Monday, March 31, 2014

"a february bride" by betsy st. amant

About the book: Allie left the love of her life at the altar - to save him from a lifetime of heartbreak. When a Valentine's Day wedding brings them back together, she struggles against her family's destructive history. Can Allie ever realize that a marriage is so much more than a wedding dress?

History repeats itself when Allie Andrews escapes the church on her wedding day - in the same dress passed down for generations and worn by all the women in her family - women with a long history of failed marriages. Allie loves Marcus but fears she's destined to repeat her family's mistakes. She can't bear to hurt Marcus worse.

Marcus Hall never stopped loving Allie and can only think of one reason she left him at the altar - him. When the two are thrown together for his sister's Valentine's Day wedding, he discovers the truth and realizes their story might be far from over. Can Allie shuck expectation and discover who she is as a bride and in the Bride of Christ? And if she ever walks down the aisle, what dress will she wear?

My take: "A February Bride" is another pleasing entry in Zondervan's Year of Weddings novella series. While the set up strikes me as a bit ludicrous—four months after leaving the love of her life at the altar, Allie hasn't told him or anyone else why, and my guess it that's because anyone who heard her reasoning would easily talk her out of it, thus negating the need for this novella—the development is thoroughly delightful.

Marcus and Allie are both well-developed, likable characters, and their chemistry is practically palpable. Of course, the reader has no doubt these two will make it work (what kind of romance novel would it be if they didn't?), so the enjoyment comes in how they get there. And this is one journey that certainly is fun to take.

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Read my reviews of "A December Bride" and "A January Bride."

About the author: Betsy St. Amant is one Good Girl who enjoys writing about Bad Boys in her YA fiction novels. She lives in Louisiana with her adorable kindergartener, is often found consuming massive amounts of chocolate, and is an avid reader who is constantly wondering where Mr. Darcy went. A freelance journalist and fiction author, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and is multi-published in Contemporary Romance. Her ninth Love Inspired novel will release January 2014, while her first YA novel, ADDISON BLAKELY, CONFESSIONS OF A PK, released 2012 through Barbour Books. She recently contracted a 2-book deal with Zondervan. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to the Tangled soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through theBookLook 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, March 26, 2014

visitor from the windy city

A few weeks ago, I was Facebook messaging Janet, one of my former students. (I've mentioned her on the blog a few times.) She graduated from Nebraska Christian two years ago and now attends the University of Illinois at Chicago. Anyway, she was telling me about how stressful things were, and I mentioned that, if she ever needed to get away, she could always stay with me.

The next day, she sent me a possible flight itinerary. Last Saturday, she arrived! It was so great to reconnect with her again and hear about how God is orchestrating things in her life. Her visit was short—she flew in Saturday morning and left Tuesday morning (super, super early!)—but we enjoyed every minute that she was here!

Besides talking a lot (and it was so cool to hear her talk openly about her relationship with God!), we spent time doing one of our favorite things: watching movies! We first watched part of The List, which is based on a Robert Whitlow novel (I named his novel The Choice #6 on my Top 10 Books of 2012 list), and I think that I will like the movie ... but we were both falling asleep within the first 30 minutes, so we went to bed! After church on Sunday, we went to Divergent, and we both loved it. I have had the book on my Kindle for well over a year and haven't gotten around to reading it yet (no wonder, with all my book reviews!). So I went into the film knowing very little about it but enjoying it immensely. And Theo James? No longer will I think of him as Mr. Pamuk, that's for sure! I did think the romance came a bit out of the blue, but one of my students assured me it's much more clearly set up in the book. Then we rented Ender's Game, another movie based on a YA novel that I hadn't read. Honestly, I was kind of bored. The story was fine, but it wasn't gripping.

We didn't only watch movies, though. Here's a look at our weekend through pictures:
She's here!!!
We tried to have lunch at Honest Abe's, but it was full, so we ended up at Five Guys, instead.
It was Janet's first time!
Janet quickly made friends with my cats. Here she is with Skaara...
...and Hammond, who was her favorite. (Take that, Blendy!)
Later on, all three cats curled up on her legs.
Between church & Divergent, we had lunch with my friends
Tricia and Kari at Napoli's, a local Italian restaurant. So good!
We had supper with another NC grad, Mia, on Monday night. I look like a goober,
but the girls look good, so I guess I'll post the pic. Also, fun fact: Facebook keeps
asking me if I want to tag Blendy in this pic. Our faces must look very similar
to Facebook's facial recognition software when I'm wearing my glasses!
What a fun weekend! Come again anytime, Janet—the cats would love another opportunity to keep you warm!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"minding molly" by leslie gould

About the book (from the publisher): Molly Zook Has Everything Planned Just Right.
Or So She Thinks!

