Monday, September 30, 2013

why i don't miss netflix

When I wrote about dumping Netflix a few months ago, I closed with the following:
As of right now, I think I'll come back to Netflix someday. But maybe I'll discover that I don't miss it much at all.
Well, I was right ... about the second sentence. I don't miss Netflix, not one bit. Here's why: for the first time in my life, I'm experiencing the wonder that is the DVR.

When I moved, I intended to just move my internet service (through CenturyLink) with me. I hadn't paid for TV since I lived with a friend in Grand Island from 2005-2006, so I planned to move my antenna that picked up five stations (on a good day) with me, as well.

That all changed when I called CenturyLink to request a transfer of services and try to negotiate a better rate. I went through the appropriate menu options and waited. And waited. And waited. After 20 minutes without reaching a live person, I hung up and dialed CenturyLink's main competitor in my town: USA Communications. In less than a minute, I was speaking with a customer service rep, and I learned that, for approximately what I was paying for internet through CenturyLink, I could get internet, cable, and a DVR. These prices are the introductory 6-month prices, and the rep urged me to call back when those rates are close to expiring—she said they are nearly always running retention specials for their current customers. Sold!

When I called CenturyLink to cancel—thus pushing different automated menu options—I was on the line with a customer service rep in less than two minutes. So apparently you're much more important to the company if you're wanting to leave than if you're calling for any other reason. I get it, but it's still frustrating.

My introduction to the wonderful DVR commenced the next week, and I quickly fell in love.

What I love most about the DVR is it allows me to watch TV on my schedule. (Yes, the VCR I had hooked up to my parents' cable TV did this too, but the DVR is simpler and doesn't require tapes.) Rarely do I stay up late watching something—I can always record it! And if I have two shows on during the same timeslot? I can either record one and watch the other live, or I can record both and watch them later. This saved me last Tuesday, when NCIS (a show you know I'm obsessed with!) and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered at the same time, and I had a meeting at work. With the VCR, I would have had to choose the more important of the two (and NCIS would have won with no question), but thanks to the DVR, I could watch both!

Side note: The NCIS premiere was as great as I'd hoped it would be, and I can't wait for part two of Ziva's goodbye tomorrow night. S.H.I.E.L.D. was okay—I enjoyed the witty Whedon-esque dialog, but the plot didn't enthrall me. I still have it set as a series recording on my DVR, but I'm not sure if I'll keep watching.

The DVR is not essential—neither is cable, for that matter—but I'm certainly enjoying it! I realize that I've done this backwards—most people dump cable in favor of Netflix, not the other way around. But I didn't really dump Netflix for cable—the cable was just a happy, unexpected development. Seriously, though, with all of my expanded basic cable, DVR'd Hallmark and Lifetime movies, and Amazon Prime offerings, who has time to miss Netflix?

My current DVR'd programs. In between the girly movies and Lifetime movies-of-the-week, I do go for some culture. See? Henry IV!

"before the dawn" by kathleen bauer

About the series: When the world around you falls apart, could it be that God is giving you a second chance? This is just one of the questions on Charlotte Stevenson's mind as she brings her three grandchildren to live on the family farm in Guidepost Books' Home to Heather Creek series.

About the book (from Litfuse): Before the Dawn begins just one week after the funeral of Charlotte's daughter, Denise. Denise's three children barely have time to process the death of their mother before they must move to the Heather Creek Farm they have never visited with grandparents they barely know. At age 16, Sam is fiercely protective of his younger siblings. Emily is 14 and desperately misses her friends. Young Christopher is only 8 and just wants to fit in. While Charlotte tries to help her grandchildren adjust to their new life, she also wrestles with her own grief and the enormous task of bringing her family together. Bob believes the fastest path to adjustment is a firm routine, with structure and chores, the same way they raised their own kids. However, that route led to Denise running away from home as a teenager and an estranged relationship with her family. Charlotte is worried about making the same mistakes she made with Denise. Is this her chance to make things right?

It is spring when the children arrive, and as Charlotte looks around the farm, she hopes the new life around them will signify hope and healing. The miracle of new life, along with God's healing touch, reminds all of them that it's always darkest just before the dawn.

My take: Before the Dawn is a sweet family story about new beginnings, forgiveness, and learning to love. The characters are realistic, especially Charlotte's husband Bob, a man who thinks they should raise their grandkids just like they raised their kids. I know plenty of men in my small farming community who could have served as the template for Bob!

The book is set in a small Nebraska town, and as a Nebraskan, I couldn't help but notice areas that didn't quite ring true. For example, the comment is made that in southern Nebraska, sweaters could be worn practically year round. Obviously, the author hasn't experienced a Nebraska summer! It's just a little thing—something that wouldn't matter one whit to the average reader—but it jumped out at me.

The book does tend to drag at times, and really, not much happens for 7/8 of the book. I definitely struggled to give it my full attention. It does serve as a good beginning to the series, though, and fans of gentle fiction (à la the Mitford books) will probably really enjoy this series.

My rating: 3 stars

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About the author: Kathleen Bauer is the pen name for a team of writers who have come together to create the Home to Heather Creek series.

