Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christian Fiction Favorites of 2017!

Here are my favorite Christian fiction releases of 2017, In order of time period:
An Inconvenient Beauty (Hawthorne House, #4) Lady Jayne Disappears Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1)
An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House); Hawthorne House, book 4. Both funny and poignant, the book is another marvelous regency era tale.

Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano (Revell). A different sort of tale than usual, mysterious, with hints of Dickens and a different period of British history than we generally see (1860's).

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings (Bethany House); Fort Reno, book 1. Delightfully sweet and funny, while taking place in one of America's historical frontier forts (1880's).
Out of the Ordinary (Apart From the Crowd #2) Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station, #2) A Dangerous Legacy (Empire State, #1)
Out of the Ordinary by Jen Turano (Bethany House); Apart from the Crowd, book 2. I laughed so hard when I read this book. I always think Jen Turano is funny, but this might be the funniest yet. (1880's)

Heart on the Line by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House); Ladies of Harper's Station, book 2. The geeky telegrapher saves the saves the day (and wins the girl)! Sweet, funny, and a delight to read. (1890's)

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House); Empire State, book 1. Smart characters who make the most of their intelligence! Not to mention, the story is clever and suspenseful, with some wonderfully unexpected turns. (1900's)
A Name Unknown (Shadows Over England, #1) The Illusionist's Apprentice When Tides Turn (Waves of Freedom, #3)
A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House); Shadows Over England, book 1. A thief who hates books is forced to masquerade as a librarian for the job--what could be more fun? (WWI)

The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron (Thomas Nelson). A spectacular jazz-age mystery where so little is precisely how it it appears. (1920's)

When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin (Revell); Waves of Freedom, book 3. I love the author's attention to WWII history, but this is one of my favorites yet for wonderful characters and intriguing plot.

True to You (Bradford Sisters Romance, #1) The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck
True to You by Becky Wade (Bethany House); Bradford Sisters Romance, book 1. Sweet, funny, and poignant. With a much bigger--and harder--problem to overcome than I ever would have guessed.

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner (Revell). About an erotic romance writer who meets Jesus and falls in love with her pastor; it was incredibly funny, but also rather pointed and sadly true about aspects of church life.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Melissa Tagg's "One Enchanted Noël"

One Enchanted Noël (Enchanted Christmas Collection #3)Melissa Tagg rounds off her Enchanted Christmas collection with "One Enchanted Noël," about the final Renwycke sibling, Leigh--a woman who has made a lot of mistakes and knows everyone, including her own daughter, is just waiting for the next relapse. When Seb Pierce applied to his grandfather for a loan, he didn't expect a year of month-long jobs revitalizing businesses in exchange for an inheritance rather than a loan. His latest job takes him to Maple Valley, IA where he is in charge of renovating the town's movie theater and preparing a reopening event in less than three weeks. The short turnaround time is a shock, but even more so the sight of Leigh, a woman he met years ago--even if she doesn't remember him. Leigh's desire to become an event planner gets her hired on for the opening event of the theater, and she's thrilled for a chance to start over with someone who doesn't know every detail of her sordid past. But starting over may not be as easy as she hoped when she learns the truth about Seb.

It's nice to see Leigh make progress in her life. After so many self-inflicted problems, she's finally on the right path. If only people would trust her to keep on it. I can understand her frustration that every time some little thing goes wrong, everyone--especially her own family--assumes she's on the verge of a relapse. In spite of the heavy details about Leigh's past, I'm impressed by the author's ability to maintain her characteristic humor, while not lessening the impact of Leigh's choices.

I enjoy how the author ties together these stories with her Walker Family ones--not that the Walkers play much a role, but if a new thing appears in a Walker book, it frequently makes an appearance here--such as the horse ranch that is being revitalized in All This Time, just in time for some Maple Valley Christmas shenanigans in this one.

With the conclusion of the Enchanted Christmas Collection, could this be the very last Maple Valley story? I hope not! The quirky town has easily become one of my favorite fictional places.

Enchanted Christmas Collection (now together in the omnibus Enchanted: A Christmas Collection)
1. One Enchanted Christmas
2. One Enchanted Eve
3. One Enchanted Noël

Related Series: Walker Family
0.5: "Three Little Words"
1. From the Start
2. Like Never Before
3. Keep Holding On
3.5 "A Maple Valley Romance" (published in Right Where We Belong collection of small-town novellas)
4. All This Time

Monday, December 18, 2017

"The Ladies of Ivy Cottage" by Julie Klassen - continuing the tales from Ivy Hill

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill, #2)In the village of Ivy Hill, impoverished gentlewoman Rachel Ashford has moved into Ivy Cottage with her spinster friend Mercy Grove and her aunt. Needing an income, Rachel lets the ladies of Ivy Hill convince her to start a subscription library with her father's massive collection of books. Mercy's heart is for teaching, and she's long given up hope of finding a husband--but now she suddenly has the opportunity to become the official guardian of one of her students, though she's afraid to hope in case it doesn't come true. And at the coaching inn, Jane Bell is finally embracing her role as innkeeper, but she's still searching for healing. As the three ladies embrace a way of life different from their upbringing, will they be willing to embrace hope and find love as well?

In some ways this is very much a middle book of a trilogy--there are a number of things left hanging and it isn't good as a stand-alone. But I was pleased to find some more solid conclusions in this book than even the first, which means it isn't wholly painful to wait another year book three. Just mostly painful (I really want good things for Mercy!). Since I didn't have much for expectations in the way the story would go, I was pleased by the twists and turns the tale took, with some surprising secrets coming to light in the village.

I reread book one before reading this one, and I'm glad I did--I'd forgotten a lot since last year. It certainly added to the experience, being reminded of who the characters are and how far they've come (there really is a lot of character growth between the two books!). How much more will they grow in book three? Plus, this one picks up right where the other leaves off, making it even more like a BBC miniseries period drama. I can only imagine book three will be the same.

