Tuesday, June 30, 2015

inspy winners!

The winners of the 2015 INSPY Awards have been announced! I've only read two of the seven winners, so now I have some new books to add to my (ever increasing) TBR pile :-)

Check out the list of winners, and then head over to the official announcement to read what the judges had to say about each winner.

Debut: Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas (my review)

Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense: Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade (my review). This is the category I judged, and let me just say that there were some outstanding books on the short list! (Look for reviews of some of the other shortlisted books soon.)

General Fiction: Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

Historical Romance: Mark of Distinction by Jessica Dotta

Literature for Young Adults: Storm Siren by Mary Weber

Mystery/Thriller: A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

Speculative Fiction: Spirit Bridge by James L. Rubart

Monday, June 29, 2015

"love arrives in pieces" by betsy st. amant

Still reeling from a divorce she never wanted, Stella's past comes back to haunt her when her ex-boyfriend Chase reappears. Is Chase yet another reminder of everything wrong in Stella's life, or does God have bigger plans?

For so long, Stella was known for her beauty. Now, with her heart stripped bare, she must discover who she really is.

Former pageant queen Stella Varland doesn't trust beauty anymore after her divorce. Her appearance betrayed her and led to brokenness, so instead of being beautiful, now she tries to make beautiful things, but she always falls short. So she keeps her passion for art to herself and focuses on her interior design work. But if she doesn't get another job soon, she'll be stuck living with her parents.

Contractor Chase Taylor is determined to live a life of no regrets after losing his fiancée. Now he lives life at full speed, striving to see how much he can accomplish. He knows if he slows down, he'll fall apart. So he returns home to Bayou Bend to renovate the town's old theater and is shocked to discover that the designer for the project is his old flame, Stella.

Forced to work together, Chase and Stella battle their chemistry and past as they struggle to compromise and work together on a vision for the theater. Their wills clash as they attempt to hide their brokenness---and their unresolved feelings for each other-until Chase discovers the hidden parts of Stella, while losing her trust in the process.

A near catastrophe, a fire, and a small-town gossip mill finally force Stella and Chase to realize that they have a choice---to hold on to the shards of their pasts, or surrender their fragmented pieces to the One who makes a beautiful masterpiece from their brokenness.


Ever since I read All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes, the story of how Kat Varland fell in love with her best friend, I've been anticipating Love Arrives in Pieces. This novel focuses on Kat's sister Stella—a woman who was largely unlikeable in All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes. I was interested in whether Betsy St. Amant could make Stella sympathetic ... well, from page one, I just wanted to give Stella a big hug! Interestingly, in this book, it's Kat who doesn't come across so well—which shows how, just like in life, it all depends on perspective.

While Stella and Chase have great chemistry and a compelling romance, Love Arrives in Pieces is more than a love story. It's also a redemption story, showing how God can take the broken pieces of our lives and knit them together into a new story, a better story than we could have imagined.

I also loved the subplot with the Stella's homeless friend Dixie. Her story resolved in a way I never saw coming, and it absolutely touched my heart.

Dealing with real-life issues like divorce, death, and family approval, Love Arrives in Pieces is a compelling story that kept me flying through the pages, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes romance that's grounded in reality. 4-1/2 stars.

See what others are saying.
Buy the book.
Read my reviews of St. Amant's All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes (5 stars) and A February Bride (4 stars).

Betsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana with her young daughter and has a heart for sharing the amazing news of God's grace through her novels. A freelance journalist, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. When she's not reading, writing, or singing along to a Disney soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing.

Find Betsy online: website, Facebook


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 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."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"a heart's betrayal" by colleen coble

Colleen Coble's Journey of the Heart series continues with a focus on a new main character: Emmie, sister of the villainous Ben Croftner.

In A Heart's Betrayal, Emmie Croftner Courtney's life goes from bad to worse when she learns that her late husband had another family, and her marriage was never legal. Left with no money, few possessions, and the shame of being "the other woman," Emmie decides to make a fresh start with her friends Rand and Sarah Campbell at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. As a single woman, Emmie immediately attracts many suitors. But will anyone want her when the truth of her past is exposed?