Before the Dawn was written by Carolyne Aarsen. Originally a city girl, Aarsen moved to the countryside near Neerlandia, Alberta, when she married her husband, Richard. While raising four children, foster children and various animals, she learned how to drive tractors, front-end loaders and ATVs. She grew a garden and learned to can and preserve its produce. Somewhere in all this Aarsen learned to write. Since 1997 she has written more than 40 books. Learn more at

About the giveaway: 
Guideposts Books is thrilled to announce their brand new series, Home to Heather Creek, by Kathleen Bauer. The first two books, Before the Dawn and Sweet September, launch this month, and Guideposts Books is celebrating with a Paperwhite Kindle Giveaway!


One winner will receive:
  • A Paperwhite Kindle
  • Before the Dawn and Sweet September by Kathleen Bauer
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 5th. All winners will be announced October 7th HERE.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to visit the Litfuse blog on the 7th to see if you won! (Or better yet, subscribe to their blog [enter your email in the blog sidebar] and have the winner announcement delivered to your inbox!)

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."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"when the clouds roll by" by myra johnson

About the book (from the publisher): Annemarie Kendall is overjoyed when the armistice is signed and the Great War comes to an end. Her fiancé, Lieutenant Gilbert Ballard, is coming home, and though he is wounded, she is excited to start their life together. But when he arrives, her dreams are dashed when she learns Gilbert is suffering from headaches, depression, and an addiction to pain killers. This is not the man she had planned to marry.

After serving in the trenches, Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary is barely holding onto his faith. Putting up a brave front as he ministers to the injured soldiers at the hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he befriends Gilbert and eventually falls for Annemarie. While Annemarie tries to sort out her confused feelings about the two men in her life, she witnesses firsthand the bitterness and hurt they both hold within. Whom will she choose? Will she have the courage to follow her heart and become the woman God intended her to be?

As the world emerges from the shadow of war, Annemarie clings to her faith as she wonders if her future holds the hope, happiness, and love for which she so desperately longs.

My take: Set directly following World War I, When the Clouds Roll By deals with the scars—physical, emotional, and spiritual—the war left behind. I really appreciated how honestly the problems the soldiers faced upon returning home were portrayed. Gilbert especially had many demons to conquer, and I liked that while he recognized the need to make changes, he still had to deal with the consequences of his choices.

When the Clouds Roll By is a romance, but it's an unpredictable one. The "winner" of Annemarie's affections is not apparent from the first page (in contrast to most romance novels), and I wasn't sure how Johnson would resolve the love triangle until near the end of the book. I definitely enjoyed the unpredictability! I also appreciated that the romance didn't overshadow the rest of the book.

While the book does tend to drag a bit in the middle, overall this is a wonderful story that shows how the wounds of war don't go away when the guns stop firing. I will certainly be coming back for the next book in the series!

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Go here for a look into the background of the book. (I wish I'd read this post first—I would have loved to be picturing the actors Johnson "cast" as I read!)

About the author: Myra Johnson is the author of several books, including One Imperfect Christmas and the award-winning Autumn Rains, which received the 2005 RWA Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript and was a 2010 ACFW Carol Award finalist. Myra and her husband, Jack, live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit her at

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advance reading copy of this book for review from Abingdon Press through its early reader 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 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.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

"the courier of caswell hall" by melanie dobson

About the book (from Litfuse): An unlikely spy discovers freedom and love in the midst of the American Revolution.

As the British and Continental armies wage war in 1781, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner feels conflict raging in her own heart. Lydia Caswell comes from a family of staunch Loyalists, but she cares only about peace. Her friend Sarah Hammond, however, longs to join the fight. Both women's families have already been divided by a costly war that sets father against son and neighbor against neighbor; a war that makes it impossible to guess who can be trusted.

One snowy night Lydia discovers a wounded man on the riverbank near Caswell Hall, and her decision to save him will change her life. Nathan introduces her to a secret network of spies, couriers, disguises, and coded messages—a network that may be the Patriots' only hope for winning the war. When British officers take over Caswell Hall and wreak havoc on neighboring plantations, Lydia will have to choose between loyalty and freedom; between her family's protection and her own heart's desires.

As both armies gather near Williamsburg for a pivotal battle, both Lydia and Sarah must decide how high a price they are willing to pay to help the men they love.

Part of the American Tapestries™ series: Each standalone novel in this line sets a heart-stirring love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. This is the fifth book in the series.

My take: In The Courier of Caswell Hall, Melanie Dobson takes the reader into the Revolutionary War. In the acknowledgements at the back, she thanks a friend for reminding her when the story needed to be "felt" as well as told—and she certainly accomplished it! In the opening pages, set at the 50th Anniversary celebration for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, this novel comes alive. I was pulled completely into the story ... even though I knew the Patriots would come out on top, I still worried about the outcome!

As a born and bred American, I've always believed the colonists were right to fight for freedom. After reading this novelization of the Revolutionary War, my opinion is only strengthened.  I felt like I was at Caswell Hall while the British soldiers wreaked havoc on the surrounding community, with Sarah as she risked her life to save men held captive by the British, and hiding out with Nathan as he longed to deliver an urgent message. Dobson does a wonderful job of pulling the reader directly into the action.

I also appreciated the historical details included. For example, one of the characters becomes diabetic, which was an automatic death sentence in the 1700s. As someone with an extensive family history of diabetes, I'm so thankful for modern medicine! My dad has lived more than 40 years as a diabetic; the character in this novel lived only a short time following the diagnosis. I had never before taken time to consider how diseases we just live with today would have been a death sentence in the past.