I have my personal hopes for a suitor for Mercy, but as I've come to learn from this author, no suitor is guaranteed to win the girl--sometimes her choice is surprising. For instance, I didn't know who would end up with Rachel until she herself finally determined her true love. And I have to say, there are a lot of appealing bachelors in little Ivy Hill to choose from, with all manner of backgrounds and things to recommend them. I really look forward to the conclusion to the series! I think it will be best read as a whole.

Thank you Bethany house for a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Tales from Ivy Hill
1. The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
2. The Ladies of Ivy Cottage
3. The Bride of Ivy Green

Friday, December 15, 2017

"Holding the Fort" by Regina Jennings

Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1)When dance hall singer Louisa Bell loses her job, she decides it's time to check up on her reckless brother at Fort Reno, but when she arrives, she's mistaken for the governess Major Daniel Adams has been waiting for. His two daughters are growing up faster than he'd like, and he needs a refined womanly presence to take them in hand. Miss Bell is hardly what he was expecting, and there's definitely something about her that doesn't ring true--but there's something about her that won't let him send her packing, either. Louisa hadn't intended to masquerade as a governess, especially with her lack of education, but it's employment and allows her to keep an eye on her brother. How hard can it be faking an upstanding governess for a few days? Or weeks? Or months?

I really enjoyed the story (though I had some small initial hesitation, even having loved the author's previous works--nothing good ever comes from lying about who you are). But it's delightfully funny, it's sweetly romantic, and it's a marvelous example of grace--everything I've come to expect from the author, while at the same time tackling a difficult subject.

Anytime the main character is masquerading as someone they're not, no matter how innocently begun, you know trouble is coming. The truth will out. Louisa certainly should have told Daniel the truth right away, but I like how the author treated it (it wasn't nearly as painful as I feared it would be). Daniel deserves some credit for that--he's a man of grace, who suspects she's not all that she seems. He knows she has secrets, but while he doesn't know what those secrets are, he has observed enough of her character and heart to love her regardless. Between his grace, his authority, and an unexpected reckless streak, he's a supremely attractive hero.

It was fun to recognize a smidgen of the history included in the story; I didn't know a thing about Fort Reno, but I am familiar with General Sheridan and have read enough about the Indian Wars and frontier forts to recognize commonalities across the board (not always things to be proud of . . . but history cannot be changed at this point). I can't wait for more stories about the fort--I hope to hear more about Louisa's brother and the learned lieutenant.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for the free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Fort Reno
1. Holding the Fort
1.5: "Bound and Determined" (from the Hearts Entwined novella collection)

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Mary Connealy Series Guide

If you've read a few of Mary Connealy's books, you may feel like you've missed some backstory, or maybe a name seems really familiar . . .well, it's probably true, on both accounts. Though each of her series can stand alone, there are a lot of connections and cross references, where characters occasionally travel from one trilogy to the next. So with the conclusion of another trilogy, I thought it a great time to compile a guide to reading her series, for my benefit, as well as yours.

Each collection of related series is listed in chronological order (as best as I can make it), with any connected novellas that I know of inserted in order as well. Important characters - particularly those who are related or connected to characters in other books - are listed, so if you see multiple people with the same last name, even if in different series, you can bet they're related.

Lassoed in Texas Trilogy (Lassoed in Texas, #1-3) Montana Marriages Trilogy (Montana Marriages, #1-3) Sophie's Daughters Trilogy (Sophie's Daughters, #1-3)
Lassoed in Texas - Montana Marriages - Sophie's Daughters Connections

Lassoed in Texas
1. Petticoat Ranch ~ Sophie (Edwards), Clay McClellan
2. Calico Canyon ~ Grace (Calhoun), Daniel Reeves
3. Gingham Mountain ~ Hannah (Cartwright), Grant Cooper

Montana Marriages
1. Montana Rose ~ Cassie (Griffin), Red Dawson
2. The Husband Tree ~ Belle (Tanner), Silas Harden
3. Wildflower Bride ~ Abby (Linscott), Wade Sawyer

Sophie's Daughters
1. Doctor in Petticoats ~ Beth (McClellan)
2. Wrangler in Petticoats ~ Sally (McClellan)
3. Sharpshooter in Petticoats ~ Mandy (McClellan), Tom Linscott, Mark Reeves, Emma Tanner-Harden, plus cameos of most of the above mentioned people in the three series

"Sophie's Other Daughter" (published in Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Laura (McClellan), Ike Reeves

"Texas Tea" (published in With This Spark Historical Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Libby (Cooper), Luke Reeves

"A Bride Rides Herd" (originally published in The 12 Brides of Summer, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Betsy Tanner-Harden, Matt Reeves

"Sweetwater Bride" (originally published in Lassoed by Marriage novella collection, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Tanner Harden.

"His Surprise Family" (originally published in Spring Into Love Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Silas Harden, jr.

"Hope for Christmas" (published in Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ to quote the author: "Tanner Harden the IV (or maybe V or VI) a contemporary great-great-great-however many great grandchild of Belle and Silas Harden"

***(The novellas are in order as close to chronologically as I can figure, and they are all about descendants of the aforementioned heroes and heroines)

Out of Control (Kincaid Brides, #1) 35481363 No Way Up (The Cimarron Legacy, #1)
Kincaid Brides - Trouble in Texas - Cimarron Legacy connections

Prequel: "Closer than Brothers: Surviving Andersonville" (published in With This Kiss Historical Collection of e-novellas) ~ Luke Stone, Dare Riker, Vince Yates, Jonas Cahill, Big John Conroy, Seth Kincaid, Callie Stone

Kincaid Brides
1. Out of Control ~ Rafe Kincaid
2. In Too Deep ~ Ethan Kincaid, Audra (Halsey)
3. Over the Edge ~ Seth Kincaid, Callie (Stone)