Molly Zook's always liked being in control, so she's struggling with her mother's wish that, to save the family farm, she marry Mervin Mosier. Especially after Molly meets Leon Fisher. He's from Montana but is now training horses at a nearby ranch. He's tall and muscular and confident--Molly has never met anyone like him and she's sure he feels the same about her.

Determined to let nothing get between them, Molly tries to coax Mervin into falling back in love with Molly's best friend, Hannah. A weekend camping trip in the Poconos could be just the place...but things quickly go awry, and it seems Leon and Hannah might be falling for each other instead! Will Molly keep struggling to control everyone and everything around her? Or will she learn to let God handle the twists and turns of her life?

My take: Minding Molly, the third book in Leslie Gould's "Courtships of Lancaster County" series, is loosely based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Also, I read Courting Cate, book one in this series, a few years ago, and I really enjoyed it. Those two factors prompted me to read this book, as I'm generally tired of the Amish genre.

Unfortunately, Minding Molly did nothing to renew my enjoyment of this genre. As an Amish book, it's just as enjoyable as any other popular novel in the genre, and fans of Amish fiction will probably love it. I actually think what doesn't work so well is the translation of A Midsummer Night's Dream into an Amish setting. The play relies heavily on fairies and magic potions, none of which could be used in this book. Without the assistance of magic, the romantic conflict just seems contrived; either Mervin, Molly, Leon, and Hannah are extremely immature, or they have no concept of real love (or maybe both).

And I think that's the reason I didn't enjoy this novel nearly as much as I'd hoped: the romance seems incredibly juvenile. Junior highish, even. To be fair, these characters are fairly young (I can't recall ever reading Molly's age, but she hasn't yet joined the Amish church when the book begins), but as the "love" leads to marriage, I wish it had been based on something more than looks and infatuation. Perhaps I'm just getting too old and cynical to accept the "love at first sight" notion; I'd like the romance I read about to be substantive and the characters to be mature, no matter their age.

As I said before, I greatly enjoyed Courting Cate (which was based on The Taming of the Shrew), and I do look forward to the release of Becoming Bea this fall, which is based on my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, Much Ado About Nothing. But Minding Molly, though written well, did nothing for me.

My rating: 3 stars

Buy the book.
Read an excerpt.
Read my review of Courting Cate.

About the author: Leslie Gould is the coauthor, with Mindy Starns Clark, of the #1 CBA bestseller The Amish Midwife, a 2012 Christy Award winner; ECPA bestseller Courting Cate, first in the Courtships of Lancaster County series; and Beyond the Blue, winner of the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice for Best Inspirational Novel, 2006. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Portland State University and has taught fiction writing at Multnomah University as an adjunct professor. She and her husband and four children live in Portland, Oregon. Learn more about Leslie at

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Bethany House Publishers through their 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 are "affilliate links." This means if you click the link and buy the 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."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"the big picture interactive bible"

About the book (from the publisher): Are our children really getting the full meaning of the stories as we read the Bible to them? When we read the Bible to our children, the stories are often in bits and pieces and focus on "being good." But children should get the message of "being saved" from reading the Bible instead. The Big Picture Interactive Bible (B&H Kids) is the first children's Bible of its kind—the Jesus story from start to finish, filled with features and interactive elements that capture the true meaning and significance behind all of the verses and stories.

The Big Picture Interactive Bible has nearly a thousand features in full color throughout including pictures of key items so children can understand what they're reading. The B&H Kids Augmented Reality App (free and available for Android and iPhone) creates a digital pop-up book when used with full-color illustrations, bringing the Bible to life for each child. It features the full text of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a clear, contemporary English translation that's faithful to the original languages of the Bible.

Other features included are:
~Big Words - Colorful Bible Dictionary entry with photos, maps, illustrations and descriptions of key terms, right in the Bible text.
~Big Questions/Big Answers - Kids always want to know why. This feature asks and then answers many of the common "big questions" throughout the Bible.
~Christ Connection - This feature can be found from Genesis to Revelation and will help kids understand how each story points us to Christ and His work for us.
~Introductions - Basic information about the books of the Bible will give kids perspective on the who, what and when for each book as well as "the Big Picture" from that book and key stories it contains.
~Icons - Special icons are placed throughout the Bible to connect to the Gospel Project for Kids curriculum.
~Memory Verses - Scripture memorization is much more than "saying the words." When a child memorizes a Bible verse and puts it to practice in their daily life, that child begins to learn how God can lead his life. The top 100 verses to remember are highlighted throughout the Bible.
~Parent Connection - This feature is designed to help parents be empowered to engage deeper in the story with their kids.
~Seeing the Big Picture - This feature digs into key Bible stories to help young hearts and minds grasp the meaning and provide parents with extra information to discuss the Bible with their kids.