I enjoyed The Courier of Caswell Hall more than I expected to—more than I've enjoyed a book in quite a while. A word of caution, though: read with a box of Kleenex nearby! (And, preferably, don't read it in a room full of teenagers. I made the mistake of reading the last quarter while monitoring a study hall. I don't think any of the students noticed my tears!)

My rating: 5 stars

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Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Dobson's Where the Trail Ends (also part of the American Tapestries series), Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan, and Refuge on Crescent Hill.

About the author: Melanie Dobson is the author of twelve novels; her writing has received numerous accolades including two Carol Awards. Melanie worked in public relations for fifteen years before she began writing fiction full-time. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides with her husband and two daughters in Oregon.

Connect with Melanie at

About the giveaway: Melanie Dobson's latest release, The Courier of Caswell Hall, is a riveting story you won't want to miss. The newest offering in the American Tapestries™ series, it follows an unlikely spy who discovers freedom and love in the midst of the American Revolution.

Enter to win 1 of 5 copies of the book!


  Five winners will receive:
  • The Courier of Caswell Hall by Melanie Dobson
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 5th. All winners will be announced October 7th at the Litfuse blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to visit the Litfuse blog on the 7th to see if you won one of the books!

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."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"a christmas gift for rose" by tricia goyer

About the book (from Goodreads): Born in the midst of the hardships of The Great Depression, Rose grew up in Berlin, Ohio, in the arms of a loving Amish family. But as she prepares to marry, she's thrown into confusion when she learns the truth of her birth. She was born Englisch and abandoned when the family moved on in search of work.

Was she meant to be Amish or would she have been better off growing up with her own kind—Englischers? And was her intended's gift of discovering her birth family given out of love or fear?

My take: A Christmas Gift for Rose is a sweet novella that can be read in one evening. Set at the end of World War II, it tells the story of two people trying to find their way: Rose, an Amish woman who learns she was born Englisch, and Jonathan, the man Rose loves ... a man who broke Amish tradition by becoming a medic during the war. Rose struggles greatly with the newfound knowledge of her past; if she wasn't born Amish, can she really be Amish?

While Rose's anguish over her past and how that would inform her future got to me at times (and if she were a real friend of mine, we would have had a few heart-to-hearts about what makes a family), I thought her struggle seemed realistic. I can't imagine the tailspin you'd be thrown into if you learned as an adult that you had been adopted.

Jonathan is a man of great character—someone who listened to God at the risk of offending man and who was willing to sacrifice his happiness in order to help Rose find out who she was. His pursuit of Rose's heart is quite moving.

A beautiful hardback book, A Christmas Gift for Rose would be a great stocking stuffer for the fiction lover in your life. I also hope that someday it will be made into a film—wouldn't it fit perfectly into Hallmark's Christmas lineup?

My rating: 4 stars

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Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Goyer's The Memory Jar and The Promise Box (Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors), Remembering You, Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska (co-written with Ocieanna Fleiss), Chasing Mona Lisa (co-written with Mike Yorkey), Beside Still Waters and Along Wooded Paths (Big Sky), and By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

About the author: Tricia Goyer is a busy mom of six, grandmother of one, and wife to John. Somewhere around the hustle and bustle of family life, she manages to find the time to write fictional tales delighting and entertaining readers and non-fiction titles offering encouragement and hope.

A bestselling author, Tricia has published thirty-three books to date and has written more than 500 articles. She is a two-time Carol Award winner, as well as a Christy and ECPA Award Nominee. In 2010, she was selected as one of the Top 20 Moms to Follow on Twitter by Tricia is also on the blogging team at and other homeschooling and Christian sites.

In addition to her roles as mom, wife and author, Tricia volunteers around her community and mentors teen moms. She is the founder of Hope Pregnancy Ministries in Northwestern Montana, and she currently leads a Teen MOPS Group in Little Rock, AR. Tricia, along with a group of friends, recently launched, sharing ideas about simplifying life. She also hosts the weekly radio podcast, Living Inspired. Learn more about Tricia at

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"safely home" by randy alcorn

About the book (from Amazon): Is this the day I die? Li Quan asks himself this question daily, knowing that he might be killed for practicing his faith. American businessman Ben Fielding has no idea what his brilliant former college roommate is facing in China. He expects his old friend has fulfilled his dream of becoming a university professor. But when they are reunited in China after twenty years, both men are shocked at what they discover about each other. Thrown together in an hour of encroaching darkness, both must make choices that will determine not only the destinies of two men, but two families, two nations, and two worlds.

My take: I first read Safely Home about five years ago on the recommendation of my sister. I thought it was a great story, and I even added it to my list of books I highly recommend to those who visit this blog. When my book club picked Safely Home as its August book, I was pretty excited. I didn't remember much of the plot beyond the basics, so I welcomed the chance to read the book again.

