Castle on the Rise

Kristy Cambron's Lost Castle series continues with this Ireland-inspired tale. Like the first book in the series, this is a split-time novel featuring three separate timelines, characters, and plots. In the late 1700s our heroine is Maeve, largely running her family's estate and trying to be a generous mistress, including rescuing strangers who are found wounded in nearby fields. The middle storyline focuses on the 1916 Easter Rising, with young photographer Issy wanting to join the fight for freedom. Our current day setting brings us Laine, a hurting divorcee with a small daughter whose unplanned visit to Ireland may end up bringing hope and healing to both of them.

Having found the timeline in "The Lost Castle" confusing to follow, "Castle on the Rise" is truly refreshing in its straightforward chronology. The historical stories grabbed me right away, and I also felt for Laine and the burden of the secrets she was keeping.

However, much like the first book, I felt too much was lost trying to pack three stories into one. I love learning history through fiction, but it seemed the rebellions of 1798 and 1916 as Cambron tried to describe them lacked context, and the real life people and places lacked impact because they were not developed enough on the page. I felt Issy's story was the strongest and that I could have gathered so much more of Ireland's struggle if only it had a chance to truly grow and blossom here.

My other main complaint was that even basic conversations were difficult to follow because none of the characters' motivations were very clear. I often had no idea why any two characters would be having the conversations as presented in the story.

It is clear that Cambron loves Ireland and wished to honor this country and its fight for freedom. Her description of the location were beautifully done. Perhaps other readers would be able to enjoy the split-time approach more than I this time.

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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

The Warrior Maiden

Melanie Dickerson has brought us another exciting fairy tale retelling, and this time Mulan takes center stage! We're all familiar with the Disney version of the story, and perhaps you even know a bit about the original Chinese legend. Dickerson blends this well-known character with people and places from her Hagenheim series to form a delightful novel that her readers will love.

This Mulan has recently lost her distant and uncaring father, and, in order to save her mother's home, disguises herself as a man and takes her father's place in the army. They are marching to defend an ally against the attack of the evil Teutonic Knights. Her father's servant boy attends her, knowing she is a woman and helping guard that secret. He's no Mushu, but he plays a valuable role in helping Mulan.

Because she has training in archery, Mulan is able to fit in well when it comes to the shooting range, though she doesn't do so well in other fighting disciplines. When it is time for battle, her bravery comes as a surprise even to herself. Soon her name becomes synonymous with daring and courage.

I thought Dickerson did a good job balancing Mulan's femininity with the warrior aspect, and her unmasking made complete sense within the story, coming neither too soon nor being too drawn out. I enjoyed the hero and thought the conflicts he faced were well-drawn and natural. The way he is able to help her understand God as a loving Father was one of the highlights of the novel. One side character in particular will grab onto your heart, and I understand he's getting his own story in December, so I am very much looking forward to that!

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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.
Find out more thoughts on any of these stories by clicking on their titles.

No One Ever Asked

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

Loosely based on real-life events, this story deals with a lot of deep and thought-provoking issues, including some that are often swept under the rug. School districts merge and tensions of every kind run high in the lives of three different women.

Who I Am With You

Who I Am With You by Robin Lee Hatcher

It's tempting to hide from the past when it is full of pain. Pregnant widow Jessica doesn't want anyone to know that before he died her husband was about to leave her, and Ridley is fresh off a political scandal. Poignant and captivating.

Falling For You

Falling For You by Becky Wade

There's one person Willow Bradford never wanted to see again, and that's the man who is now back in her life. While she carefully maintains a perfect exterior, it may be time to face the things she has kept so deeply buried.
I read a lot of good non-fiction books this year, but these three rose to the top and have stayed with me the most.

Almost Already

Almost Already by Jonathan Tony

No one's life turns out how they anticipate it will be, but what do we do when grappling with the dichotomy of our dreams and our realities? I appreciated the truth packed within this book, as well as its conversational style that lets us know we're not alone in our struggles. 

Party of One

Party of One by Joy Beth Smith

"The one thing I wish someone had told me when I was younger was, 'Even if you don't get married, you'll be okay.'"
It's incredibly difficult to be a single woman who wants to honor God and follow Him whether or not He fulfills the desires of our heart. Is He still good though the way is hard? Yes, He is!