Once again, I've written my own summary, and I've learned not to read the back covers of the books in this collection until after I've read the book—if you read the back cover, you may as well skip the book, as the cover copy gives away every. single. thing.

I did enjoy the beginning of Emmie's story; however, just as in the first book, which began Sarah's story, this novella feels like a set up to the main event. I'm definitely looking forward to watching Emmie's story unfold, especially as her love story with Isaac (who readers will remember as one of Sarah's suitors) progresses. And while I thought the twist at the end was a bit predictable, I can't wait to see what happens when Emmie explains everything to her friends. 3 stars.

Fun Fact: I love when I learn something when reading a novel. In this case, I learned that there were three Fort Kearnys. At one point in this novella, Rand is transferred from Fort Laramie to Fort Phil Kearny. The trek is described as north toward the Bighorn Mountains ... and I, who live about 90 minutes away from Fort Kearny in Nebraska, am thinking, "Fort Laramie is west of Fort Kearny, and it's as flat as flat can be around Fort Kearny." So I looked it up and learned that the Fort Kearny I know was named after Stephen Kearny, and Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming and Fort Kearny in Washington DC were named for Stephen's nephew Phil.

Read my reviews of A Heart's Disguise (4 stars), A Heart's Obsession (3 stars), and A Heart's Danger (4 stars).
Read my reviews of Coble's Inn at Ocean's Edge (5 stars), Lonestar series (Lonestar SecretsLonestar Angel, 3 stars), Under Texas Stars series (Blue Moon Promise, 3-1/2 stars; Safe in His Arms, 3-1/2 stars), and The Lightkeeper's Daughter.


Colleen Coble has sold over 2 million novels worldwide.Seagrass Pier, the third installment in her acclaimed Hope Beach series, marks a new highpoint for emotion and complexity in Coble's addictive brand of romantic suspense.

Find Colleen online: website, Facebook, Twitter


Emmie finds shelter in the arms of a soldier in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, but will her big secret drive them apart? Find out in book four, A Heart's Betrayal, of Colleen Coble's A Journey of the Heart series. Suddenly displaced, powerless, and ashamed, Emmie can’t stay in Wabash, Indiana. She makes a hopeful start for Fort Laramie to find her friend Sarah Montgomery and a new beginning. But when she arrives, she discovers she’s pregnant—and without a husband. The new start she’d hoped for slips from her fingers.

Melt into summer with a new giveaway from Colleen: four books (books one–four in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series) and a box of chocolates to pair with your new books!

heartsbetrayal-400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of A Heart's Betrayal
  • A box of Colleen's favorite chocolate truffles from DeBrand Fine Chocolates
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession
  • A copy of A Heart's Danger
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 30th. Winner will be announced July 1st on Colleen's website.

heartsbetrayal-enterbanner
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 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."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"until the harvest" by sarah loudin thomas

Last year, I read Sarah Loudin Thomas's Miracle in a Dry Season and fell in love with the beautiful prose, the characters (especially Casewell Phillips and Perla), and the little town of Wise, West Virginia. In Until the Harvest, readers return to Wise and specifically the Phillips family approximately 20 years after the events of Miracle in a Dry Season.

When family tragedy derails Henry Phillips's college studies, he's left unmoored and feeling abandoned. The only things that can tamp down his grief are the family farm, his fiddle, and an unexpected friendship with sweet but unusual preteen Mayfair Hoffman. 

Unfortunately, Mayfair's older sister, Margaret, despite her spray of freckles and cute, turned-up nose, has a completely different effect. His grandmother's helper, she's always around, ready to push his buttons, and it seems at first that she doesn't care about his troubles. 
  
Henry soon realizes, though, that Margaret's facing her own struggles. Mayfair's health and unique gift sit at the heart of those worries. Henry and Margaret soon find themselves relying on each other as potential tragedy collides with growing hope in a warm story of family bonds and the surprising ways healing finds us all. 

I had pretty high expectations going into Until the Harvest based on how much I loved Miracle in a Dry Season. These expectations were completely met by Until the Harvest.