Now that I've read it again, I'd say I didn't like it quite as much as I did the first time. If you'd asked me then, I would have given it an enthusiastic 5 stars. But when we discussed it at book club a few weeks ago, I gave it a solid 4. Here's why:
  1. The book has a great plot. It shows persecution in a way that we in America haven't ever seen, and it opens the reader's eyes to the world outside of the American Christian bubble. I would definitely give the story five stars.
  2. Alcorn's description of heaven is nice. But I'm not sure that it's accurate. It may be—I know I certainly haven't studied heaven as much as Alcorn has. But, as one of the ladies in my book club mentioned, I think it might be dangerous to present it as, "This is what heaven is like." (Yes, I know that this is fiction, but the "earthly" story is presented based on real facts, so the "heavenly" portion also feels like it should be real.)
  3. When I first read the book, I wasn't used to analyzing how a book was written ... I just paid attention to the story. But this time, with more than 200 book reviews under my belt, a few things struck me. First of all, the conversation often feels stilted. Alcorn weaves in lots of important facts about the persecuted church, mostly through dialog between Quan and Ben. Often when Quan throws out a fact, it doesn't seem like it would naturally flow from the conversation—it's like Alcorn had the facts he wanted to get across and then wrote the dialog around them. Also, there are long sections of Scripture in the book. That's fine, but when you have nearly a page of Bible verses, you either get pulled out of the story, or you start skipping over the verses and going back to the story. Either way, it doesn't make for a great reading experience.
I still would recommend that Christians read Safely Home, as it brings the persecuted church to life; expect a great story, but not a great literary experience.

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book. 
About the author: Randy Alcorn is an author and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit ministry dedicated to teaching principles of God's Word and assisting the church in ministering to the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled, and unsupported people around the world. His ministry focus is communicating the strategic importance of using our earthly time, money, possessions and opportunities to invest in need-meeting ministries that count for eternity. He accomplishes this by analyzing, teaching, and applying the biblical truth.

Before starting EPM in 1990, Randy served as a pastor for fourteen years. He has an MA degree in Biblical Studies from Multnomah University and an Honorary Doctorate from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and has taught on the adjunct faculties of both.

A New York Times bestselling author, Randy has written more than forty books, including Courageous, Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and the Gold Medallion winner Safely Home. His books in print exceed seven million and have been translated into over fifty languages. Randy has written for many magazines including EPM's issues-oriented magazine Eternal Perspectives. He is active daily on Facebook and Twitter, has been a guest on more than 700 radio, television and online programs including Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Revive Our Hearts, The Bible Answer Man, and The Resurgence.

Randy resides in Gresham, Oregon, with his wife, Nanci. They have two married daughters and are the proud grandparents of five grandsons. Randy enjoys hanging out with his family, biking, tennis, research, and reading.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself and reviewed it of my own accord. I was not compensated in any way. 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.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

"deceived" by julie anne lindsey

About the book (from Goodreads): Ever since she could remember, Elle has had to hop from town to town to keep up with her dad's demanding career as a corporate insurance agent. Each time, a reoccurring nightmare followed her wherever she went—until the day that the frightening figures haunting her at night became all too real. When news of a serial killer spreads throughout her new school, Elle worries that the Reaper has been leaving her his calling card in the form of cigarette butts on her doormat and an unusual ribbon in her locker. With the help of Brian, a boy she meets at a flea market, she discovers that this isn't her first encounter with the murderer and that her father has been concealing her true identity for the past twelve years. But despite her father's desperate attempts to protect her, Elle still comes face to face with the darkness she has been running from her whole life. Trapped in the woods and with help hundreds of miles away, will Elle be able to confront the Reaper and reclaim the life she lost?

My take: Deceived is a taut thriller—one of those books that would make a fabulous suspense movie. It's also a romance, and the romance aspect is definitely dominant for the first two-thirds of the book, with the pace moving fairly slowly. But once the action takes off, hold onto your hat! The story careens at breakneck speed toward the (very satisfying) conclusion.

I did peg the Reaper pretty quickly, and I thought that Elle should have discovered that she was his target much sooner than she did. But overall, the suspense level is just right, and I would love to see this book as a film.

Deceived is not a Christian novel, yet there is one scene that points to God in a way that I found to be truly lovely. It's Thanksgiving, and Elle's father prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God that is so sincere and humble ... it struck me as a more honest reflection of faith than much of what I read in Christian novels.

I greatly enjoyed Deceived (with the caveats mentioned below), and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for Lindsey's other novels.

Content note: For a number of reasons, I would not recommend this book to anyone under 18. While there is mild swearing throughout, the f-word also makes an appearance in a scene near the end of the book. Its inclusion is understandable given the situation, but I still found it jarring and unnecessary. Also, the violence depicted is incredibly graphic as the story reaches its climax—to the point where I started skimming to avoid planting any more pictures in my head. There is lots of passionate kissing, but no sex; however, I'm pretty sure the only thing that kept the two leads from sleeping together is the fact that Elle is under 18.

My rating: 3-1/2 stars

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Buy the book: AmazonB&NBook DepositoryKobo
Watch the book trailer.

About the author: Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. In 2013, Julie welcomes five new releases in three genres including her newest title, DECEIVED, a YA suspense from Merit Press, and her first cozy mystery, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE, book one in the Patience Price, Counselor at Large series from Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin).

Julie is a self-proclaimed word nerd who would rather read than almost anything else. She started writing to make people smile. Someday she plans to change the world. Most days you'll find her online, amped up on caffeine and wielding a book.

Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Sisters in Crime (SinC) and the Canton Writer’s Guild.