Story Equation

The Story Equation by Susan May Warren

If you want to be a writer or a really savvy reader, I found this to be an excellent resource! Story crafting is explained in a way I'd never heard before, and I've found myself recognizing various techniques all over the place now that my eyes are open to them.

Jessica Mason's world was turned upside down in the span of a few weeks. First her husband told her he wanted a divorce, then he and their 6-year-old daughter died in a car accident. A positive pregnancy test only complicated matters. She never had a chance to tell anyone about her husband's unfaithfulness, and now it's a burden that grows heavier with each month that passes.

Trying to escape a political scandal for which he took the blame, Ridley Chesterfield finds himself nearly off the grid in rural Idaho. Fixing up his parents' vacation home gives him a perfect excuse to hide from the world for a while. Ridley did not anticipate making any friends in the small town of Hope Springs, but he can't help but he drawn to his pretty and very pregnant neighbor.

Both weighed down by secrets, both with few reasons to trust others, both trying to find out what God is doing in their lives - I may not have found myself in their exact scenarios, but I am familiar with similar situations and emotions. I really appreciated how the author wove authentic hurt with the hope of healing and of seeing God work even in the midst of tragedies.

Mixed along with the contemporary setting of Jessica and Ridley's story is that of her great-grandfather Andrew Henning, whose Bible Jessica recently inherited. Brief scenes of his life during the Depression add another element to the plot, reminding us that the problems we may face today are not so different from the ones faced throughout time.

This character-driven book deals with deep emotions and spiritual truths which will touch your heart. I had a very hard time putting this story down, and felt a kinship with the uncertainties the characters were going through. We don't know how things will play out. We all need God's healing and help from one another. Robin Lee Hatcher reminds us that with God all our futures are full of hope, no matter what heartaches lie in our pasts.

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I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.
Murder at the Flamingo

Rachel McMillan burst onto the scene as a fresh new voice in the Christian mystery market a few years ago, and I've been wanting to read one of her books ever since.

"Murder at the Flamingo" is a throwback to the flashy 1930s in Boston - lots of glitz and glamour, but there's plenty to ground it as well. Our main characters are both running away from their pasts and forging a new way in a new city. Hamish DeLuca suffers from what we today would call an anxiety disorder, which has not boded well for him in his budding career as a lawyer. After a particularly bad day in court, Hamish decides to visit his suave and dashing cousin Luca, and finds himself falling in love with Boston.

Also with Luca's secretary, Regina van Buren, a spunky former New England socialite who decided to forsake her upbringing when the expectations began to feel suffocating. Reggie wants to stand on her own two feet, and keeps a Journal of Independence to note down all the new experiences she is having.

Hamish and Reggie are definitely the best thing about this story, even though they aren't introduced to each other until the book is about a quarter of the way over. The plot is wrapped around the new club that Luca is opening, which he fully intends to make the center of Boston nightlife. It's clear that Luca's harboring secrets, but he inspires such loyalty that it's hard to untangle the knots until things come crashing down.

There were some drawbacks to the story, including the long set-up scenes and the wait for the main characters to meet. There are also so many characters that it felt a little burdensome to keep track of them all, and the writing seems scattered at times. Readers might also want to know that there are lots of mentions of drinking, smoking, and swearing. It sets the nightclub atmosphere well, but not everyone would be comfortable with it. Since this is the first book in a series there are also a few things left dangling to keep readers hungry for more. It ends beautifully, and in fact my favorite scene in the whole book was the final one, but it did not wrap things up in one neat parcel. I want to know more about what happens with Hamish and Reggie in the future.

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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.
 Orphan's Wish

Melanie Dickerson's Aladdin retelling opens with a young orphan boy in the Holy Land, forced to steal to earn his keep. Soon rescued by a priest and taken to the Holy Roman Empire, Aladdin grows up in an orphanage while befriending the duke's daughter, Lady Kirstyn. While he works hard and learns all he can, Aladdin knows he cannot ask for Lady Kirstyn's hand until he goes out into the world to make his fortune, and eventually he sets out to do just that.

