Thursday, December 27, 2007

Deborah Raney's Within This Circle ~ Reviewed

Within This Circle
By Deborah Raney
Published by Steeple Hill
ISBN-10: 0-373-78594-1

After a tumultuous courtship, John and Julia Brighton have a second chance at happiness. With tragedy behind them and their children grown, they’re looking forward to a new promising era in their lives.

Only, such a promise is never guaranteed. And life can change in a moment.

The Brightons’ lives are turned upside down when John’s daughter Jana abandons her husband, Mark, and three-year-old daughter. John and Julia reach out to young Ellie, to give the young couple time to heal, but how can they help this child, so confused and longing for Mommy? And how much sorrow and stress can both fledgling marriages endure? Two very different couples, each with only their love and faith to guide them, can only pray that it will be enough.


Within This Circle is the long-awaited sequel to A Vow to Cherish. The storyline, although not at all what I thought it would be, was wonderful. She's the consummate storyteller and has never written one I didn’t love. Somehow, she always avoids the expected, the clichéd. I was totally caught up in the lives of these people and had to know what happened. I started reading about 9:30 PM Christmas night and forgot about time completely until I turned the last page—somewhere after 2:00 AM.

But then, a Deborah Raney book is like that. She always tackles tough subjects and Within This Circle is no different. Her characters possess multi-layered personalities with good and bad

traits. And they live on in your memory long after you’ve finished the book. As a reviewer, I read 2-3 books a week. After a while, the stories tend to run together, except for the books of a handful of authors. And Raney tops that list.

If you want a great read, I highly recommend Within This Circle.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Friday, December 21, 2007

C.J. Illinik's Najila ~ Reviewed

C.J. Illinik
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (July 27, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825429072
ISBN-13: 978-0825429071


From the day she is born in Baghdad, Najila's life is defined by conflict. Her mother is a Muslim and her father the Greek Orthodox Byzantine ambassador to Persia, she must one day choose between their beliefs.

When her father dies is a tragic accident, seventeen-year-old Najila inherits his estate -- Hawk's Hill in Constantinople -- and something far more precious: his beautiful amber and silver cross. After her father's death, a bitter and grieving Najila leaves her home behind and sets out to claim her inheritance in Constantinople, a new and unfamiliar city where she finds many surprises waiting for her: an enemby, romance and a new life.

Leaving behind all she has ever know, Najila will be forever changed by Hawks Hill and her father's beloved cross as they push her to discover herself and finally come to terms with her faith.

My Review:

C J Illinik wowed me with her historical knowledge. I almost felt like I was on horseback with Najila and company, or sitting in the lush gardens, or strolling through the busy streets of Constantinople.

The tale Najila is a story narrated omnisciently as Najila loses her mother at age four and beyond as Najila, at age sixty-nine, chooses to surprise the reader with a life change. Several storylines wind and weave covering land, war, politics, horses and faiths. History buffs should find the descriptions intriguinging. I can't imagine the amount of research Illinik invested in the story of Najila.

I did find it difficult to embrace the characters due to the time span. Those who devour character-driven fiction may feel the same frustration.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hake, Mills, Raney & Livingstons' Missouri Memories ~ Interviewed

Missouri Memories: Finishing Touches/ Beyond the Memories/Finally Home/The Pretend Family
By Kelly Eileen Hake, DiAnn Mills, Deborah Raney & Joyce Livingston,
Published by Barbour Publishing
ISBN 978-1-59789-595-8

If walls could talk ... what stories of faith and romance would the House on Cranberry Hill tell?

Finishing Touches: Captain Gregory Alan Royce has amassed a small fortune in 1898 to build his bride a spectacular home overlooking the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri. But when his intended elopes with another, will there ever be a bride to grace the halls of the captain’s home?

Beyond the Memories: The house on Cranberry Hill was a gift from Maime Bradford’s husband, but since he was lost in The Great War and the depression hit, Maime opened the house to people in need. Could she possibly lose her heart to one new resident who reminds her so much of her late husband?

Finally Home: After the Vietnam War, Brian Lowe returns home to the family mansion in a wheelchair, only to be assigned to a physical therapist who is an outspoken war protestor. Can he find common ground with Kathy Nowlin?

