Monthly Archives: May 2015

In Firefly Valley by Amanda Cabot

Marisa St. George moves back home to Dupree, Texas, after a job loss and financial ruin force her to accept a position at Rainbow’s End resort. She is not pleased to be back in the place where too many memories of her childhood as the daughter of the town drunk exist. However, she finds a friend in the resort’s only guest, Blake Kendall, which soon has her believing in true love and happy endings once more. But Blake harbors his own secrets that could potentially destroy any relationship between them.

There were definitely positive themes about forgiveness and moving forward in this book, which I appreciated and respected. However, I did not become overly fond of the characters and did not connect with them very well. Certain aspects of the story were sweet, but I did not care for Marisa’s judgmental attitude, regardless of the fact that she was dealing with her own share of burdens from her past. I also did not like the annoying perfection of Blake and his money near the end of the book. I honestly enjoyed the subplot better than the main characters. I did appreciate the peaceful setting of the book, however, and perhaps other readers will enjoy the characters more that I did.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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As Love Blooms by Lorna Seilstad

Tessa Gregory simply wants to be taken seriously by her sisters over her pursuit of horticulture. She therefore attempts to secure a position as a gardener for the prestigious Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. But since women are not openly accepted in this field in the early twentieth century, Tessa has to first prove herself worthy of the job. She enlists the help of gardener Reese King, who is looking for the creative spirit that Tessa possesses. The two of them must work together to accomplish their own needs, but perhaps love has a different plan for the summer

This novel contains interesting history, no doubt researched thoroughly by the author, including mentions of various inventions, events, and buildings from the time period.   The story has sweet moments amid a backdrop of interesting plants with colors and scents that are easy to imagine, but the story lacked something for me. The characters did not have much depth and the relationship between them introduced romance much too quickly to be very believable. The light tone and superficial nature of each individual did not allow me to get into the book as much as I wanted to. Nevertheless, the twist at the end of the story adds an interesting element. A bit too simple for my taste, but I am sure it can easily be enjoyed by other romance readers.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade

Lyndie James relocates with her family back to Holley, Texas, after living in southern California for twenty years. She immediately seeks out her childhood best friend, Jake Porter, for a position to exercise his Thoroughbreds. But Lyndie is surprised to discover that the once happy boy she remembers from childhood has become a depressed, dark, scarred man dealing with PTSD after several tours in the Middle East. Determined to break down the walls Jake has built to shut out all those who love him, she attempts to bring laughter and joy into every aspect of his life. But Jake’s fears prevent him from accepting all that Lyndie has to offer, causing them both to realize once again that only God can truly heal all their pain.

I am not usually one to cry at novels. But this book dealt with such heartfelt, deep, emotional situations that I found myself becoming teary eyed more than once. And I do not mean the occasional tear that is easily swiped away with one finger, but the kind of weeping that requires a box of tissues and the privacy of your own home to sob in peace. Usually, when a book makes you cry, even a well-written one, you still walk away feeling a tad depressed and out of sorts. Not so with this novel. Becky Wade did a phenomenal job of crafting a story that truly and fully put the goodness of God at the very center of every theme, and not in a way that was superficial or forced. PTSD is not an easy disorder to discuss, much less write an entire book about, but Ms. Wade blew me away with her accurate details about the condition and the hope that can exist for those who struggle with it. And I absolutely loved each and every one of the characters: their flaws, their optimism, their banter, their joys, their sorrows, and their relationships, both with each other and with God. Ms. Wade also introduces a character with cerebral palsy, another difficult condition, which accurately reflected how a chronic illness could affect an entire family in so many ways.

Least you think this novel was all tears, however, I must say that the dialogue between characters and the adorable thoughts of Lyndie created a novel with a surprising amount of optimism, spunk, and joy. The friendship of Lyndie and Jake, a glimpse of which is introduced during their childhood in the prologue, is special and explains Lyndie’s full resoluteness in helping Jake. In addition, Lyndie is perhaps one of the most creative people I have ever read about. The author’s ability to craft such unique and artistic aspects to Lyndie’s life is truly commendable. I also loved the parallelism between the heart of the racehorses and Lyndie’s desire to heal Jake’s broken spirit.

I also thought this cover was not only undeniably beautiful, but was perfectly how I imagined the characters would look like and how they would interact. Perhaps you cannot completely judge a book by its cover, but this one only made a wonderful novel even better.

