I have been wanting to share my review of this book with you for a very long time. Towards the end of last year I had the opportunity to read the manuscript and was absolutely blown away by the beauty and depth of the story. Now that "Awakening" has been published and I have reread the finished product, I finally get to share my thoughts and encourage you to pick it up for yourself! Incredibly, it's free on Kindle today, but just for a limited time, so hurry on over there.

Kallie Andreas does not know who she is. Seven years ago she woke up in a New York museum with no memories of her life before. She has managed to cope with the help of a few key people, getting through college and procuring a job at the museum where she was for all intents and purposes born. Kallie feels drawn to history, perhaps all the more so because her own is a mystery.

Life changes when museum patron Dimitri Andreas shows up after years spent abroad, and Kallie could not be more surprised when he approaches her about leading a team to retrieve an artifact which could prove crucial to the project she has been working on for years. This is very much outside her comfort zone, but a little bit of desperation helps her decide to leave behind her fears and inadequacy and make a leap into the unknown.

As she starts her adventure, Kallie begins journaling a story of love and danger set in ancient Greece on the island of Kalliste, which is now called Santorini. She feels compelled to write from a place deep inside of her, and her therapist believes her story is helping to uncover her past and help her find who she truly is. We get to read along as she writes and try to discern if she's just paralleling her globe-trotting journey or if there is hidden meaning in her words.

The search for the artifact takes Kallie and team not only to Egypt, but also to Venice and eventually to Santorini itself. This novel is full of Tracy Higley's distinctive eye for details and presents each location so vividly that you feel you are the one getting desert sand in your eyes or enjoying a ride in a gondola. Each step is filled with peril, romance, and hope that Kallie will truly find all that she is searching for, including her memory. When the moment of full remembrance comes, be prepared! As I wrote in my feedback to the author last year, it "sent me over a mental edge." The story suddenly bursts into living color and you realize that there is hidden meaning everywhere.

This novel is part contemporary, part historical, and part speculative, with a dash of allegory thrown in, too. The themes are absolutely amazing, from the long and hard road that inner healing requires, to the fact that Jesus Christ is the thread the goes throughout all history, leading us to our true home. Will Kallie be able to find her home, her people, her family?

I received my copy of the book from the author. All opinions in this review are my own.
I was a reading overachiever this year, not only accomplishing the goal I set out for myself, but exceeding it by 44%! There were many excellent books, but a few really stood out. Here were my favorite titles by genre from 2013.

Historical Fiction
So Shines The Night by Tracy Higley

Set in Ephesus during the events of Acts 19, Tracy brings the Bible and ancient history to life. You feel like you are there. It's particularly challenging to fictionalize a Bible account, but Tracy succeeds magnificently.

Young Adult Fiction and Speculative Fiction
Anomaly by Krista McGee

Normally I separate these categories, but "Anomaly" wins both easily. In the futuristic world when nuclear war has destroyed most of the planet and humans are genetically engineered for specific tasks, Thalli realizes that there's more than the sterile world around her. If her differences and longings are discovered, it will require her death.

Contemporary Fiction
Winter in Full Bloom by Anita Higman

Lily is entering the middle of her life when she finds out that she has an identical twin sister living in Australia. Taking one of the first risks she has ever tried, Lily sets off the find the sister who was separated by adoption. This novel beautifully touched on many aspects of family relationships and the hurt and hope that many struggle with in this area.

You Were Born For More by Harry R. Jackson Jr.

I wasn't so sure about reading this book, but God got the last laugh on this one. Bishop Jackson brings out straightforward truths which would be beneficial to every believer to grasp and implement in their lives.

Classic Literature
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

For this year it could be nothing besides "Les Miserables." Not just because it was the only classic I read this year (hey, it's 1450+ pages!), but because I drew so much inspiration from it.

I was inspired to read this 1862 classic after falling in love with the Hugh Jackman musical. I had already been familiar with the Liam Neeson version for several years, but the 2012 musical put this story in another place for me.

This is the story of Jean Valjean, who as a young man was forced of necessity to steal a loaf of bread. For this crime and for various escape attempts, he spent 19 years in prison, emerging a desperate man. Convicts were the worst sort of people in France at this time; mistrusted by everyone and rarely able to find any kind of work at all. To survive he must steal again, but this time his life is changed in a much different way. Upon being captured, the bishop Valjean stole from forgives him and encourages him to find God and live for Him.

With a new outlook, Valjean takes a new name and uses the money from the bishop for very good purposes. He becomes wealthy and successful, even to the point of being mayor of the town. He is loved by everyone because of his generosity and taking care of the ones who work for him.

Then his world tumbles when Inspector Javert, a former prison guard, comes to town and begins to suspect his true identity. A woman who was dismissed from one of his factories also leaves him the care of her young daughter. Valjean must flee everything and find a way to take care of himself and Cosette.

