Captive Maiden

It's the story of Cinderella as you've never seen before! Gisela is a strong, hard-working young woman who lives under the cruel hand of her stepmother and two stepsisters. She dreams about the day she'll be free from their oppression, but in the meanwhile she's finding ways to make the most of her situation. She also dreams about Valten, the eldest son of the duke of Hagenheim and champion of tournaments around the world, whom she met when she was a child and has admired from afar.

When Hagenheim hosts its own tournament and Valten comes back home, Gisela hardly hopes to even catch sight of him. But when another competing knight named Reuxner accosts her in the marketplace, Valten interferes and makes sure Gisela gets safely away from him. Valten finds the outspoken and quick-witted Gisela enchanting, and asks her to be sure to come to the tournament so he can see her again.

As Valten and Gisela begin spending time together and forging a friendship, Reuxner sees this as the perfect opportunity to hurt his longtime rival. He approaches Gisela's stepmother and she agrees to sell Gisela to be Reuxner's bride. Knowing she won't marry him willingly, the two plot to kidnap Gisela and threaten Valten in order to force her acquiescence. The courageous Valten has a thing or two to say about this plan and sets off to find and rescue Gisela.

I really liked the character of Valten. He's a man of strength and determination, but one of his weaknesses is relying too much on himself. The twists and turns of the story bring him to a place of humility and the realization that he needs to lean on the Lord and to accept the help of others if he ever hopes to free his captive maiden. As someone who is often stubborn enough to think I can handle things on my own, I could identify with Valten and I enjoyed his journey.

There are no fairy godmothers in this version, just friends who are there to help Gisela and Valten become who they need to be. The idea of community is not always a popular one in this world that prizes fierce independence, but God desires that we walk in fellowship with others and help one another on life's path. In community is strength, and I am glad we get stories like this to come along and remind us of that every now and then.
Son Arizona Legend 2

Picking up seven years after the events of the previous novel, friends from all over the country come together to throw Stuart Brannon a surprise 40th birthday party. It's a trip down memory lane as many major characters from the series come to visit. But the party comes to a screeching halt when it is crashed by a 12-year-old Indian boy claiming that Stuart Brannon is his father. Knowing the child is the baby who was born in "Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing," Brannon doesn't know why Elizabeth has told her son he's his father, but after years of trying to find Elizabeth after the government has relocated her tribe numerous times, Stuart intends to keep up the ruse until he can see his friend and ask her himself.

Brannon and Littlefoot begin the dusty journey to find Elizabeth in Utah and soon realize they are being followed by an old nemesis from Stuart's years in Colorado. After more than a little danger and a few bouts of misdirection they reach Elizabeth, and Littlefoot goes a little crazy when he discovers that not only is Stuart not his father, he's actually the man who killed his outlaw parent. Elizabeth's weakness from late stage tuberculosis is a major consideration as they attempt to evade the gunfighter still hunting their trail and make their way back to Brannon's Arizona ranch.

Through battles, mistaken identity, the help of friends, and deep sorrow, Brannon and Littlefoot begin forming a bond that brings the past 14 years of Stuart's life full circle. It is in Littlefoot that Brannon begins to see some of the pain of his past redeemed and his lonely days made hopeful. This original ending of the Stuart Brannon series is full of adventure, retrospection, and musings on how God works in the lives of His children.
Final Justice at Adobe Wells

Stuart Brannon's name is beginning to be recognized everywhere, thanks to the dime novels which have been written about his adventures. Brannon's quest is still to settle down to a quiet ranch life, but his trip down to Mexico to buy cattle from his friends Senor and Senora Pacifica is complicated when he arrives to discover the Senora a widow and her entire herd stolen. Attempting to regain the cattle, Brannon takes off across the Sonoran Desert in search of the ruthless marauders.

Not one to give up easily, the disgruntled leader of the outlaws begins taking Brannon's friends captive in hopes that Stuart will choose to save human lives and let him keep the herd. But Brannon has never let any challenge stop him from pursuing what is right, and he's not about to start now. Not against cattle thieves, and not against the Apache Indians which are in the area.

All the while Brannon's heart is being drawn to Senora Pacifica in a way he hasn't felt in a long time. She understands him, even the deep pain of loss which has been kept so close inside him. Will Brannon finally choose to open himself up to love again? Will he even have the opportunity to make that choice when this latest whirlwind settles?

On a personal note, I think this is my favorite cover out of the new Greenbrier editions. I just love the beautiful sage green, and the pictures are apropos to the storyline. There's only one of the original Stuart Brannon novels left after this one, and then on to final sequel which was begun by Stephen Bly and finished by his family after his death. This ride will be coming to a conclusion all too soon! It has been a good one.
2014 was a great year for reading! I'm thankful to have had the ability to read so many good books this year. Now I get to present my favorites to you and hope you'll check some of them out for yourself! Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction

Love Comes Calling

Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

In a zany series of capers, Ellis Eton tries to trade identities with one friend and save the life of another. Ellis makes an endearing heroine because she has a good heart but she's also terribly scatterbrained. This one is an amusing and charming read!

