Friday, July 29, 2011

Ginger Garrett's Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther ~ Reviewed

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther (Lost Loves of the Bible) [Paperback]
Ginger Garrett
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434768015


The story of a girl unsparingly plunged into heartache and chaos, who would save a nation … of Esther, who would be queen.

Wrenched from a simple life for her beauty, Esther finds herself at the mercy of King Xerxes. Leaving behind her only relative, her cousin Mordecai, and her first true love, Cyrus, she is thrown headlong into the unrestrained extravagance of palace living. Quick of mind and strong in spirit, she refuses to suffer the fate of her harem sisters and boldly challenges Xerxes to give of his heart before taking his pleasure, thus sealing her place beside him a queen. While conspiracy spins its diabolical web, Esther’s mind and spirit waver, and she is forced to confront the past in order to save her future—and that of an entire nation.


The story of Esther is one of my favorites.The time and situation is one that horrifyingly fascinates very fairy tale-like…a beauty pageant is held and the long shot wins the big prize. To increase the tension...she then faces the fear of being found a fake and has to risk even more. Good trumps evil only after a few moments of fingernail chewing. Garrett has fictionalized the Biblical account adding flesh and feeling to what might have happened in the details God didn't provide. Esther's triumph is amazing, but the dark side is that she was taken, rounded up, put in a harem where she was trained and prepared for one night with the king.

Garrett's enhanced tale is well written and page turning. Though I knew the end of the story, I didn’t want to skip a word. If you love your Biblical fiction to come alive with three dimensional characters you’ve got to give this novel a shot.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Bonus Review:

Chosen is based on lost diaries that were found, and are believe to be written by Queen Esther. They tell the Biblical account from her viewpoint. The book starts out with Esther being a 15 year old girl, living with her cousin Mordecai. The story unfolds as she is taken away to the palace of the king and prepared for nearly a year to be presented to him as a candidate for the new queen.

I hadn’t previously heard about any of her lost diaries being found, but I found this book very interesting. I was obviously familiar with the story already, but I really enjoyed hearing about the events from Esther’s point of view. I’m still a bit unsure as to whether these are actual translations of the diaries that were found or if they’ve been expounded on. However, it was an enjoyable book, and very well written. Once I started it, I had a very hard time putting it down!

Reviewed by: Sarah Porter

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Melody Carlson's Double Take ~ Reviewed

By Melody Carlson
Published by Revell
273 Pages

Back Cover:

its spring break of her senior year and Madison Van Buren is fed up. Stressed over Ivy League pressure, her parents' marital problems, and her boyfriend's neglect, Madison gets in her car and drives west. Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Anna Bronner wants to escape the so-called simple life--which for her consists of caring for younger siblings, sewing, cooking, and gardening--and she's well aware that her future will simply be more of the same with a man she doesn't love. Suddenly, worlds collide when Madison and Anna meet in a small town, realize they look uncannily similar, and decide the grass is definitely greener on the other side.


I’m a Melody Carlson fan, so when an opportunity came to receive a review copy of her newest book I jumped at the chance to read it. Double Take reminded me of two movies the first was the cartoon movie the Prince and the Pauper and the second was The Parent Trap. Melody Carlson blends these two premises in this novel. A spoiled rich girl is feeling overwhelmed by the choices she has to make with her life. Her father wants her in Harvard, her mother is pushing Yale, her boyfriend pressures to do things she doesn’t want to do and her best friend demands she attend social events she’s rather not attend. Madison just wants to get away from her life in the Penthouse suite. She drives off in her fancy car to the country. She meets Anna, an Amish girl who is in a coffee shop looking glum and so much like Madison she can't help but stare. Anna isn’t looking forward to spending time with her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Daniel who are expecting a baby any minute, and needed help to care for the rest of the little ones in the house. Not Anna’s idea of fun.

Anna is waiting for her Uncle to pick her up. Madison is just taking in the view and talking to Anna when she comes up with a plan to switch places and help them both out. It’s a spur of the moment plan they both agree to on the spot Madison’s parents are out of town for the week. Anna is staying with her Aunt and Uncle (whom she doesn’t see often or know well). It’s the perfect set up! They'd be staying with people who don’t know them intimately so they might pull this off.

Now do I think this could ever happen in real life? No, but just like in the movie The Prince and the Pauper and The Parent Trap you just go with it! Its fun to think about what would happen if this ever could take place - a switch between an Amish girl and an Englisher . Fun, Fun, Fun! Parts were hysterical! I enjoyed every second.

I liked Melody’s attention to detail and the way these girls experienced the others life. It was fascinating. Anna says this to Madison, “I don’t understand why English have so much comfortable things-beds, chairs, pillows, blankets, rugs….so luxurious-and then wear uncomfortable shoes and clothes?”

Madison laughed. “I don’t know. That’s a good question….I thought about the opposite question, why do the Amish dress comfortably, but all their beds and furnishings are uncomfortable?”

They have this conversation about different things they were experiencing in each others lives. Madison lives in a Penthouse suite and Anna takes her first elevator ride. Ohmygosh! What a riot! Anna doesn’t have indoor plumbing and Madison uses an outhouse for the first time. Hysterical! It’s all the little things about this story that I found humorous and eye opening as I hadn’t really thought about what the other would experience as they tried to life in a different world.

There’s a sensitive spiritual thread that was uniquely woven throughout this story, which was very believable. I really liked how both of these girls searched the depths of their souls to discover what was real for them. Madison learns to slow down, stop and smell the flowers and realizes what she's been missing. Anna wondered if she would throw the Amish life style away just to be with Jacob a boy she loved! Was her love for this boy greater than her love for God? Melody’s stories are fun; I care about and enjoy her characters that catch me by surprise as I feel a twinge in my heart about an event in the book. It’s the simple truths that touched me. This is not like any Amish story you’ve read so far. It’s a delightful; humorous novel that is respectful to both the Amish and the Englisher life styles. It’s a great read for the summer. I highly recommend it!