Henry Phillips, Casewell and Perla's college-aged son, was a bit hard to like in the beginning—events at the start of the novel sent him into a tailspin that had him making some really boneheaded decisions—but I couldn't help but root for him, anyway. I was so invested in his journey that I couldn't help but yell at him a few times as he continued making poor choices!

Margaret and Mayfair, though, I loved from the get go. These sisters came from a difficult background, yet they grew and flourished under Henry's grandmother Emily's guidance.

As with Miracle in a Dry Season, there's a bit of the supernatural in Until the Harvest. In this case, Mayfair has a unique way of helping people ... but not without causing pain to herself. Really, Mayfair's gift and the way it unfolded was the novel's highlight for me.

There's a bit of a romance, too, but it doesn't overshadow the characters. From Henry, Margaret, and Mayfair to Grandma Emily to moonshiner Clint, each character is fleshed out and imperfect; basically, the characters feel like people you could encounter in real life.

Until the Harvest was a pleasure to read, and I look forward to reading more about the Phillips family when A Tapestry of Secrets releases next year. 5 stars.

Buy the book.
Read my review of Miracle in a Dry Season (5 stars).

Sarah Loudin Thomas is a fundraiser for a children's ministry, who has also written for Mountain Homes Southern Style and Now & Then magazines, as well as The Asheville Citizen-Times. Her debut novel was Miracle in a Dry Season. She holds a BA in English from Coastal Carolina University. She and her husband reside in Asheville, North Carolina. She can be found online at www.sarahloudinthomas.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Bethany House Publishers through its book reviewer 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."

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"burning bush 2.0" by paul asay

In Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet, Paul Asay dives into popular entertainment to show where God can be found.

Maybe God doesn’t speak through prophets as often these days because he knows people wouldn’t listen. Maybe God speaks to us in different ways—and in the places he knows where we congregate: in our movie theaters, living rooms, iPods, and smartphones. Maybe God still longs to connect with us, and so goes into the places where we’re most likely to listen. Burning Bush 2.0 is a whimsical and sincere examination of the ways God communicates with us—sometimes subtly and secretly—through our media and entertainment streams. Asay examines how faith and God’s fingerprints mark movies and music, television and technology. Through word and picture, God still speaks to us through unsuspecting voices—in ways we’re best able to hear—even if we don’t fully comprehend it completely in the moment. God is everywhere, and doesn’t ask permission to speak, shout out, or whisper his name. Includes study guide for individuals and church groups.

I've been familiar with Paul Asay for several years, due to his work at Plugged In, an entertainment review site. I often go to Plugged In when I'm considering whether to watch a movie. (While Plugged In points out every teensy little thing that someone might find offensive, I like having a good idea of a movie's content so I can make an informed decision.) So I was intrigued when I learned that Asay had released a book about pop culture. I've ended up having mixed feelings about it.

I'm going to start at the end, because I feel like it's the strongest section. In it, Asay talks about the importance of discernment in entertainment choices, and he's careful to point out that for each person, this will look different because we are all prone to certain sins and temptations. He also encourages readers to always go into entertainment with their brains engaged—to not just let entertainment wash over them but to be an active mental participant. He then gives a list of conversation starters that will help people discuss works of entertainment. I think this is the most valuable section of the book, and I would have loved to have the whole book focus on this.

The rest of the book (the first 10 chapters) is about finding God (or at least biblical principles) in pop culture. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of pop culture—superhero movies, video games, music, and reality TV, to name a few. This part is fine, and I enjoyed Asay's thoughts on things, but I didn't find it particularly engaging or enlightening. It's a lighthearted and conversational book, which I appreciated, but some of Asay's jokes fell a bit flat—he tends to harp on certain entertainers (Miley Cyrus), and I found it offputting.

