Ember Island, book review

Ember Island, book reviewTo start a new life, look to the past.

Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman

About this book: In 1891, Tilly Kirkland is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances. Fleeing to the farthest place she knows, Tilly takes a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to the prison superintendent’s precocious young daughter, Nell. Tilly knows she must keep the past hidden in order to start a new life, but she doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over their rambling manor home.

More than one hundred years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling to complete her next book. A reporter asking questions about her great-grandmother sends Nina retreating to her family’s home on Ember Island, where she hopes to find her lost inspiration somewhere in the crumbling walls.

Though they are separated by years, both Tilly and Nina must learn that some secrets never stay buried, but what matters most is learning to trust your heart.

About the author: Kimberley Freeman has written for as long as she’s been able to hold a pencil. She is an award-winning writer in children’s, historical and speculative fiction under her birth name Kim Wilkins. She adopted the pen name Kimberley Freeman to honor her maternal grandmother. Kim holds graduate degrees from the University of Queensland, where she also lectures. She lives in Brisbane with her young family. Look for her on Facebook, where interacting with readers is one of her favorite distractions.

Genre: Fiction/Women’s

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Yes, for its suggestion of romance set in an exotic, beachy locale.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for sensuality (mostly off-screen) and (very) occasional profanity.

Reminds me of… Wildwood Creek. (Here’s that dual narrative again.)

You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re stocking up on romantic, escape-y beach reads. Bonus: this one is set (mostly) in Australia, offering an appealing change of pace from your typical American Nantucket/South Shore variety.

Why did I read this book? For Touchstone for review

Would I read another by this author? I would. Liked this one even better than her last (Lighthouse Bay).

My take: Ember Island is (yet another) dual narrative novel. I found its two plotlines equally compelling and well developed, although the 1890s thread takes up far more space (I’d say by about a 2-to-1 ratio). The present day narrative contains more mystery, the past one more suspense. Both have romance.

I do wish it wasn’t so easy for writers–novelists and screenwriters alike–to stereotype clergymen as salacious, lewd men with nothing beneficial to offer society. It happens twice in this novel. Not only is it cliché, but it errs by painting with a broad brush an entire profession of people who are on the whole–despite what the modern press might say–good and thoughtful people.

However…hopping down from my soapbox now…I was especially drawn into Nina’s present-day story. Both stories were satisfyingly, surprisingly unpredictable. Only a few chapters from the end, and I still really had no idea how either story would finish.

If Tilly’s motivation seemed at bit thin at times, and if I found some of the moral conclusions somewhat dubious, I was willing to let these slide because I found the rest so enjoyable. Ember Island, book reviewFreeman has a gift for lovely descriptive writing and well-crafted characters I liked to spend time with. Altogether, Ember Island was a pleasant escape into the lives of interesting women and an exotic locale.

Thanks to Touchstone for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: When my ten-year-old daughter saw me reading this novel, she pronounced the cover “too busy.” I personally didn’t think so, it rather appeals to me, but since she has a strong, artistic eye, I found her opinion interesting. Then, as I was working on this review, I found this alternate cover, which appeared, I assume, on the U.K. and Australian releases. I like it even better. Thoughts? (No, I haven’t had the chance to run this one by Madeline, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.)


Mom Seeks God, book review & giveaway

Mom Seeks God, book review & giveawayTen essential spiritual disciplines for busy moms.

Mom Seeks God: Practicing Grace in the Chaos by Julia Roller

About this book: The first months and years of motherhood can be the most challenging and disorienting of your life—and faith. When you’re surrounded by the happy chaos of children, how do you spend quiet time with God if the only quiet time you get is while you sleep? How can you demonstrate a solid spiritual life to your children if you don’t have time to pursue one yourself?

When Julia Roller discovered that her spiritual growth had been stunted by the busyness of life with her toddler, she embarked on a yearlong journey through ten spiritual disciplines: prayer, fellowship, submission, study, simplicity, silence, worship, fasting, service, and celebration. As she focused on each discipline, she discovered practical ways to observe them—even in the chaos of her every day.