Young Adult Fiction

Fairest Beauty

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

This year I read more young adult books than I have since I was a young adult myself, and while a number of them were good, I am still resonating with the spiritual truths and character growth found in "The Fairest Beauty." This was a lovely retelling of the classic Snow White fairytale.

Speculative Fiction


Awakening by Tracy Higley

Museum worker Kallie Andreas suffers from amnesia, and she is given the opportunity of a lifetime when she's offered to lead a team in quest of finding a crucial artifact. As her journey takes her to Egypt, Italy, and the Greek isle of Santorini, Kallie discovers much about herself, her past, and our amazing God.

Contemporary Fiction

All My Belongings

All My Belongings by Cynthia Ruchti

Becca Morrow is trying to get a fresh start on life by changing her name and moving half-way across the country to escape the notoriety of her father's high-profile murder trial. While she's running from her past, her new friend Isaac is seeking his in the form of searching for his biological parents. The themes and lessons in this book were beautiful and insightful, and the wonderful balance of storytelling elements makes this one you can't put down.


Hardest Peace

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts

Kara Tippetts is a pastor's wife and mother of four young children who has received a terrible diagnosis: terminal cancer. As her life on this earth fades away, Kara encourages all of us to trust God as the Author of our story, let His grace fill our lives, and love well those around us. Find the beauty in the heartbreak. This is an amazing book with applications for you no matter your life circumstances.

Classic Literature

Rilla of Ingleside

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The final book in the Anne of Green Gables series is a coming-of-age tale set during the anxious days of World War I. Anne's daughter Rilla is one of my favorite literary characters ever written. She grows from a dreamy young girl into a mature and strong woman whose heart beats for the needs of others. Every emotion is written in such a way that you feel you're on the journey, too.
Standoff at Sunrise Creek

After many adventures in Colorado and New Mexico, Stuart Brannon arrives home in Arizona at last. His first stop is to pick up his mail in Prescott and spend time with friends, including the intriguing Miss Harriet Reed, who has decided that she will be the one to capture this widower's heart. But on Brannon's first night in town the dinner in his honor goes horribly wrong when a young woman named Julie takes a bullet meant for Stuart, and he visits her often in the early days of her recovery. Then it's time to go back to his ranch and begin rebuilding a simple life on the range.

Except Stuart Brannon's life is never simple. When he finally sets foot again on his Triple B Ranch, he is disturbed to find his place occupied as headquarters for the Casa Verde Land Corporation, who claims a right to be there because of a Spanish land grant. Knowing that such a grant has not been approved by Congress, Brannon manages to fight his way to possession of his own property, but the CVL promises it will be back with more men to evict him for good.

While awaiting the CVL's return and healing from injuries sustained during the reclaiming of his home, Brannon becomes host to several visitors, including a small troop of soldiers who are in the area to look for suspicious Apache activity, as well as friends from Prescott, Harriet and Julie among them. With dangers from Indians and the threat of a siege by the CVL, Brannon and company must outwit and outmaneuver them all if they hope to stay alive and make sure the ranch is still standing when all is said and done.

He's spent years fighting battles for other people, and now Brannon has a fight that is all his own. His ranch holds all his dreams for the future, as well as the heartbreak of the past. He longs for the quiet rancher's life and believes he is not a violent man, but trouble seems to follow him everywhere. Soon this conflict attracts the attention of the whole territory, and everyone is watching to see if Stuart Brannon will be able to win the Yavapai County War and the freedom to rebuild his life on his own property. Find your copy of this adventure to see for yourself how Brannon's home and heart fare through this latest set of challenges.
Last Hanging at Paradise Meadow

All Stuart Brannon wanted to do was ride into town, deliver something to Peter Mulroney, and finally head back to his ranch in Arizona. Instead he arrives at Broken Arrow Crossing, now renamed Paradise Meadow, to find Peter in jail for a murder he didn't commit and the city about to implode under corrupt leadership. Unable to stand by when there are good people in need of help, Brannon soon finds himself in the middle of the conflict.

A point of view character in this novel is Rose Creek, a schoolteacher of Cherokee descent trying to make her stand in Paradise Meadow. Ever since she spoke out publicly against the town's self-appointed mayor, Rose has been losing students and being pressured to move on. When Peter Mulroney is jailed, he asks Rose to take care of his three children and to try to find Stuart Brannon for help in this unjust situation. When Rose does meet Brannon for the first time they get off on the wrong foot, and she thinks he is a heedless, irresponsible man more likely to add to the problem than aid it.