Valjean never stops working for the good of others, and Javert never stops hunting him. This is a story of forgiveness, redemption, love, and the fight for liberty. Who does not identify at different times with these characters, The Miserable Ones? Will we allow the work of God to transform us, as Jean Valjean did?

You've perhaps heard that "Les Miserables" has lengthy sections which contain huge departures from the narrative. This is true. Those make for difficulty in sticking with the reading, and therefore this is one of the rare occasions on which I find myself suggesting an abridged version might be an acceptable consideration. Either way, this epic story has resounded in my heart, and I would be remiss if I did not encourage everyone towards this heart-stirring tale. It's a beautiful journey.

"The pupil dilates in the night, and at last finds day in it, even as the soul dilates in misfortune, and at last finds God in it."
-- Les Miserables

When offered the chance to review this book, the fact that it was from Answers in Genesis sealed my interest. Very familiar with AiG, I knew whatever was presented would be Biblically sound and not just thoughts put to paper. This is a collection of articles from many different AiG authors (including Tim Chaffey, co-author of The Truth Chronicles) and takes a close look at questions such as:

  • When was Jesus really born?

  • Where were the Magi from?

  • What was the Christmas star?

  • Did Mary remain a virgin after Jesus' birth?

There are also sections devoted to making Christmas relevant, examining which traditions are of pagan origin, and why we need a Savior in the first place.

The design of the book is really beautiful. It has the feel of a magazine, with full-color images and photographs evoking all the emotions we associate with this holiday. The focus of the exposition is looking at the Christmas story from a truly Biblical perspective, drawing from the original texts and also from archaeological information we have available today. For the most part, it was quite an interesting and informative read.

There were a few things that I thought detracted from the overall product. For one, there seemed to be a lot of repetition, as often specific points were covered by multiple authors. This made it a little tedious to get through. Also, while I agree that our need for a Savior goes all the way back to creation, and a study of creation from a Biblical perspective is very important, it didn't need to take up quite so much space in a book whose focus was Christmas. Did we really need photos and what read like an advertisement for the Creation Museum in this book? I have visited the Creation Museum and found it a fascinating place, but if we're discussing Christmas, I didn't see that such an emphasis at the end of the book on AiG itself was seemly or even appropriate given the stated purpose and overall theme.

If you are someone who wants to know more about what the Bible and real history teach about Christmas and its characters, this is something I would recommend to you. It's thought-provoking and visually stunning. May we ever seek to examine everything we do by the Scriptures.

I received my copy of this book from Handlebar Publishing in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

This is the second book in The Truth Chronicles series. If you missed it, here is my review of Book 1.

"The Contest" picks up immediately where "The Time Machine" left off. Jax learns that the authorities are further investigating the death of his father, believing that Mr. Thompson might have been somehow knowingly involved in the accident that took his life. Jax immediately forms plans to use the time machine to go back and try to clear his father's name, but how difficult would it be to go back to that day and not find a way to intervene in the tragedy?

Meanwhile JT continues persuading her friends to consider Biblical creationism and how their first trip back in time fully supports her views. Izzy, Mickey, and Jax agree to attend a youth service at JT's church, and JT also arranges for them to meet a prominent scientist  for discussion at a nearby university. Blown away by the overwhelming truth from all angles, Jax decides to embrace Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, although he still has plenty of questions about creation and many other subjects. Izzy and Mickey remain impressed but unmoved, although they agree to weigh all future evidence by both creation and evolution theories and see how the two compare.

There are many detailed discussions about creation and evolution in this book. I also enjoyed seeing a continued positive portrayal of the Godly counsel that can come from parents and ministry workers. This is the kind of book that any parent could allow their child to read without concern for the influences they will find within.

This book ends on quite a cliffhanger, as the quartet of friends return once again to 4,500 years ago to see what observations they can make regarding their different opinions on the formation of the Earth. When they are unexpectedly separated, how will they be able to find each other and make it safely back to the time machine? I'd recommend having Book 3 on hand when you finish this one so you won't have to wait to see how everything turns out!

I received my copy of the book from the author in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

I have an interesting history with this book. When I received the e-mail from the publisher asking me if I wanted to review it, I looked at the synopsis and thought that it looked really good but that I already had an overloaded reading schedule. I decided to pass, and thought, "If God wants me to read this book, He will give me another opportunity someday." The very next day there was another e-mail from the Chosen, saying there had been an error on the original sign-up form and anyone interested needed to sign up again. I didn't need to be asked a third time; I decided this was God saying that He did indeed want me to read this book.

By the time "You Were Born for More" arrived in my mailbox, I'd learned Chosen specialized in books with charismatic leanings, and I have several differences of doctrine with the "health and wealth" message that often comes in such books. That was discouraging, and I also let a few other things stand in the way of picking it up. Then December rolled around and I wanted to honor my commitment to Chosen and finish this before the end of the year, so I set into it. I should never have second guessed! God directed me to this book, and it's one whose insight I am going to be remembering for a long time.