Honestly, I'm not sure who Asay's target audience is. Obviously, Christians—I'm not sure why someone who doesn't believe would pick up this book. But beyond that, is the audience Christians who are in tune with pop culture? (I'd say no—because it doesn't take a lot of movie knowledge to realize that films are full of Christ figures or that something redeeming can be found in much of today's entertainment if you look deeply enough.) Christians who only watch Christian films and listen to Christian music? (Again, I'd say no—many of the examples in this book are decidedly not family friendly.) It's almost like this book doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

I know this review has been largely critical, but I did enjoy the book. I just didn't find it particularly memorable, and I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to. 3 stars.

Buy the book.

Paul Asay is associate editor at Plugged In, a ministry that reaches more than six million people with movie reviews that help people understand popular cultural trends and how they intersect with spiritual issues. Paul is an award-winning journalist who covered religion at The (Colorado Springs) Gazette and whose work has been published by such outlets as The Washington Post, Christianity Today, Youth Worker Journal and Beliefnet.com. Paul has a special interest in the unexpected ways faith and media intersect. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Wendy, and two children. Feel free to check out his website at www.paulasay.com.

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. 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."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"fatal trauma" by richard l. mabry

Anything can happen when a victim also becomes a suspect in Richard L. Mabry's latest medical thriller.

A gunman who has nothing to lose faces a doctor who could lose it all to prove his innocence.

When Dr. Mark Baker and Nurse Kelly Atkinson are held at the mercy of a dangerous gunman, the lives of every emergency room patient are at stake. At the end of the evening three men are dead. One of them is a police officer who couldn't be saved despite Mark's best efforts. The other two are members of the feared Zeta drug cartel.

Though the standoff is over, the killing is not, because when the drug cartel loses its members, revenge is not far behind. Facing an adversary whose desires are dark and efforts are ruthless, Mark finds himself under suspicion as a killer, yet still a potential victim. When he turns to his high school sweetheart, attorney Gwen Woodruff, for help, Kelly helplessly looks on, as she hides her own feelings for the good doctor.

At the height of the conflict, three questions remain: Who is the shooter? Who will the next victim be? And can Mark prove his innocence before the gun turns on him?

Overall, I enjoyed Fatal Trauma. The pacing was good, the characters were likeable (though I didn't feel I got to know some of them very well), and the plot featured a couple of twists I never saw coming and absolutely loved. (Seriously, I had a couple of gasp out loud moments—I love those when I'm reading suspense!) However, some of the aspects surrounding the investigation didn't ring true to me, and I got tired of the cops' continual focus on Mark as a suspect. I also didn't think the writing was as tight as in some of Mabry's other novels. Still, this is enjoyable medical suspense, and it makes for a quick, intense read. 3-1/2 stars. 

*See the note at the bottom if you want to know specifically what bothered me about the investigation! (It's fairly general and spoiler free, but I do have to talk a bit about the plot.)

See what others are saying.
Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Mabry's Stress Test (4-1/2 stars), Heart Failure (3-1/2 stars), and Critical Condition (3-1/2 stars).

*Note: Basically, Mark is a suspect in two crimes. He doesn't have much of an alibi for either crime--except that at the exact moment the second crime was taking place, he was speaking on his cell phone. He heard the crime take place over the phone, and then he immediately placed a call to 911 on said cell phone. I know this may not be enough to prove his innocence or guilt, but wouldn't the cops at least check the cell phone records and also find out which tower the calls went through to see if Mark could have been in the area where the crime took place? Yet the cell phone is never held up--either by Mark's attorney or by the cops--as a way to tell if Mark was where he said he was. Had I not been a Serial fanatic who heard about cell phone records ad nauseam, this probably wouldn't have bothered me. But if the cops were using cell phone records back in 1999, wouldn't they also be using them in 2015?


A retired physician, Dr. Richard Mabry is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels of medical suspense. His previous works have been finalists for the Carol Award and Romantic Times Reader's Choice Award, and have won the Selah Award. He is a past Vice-President of American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of the International Thriller Writers. He and his wife live in North Texas.

Find Richard online: website, Twitter, Facebook


Can Mark find out who the shooter is before he becomes the next victim? You won't want to miss the suspense in Richard Mabry's new book, Fatal Trauma. Facing an adversary whose desires are dark and efforts are ruthless, Mark finds himself under suspicion as a killer, yet still a potential victim. When he turns to his high school sweetheart, attorney Gwen Woodruff, for help, Kelly helplessly looks on, as she hides her own feelings for the good doctor.