Find her online:

Tweeting her crazy @JulieALindsey

Soothing her book obsession on GoodReads

Pinning the pretty on Pinterest

Tumbling lamely on Tumblr

Blogging about books and writing at Musings from the Slush Pile


About the giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook free from the publisher via YA Bound Book Tours I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."

a dangerous trend: guest post by deborah heal

When Deborah asked if I'd be interested in having her guest post on my blog about violence in YA fiction, I jumped at the opportunity. I just finished reading a YA novel that I really enjoyed—except for the violence at the end of the book that made my stomach turn (see my review here). If you read YA fiction or crime fiction, you've probably encountered some of this gratuitous violence. I think you'll appreciate what Deborah has to say.

A Dangerous Trend

I don’t believe fiction, especially Christian fiction for young people, needs gratuitous violence to make the plot exciting. I was happy to discover Wall Street Journal book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon and her Imprimus article, “The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books.” In it she gives examples of unbelievable violence taken from current, best-selling young adult fiction and then makes a compelling case for why this is a dangerous trend:

What I do wish is that people in the book business would exercise better taste; that adult authors would not simply validate every spasm of the teen experience; and that our culture was not marching toward ever-greater explicitness in depictions of sex and violence. Books for children and teenagers are written, packaged, and sold by adults. It follows from this that the emotional depictions they contain come to young people with a kind of adult imprimatur. As a school librarian in Idaho wrote to her colleagues in my defense: “You are naïve if you think young people can read a dark and violent book that sits on the library shelves and not believe that that behavior must be condoned by the adults in their school lives.”
. . . Let me close with Saint Paul the Apostle in Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. And let us think about these words when we go shopping for books for our children. (Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.)

I wholeheartedly agree with her position. You can read the rest of her excellent article HERE.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

But in writing fiction, you do have to have bad guys. I believe that to be compelling, relevant, and useful Christian fiction should honestly address the difficult issues of our times. How will the good be revealed unless it is contrasted to the bad? One of the minor themes that developed in Unclaimed Legacy is spousal abuse—not a pretty topic to be sure. This is why I don’t recommend it for younger teens, even though I kept the violence to a minimum and mostly offstage. It wasn’t easy writing about domestic violence, but it is a part of daily life for so many families that I felt I couldn’t gloss over it in telling Reuben and Franny’s story (the historical backstory in Unclaimed Legacy). As the blurb for Unclaimed Legacy says, sometimes when Abby and John are “time-surfing” they learn more than they want to know about people from the past. (Read the full blurb and a free chapter of Unclaimed Legacy HERE) Sometimes, when I’m researching for my books, I learn more than I want to know too! I discovered some shocking facts. Futures Without says:

One in four women has experienced violence by a boyfriend or spouse.
Seven million children live in families in which severe violence occurs.
On average 500 women are raped or sexually assaulted each day in the U.S.

Trish Jenkins says in her book Treasures of Darkness—which I highly recommend, by the way—that the prison nurse estimated that 96% of her fellow inmates had been the victims of sexual or other physical abuse. (You can see my interview with Trish HERE.) And domestic violence begins earlier than I ever dreamed—with dating teens! According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, 51% of all 15-22-year-olds in the United States know a victim of dating violence or sexual assault. And lest you think Christian families are immune, think again. Religion Today tells the story of “Marleen” whose husband was an upstanding member of the church—a deacon and a Sunday School teacher no less. When “Marleen” went to her pastor for counsel, he advised her to “try to submit more.” Two weeks later, she was dead, murdered by her husband. I think there will be a special punishment for this kind of thug.

The Worst Fictional Bad Guy I Could Imagine

Fictional Wife Beater Bertram White
Fictional Wife Beater Bertram White
 And I imagine that the horror and and psychological damage of domestic violence must be much worse where perpetrators use the Bible (misinterpreted and bent all out of recognition) to justify their crimes—as my fictional character Bertram White does. When I needed a bad guy for Unclaimed Legacy, I couldn’t think of a worse thing than that he would be a man who quoted the Bible while beating his wife. I kept the photo of this unknown angry man over my computer while inventing Bertram White.

Meet Bertram White in this excerpt from Unclaimed Legacy:

Bertram White slowed his buggy and turned into the lane, eventually coming to a stop in front of the barn. He lumbered down from the buggy and unhitched his lathered mare. Slapping her rump, he turned her out into a pasture that lay beyond the board fence that ran behind the out buildings. He took off his gray felt hat and wiped his face with his handkerchief. His face was red, his mouth set in angry lines, a vein prominent on his nearly bald head.
Unclaimed Legacy CoverKicking at a chicken that was in his path, he stormed across the yard and up the steps onto the porch, the boards creaking under his weight. The screen door wailed softly before banging shut behind him. He walked into the dim kitchen and looked around in disbelief. Supper not even started. He swore in disgust and started down the dim hallway, his boots falling like sledge hammers on the wooden floor. When he reached the parlor at the front of the house, his footsteps were hushed by the Oriental rug, but still an aura of violence followed him into the quiet room. He saw that his wife sat staring out the tall front window, its mullions casting a cross-hatched shadow on her face.
He flipped open his pocket watch and she jerked out of her reverie and turned to him. Her face drained of color and she stood, stumbling against the chair leg in her haste.
“It’s getting on to six o’clock,” he said, snapping the watch case shut. “But for some strange reason I don’t smell supper cooking.” His voice was like angry hornets looking for the farmer that had stirred up their nest.
“I was watching for the stagecoach.” She made her lips turn up in a smile, because sometimes she could jolly him out of a bad mood. “Only two riders today, Bertram. We’ll miss seeing the stage coaches go by, won’t we?” A little breeze pushed its way into the stuffy room, shushing the burgundy damask drapes and playing with a few strands of dark hair that had escaped from her chignon. She lifted a pale, thin hand and nervously smoothed it away from her face.
“Well, I for one, am happy to see the railroad come, but that’s neither here nor there. I warned you about having my supper ready on time.”
“I’m sorry, Bertram. I’ll get right in the kitchen and I’ll—”
“It’s too late for your excuses now.” He took off his jacket, laid it neatly over the arm of the settee, and unbuttoned his top shirt button. Even that didn’t take away the angry redness from his face.
“You have to obey me! The preacher said so, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands.’ Ephesians 5:22.”
“I will. I promise I will.”
He whipped his leather belt through the loops on his pants. The snapping sound caused her to flinch.
“You make me do this,” he said, grabbing her arm.
A Page line for trilogy
John snapped the laptop shut and stalked off. “That’s enough,” he said, exhaling loudly.
In the gloom of the museum theatre Abby could barely see him, but she heard his breath coming in a sort of wheezy pant. Then she realized she was wheezing too. “I wish there was a way to call the cops on him.”
“I wish there was a way I could get my hands on that sanctimonious toad for just one minute,” John said.
Abby sank onto a seat in the front row. “He’s so full of hate. Guess he forgot that next verse about men loving their wives. I feel a little sick to my stomach.”
Merri sat down next to her. “And I thought my parents’ marriage was bad. Please don’t ever make me go inside that guy’s head again. And why did we, anyway? One minute we’re watching that woman waving at us and the next—”
“I was trying to lock onto her, but we’re too far away from Shake Rag Corner. So it locked onto that Bertram White guy when he drove up.”
John came and sat on Abby’s other side. “I wish we could get closer,” he said.
Abby blinked. But then realized John meant get closer to Shake Rag Corner. She wished he would put his arm around her and hold her for about an hour. She was sure if he did, the hate and violence of the scene they had just witnessed would go away.

What Would Meghan Say?

I think Meghan Cox Gurdon would approve of my handling of the subject. (Now if only she’d post a review of Unclaimed Legacy in the Wall Street Journal!) I pray that if anyone reading this is in a violent relationship you will be rescued from your misery. If Christians—even pastors—are telling you that you are obligated, as a good wife, to endure the beatings, I want you to know that I and many other Christians—even especially pastors—would tell you that you are not! Flee to safety! The first step might be calling the National Domestic Hotline. 1-800-799-SAFE. Meanwhile, know that I’ll be praying for you. I am the author of the Time and Again time-travel mystery series. I was born not far from the setting of Every Hill and Mountain and grew up “just down the road” from the setting of Time and Again and Unclaimed Legacy. Today I live with my husband in Waterloo, Illinois, where I enjoy reading, gardening, and learning about regional history. We have three grown children, four grandchildren, and two canine buddies Digger and Scout. I love to interact with my readers, so I hope you'll leave a comment below.

For a limited time, Unclaimed Legacy is available for 99 cents!

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

"waiting for dusk" by nancy pennick

Welcome to my stop on the Waiting For Dusk blog tour hosted by YA Bound Book Tours. Click HERE to see the full blog tour schedule!

About the book (from Goodreads): 
Read a book.
Fall asleep.
Meet a boy.
Is it real or just a dream?

Katie’s everyday life suddenly turns exciting when she travels back in time and meets the boy of her dreams. Thinking of nothing else, willing to leave the real world behind, she’s determined to find out if it’s all a dream or not. Returning again and again, Katie almost has her answers until one day her precious book goes missing.

My take: Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a sucker for everything time related—time travel, time loops, etc. So the idea of a book centered around a girl who travels back and forth between the present and the 1920's was incredibly appealing.

While I loved the concept of this book, in execution it wasn't as fantastic. Katie's time in the past was fascinating, and I loved figuring out how the people in the past were connected to those in the present. But Katie in the present? She was kind of annoying. I understood her desire to get back to the past, but that didn't mean she needed to be so self-centered in the present. Plus, the whole stalker subplot didn't seem to fit—and it didn't really get resolved at all. Seriously, the kid should have been in jail ... but in the end, he was still in school with Katie.

As I said before, the concept is something that is completely in my wheelhouse. However, the writing style isn't one that I connected with. The author often over explained simple things (we were told multiple times that Katie was glad her dad had her take riding lessons as a child) but didn't give enough details at other times to allow the reader to form mental picture. Also, while we were told that Katie and Drew loved one another, I didn't really feel it. There were also some jarring tense changes (Katie would be thinking, so there would be first person pronouns, but in the next sentence, third person pronouns would be used), and sometimes the dialogue didn't really ring true.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, and it was a clean read (no profanity or sex), but I doubt I'll be coming back for the sequel.