Bishop Jackson is a pastor in the Washington, D.C, area, who also has found himself with opportunity to be a religious voice in the media. This book relies on his personal experience from his fight with cancer, and a straightforward writing style, using strong words such as: "Sometimes the change we are praying for may need to start with a change in us" (pg. 114), and "...We only overcome adversity, heartache, and fear when we put God first in our lives" (pg. 166). The book highlights our need to rely on the Lord instead of on our own strength, being thankful for God's grace and mercy in everyday circumstances, seeking God for an individual relationship with and direction from Him, and the seriousness of sin.

I read this book with a pen and paper in hand and wrote down many quotes. Although there were a few occasions when I noted down things I did not agree with, ten times more space was given to words that were an encouragement to me. There's no way you can disagree with someone saying "The best and most lasting happiness in this life comes from obedience to the will of God" (pg. 55), and "Our true identity must be anchored in the Word of God" (pg. 90). This is teaching that every single Christian needs to understand and apply to their lives.

All of us know what it is like to go through trials. Bishop Jackson has faced his share of health crises and persecution for taking a stand for Christ. Here are two insights he shared on going through difficult struggles: "...We need to know that God is at work in our character whenever we are going through hard  times, whether it is a family problem, a career problem, or something else" (pg 112). "Your trials and tribulations are simply a backdrop against which the glory of God can be seen" (pg. 141). What strengthening encouragement for desperate times!

If you are serious about your relationship with the Lord, there would be much to draw you to a book like "You Were Born for More." Jesus came so that we might have overcoming, abundant life, and that is exactly what this book wants to encourage people towards. I was sorry I waited so long to read this treasure, but perhaps God knew that now was the right time for me. I was so blessed by it!

I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Being a scientist runs in Jax Thompson's family. His father had even solved the formula for time travel, but lacked the energy source necessary to make an operational time machine. Now Jax and his best friend Isaiah, better known as Izzy, are seeking to combine his father's last invention with the Space-Time Generator to finally be able to go back in time. The guys are competing with their good friends JT and Micky, who are attempting to invent a hover board in time for their school's science fair.

Every attempt to go back and see the dinosaurs ends up a failure for Jax and Izzy, until they decide to change tactics and go back 4,500 years to see the building of the pyramids. They're shocked when the time machine works... except their destination looks like what they expected to see seventy million years ago! Did something go wrong? When their adventure takes a serious turn, Jax returns to the present and brings back JT and Micky to try and rescue Izzy.

JT is a Christian and recognizes that although the guys think the time machine malfunctioned, what they are seeing and experiencing lines up with what the Bible says about creation. Although uncertain about how to share her beliefs to three friends who think evolution is the only scientific answer for how the world began, JT is prayerful and considerate in bringing out truth and encouraging the others to find out more for themselves.

Jax doesn't trust God or believe that He is good in any way. Why should he believe in a God who let his father die? Yet he cares deeply about his friends and feels responsible for their safety. Will he listen to JT's words of wisdom, or will his bitterness break apart their friendship?

"The Time Machine" is full of adventure, Biblical principles presented in easy to understand format, and real life teen struggles. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has young science fiction lovers in their families! I look forward to the rest of "The Truth Chronicles" series and reading the further adventures Jax and his friends.

I received my copy of the book from the author in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

With a such a fantastic title, I knew I'd be interested in this story from the moment I heard about it. Plus it's written intriguingly in epistolography form, so there was much to check out with this debut release.

Our heroine, Samantha Moore, grew up in the foster system. In order to protect herself through all the changes and challenges of such an upbringing, she retreated into the world of classic English literature and the words of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, etc. Although these helped nurture her young soul, everywhere she has gone she's faced the same challenge: "Sam has failed to connect." Failed to connect at different foster homes, at her first job, at life in general.

Now a very young adult, Sam is given an amazing opportunity to attend grad school with all expenses paid. The only stipulation is that she write to her benefactor to keep him apprised on her life. He's taken the pseudonym "Mr. Knightley," and Sam reluctantly agrees to join the program and see if she can pursue her own dreams of a writing career. In case this storyline sounds familiar, this book is supposed to be a modern retelling of Jean Webster's "Daddy-Long-Legs." That's a classic that I need to read myself someday!

Through Sam's letters to Mr. Knightley, we learn that she views herself on campus as a Fanny Price among all the self-assured Emma Woodhouses out there. We see her put forth effort in her classes, face obstacles, and venture into friendships as well as the dating world. Sam meets those who want to use her for their own end, as well as those who would love her. She must learn how to be discerning about people and how to let down her barriers when the time is right.