Trouble in Texas
1. Swept Away ~ Luke Stone
2. Fired Up ~ Dare Riker
3. Stuck Together ~ Vince Yates, Tina (Cahill), Jonas Cahill, Missy (Yates)

"Runaway Bride" (novella published in With This Ring?) ~ Big John Conroy, Carrie (Halsey)

Cimarron Legacy
0.5 "The Boden Birthright" ~ Chance Boden, Veronica (Chastain) (free novella prequel)
1. No Way Up ~ Heath Kincaid, Sadie Boden
2. Long Time Gone ~ Justin Boden, Angie (DuPree)
3. Too Far Down ~ Cole Boden, Melanie (Blake)

"The Tangled Ties that Bind" (novella published in Hearts Entwined) ~ Connor Kincaid, Maggie Kincaid

Cowboy Christmas (Wild West Weddings #1)Tried and True (Wild at Heart, #1) The Accidental Guardian (High Sierra Sweethearts #1)
Wild West Weddings (unrelated to other series thus far)
1. Cowboy Christmas ~ Elijah Walker, Annette (Talbot)
2. Deep Trouble ~ Gabe Lasley, Shannon (Dysart)

Wild At Heart (unrelated to other series thus far)
1. Tried & True ~ Kylie (Wilde), Aaron Masterson
2. Now & Forever ~ Shannon (Wilde), Matthew Tucker
3. Fire and Ice ~ Bailey (Wilde), Gage Coulter

High Sierra Sweethearts (unrelated to other series thus far)
1. The Accidental Guardian ~ Trace Riley, Deborah (Harkness)
2. The Reluctant Warrior ~  Cameron Scott, Gwen (Harkness)
3. The Unexpected Champion (2019) ~ Adam Thayne, Penny (Scott)
The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection: Love Is a Lighthearted Adventure in Eight Novellas from the Old West

Lone Tree, Nebraska Novellas
"The Advent Bride" (originally published in The Twelve Brides of Christmas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection)

"Homestead on the Range" (originally published in The Homestead Brides Collection, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Mary Connealy's "Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection"

The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection: Love Is a Lighthearted Adventure in Eight Novellas from the Old WestAt last, a good selection of Mary Connealy's novellas are under one cover, so when I want to reread the Lassoed in Texas--Montana Marriages--Sophie's Daughters series, I can find all the subsequent novellas without digging through stacks of volumes (or worse, trying to find them in Kindle copies). All had been published elsewhere originally, so a few of these I've already read, but there were some that were new to me that I enjoyed finally getting to read.

"The Advent Bride" is one that isn't actually connected to any of the author's novels (that I can tell), but it's a sweet story about a teacher finding a way to reach her student--and the student's father--with a puzzle box. You know those kids who can't sit still and make trouble rather than do their work, but you know that it's all a plea for love and attention? Where you know somewhere is a simple key for unlocking the sweet and clever and attentive child you know they can be, if only you can find it? That is Simon. And since I've known a couple Simon's, I could really appreciate this story. "Homestead on the Range" takes place near the same town of Lone Tree, Nebraska as "The Advent Bride," so while they don't have the close connections of the other stories, they do share a setting.

"Sophie's Other Daughter" might just be my favorite, being about the last McClellan girl and the rambunctious Reeves family. Grace and Daniel, as well as Sophie and Clay, all have a larger role in this one than the other related novellas, and it's fun to see them again, especially now that Grace has her girl. It does not surprise me in the least to read about Luke Reeves's success in "Texas Tea"--he always was the wily one. However, I'm glad to see he's far from heartless, and that Libby Cooper can find love!

"A Bride Rides Herd" was a fun addition to the stories about the Reeves and Harden families (with cameos of certain friends and relations from the other books and stories). I loved the humor of this one, as the three small children appear to be trying to kill themselves at every turn, while their two babysitters have the supposedly simple task of keeping them alive. There is a video game based on this precise concept.

Tanner's story in "The Sweetwater Bride" was creative and fun, and quite fitting for the Harden family. I loved the old longhorn bull. Considering how disastrous mail order bride schemes could go, Si really doesn't end up too badly off in "His Surprise Family," though I understand his disappointment and lack of trust, considering his bride's significant lie of omission.

"Hope for Christmas" has pretty much everything to love about one of Connealy's stories--the humor, the cowboys, the strong family ties--but in an updated, modern setting. Modern legalities add a fun (well, fun but also frustrating, given the ease of abuse of the law,) twist to the story. It's quite fitting to the Harden family.

One thing I would have preferred--I wish they were printed in chronological order. It's clear that Sophie's Other Daughter comes first, followed by Texas Tea,  A Bride Rides Herd, The Sweetwater Bride, His Surprise Family, and [definitely last] Hope for Christmas. And of course, The Advent Bride and Homestead on the Range go together, so I'd have preferred them next to each other at either the beginning or end, while instead they were all mixed up.

Thank you Barbour and NetGalley for a free ARC. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Related novels (all which come before these short stories, and thus highly recommended reading):

Lassoed in Texas
1. Petticoat Ranch
2. Calico Canyon
3. Gingham Mountain

Montana Marriages
1. Montana Rose
2. The Husband Tree
3. Wildflower Bride

Sophie's Daughters
1. Doctor in Petticoats
2. Wrangler in Petticoats
3. Sharpshooter in Petticoats

Monday, December 4, 2017

"The House on Foster Hill" by Jaime Jo Wright - dual timelines with dual suspense

The House on Foster HillWhen her husband died two years earlier, Kaine Prescott's pleas to have the suspicious death investigated further came to nothing. In an effort to start a new life, she buys a house across the country sight-unseen--and regrets it the moment she sets eyes on the eerie, long-abandoned house. It doesn't take long before she learns snippets of the house's dark history--a history that comes to haunt her. A century earlier, a young woman is found dead on the property, and Ivy Thorpe, daughter of the town doctor and medical examiner, seems to be the only one who cares who the woman was. With the help of a man from her past, she begins investigating the woman's death, but will it mean her own?