My rating: 3 stars
About the author: Born and raised in Northeast Ohio, Nancy currently resides in Mentor, Ohio with her husband and their college-age son, plus a delightfully entertaining lovebird. She secretly wrote short stories as a child, typed them up and put them in a drawer. She’d give anything to see those stories one more time. Her writing is influenced by all the years of working with young people as a teacher and raising her own son. When not writing, Nancy loves to travel with her husband and enjoys a good cup of tea.

Author Links:

About the giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook free for review via YA Bound Book Tours I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."

"fired up" by mary connealy

About the book: Dare Riker is a doctor who saves lives, but someone seems determined to end his. It may have something to do with the traitors he dealt with during the Civil War, or it might be related to the recent incident with Flint Greer and the ranch. Whoever the culprit is, he or she seems really fired up, and Dare can't let his guard down for a moment, which is a challenge, since right now he's trying to win the heart of the recently widowed Glynna.

Glynna Greer came west as a mail-order bride and ended up in a bad situation. Now her husband, Flint, is dead, and she's determined to care for her son and daughter on her own. She wants to believe Dare Riker is as decent as he seems, but she's terrified to lock herself into another marriage. She plans to support her small family by opening a diner—never mind that cooking is not her greatest talent. The men in Broken Wheel, Texas, are so desperate for home cooking that they seem willing to overlook dried-out beef and blackened biscuits.

Glynna can't help but notice that danger follows Dare wherever he goes. There's the avalanche. And then the fire. But things really get out of hand when someone plunges a knife from Glynna's diner into Dare's back. Are Flint's cronies still plotting revenge? Is Glynna's son engaged in a misguided attempt to protect his mother? Is a shadowy outsider still enraged over past injustices? And can Dare survive long enough to convince Glynna to take another chance on love?

My take: Fired Up continues the story of the Regulators—Luke, Dare, Vince, and Jonas—that started in Swept Away, book one of the Trouble in Texas series.

The plot of Fired Up is completely engaging, and I enjoyed watching the Regulators piece together the puzzle of who was out to get Dare. And I'm happy to say that while I had my suspicions, I wasn't sure who the "bad guy" was until Connealy revealed it. I did feel like the conflict with Glynna's son wrapped up a little too neatly (the shift in his feelings toward Dare happened quite suddenly and conveniently), but everything else in this book worked marvelously. Though Fired Up is ostensibly Dare and Glynna's story, my favorite parts were those surrounding Jonas's sister Tina and Vince. Those two will be great fun to read about in the future!

I like each book of Mary Connealy's that I read a little more than the last. That certainly makes reading her books enjoyable! If you like historical romance with a touch of humor, you should definitely check out this series.

My rating: 4.5 stars

See what other bloggers are saying.
Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Swept Away (Trouble in Texas), In Too Deep and Over the Edge (Kincaid Brides), and Winter Wedding Bells (in A Bride for All Seasons anthology)
Watch the book trailer:

About the author: Mary Connealy writes fun and lively "romantic comedy with cowboys" for the inspirational market. She is the author of the successful Kincaid Brides, Lassoed in Texas, Montana Marriages, and Sophie's Daughters series, and she has been a finalist for a Rita and Christy Award and a two time winner of the Carol Award. She lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her husband, Ivan, and has four grown daughters.

Connect with Mary:

About the giveaway:
Mary Connealy is back with the second book, Fired Up, in her Trouble in Texas series, and she's celebrating with a Kindle Fire giveaway and a LIVE author chat party on October 8th.


  One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HD
  • Swept Away  and Fired Up by Mary Connealy
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 8th. Winner will be announced at the "Fired Up" Live Webcast Event on October 8th. Connect with Mary for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Mary will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books and fun gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of Fired Up and join Mary and friends on the evening of October 8th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 8th!

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."

Monday, September 16, 2013

"time and again" trilogy giveaway: guest post by deborah heal

Here and now are the perfect place and time to get your copy of Unclaimed Legacy.

Unclaimed Legacy 99 Cents for a limited time   Now? Because it's only 99 cents for Kindle (for the month of September only). Here? Because buying it enters you in my giveaway of the complete Time and Again trilogy (personally signed by yours truly) AND a pretty mug for your morning coffee. Hint: You might want to keep the mug and Kindle book for yourself and give the signed copies of the trilogy as a gift. The Rafflecopter giveaway entry form is below, but first let me tell you about Unclaimed Legacy. Unclaimed Legacy blurbette   Those who have read Time and Again know that Abby Thomas is a college student on a summer service project with 11-year-old Merri. And they know that the summer is not going the way Abby had expected—but in a good way. For one thing, she meets a very nice guy named John Roberts. And for another, she discovers a strange computer program called Beautiful House that lets her fast-forward and rewind life. Not her own, of course, but those of the people who lived in Merri’s old house. And now Beautiful House comes in handy when Abby, John, and Merri agree to help the "Old Dears" next door with their family tree. Except Abby and John learn more about one of the ladies’ ancestors than they ever wanted to know. Convicted in 1871 of murder and arson, Reuben Buchanan is a blight on the family’s reputation. But was he really guilty? Abby and John must get inside the mind of a murderer to find out. And while they’re rummaging around in the Old Dears’ family history, they also find Nathan Buchanan, a heroic relative connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition—and a legacy waiting to be reclaimed. But the most important discovery they make is that God’s promise to bless a thousand generations is true.