Reviewed by: Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Geri Scazzero's I Quit ~ Reviewed

I Quit!: Stop Pretending Everything Is Fine and Change Your Life
Geri Scazzero
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (August 31, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310321964


Geri Scazzero knew there was something desperately wrong with how they were doing their life and ministry. She finally told her husband, 'I quit,' and left the thriving church he pastored, beginning a journey that transformed her, her marriage, and her church. Geri quit being afraid of what others think. She quit lying. She quit denying her anger and sadness. She quit living someone else's life. I Quit provides you a way out of an inauthentic, superficial spirituality to genuine freedom in Christ. I Quit is for every person who thinks, I can't keep pretending everything is fine!' Biblical quitting goes hand in hand with choosing. When we quit those things that are damaging to our souls or the souls of others, we are freed up to choose other ways of being and relating that are rooted in love and lead to life. When we quit fear of what others think, we choose freedom. When we quit lies, we choose truth. When we quit blaming, we choose to take responsibility. When we quit faulty thinking, we choose to live in reality. When we quit for the right reasons, quitting changes us. Something breaks inside of us when we finally say, 'No more.' But it must be done for the right reasons, at the right time, and in the right way. That's what this book is about.


I found Emotionally Healthy Spirituality to be a good read and was intrigued by Geri Scazzero's choice to shake up the foundation of her marriage. In "I Quit" she shares her story and the reasons that she quit being the shadow-person she had donned like an ill-fitting Halloween costume. Geri's story and very practical and helpful advice transcends and trumps Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a why with a little how and the how Is almost overwhelming at times. However, Geri condenses, suggests, and even pushes like a good coach. There are eight habits or attitudes that Geri looks into and suggests readers hack out of their life. She shares personal stories, struggles and sorrows and gives help with how she overcame or is overcoming those particular sticky spots and how the reader can, too.

I have lived far too many years being disappointed with other Christians and trying to make other Christians happy. My last few years have been marked with a discontentment and frustration with the Christianity machine that has produced "nice" people who try to get along while disagreeing "politely" or living life as they interpret it should be lived. And trying to please those same people has become a burden I can no longer bear. A book with the title "I Quit" really appealed to me on so many levels.

"I Quit" relies on common sense, psychology and theology. I didn't look with a microscope at her theology. Actually, I rarely do in a book on Christian living because every one of those is written through a flawed human who has learned lessons through the lumps, bumps, scrapes and scars from their own unique path. So I can't say that I agree absolutely with every word written by Geri or her take on all aspects of psychology and Scripture. But I can say that this book was good for my soul and one that I can recommend it as a small group study or to an individual who is fed up with the Christian religion that seems to have forgotten about the founder's heart and His call.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jim Ware's The Stone of Destiny ~ Reviewed

The Stone of Destiny
By Jim Ware
David C. Cook

Review by Michelle Griep

Morgan Izaak is obsessed with his father’s ancient books about the legendary Philosopher’s Stone; he’s even got a little alchemy lab set up in the church tower next door And when Morgan and his best friend, Eny, find out about another mysterious stone that may be hidden in their own town—the Irish Stone of Destiny, called Lia Fail—he’s determined to find it because he thins it’s the last hope for someone he holds dear.

But Morgan’s not the only one looking for the Stone, and by the time the two middle-schoolers realize there’s trouble afoot, Morgan has betrayed their friendship, strange creatures are loose in the land, and the Stone is lost…perhaps forever. Can Morgan find a way to help those he loves?

Stone of Destiny is a fantasy adventure aimed at young adults, middle-schoolers to be precise. Hero Morgan Izaak is awkward and geeky, just the right combo for that age group. Heroine Eny is also the epitome of a mixed-up emotional tween but has the spunk and determination of someone much older.

The biggest emotional pull I found was the sweet relationship between Morgan and his mom. She’s got cancer and he’s all about trying to find a cure—no matter the cost. Which, of course, gets him into all kinds of trouble.

Eny disappears to an alternate reality of sorts, which ties in through her mom’s legendary storytelling. At times, however, it seemed like I was reading two different books.

Overall, I’d say this book is geared more toward boys, specifically those who have mad scientist leanings and a bent toward fantasy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Diana Prusik's Delivery ~ Reviewed

By Diana Prusik
Ebook 212
Tyndale House Publishers

Back Cover:

Livi finds new purpose in her troubled life when she joins her family's small-town florist shop. There, the strong and wacky Wilson's Florist gang monitors the pulse of Mount Helicon, where customers carry stories even the local newspaper does not contain. Tales of birth and death, sickness and sorrow, love and betrayal, and even forgiveness—Livi hears them all. Privy to some of the community's deepest secrets, she sometimes wishes she didn't know so much, especially when news arrives that a dear family friend is dead. Faced with servicing his funeral, she is blasted with painful memories she's struggled for decades to ignore. Soon, guilt and grief over childhood and adult tragedies close in. Instead of turning to loved ones or God for comfort, she leans on alcohol, her long-time clandestine companion—but secrets rarely escape the close-knit flower shop crew, who makes Livi's business its own. Fumbling through life's challenges together, the Wilson gang often delivers more than flowers, yet when Livi needs delivery, can the bonds of faith and friendship dissolve her defenses?


Delivery was one of the better books I’ve read this year, presenting the perfect balance of light-hearted humor and intensity. The characters were unique enough to prevent predictability, without hindering my attachment to them or ability to empathize with them. Initially, I was drawn to Livi, a confused and hurting young woman struggling to make sense of her world and the loss of her brother. However, by the end of the novel, I’d fallen in love with Jake, a man who embodied true, forever-love.