As the decent citizens in Paradise Meadow begin banding together to fight against Mayor Rutherford, Brannon fears vigilante justice will result. Good people are so upset at the mistreatment they have suffered that they are more set on revenge than doing what is right. Brannon, Creek, and a few others try to remain impartial and hold things together, but as events unfold their lives and safety may just be threatened by the very people they are trying to protect.

When right and wrong turn upside down a lot of bad choices can be made, and eventually any good outcome becomes questionable. This novel puts our humanity into check and reminds us that our values must align with God's or they will lead to destruction. Can Paradise Meadow survive? Eventually the citizens themselves will be the deciding factor.

This third Stuart Brannon novel is full of memorable characters and page-turning action. Riding the trail with Stuart Brannon is never, ever boring!
Fairest Beauty

When young Gabe hears that his brother's betrothed, long thought dead, is living as a mistreated scullery maid in her stepmother's castle, he recklessly sets off alone on a quest to free her. Never mind that his brother is a tournament champion and Gabe has never been that interested in training and competitions; this is his chance to show that he's just as valiant as Valten. Surely infiltrating Duchess Ermengard's home and whisking away one maid can't be that difficult.

Having grown up believing she is an orphan, Sophie tries to be an expert at pleasing the exacting and cruel Duchess Ermengard, but often finds herself punished for the most minor infractions. Life seems hopeless in Hohendorf, as the Duchess never lets anyone leave and rarely do any new visitors come to the castle. When a well-dressed troubadour mysteriously appears, claiming to want to sing the praises of Duchess Ermengard, everyone is suspicious that he is not who he claims to be.

At first I had a hard time getting into this story. Gabe seems far too irresponsible and thoughtless, and Sophie didn't seem like she had much of a personality. But as the story progressed I realized Sophie seemed one-dimensional because the abuse she had suffered robbed her of any joy or spark of individuality. It was once she realized that she was valued and that she could hope for a better future that she began coming alive. You can't overestimate the work of hope in an oppressive situation! Gabe goes through tremendous character growth, too, as he realizes that this quest to save Sophie isn't a lark, but rather a truly dangerous situation which will require strength and sacrifice if either of them are to survive.

This story includes lots of classic "Snow White" references, including the huntsman ordered to kill Sophie, the seven unusual men who offer shelter to our main characters when they desperately need it, and a poisoned apple which threatens every hope of a happy ending. Even though Gabe and Sophie are mindful of the fact that she is betrothed to Valten, a bond quickly forms between them as they work together to secure the future which Duchess Ermengard has tried to steal from her.

My favorite part of this novel was seeing Sophie's faith carry her through. When she realizes that the Duchess is actually her stepmother and all that has been taken away from her through evil intentions, she doesn't let despair or hate take over her heart. With the encouragement of others, she is able to actively choose to let God do His healing work in her. It's not an instantaneously healing, but rather a choice each time she is hurting to embrace God rather than anger. Watching her, Gabe also realizes that he can accept God's healing in various ways in his life, too. These kinds of lessons are ones I love seeing because they meet us right where we are. God wants to work in our lives so that our struggles and sorrows bring us closer to Him, but we can easily get in the way and shut Him out. Purposefully being open to His love, mercy, and grace is something we can all choose, giving Him a chance to do a transforming work in us.
False Claims at the Little Stephen Mine

Stuart Brannon tries his hand at prospecting in the second book of the series that bears his name. After the events of the first book, Brannon and his British friend Edwin Fletcher are still in the Colorado mountains, working hard to dig out a little gold from their mine. While Brannon's simple goal is to make enough money to finance a return to his Arizona ranch, little do they suspect their quiet location will soon be the center of multiple disputes and battles.

Challenging Brannon and Fletcher's claim to the land is Abner Cheney, who says the government gave him the right to the whole mountain because of the railroad he intends to put in. Cheney's former clerk Waldo Vance has also taken it into his head to usurp Cheney and take over the mine for himself. The warring factions come against each other as well as Stuart and friends, bringing in both lawmen and gunfighters to help persuade Brannon and Fletcher to desert their post.

Meanwhile Brannon strikes up an unexpected alliance with three Ute Indians, and faces another challenge when Velvet Wendell inherits one-fourth of their mine after Everett Davis's death. Brannon doesn't think that prospecting is any kind of life for a woman, but Velvet insists that she can pull her weight and that she deserves the chance to find some security after a life full of heartache.

The question Brannon must ask himself over the course of these struggles is what is right in any given situation. Is their claim on the mine legitimate? How do you avoid revenge while seeking justice? Is his own stubbornness and greed getting in the way of the truth? It's a time of growth for the man who so newly found his faith.

The fast-paced adventure will keep you turning pages until you reach the unexpected conclusion. Be watching out for more reviews from the Stuart Brannon Series in the near future!
52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables

Victor Hugo's classic novel has inspired countless people, including myself. I made the commitment to read the 1,463-page book last year, and that was not a decision I regretted. There is so much to be found in this story! Bob Welch has taken the time to highlight 52 different things we can learn from Hugo's masterpiece, and I felt he did a beautiful job drawing them out.