This novel is, in a nutshell, absolutely perfect. I completely adored the spunky, moody, and thoughtful characters, each one so unique and yet so able to effortlessly interact with one another. Lyndie’s bright outlook on life despite her past trials and Jake’s brokenness create a masterful relationship that is interesting, unique, emotional, and genuinely true. The real feelings and real struggles were relatable and enjoyable. I became part of the characters’ lives and by the end, I wished I could simply call them up and go out for dinner together. The book contains so many deep spiritual themes that can be applied to my own life despite very different circumstances. With charming and engaging dialogue and incredibly deep character developments, this book flows impeccably from beginning to end. I truly cannot recommend this novel enough. It deserves even more than five stars!

I could go on and on about why you should read this book and how much I loved it. But I think the true joy of the novel is discovering the characters as I did. I hope you pick this one up, settle into your own Throne of Dreams (Lyndie’s favorite reading chair), and enjoy it over and over again.

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

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An Interview with Tamera Alexander about To Win Her Favor!

For those who have already seen my recent review of Tamera’s newest novel, To Win Her Favor (to be released on May 12th), you may already be familiar with her fantastic new release.  But here is a fun interview with the author herself on her ambition behind writing this newest novel.  Enjoy!

Q: To Win Her Favor is the second in your Belle Meade Plantation series. Can you tell us where the story picks up in the series? Is it directly connected to the first book?

Each of the Belle Meade Plantation novels are standalone novels, so each tells a complete story. However, you might just catch a glimpse <wink> of Ridley and Olivia from To Whisper Her Name in To Win Her Favor (releasing May 12, 2015). But Cullen and Maggie’s story definitely takes center stage in To Win Her Favor, the second of three novels in the Belle Meade Plantation series.

Coming in July is a Belle Meade Plantation novella—To Mend a Dream. To Mend a Dream continues the story of a secondary character we meet in To Win Her Favor, Savannah Darby. Savannah is Maggie’s closest friend and while we learn about Savannah’s struggles in To Win Her Favor, the culmination of her story is told in To Mend a Dream, a novella in a Southern novella collection entitled, Among the Fair Magnolias (written with authors Shelley Shepard Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser).

You are a resident of Nashville, which is a city rich with culture and history. Is this why you chose to set your series there? 

I’ve always had a love of history. Southern history, specifically. Being from Atlanta, I grew up around antebellum homes, so when I was in Nashville on a business trip in 2004 with my daughter, we toured the Belmont Mansion, and I knew then I wanted to someday write about Belmont’s fascinating history (A Lasting Impression and A Beauty So Rare). Likewise, when I learned about Belle Meade’s thoroughbred legacy, the ideas started coming (for To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor). I’m honored to write about these two Nashville estates and their real history. It never gets old for me.

How many times did you visit the actual Belle Meade Plantation while writing this book?

Oh gracious, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been out there (Belle Meade is only 25 minutes from my house). Just two weeks ago, I met a book club of about 30 women at Belle Meade. They were from Alabama, having a girl’s weekend out! After they toured the mansion, we walked down to the old Harding cabin, one of my favorite places at Belle Meade, and where Belle Meade all began. No visit to Belle Meade is complete for me without stopping by that cabin. It has such a presence about it.

I’m grateful to Belle Meade’s director, Alton Kelley (a descendant of the Harding family who owned Belle Meade in the 1800s) and to Jenny Lamb (Belle Meade Educational Director) for opening up the family files, letters, and artifacts to me. I couldn’t write these books with such historical detail about the house, the family members, and the servants without Belle Meade’s assistance.

How much of the novel is based on actual events and how much is from your imagination?

The backdrop of the novel—Nashville’s history, the Belle Meade mansion, outbuildings of the estate, the family members, and most of the servants at Belle Meade—are from history. I often take documented historical events—such as parties, horse races, or catastrophic occurrences—and weave them into the fabric of my stories. Then I intertwine a fictional story that follows the journey of a male and female protagonist within that story world. In To Win Her Favor, that’s Cullen McGrath and Maggie Linden.

The basis for Cullen’s character is founded in the history of Irishmen who came to Nashville in the 1850-70s, and who faced very real prejudice from Nashville residents. Likewise, Maggie’s character was inspired by accounts of women who were formerly landed gentry (from wealthy families who were major land owners) but who lost everything following the war and the changes that conflict brought. The rest of the details are filled in by asking myself the question writers constantly ask themselves, “What if…”

How was this book different from other projects you have worked on?