About the author: (from Litfuse) Julia Roller is an author and editor. Her books include A Year with God (with Richard J. Foster), A Year with Aslan, and 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. Working with Renovaré, she has also co-authored four spiritual formation guides. She has written study guides for authors such as Desmond Tutu, Richard J. Foster, Henri Nouwen, Jenna Bush, and Rob Bell. She and her family live in San Diego, California.

Genre: Non-fiction/Religion/Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Sure would. It’s wholesome and spring-like, suggestive of new growth and fresh beginnings.

Reminds me of… The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ by James Bryan Smith

You’ll want to buy this book if…you are a Christian mom with one or more kiddos under the age of five, who longs for restoration of the kind of God-intimacy you enjoyed before children came along. See what other reviewers are saying here.

Why did I read this book? As a Litfuse blogger, for Abingdon Press for review

Would I read another by this author? Looking forward to it already.

My take: I loved this little book.

There. Pretty simple, huh? And so is this book, which is why it’s perfect for new moms who are struggling to hold onto intimacy in their walks with Jesus.

I remember this season of life so vividly. For me, my road to motherhood had been a long and rocky one, littered with disappointing news and dashed hopes, long needles and longer waits. On the plus side, as I walked that dark valley of infertility, God drew closer to me than at any time in my life until then. He became very real to me. Which was why, when He miraculously answered our prayers and gave my husband and me our beautiful, long-prayed for son, I was a bit bewildered to find my faith growing tepid in the months following Jackson’s birth.

Of course, there was a good reason for this–my attention was otherwise, necessarily, focused elsewhere: on my newborn boy, who depended on me to meet his every need. My own needs, even my need for spiritual nourishment, took a back seat.

I wish I’d had Julia’s book to help me back then. As it was, I somehow stumbled my way back into a fluid relationship with Jesus, but Julia’s sage advice would have made it so much easier. Her godly, Scriptural approach springboards off principles I’ve already tried and found trustworthy–the spiritual disciplines. This word, discipline, may hold for some a rather negative, pedantic connotation. But as Julia points out, practicing the disciplines–rather than something to be avoided or at best endured–is really the vehicle for God’s grace to be unleashed in our lives.

Julia writes amiably and comfortably, and when you read her book I can all but guarantee that you will feel, as I did, that you’ve found not just a mentor but a friend within these pages.

Are you a new mom? Does your spiritual life feel a little (or a lot) dry? If you’re sitting there nodding you’re head, if I could I would push this gem of a book into your hands, and implore you, “Read this! Read it and be refreshed.”

Thanks to Abingdon Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: Julia is celebrating the book’s release with a fun giveaway and connecting with moms during a live Facebook author chat.


One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle HDX
  • Mom Seeks God by Julia Roller

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 1st. Winner will be announced at “Moms’ May Day” Facebook Party on May 1st. Connect with Julia for an encouraging discussion on spiritual discipline and finding joy in the middle of motherhood. Win prizes, connect with other moms, and be inspired.

 So grab your copy of Mom Seeks God and join Julia on the evening of May 1st for a chance to connect 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 fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 1st!

Wildwood Creek, book review

Wildwood Creek, book reviewWith love and loss tangled together, how was she to know where her life would lead?

Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate

About this book: Allie Kirkland has always heard the call of her father’s unfinished destiny. When she’s offered a production assistant’s job on a docudrama filming in the hills near Moses Lake, Texas, the dream of following in her director-father’s footsteps suddenly seems within reach. The reenactment of the legendary frontier settlement of Wildwood is a first step into the film industry. A summer on set in the wilderness is a small price to pay for a dream.

But in 1861, the real Wildwood held dangerous realities. Town founder Harland Delavan held helpless residents, including young Irish schoolteacher Bonnie Rose, in an iron grip. Mysterious disappearances led to myths and legends still retold in the region’s folk songs. Eventually, the entire site was found abandoned.

When filming begins, strange connections surface between Allie and the teacher who disappeared over a century ago, and everyone in Wildwood–including Blake Fulton, Allie’s handsome neighbor on the film set–seems to be hiding secrets. Allie doesn’t know whom she can trust. If she can’t find the answers in time, history may repeat itself…with the most unthinkable results.