Each chapter of this book is filled with quotes from the novel and lines from the stage and film versions of the musical. It also contains facts about Hugo's life and the contradiction that a man who did not live for God could write a story which reveals so much truth about Him. The topics that Welch covers in this novel are for all aspects of the Christian life, and while drawing from his own life experiences as an author and professor, he also frequently includes Scripture and snippets from the works of well-known authors like Henri Nouwen and Oswald Chambers.

I was impressed at the depth of care Welch took in making "Les Miserables" approachable for all readers. At the beginning of the book there is a detailed list of characters, complete with a handy pronunciation guide for those of us who aren't familiar with the French language. Welch guides us on a journey that spans every part of the novel, from the opening pages about Bishop Myriel and including the lesser-favored parts of the lengthy novel: Waterloo, the convents, and the sewers. Every character receives plenty of attention and their good and bad qualities discussed. One need not be familiar with Hugo's original story to benefit from Welch's pages. My grandmother read several chapters from this book while she was recently visiting, and she's never read "Les Miserables" or seen any adaptation of it, but she was able to understand what a magnificent story it was thanks to Welch's easily understood breakdown.

"52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables" is one I would recommend to all who love this story or those who want to know it better. I enjoyed every page as I was reminded of the truths it contains. Welch does a fantastic job and will inspire you not only to know more about "Les Miserables," but more about our wonderful God as well.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review. All opinions are my own.
Merchant's Daughter

Young Annabel Chapman's family owes a debt to the lord of their demesne, and they believe corrupt Bailiff Tom will help them pay it in exchange for Annabel's hand in marriage. Annabel, however, desires to become a nun and live her life studying the Bible, so she takes matters into her own hands and agrees to three years of indentured service to Lord le Wyse in order to pay her family's debt and also escape the unwanted advances of the bailiff. She hopes that after her time of service she will be able to take her vows and enter a convent.

Having just moved to the remote hamlet of Glynval in order to build a new manor house, Ranulf le Wyse is on a quest to hide from the world and recover from his past. He once saved a servant from a wolf's attack, and for his trouble he lost one of his eyes and use of his arm. Other life traumas have left him abrupt and easily angered, and the combination of physical and emotional scars give him a beastly bearing. He wants privacy and peace, but that is threatened when Bailiff Tom meets with a mysterious injury. His servant Annabel, whose reading of the Bible has often soothed his evenings, is one of the main suspects and he is sure she knows more than she is saying.

It was very easy to get caught up in this story! There was an element of danger which kept me turning the pages. I didn't find Annabel to be the most compelling character, as she seemed to have few faults besides a penchant for tears, and she fit one of my literary pet peeves in that nearly every man who met her wanted to marry her. But the story itself definitely fit with its "Beauty and the Beast" origins and was enjoyable overall. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, be sure to check out this and other works by Melanie Dickerson!
Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing

When cold weather comes and the holidays arrive, I find myself drawn to reread favorite books from my youth. This was especially true this year, as I ran across my copy of Stephen Bly's final book, the one that he was writing when he died and which his family finished and published for him posthumously. Up until now I hadn't been able to bring myself to read it, but this time when I saw the cover I realized I was ready for another Bly adventure. But you can't just pick up and read Book 7 in a series which you have revisited in years, so back to the beginning I went. Back to where Stuart Brannon first met the literary world.

A broken man after losing everything he held dear, Brannon leaves his Arizona ranch to accept an invitation to join his friend Charley in the Colorado goldfields. During a blizzard he stumbles into the remote stage station at Broken Arrow Crossing, which has been all but abandoned for the winter, just as a claim jumper attacks the place looking for a map to Charley's mine. His horse stolen by the less than scrupulous fellow, Brannon finds himself a stranded nursemaid to old propsector and station manager Everett Davis, who was injured in the conflict. Davis informs him that Charley has died after spreading word around the area that he had struck it rich. With no way out of the mountains, Brannon settles in for what he figures will be a quiet winter at the station.

He couldn't have been more wrong. On Christmas Eve a pregnant Indian girl finds herself on their doorstep, having run away from the man who mistreated her. Soon her baby arrives, bringing both hope and reflection to the isolated cabin. Just a few days later their world is again interrupted, this time by a group who was traveling through the area in hopes of being the first settlers in a goldfield community. As they were dangerously turned around during the snowstorms, Brannon must help locate and recover all members of the party. It won't be easy, as there is an Indian hunting party nearby, as well as a gang of outlaw brothers who are also seeking to find the gold mine.

While fighting for the survival of the whole ragtag group, Stuart struggles to come to terms with his own past and the way he feels about God. Having always kept his distance from the Almighty, especially after the tragedies in Arizona, Brannon finds it hard to believe that God could truly care about him and the others stranded at Broken Arrow Crossing. As the long winter unfolds into an early spring showdown, Brannon's understanding of an all-wise, merciful God is opened.