Dual timelines can really be hit or miss with me, especially if one timeline is noticeably slower or less interesting than the other. However, this one is really well done. With how complex the story is and how interwoven the plots are, I can't imagine being the author and charting it all out, but it's perfectly balanced, with equally intense story lines. And unlike some other dual timeline books, the two timelines in this one have not just the same setting, but the same tone--somewhat dark and ominous--which helps the story flow. Others I've read have been rather jolting when switching from one timeline to the other, but these fit together really well.

I'm glad that there wasn't a specific timeline that I liked significantly more than the other; both women had their issues, but both were easy to root for. Ivy is a very nontraditional heroine, being somewhat obsessed with--not so much death, as the lives that the dead had lived. She helps her father with postmortems without cringing, a highly unusual activity for a girl in 1900, and that alone makes her stand out. Kaine was easier to relate to, being a modern woman near my age. But more importantly, her profession, her passion, the thing that makes her herself--her ability to help women out of cycles of abuse--is turned on its head when she finds herself in the same position as those she's helped. She recognizes it, and intellectually she knows all the steps, yet she isn't able to fix herself. While I've never known abuse like that, there have been times when I intellectually know all the right steps to get out of my problem yet can't seem to implement them without outside help--an opportunity for God to reveal His strength through my weakness.

Given the subject matter, this is a fairly dark book, especially for Christian fiction, yet it is surprisingly faith-filled, and it offers significant hope even in the most horrific of circumstances. I really enjoyed it; it's fast-paced, intense, full of suspense, and takes a number of surprising turns.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for the free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, December 1, 2017

December 2017 Christian Fiction Releases

The year is wrapping up with some fascinating stories, from a legal suspense to a historical romantic comedy, from a period drama to a dual timeline suspense.

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill, #2) Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1) The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection: Love Is a Lighthearted Adventure in Eight Novellas from the Old West
The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen (Bethany House); Tales from Ivy Hill, book 2

In the continuing mini-series-esque story of the Regency-era village of Ivy Hill, the ladies of Ivy Cottage are seeking answers about the past and learning to find hope for the future.

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings (Bethany House); Fort Reno, book 1

When a dance hall singer arrives at Fort Reno to visit her brother, she's mistaken for the governess the commandant was anticipating for his daughters. How hard could it be to teach the girls proper lady-like behavior?

The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection by Mary Connealy (Barbour)

At last, a collection has been made of Mary Connealy's  many novellas, most of which are about the descendants of the characters in her Lassoed in Texas and Montana Marriages series.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright (Bethany House)

This dual timeline suspense tells the story of a house's previous owner--and the murder that happened on the property--and the current owner who is now experiencing the fallout of the house's past.

Imperfect Justice by Cara Putman (Thomas Nelson); Hidden Justice, book 2

When her client dies while supposedly trying to murder her own family, an attorney seeks the truth to save her client's remaining daughter from a potentially deadly home situation.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cara Putman's "Imperfect Justice" - advocating for the helpless

Imperfect Justice (Hidden Justice #2)Attorney Emilie Wesley is waiting at the courthouse to help get her client out of an abusive situation at home, when word comes in that she reputedly shot her two daughters and herself, with only the youngest surviving in critical condition. Emilie is sure that her client couldn't have done such a thing, not when she was so close to getting out--and the woman's brother, Reid Billings agrees. They look into the case, hoping to prove differently and grant the girl's custody to Reid, but there is precious little evidence to help them. Can they find justice for the dead woman and protect her daughter from the girl's father?

This legal suspense is very different from the first book in the series, focusing on a totally different aspect of law, yet they share the same love of justice and desire to fight for those who can't fight for themselves. In this case Emilie works with women trapped in abusive situations, and you can feel the author's heart for these women in her writing, as well as the toll these cases take on the advocate--not all end happily.

Emilie and Reid make a cute couple. To me, Reid's financial business was a little boring, but I'm really not into finances. However, I did feel that the characters were well-developed, with their professions, interests, and groups of friends, and even if Reid's work isn't my thing, it fit with his character and proved he has a significant life outside of his interactions with Emilie.

I've been enjoying this group of supportive, young lady attorneys. It's nice to read about women who, though they could be rivals, choose to build each other up instead. I'm hoping the next book will be about Caroline!

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Hidden Justice
1. Beyond Justice
2. Imperfect Justice
3. Delayed Justice (2018)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Splickety SPARK: Picture Perfect

For those who love to read and have no time (or who love to write and enjoy a challenge), I've discovered a wonderful publication called Splickety, a magazine devoted to flash fiction (stories of 500-1,000 words, or roughly one page). There are three different imprints--Havok (sci-fi and fantasy), Spark (romance), and the original Splickety (adventure, mystery, suspense, etc). Each issue is on a theme, and November 2017's is comprised of stories revolving around romance within the arts, titled Picture Perfect.

Each edition features a popular published author (often those who publish Christian fiction), one story by an editor of the magazine, and the rest are written by anyone who has the courage to submit. This month features a story by Kristi Ann Hunter (author of the wonderful Hawthorne House series), and one by yours truly--my fifth story published with Splickety.

The blurb:
Art touches us. It speaks to the human spirit and inspires us to greater things. And what’s greater than love? In November’s Spark Magazine, you’ll find romance at the museum, ballet, and library. Sparks fly between a crystal maker and an apprentice. Opera reunites a musician with his lost love. And make sure you check out feature author Kristi Ann Hunter’s historical story about a clumsy woman and the painter she dreams of. Whether you’re looking for the beauty in color, joy in dance, or truth in music, you’re sure to find it in this Picture Perfect issue.