"In this sequel to Time and Again Deborah Heal has taken pieces of real life history and woven them [into] a fantastic story geared to keep the reader entertained and on the edge of their seat… I adored every single bit of this. It has the perfect blend of history and action-packed suspense to keep young adults glued to the pages… I think she has mastered a home run here. This one easily rates a 5 out of 5 stars for me…and I hope it will work its way to the top of the best seller lists for young adults.”
-- Pirate2240 "Kat" Amazon Reviewer

080The Clue of the Unclaimed Legacy

The blurb above doesn’t say a lot about it, but Unclaimed Legacy features my heroes Lewis and Clark. I’ve always been fascinated by them, partly because I knew the explorers spent the winter of 1803 at Hartford, Illinois, near where I grew up in Woodburn. They chose that site for the camp they called Camp River Dubois, because it was near the mouth of the Missouri River, which they would ascend the next spring. The captains spent the winter laying in supplies and training their men. I decided it would be fun to let Abby “time-surf” back to see Camp River Dubois. . .

Continue reading HERE to get my clues about Unclaimed Legacy.

As the blurb says, sometimes when Abby and John are “time-surfing” they learn more than they want to know about people from the past--like Bertram White, a violent husband. (Read my companion article about him HERE. Read a free chapter of Unclaimed Legacy HERE.)
Mar 27 2013 038Time Travel Trilogy by Deborah HealNow, enter the contest to get your Kindle copy of Unclaimed Legacy for 99 cents and a chance to win the complete trilogy in paperback, personally signed by me. Oh, and a mug.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 6, 2013

"rose harbor in bloom" by debbie macomber

About the book (from the publisher): Hailed as “the reigning queen of women’s fiction” (The Sacramento Bee), Debbie Macomber is renowned for her novels of love, friendship, and the promise of fresh starts. Now Macomber returns to the charming Rose Harbor Inn, where each guest finds a second chance and every room comes with an inspiring new view.

Since moving to Cedar Cove, Jo Marie Rose has truly started to feel at home, and her neighbors have become her closest friends. Now it’s springtime, and Jo Marie is eager to finish the most recent addition to her inn. In memory of her late husband, Paul, she has designed a beautiful rose garden for the property and enlisted handyman Mark Taylor to help realize it. She and Mark don’t always see eye-to-eye—and at times he seems far removed—yet deep down, Jo Marie finds great comfort in his company. And while she still seeks a sense of closure, she welcomes her latest guests, who are on their own healing journeys.

Annie Newton arrives in town to orchestrate her grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. While Annie is excited for the festivities, she’s struggling to move on from her broken engagement, and her grandparents themselves seem to be having trouble getting along. Worse, Annie is forced to see Oliver Sutton, with whom she grew up and who has always mercilessly teased her. But the best parties end with a surprise, and Annie is in for the biggest one of all.

High-powered businesswoman Mary Smith, another Rose Harbor Inn guest, has achieved incredible success in her field, yet serious illness has led her to face her sole, lingering regret. Almost nineteen years ago, she ended her relationship with her true love, George Hudson, and now she’s returned to Cedar Cove to make amends.

Compassion and joy await Jo Marie, Annie, and Mary as they make peace with their pasts and look boldly toward their futures. Rose Harbor in Bloom is Debbie Macomber at her heartwarming best.

My take: Prior to reading Rose Harbor in Bloom, I wasn't very familiar with Debbie Macomber's books. But I've recently fallen in love with Hallmark Channel's adaptation of her Cedar Cove novels, so I decided to give this book a chance. I'm so glad I did!

Rose Harbor in Bloom is the second book in Macomber's Rose Harbor Inn series, which is set in Cedar Cove. It is absolutely unnecessary to read book one first—Macomber does a great job of bringing newbies like me up to speed.

While the writing seems a bit simplistic at times, the strength of the characters carried me through the book and made me want to keep reading. I especially enjoyed watching inn guest Mary Smith's story unfold, but I liked all of the plot lines. Also, fans of the TV show will enjoy glimpses of Olivia, Jack, Grace, and other characters. (Just be warned—if you hadn't already figured out where Olivia and Grace's love lives were headed, this book will spoil it for you!) I even heard Andie MacDowell (Olivia), Dylan Neal (Jack), and Teryl Rothery (Grace)'s voices in my head as I read the dialogue!

As someone who generally sticks to Christian fiction, I wasn't sure what content I'd find in this book. There is some mild swearing, passionate kissing, and references to pre-marital sex, but nothing is graphic, making this a book I can recommend to older teens and adults.

Overall, I really enjoyed Rose Harbor in Bloom, and I look forward to the next installment in the series.

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Learn more about the charming Cedar Cove TV series.

About the author: Debbie Macomber, the author of Starry Night, Rose Harbor in Bloom, The Inn at Rose Harbor, Starting Now, Angels at the Table, A Turn in the Road, 1105 Yakima Street, Hannah’s List, and Twenty Wishes, is a leading voice in women’s fiction. Eight of her novels have hit #1 on theNew York Times bestseller list, with three debuting at #1 on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly lists. In 2009 and 2010, Mrs. Miracle and Call Me Mrs. Miracle were Hallmark Channel’s top-watched movies for the year. In 2013, Hallmark Channel produced the original series Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove. She has more than 160 million copies of her books in print worldwide.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from through it's 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."