About the author: (from Bethany House) Lisa Wingate is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of several books, including Tending Roses, Talk of the Town, Blue Moon Bay, andLarkspur Cove, which won the 2011 Carol Award for Women’s Fiction. Lisa and her family live in central Texas.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Yes. See below.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

Reminds me of… Francine Rivers’ The Scarlet Thread for its dual narrative juxtapositioning present day with pioneering life.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy dual-narrative, past/present novels.

Why did I read this book? As a Bethany Blogger for review.

Would I read another by this author? Yes. Though this wasn’t my favorite by Lisa Wingate, I would probably read anything she writes.

My take: I have to start with the cover, which I love for its promise of a sun-drenched setting, a beguiling heroine, and a hint of romance–all of which the story delivers. I also like the interweaving of the two narratives, the introduction of several mysteries, both past and present, and the rising suspense as the two become intertwined.

But unlike the last Lisa Wingate novel I read (The Prayer Box, which I unreservedly enjoyed), I have mixed reactions on this one. For me, the story went off-track when it began to stretch my credibility. I got the sense that the author was playing a game of what-if, with each new plot twist becoming more and more unlikely. Possible? Absolutely. Believable? Um, not really. Not to me, anyway.

That said, if you like romance threaded with suspense, past/present narratives, and if you’re game for an adventure and are prepared to follow where led, you’re likely to enjoy this latest offering from one of the most prolific and winsome inspirational writers around.

Thanks to Bethany House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: Have you noticed the number of dual-narrative, past/present novels published in the last year or two? Really, how could you not? Orphan Train, The Girl You Left Behind, The Pieces We Keep, The Firebird and Lighthouse Bay are just a handful that come to mind. What do you think of this publishing trend? Like it? Ready to see it end? 

I have one copy of Wildwood Creek up for grabs today. Leave a comment and your name will be entered in a drawing to win it. Refer a friend, and your name will be entered twice. (Just let me know you referred someone, either in a comment or by dropping me a line at katherine.scott.jones@gmail.com.) Good luck!

On a slightly related note, the ECPA recently announced their finalists for 2014, which includes Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box, and Heather Kopp’s Sober Mercies–both of which, you may recall, made it onto my short list of 13 Faves of 2013. Click here to see what other books you may have missed last year that need to make it onto your TBR pile in 2014.

Raw Faith, book review

Raw Faith, book reviewWhat happens when God picks a fight?

Raw Faith by Kasey Van Norman

About this book: As a respected Bible teacher, Kasey Van Norman had dedicated her life to sharing God’s Word and encouraging women to trust in God during times of crisis. Then, just as her ministry was poised to explode, Kasey was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that shattered her spirit and rocked her faith to its core. Sick, frightened, and in pain, Kasey suddenly found herself facing the greatest challenge of her life—believing her own message.

In Raw Faith, Kasey chronicles her courageous battle with cancer, taking readers on a candid and poignant journey of faith and discovery, from the depths of despair through triumphant victory.

Drawing on a variety of Bible stories and characters, Kasey discovers and distills the singular truth that has existed since time began: while change and uncertainty are inevitable, God is always unchanging, and He is always faithful—even when our circumstances might tempt us to think otherwise.

About the author: (excerpted from Tyndale Media Center) In Kasey Van Norman’s 2012 book and Bible study series, Named by God, she opens up about her past abuse, traumatic rape, promiscuous teen years, her extramarital affair, and attempted suicide, culminating in a heroic rescue by Jesus—pointing to his restoration of her marriage and life. In Raw Faith—What Happens When God Picks a Fight, she chronicles her battle with incurable cancer and her struggle to believe her own message of faith amidst such pain. Kasey’s passion is teaching others the power of their story. [Aside from me: Yes!]

Kasey makes her home on the US mission field. Along with husband Justin and their two children, Kasey works and lives each day on the largest working rescue ranch in the United States. As a child rescue agent for Still Creek Ranch in Bryan, TX, Kasey helps rescue minors from abuse, neglect, and human trafficking.

