Thursday, April 17, 2014

"a march bride" by rachel hauck

About the book (from the publisher): Susanna has found her true prince, and their happily ever after is just around the corner. But when Nate asks her to give up something precious to her, Susanna can't help but wonder if it's a sign that their love is not meant to be.

Susanna Truitt (Once Upon A Prince) is three weeks from royalty. She'll soon marry King Nathaniel II of Brighton Kingdom. But when the government insists she renounce her American citizenship before the wedding, coupled with the lack of involvement by family and friends, Susanna's heart begins to doubt whether this marriage is God's plan for her. Nathaniel would do anything for his bride-to-be. But he knows his position requires that she give up a lot to be with him. Her life will never be her own—right down to her very identity. When she travels home to St. Simon's Island, Georgia, right before the wedding, Nathaniel fears she won't return. Gathering his courage, he devises a plan to win his bride all over again, and together they seek out a kingdom to treasure above all.

My take: As someone who read and enjoyed Once Upon A Prince, I was eager to read this continuation of Susanna and Nathaniel's story. The novella picks up just weeks away from Susanna and Nathaniel's wedding, and it presents Susanna with a dilemma I'd never want to face myself: if she wants to marry Nathaniel, then she must give up her American citizenship. While I know in my head that my true citizenship is in heaven, I would struggle greatly if I had to renounce my American citizenship. Being American is such a huge part of who I am, so I really identified with Susanna's struggle.

This novella is a tad predictable (as soon as Susanna left for St. Simon's Island, I knew how the rest of the story would play out). Still, it was a very enjoyable conclusion to Susanna and Nathaniel's love story!

Note: All of the other novellas that have been released so far in this series (December, January, and February) have either been stand alone titles or have featured minor characters from other series and can be read without having first read the series. Not so with "A March Bride." Someone who hadn't previously "known" Susanna and Nathaniel would probably not emotionally connect with this novella, as Hauck doesn't really spend any time introducing the characters—she just dives into the story.

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the novella.
Read my reviews of the other Year of Weddings novellas: "A December Bride," "A January Bride," and "A February Bride."
Read my review of Hauck's Once Upon A Prince and Princess Ever After.

About the author: Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as RITA nominated The Wedding Dress and RITA nominated Love Starts with Elle, part of the Lowcountry series, the Nashvegas series and the Songbird Novels penned with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Their novel Softly and Tenderly was one of Booklists 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in an uncomfortable chair to write full time in 2004. Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship at their annual conference. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"northanger abbey" by val mcdermid

About the book: Internationally bestselling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own updated take on Jane Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels (and, of course, her smartphone) and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship.

My take: Northanger Abbey is the second entry in The Austen Project, where Jane Austen's works are "reimagined" by famous authors. I was not a very big fan of the first entry, Sense & Sensibility, but I do love the concept, so when a publicist asked me to review crime novelist Val McDermid's take on Northanger Abbey, I eagerly accepted. I'm very glad I did.

When I read Sense & Sensibility, one of my main complaints was that the minor details were modernized, while the rest of the book felt like it remained in the original setting. Northanger Abbey does not suffer from a similar malady. While the plot very clearly follows the original, the updates bringing it into the 21st century—everything from moving the setting to a festival in Edinburgh to having Cat obsessed with Facebook and Twitter—feel completely organic. McDermid retains the spirit of Austen's original without being shackled to it.

I did feel that the references to Jane Austen were a bit out of place, though. Perhaps a little self-awareness would have been in order here—if Cat or Henry had noted that Austen had written a book with characters that had, coincidentally, shared their names, I could have bought it. But to have Austen exist in this world but, apparently, not her novel seemed awkward. Better to not mention Austen at all, as she didn't play a major role in the story.

Additionally, the reason for General Tilney's sudden dislike of Cat rang a bit false. I wish McDermid had stuck a bit closer to the source in that case.

Overall, though, Northanger Abbey is a delightful take on the original. I eagerly await the next entry in The Austen Project.

Content note: While Northanger Abbey is tame by many standards, it does include several profanities sprinkled throughout. The amount of profanity definitely increases in the last quarter of the novel.