As a classic lit fan myself, I "got" all the references to various novels. I wondered if this book would be as enjoyable to those who might not be familiar with Austen and company, and I've seen reviews saying it didn't translate very well. My personal main gripe was that no one writes such detailed conversations in letters, but that's a common factor with this particular style of novel. I could best relate to Sam because I was also a late social bloomer, so this older coming-of-age story made sense to me emotionally. I think all Austen fans would find something to enjoy here, especially those who enjoy themes of finding oneself and triumphing over adversity.

I received my copy from LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Debut author Katherine Reay is celebrating the release of her delightful novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, with a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway, a fun Favorite Austen Moments Pinterest contest, and an Austen-themed Facebook Party.


One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX

  • Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

  • Handmade Austen-themed items (scarf, mug, bracelet, and necklace)

Two ways to win! Enter today by clicking one of the icons below or participating in the Pinterest contest (see banner below)—or BOTH!

But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 3rd. Winner will be announced at the "Dear Mr. Knightley" Austen-themed Facebook Author Chat Party on the 3rd. Join Katherine (and Austen fans) for an evening of book chat, prizes, and an exclusive look at Katherine's next book.

So grab your copy of Dear Mr. Knightley and join Katherine on the evening of December 3rd 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 today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK, TWITTER, or PINTEREST. Hope to see you on the 3rd!

Christa Parrish has had a distinct voice ever since she hit the Christian fiction market. "Stones for Bread" is not a story for everyone. It's a story for the broken, the hurting. Liesl McNamara's life was shattered at age 12, when her mother committed suicide and she was the one to find the body. Now an adult, Liesl is still searching for wholeness amidst the pain that never quite goes away.

Having learned the art of baking from her mother and grandmother, Liesl owns a small but successful bake house, still baking from starters passed on to her from previous generations. Bread is her whole life. She's learning about community and trusting the people around her, but when her assistant signs her up to be a guest star on a national cooking show, her world is about to get a lot bigger. Where do you take risks, and where do you hold things close? Liesl must decide this not only with her business, but also with her heart.

Liesl's path to healing really resonated with me. I know what it's like to feel loss after loss in different areas, and to weigh the pros and cons of letting someone look in on your pain. It's a risk, because they may refuse to enter into it with you, and then it's another layer of hurt. If you choose to share, you become accountable to them in how you face it in your everyday life; you can't pretend with them that it isn't there. Often it's just easier to put the issues on the back burner and not share, but that does not bring healing. Trusting God and opening up to Him and those He brings to you is one key to overcoming and learning to live in wholeness. For those who know about pain, Liesl's journey is one that captures you. For those who aren't acquainted this will be something beyond their grasp.

Sprinkled throughout "Stones for Bread" are many recipes, all requiring more than one day of preparation, many of them artisan in nature. That's not something that I can see a whole lot of readers getting into, but you never know. Additionally, each chapter has a section on the history of bread which I found to be not relevant to the story at all. These sections could very easily be skipped over without missing a beat of Liesl's journey.

This story is written in a style that makes it less than engaging at first. You have to push in before getting to the good stuff. The majority of it is written in the first person present tense, which is very popular right now, but that has lost its novelty on me and become annoying. Don't let that stop you from persevering. Once you get in, there's a deep and good story.

My copy of this book was provided by LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Christa Parrish is celebrating her fourth novel, Stones for Bread, with a KitchenAid Mixer giveaway.

#StonesforBread KitchenAid Mixer Contest #ChristaParrish

Easy steps to enter:

1. Follow Christa Parrish and TNZ Fiction on Pinterest.

2. Then Pin the Stones for Bread book cover (below), the contest graphic (above), or both, and link to this post (using this URL: #StonesforBread KitchenAid Mixer Contest #ChristaParrish

3. Then fill out THIS SHORT FORM to let us know. (There are also some additional ways to earn extra entries, as well as an option for non-Pinterest users. It's true—people like that do exist!)

Questions? Email info @ litfusegroup dot com.

Winner will be announced on 12/9 on Christa's Facebook Page.

Julia Whittaker would do anything for her 13-year-old son who is slowly dying from a liver disorder. In need of a matching donor willing to give a piece of their liver, Julia must face the ghosts of her past and find the two baby girls, now adult women, she gave up for adoption many years ago.

Destiny is 24 and a successful conceptual artist in California who really wants nothing to do with God or the birth mother who shows up on her doorstep. Why should she give up part of herself for a kid she's never met? A bit of a rebel, Destiny agrees to consider being tested to see if she's a match only if Julia will take her to meet the half-sister she just learned about.

At 22, Chloe feels stifled with her perfectly planned life and her perfectly planned marriage to her high school sweetheart. He knows exactly what he wants and is methodical in approaching it. Chloe wants some spontaneity and to be able to change things up as she discovers more of who she is as a person. She's sought out some questionable friendships in order to meet the needs she is afraid to speak to her husband about. With Julia and Destiny's surprise arrival, Chloe is ready to throw off convention and go on an adventure.