After the loss of her brother, Livi slips into a world of alcoholism, distrust, and bitterness. For much of the novel, she runs from God and withdraws from the love of her co-workers. Yet, no matter how hard Livi tries to free herself from their love, they remain constant and by her side. The close-knit atmosphere Diana created in the flower shop most of the story is centered in evoked a warm feeling of nostalgia within me and reminded me of the effectiveness of committed friendship.

I also enjoyed the frequent change of tones throughout the novel. Just when I thought my heart would break, Diana Prusik plunged me into a lighter scene that managed to produce a few authentic laugh-out-loud moments. Then, when I least expected it—Bam!—the intensity changed, and I found myself fighting tears once again.

This novel was one that will stay with me on many levels, reminding me to cherish the relationships I have, refusing to let them go without a fight.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Slattery

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lisa Mangum's The Forgotten Locket ~ Reviewed

The Forgotten Locket
Book 3 in The Hourglass Door series
By Lisa Mangum
Shadow Mountain

Review by Michelle Griep

When Abby stepped through the hourglass door, leaving her beloved Dante blind and bleeding on the other side, it was in full faith that she could find a way to repair the damage to the river of time and restore him—as well as her family. It was a desperate chance that seemed worth taking.

But Zo had other plans.

Now Abby is trapped in a full-fledged battle for her own mind and life and heart. Even worse, Zo’s evil intent reaches beyond simple revenge against her and Dante. The whole world is in danger of collapsing unless Abby can summon her courage and undertake a journey that will led her beyond the origins of the hourglass door.

Oh. My. Goodness. After waiting for an entire year for this final installment to hit the presses, after suffering extreme Dante withdrawal symptoms during that eternity, and after finally clutching this book in my hot little hands, savoring each word like mouthfuls of dark chocolate, I think I can distill my experience into one simple comment…


The Forgotten Locket is that satisfying. I took my time marveling over every nuance, every turn of phrase, feeling saturated, content—and flipping angry. THIS IS THE LAST BOOK! Dang. I miss Abby and Dante already and I just finished the thing late last night.

Now then, on to reviewing instead of ranting.

If you’re looking to reconnect with hero Dante, you have to wait until a good hundred pages into the story. There are pros and cons to that. Zo—the evil villain—is developed more than ever during this time. Orlando is also fleshed out quite nicely. And Valerie is back, weirder than ever.

Heroine Abby is at her best in this story. She develops her ‘gift’ and uses it to save the day several times over. Without any spoilers, even though there are some really dark moments, the ending is not just happy, but will leave you smiling for days on end.

Every chance I get, I spread the word about The Hourglass Door trilogy. It’s a rare handful of books that I rave about so militantly. Two words for you: buy it. You won’t be sorry.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Patty Smith Hall's Hearts in Flight ~ Reviewed

By Patty Smith Hall
Published by Love Inspired
ISBN# 978-0-373-82878-4
278 Pages

Back Cover: Serving her country as one of the Women's Army Special Pilots is Maggie Daniels's dearest wish. But there are obstacles to overcome above and beyond the enemies in the Pacific, including her overprotective family, skeptical fellow pilots—and handsome, distant squadron leader Wesley Hicks. Whatever it takes, Maggie will prove herself to Wesley, until she succeeds in winning his admiration…and love.

Wesley can see that Maggie's a first-class pilot. She's also too fearless by half. The war has cost Wesley so much already. Can he let go of his guilt for a chance at happiness—and can he learn to trust in God…and Maggie…enough to believe in love for a lifetime?


I was thrilled to receive a review copy a story about the brave women in WWII you never hear about. As I listened to this author speak passionately about women’s service to our country during WWII; I couldn’t wait to dig into reading this historical romance story. Patty Smith Hall is proud to be the 9th generation to be born and raised in Ga, her stomping grounds is Marietta. It was fun to hear about this once quaint little town and how it expanded its size practically overnight when the Bell Plant was built there.

It was fun to learn the history of Marietta and feel the sense of community of years past, as I read Patty’s book. I enjoyed Maggie Daniel’s fight to serve her country as one of the Women’s Army Special Pilots. She was driven to succeed and be the best at her craft. There were the natural obstacles to overcome like a woman working in a male dominated field, but Maggie didn’t let that stop her.

She could dish it out as well as take it, Maggie says, “Let’s get this straight. I’m not your honey or baby, and I’m certainly not a doll. And if you’d taken the time to read the up-dated info on the B-29, you would have figured out that the glitches with engine burnout have been resolved, as well as the refueling problem.”

It was easy to be strong when she butted heads with her male counterparts until she gets a letter threatening her life if she didn’t stop flying immediately. She doesn’t believe it until one of her female pilots has an accident. Was that accident meant for her? Her friend Debra says, “I want a family Maggie, Flying is just one part of who I am? What about the other parts of our lives? What happens when we can’t fly planes anymore?”

The inner-struggle - should she sell out her dreams and do what other women did? Stay home, get married and raise a family. This thought hadn’t occurred to her until she meets a handsome; squadron leader Wesley Hicks. She’s out to prove she’s just as good as any man when it came to flying a plane. Wesley finds himself trying to protect her for her own good! Sparks fly in more than one way between Wesley and Maggie! Loved the sparing and their internal struggle to do the right thing! It was interesting to learn about brave women pilots who served our country with their talents and life. This author’s passion for history and Marietta, GA shine throughout the pages of this novel. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

Reviewed by: Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
Finding Hope Through Fiction

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tyler Whitesides's Janitors ~ Reviewed

By Tyler Whitesides
Shadow Mountain Publishing
August 2011
ISBN 9781609080563

Review by Michelle Griep

Back Cover Copy:

Have you ever fallen asleep during math class? Do you get distracted easily while listening to your English teacher? Do you find yourself completely disinterested in geography? Well, it may not be your fault. The janitors at Welcher Elementary know a secret, and it’s draining all the smarts out of the kids.