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Read my review of Sense & Sensibility.
Learn more about The Austen Project.

About the author: Val McDermid is the bestselling author of twenty-eight previous novels that have been translated into over forty languages. She lives in the north of England.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from a publicist. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"the thousand dollar tan line" by rob thomas

Note: If you're a Veronica Mars fan who hasn't watched the movie yet, please don't read this review. It will reference some events from the movie, and I don't want to spoil it for you!

About the book (from Amazon): From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

In Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas has created a groundbreaking female detective who’s part Phillip Marlowe, part Nancy Drew, and all snark. With its sharp plot and clever twists, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line will keep you guessing until the very last page.

My take: I pre-ordered this book with a little apprehension—could it possibly be as good as the series and the film? The answer is: almost. The case is interesting; Veronica does her thing with the help of Mac, Wallace, and Keith; several secondary characters from the TV show pop in; and there are a few genuinely shocking twists, along with several laugh out loud moments. All those factors work together to form a satisfying journey back to Neptune.

The novel is very good, but it isn't spectacular—too much profanity, a tendency to over explain Veronica's connection to places and characters (necessary for those who didn't watch the series, but a bit annoying, nonetheless), and one very obvious bad guy kept me from falling completely in love with this book. There's also too little Logan for my taste, which is understandable considering he's on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean, but I still wanted more. Fortunately, Rob Thomas has promised more Logan in the next book!

Overall, I'd recommend this book to fans of Veronica Mars—and they're the ones who will be interested in it, anyway. I hope that this is just the beginning in a long series of novels—I'll take Veronica Mars however I can get it!

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Read my other posts about Veronica Mars.

About the author: Rob Thomas is an American author, producer, and screenwriter, best known as the author of the 1996 novel Rats Saw God, creator of the critically acclaimed television series Veronica Mars and co-creator of 90210 and Party Down.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and reviewed it of my own free will. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"esther queen of persia" by jim baumgardner

About the book (from CWA): Hadassah, the beautiful, Jewish teenager from the city of Susa in Persia, is taken by force to the palace of King Ahasuerus. His command to find the most beautiful virgins in his kingdom, and bring them to the house of women, has placed Hadassah under the supervision of Hegai, the king's custodian of women. Hegai and his servants, have one year to prepare each virgin for one night with the king. Although Hadassah was taken from her home by force, she refuses to become bitter. She accepts being called Esther, but inside remains always, Hadassah. She continually wonders why she is there, yet remains faithful to her God, and to her identity. It is years before the answer is revealed. Her people face annihilation, and it falls upon her shoulders to stop it. Her first thought is to shirk her duty, but Mordecai, her cousin, will not allow it. His words, '"Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"' brings her to her senses.

Unlike many of the novels written about Esther, this book seeks to remain true to the Biblical account, while supplying additional historical information from the time period 486-473 B.C. The book has a five page Introduction, which gives insight into some of the things found in the story. It has a page, listing the months of the Jewish sacred calendar and the corresponding month of our modern calendar. Also in the back of the book is a listing of Scriptures mentioned in each chapter, along with a listing of works consulted in research for Esther Queen of Persia.

My take: I've always loved the story of Queen Esther, so I jumped at the chance to read Jim Baumgardner's retelling of the Biblical story. I was a bit skeptical, though, when the book arrived. Though I understand that a lot of thought and work went into the cover (and the picture makes perfect sense when reading the story), it did not jump out to me as the cover of a book I'd like to read.

"Don't judge a book by its cover," they say, and in this case, "they" are right. Esther Queen of Persia is a completely captivating look the events in the Book of Esther. I especially appreciated the time Baumgardner spent explaining what Esther probably went through as she prepared for her initial introduction to the king. I had never really considered what all would have gone into her preparations, and I wondered why on earth she needed a whole year to prepare. Now I understand.

I especially appreciated the way Baumgardner wove other historical figures—most notably Ezra—into the narrative. I tend to think of Esther in a bubble, not realizing where exactly it fell chronologically. The novel helped to bring the story and the time period to life.