The three women begin a journey of getting to know one another, confronting the most painful parts of Julia's past, and each of the girls working through issues of their own. Julia is doing this for Dillon, but she's also glad to be spending time with these daughters who had been only and always in her heart for two decades. She knows she's asking more than she ever has a right to, but is it possible that God can bring physical, emotional, and spiritual healing to all three of her children? She is willing to go as far as it takes.

This is a very honest story on many levels. The subject matter is for mature readers only. We all make mistakes and bad decisions sometimes. We all fall into sin. It's not easy to deal with the messes we make for ourselves. Yet even in our failings God can work things out for good, because He's that kind of God! This is a story for all who need His help on this walk through life.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Shannon Ethridge is celebrating the release of  To Know You (co-written by Kathryn Mackel), by giving away a $100 gift certificate to Lisa Leonard Designs and a personal coaching session, as well as throwing a Facebook Author Chat Party!


One winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 19th. Winner will be announced at the "To Know You" Facebook Author Chat Party on the 19th. Connect with Shannon and friends for an encouraging evening of fun chat, book club discussion, giveaways, and a chance to win a PERSONAL COACHING SESSION WITH SHANNON!

So grab your copy of To Know You and join Shannon on the evening of November 19th 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 today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word — tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER or Pinterest and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on 11/19!

What would happen if people's private conversations appeared online? When a website with just such information appears, the town of Marlo goes into a panic. Who is listening to the discussions people have in their own homes? All the conversations are anonymous, but sometimes the speakers are easily identifiable, and those people are being held publicly accountable for what they said in a moment of frustration or when they were confiding in a friend.

When violent activities spike over the website, reporter Damien Underwood is on the case. He and his best friend, police officer Frank Merret, begin looking the case even while facing problems in their personal lives. Frank can't quite get over the fact that his wife left him several years earlier. Damien's home life looks ideal, but he has concerns about his two teenage children.

Damien's wife, Kay, is trying to make new friends with the other cheerleading moms, but the drama and the gossip might be more than she can handle. Will those things cloud out the opportunity for giving and receiving true friendship with one who needs it?

As the town of Marlo gets a little crazier each day, Damien can't stop thinking about the power of words. We can use them for good or for evil. When evidence starts cropping up that Frank or Damien himself could be behind the website, how can they find the real perpetrator?

This was quite an interesting and enjoyable read. Very thought-provoking. In the end I felt there was a lack of properly wrapping up storylines, and the person responsible for the website had been the very first person I guessed it to be. Overall this is one I would recommend, and we would all do well to think a little more about the words we use every day to tear people down or build them up. May we always use the power of words for the good of those around us!

There's something exciting about picking up a Tracy Higley book. As her website suggests, a good book is almost the same as time traveling! What a gift Tracy has for making history come alive.

"City on Fire" is the story of Ariella, a Jewish slave in Rome whose spirit has grown dim under the harsh hand of her master. One dark night she manages to escape and, disguising herself as a boy, begins training to be a gladiator. The troupe is soon leaving for Pompeii, putting further distance between her and years of bad memories.

New in Pompeii is Quintus Portius Cato, a young politician whose failed career in Rome has left him eager for a fresh start in a new place with a new business. The political circuit is the last thing he wants to think about, but he is soon sought out by those under the oppression of Maius, an unethical local ruler who has the whole city in his grasp. No one is brave enough to run against him in the upcoming election. Cato cannot bear to see injustice, and when Maius's evil gaze turns in the direction of his family, Cato decides he must stand and fight.

Ariella is beginning to feel alive with her training as a fighter. When her true identity is discovered by Portius Cato, she fears his attention is merely a step in using her for his own gains. Will he ruin her plans to make a name and free herself from the chains she has known so long?

As the story unfolds, the volcano Vesuvius churns nearby. We know from history what its eruption will do to this city on the sea. Who will escape the destruction, and who will be caught in its grip?

My favorite part of the story was seeing Higley's portrayal of the first century church. I loved how well she showed that they were a family, and their Christian love crossed all social barriers. Slaves were as welcome as the wealthy. It was also special to see some minor characters again, whom I had first met in another Higley book. I must note that due to the nature of the culture in which this story is set, this isn't a tale I would recommend for young readers. Higley handles it tastefully, but she doesn't pretend it wasn't there. For discerning readers who love historical fiction, you cannot go wrong with Tracy Higley. I am a huge fan!

I review for BookSneeze®

I received the book from the BookSneeze in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream." Psalm 126:1

In "Return to Me," Lynn Austin has tackled a unique time in Biblical history: the end of Israel's exile in Babylon. When King Cyrus issued a decree that the Jews could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple, Iddo was thrilled. He had been just a boy when he was taken from Jerusalem. Now he and his fellow priests can reclaim their role as helpers of God's people. He can't understand why his excitement is not shared by all of his friends and family. To go back to the Holy Land after years of pagan influence is everything Iddo he has ever dreamed of. But for those born in Babylon, it's not such an easy decision.