It's a joy to revisit this series, first published in the early 1990s by Crossway and reprinted by Greenbrier in 2012. I can still hear my father's voice reading these books aloud to my siblings and me many years ago. Stuart Brannon is an old friend and it feels good to be back in the saddle with him again!
Healer's Apprentice

Welcome to fourtheenth century Germany, where a girl named Rose has captured the hearts of two brothers. As an apprentice to the local healer, Rose lives inside the castle walls and is receiving an education far beyond what most women are given at that time. She was chosen to be placed under Frau Geruscha's tutelage and wants to learn the healing arts, even if it's not something she is naturally drawn towards.

Lord Hamlin and Lord Rupert, sons of the duke of Hagenheim, come home after being away for some years and both fall in love with Rose. As the eldest, Lord Hamlin has been betrothed to the daughter of a neighboring ruler since he was very young. Lord Rupert will inherit very little and would be prudent to find a wife with a rich dowry. As Rose become friends with both young men, she is aware that anything more than friendship is not likely, even as Rupert begins making strides towards a courtship.

Having never met his betrothed, Lord Hamlin works hard to curb his attraction to Rose and stay faithful to the unknown Lady Salomea, whom he will finally meet in a few months. Lady Salomea has been in hiding many years, as her life has been threatened by the evil Moncore. Deciding to try to catch Moncore so his betrothed will be safe at last, Lord Hamlin encourages Rose to marry Rupert and leaves on his quest.

But when Lord Rupert's motives become suspect and a strange man begins shadowing Rose, it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Loosely based on "Sleeping Beauty," this tale brings us mystery, danger, hope, and a reminder that though God's plans often take us by surprise, they are always exactly right. How good to remember our trustworthy God during the sometimes dark and uncertain days we all go through!

I'm so glad I have been able to read a couple of Melanie Dickerson's fairy tale retellings, and I can't wait to read more. Stay tuned for future reviews.
Hearts Awakening

Ellie Kilmer has been dealt a rough hand at life. Having been caretaker for her elderly parents until their deaths, Ellie is now in her thirties and being passed around to live with whichever relatives will grudgingly open their homes to her. When she meets young widower Jackson Smith and he almost immediately asks her to consent to a marriage of convenience for the sake of his young sons, she agrees because at least she'll have a respectable place in the world again.

Jackson is pleased to have Ellie's help in raising Daniel and Ethan, but he can't believe that for the second time he has married a woman he doesn't love. The scars of his first wife's unfaithfulness influence the way he views Ellie, too. He holds her to the agreements they forged before marriage and is quick to suspect that she might be doing things he does not approve of. Their marriage feels tentative all the way around.

Giving it her best, Ellie fights with determination to win a place in Daniel and Ethan's hearts and live peaceably with Jackson, even while challenging him to meet her halfway in her efforts to make their house a home. She tries to be accepting of Jackson's emotions even when he is the opposite towards her.

This wasn't a story I would go back and reread, but it wasn't so bad that I struggled to finish it. The story took unpredictable turns, and I found Ellie to be a good role model for standing up for oneself. She fought for what she saw was right, no matter what it cost her. That's the kind of heroine one can cheer for! If you'd like to check out this book, it is currently free on Kindle
These Three Remain

Following in the footsteps of "An Assembly Such as This" and "Duty and Desire," this final installment in the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series brings us the climactic events of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" from the hero's point of view. Darcy's love for Elizabeth is on full display, from the opening scene on the way to Kent all the way through to the final lines on the last page.

After the disastrous events of the second novel, Darcy is ready to forget women everywhere and revoke his emotional attachment to Elizabeth for good. But the very day he makes this choice, he arrives at the home of his aunt for his yearly visit and discovers that Elizabeth herself is visiting her good friend just down the lane. A meeting is inevitable, and his heart will not listen to his cautions.

Finding Elizabeth just as witty and lovely as she was in Hertfordshire, Darcy decides he cannot live without her and begins what he believes to be a courtship, mistaking Elizabeth's responses to him as a form of shy encouragement. When he finally makes a declaration of his love in the Hunsford parsonage, he is beyond shocked at her round refusal and complete dismissal of him, his hopes, and his character.

Darcy returns to London and spirals into despair. How could he have been so blind to her true feelings? Could it be possible that he is more the man she thinks he is rather than what he has always tried to be? With the determined love of his sister and the strength of a good friend helping pull him through, Darcy begins overhauling the way he views the world and attempts to become the kind of man that Elizabeth would be proud to call friend, even though he knows he may never cross paths with her again.

I positively loved this book and found it thoroughly engrossing. Darcy's emotions were so palpable, whether it be his love or his pain or his decisions to make himself a better man. Although I enjoyed the first two books, I found this one to be the best by far. I hated every time I had to put it down, even though being familiar with Austen's original meant I knew how events were going to unfold. Pamela Aidan added a whole new dimension to the story and it had me hooked. I have a new understanding of Fitzwilliam Darcy which will enhance every future reading of the classic or the viewing of its various adaptations.