The Pretend Family: Tadd Winsted has turned the grand house into a restaurant and spun a complicated tale that has his German parents believing he has gotten married. When Tadd hires Sabrena Stewart and her daughter to pose as his family, how far will the ruse go before someone learns the true meaning of love?

I’m a romantic. When I see a grand old home, I stop to daydream about who lived there and what their lives were like. This collection of novellas did just that. The common thread is the house and what happened therein. I loved how the stories followed one another in a different time period with altogether different characters from unrelated families.

Each novella was well-written with characters I cared about. Often in a collection like this, one story stands out above the others. Not so in this collection. I enjoyed each one as well as the one before it. I have to say Missouri Memories is the best novella collection I’ve read to date, and I give it a very high recommendation.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cara Putnam's Canteen Dreams ~ Reviewed

Canteen Dreams
Cara Putnam
Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (October 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597898678
ISBN-13: 978-1597898676

Click here for Cara's guest blog at Novel Journey (12-12-07)

Cover Copy:

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Audrey Stone wants to help in the war effort. But what's a young schoolteacher from Nebraska to do? When her community starts a canteen at the train station, Audrey finds her place. She spends nearly every spare moment there, offering food and kindness to the soldiers passing through. Despite her busyness, Audrey does allow some time to get to know a handsome rancher.

Willard Johnson worries about his brother who joined the navy to get off the ranch and see the world. When Willard's worst fear is confirmed, he feels he must avenge by enlisting himself. But will his budding relationship with Audrey weather the storms of war? Or will one of the many soldiers at the canteen steal her away from him?

Can two such determined people find their place in the war and with each other?

My Review:

I don't consider myself a history nut, but maybe I am. I loved reading about 1942 Nebraska and the North Platte welcome given to the soldiers just passing through. Putnam painted some scenes so powerfully that I could almost smell and hear the unfolding drama. Since Nebraska is in my own back yard, the read was even more entertaining as I've been to some of the same locations though half a century later.

A rich read that took me back to a gentler time. Heroism must be doing what you have to do regardless of the fear and sorrow that threatens to overwhelm you. If that's the case, there are a few heroes in Canteen Dreams.

Historical romance lovers should enjoy this story.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Karen Ball's What Lies Within ~ Reviewed

What Lies Within
By Karen Ball
Published by Multnomah
ISBN 978-1-59052-415-2

Back Cover :

Kyla Justice owns one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful construction companies in the Pacific Northwest. And yet, something is missing. When she’s asked to build a center for inner-city kids, she finally realizes what’s lacking; purpose. Now nothing can stop her, not supply problems, gang opposition, or her boyfriend’s request to sell her business and marry him. And most especially not that disagreeable Rafael Murphy.

Rafe Murphy understands battle. Wounded in action, this Force Recon Marine carries the scars – and the nightmares – to prove it. No longer able to fight overseas, he’s found his place as a warrior in the civilian world. So he soldiers on, trusting God to reveal why Rafe survived the ambush in Iraq. That day has arrived.

Together, Kyla and Rafe discover their very foundations, there’s only one way to survive: rely on each other – and surrender to God. In other words, risk everything….

Review :

What Lies Within is the third book in the Family Honor Series. Karen Ball has saved the best for last.

Karen richly develops each character and I connected with them right away. Chapter after chapter the plot thickens; and my heart raced. There are many twists and surprises revealed as the hearts of the characters Rafe, Kyla, Fredrick and gang leader King K are exposed.

The story caused me to wonder what lies deep within my own heart. As I read the struggle of Rafe Murphy – x-marine, trying to make sense of his new life; Kyla – a strong women; CEO of her successful construction company as she does her job in a male dominated field. She’s as tough as they come – she has to be. The author is gut honest as Rafe and Kyla share what is in their hearts and on their minds

In the author notes Karen Ball says that this book was an answer to prayer. As I read this intricate story I could see God’s message emerging from the beginning of this tale to the end. It’s powerful; and enlightening in many ways.

The story starts off with a bang as Rafe Murphy (leader of Force Recon Marine Squade) is in the middle of trying to save his men from impending death as the enemy is ready to pounce on them.