My take: The Big Picture Interactive Bible is exactly the kind of Bible I would have loved as a child. With an attractive cover (what kid doesn't love the story of David & Goliath?), full-page illustrations, introductions to each book, and helpful notes throughout, this Bible would be great for elementary students (or perhaps even advanced preschoolers).

The one thing I didn't like (and actually found quite frustrating) was the "interactive" part. Basically, you go to the Apple or Android app store and download the B&H Kids Augmented Reality app, which will then allow you to "bring to life" certain pictures in the Bible. When it works, it's great—not only do parts of the pictures become 3D, but there's also narration that goes along with each picture. Unfortunately, I had a horrible time getting the app to work. (I have a Samsung Galaxy S4; perhaps the app works better with other phones or tablets.) I spent about 30 minutes trying the app, and I was only able to get it to work with two pictures in the Bible.

Fortunately, you don't need the app in order to enjoy this Bible. Overall, it's a great children's Bible, and I definitely recommend it.

My rating: 4 stars
Buy the book.

About the publisher: At B&H Kids, we believe Every Little Word Matters®. B&H Kids creates Bible-centered, age appropriate, engaging content for kids. Our resources are designed to help kids develop a lifelong relationships with Jesus and empower parents to guide them in their spiritual growth. For more information visit: or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Media & Management. 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."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"snapshot" by lis wiehl

About the book (from the publisher): Two little girls, frozen in black and white. One picture worth killing for.

Federal prosecutor Lisa Waldren’s estranged father wants her to investigate a cold case from his FBI days. Lisa nearly refuses, even though a wrongly convicted man faces execution for murder. Then her father reveals a photograph: a little white girl playing alongside a little black girl at a rally in 1965 where the shooting of a civil rights leader took place. She recognizes herself in the photo.

She was there.

Lisa agrees to help, resolved to boldly seek answers she’s skirted for decades. What she discovers are layers of deception, both personal and professional, reaching as high as the head of the FBI. Possibly even the president.

And though Lisa and the other girl may have escaped the 1965 shooting physically unharmed, her little friend, now grown, bears the scars of it. All because of the color of her skin. As Lisa and her father get closer to the truth, the real killer turns the hunt around.

My take: Snapshot is a fast-paced mystery that takes the reader through several twists and turns before ultimately being resolved. It's written well, and the story is very compelling as it examines race relations in the 1960's and today.

I enjoyed Snapshot very much, even though it never quite reached the I can't put this book down until I know how it ends stage for me. As for what kept it from being a 5-star book, I'd say that sometimes the author told rather than showed what she wanted to get across. (An example of this is Lisa's relationship with Molly, the other girl in the picture. The two don't really connect at first, but the reader only knows this because the author spells it out in the narration—when the two actually interact, there is no indication of an awkward relationship.) There are also several sexual references in the novel—nothing explicit, but still more than you'd find in most Christian fiction.

I've read and enjoyed several of Lis Wiehl's other novels, and, while Snapshot wasn't as intriguing to me as some of her other work, it was still good. I look forward to reading what Wiehl writes next!

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Wiehl's Waking Hours & Darkness Rising (written with Pete Nelson) and Hand of Fate, Heart of Ice, & Eyes of Justice (written with April Henry).

About the author: Lis Wiehl is a New York Times best-selling author, Harvard Law School graduate, and former federal prosecutor. A popular legal analyst and commentator for the Fox News Channel, Wiehl appears on The O'Reilly Factor and was co-host will Bill O'Reilly on the radio for seven years.

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."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

giving an author a second (or third) chance

About four years ago, I read a novel by Rachel Hauck. I can't even remember the title anymore, but I clearly remember not liking the book. I felt no connection to the heroine, the story didn't grab me, and I put down the book unfinished. Then, because I had already bought the second book in the series, I halfheartedly read it, too. Same thing—I had no interest in or emotional connection to the story. After that experience, I figured Hauck's novels just weren't for me.

Along came Dining with Joy.

Amazon began recommending Dining with Joy to me nearly relentlessly. At first I ignored it, but every time I saw the cover, I wanted to read it more. So I gave in and purchased it. And I loved it.

Since then, I've read three more of Hauck's novels—The Wedding Dress, Once Upon a Prince, and Princess Ever After. I've loved each one more than the last, and her new releases are now some of my most anticipated books each year.

This has happened to me with other authors, as well, but Hauck is fresh on my mind because I just read and reviewed Princess Ever After. If I hadn't taken a chance on Dining with Joy, I would have missed out on some fantastic books. This is a lesson that I, as a reviewer, need to remember. It's one thing if an author is just a really terrible writer (self-published authors, I'm looking at many—but not all—of you!). It's another if a novel is written well, but I don't connect with it. In that case, I'm willing to give the author another shot to win me over.

Most of the time, it's worth it.

Have you grown to love any authors after disliking their earlier work?