This series, and especially this final book, is one I would recommend to all Austen fans. If I may badly quote Lady Metcalfe talking to Lady Catherine: "Pamela Aidan, you have given [us] a treasure." 
Princess Spy

I have heard high praise for Melanie Dickerson's fairy tale retellings, and I was so excited when I had the chance to read one of them! Set in the fifteenth century, this reimagining of The Frog Prince was hard to put down once I got into the story. I'll definitely be going back and reading this author's previous books!

The hero in the story is a young Englishman named Colin, who ventured into Germany to find the man who murdered his sister's friend. Discovered and beaten by knights of the villain, Colin is left for dead on the side of the road. Although he is found and taken to the healer at Hagenheim Castle, he is so injured and at a disadvantage because of the language barrier that at first everyone thinks he has lost his mind.

Lady Margaretha, the oldest daughter of the duke of Hagenheim, is fascinated by the wounded man in the healer's chamber. Because she studied English under her tutor, she is able to communicate with Colin as he regains consciousness and strength. Margaretha is a very talkative and somewhat spoiled girl whose most serious concern in life has been contemplating which of her suitors to accept in marriage, but she is also kind and determined.

When Colin finds out that the murderer he is chasing is actually a guest at Hagenheim Castle, he asks Margaretha to put her own safety on the line and spy on Lord Claybrook. What she uncovers sends her and Colin on a quest to outwit and outmaneuver the evil lord before he is able to accomplish his scheme. As the pair rely on God and each other throughout the adventure, we get to see each of them growing in character, refining their strengths, and overcoming their weaknesses.

I enjoyed this book very much. Although it's of the young adult genre, it's one that will delight all ages, especially those who still enjoy fairy tales. This book releases today, so look for it at online retailers or Christian bookstores near you.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Daughter of Highland Hall

Last year I read and very much enjoyed Carrie Turansky's Edwardian tale, "The Governess of Highland Hall," and I have been looking forward to its sequel ever since. Fans of "Downton Abbey" will enjoy the familiar setting, as we get a look at London society in the days before World War I, when family reputations were protected and advantageous marriages were still sought for the sons and daughters of the day.

We met 18-year-old debutante Katherine Ramsey in the first book, when she was a rather unlikeable but sympathetic character, covering up her grief and uncertainty with sarcasm and pride. Now more settled and having benefited from the influence of her governess, Kate is ready to be presented at court and seek a marriage proposal from an affluent suitor. Her deceased mother's sister, Aunt Louisa, is her sponsor, and she is more determined than anyone to make sure Kate connects with all the right social circles and secures a successful future for herself. If only Kate could be less awkward and more certain that was what she wanted with her life!

While staying in London for the season, the Ramsey family is joined by Jonathan Foster, the brother of our heroine from the first book. Jon is close to finishing his medical training, and while he had planned to go back to India as a missionary and continue his father's work there, his heart has recently been tugged by the needs of London's East End and the help that a free clinic is bringing to the inhabitants. Jon begins volunteering as often as he can while praying about God's will for his future. Attracted to the lovely Kate, Jon seeks to be a safe place for her to be herself apart from the demands and expectations of her aunt.

Kate is soon being courted by a wealthy young man and it seems almost too good to be true that things could be lining up for her so quickly. But when the actions of her cousin David bring the Ramsey family to disgrace, will Edward still be an attentive suitor? While waiting for things to sort themselves out, Kate begins accompanying Jon to the clinic in the East End. As her eyes are opened to the poverty so close to home, she begins to feel the shallowness of the plans she has always had for herself. She admires Jon for his strength of character and his giving nature, but she feels she cannot disappoint her aunt and let their relationship develop beyond friendship.

With social intrigue and the danger of going into the worst parts of London, "The Daughter of Highland Hall" explores the ways God works in the lives of His children. Trustworthy to direct our paths, He uses relationships and situations to help guide us into the place He would have for us in His kingdom. I also enjoyed the subplots and secondary characters in this book. I very much look forward to the next release in this series, scheduled for Oct. 2015. I'm sure it will be as excellent as these first two have been.

If you would like to read the first chapter of "The Daughter of Highland Hall," you can do so here, or to enter the author's giveaway which includes the book as well as Downton-themed prizes, click on this link. Hurry, the giveaway ends tomorrow!

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

I really love Sarah E. Ladd's Regency fiction! She is a lovely voice in this growing market, and I believe her covers are the prettiest ones in the business. When I was offered the chance to review "A Lady at Willowgrove Hall," I jumped at the opportunity!