When he comes home he gets involved in a war that is much more personal; something he never expected to be involved with – fighting a gang in his very own neighborhood. Rafe comes to grips with the fact that those involved in combating gangs – and those resisting them – need prayer 24/7. This is a new type of combat for him. The world of gangs is a dark, pervasive place, where humanity gives way to violence and mercy to degradation. Once in a gang the only way out is death. There is only one source of light in such darkness and that is Jesus Christ. Rafe and Kyla learn that there is nothing good that lives in their hearts – but Jesus.

At the beginning of each chapter there is a quote from someone famous and a scripture. Some of these quotes and scripture pierced my heart before the chapter did. A few of the many quotes that the Holy Spirit used to get my attention are “We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday & fear of tomorrow.” Fulton Oursler

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do…Explore. Dream. Discover” Mark Twain.

“God knows all hearts and He sees you. He keeps watch over your soul” Proverbs 24:12

The impact of this book is deep. It continues to work on my heart and my mind as the Lord keeps replaying segments of this book in my mind; through my day. It makes me realize yet again that God knows what is in the depths of my soul and still loves me. He will use me if I’m willing to be willing to let Him do the impossible deep inside my heart, mind and soul. This book is a keeper. You’ll want to re-read this story and discover treasure you might have missed the first time.

Nora St.Laurent
Life Way Book Club Servant Leader

Monday, December 10, 2007

Susan Page Davis' Sarah's Long Ride ~ Reviewed

Sarah's Long Ride (Piper Ranch)
Susan Page Davis
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 184 pages
Publisher: Journeyforth (March 30, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591667372
ISBN-13: 978-1591667377

Back Cover

The Bandicoot 100 is coming up, and Sarah Piper and her horse Icicle are registered for the race. But now that her mother has died. Sarah has no riding partner.

Adjusting to a new home with Uncle Joe and far from her friends, Sarah realizes that endurance is not something she needs just for the race. She needs it for life.


I was pleasantly surprised that this was not your typical story about a girl who becomes an orphan; is left with adults who do horrible things to that orphan. Quite the opposite is true in this book. Sarah is the orphan who loses her mom unexpectedly two weeks before “The Bandicoot 100” in Oregon. That is the competition that Sarah and her mom were registered to compete in together.

After Sarah’s mom dies she isn’t sure how her uncle really feels about her and why he wanted her to live with him in the first place. But as the story unfolds you see both Sarah and her Uncle live and breathe horses and God. That is their connection. It was difficult for them at first to work out new routines for their lives and learn about one another. It was fascinating how both Sarah and Uncle Joe planned their days around caring for the many horses on the Piper Ranch. They also had to work out how they could find time to train the horses for the competition and do the normal chores.

Sarah’s faith is tested and she learns to press into her faith in God her father. She takes comfort in scripture one night (Isaiah 65:24) “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”

Sarah’s prayer that night is “Thank you for answering my prayer, Father;” she whispers “You gave me everything I needed, even when I was too hurt to know what that was…Thanks especially for Uncle Joe. You know we needed each other.”

I was amazed at all the checks and balances that were planned within the Bandicoot 100 competition. Everyone wants to make sure that the horses and humans do not get hurt or abused during the race. Susan does a great job about taking you inside the world of horse competition and horse care. It was very interesting to read.

This is a story of faith, hope and love as you get to know Sarah and Uncle Joe. See their struggle to get to know each other and become a family unit. This story will grab your heart strings. You don’t have to be a horse lover to enjoy this story. I highly recommend this book for everyone to read.

Nora St. Laurent
Life Way Book Club Servant Leader
Novel Journey Reviewer

Friday, December 07, 2007

Lena Nelson Dooley's Who Am I? ~ Reviewed

Who Am I?
By Lena Nelson Dooley
Published by Heartsong Presents
ISBN 978-1-59789-782-2

Back Cover

Leiann Hambrick was settled into a comfortable life as a Texas schoolteacher . . .but then her mother dies and her world is turned upside down. A letter Leiann receives causes her to question her very identity. What will she learn when she goes to Boston to meet the grandfather she has never known?
Gerome Mays has discovered that someone is stealing from his wealthy stepfather. When Leiann shows up claiming to be his stepfather’s long-lost granddaughter, Gerome wonders if she’s involved. But as his attraction for her grows, unexplained accidents lead Gerome to a more sinister plot.
Will Leiann learn to forgive those who lied to her and find her true identity in the Lord? Can Gerome save Leiann’s life and his stepfather’s fortune?