My story, "Song to the Moon," is strongly tied to Dvorak's opera Rusalka, specifically the Rusalka's aria, "Song to the Moon," where she is asking the moon to tell the prince of her love. My tale, though, is more about the actress who portrays the Rusalka and her love among the musicians than the opera itself. I've included the inspiration for the story--"Song to the Moon" performed by Renee Fleming (with English subtitles).

I'd encourage you to check Splickety out, whether for love of reading or love of writing (or, regarding this episode, a love of the fine arts). Some stories are lighthearted, others serious--a quick and entertaining assortment.

Hard copy & digital:

Kindle edition:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Jen Turano's "Out of the Ordinary" - funnier than ever

Out of the Ordinary (Apart From the Crowd #2)Gertrude Cadwalader's job is to keep her employer happy--she's a paid companion, after all. That means wearing Mrs. Davenport's extremely creative fashions in public--not for the easily humiliated--and occasionally returning a pilfered item that somehow ended up in her light-fingered employer's possession. Harrison Sinclair has long admired Gertrude's practicality and spunk, and when his own mother accuses her of thievery, he leaps to her defense. Through outlandish escapades and grand romantic gestures, he hopes to turn their friendship into something more.

I love the quirky characters that Turano comes up with. Not just the main characters, but all those meddling little old ladies, the spunky sisters, the friends who are only trying to help (with comically disastrous results). I knew Mrs. Davenport had to have some kind of backstory to her kleptomania, but I didn't expect anything so tender. I'm glad she sees restoration too.

The romance is sweet, the cast delightful, but best of all is the author's sense of humor. Which leads me to . . .

The List of Romantic Gestures. I laughed so hard. I tried explaining to my husband what was going on (seeing as he was looking at me with concern while I appeared to be having a fit on the other end of the couch), but I could hardly get the words out. Every time I looked back at the page I started laughing again. When I finally got it under control, I turned the page to the next scene--and it started all over again. Brilliant.

If you love the old, clean romantic comedies, or humor akin to The Importance of Being Earnest, then this is the book for you. Though I do recommend reading the prequel and Behind the Scenes first for the deepest enjoyment of this quirky series.

Thank you Bethany House for the free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Apart from the Crowd
0.5: "At Your Request"
1. Behind the Scenes
2. Out of the Ordinary
3. Caught by Surprise

Monday, November 13, 2017

Julianna Deering's "Death at Thorburn Hall" - perfect end to the series

Death at Thorburn Hall (Drew Farthering Mystery #6)Drew and Madeline Farthering are vacationing up in Scotland for the British Opener when their host--a man who invited Drew for the purpose of investigating his business partner--dies in an accident. Or was it an accident? Of course, Drew can't keep his nose out of the investigation, especially when it becomes clear it was murder. But how do German spies, gigolo golf caddies, and phony Russian thieves all tie together?

This was the perfect final book to the series, where all those little things--like Nick and Carrie's relationship and a certain mystery I had completely forgotten about--are finally resolved. I loved the sense of the international scene in this one--not so much the golfing (a very minor part of the story, anyway), but how people are keeping an eye on eastern Europe and the new regime growing in Germany, and how it is a controversial topic and growing point of concern. The clock is noticeably ticking down toward WWII.

I really appreciate how the author portrays Drew and Madeline's relationship. They got married three books ago, and yet somehow the adventure hasn't ended! Plus they're still cute and romantic, even after several years of marriage (the climbing up to the window scene was adorable and funny). Like all married couples, they've had to work through issues, but they've also found their rhythm and now they get to help Nick and Carrie work through their issues, having experienced much the same things themselves.

This was a case where I really had no good guess on the murderer. Now that it's solved, I can see why Drew was a confused as I was; it was a sneaky trick on the author's part. I heartily approve. Complex, yet the clues were really all there, if I had only recognized them as such.

If I'm wrong about this being the last Drew Farthering mystery, then I won't be disappointed.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for an e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Drew Farthering Mysteries
1. Rules of Murder
2. Death by the Book
3. Murder at the Mikado
4. Dressed for Death
5. Murder on the Moor
6. Death at Thorburn Hall

Friday, November 10, 2017

Lisa Harris's "Vanishing Point"

Vanishing Point (Nikki Boyd Files #4)
Garrett Addison's first week on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation leads him to the murder scene of a teenage girl--the third victim in a string of disappearances with one thing in common: a Polaroid picture found at the crime scene. With FBI agent Jordan Lambert, his old flame from the police academy, he begins a decade-long investigation into the serial killer dubbed the Angel Abductor. When no leads turn up and more girls go missing, can they keep up their hope of ever catching the killer?

Now I understand why this book is labeled a Nikki Boyd novel as opposed to one of the Nikki Boyd Files. Rather than being another of Nikki's cases, this is the story of the ultimate case--the Angel Abductor and murderer, starting with its beginnings, working through the disappearance of Nikki's sister, and ending in the present day when the case is ultimately solved. As such, the focus is on the main investigators of the case--Jordan and Garrett--rather than Nikki herself, though she takes active part in the latter days of the investigation.

Because the case is strung out over so many years, the book reads a bit differently than the average suspense. It's still fast-paced--really, quite a feat for something that is essentially a cold case--but one can feel the frustration and hopelessness as yet another girl is abducted and murdered, with no leads to follow until the next victim is chosen. Like the case, Jordan and Garrett's romance starts and stops--starts and stops--and ultimately doesn't go anywhere until the end either, when in this situation, a bit of impetus and some communication might have gone a long way. I didn't feel that either of them wanted it enough to take a risk or make the sacrifice to make it work (neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm . . . )

I did enjoy the book, since it filled in all the details and provided closure on the big, unsolved case of the Nikki Boyd Files. It wasn't my favorite, but it definitely has an important place in the series.