Lady Kirstyn has always felt invisible as one of the middle children in a large family. She enjoys working with orphans and dreams of adopting a houseful of them herself one day. She longs for Aladdin's return and for the chance to have a future with him.

As Aladdin begins to find success in the town of Luneburg, things do not go so well for Lady Kirstyn. She faces dangers which will change her life forever, leaving her family and friends scrambling to help her before it is too late.

This was not my favorite book from this author. I think the main problem for me was the characters were flat and unremarkable. I couldn't make myself care about them, and therefore it took a long time to read the story. I do think many Dickerson fans will enjoy this tale, and I am very much looking forward to her Mulan retelling that will be coming in early 2019!

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I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

Heart Between Us

Megan's whole life has been dominated by her heart condition. Her childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, and even now that she is a few years past a transplant and has been given a clean bill of health, she's afraid to remove herself too far from what is safe and familiar. What if she has a relapse? But she feels a longing for something more in life, and when she decides to go out a limb and meet the family of the girl whose heart now lives in her chest, Megan takes the first step towards a new way of living.

Amanda's family is kind and caring, and they offer to let Megan read Amanda's journal so she can get to know their daughter. Megan is inspired by Amanda's bravery in the face of difficulty, and begins dreaming of completing the bucket list Amanda left behind. Having always wanted to travel, Amanda's list is a perfect starting point and will honor a life lost too soon.

When Megan's family disapproves of her trip around the world, concerns are somewhat assuaged when Megan's twin sister Crystal agrees to go along. An aspiring senior architect with a rocky marriage, Crystal has been distant from her twin for years. This trip could be just what they need to reconnect, but only if they find a way to breach the walls that have grown so high and thick between them.

While this story is about two women on a journey to some of the most amazing places in the world, it's also about sisters trying to find each other, as well as Megan's own self-discovery in deciding to embrace adventure in a way she has never been able to do before. There are ups and downs, missteps and miscommunications. This is a story for everyone who loves to go on a journey of the heart, willing to meet both the good and the bad that inevitably come. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future!

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I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
The Weaver's Daughter

Kate Dearborne has loved growing up in a weaver's family. From a young age she's helped set dyes and do whatever she could to assist her father and brother. But times are changing with the ongoing Industrial Revolution, and cloth mills are quickly making the weavers' business obsolete. Kate's own beloved brother has left the family to work for Stockton Mill, and her father has never forgiven him for it, nor spoken to him in three years.

While Kate has no ill will against the millers, and has kept up her relationship with her brother Charles, she's fiercely loyal to her father and generally keeps her association to those within the weaving community.

Returning home after years serving his country in war, Henry Stockton sees the village of Amberdale with new eyes. He's ready to learn from his grandfather and prepare to take over Stockton Mill one day. Yet the people and activities that once captured his attention no longer do so. He's aware that everyone expects him to continue pursuing Frederica Pennington, but his time away has changed him enough that he desires more than a marriage of alliance between powerful mill families.

Henry and Kate soon find themselves in an Amberdale that is upturned, as violence breaks out between the weavers and millers. Loyalties will be tested on all sides, and right and wrong must be weighed anew. Kate's past and her future hopes lie solidly with the weavers, but her heart is drawing her in another direction. Meanwhile, Henry sees in Kate someone who can help him find peace and healing in his war-torn spirit.

This book would appeal to anyone who is familiar with Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, and I thought I caught tones of Poldark, as well as Romeo and Juliet. The story takes a bit of time getting off the ground, but once the action begins you'll find yourself glued to the pages. This is another delightful Regency tale from Sarah E. Ladd!

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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
Party of One

Confession: Over the years I've avoided reading books on singleness. I didn't want to read them, just as I didn't want to be single. I keep hoping that eventually my singleness will cease to be an issue because somewhere along the way I'll find that I've passed on to the next stage of life. You know, the one you dream about from the time you're a little girl. Marriage. Hopefully followed by Motherhood. Single Street is just the highway to get there, right?