Kasey is a licensed professional counselor with earned degrees in psychology, public speaking, counseling, and biblical studies. Kasey founded KVM (Kasey Van Norman Ministries) in 2010.

[Another aside from me: to get the full scoop, you really need to check out her story on her website. I got so sucked into her captivating bio that I let the broccoli burn.]

Genre: Non-fiction/Christian Living/Cancer

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Sure, if I was in the market for a book on this topic.  

Reminds me of… Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp. Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you or someone you know is struggling to hold onto their faith in the midst of difficult circumstances–perhaps, especially, cancer.

Why did I read this book? For Tyndale for review.

Would I read another by this author? Oh yes. This book and her website make me eager to get my hands on her first book, Named by God. And she hints that she has a few other stories needing to be told. Fingers crossed that she gets the chance to tell them.

My take: When a book begins with “I did not want to write this book,” you kinda know it’s going to be a difficult read. And it was. Not because it was poorly written. On the contrary, Raw Faith is a beautifully written book, filled with glimpses into the author’s personal journal, which are no more heartfelt–and heartrending–than the rest of her writing. She refers often to the stories of the Bible and fills her pages not only with gut-wrenching honesty but with hope.

Nonetheless–it’s tough. It’s tough to read about another human being’s deep suffering. It’s perhaps tougher still when the author says that her suffering could well be the reader’s own. She states that a crisis of faith must come to nearly every Christian. That it’s not a question of if, but when.

However. What she offers women going through a situation similar to hers–whether it’s cancer, or the loss of a loved one, or an unrequited dream or romance–is compassion. And truth. And, yes, hope before always circling back to the Father’s unfailing love. His showing up–and showing off–at the lowest points of our lives.

So no, it was not an easy read–but it was a powerful one, one which could quite possibly be the answer to prayer for many who, like the author herself, long desperately to find purpose in their suffering–and whose faith seems at times to be enduring by only the slimmest thread.

Thanks to Tyndale House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Now your turn: I’m curious…is this the kind of book you could give as a gift to a friend who you think might benefit? Or would that be overstepping? Is it instead a type of book that you need to discover and choose for yourself? Let me hear from you–I really would like to know what you think. 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, book review

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, book reviewWe are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

About this book: A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island–from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight–an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.

About the author: (excerpted from the author’s website) Of all her books, Gabrielle Zevin is probably best known for the young adult novel Elsewhere, which has been translated into over 20 languages. She is also the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart) for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. Zevin is a graduate of Harvard University. After many years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she recently moved to Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

Genre: Fiction/General

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? No, although I will say it captures the feel of the book.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for occasional profanity and some sensuality (not graphic)

Reminds me of… The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you love the world of books and booksellers.

Why did I read this book? As a She Reads blogger. Read what other reviewers are saying here.

Would I read another by this author? If someone told me I should, yes.

My take: I don’t think I’ve ever been at a greater loss in trying to describe a novel. Parts of it read like a memoir, others like a chick-lit novel, yet others a mystery. Everything about it is quirky, whimsical and outside-the-box. By far it is the most off-center She Reads book club pick to date.

Did I like it? I did–more so as I got into it. It was a quick read, which I swallowed in several large gulps over the span of a single weekend. Would I recommend it? Well, yes. But I might be a bit harder pressed to guarantee that you will like it too.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is ultimately a novel about people connecting with people connecting with books. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re probably someone who likes making those kinds of connections (unless you’re my mother, who mostly just likes me :) ). I would say then that if you’re looking for something altogether fresh and a little eccentric, you might find this one to be just the ticket.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Be sure to swing by She Reads this week for your chance to pick up a copy of the book.


Dancing with Fireflies, book review & giveaway

Dancing with Fireflies, book review & giveawayJade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.

Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter

About this book: Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt.” Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

About the author: (excerpted from Litfuse Publicity) Denise Hunter is an internationally published, award-winning, best-selling author. She began writing (while her children napped) after the death of her grandfather. Her book was published two years later, and she’s been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all of her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps, too. She and her husband have three children. Find out more about the author at www.denisehunterbooks.com.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Romance

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? If I was in the mood for a romance, absolutely.

 If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. Contains mature material (e.g., date rape), but sensitively handled, mostly off-screen.