To Win Her Favor is definitely one of the more passionate stories I’ve written, and I don’t mean that solely in a romantic sense. From the start, this story was simply more evocative because it delves into the intimacies of a marriage of convenience, and also explores prejudice within a marriage—in addition to examining the prejudices between former slave owners and former slaves. Passions run high between the characters in To Win Her Favor. Everyone was learning how to be with each other in that time period, learning where the new boundaries were, where everyone fit.

As I read and researched for To Win Her Favor, I often found my own emotions stirred by real events that occurred in Nashville during Reconstruction. At times, the accounts were repugnant and heartbreaking. Yet at others, they were remarkably soul stirring with fresh whispers of hope.

View vignettes filmed on location at Belle Meade Plantation, the setting of To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor, on the Belle Meade Plantation novels page on Tamera’s website.

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No Place to Hide by Lynette Eason

Jackie Sellers does not believe her childhood friend is a terrorist. So when she sees Ian’s face splashed on the news, she immediately goes to him for answers. But this decision only drags her into a mess of determined terrorists, resolute FBI agents, and concerned family and friends. Ian Lockwood simply wants to clear his name, but he knows the authorities will not believe his story. Accepting Jackie’s help may be his only option, even if it means putting both of them in grave danger and on the run for their lives.

This novel has non-stop action from page one. However, it certainly requires every once of your attention since there are about ten different points of view in the first few chapters, each one introducing a different set of characters and a new scenario. It can be a tad frustrating until the plots begin to interconnect in a creative way further into the book. The story is definitely multifaceted and interesting, but the romance and spiritual messages intertwined throughout the story feel forced and almost like they were a second thought tacked onto the more exciting aspects of the story. The constant action perhaps took away from the development of the characters on a deeper level. Overall, however, the twists and turns created a thrilling novel that is recommended to those who enjoy non-stop action from start to finish.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander

Maggie Linden has only one dream: to run her prize thoroughbred Bourbon Belle in a high stakes race, the winner being guaranteed a fat purse and notability among Nashville’s finest. However, financial strain has made horse racing difficult for her and her father, an ailing gentleman whose health is declining rapidly. Desperate to escape a horse racing scandal in England, Irish-born Cullen McGrath arrives in Nashville and desires to purchase a peaceful farm. But Southern prejudices against his people abound in the post-Civil War era, making his task nearly impossible. When he stumbles upon Linden Downs and meets Maggie’s father, however, he finds the kind man’s welcoming nature to be a sweet relief. But Mr. Linden’s daughter is much less receiving. As circumstances thrust them together, it may take all Cullen’s strength to win Maggie’s favor and fulfill their dreams in a country healing from a recent war.

Tamera Alexander is a long-time favorite author of mine because she is able to craft the most wonderful characters and create a truly fantastic depth to their personalities, struggles, and joys. I am able to get to know them and understand them on such a complex level. This novel is no exception! The romance in this particular story is unique as the characters are in a different situation than some of her other books, but this only added a richer dimension to the plot. I loved reading how the characters grew and changed throughout the book. In addition, there is lots of great Nashville history, a few cameo appearances from her other books, and a fantastic plot to round out this delightful book. A highly recommended novel!

I received a copy of this book from Zondervan Publishers and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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From the Start by Melissa Tagg

Both Kate Walker and Colton Greene are at a crossroads in their lives. Kate is dissatisfied with her career as a writer for romantic screenplays since her own love life is in shambles. And Colton’s most recent football injury is a career ender. So when both decide to journey to small town Iowa to help out family and friends, they find an unlikely friendship in their similarities. An unexpected project then suddenly provides a new opportunity for both of them, but this could mean putting a new dream on hold for Kate and facing past demons for Colton. Both must learn to take a leap of faith and trust God to handle the details as they pursue a new direction in their lives, one that they never even dreamed of considering.

Small town Maple Valley in the fall is the perfect setting for a modern contemporary romance. Kate and Colton are both lovable characters and each possess a depth in personality that makes the story interesting and enjoyable. Melissa Tagg does a wonderful job writing with creative and descriptive sentences and realistic and charming dialogue that keeps the plot moving along at a comfortable pace. The storyline was perhaps a bit predictable, but all good romance stories are, and the novel was still overall very enjoyable to read. A recommended contemporary fiction book with sweet moments and fun scenes!

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

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