Something prodded me to take a closer look when I heard about this book. I recognized that Something, or more appropriately, Someone. I had no idea what I was in for! This book is astounding. It's honest and scary and a little confrontational, in all the good ways. It's full of grace and faith and tenacity. I highlighted so many passages that when I went back and typed them up afterwards they filled 5 pages on Google Docs. It was definitely the Lord prompting me to pick up this book a few weeks ago, and I'm so glad I know Him well enough to recognize and respond!

What makes this book astounding? Joy Beth Smith takes us on a real-life look at singleness in all its messy struggles. "Honestly, it's crushing to live under the constant weight of unmet desires," she says in the first passage I highlighted. Oh sister, I know the language you are speaking! In three parts, she proceeds to unpack the heart of a single woman and challenge us to live in Truth and Hope and Purpose.

Part I: Unfulfilled Promises. We grow up being taught that someday we will be wives and mothers. If it doesn't automatically happen, either not when you expect or perhaps not at all, it causes a lot of questions. In Chapter 3 Joy Beth asserts, "There aren't the guarantees we're raised to think there are. And us asking these questions is not questioning God's character, but it's questioning what we've been handed down from family and the church." Hmm. That's rather true, isn't it? God never promised us a husband. Who builds up that expectation? And what can we do about facing that heartbreak and living as valid and valued members of Christ's Body? For one thing, Joy Beth urges us to dig into community. We do desperately need other people in our lives - people who will come alongside us, support us, speak truth to us, and to whom we can do the same thing. Those are universal needs, and I happen to agree with her observation in Chapter 4: "If the church were to live in that community that we see in Acts, we would actually have better, stronger marriages, because we're getting married for the right reasons, not only to solve the loneliness problem."

Part II: Sexuality.
"Paul tells me to get married if I must due to my lust; well, Paul, if it were that easy, I'd have a minivan full of kids by now." That line from Chapter 7 really resonated with me! The celibate life is flat-out difficult, and often grows more difficult the longer it goes on. And it's not really talked about because there are no easy answers. Zero. Zip. Nada. I loved how Joy Beth calls us to glorify God by owning up to the fact that He made us with this sexual component to our lives, and by stewarding it to the best of our ability. She explains in Chapter 6, "Stewardship is the quiet, daily work of acknowledging your sexuality, seeing where it's integrated into your life, seeing where the edges are fraying, and being faithful to patch up as needed." She also speaks straight truth when she tells us in Chapter 8, "Sexual purity is a sacrifice, one that the Lord demands of us, and for good reason." As ever, the real pattern for our lives can be found in Jesus Christ, although maybe in a different way than we've ever thought about before: "I embrace my kinship with a sexual Jesus who also struggled against His flesh, against weariness and fatigue and temptation, and still He sinned not. That's a Jesus I actually admire a great deal, one I'm willing to spend the rest of my life trying to model both my singleness and sexuality after" (Chapter 6).

Part III: Living In Reality. We as single women may feel like we're missing out on a big part of life, but if we have followed God and He has led us here, we need to be living out the lives He wants us to live. This section is full of "You'd better say 'ouch' if you can't say 'amen'" lines, such as: "My purpose is not waiting for me at at the altar or inside a cradle. I need to learn how to live a life that's pleasing to God right now - I need to figure out what Biblical womanhood looks like apart from these roles we fill" (Chapter 12). This world needs women who are faithful and women who live out their God-ordained callings. We can help set the standard no matter our marital status. We need to step back from holding marriage up as an idol and live unashamed, grace-filled lives of purpose. What has God called you to do? Are you doing it? Are you seeking Him? Who are our lives to be centered around anyway? Check out another quote from Chapter 12: "When we become pursuers of God, we will make amazing wives. And mothers. And daughters. And friends. Because when we feed that main channel, all those tributaries will benefit."

This review barely skims the surface of Joy Beth's book, and if my reflections have stirred your interest, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, either for single women or married women who want to find ways to be an encouragement to their friends, sisters, or daughters. May our hearts ever be drawn closer to one another and to our Heavenly Father, whose good plans for our lives may look different than ours, but they are still good.