Reminds me of… Beth Wiseman (contemporary)

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoyed Barefoot Summer, book 1 of Denise Hunter’s Chapel Springs Romance series; if you love a good, wholesome, inspirational romance in general. Read what other reviewers are saying here.

Why did I read this book? As a Litfuse blogger, for Thomas Nelson for review

Would I read another by this author? I’m officially hooked.

My take: I’m discovering that I really like a Denise Hunter romance–a Chapel Springs Romance, especially. Which surprises me because, as I’ve noted often enough, I’m not generally a straight-up romance kind of gal. I love romance, yes, and love to find it embedded in other genres. But a romance novel for the sake of romance? Not so much.

Denise Hunter, however, is turning me into a believer.

I like how she doesn’t decorate her prose with anything fancy. Instead, she gets straight to the heart of the story–and in her hands, that’s a delightful place to be. Her characters are winsome, her settings charming. I find her dialogue to be particularly pitch-perfect: snappy and real and sometimes funny–but not too funny, enhancing without distracting. It doesn’t get in the way of the story. (There was one line, especially, that kept me smiling for days.)

In this novel, I question just one thing: in the opening scene, Jade becomes the victim of date rape by an almost-stranger. Unwanted pregnancy ensues. Both of which, in any young woman’s life, would be highly traumatic events. But in the following chapters, we don’t see a whole lot of terrible emotional upheaval. In time, the subject is addressed and dealt with, but it still lacks a high emotional charge. This might stretch some readers’ credibility. Nonetheless, the way it is handled here is in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book (and the series), and in my opinion, the author manages to pull it off.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Join Denise in celebrating the release of Dancing with Fireflies by entering her Kindle HDX giveaway and RSVPing for her April 10th Facebook party.


One winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Dancing with Fireflies and Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 10th. Winner will be announced at the Dancing with Fireflies Facebook Party on April 10th. Connect with Denise for an evening of prizes, book chat, and an exclusive look at the next book in the series.

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN on the event page. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 10th!

The Queen’s Handmaid, book review & giveaway

The Queen's Handmaid, book review & giveawayFrom the servant halls of Cleopatra’s Egyptian palace to the courts of Herod the Great, Lydia will serve two queens to see prophecy fulfilled.

The Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

About this book: Alexandria, Egypt 39 BC. Orphaned at birth, Lydia was raised as a servant in Cleopatra’s palace, working hard to please while keeping everyone at arm’s length. She’s been rejected and left with a broken heart too many times in her short life.

But then her dying mentor entrusts her with secret writings of the prophet Daniel and charges her to deliver this vital information to those watching for the promised King of Israel. Lydia must leave the nearest thing she’s had to family and flee to Jerusalem. Once in the Holy City, she attaches herself to the newly appointed king, Herod the Great, as handmaid to Queen Mariamme.

Trapped among the scheming women of Herod’s political family—his sister, his wife, and their mothers—and forced to serve in the palace to protect her treasure, Lydia must deliver the scrolls before dark forces warring against the truth destroy all hope of the coming Messiah.

About the author: (excerpted from Litfuse Publicity) Tracy L. Higley has authored many novels, including Garden of Madness and So Shines the Night. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient History and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures. See her travel journals and more at tracyhigley.com.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Historical

Would I read this book, judging by its cover alone? Yes. The beautiful cover, plus the intriguing premise, induced me to give it a try.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. Depictions of  violence and sensuality common to the era, none of them graphic.

Reminds me of… The Thief by Stephanie Landsem

You may want to buy this book if … you enjoy reading inspirational fiction based on ancient historical fact. See what other reviewers are saying here.

Why did I read this book? As a Litfuse blogger, for Thomas Nelson for review

Would I read another by this author? Based solely on this book, probably not; but I wouldn’t say never.