Twelve-year-old Spencer Zumbro, with the help of his classmate Daisy “Gullible” Gates, must fight with and against a mysterious janitorial society with wizard-like powers. Who can be trusted and how will Spencer and Daisy protect their school and possibly the world? Find out in Janitors, book 1 in a new children’s fantasy series by debut novelist Tyler Whitesides. You’ll never look at a mop the same way again.

My Review:

First off, allow me a disclaimer. I am not a young adult fiction expert. I do, however, love a great fantasy, whether aimed at kids or grown-ups. JANITORS scored high on fantastical elements. Plus there was plenty of action and intrigue, leaving you wondering who the ‘bad buys’ really were. Don’t worry, though. All the loose ends are tied up by the end of the story.

There was some interesting characterization that grabbed my attention. However, my favorite character wasn’t a character at all, but a prop—a hall pass named baybee. Whenever one of Mrs. Natcher’s 6th graders wanted to leave the classroom, they were forced to grab a diaper-clad baby doll off the shelf. I’m talking ugly plastic dolly that’d seen better days…translation: the doll of shame. What a fabulous idea!

Some of the language was over the heads of a kid. I don’t know any 12 year olds that can tell you what napalm is. I was also a little annoyed that thematically any grade schooler who reads this will get a certain amount of justification for not paying attention in class. The ‘toxites’ are blamed for this phenomena. And if you’re not comfortable with magic, warlocks and enchantment, then this probably isn’t the best choice for you or your kids.

Overall, JANITORS is part zany, part action/adventure, and definitely part elementary humor. Personally, I’ll never look at cleaning supplies in quite the same way ever again.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Janet Eckles ~ Simply Salsa ~ Reviewed

Simply Salsa: Dancing Without Fear at God's Fiesta [Paperback]
Janet P. Eckles (Author)
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Judson Pr (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0817017011


With a bit of sassiness, a touch of humor, and an amiga-to-amiga style, Simply Salsa encourages women to accept God’s call to dance!

What keeps women from dancing to the freedom God offers? With passion and boldness, Simply Salsa exposes the lies and misconceptions that imprison women with unfounded insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. No matter the degree of adversity or pain, Janet Eckles has discovered an alternative to gloom—through the security that is only found in God’s love.

When women in the Bible faced tribulations and trials, they sought God’s grace. Simply Salsa illustrates how that same grace offers today’s women the opportunity to:

Leave the ugly past behind and look to a fresh tomorrow
Find peace and increased faith as you wait for answers to prayer
Embrace God’s comfort to conquer sorrow and disappointment
With her own life experiences as testimony, Eckles will have you dancing!


If you've ever wondered how God turns our sorrows into triumph, Simply Salsa is a must read. If you're looking for a closer walk with God, Simply Salsa shows you the pathway. Deep truths are uncovered through the storytelling prowess of Janet Perez Eckles. Novel Journey and I give it our highest recommendation. This is a life changing book.

Reviewed by: Ane Mulligan, editor
Novel Journey

Friday, July 15, 2011

Denise Hildreth Jones's The First Gardener ~ Reviewed

Denise Hildreth Jones
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 141433558X


Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart.

Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life—anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten—when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole.

Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It’s about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover.

A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardner reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.


The First Gardener takes place mainly at the Governor’s Mansion in Tennessee, and involves the Governor, Gray London, his wife, Mackenzie, and Jeremiah, the gardener that’s been working at the mansion for nearly 25 years. Gray and Mackenzie have been trying for years to have a baby, and they finally have a little girl, Maddie. Maddie has just started kindergarten, when a tragic accident occurs. As a result, Mackenzie falls into a deep depression. Jeremiah is able to start bringing the family and Mackenzie out of their grief through love and his gift with flowers.

I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. When I started it, I didn’t expect to be able to get into it, but I had a hard time putting it down. Faith wasn’t a huge strong topic in the book, but I enjoyed the parts where it was brought out. I loved seeing how the main characters were finally able to turn back to God, and give their troubles over to Him, realizing they couldn’t carry the burdens on their own.

Reviewed by: Sarah Porter

Bonus Review:

I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Denise’s compelling new novel. It’s an accurate look at two imperfect people’s lives in the middle of a horrific battle for their souls. The reader gets an intimate glimpse inside the hearts of a couple in-love with each other and live until one day they are hit with an unexpected blow. Gray and Mackenzie take a hit they my not recover from.

Fans will get to see another side of this author’s creative talent as they read The First Gardner. This book is quite different from her others. A good different! Denise’s story is rich and illuminating as she peals back the layers of this couples life to show what’s really inside the human heart, when the rubber meets the road. Not everything comes up roses! Denise Hildreth Jones shows the reader God is with us even in our anger and pain!

I adored the gardener, Jeremiah. I liked how he described pain and our wounded heart, “A shut-down heart’s ‘bout the saddest thing ever I see. ‘Cause we all come out the womb with our hearts wide open. All sweet an trustin’ and close to God. It like we got this line runnin’ straight up to heaven.

But life can start cuttin’ into the line. Little cut when we little and sump’n sad happens or we find out somebody can do things better ‘an we can. More little cuts…all that just keep sawin’ at that line from heaven to that little alive heart. And finally it don’t want to stay open no more, so it just clench up!

That be to what a shut down heart look like-all sad and scared and bitter, all them things. But the real sad they is, it don’t have to shut down! Cause even with all them cuts, that line to heaven still there. If it go and close up, that our doing!”

I fell in love with five year old Maddie, Mackenzie and Grays daughter. Denise has the reader laughing out-loud one minute and their throat tightening up, and tears run down their faces the next. A scene that cracked me up was when Maddie approaches her dad about keeping a dog she loves. Gray says, “Puppies are a lot of responsibility, Maddie.”