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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

The Lost Castle

"The Lost Castle" is a tale of The Sleeping Beauty in the Loire Valley - a castle that has kept its tales close to home through many generations. Now Ellie Carver is on a quest to uncover them all, guided only by the knowledge that once upon a time her grandmother lived and loved in its proximity. Now that Grandma Vi is being stolen from her due to Alzheimer's, Ellie's journey to France feels like a mission of utmost importance.

Running alongside Ellie's story is that of Viola Hart in 1944 - 'Grandma Vi' when she was still a young girl herself. With WWII having changed everything for London families, Viola is recruited to be a linguist for Britain's Special Operations. Things take an unexpected turn when she winds up in Nazi-occupied France working under threat of her life every day.

A third storyline takes place during the French Revolution. Aveline is a woman of noble birth who is on the eve of marrying the elder son of one of the richest dukes in France. She herself is not so interested in wealth, but with politics and finding a way to break down the walls between the aristocracy and the lower classes. She's been conditioned to keep this part of her heart under wraps. Before she can meet her betrothed face to face, a fire at his castle injures Aveline and leaves her in the care of the workers of the estate. As the war progresses, can Aveline be a part of building together the things that are good and right about mankind no matter their rank or station?

I have to say that having three different storylines in three different time periods with three sets of major and minor characters was a bit much for this reader, especially because within each storyine was a fair amount of flashbacks, making its already tenuous chronology even harder to follow. Each individual story felt shallow because it didn't have its full chance to expand and grow, being compressed by the others demanding their own share of the pages. I felt that Aveline's story would have worked very nicely as a prequel novella, so that those of Vi and Ellie could have had more depth.

There were a few other things that detracted from my full enjoyment of this book, but I do like Kristy Cambron a lot and fully plan to read more of her stories in the future. This book's personality just didn't suit my own, and that's no one's fault at all.

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I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

Engineer Mary Davies fears she's going to be fired, and she finds herself closing off from those around her. Even Nathan, the nice consultant guy who keeps offering his friendship no matter how many times she awkwardly fails to communicate her own interest. In the middle of feeling stuck and disappointed, Isabel - her best friend since childhood - manages to convince Mary to take a trip to England. More specifically, the getaway is to a lavish estate near Bath where they can dress up as Austen characters and step back into time.

Isabel and Mary have had a rocky relationship. Isabel has often steered their friendship, and she tends to lead with emotion, lashing out when she is feeling pain, anger, or frustration. Mary suggests that her friend take on the persona of Isabella Thorpe while on their vacation, and Isabel goes into a pout. Eventually Isabel decides to be Emma Woodhouse, and Mary chooses Catherine Morland.

Everything is exciting and wonderful as the women arrive at Braithwaite House. The grounds are breathtaking and the costumes beyond imagination. There is a small group of people who have come to share this holiday, and Mary and Isabel enjoy getting to know them that first night.

But when Mary wakes up the next morning, everything changes. Something is wrong with Isabel, and Mary is all alone in a strange country trying to care for her friend. A phone call further shatters everything Mary has believed about their relationship. Will the help Mary is offered be enough to sustain her through this time? Can she grasp that she is worthy of love and attention not just as Isabel's sidekick but as a woman in her own right?

I definitely enjoyed this one more than any other of Reay's releases since Dear Mr. Knightley. As a fan of Austenland, I appreciated all the nods to that story. This made for a fine and engaging Austenesque read, even if I didn't like all the characters all the time. Mary made for a different heroine and I appreciated the complex way she was written. I can see myself reading this one again in the future!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

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(Please note: This review contains spoilers.)

Art restorer Emily Price and Italian chef Ben Vassallo are both visiting Atlanta when they meet and quickly fall in love. Emily has never felt so special - she's had to be the older, responsible sister ever since her parents divorced, and her younger sister Amy has always held the spotlight. Ben is unlike anyone she's ever met, and when after a two-week courtship Ben asks her to marry him and move to Italy with him, it feels right in Emily's heart. They are married and on a flight to Florence only sixteen days after meeting.