One thing that did bother me throughout is that the novel needed better proofreading, starting with the title, which should be Esther, Queen of Persia or Esther: Queen of Persia. But while each missing apostrophe and misspelled plural caught my attention, the errors were infrequent enough to make them a minor annoyance rather than a deal breaker.

Esther Queen of Persia is a great book—one that fans of biblical fiction will enjoy. I highly recommend it!

My rating: 4 stars

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Buy the book.

About the author: Born in Wichita, Kansas, Jim Baumgardner, raised by Christian parents, gave his life to Christ in 1957. The author continues to reside in Wichita with his wife Linda. They have three children and nine grandchildren. Jim has seven published books. Four are known as the Sarah books, which tell of the adventures of a girl named Sarah, set in the 19th Century. The other three are Bible novels, including the author’s latest release, Esther Queen of Persia. All of Jim’s books are primarily written for his grandchildren’s benefit.

To learn more about Jim and his books, visit his websites:
http://www.biblenovels.net/ 
http://kansasjimbo.bravejournal.com/ 
http://www.sarahbooks.net/ 
You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google +and Goordreads.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free copy of this book to review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links on this page are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase a product, I will receive a commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” I am part of the CWA Review Crew.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"claiming mariah" by pam hillman

About the book: After her father's death, Mariah Malone sends a letter that will forever alter the lives of her family. When Slade Donovan, strong willed and eager for vengeance, shows up on her front porch, Mariah is not ready to hear his truths: her father's farm, the only home she's ever known, was bought with stolen gold. With Slade ready to collect his father's rightful claim and force Mariah and her family out on the streets, Mariah must turn to God for guidance. Though Mr. Frederick Cooper, a local landowner, promises to answer her financial woes if she agrees to be his bride, Mariah finds herself drawn instead to the angry young man demanding her home.

With the ranch now under Slade's careful eye, he unearths more than he ever imagined as a devious plot of thievery, betrayal, and murder threatens the well-being of the ranch, endangering those who hold it dear. As the days dwindle until the rest of the Donovan clan arrives at the Lazy M ranch, Mariah and Slade must rise above the resentment of their fathers and see their true feelings before greed changes their futures forever.

My take: A touching story about truth and forgiveness, Claiming Mariah is a very enjoyable historical romance. I enjoyed getting to know both Slade and Mariah and watching their relationship develop throughout the novel. But my favorite character was Buck, Slade's younger brother. He was such a gentile, wounded soul, and I would have loved to spend more time with him.

There was a fitting villain in Mariah's would-be suitor Cooper, and the plot had a few twists I wasn't expecting. I did think that the truth about Mariah's sister's schooling remained a secret for far longer than seemed credible, and the suggestion of who might fall in love with Buck seemed a bit too ... convenient. (Sorry, I don't want to spoil it—but if you read the book, you'll know what I mean!) That said, I would very much enjoy reading Buck's love story, even if it does go in the direction hinted at in Claiming Mariah. I hope Hillman writes that story next!

My rating: 4 stars

See what others are saying.
Buy the book.
Read my review of Hillman's Stealing Jake.


About the author: Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of!

Learn more about Pam at http://www.pamhillman.com.

About the giveaway: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

"know orphans" by rick morton

About the book (from Litfuse): The global orphan crisis is complex. The church's response should be comprehensive, but is it? In this provocative follow-up to Orphanology, author Rick Morton provides the framework for families and churches to have a gospel-centered response to the growing global issue of orphan care.

KnowOrphans addresses three distinct areas associated with global orphanology. Delving deeper into the criticisms of the movement, the need for reform, and what families can expect, author Rick Morton helps shape realistic perceptions of the challenges and rewards adoptive parents face in transnational adoptions. Through illuminating the work internationally adoptive families can expect, KnowOrphans offers solutions for the church in remedying the ills and deficiencies surrounding the church's role in equipping and supporting families before, during, and after the adoption process. Knowing that the church's response and attitude should be one that goes beyond adoption, KnowOrphans also addresses the complexities of how Christians are to respond ethically, compassionately, and comprehensively to the biblical call to care for orphans.