“Tons, Daddy. And I’m so big, I’ll take good care of her. Feed her. Pee her. Poop her. All of it, Daddy.” I could just see her adorable eyes looking at her daddy pleading her case for a puppy.

Eugenia’s friends are a riot and made me laugh as well, they go to lunch and say to the waitress, “I’ll have a piece of your chess pie and a piece of your chocolate pie,…And Dimples here wants your mint fudge brownie and a piece of pecan pie. We have both decided that life is better if you lead with dessert.”

I loved this novel that reveals Denise’s pure honesty and willingness to be so vulnerable. She says, “I discovered as I began to write about Gray and Mackenzie’s pain over losing Maddie that I was able to use much of my own personal pain about not having children that had been a deep ache in my heart for so long!...I do know what it is to grieve the children I thought I would give birth to… I’ve learned God will give us beautiful companions on the journeys through our pain if we are willing to open our eyes and look for them.”

I loved the fact that Jeremiah sent flowers to Mackenzie every day. Each flower had its own meaning and he encouraged her without the use of a single word. I applaud Denise Hildreth Jones for her honest, refreshing way in which she looked at pain and the battle being waged against our souls. How do we fight the good fight on days we can’t even get out of bed? God says He’s the Glory and the lifter of our head!! My Hope and Refuge.

Denise gives a peek into how God works in our lives in unexpected ways. I highly recommend this story which gives the reader a visual on the attributes of God and so much more. These characters will stay in your heart and mine long after the last page is read!

Reviewed by: Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
Finding Hope Thro
ugh Fiction

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Amy Finley's How to Eat a Small Country ~ Reviewed

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time [Hardcover]
Amy Finley (Author)
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Clarkson Potter (March 29, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307591387

"How to Eat a Small Country shares a few key traits with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in particular an infectiously likeable narrator and mouthwatering descriptions of European food. But Finley’s memoir is less precious, more honest, and ultimately more rewarding." -- Boston Globe

A professionally trained cook turned stay-at-home mom, Amy Finley decided on a whim to send in an audition tape for season three of The Next Food Network Star, and the impossible happened: she won. So why did she walk away from it all? A triumphant and endearing tale of family, food, and France, Amy’s story is an inspiring read for women everywhere.

While Amy was hoping to bring American families together with her simple Gourmet Next Door recipes, she ended up separating from her French husband, Greg, who didn’t want to be married to a celebrity. Amy felt betrayed. She was living a dream—or was she? She was becoming famous, cooking for people out there in TV land, in thirty minutes, on a kitchen set . . . instead of cooking and eating with her own family at home.

In a desperate effort to work things out, Amy makes the controversial decision to leave her budding television career behind and move her family to France, where she and Greg lived after they first met and fell in love. How to Eat a Small Country is Amy’s personal story of her rewarding struggle to reunite through the simple, everyday act of cooking and eating together. Meals play a central role in Amy’s new life, from meeting the bunny destined to become their classic Burgundian dinner of lapin à la moutarde to dealing with the aftermath of a bouillabaisse binge. And as she, Greg, and their two young children wend their way through rural France, they gradually reweave the fabric of their family.

At times humorous and heart-wrenching, and always captivating and delicious, How to Eat a Small Country chronicles the food-filled journey that one couple takes to stay together.


I am fascinated with unique life paths. And I'm also kind of a closet reality cooking show junky. How could I resist the chance at a complimentary advanced reader copy of How to Eat a Small Country by Amy Finley?

Amy hits the big time in cooking ... reality television style. But with the fame, and the responsibilities that go with the fame, her marriage teeters and threatens to fall apart. So she quits her blossoming career, moves her family to France and begins to work at the marriage. This memoir is kind of a grown up girl's version of a fairy tale. A wicked "witch" thwarts the knight in shining armor, the damsel-who-can-darn-well-take-care-of-herself saves him kind of a tale.

Amy Finley writes as well as she cooks. There are absolutely beautiful passages within this book. She also knows French cooking to the point that I was at times horrified when the two skills converged. I didn't really want to know why the sausage smelled like it did and how it got it's name. But the writing made it a must read anecdote and it certainly will stick with me. The French language is peppered throughout and with my four years of high school French I found myself only understanding through the context fairly often. I also struggled with some of Amy's struggles. Some of her transparency was not at all flattering. I would cringe, then admire the honesty, only to cringe again at the things she shared.

Bottom line if you love memoirs, cooking, French cooking and anything about the French countryside, you may want to pick this up and give it a read. I hope the best for Amy. Her choice was heroic. In a society where broken families are a sad consequence of success it is inspiring to see someone value family over money and fame.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Congratulations to Christy Award Finalists and WINNERS

This Year's Finalists and winners (highlighted)

Contemporary Romance/

Blood Ransom

by Lisa Harris (Zondervan)


by Kristen Heitzmann (WaterBrook Press)

Sworn to Protect

by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)

Contemporary Series, Sequels, and Novellas/

The Reluctant Prophet

by Nancy Rue (David C. Cook)

The Thorn

by Beverly Lewis (Bethany House Publishers,
a division of Baker Publishing Group)

The Waiting

by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell Books,
a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Contemporary Standalone/

Almost Heaven

by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House Publishers)

Lady in Waiting

by Susan Meissner (WaterBrook Press)

A Season of Miracles

by Rusty Whitener (Kregel Publications)

First Novel/

Crossing Oceans

by Gina Holmes (Tyndale House Publishers)


by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

A Season of Miracles

by Rusty Whitener (Kregel Publications)


Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther

by Ginger Garrett (David C. Cook)

For Time & Eternity

by Allison Pitman (Tyndale House Publishers)

While We’re Far Apart

by Lynn Austin (Bethany House Publishers,
a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Historical Romance/