The story line of this book is good. I felt it flowed nicely, with a plot that kept me on the edge. Lena Nelson Dooley really brought the characters to life. There were a few things that left me wondering, after I finished the book, one is why her mother had never told Leiann that her stepfather wasn’t her real father. Even though, I was left with some questions, it didn’t impact the story enough to keep me from enjoying it. The book is only 170 pages, so it makes for a quick, pleasurable read.

Reviewed by Diane T. Stokowski

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Virginia Smith's Bluegrass Peril ~ Reviewed

Bluegrass Peril
Virginia Smith
Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Steeple Hill (December 4, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0373442726
ISBN-13: 978-0373442720

Cover Copy:

Who killed her boss?

Local police had tagged single mom Becky Dennison as their prime suspect. But she'd only been in the wrong place at the wrong time...admittedly, with her boss's lifeless body. Sure, it looked bad, but Becky had no motive for killing the man -- even if she had opportunity.

Then, Scott Lewis, handsome assistant manager of a nearby horse farm, entered Becky's life. Soon the amateur detectives were hot on the trail of the murderer...even as their feelings for each other deepened. And for Becky and Scott, this race on the Kentucky tracks had the greatest stakes of all: life or death.

My Review:

Virginia Smith writes a nice little mystery in Bluegrass Peril. I didn't pick up on the killer until near the end and her red herrings were iffy in a good way. I'm amazed at the amount of story she managed to pull off in the limitations of the word count. Not only is there an intruiging mystery, Smith weaves in information regarding a worthy charity/cause, the drama of single motherhood with a financial pinch tossed in for good measure, a new love interest and a past that reaches out and muddies everything. All ended neatly organized.

Though romance isn't a favorite genre, I'll keep my eye on Virginia Smith.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Monday, December 03, 2007

F.P. Lione's Clear Blue Sky ~ Reviewed

By F.P. Lione
Published by Revell
ISBN# 978-0-8007-1886-2

From the Back Cover
I drove up 33rd Street and made a left onto 5th. I drove two blocks south and parked outside the bagel store, smelling the bagels before we got in the door. Are the everythings hot? I asked the guy behind the counter. They just came out ten minutes ago. Great, I said. Give me an everything with butter and a regular coffee. Joe was getting an egg sandwich, so I went outside with my coffee. I pulled back the plastic tab on the Styrofoam cup to blow on the coffee. Something caught the corner of my eye, and I looked straight down 5th Avenue and saw smoke coming from one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

Clear Blue Sky is a glimpse into a day in the life of street cops starting on September 2nd leading up to the events of September 11, 2001.

“Greater Love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” This is what firefighters, policeman and other rescue works gave on that fateful day. The main character Tony Cavalucci is a macho Italian who has been a patrol policeman in New York for the past 11 years. Tony’s father had 22 years on the force before that. Tony’s precinct is Midtown, Manhattan, in a brick building off 9th Avenue. His partners name is Joe, another macho Italian man who is a born again Christian.

Anyone remember the TV show NYPD BLUE? That show was kind of a day in the life of real policeman on the job and off in their personal lives. September 2nd Tony & Joe volunteer to get some overtime on Labor Day patrolling for a parade heading downtown. The events are similar to the ones I remember NYPD BLUE show to be.

Tony Cavalucci is a new Christian and his Italian family is not so happy about his decision to follow Jesus. Tony is engaged and his brother Vinny wants to give him a bachelor party that will include lots of drinking and prostitutes. Tony and his bride to be don’t want any part of this party. Vinny and the rest of the family think that there is something wrong with Tony when he doesn’t embrace the bachelor party with open arms. His family and brother think he’s no fun anymore. He doesn’t want to drink with them, and he doesn’t want to have bachelor parties. What’s up? The family thinks it must be his fiancé Michelle. Tony’s family hopes he hasn’t taken this Jesus stuff serious. They think Tony will come around to his old ways soon it will just take a little manipulating by the family to control the situation.