Our heroine for this story is Cecily Faire, a sweet redhead who finds herself accepting the position of lady's companion to the elderly Mrs. Trent. Cecily has a tangled past, as she has been separated from her family since the age of 16, when her temperamental father dropped her off at a school for young ladies and intentionally never came back for her. She finished her education there and then taught for a few years before setting out to make a way on her own. She hopes someday she can be reunited with her family, especially her twin sister, but has few leads about where they have moved to.

Nathaniel Stanton is the young steward at Mrs. Trent's Willowgrove Hall estate. He inherited the position from his father and the secret of his true parentage from his mother. He's been promised to receive a legacy from his biological father upon Mrs. Trent's death, but meanwhile he is doing his best to serve at Willowgrove and take care of his mother and sisters.

Scarcely has Cecily arrived at Willowgrove before she comes face to face with her past, but rather than her family, it's the last person she ever wanted to see. But life has changed for Cecily since the youthful elopement she once planned with Andrew Moreton, and she hopes he has changed, too. Would Mrs. Trent dismiss her if she found out that Cecily was once romantically involved with her nephew? Cecily feels they must keep their secret, for her sake as well as for Andrew's upcoming marriage, and meanwhile feels growing attraction for Willowgrove's kind and serious steward.

This was a gentle story with likable characters for whom it was easy to cheer. I felt the issues that Cecily and Nathaniel faced, with things in the past that haunted each of them, were ones that readers could relate to today. There was enough mystery that the narrative was enhanced by it, rather than driven by it. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to all historical fiction fans.

My copy of the book was provided by the author in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Prelude for a Lord

Regency fiction always catches my eye, and I love it when an author is able to bring a new angle in teaching me more about Jane Austen's time period. In "Prelude for a Lord," Camille Elliot reveals that playing the violin was once considered to be improper and scandalous for young women. Of course this is demonstrated by a headstrong young lady who insists on playing it despite society's disapproval, and the story is made complete by a mystery surrounding her beautiful and unique Stradivarius instrument.

Lady Alethea Sutherton grew up rather isolated in the English countryside, with an unfortunately unloving family. Her one season in London was a miserable disaster, and she has mostly hidden away ever since, content to be reclusive because it means she can fully embrace her love of music. When her cousin inherits her home and the family title, he forces Alethea to call upon the mercy of their aunt in Bath to take her in, and Alethea must get used to living in town as a 28-year-old socially inept and opinionated spinster.

Her life becomes more complicated when she realizes she is being followed when she leaves the house, and she is confronted by a mysterious agent who wishes to buy her violin for a nameless client. Alethea treasures her instrument, which was left to her by the neighbor who taught her to play and gave her light and love during her dark upbringing years, and she refuses to sell it. She has tried to keep her playing a secret in order to protect her aunt's reputation, but it's clear someone has found out and knows more about her instrument than she does. Alethea is forced to seek out the help of the talented Lord Dommick, who in their one meeting years earlier had soundly discouraged her from continuing her musical pursuits, to discover the provenance of her violin.

Lord Dommick is well-known as a musician and composer in the London society scene. He has played in a quartet with his university mates for several years, until half of them joined the army to take part in the Naploeonic Wars. Now Dommick is back England, having recovered from an injury and now suffering from PTSD. The nightmares and flashbacks have made him reclusive, afraid to have an episode in public and thus bring shame onto his family. One of Bath's foremost matrons tempts Dommick to help Alethea in exchange for prominently featuring the Gentlemen Quartet in her upcoming gala, which would give a needed boost to their flagging social standing. He does not expect the attraction to Alethea nor the danger that both they and their families will face as the story unfolds.

This novel was a little slow to get into but I was quickly hooked and could not stop thinking about the characters. The novel has a bit of a darker tone, more in the style of Dickens than Austen, and I felt this was even reflected in the choice of character names. With other current Regency authors, such as Julie Klassen and Sarah Ladd, they really try to use names that are both familiar and period-appropriate, but Camille Elliot let you wrestle with the harder names and let them set the mood for a different kind of story. In fact, she has written blog posts about how she close Alethea's and Dommick's names, which I found fascinating. I loved the many secondary characters, and found the faith element very well-done and natural. I will be watching for the release of future titles by this author!

I review for BookLook Bloggers

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

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Tammy L!

"I'm so weary of my own story I could run away." Just reading those words makes me feel like crying. I have certainly felt that way at times, and I know many others who have, as well. Does anyone's life story play out the way they expect? Sometimes in the pain and uncertainty the ability to run away, even temporarily, would be most welcome. But this isn't a book about running away. It's a book about looking at life's difficulties and knowing: "...If God has called me to this hard story, His promise is one of sufficient grace."

Author Kara Tippetts is a young mother and pastor's wife who is living with the crushing reality of aggressive, metastasized cancer. Unless God radically intervenes, she is not long for this earth. With a heart broken for her husband and her four small children, Kara writes about her life's journey and how Jesus has met her at every turn, even in this stage, when it looks as though she will lose every hope and dream she had for this life. How can one have peace in such circumstances? Only by embracing God's grace and the belief that He is good and in control. "Grace is the sweet moment you never expect but turns up to get you through a day, an appointment, a reality you never, ever dreamed for yourself."