The Girl in the Gatehouse

by Julie Klassen (Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

She Walks in Beauty

by Siri Mitchell (Bethany House Publishers,
a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Within My Heart

by Tamera Alexander (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)


The Bishop

by Steven James (Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

The Bride Collector

by Ted Dekker (Center Street)


by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)


To Darkness Fled

by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)

Konig’s Fire

by Marc Schooley (Marcher Lord Press)

The Last Christian

by David Gregory (WaterBrook Press)

Young Adult/

The Charlatan’s Boy

by Jonathan Rogers (WaterBrook Press)

The Healer’s Apprentice

by Melanie Dickerson (Zondervan)

Motorcycles, Sushi, and One
Strange Book

by Nancy Rue (Zondervan)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jillian Kent's Secrets of the Heart ~ Reviewed

Secrets of the Heart
Book 1 of The Ravensmoore Chronicles
By Jillian Kent
Realms 2011
ISBN 978-1-61638-185-1

Review by Michelle Griep

Madeline Whittington emerges from English society’s prescribed period of mourning in late winter 1817. A string of heartbreaking losses has convinced her that she no longer belongs in a world of gossip and gowns—instead she discovers a passion for helping others.

When she confronts the new Earl of Ravensmoore for his part in her father’s death, she finds her rage slowly turning into respect…and then something more—an attraction that catapults them into unexpected danger, incredible love, and ultimate forgiveness.

Early 19th century medicine, both physical and mental, has always interested me. Author Jillian Kent includes lots of detail about the medical practices of Regency England in Secrets of the Heart. Her hero, Devlin Grayson, is a unique combination of doctor and member of the peerage, quite the humble nobleman.

Historically speaking, Kent did her homework before penning this story. She mentions William Tuke, an early reformer of mental institutions, and accurately portrays the plight of those sent to an asylum. It’s not pretty, but she manages to describe the horrendous situation with tact.

Main character Madeline Whittington is sometimes ridiculously headstrong and unthinking in her actions. The romance between her and Lord Ravensmoore is at times a bit contrived, but for the most part sweet. I’d rate this an adequate summer read, something to toss in your beach bag along with your sun block.

This is the first book in The Ravensmoore Chronicles put out by Realms, a division of the Charisma House Book Group.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Karyn Henley's Breath of Angel ~ Reviewed

Breath of Angel
The Angeleon Circle: Book One
By Karyn Henley
Waterbrook Press
June 2011

Review by Michelle Griep

Melaia, a young priestess, witnesses the gruesome murder of an emaciated stranger in the temple courtyard. Just after she discovers wings on the stranger, the murderer arrives at the temple. Having committed the fatal act as a hawk, he now appears as a man. What Melaia has known only through song and story has suddenly been given flesh. Angels. Shape-shifter. Myths and stories…until now.

Melaia finds herself in the middle of a blood feud between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, stranding angels in the earthly realm. When the feud turns violent and Melaia becomes a target, she finds refuge with a band of wandering angels who are attempting to restore the stairway. But restoration is impossible without the repayment of an ancient debt, the “Breath of angel, blood of man,” a payment that involves Melaiea’s heart, soul and destiny.

After reading this book, I find myself squinting at people’s backs, wondering if they’re hiding a set of angel wings. This is an interesting read, raising all kinds of questions and stirring up lots of ‘what if’ types of thoughts.

What I noticed most about Henley’s writing is that she’s a winner at dialogue. I loved the conversations between characters. Sometimes snappy, other times witty, always delightful.

The character that most intrigued me was Trevin. Trustworthy or not? By the end of the story, I’m still not sure. Good thing there will be several more books to follow and hopefully that will be cleared up. Personally, I’m hoping he turns out to be ‘da man’ who captures Melaiea’s heart.

Make no mistake. This is a fantasy. Not sure how accurate the theology is, but it makes for an action-packed tale. Getting into the story is somewhat tricky, especially since people’s/angel’s names are all foreign. But once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

I look forward to the second installment of The Angelon Circle.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Ann Shorey's The Edge of Night ~ Reviewed

The Edge of Light (At Home in Beldon Grove, Book 1)
Ann Shorey
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Revell; Reprinted edition (January 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780800733308


It is the summer of 1838 in St. Lawrenceville, Missouri, and Molly McGarvie's life is about to change forever. When her beloved Samuel succumbs to cholera, Molly is heartbroken but determined to take care of herself and her children. But when Samuel's unscrupulous brother takes over the family business and leaves Molly to fend for herself, she knows she must head out on her own. It is a dangerous journey and Molly has to leave her old life behind. Somehow she must find a way to make a living, keep her family together, and fend off some over-eager suitors.

Book one in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, The Edge of Light will captivate readers with the true-to-life emotions of one woman's struggle to survive.


Much in the same way as Siri Mitchell write Regency novels that are incredibly depressing, but historically accurate and visual new novelist Ann Shorey does the same on the American Frontier. Through out my experience in reading this novel I was sad and heartbroken with the characters as one thing happened after another. It reminded me of childhood playing of the game Oregon Trail as you could do nothing but let life take things away. At first I was curious what could possibly happen that would be good and cause my heart to smile and there were a few things here and there.

Ann's writing is incredibly good and the details of weaving were vivid and educational. I would definitely recommend her books and I look forward to reading The Promise of Morning. But I would warn you that this is not a light-hearted romance, but a heavy one. I think it is realistic, but difficult not to be pessimistic. One thing I had real trouble with was that the mother hardly paid any attention to her older daughter always pushing her out of the way and telling her to just be still and quiet. Overall, the book was an interesting experience.

Do not get me wrong, it is a good book, just depressing a bit. But it does en-capture "the edge of light" where you can hold on to hope and not let go.