I'm going to go ahead and say that this life choice of Emily's is one that I would never make, and while I had been pretty excited about the book up until this twist in the plot, it was easy to see that the transition from "art restorer and aspiring artist" to "pizza maker's wife" wasn't going to be an easy one. In fact, I felt like Emily quickly got lost in this book. It seemed as though the title should have been "A Portrait of the Vassallo Family," as that would have more accurately described the majority of this novel, with the focus changing so dramatically. It becomes largely about Ben's family: their traditions, their relationships, their lurking secrets.

I will say that this was my favorite of Katherine Reay's releases since her much-beloved debut Dear Mr. Knightley. However, I felt like the book was missing several things, including a relatable theme and a faith aspect. Overall I enjoyed it but was left unsatisfied. This reader hopes to find better things in Reay's upcoming releases.
A woman in a yellow dress in the English countryside

Annabelle Thorley must make a decision. Her father has passed away amidst rumors of underhanded business dealings, and her brother's gambling debts are sinking the family further into ruin. Now her brother is leaning on her to marry a rich but repulsive - and possibly abusive - man. With her choices diminished to being forced into marriage or running away, Annabelle chooses to be brave and seek out her mother's brother for asylum. As a school superintendent at far away Fellsworth, surely he will keep her safe and help her start a new life.

Fortune seems to smile on Annabelle as she makes the acquaintance of Owen Locke, a gamekeeper from the Fellsworth area who knows her uncle and seems like an honorable man. Annabelle begs his help and his secrecy in making an escape before her choices are made for her.

Owen is a hardworking man who wants to become a landowner with better hopes for the future than his current lowly occupation. A widower with a young daughter, he's faithful and loyal to what he believes is right. Seeing the situation that Annabelle is in, Owen agrees to help her travel to the safety of her uncle's care. 

Warmly received by her Uncle Edmund and trying to settle in as an under teacher at Fellsworth, Annabelle is relieved but also challenged by her new less than privileged status. She's cheered by new acquaintances and also the steady friendship of Mr. Locke. But her past is not ready to release her yet. Her brother is looking for her, determined to use her for his own schemes.

This is quite an adventure story! It has plenty of action and a cast of characters who draw you in with the strength of their courage. I was quite captivated and had a hard time putting the book down. This is another great Regency novel by Sarah Ladd!

I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

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Having read all of Kristy Cambron's previous releases, I thought I knew what I was in for with this Jazz Age, Houdini-inspired novel. I was wrong. The story broke the mold of her former novels, and through its dark and mysterious tone what shone through most brightly was light and hope.

Our story opens at a cemetery on New Year's Eve in 1926, just a few months after Harry Houdini's death. Another illusionist has declared that he will raise a man named Victor Peale from the dead, and the cemetery is full of media representatives and curious onlookers. Also in the crowd is FBI Agent Elliot Matthews, sent to keep an eye on everything. In a grand show, it does appear that Victor Peale, dead twenty years, rises from his grave -- and promptly keels over again, dead and gone for good. Agent Matthews controls the situation and begins an investigation that will take him deep into vaudeville's captivation with illusion and spiritualism.

In the crowd that day Elliot had noticed one Wren Lockhart, a former apprentice of Houdini who is an illusionist in her own right. When he discovers a link between Victor Peale and Wren, he must convince the isolated and guarded woman to share what she knows, even though it means digging deep into a past she wants to keep hidden.

Wren's troubled family background and years of living the vaudeville circuit have left her excellent at projecting her aloof and intimidating demeanor. She doesn't want to get involved with the FBI, but she also doesn't want frauds and tricksters deceiving the public into thinking raising the dead is a thing one can do. She was with Houdini as he debunked such people in the past, and she grudgingly agrees to help Elliot for the sake of her mentor and to keep the authorities from prying more than they have to.

While Wren took me by surprise as a character, seeming at first too hard to get to know, I soon began to relate to her more than ever anticipated. Despite pushing people away, inside there was a woman who had been hurt and yet was brave and strong. This story was partially about Wren discovering how to overcome and live unafraid. A lot of it was her choice. "It was her choice how she lived, whether she'd carry the burden of bitterness... or allow truth to soothe the gaping wounds between them." (Page 196)

Some of my favorite quotes were about heroes. The theme of being a hero was strong in the second half of the novel, which also resonated with me. From Chapter 18: "Our mother used to say that a hero doesn't always have to slay a dragon to save the day. Sometimes he just walks through the fire alongside you, and that's enough." And from page 287: "If there was no darkness, there would be no opportunity for light to overcome it. This is the time for heroes to rise, okay?"