Thank you Revell and NetGalley for the free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Nikki Boyd Files
1. Vendetta
2. Missing
3. Pursued
4. Vanishing Point

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lynn Austin's "Where We Belong"

Where We BelongRebecca and Flora Hawes, brought up by a somewhat eccentric father, both long to find their place in life, even when the roles for Victorian women are extremely limited. In spite of the dictates of society, the girls have a love of travel, history, and adventure that sends them to Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land. Thirty years after their first foreign adventure, they find themselves, their starchy young butler Soren Petersen, and their fiery maid Kate in a desert sandstorm, dependent on a sheikh with possible alternate motives for helping them. As their journey becomes more uncertain, they each sift through their memories that led them to this desert.

I definitely wouldn't call it a fast-paced novel; the vast majority of the story is told in flashbacks (thankfully all done chronologically, except for when it jumps back to the present), so it reads more like a memoir, with Rebecca being the main focus, but Flora and, to a lesser extant, Soren and Kate having their share of memories. There's no real sense of urgency to the plot, and as such I had no problem putting the book down to go do other things.

The history behind the story was fascinating--two adventurous women really did go off on their own to travel the Holy Land and discovered a palimpsest of the bible, written hundreds of years before. Knowing that it was loosely based off history made the story more interesting. I've always taken it for granted that the bible is proven true and unchanged since forever, but this book reminded me that there was a time--not so very long ago--in which ancient scrolls and codices that prove the authenticity of the bible had not yet been discovered by the modern world.

The story is littered with spiritual references, and it's good to see the sisters relying on God, whatever the adventure they find themselves in. Each of the four characters is searching for the place where they belong, though the place may not be where modern society deems it should. I wish there had been a little more spark to the story, but it wasn't bad by any means. Just long and rather slow.

Thank you Bethany house and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, November 3, 2017

November Christian Fiction releases

November's new releases offer humor, mystery, suspense, contemporary romance, and women's fiction--a nice variety!
Out of the Ordinary (Apart From the Crowd #2) Death at Thorburn Hall (Drew Farthering Mystery #6) Vanishing Point (Nikki Boyd Files #4)
Out of the Ordinary by Jen Turano (Bethany House) - Apart from the Crowd, book 2

When a paid companion gets caught returning an item her light-fingered employer stole, she becomes involved with tracking down a true thief that has been preying on society.

Murder at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering (Bethany House) - Drew Farthering Mysteries, book 6

Drew Farthering arrives at the 1935 British Open in Scotland to investigate an embezzler--only to discover him dead the next morning.

Vanishing Point by Lisa Harris (Revell) - Nikki Boyd, book 4

A police detective and an FBI agent team up together to find and stop a serial killer--but what if everything they've assumed true about the killer is false?

 Blue Ridge Sunrise (Blue Ridge Romance #1) The Austen Escape
Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter (Thomas Nelson) - Blue Ridge Romance, book 1

When the inheritance of her grandma's peach farm brings Zoe back to the town she never wanted to return to--and her first love whom she hoped never to see again--Zoe is trapped between everyone's expectations of staying to run the farm and the life she has built elsewhere.

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson)

At her best friend's insistence, Mary participates in a Jane Austen-themed vacation, only to have her friend regress into believing she truly is in Regency England--and while trying to bring her out of, Mary discovers that their lives have intersected in far more ways that she had ever known.

Monday, October 30, 2017

"A Dangerous Legacy" by Elizabeth Camden -- a thrilling historical

A Dangerous Legacy (Empire State, #1)Lucy Drake's position as a telegrapher has been vital in a 40-year legal battle that started with her grandfather and his brother and has continued down the generations. However, what she's doing isn't strictly legal, and when Sir Colin Beckworth, who manages their professional rivals just downstairs, catches her, they agree to help each other out. Putting aside the rivalry of their news agencies and the differences in their respective cultures, they find themselves enjoying each other far more than expected, but their pursuit of her family's stolen inheritance leads them down a dangerous path, both personally, and for the country.

One thing that has always impressed me is Camden's use of unusual professions, and when a character has a profession, it is important. It isn't just something she assigns to round them out as a character, it's integral to the plot, and it's integral to their person. Lucy as a telegrapher? Her skills are vital and stemming from a love of being connected with the world. Her brother Nick as a plumber, working in the city's underground? There's way more a plumber can do than you'd expect. Colin as a penniless aristocrat with a love of news and homing pigeons? It's what gives them an edge.

I love Camden's ability to surprise me. Several things that I'd expected, based on what would be worst-case scenario in my mind, didn't happen--instead, they led to a twist that I loved, where Lucy and Colin and Nick have an opportunity to be smart, not just brave. I wish I could tell you the brilliant things that happen, but it would spoil the plot. Suffice to say, I loved it all the twists this suspense has taken. And extra points for mature, intelligent heroes who apply to the law for help and use their heads!

While I have always enjoyed Elizabeth Camden's books, this one ranks up there with my favorites--The Rose of Winslow Street and Against the Tide (to which I would liken this one to in terms of the feel of the suspense and intelligence-gathering). The faith element might be minor, but it doesn't mean Colin and Lucy are without considerable growth. It's a great story, and I'm excited to see Nick will have his story continued in A Daring Venture (summer 2018).

Thank you Bethany house and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Empire State
1. A Dangerous Legacy
2. A Daring Venture
3. A Desperate Hope (February 2019)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mary Connealy's "Too Far Down" - the conclusion to the Cimarron Legacy

Too Far Down (The Cimarron Legacy, #3)In the final Cimarron Legacy book, we finally find out who is trying to steal the Bodens' ranch and destroy their family . . . but not before an explosion goes off at the Boden mine, where Cole is in charge. Cole has always been divided over his love for Boston and his love for New Mexico, and he has to admit there's a some significant things keeping him here--his family, the mine, and, well, just maybe their old friend and playmate, Melanie Blake, who can ride, shoot, and hogtie just as well as any man in the territory, and who seems intent on helping him track down the perpetrator of the explosion. But in the end, if they all survive and meet the stipulations of their not-yet-deceased father's will, what will he choose?