*Thanks to Revell Books for providing a copy for review.*

Reviewed by: Margaret Chind

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Bill Myers's TJ and the Time Stumblers ~Aaaargh!~ Reviewed

By Bill Myers
Published by Tyndale
ISBN# 978-1414334547
192 Pages

Back Cover:

This six-book series centers around two 23rd century goofballs, Tuna and Herby, who travel back in time to study TJ Finkelstein for their history project. TJ will someday become a great leader who demonstrates honesty, integrity, thoughtfulness, self-sacrifice, respect for others—all traits she hones and grasps through her adventures in this series. Unfortunately, Tuna and Herby get stuck in TJ’s time (modern day), so she has to deal with their schemes while juggling the normal issues of a seventh grader who has moved to a new city, is trying to fit in, and is coping with her mother’s death and her family’s new life.

In AAAARGH!!!, Tuna and Herby try to help TJ with a book report by getting the author to write it for her, but all three of them quickly see the consequences of cheating spiral out of control. Meanwhile, TJ’s cute neighbor and classmate Chad Steel is getting ready for a big surfing competition—and learning his own lesson about honesty.


I loved book one so much in this series I was thrilled to read the review copy of book #2. The second book starts out with TJ still getting used to the idea of having two male aliens back from the 23rd century living in her attic. She has to hide them from her family and everyone else on the planet until they can fix their travel pod that crashed after running out of fuel. This book reminded me a little of the old T.V. series My Favorite Martian.

If life wasn’t stressful enough for TJ with going to Malibu High in California after living in a small town in Missouri most of her life, and trying to hide aliens from her family and friends was almost impossible - since she was the only one who saw them. They weren't sore on the eyes but having them follow her around was kind of weird and felt almost inescapable some days!

In an effort to hide the Aliens she accidentally embarrasses Hesper, the most popular girl in school, by tripping and landing on her with food of course. She knew this girl would get revenge. But what did miss popular have in mind? That was the question! Then she hears pirate noises from the other room. Oh, No! Now what have these aliens gotten her into?

They start to explain to TJ that the only way to truly read a book is to experience it. TJ hasn’t a clue what they are talking about until she finds her attic is filled with pirates. Yes, they have just started to read Treasure Island. Now they were living the story in her attic. Could this day get any worse?

These aliens have space toys like you’ve seen in Star Trek the second generation. There space toys allow them to bring the book Treasure Island to life inside TJ’s house and they weren't quiet about it either. Now how was she supposed to hide them from her family and the next door neighbor Chadd Sheet – who just so happens to be dating the most popular girl at her school named Hesper Breakaheart, T.V. super star!

Hesper has plans for TJ and they aren’t good ones. She wants to hire a detective to dig up some dirt on TJ! She couldn’t let the new girl get away with embarrassing her in front of the whole school! No one gets away with doing that – no one!

Ok, you have the set up for the best story! I enjoyed the second book as much as the first!! In both books I laughed at the parts where the characters in the book are faced with choices they need to make. I love how Bill spells out what the characters’ choices are and lets them think about the outcome of each choice - also giving the reader time to think about which choice was best! I loved that.

I like TJ and the quirky alien characters in the book and the adventures they take you on that will help you escape the pressures of your day, challenge the reader to see if it’s ok to do the right thing and have lots of fun in the journey! I highly recommend this series for your kid’s summer reading!!

Reviewed by: Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
Finding Hope Through Fiction

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Jill Williamson's From Darkness Won ~ Reviewed

From Darkness Won
By Jill Williamson
Marcher Lord Press
ISBN 9780982598771

Review by Michelle Griep

Achan steps into his role as Crown Prince and prepares for war. But war against whom? Could Esek still be alive? Has Lord Nathak taken Esek’s place? Or is the mysterious Hadad the true enemy Achan must confront?

Vrell has her own agenda of serving Prince Oren as a healer, but when she is stormed and lost to the Veil, Achan does all he can to bring her back. His conversations with her are strange, though, as if she has no memory of who he is.

In a land consumed by Darkness, the fate of Er-Rets hangs in the balance as Achan endeavors to take the throne and end the reign of Darkness.

Sweet pickled pig snout! This is one fantabulous read. I’m talking non-stop action, the kind that blurs the words on the page because you’ve forgotten to breathe. Yes, it really is that good, so don’t let the daunting 660 pages scare you away.

In this, the third and final installment in the Blood of Kings trilogy, author Jill Williamson delivers a satisfying wrap up to Vrell and Achan’s long suffering relationship. Oh yeah, that and she also manages to vanquish evil and restore light and truth to the entire land of Er-Rets quite nicely. No loose ends here, that’s for sure.

I was a little nervous when I first began reading. I didn’t think Williamson could pull off endearing me back to heroine Vrell Sparrow. The girl was a perfect pouty idiot when we left off in To Darkness Fled. I wanted to slap her. But by the middle of From Darkness Won, there I was, rooting for Vrell again.

For those squeamish at heart, I should warn you there are a few graphic fighting scenes. Warms the cockles of my heart in a sick and twisted fashion, so I enjoyed the detail, but if blood makes you queasy, you might want to skim over the epic battle towards the end.

I’m a little sad that this is the end of hanging out with Vrell and Achan. However, the Blood of Kings trilogy is a definite keeper that I’ll re-read in years to come. And I’m looking forward to reading whatever Jill Williamson has to offer next.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Lisa Wingate's Dandelion Summer ~ Reviewed

Dandelion Summer (Blue Sky Hill Series)
Lisa Wingate
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade; Reprint edition (July 5, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0451233271


The latest in the inspirational and heartwarming Blue Sky Hill series from Lisa Wingate.

All her life, Epiphany Salerno has been tossed like a dandelion seed on the wind. Now, at sixteen, she must move to the low-rent side of Blue Sky Hill and work where she's not wanted: in an upscale home on The Hill.