This is the story of those who made up the first caravan back to Israel. The main characters are Iddo, his wife Dinah, their grandson Zechariah, and neighbor Yael. They are not met enthusiastically by the Samaritans in their home country when they arrive, and they face the monumental task of rebuilding a city that had been turned to rubble many decades earlier. Those who had learned to trust the Babylonian gods have a hard time coming back spiritually to the Almighty One. Amidst the hardships, will they truly return to Him or lose their way once again?

As I read and after I finished this book, I looked up different things in the Bible to check for accuracy and context. I think it's a win for Biblical fiction when it drives you to do this! I grasped a few things I hadn't understood before, and I thank Lynn Austin for that.

The story itself didn't capture my attention as well as I would have liked. The book is over 450 pages long, but even so I never felt really connected with the characters. All of them kept making decisions that I wished they wouldn't, and their struggles were so hard it was a bit depressing to read. In the last third of the book there were a few scenes that were very well done and conveyed the message of the book, but overall as fiction it was rather bland and predictable. The look into history was the best part.

I received this book from LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Lynn Austin is celebrating the release of Return to Me, the first book in her new Biblical fiction series, The Restoration Chronicles, with a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway and a Facebook Author Chat party.


One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX

  • Return to Me by Lynn Austin

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 22nd. Winner will be announced at the "Return To Me" Facebook Author Chat Party on October 22nd. Connect with Lynn and friends for an evening of book chat, biblical trivia, prizes, and get an exclusive look at the next book in Lynn's Restoration Chronicles series!

So grab your copy of Return to Me and join Lynn on the evening of October 22nd 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 today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word — tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER. Hope to see you on the 22nd!

There aren't many authors who have their own tag here on my blog, but Julie Klassen is one of them. Now that I have finished this 2009 release, I can say I have read every one of her published novels, and am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to review her upcoming December release. You could certainly say that I am a fan.

I would have loved "The Silent Governess" even if it hadn't been a Julie Klassen book. The plot is full of intriguing mysteries and characters, and you really can't guess what is going to happen next.

Our heroine, Olivia Keene, is fleeing her family home at the opening of the book, afraid she killed her father after defending her mother from a violent attack. Her mother urged her to find a position as a teacher at a school many miles away, promising that when it is safe she will come for Olivia. Along the way Olivia is sidetracked by people with both good and bad intentions, and winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, being caught on the Brightwell Estate after accidentally overhearing a secret that would destroy Lord Edward Bradley if it were to ever get out.

Lord Bradley doesn't really have a choice but to keep the young trespasser as part of his household staff, where he can keep an eye on her to ensure her silence. As he wrestles with what to do over the dreadful news that has just been revealed to him, he can't help but be very suspicious about Olivia, her intentions, and the secrecy surrounding her own background.

As the months pass, Olivia worries about how to hear from her mother, as she never reached their rendezvous point. Lord Bradley broods over what is the right course of action, fearful of what his contemplations may lead him to do. His father, Lord Brightwell, wonders if the dark-haired young woman might not be the daughter he never knew he had, and wants to do everything he can to help Olivia, if only she will let him.

I am happy to report that the layers of mystery all work themselves out wonderfully in the end. There are no easy outs in the solutions, and not everything is wrapped up as the readers might deem perfect, but it is very well done. I cried over the last few paragraphs, which does not happen often. If there are any Regency fans not reading Julie Klassen's books, I cannot urge you strongly enough to get to a bookstore and pick one up. You are sure to be delighted!

A grief-stricken widow, Juliet Belleno rarely leaves her house. She spends her time working on her blog, and she loves writing book reviews. Her favorite author is Patrick Reagan, and Jules is disappointed when his latest bestseller leaves her with an unfavorable impression. She shares the following thought with her readers: "Don't tell me it's terrifying. Terrify me."

When she wakes up tied to a bed with her own words scrawled across the ceiling, Jules can't believe it. Patrick Reagan has kidnapped her and intends to take her up on her challenge. Tucked away at his remote writing cabin, will the world even notice that this near-agoraphobic woman is missing?

Police officer Chris Downey, former partner of Juliet's husband, is called to investigate Jules' disappearance by her father, but his alcoholism makes him a questionable source of info at best. There's no evidence that Jules did anything besides perhaps take a trip out of town. Feeling he's failed his partner by not keeping a better eye on his widow, Chris digs into matters beyond his official capacity and begins to run into strange roadblocks which only pique his curiosity further.

As the days pass, Jules is trying to figure out the mind games Patrick is playing with her. Why is he asking her to critique the novel he's working on? Why does he have inside information on her husband's murder? What does the yet-unpublished debut author Blake Timble have to do with anything? The layers of plot kept me quickly turning pages to unravel the mystery.