This story was not what I expected. It was more, and it will stay with me for a long time.

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I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
Here are my favorite reads from 2016! I hope you'll check some of them out for yourself. Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction

Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

This World War II story focuses on a plucky female pharmacist and a Naval officer as they try to uncover a drug ring operating out of Boston Harbor.

Young Adult Fiction

The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

A captivating retelling of The Little Mermaid, Melanie Dickerson again proves her brilliance as a fairy tale writer.

Contemporary Fiction

Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg

I loved the depth of the characters, and I really related to one of them in particular. I just love Melissa Tagg's stories!!


I've got to go with the autobiographies of two Olympians here! Weren't the Rio Olympics exciting??

Greater Than Gold by David Boudia

David's journey from an active tot to a world class diver, and how he found Jesus along the way.

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

Leader of the Final Five and winner of five medals in Rio, this 4'9" gymnastics wonder shares her story from adoption to training to topping the podium.

Classic Literature

Mr. Harrison's Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

This short novel, from which part of the miniseries Cranford was drawn, is laugh-out-loud funny and encompasses the delights of a small English village.


This category has two winners as well, because I couldn't choose between these two delightful Christmas stories.

One Enchanted Eve by Melissa Tagg

If you enjoy competitive baking shows, you'll love this story of a down-on-her-luck baker and her quest to find one wow-worthy recipe to land her dream job.

Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

All Alexis needs for Christmas is her home remodel to go well. When everything goes wrong it may be time to reevaluate the true meaning of Christmas.

This Jazz Age tale tells the story of Mable Ringling, wife of famous circus master John Ringling. From her humble upbringing as a dreamer in Ohio to being part of the greatest show on earth, Mable's life is testament to those who think big and have the courage to try something new.

Told alongisde is the journey of fictional character Lady Rosamund Easling, a gifted horsewoman who forsakes her homeland when she is about to be forced into a marriage to help her father's estate. Her beloved horse was being sold to the Ringling Brothers Circus, and Rosamund goes along to make sure Ingenue is properly settled. But circus manager Colin Keary hasn't merely been recruiting a good horse - he's out to inspire and captivate the woman he believes can be a star.

Rosamund agrees to join the circus, and is encouraged by her conversations with Mable Ringling. She is not warmly welcomed by the rest of the cast, and in fact soon begins receiving threats that suggest she should return to England. Rosamund battles to find her place amidst hostility and her own insecurities. She'd be happy to simply make it through the season and leave star billing for those who crave the spotlight.

While I enjoyed this story, I was a bit confused about the dual storylines. The portions focusing on Mable's life take place between 1885 and 1929, while Rosamund's story, interspersed with Mable's narrative, is set in a much more concentrated time period, mostly 1926 and 1927. It's not my favorite method of storytelling, although Cambron seems quite drawn to it, as all her releases have used it so far. Maybe she'll switch it up with her upcoming Harry Houdini book, but whether she does or not, I'm looking forward to reading it in 2017!

It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, and this book is full of reminders about why I love it. Bob Welch thoughtfully dissects the movie and its characters, discussing what we can learn from this classic film. Having enjoyed his similar book on Les Miserables, I knew this would be perfect holiday reading material, and it was!

Each chapter begins with a quote from or about the movie, and then talks about how we can apply various themes and thoughts into our lives. I love George Bailey and the impact he makes on Bedford Falls. As Welch says on page 90, "...The good we bring to the world, to the community, to our families, doesn't necessarily have to be big and glitzy. It can be small and quiet, which doesn't negate its importance." This is something I'm passionate about, and I love it when other people catch this vision.

I enjoyed the backstory and behind-the-scenes tidbits about the movie that Welch highlights. He talks about various script changes that Frank Capra's story underwent, tells us which lines the actors ad libbed that made the final cut, and comments on public perception of the film when it was released in 1946 versus how it's viewed today. It was clear the cinematic history was carefully researched and is seamlessly woven into the narrative, showing the high regard Welch holds for the movie.