J. Norman Alvord's daughter has hired a teenager to stay with him in the afternoons. Widowed and suffering from heart trouble, Norman wants to be left alone. But in Epie's presence, Norman discovers a mystery- memories of another life and a woman who saved him. As he and Epie take an unexpected road trip through sleepy Southern towns, they form a life-changing friendship-and uncover long-held family secrets.


Dandelion Summer revolves around a sixteen year old girl named Epiphany, who has had an unfulfilling life with a mother who seems to care nothing for her. The story also involves J. Norman Alvord, a widowed man with a bad heart. He has a poor relationship with his daughter, Deborah, whom he feels is trying to take everything away from him due to his recurring heart problems. Deborah hires Epiphany to come work a few nights a week to keep an eye on her father. An unlikely pair, Epiphany and J. Norm form a friendship, as Epiphany takes an interest, not only in J. Norman’s previous work with NASA, but with his hunt for what he thinks is his real family that he might have been separated from at a young age.

I really, really enjoyed this book. One wouldn’t expect J. Norman and Epiphany to find common ground, but their friendship changes each of their lives forever. J. Norman teaches Epiphany that she is a smart, beautiful young woman who shouldn’t have to settle for the life she is currently living. Epiphany, in turns, teaches J. Norman how to love again. It’s such a wonderful book, and it keeps you in suspense. I would love to see a sequel written!

Reviewed by: Sarah Porter

Monday, July 04, 2011

Randall Arthur's Wisdom Hunter ~ Reviewed

Wisdom Hunter
Randall Arthur
Paperback, 325 pages
Publisher: Multnomah, First in 1992, also in 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59052-259-2

Back Cover Description:

When every formula fails. When being right no longer matters. When the faith that once held all the answers now only holds questions. This is where redemption begins.
Pastor Jason Faircloth knows what he believes. His clear faith, in fact, is why he is one of the most prominent pastors in Atlanta. He relies on it to discipline his daughter, his wife, his church. He prays daily that others would come to see God's ways as he does. And it will cost him everything he has.

What does it take to soften a heart so entrenched in law that it never truly loves?
Groping for answers in the face of tragedy, Jason determines to find the one person left who might provide healing: the granddaughter kept hidden from him. His search takes him on an international adventure-and deep into his tormented soul.

A fast-paced suspense novel rich in spiritual depth, Wisdom Hunter explores what it means to break free of Christian legalism and discover how grace can make the difference between life and death.


This captivating, fast paced book digs deep and makes you answer the question: When everything is torn away what do I really believe? Through the life of Reverend Jason Faircloth, we see a life, picture perfect on the outside, with a rigid, empty and cold reality inside....until it all falls apart leaving Jason to question what he once held as absolute, unbendable truth. He questions God and leaves the church, his morals, everything he has ever known behind in search of the true meaning of life...and his last chance to make things right...his granddaughter. Find out what happens when he realizes what salvation truly is and what grace means by reading this spell binding book, Wisdom Hunter.

Reviewed by: Rachael Schnitker

Friday, July 01, 2011

Bill Myers's TJ and the Time Stumblers ~New Kid Catastrophe~ Reviewed

By Bill Myers
Published by Tyndale
ISBN# 978-1-4143-3453-0
182 Pages

Back Cover:

This six-book series centers around two 23rd century goofballs, Tuna and Herby, who travel back in time to study TJ Finkelstein for their history project. TJ will someday become a great leader who demonstrates honesty, integrity, thoughtfulness, self-sacrifice, respect for others—all traits she hones and grasps through her adventures in this series. Unfortunately, Tuna and Herby get stuck in TJ’s time (modern day), so she has to deal with their schemes while juggling the normal issues of a seventh grader who has moved to a new city, is trying to fit in, and is coping with her mother’s death and her family’s new life.

In New Kid Catastrophes, TJ accidentally makes an enemy of Hesper Breakahart, the superstar who attends their school. And Tuna and Herby’s attempts to help just lead to one disaster after another. In the end, TJ is still very unpopular, but she learns the value of looking past appearances and gains a few friends—and the attention of the most popular boy in school.


I’m a huge Bill Myers fan. When an opportunity came about to receive a review copy of his new children’s series I quickly signed up. My two boys and I have benefited from reading other children’s series by this author and I couldn’t wait to read this new series. We loved the action packed, funny adventures in theses book with great messages I appreciated. The quality of his new series is no different!

TJ Finkelstein’s family has moved from a small town in Missouri to Malibu, California, madness! TJ sees that Malibu Jr. High has some of the richest, snobbiest kids ever. She was the new kid on the block and in the school! Yikes!

One amazing thing was she lived next to the dreamiest boy, Chad Steel. Just so happens his girlfriend is Hesper Breakahart, T.V. Super star, miss popular! He’d never notice TJ or would he after the alien’s arrive?

TJ’s life was different but not impossible until two male aliens from the 23rd century traveled back in time to break down near her house. TJ Finkelstein is stuck with these two male aliens until they fixed their ship and could leave. They couldn’t leave fast enough for TJ, she couldn’t keep this secret from everyone including her immediate family. Living was traumatic enough without two alien guys following her around all day using their cloaking devices so only TJ could see them. Lucky her!

This is book one in the series. I loved it! This series is geared for kids 8-12 and reminded me of two movies, Star Trek and the three stooges mixed together. This book had the three stooges slap-stick well timed humor along with Star Trek the next generation space toys and wild adventures. It took me away from the cares of this world and made me laugh and I could see the principles Bill Myers is trying to have the youth catch! Kids will be so caught up in the story drama and believable characters they won’t realize they are learning valuable character building morals along the way. It also challenges the reader to take a look at their lives and the choices they are making! It can be ok to do the right thing! I highly recommend this new series to anyone who wants to have fun and learn a thing or two along the way.

Reviewed by: Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
Finding Hope Through Fiction