KnowOrphans is the next step in conversation as this evangelically based movement of orphan care matures and begins to live out James 1:27 globally.

My take: I both wanted and didn't want to read KnowOrphans—because I have long had a desire to adopt. I'm not at a place personally or financially where adoption is an option, so until God gives me a "go" sign, I'm content to wait. I began reading KnowOrphans with the expectation that I would walk away feeling manipulated. I was afraid that author Rick Morton would try to guilt trip me into adoption, and I would feel horrible, knowing that adoption is my desire but that God is saying "not now." But that's not remotely what this book is about, and Morton makes clear that he's not trying to guilt anyone into anything.

KnowOrphans is a guide book of sorts. It shows how the American Evangelical church can be more proactive when it comes to caring for orphans—and that doesn't just mean adoption. God is indeed calling some people to transnational adoption (Morton's term for what I would previously have called international adoption). But adoption is, as Morton says on page 138, "only one way that a few people care for orphans." Others care for orphans by supporting ministries like Compassion International. Still others prayerfully and financially partner with friends and relatives who are adopting. And others practice purposeful consuming, "buying products that we would buy anyway from sources that support healthy ministries and causes" (58). I think just about everyone can do one (or more) of those things! (One source Morton mentions here is WorldCrafts. Check it out!)

The last part of the book is really a guide for those who are called to adopt transnationally. The author and his wife adopted three children from the Ukraine, so he knows of which he speaks. While this section provides a jumping off point for those about to begin the adoption process, it also serves to enlighten those of us who aren't walking that path but know people who are. Very helpful stuff.

While this book is a wonderful resource, it does lack one thing that I really wish was there: a listing of all the organizations and websites Morton references throughout the book. I would have found such a list to be very helpful.

My rating: 4 stars

See what others are saying.
Buy the book.


About the author: Rick Morton is the father of three transnational adopted children and coauthor of the popular book Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care. His dedication to the plight of orphans extends beyond his own family. The Mortons were cofounders of Promise 139, an international orphan-hosting ministry based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. An inspiring speaker for the gospel to be expressed by the church living out God's heart for the fatherless, Rick presents at adoption and orphan-care conferences and pastor's conferences. Rick and his family live in the Greater Memphis area.

Learn more about Rick at http://www.rickmortononline.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

recipe: dark chocolate bundt cake

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm not exactly a fan of fruits and veggies. I want to eat healthier, and I've made large strides in the last few years, but I haven't been able to bring myself to eat the proper amounts of fruits and veggies. So when I heard about Green Giant's new Veggie Blend-Ins, I thought they sounded tailor made for me.

I received a multi-pack to review from Vine, and while I'm not required to do anything other than write a review on Amazon, I thought I'd take you on this Blend-Ins journey with me. The package gives three recipes—one for the carrot puree (tacos), one for the butternut squash puree (mac & cheese), and one for the spinach puree (brownies). I would have made the brownie recipe, but I didn't have any brownie mix, so I adapted this recipe that I found through a Google search.

Guess what? It was delicious!!! Granted, this cake is only mildly healthier for you than if you'd make a cake following the package directions, and there's a total of only two or three servings of veggies in the whole thing. (It's pretty hard to tell based on the package.) But ... without the Blend-Ins, I wouldn't have eaten any spinach today, and a little bit of spinach is better than none!

I decided to take the cake to work with me (because even with the added veggies, I probably shouldn't eat the whole thing!). My coworkers loved it! I didn't tell them about the "special" ingredient until they'd already raved over the cake. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

1 devil's food cake mix
1 (3.4 oz.) box instant chocolate pudding
1-1/4 c water
3 eggs
1 pouch spinach Green Giant Veggie Blend-Ins
1 (10 oz.) pkg dark chocolate chips (or other chips of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan. (I use Baker's Joy instead of greasing and flouring by hand.) In a large bowl, beat cake mix, pudding, water, eggs, and spinach with electric mixer on medium speed for about two minutes. Add chips and stir in with a rubber spatula. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. Carefully invert onto a plate to cool completely. Frost or dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from Amazon.com through its Vine reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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