours more than one evening, and had my husband wondering if I would ever sleep again.  This one is definitely outside the box. No Victorian era romance here.  I highly recommend it to those of you who love ancient fiction.
My only critique of this is that the cover could have been more compelling.  I liked the cover used on Mesu Andrews' novel "Love Amid the Ashes," for example.  That said, I can't wait until the next book from Tracy L. Higley!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sixty Acres and a Bride - Regina Jennings

WARNING****PLOT SPOILER
"Sixty Acres and a Bride" is the debut novel of Regina Jennings, an author for Bethany House.
The first half of the book is about Rosa, a widowed Mexican senora that heads to Texas with her American mother-in-law.  Having been disowned by her own family for religious reasons, staying in Mexico was not an option.  When she gets to Texas, her mother-in-law's ranch has four years of back taxes due within three months.  They undertake the nearly impossible feat of raising that money in one summer.  When that plan fails, Rosa is encouraged to go ask her husband's attractive cousin for help in the middle of the night.  She succeeds, but she's confused when he proposes the very next day.  This marks the end of what I call the "Ruth plot" and the beginning of the second half of the book.  I absolutely LOVE that the author did not end the book here!  The second part of the book is the story of a couple who finds themselves married with every intention of  living as roommates rather than husband and wife.  The journey of their relationship is so fun.
I was impressed that the story did not end where I thought it would.  In fact, almost half of the book was still left.  It almost felt like I had gotten two books in one!Regina Jennings can write, and Chapter 14 is proof of that.  (One more chapter like fourteen couldn't hurt anything!)
Odd, but I noticed there was no thank you section.  I am probably the only person in the world that actually reads those things, but I find it fascinating to see who the editor was and the team that helped pull the book together.  You know, just in case I ever find myself in a position to need an agent.  Or an editor.  I went to Regina Jennings' website where she shares her journey to getting published.  This is pure gold for those who aspire toward writing!  I very much enjoyed her website and will come back often.
Now for the hard part.  My only criticism is that the first half of the book bore a bit too much resemblance to the story of Ruth in the Bible, which initially had me pegging it as clique.  I easily saw the parallelisms, and with the story of Ruth in the back of my mind, it almost distracted me from relaxing and enjoying the tale.  However, halfway through the book I revised my opinion entirely! The book moved quickly from one moment to the next, never pausing too long in one place.
Well done, Regina!  I'm looking forward to seeing what you bring us next time.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.