As usual, Mary Connealy starts off with a bang--though literally this time, not just figuratively. Poor Cole Boden just can't catch a break, between the healing gunshot wound in a previous book, to now dynamite explosions and cave-ins. I probably should have reread the whole series so I could be all caught up again with the plot--the villain really has been playing a long game to take control of the CR, and while I recalled most of it, I'd have made the connections faster if I'd reread. The books in this series are a lot more connected than has been typical in the author's series, which is fitting, given the family legacy theme. I definitely recommend starting reading with book 1. Strike that--the prequel. I'm going to enjoy rereading the series, especially now that I can pick up on hints I might not have noticed before!

I wouldn't have minded if Chase had made plans to take Mel out East for just a vacation or honeymoon, so she could experience that side of him--it really is a part of him. Though I must say he makes the correct decision in choosing his permanent residence. That is without question.

Once again, I loved how Connealy ties back in characters from other series - it's quite a pleasure to see a certain crazy man again, participating in (or causing?) the funniest part of the book. I think I'll have to go back and reread the entire 3 connected series (Kincaid Brides, Trouble in Texas, and Cimarron Legacy).

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Kincaid Brides--Trouble in Texas--Cimarron Legacy connected series:

Prequel: "Closer than Brothers: Surviving Andersonville" (published in With This Kiss Historical Collection of e-novellas)

Kincaid Brides
1. Out of Control
2. In Too Deep 
3. Over the Edge

Trouble in Texas
1. Swept Away 
2. Fired Up
3. Stuck Together

"Runaway Bride" (novella published in With This Ring?)

"The Tangled Ties that Bind" (novella published in Hearts Entwined)

Cimarron Legacy
0.5 "The Boden Birthright" (free novella prequel)
1. No Way Up
2. Long Time Gone
3. Too Far Down

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dani Pettrey's "Blind Spot" - the plot thickens . . .

Blind Spot (Chesapeake Valor, #3)FBI Agent Declan Grey knows a terrorist attack is coming, but it isn't until he is temporarily partnered with crisis counselor Tanner Shaw that he finally gains a solid lead. Tanner and Declan have butted heads since first being introduced, but now working in close proximity, the tension is producing sparks. With the clock running down to figure out the terrorists' plans, and someone out to kill them both, will they ever get the chance to act on their feelings?

My earlier speculation that this series would be best read all together is proven correct--I'm really wishing July 2018 was a lot closer right now. It's not a true cliffhanger, but let's just say the next book can't come soon enough! The books all tie in together a lot more than most series in the genre, so I highly recommend reading them in order.

At first I wasn't too sure what to think of two entirely unrelated cases going on at once in the story, but given how much we've already invested in the characters in the series, I decided it's a good call. Griff and Finley, Parker and Avery, and now the upcoming Luke and Kate are all as equally important to the series as Declan and Tanner, though in this book Declan and Tanner take the forefront, as the others each do in their respective books. It's more like a tv show this way, with the main couple having the more important of the two investigations, and the supporting cast following their own, with each occasionally getting help from the other. It means we can keep tabs on all the characters who have come to mean so much in the series. The terrorist plot makes the other investigation seem--not trite, but of significantly less importance. Yet on the other hand, I felt that that investigation is much more personal to the group than a potential terrorist attack.

I was pleasantly surprised with Tanner in this book; my impression of her from the earlier books was that she is a crusader for whom the cause is more important than common sense. However, she proved a lot more sensible in this book, not to mention competent. She still has a big heart for helping refugees and the downtrodden, but she doesn't let it consume her at the expense of friendships, love, or survival. She and Declan really do make a good couple, with a lot more in common than I first thought (including their faith).

I enjoyed the non-stop action of this book, and I can't wait for the next!

Thank you Bethany House for a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Chesapeake Valor
1. Cold Shot
2. Still Life
3. Blind Spot
4. Dead Drift 

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Lady Jayne Disappears" by Joanna Davidson Politano - an enchanting story

Lady Jayne DisappearsBrought to her aunt's home along with her father's other personal effects after his death in a debtor's prison, Aurelie finds herself in household surrounded by small-minded relatives who greet her with apathy at best, with the exception of the one other houseguest, Silas Rotherham, who finds her conversation intriguing. With no other outlet but her writing, Aurelie decides to finish her father's serial novel about her mother--written under a the pen name, Nathaniel Droll. As her father was wont to do, she begins writing more of her secretive relations into the serial, and it doesn't take long for them to notice the similarities between the stories and their lives. Can she keep the identity of her pen name a secret as she searches for the ending--both the fictional one and the true one--to her mother's story?

The cover drew me in first, then the description heightened my interest--but the story is what enchanted me. It's different--more Dickens than Austen, Gothic yet faith-filled, and not without humor.

I loved Aurelie's simple, unshakable faith; there are a lot of things about both her life and her family's history that she has to learn, but God's faithfulness is not one of them. I especially loved her prayer, "God, give me exactly what I would ask for if I knew everything you know." She has the wisdom to ask for the best.

My opinion of Aurelie's aunt definitely changed by the end of the book; I could respect her decisions, hard as they clearly were for her--no matter how much you love someone and want to save them from themselves, at some point that beloved person has to accept the consequences of their choices.

I loved the ending; maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by it, but the story was sufficiently enchanting that I wasn't thinking ahead, just enjoying the moment. But I look forward to rereading it to see all those hints I missed!