Tony struggles to honor his family and follow Jesus. On an early morning fishing trip with family and a few friends Tony explains why it’s ok sometimes to miss church. “If you are only going to church because you’re afraid God’s gonna punch you, you’re going for the wrong reasons anyway. I don’t like to miss church and I don’t do it very often. But the Lord likes fishing, and He’ll be there with us!” I like how he said that.

Tony says to himself “I took Joes’ advice (about praying) but I found I couldn’t focus trying to pray, drive and keep my eye on the cab at the same time. Joe seemed to be fine with it, so I left the praying to him.”

I get a kick out of Tony sharing his struggle as he says “Honestly – Okay – I didn't’ say crap, I said the “S” word and was feeling guilty about it. Then I thought about what Joe says, that God forgives me if I ask Him to, and I felt confused that I cursed and now I expected God to forgive me when I did something wrong. ; Then I got aggravated that I had all this crap in my head when I was trying to cuff this guy and was glad when Rooney jumped out of the car and ran over to help me.” It’s funny and gut honest. I can see this macho Italian man doing this on the streets of New York.

As I read about Tony and Joe and their lives as policemen I kept wondering when September 11 events would happen as I turn the next page. These patrol men are not search and rescue personnel. They are street policemen walking their beat when tragedy strikes. No one was quite sure of what happened when the first plane hit (like the rest of us). I’m sure everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on that day when that first tower got hit. The first mission for the patrol cops was to keep some kind of order on the streets by keeping the traffic and people moving away from the towers. No one was sure of what would happen next. They wanted everyone out of the city and out of danger.

I know that I could not fully grasp what was happening on the streets of New York after that first plane went into the building and then the second when I watched the video clip on TV over and over that day. F.P. Lione interviewed policemen that actually lived thru this. They describe what happened through not only what they saw, but what they heard, smelled, touched and felt physically and emotionally. It was really enlightening to read the description.

TONY Cavalucci actually starts to pray for each person that jumped from the building. He says “I remembered what Joe said about going ino God’s thrown room, and I asked God if I could come in and talk to him. I felt inside he told me yes, to come in and pray for these people.”

I liked how this book showed Tony and Joe’s faith in action on the streets of New York; it’s funny, sincere and edgy. It is a heavy subject that the authors handled really well. I know this book will be hard for some to read (because of the subject matter) but I really recommend it.

Nora St. Laurent
Life Way Christian Book Club Servant Leader

Saturday, December 01, 2007

December Release List - Jill Eileen Smith

Here is the December 2007 line-up of new Christian fiction releases in time to add to your Christmas gift list.

1. Bluegrass Peril by Virginia Smith from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. When Becky Dennison's boss at a retirement farm for thoroughbred stallions is murdered, she becomes entrenched in a high-stakes game of danger, money, and that famous southern pride.

2. Buried Sins by Marta Perry, from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. Caroline Hampton flees to her family's inn in peaceful Pennsylvania Amish country after her husband's death, but even there, someone with deadly intent wants her to believe he's still alive.

3. Gavin Goodfellow: The Lure of Burnt Swamp Book One of the Burnt Swamp Trilogy by Candy Abbott from Fruitbearer Publishing. Dyslexic tween encounters Christ while battling witchcraft in Burnt Swamp where fires have been burning for ten years.

4. Heart of the Family 2nd in the Fostered by Love series by Margaret Daley from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. A past secret threatens Jacob and Hannah's newfound love.

5. Kansas Weddings a Heartsong 3-book compilation by Kim Vogel Sawyer from Barbour Publishing. Three Kansas women have difficult decisions to make and burdens to bear.

6. Missouri Memories by Deborah Raney, DiAnn Mills, Joyce Livingston, and Kelly Eileen Hake from Barbour Books. The beautiful House on Cranberry Hill in Hannibal, Missouri, holds love for four generations of couples.

7. Seasons of Love Book 3 Massachusetts Weddings by Elizabeth Goddard from Heartsong Presents. Riley O’Hare must revive her grandfather’s cranberry farm, but her brother’s untimely death thrusts her into his partner’s path and into the midst of a perilous cyber crime.

8. The Love Song by Anita Higman and Janice A. Thompson from Barbour Publishing (Heartsong Presents). With God's help, Clair O'Neal lets go of her painful past and accepts all the laughter and music and love her heart can hold.

Happy reading~