The book is also laced with Scripture and makes plenty of connection to faith's influence on our lives. How does God desire us to live? Does He value the sacrifices we must make for others? Jesus knows more sacrifice than any one of us. I'd definitely say this book was written for a Christian audience.

"People respond to those who inspire, which is what, in his quiet way, George does," Welch writes on page 157. I hope that you and I will be more aware of the ways we can touch and inspire the world around us, both in this Christmas season and throughout the New Year. May we change our worlds the way George Bailey changed Bedford Falls!

She's done it again! Melanie Dickerson retells a classic story with her own distinctive style, turning it into something fun and new. This time she tackles The Little Mermaid, resetting Ariel as Evangeline, cousin of King Richard II, in the fourteenth century.

Evangeline has hoped and dreamed of a marriage based on love, but as the king's ward she knows that may not be possible. When she finds out the king is going to give her in marriage to a middle-aged man who seems corrupt and salacious, Evangeline decides she will run away. She's lived shut up in Berkhamsted Castle, and now she is free to see all the beautiful creatures and places in the English countryside. Evangeline's maid escaped with her, and in order to disguise themselves they agree that Evangeline will pose as a mute and they will say they are servants looking for work.

They reach the village of Glynval, and Evangeline finds herself working for the le Wyse family, whom readers will recognize from some of Dickerson's other books. She is attracted to Westley le Wise, but since she is pretending to be a mute servant and he is heir to the manor, there are many impediments to getting to know him. Although Evangeline has never worked a day in her life, the blisters and soreness and her many blunders do not stop her determination to make a way for herself and to continue hiding from the king's men who are searching for her.

Evangeline is forced to use her voice when she comes upon an attempt on Westley's life. Still hesitant to tell the whole truth about her identity as she gets to know the le Wyse family better, eventually it all comes out. A showdown with King Richard and his minions is inevitable, and will require bravery and sacrifice from all who will stand for freedom and love.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys Melanie Dickerson and fairy tales.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.

This is a unique story that is based on actual experiences within the author's family in the Netherlands during World War II. While the Netherlands had declared neutrality at the beginning of the war, Hitler invaded in 1940 and the citizens suffered much under Nazi rule. Our story focuses on a Dutch Resistance worker who was caught by the Nazis and executed - except his bullet wound was not fatal, and he survived and escaped.

Alongside the Resistance worker, who is named Gerrit in the story, our other three main characters are siblings. Cornelia is a young widow who is hiding her 20-year-old brother Johan from the Nazis in the closing days of the war. Since losing her husband she's tried to keep her head down and just get through until her country can be liberated. Anki is the oldest sibling and is married to a staunch pacifist. When Johan goes out exploring one night and comes back with the injured Gerrit, it thrusts them all into danger. Cornelia agrees to harbor Gerrit, and Anki goes behind her husband's back and uses her nursing skills to help Gerrit recover.

Once the Germans realize they are missing one of the corpses of the Resistance workers, they begin raiding neighborhoods searching for the wounded man. They also begin cracking down harder on anyone they suspect of hiding men or Jews. Johan longs to get involved in the Resistance after having spent so many years hiding. Cornelia has ignored Resistance work for so long but now that she's hiding a prominent member she can no longer turn a blind eye to the needs of the cause. Anki is risking her marriage and family to be involved, but can only do what she feels is right even though it may cost her everything.

As liberation comes closer but danger yet lurks in every shadow, bravery and romance bloom. And hope - hope that there can yet be a future for this family and for their beloved country after this long nightmare is over.

I enjoyed this novel and the chance to learn more about the Netherlands during the war, especially since the plot was based on real events. I would have liked to see more depth in the writing itself, as the style of using unvaried and simple sentences did not draw me in and engage me as a reader, even though I cared about the characters. Since this was the author's debut novel and I've not noticed the same thing in her later releases, I believe she has grown and improved in this. I would highly recommend her other books, Daisies Are Forever and Remember The Lilies.



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