If you've followed me here at my book review blog, you might know that this is not the kind of book I usually pick up. I'm not a fan of any kind of scary suspense. However, someone assured me that this story wasn't creepy, and as a reviewer myself I was highly intrigued to see the story Rene Gutteridge would weave around one of my kind, as it were. I thought it was well done! She also did a good job bringing faith into a desperate situation where neither of the main characters knew much about Jesus to start with. If you enjoy a good mystery this is one you're sure to like!

Julia Foster isn't your typical Edwardian-era heroine. At age 27, she had been serving with her parents on the mission field in India, until her father's health required them to return to England. Now Julia must find a position as a governess to help support them all. Her views on childrearing and life have been greatly influenced by her experiences as a missionary, and as she settles in at Highland Hall she finds herself occasionally at odds with her master and his family.

Recently inheriting his uncle's estate, Sir William Ramsey is disturbed by the condition in which he finds the house and grounds, and fears that because of death duties (inheritance taxes) he may be forced the sell the property and move back to London. At least he can leave the care of his two young children, as well as his two teenage cousins who were left to him as wards, in the care of Miss Foster, freeing him to pursue a fortunate second marriage and perhaps save his estate.

One reason I loved this book was because of Miss Foster's principled personality. She is a heroine one can root for, who is always looking to God for direction and leading. She isn't free of mistakes or faults, but she is always trying her best. She befriends Sir William's maiden sister and helps her take her place as mistress of the house. She encourages Sir William to spend more time with his precocious children, and he begins to see her as a valuable giver of advice.

There are a lot of plot elements drawn from classic literature, but none of them in a copycat manner. I really enjoyed the different twists and turns. This is one of those stories that I would recommend for all readers, especially those who love the "Downton Abbey" time period. This is much cleaner and more praiseworthy than that famous series!

"The Governess of Highland Hall" will be coming to bookstores everywhere on Oct. 15. I received an Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you'd like to read the first chapter, you can do so here.

Set in 1763, this novel is loosely based on the courtship of John & Abigail Adams. In typical Jody Hedlund style, you should be warned that this book is of the "I can't put this down!" variety. I loved going to Colonial Massachusetts and being reminded of what our founding fathers faced before the United States was its own nation.

Susanna Smith is a young woman very interested in education, and feels slighted that girls are not given the same opportunities for learning that their brothers are. She's very idealistic when it comes to the British rule over the colonies, until her views are challenged by a runaway indentured servant who was badly mistreated by her master. Feeling the laws of God are higher than the laws of man, Susanna agrees to secretly shelter the girl, but enlists the help of lawyer Benjamin Ross to see if they can find a way to legally protect the victim.

Ben is facing an uphill battle to earn the respect of his peers. The son of a simple farmer, Ben feels he must make an advantageous match in order to increase his social standing and make people take him seriously. Susanna doesn't have the inheritance to match his aspirations, but he is taken with her beauty, the depth of her thoughtfulness, and the fact that she trusts him with her secret. Ben is also outraged over the increasing taxes the British are imposing upon the colonists, and is doing what he can to find ways around the unjust laws. His activities have him under close surveillance by the local troops, and his main worry about being friends with Susanna is bringing her into the danger that dogs him.

At first I wasn't sure I would like the portrayal of either main characters. They are both rather proud, and Ben would use sarcasm in very hurtful ways. But as they got to know each other and understand where the other was coming from, everything came together. I also thought the story was heavy on the romance, but no more so than other Jody Hedlund books. They are definitely historical romance rather than just historical fiction. I do recommend her books, with a dose of discretion alongside. I will certainly be following her future releases!

I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

As I've mentioned before, I have an insider track on weddings and I love being part of them. When this book was recommended to me because it starred a wedding planner and a quirky plot, I was very excited to read it. Honestly, weddings and books have one thing in common: you never quite know what's going to happen when you dive in!

Bella Rossi comes from a stereotypical Italian family, and she's way out of her comfort zone in planning a wedding with a Boot-Scootin' western theme. She's just inherited the wedding planning business from her parents, and this is her first solo job. Knowing nothing about country music, she decides to find a deejay who can help her select music and get a better picture of the country western scene.

I had issues with this book immediately. It states right off the bat that we're "less than two weeks" from the wedding, and yet Bella is only just starting to find vendors and shop for decorations. That's ridiculous. Even though it's said that it's a last-minute wedding, no one does it that last-minute and expects good results! I know I'm obsessive about details and having a working plan in place, but by the time you reach two weeks before the wedding, there's nothing that's not already carefully lined up and ready to go. You can't be ordering things off eBay at that date, or just starting to plan the reception. You just can't. Although Bella is understandably nervous to be doing her first wedding on her own, the level of anxiety is rather absurd when you consider she's been helping her parents for years. To be in charge of a wedding you have to have confidence. Had I been this bride, I would have fired Bella and never recommended her to anyone. It was that bad.