Thank you Revell for a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Denise Hunter's "Blue Ridge Sunrise"

Blue Ridge Sunrise (Blue Ridge Romance #1)Coming back to Georgia for the first time in five years, Zoe discovers that she's inherited her grandmother's peach farm. Everyone in her hometown expects her to stay and run it, while her boyfriend Kyle expects her to sell it and return to their singing career in Nashville with him. But Granny's farm was the one place she's always been happy, even if it also holds memories of her first love, Cruz Huntley--and her broken heart. As tension ramps up between her and her boyfriend--as well as Cruz--will Zoe regain the courage to choose for herself what's best?

During the story we get a fairly long flashback sequence of Zoe and Cruz's relationship, including the answer to the fairly big question of how Zoe ended up with Kyle instead. I definitely liked Zoe's adult self better than her irresponsible teenage self, though I didn't ever really connect with her--maybe it was too many personality changes (between the beginning, the flashback, and the end). Who I really liked was her best friend Hope--I'm glad to see the next book will feature her! She makes a great best friend, and I look forward to learning more of her story. And, for that matter, I really liked Zoe's brother (particularly as a great candidate for Hope).

While this isn't a thriller, there is some suspense towards the end. Apparently I psyched myself out (probably from reading too many actual suspense novels) into thinking that the obvious villain couldn't possibly be behind the arson; I had another perpetrator all picked out, motive determined and everything--but it turns out that I far, far overthought things.

There wasn't much of a faith message in this book, especially not compared to certain others by the author, though the characters (especially their poorer choices) felt realistic to today's society. It definitely was not my favorite of Hunter's novels, but still a solid romance.

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Blue Ridge Romance
1. Blue Ridge Sunrise
2. Honeysuckle Dreams
3. On Magnolia Lane (November 2018)

Related novel:
Sweetbriar Cottage

Monday, October 9, 2017

Todd Johnson's "Fatal Trust" and "The Deposit Slip" - two great legal suspense stories

I've gotten into the habit of reviewing books so much that I almost feel guilty if I don't write at least a little blurb on my impressions. So here are my quick thoughts on a couple legal suspenses I just read--both taking place in Minnesota, for a change.

Fatal TrustFatal Trust by Todd Johnson ~ about a young attorney asked to distribute a several million dollar trust that grows more suspicious by the day, and might somehow be tied to Minnesota's greatest--and unsolved--art heist.

I enjoyed this legal suspense set in the Twin Cities--it was fun that I recognized a number of the places and neighborhoods mentioned, and even better, it offers one possible answer to Minnesota's greatest art heist. The author does a good job sucking the reader in, and just like Ian, we don't know just what we're getting into . . . until we're in too deep to stop. I'll have to read some of this author's earlier novels!

As a note, while there is a hint of romance, it is far more focused on the mystery and suspense; I wouldn't call it a romantic suspense, so if that's what you're looking for, be forewarned.

The Deposit SlipThe Deposit Slip by Todd Johnson ~ about an old deposit slip found for over 10 million dollars that the bank claims to have no record of, yet there are just enough inconsistencies to suspect there's something to the claim.

This is the third legal suspense I've read in about a month, and I'm getting a much better picture of how lawsuits work. I'd hope I'd never get involved in a case like this one, though--how do you prove something exists when the proof was wiped out years ago? Of course, any time people are involved, no cover-up can be completely guaranteed.

I enjoyed watching Jared and his crew do the impossible, and while I knew it had to work out in the end, it looked oh-so-grim for a while. It certainly kept me on the edge of my seat! A great legal suspense!

Friday, October 6, 2017

"The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck" - full of both humor and real-life issues

The Secret Life of Sarah HollenbeckWhen Sarah Hollenbeck--a.k.a. erotic romance novelist Raine de Bourgh--comes to Christ, she's determined to live a life more fitting with with her new convictions. But just because she has new convictions doesn't mean it's easy to leave behind the world, especially when she's still contracted for one more book--and her publisher and fans have some decided expectations from steamy Raine de Bourgh. Also, it didn't occur to her that the church might take issue with her tithing royalties from her notably scandalous novels . . . and then there's the fact she's falling in love with her pastor while still figuring out how to be a christian woman in a secular society.

I wouldn't call the entire book laughing-out-loud funny, because there's way too many thought-provoking and seriously moving moments throughout the story, but there were moments I laughed so hard tears were leaking out of my eyes. And moments when my eyes were leaking for entirely different reasons.

What impresses me most about the book is the very honest feel to it--you have a woman who is lost and unloved, who is trying to find herself again. After some crazy detours, she eventually finds God and is needing to reconcile her new life with the choices and consequences of her past that won't just go away. She is just learning how to be a Christian, including things that so many of us grew up with, like basic bible stories, and tithing, and all the "rules" that "good Christians" have had drilled into them from birth. Her transformation is genuine, which leads to--in spite of her comparative ignorance--convictions that she chooses to follow. But that doesn't mean that living the pure life she wants to live is remotely easy, and almost immediately she encounters blatant Pharisaical attitudes in the church. And the fact is, in real life it's really hard to avoid the temptations of the flesh, and the church is full of broken, imperfect people who need Jesus as much as you do.

I think everyone can find something in Sarah to relate to--whether it's the fear of opening oneself up to friendship or love and risk being hurt again, or the temptations of a wordly lifestyle that doesn't want to let go, or the disillusionment of following one's convictions only to be blasted by the people who should agree with your choices, or just the insecurities almost every woman faces when in a relationship. But just as easily, I think people can relate to her self-deprecating humor and ability to laugh at herself. It's the perfect balance between humor and gritty, real-life issues. 5 stars!

As a side note, I would love to read Piper's story--she's the best kind of best friend!

Thank you Revell for a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

For a musical-style trailer for the book, I highly recommend watching the video, "What's a Girl to Do?" by Easton Toles--it captures Sarah Hollenbeck's dilemma perfectly!