This is a timely message for a world who spends so much time on Facebook and Pinterest, looking at happy, shiny people and things. Those pictures do not reflect everyday reality. Walking in God's grace means you embrace truly living the life God has given you, and don't let yourself fall for the performance trap. It means living with humility and intentionality because God has you here for a reason. It means looking for what is truly beautiful and not just pretty. It means living faithfully in a world that barely even knows what that means anymore. "Tomorrow we get to wake up and be faithful. Whatever each step brings, and whatever comes, people will always disappoint us. But tomorrow, tomorrow we get to be faithful in that moment."

This isn't a book just for those who are fighting cancer. This is for anyone who knows what it is like to have broken dreams, unfulfilled desires, or suffering due to difficult circumstances. "...Suffering... is the gift you never wanted, the gift wrapped in confusion and brokenness and heartbreak."

Everyone faces twists and turns in their lives. Beauty comes when we are able to let God work out His purposes instead of clinging stubbornly to what we want. God is the redeemer of all things, and our pain does not have to devastate us if it drives us closer to Him. He is working. He is a good God. He is with you. "Your story is a good story. In the grief, pain, and hard, the Author has a plan. It may feel like a desperate breaking of your very heart, but suffering is not the absence of God or good."

For a chance to win a copy of "The Hardest Peace," please leave a comment right here on this post with a way for me to contact you should you win. Comments will be open until Saturday, Oct. 18. You can also enter the prize pack giveaway at the link below.

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

kara tippets the hardest peace

Kara Tippetts' brave and touching book, The Hardest Peace is launching with a blogger challenge. Celebrate with Kara by joining the #HardestPeace conversation and share how you are finding grace in the midst of the everyday and in life's hard moments.

The Hardest Peace, Kara Tippetts

Share your stories of everyday grace in the midst of life’s difficulties and enter to win a #HardestPeace prize pack:

  • A book club pack (10 copies of The Hardest Peace for you and your small group!)

  • A handcrafted candle

  • Journal

  • Custom Etsy The Hardest Peace print and coffee mug

To enter to win, simply blog about your #HardestPeace story and then submit the link to your post via the link-up (or see link in the Rafflecopter below). Plus stop by others’ stories to leave encouragement and offer prayers as we all travel the journey of life together and discover that the hardest peace is often the most fulfilling peace.
Then follow Kara online (via the Rafflcopter) for additional entries into the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'll never forget the day in June 2004 in Pryor, OK, when I brought this book home from the library by accident. By accident. Look at that bright cover! I don't know how it was possible that I took it off the shelf, walked it up to the desk to check out, brought it out to the car, and drove it all the way home before I realized which book it was. I had thought I picked up the Terri Blackstock novel next to it. But home was 15 miles away from the library and I had no reason to go back and exchange it. I might as well read it, right? Even though the back cover copy made me groan: "Jay Jarvis just moved east. His dating life's gone south. What else is a guy to do but go fishing?"

Now I'm not sure how well you know me, but that doesn't sound like me at all. What I didn't know then was that God had arranged to get this book in my hands, and that it would be exactly what I needed.

In this zany tale, Jay Jarvis has just completed a work relocation to South Carolina. In order to meet eligible females, he decides to start attending church, even though that is not something he has ever done before. His eye is immediately caught by unassuming Allie, a young missionary home on furlough. When he hears that Allie is helping plan the singles' retreat to the beach, he decides to join in and hopes to spend time with her. As Jay becomes more involved in the church, he meets all varieties of Christians: the hospitable ones, the legalistic ones, the secretive ones, the eccentric ones, and more. But he soon recognizes that they possess something inside of them that he does not, and he's pretty sure he wants whatever it is.

When Jay does come face to face with Jesus, he realizes that it has been God orchestrating these events all along. And as Allie is known to say, "God often has very different plans than what our earthly brains think is best for us." As the book continues, Jay seeks God's will for his life, his job, his relationships, and his location... and is flabbergasted by God's plans.

When I first read this book I was very much in a place of transition. 2004 was the year we lived in four different states. I didn't know what God was doing in my life, and I certainly had no idea what was around the corner, or that it would be as blessed as it has been. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and you'll never think of the color lime green the same way again. It was a bright spot in an uncertain time, and was an encouragement to my spirit. Now I've had the chance to be flabbergasted myself at God's work in my life, and I still love Jay Jarvis and the part he played in my journey. That was why I chose to do this 10th Anniversary reread, although it's far from the first time I've opened its pages again. I've bought this book in paperback and hardback. I've bought the audiobook. I have it on my Kindle, too! Ray Blackston's debut (and best!) novel shines in all mediums. It will never stop being one of my favorite stories.



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