Bella is supposed to be 29 years old, and most of the main characters seem to be around the same age. Yet they speak and act like they're teenagers. There's a lack of maturity that drove this reader crazy. That might have been passable if they were 18, but they weren't. The emotions were very unrealistic for this group of people.

The spiritual side of the novel seemed forced. The few genuine moments involved Bella's aunt, not Bella herself. There is a crazy side-plot about a parrot that seems to indicate that animals can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and become witnesses for Him. That's just bad theology and a waste of everyone's reading time.

The title of the book is the best commentary I can give on recommending it. These things I've mentioned here are only the most major of the problems I had with it, and I could go on if I wanted. Needless to say, I won't worry about finding a place for this book on my crowded shelves. Go watch an episode of "Cake Boss" if you want to see a more realistic portrayal of an Italian family running their own business.

Meghan Connors has worked hard to earn her way in the Secret Service. She receives a great honor when she's assigned to protect the Vice President's daughter, but leading the team is Ash Zinders, notorious for not wanting to work with female agents. There's not a lot of time for feuding, as Lindsay's self-destructive habits and outside threats against her life keep the stakes high.

Lindsay and the team are hidden away on a south Texas ranch while she detoxes from her latest addiction. Their location is supposed to be a secret, known only by those directly involved. Yet as the threat escalates and terror begins touching the ranch, the Vice President refuses to have his daughter moved. Who is in his ear convincing him to leave her there? How high up does the plot to kill Lindsay go? Learning to work together, Meghan and Ash must solve the puzzle before they lose their protectee or their very own lives.

Overall this was an enjoyable action adventure. I had a problem with the way Ash was portrayed at the beginning, as both a man of private faith and someone who could easily demean others, especially fellow female agents. Then his turning of opinion against women came not because he saw how competent Meghan was, but because he fell in love with her. I understand that his actions and words to shut people out had to do with his backstory and his own pain, but it was misplaced blame in the first place. It would have been redeeming if somewhere along the way he expressed his change of opinion in fully supporting female agents, but we never even found out if that was his changed view or not.

My only other complaint is that this book is a little sparse on real emotions. As the most glaring example, when a family member of one of the agents suddenly passes away, there is only dialog in the scene where that member reveals the news to other agents. No sharing of the grief, no talk of shocked faces around the room. It seemed incredibly flat. This was the first novel by DiAnn Mills that I've read, and I couldn't tell you if this is symptomatic of her regular writing style or not.

I might not be rushing out to buy the author's latest book, but I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to reading more, either. This one had a good plot, just not a lot of spark.

Lily Winter is just entering a new season of life. She's recently widowed and her only child has just started college. When she goes to visit her emotionally distant mother, she is beyond shocked to hear the news that she has an identical twin sister living in Australia. While Camille had been given up for adoption, her parents had chosen to raise Lily as their own.

Anguished over all the years of missed sisterhood, Lily braves the unknown and takes off on a search in the Land Down Under. Armed only with the knowledge that Camille lives in Melbourne and attends St. Paul's Cathedral, Lily hopes it will be enough to lead to a reunion. The day of her arrival she meets a curious man named Marcus, who has self-exiled himself from his home in the States. Although a little wary of his quirky ways, Lily agrees to accept his help. Feeling a relationship with Camille will somehow fill a void in her life, Lily must also face the reality that searches can lead to very different results than the one anticipates.

"Winter in Full Bloom" is a novel that tackles many, many emotions. With family issues at the heart of this novel, I knew it would touch on sensitive subjects. If I had known just how many, I might have skipped over it. That would have been a mistake. Anita Higman touches on all of them beautifully, gracefully. Although very real and ugly things must be addressed and dealt with, she never leaves one without the hope that God can restore all things. A few of the things addressed in this story are abandonment, parental neglect, abuse, responsibility for the accidental death of loved ones, persecution, spousal unfaithfulness, rape, unwanted pregnancy, divorce, and bitterness. Yes, it's a frightening list! Can God really work to heal hearts so fragile from the beatings of this life? Is there a way for restoration to come where so much devastation has been known? Absolutely! Lives are forever changed when these things come into them. It's where our brokenness takes us that determines whether we will be completely destroyed or if we'll find a way in God's strength to fully bloom again.

Novels that tackle heavy subjects with such grace are an amazing gift. I truly enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone who has dealt with disappointing family relationships or wrestled with wondering if God can renew and restore us after hardships. He can! Thank you, Anita, for reminding us in such a gentle yet powerful way.

I received an advance reading copy from LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Please click this link for information about a Facebook party with the author tonight! You can also click here to purchase the book in paperback or download it on your e-reader. Hurry, it's a free download for a short time!



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