My take: Here is my review, which I offer almost as a confession: I was simply not able to get into this book. I wish I could have. Its premise intrigues me deeply, and I generally like the fictionalized exploration of real, ancient figures and places.  What’s more, I feel I should have enjoyed this book.  Respected voices in Christian ancient-historical fiction are among its endorsers. Tosca Lee, for example, whose praise appears on the cover: “Higley knows her history…and knows just how to capture the struggles and questions of the human heart–yesterday and today.” In addition, the publisher is one of my faves–most novels published by Thomas Nelson hit my mark. And Higley is a well-established author with a consistent track record for successful novels of this kind. I certainly do give her kudos for her thorough research and imaginative insights into a time and place far away.

And yet…somehow I wasn’t captured. For whatever reason, Lydia, the main character, did not claim my sympathies. I felt the prose lacked nuance, and the characters acted and reacted in ways that were either too expected or too incredible. In her author’s note at the end of the book, Higley observes that this novel has been her “most ambitious to date, both in scope and in the amount of historical fact wedged between the lines of fiction.” This may be the culprit for my inability to connect. Too often, I felt  the dialogue or narrative was too explanatory and not centered on the heart of the story.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Tracy L. Higley is celebrating the release of The Queen’s Handmaid with a fun giveaway.

Retailers + Resources gave it this glowing review: “Rich in historic detail, Higley’s vivid writing brings to life the plots and intrigues that swirled through the ancient world as alliances were built and broken on the calculated schemes of power-mad monarchs.” 

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 19th. Winner will be announced April 21st on Tracy’s blog.

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Tracy’s blog on April 21st to see if you won.


It Had to Be You, book review & giveaway

It Had to Be You, book review & giveawayCome home to the Christiansens’, where faith and family meet real life.

It Had to Be You by Susan May Warren

About this book: Eden Christiansen never imagined her role as her younger brother Owen’s cheerleader would keep her on the sidelines of her own life. Sure, it feels good to be needed, but looking after the reckless NHL rookie leaves little time for Eden to focus on her own career. She dreamed of making a name for herself as a reporter, but is stuck writing obits—and starting to fear she doesn’t have the chops to land a major story. If only someone would step up to mentor Owen . . . but she knows better than to expect help from team veteran and bad-boy enforcer Jace Jacobsen.

Jace has built his career on the infamous reputation of his aggressive behavior—on and off the ice. Now at a crossroads about his future in hockey, that reputation has him trapped. And the guilt-trip he’s getting from Eden Christiansen isn’t making things any easier. But when Owen’s carelessness leads to a career-threatening injury and Eden stumbles upon a story that could be her big break, she and Jace are thrown together . . . and begin to wonder if they belong on the same team after all.

About the author: (excerpted from Litfuse Publicity) Susan May Warren is the bestselling author of more than forty novels. She served with her husband and four children as a missionary in Russia for eight years before she and her family returned home to the States. She now writes full-time as her husband runs a lodge on Lake Superior in northern Minnesota, where many of her books are set. She and her family enjoy hiking, canoeing, and being involved in their local church. In addition to her writing, Susan loves to teach and speak at women’s events about God’s amazing grace in our lives. She also runs a writing community for authors. Visit MyBookTherapy.com to learn more. You can also visit her online at susanmaywarren.com.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Romance

Would I read this book judging on its cover alone? Maybe. I think it’s attractively done, and appropriate for the story, but since I’m not a huge romance genre fan, I’m not sure it would have drawn me in.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G. Completely family friendly. 

Reminds me of… Denise Hunter

You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re a romance lover and a hockey fan. And bonus! This edition includes a novella of the series prequel, I Really Do Miss Your Smile– “the love story that started it all.” See what other reviewers are saying here.

Why did I read this book? As a Litfuse blogger, for Tyndale for review.

Would I read another by this author? I have long admired this prolific writer and would likely say yes to anything she writes.

My take: Susan May Warren had me at hockey. As a hockey mom myself, the fact that this sport is featured at the center of this romance was an enormously fun part of it for me. But you don’t have to know hockey to enjoy this book; fans of any team sport will find much to appreciate.

What else did I like? The wintry, north Minnesota setting–with several forays into Deep Haven, the site of another of Warren’s series. She is a prolific novelist and consummate storyteller, and the woman knows how to write romance. If I had to complain about something, it would be to speed up the romance a bit–the two main characters seemed to spend an awfully long time not liking each other before they finally did–but I take that more as my own fault. I’m an impatient reader. I did like how Warren skillfully weaves two other subplots, plus a strong faith message, into her main story-line–the culmination of which makes for a particularly satisfying ending.