Richard is celebrating the release of Fatal Trauma by giving away The Perfect Prescription Prize Pack!

fatal trauma - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 20th. The winner will be announced June 22nd on Richard's blog.

fatal trauma-enterbanner

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 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."

Monday, June 8, 2015

"hearts made whole" by jody hedlund

Jody Hedlund is one of those authors whose books I want to read just based on her name appearing on the cover. Hearts Made Whole, the latest release in her Beacons of Hope series, definitely lives up to the Hedlund name.

Can she forgive the hurting man who costs her the role she loves?

After her father's death, Caroline Taylor has grown confident running the Windmill Point Lighthouse. But in 1865 Michigan, women aren't supposed to have such roles, so it's only a matter of time before the lighthouse inspector appoints a new keeper---even though Caroline has nowhere else to go and no other job available to her.

Ryan Chambers is a Civil War veteran still haunted by the horrors of battle. He's secured the position of lighthouse keeper mostly for the isolation---the chance to hide from his past is appealing. He's not expecting the current keeper to be a feisty and beautiful woman who's angry with him for taking her job and for his inability to properly run the light. When his failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he's in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he's unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Caroline feels drawn to this wounded soul, but with both of them relying on that single position, can they look past their loss to a future filled with hope...and possibly love?

Jody Hedlund's Hearts Made Whole is the story of Ryan, a physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken Civil War veteran in search of redemption, and Caroline, a strong woman determined to keep her family together. When the two meet, they're immediately drawn to each other, but both Ryan and Caroline know he's in no shape for a relationship. The dance they do around their feelings adds a lot of romantic tension to the novel, and if you've ever read a Hedlund romance before, you know she creates just the right amount of tension!

Though Ryan is far from your classic romantic hero, I couldn't help but pull for him. I desperately wanted him to be with Caroline, even though for much of the novel he was absolutely not husband material. Caroline's character is wholly likeable, and I loved her determination to take care of her family, even when that determination led her to make decisions I didn't agree with.

The plot also features a bit of suspense--while it's not the focus of the novel, it is done well, and though I pinpointed the culprit early on, I didn't anticipate the way things would play out. I also really appreciated the way Hedlund handled Ryan's issues. I think it's great the way Christian fiction has evolved to include realistic people with realistic problems--in Ryan's case, PTSD and addiction. Who wants to read about perfect people with no issues? Not me!

Overall, I loved Hearts Made Whole. The ending is wholly satisfying, and the novel took a few turns that kept me guessing. I wouldn't say that this is my favorite Hedlund novel (that would be A Noble Groom), but it's still pretty darn enjoyable. 5 stars.

See what others are saying.
Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Hedlund's An Uncertain Choice (5 stars), The Vow (a prequel novella to An Uncertain Choice, 4 stars) A Noble Groom (5 stars), Unending Devotion (5 stars).

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning and bestselling historical fiction author. She won the 2011 Inspirational Reader's Choice Award, the 2011 Award of Excellence from the Colorado Romance Writers and was a finalist for Best Debut Novel in the 2011 ACFW Carol Awards. Currently she makes her home in central Michigan, with her husband and five busy children. She loves hearing from readers on Facebook and on her blog.

Find Jody online: websiteTwitterFacebook



Don't miss Jody Hedlund's new book, Hearts Made Whole, a story of loss, forgiveness, hope, and true love set in 1865 Michigan. When Ryan's failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he’s in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he’s unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Can Caroline forgive the hurting man who costs her the role she loves?

Celebrate the release of Hearts Made Whole by entering to win an Afternoon at the Beach prize pack and RSVPing to Jody's June 23rd author chat party!

hearts made whole - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:

One second-place winner will receive:

One third-place winner will receive:
hearts made whole - prize colalge 

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 23rd.Winner will be announced June 23rd at Jody's Facebook partyRSVP here!

hearts made whole - enter banner
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 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."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...