I’ve not read the first of this series, but judging from this novel, I’d say the series tagline is appropriate. Reading It Had to Be You felt a lot like coming home.

Thanks to Tyndale for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Now your turn: If you were to write a story centered around a particular sport, which would it be?

Susan May Warren is celebrating the release of her newest Christiansen Family novel, It Had To Be You, with a $100 Visa cash card giveaway and offering readers a free book club kit.


One winner will receive:

  • $100 Visa cash card
  • Take a Chance on Me and It Had to Be You by Susan May Warren

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 29th. Winner will be announced April 1st on Susan’s blog. Also, visit her website to learn more about the It Had To Be You backstory and Susan’s free book club kit.

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Susan’s blog on April 1st to see if you won.

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, book review

Mr. Owita's Guide to Gardening, book reviewA true story of a unique friendship between two people who had nothing–and ultimately everything–in common.

Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall

About this book: Carol Wall, a white woman living in a lily-white neighborhood in Middle America, was at a crossroads in her life. Her children were grown; she had successfully overcome illness; her beloved parents were getting older. One day she notices a dark-skinned African man tending her neighbor’s yard. His name is Giles Owita. He bags groceries at the supermarket. He comes from Kenya. And he’s very good at gardening.

 Before long Giles is transforming not only Carol’s yard, but her life. Though they are seemingly quite different, a caring bond grows between them. But they both hold long-buried secrets that, when revealed, will cement their friendship forever.

About the author: (from her website) A graduate of Peabody College for Teachers at Vanderbilt University, Carol has taught high school English in both public and private schools in Tennessee and Virginia. Carol Wall’s articles and essays centering on family life have been popular features in publications such as Southern Living Magazine and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than twenty years. An accomplished public speaker, Carol served as Writer-in-Residence for Roanoke County Schools, where high school audiences learned to look forward to her entertaining and engaging presentations. She and her husband have three grown children, three granddaughters, and a grandson. They make their home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Carol has been battling Stage 4 breast cancer since 2008.

Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir

Judge this book by its cover? Is this memoir as warm and homey as it’s cover implies? Yes.

Reminds me of… shades of Driving Miss Daisy

You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re eager to welcome spring and want a book that speaks as much to the head as to the heart. Will also appeal to gardeners and wannabes.

Why did I read this book? For Amy Einhorn Books for review.

A word about the publisher: “Dear Book Lover, [writes Amy Einhorn at AmyEinhornBooks.com] Welcome to the Amy Einhorn Books website. I always want my imprint to publish the kinds of books I myself want to read. At times that might mean something literary, it might mean a great page-turner, often it’s something in between.”

Couldn’t say it better myself. It also explains why I have so far really, really liked every book put in front of me by Amy Einhorn & co. Apparently their tastes run very similar to mine: often literary, sometimes edgy, always thoughtful. They’re onto something over there, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Would I read another by this author? Absolutely. Reading Carol Wall’s prose is like stirring honey with a warm spoon–effortless.

My take: Written with impressive humility, Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a grace-filled story of friendship and forgiveness–and eternal truths found where we least expect them. It illuminated a couple of nooks and crannies in my own life that I didn’t realize needed lighting, and opened up new possibilities in at least one relationship I’ve been struggling with.

One part of this story that really found purchase was the way Wall wove a bit of mystery into her narrative. It becomes clear fairly early on that despite his contagious joie de vivre, Giles and his wife hide a secret. Wall skillfully draws out the suspense, weaving this thread into darker reflections from her own past, until all is revealed at just the right moment.

Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening is at once deeply personal yet extravagantly universal, with a twist of an ending I didn’t see coming. All in all, a gem of a book–the perfect read for welcoming spring–both into our world and within our hearts.

Thanks to Amy Einhorn Books for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Now your turn: What book would you recommend for welcoming spring?

Love Idol, book review

Love Idol, book review“Hi, I’m Jennifer. I know we’ve just met, but already…I want you to like me.”

Love Idol: Letting go of your need for approval–and seeing yourself through God’s eyes by Jennifer Dukes Lee

About this book: We all want someone to think we’re sensational. We desire to be recognized, to be valued, to be respected. To be loved. Yet this natural yearning too often turns into an idol of one of God’s most precious gifts: love itself. If you, like so many of us, spend your time and energy trying to earn someone’s approval—at work, home, and church—all the while fearing that, at any moment, the facade will drop and everyone will see your hidden mess . . . then love may have become an idol in your life. In this poignant and hope-filled book, Jennifer Dukes Lee shares her own lifelong journey of learning to rely on the unconditional love of God. She gently invites us to make peace with our imperfections and to stop working overtime for a love that is already ours. Love Idol will help us dismantle what’s separating us from true connection with God and rediscover the astonishing joy of a life full of freedom in Christ.

About the author: (from Tyndale) Jennifer Dukes Lee used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters as an award-winning news journalist. Now Jennifer uses her reporting skills to chase after the biggest scoop in history: the redemptive story of Christ. She and her husband, Scott, met while attending Iowa State University in Ames. They returned to the Lee family’s century-old farm near Inwood, Iowa, in 2002. They have two daughters, Lydia and Anna.

Genre: Non-fiction/Christian Life/Women

Judge this book by its cover? Its appealing and feminine imagery appropriately hints at the topic at hand: self-image. 

Reminds me of… Sober Mercies 

You’ll want to buy this book if … Oh my…who wouldn’t? So far as I can tell, every woman on the planet struggles with insecurity at some point in her life (if not all her life). And if you’re a woman who happens to have a daughter–well,  then the stakes are even higher. I’d go so far as to say this is a must-read just about every Christian woman out there.

Why did I read this book? For Tyndale for review

Would I read another by this author? Anytime.

My take: Diving into the pages of Love Idol was for me like sinking into the depths of my favorite overstuffed chair and pulling the cushy folds of a blanket up snug around my neck. Its wisdom made my soul say “Ahhhh” in relief and gratitude because its message is one that I, like so many, need to hear. And the reason this book is important is that many of us may not even realize we do.

Jennifer (after reading her book, I feel I may presume to call her by her first name) casts herself as a once-ambitious reporter covering breaking national news who now embraces her identity as a humble yet happy farmer’s wife. Quoting Timothy Keller, she writes, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘if I have that, then I’ll feel my like has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

Within these pages, she invites readers to accompany her on her journey of tracing her value to its Source, sharing her pain and struggle on her way to finding healing and grace, in the hopes that we may find it too.

If I had to choose a passage that meant the most to me, it would be one on page 149 (shortly following that Timothy Keller quote). First she refers to the apostle Paul, who wrote, “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated…by any human authority…” (1 Corinthians 4:3, emphasis hers). Then Jennifer continues, “When you and I no longer rely on praise or approval for our performance, we find new freedom: We can enjoy affirmation without craving it. Because it has lost our grip on us.”

Do you see what I mean? Ahhhh.

I do admit I would have liked a few more details regarding her husband’s journey–he who apparently forsook his own ambitions to return to his humbler farming roots. He proves to be such a solid source of wisdom and peace for Jennifer, I’d like to know how he got there himself. As it is, his trajectory is only hinted at.

Jennifer’s story ultimately leads to the conclusion of what it’s all about: letting go of our need for human approval in its many guises, allowing ourselves to be freely and unconditionally loved by the extravagantly generous God who created us. And not just so that we can feel better about ourselves, but so that we can, without reservation, respond to His invitation to be His hands and feet in our communities and our very hurting world.

All told, Jennifer’s story found remarkable resonance with mine. And, after reading hers, I find that my own has been changed…or perhaps, more accurately, is changing. Which is again one of Jennifer’s messages. We are all works in progress–and there is great joy and hope in knowing this to be true.

Thanks to Tyndale House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Jennifer has so much more to offer than just her book. She is also passionate about sharing the Good News through story. She invites you to join her on her blog at www.JenniferDukesLee.com and also at www.TheHighCalling.org, where she serves as a contributing editor.