Monday, December 30, 2013

Kathleen Bauer's Before the Dawn ~ Reviewed

Kathleen Bauer
Pages 280
Binding Softcover
Release Date Jul 1, 2013
Publisher Ideals Publications
ISBN 0824934245


It's the dawn of a new season in Charlotte Stevenson's life.

Charlotte Stevenson's world is turned upside-down by the death of her daughter, Denise, whose three children are now coming to Nebraska to live on Heather Creek Farm. Sam is fiercely protective of his younger siblings; Emily desperately misses her friends; and young Christopher, a sweet soul, just wants to fit in. While Charlotte helps the grandchildren she barely knows adjust to their new life, she also wrestles with her own grief. What if she makes the same mistakes she made with Denise? Is this her chance to make things right? The miracle of new life, along with God's healing touch, reminds all of them that it's always darkest just before the dawn.

About the Home to Heather Creek series: Before the Dawn is the first book in the Home to Heather Creek series. Charlotte Stevenson is raising her grandchildren on the family farm after a tragic accident changes all of their lives forever. With the help of her husband Bob and a close-knit circle of friends, she will do whatever it takes to keep this fragile family together. See how God, who makes the sun rise and the crops grow, watches over our lives too.


 Before the Dawn is book one in the Home to Heather Creek Series.  In this book, Bob and Charlotte Stevenson’s world is turned upside down.  Their daughter, Denise, had run away several years ago, very rarely keeping contact.  Suddenly, she is killed in a car accident, and Bob and Charlotte must go to California, not only for the funeral, but to get their three grandchildren.  Sam is the oldest, and very protective of his siblings.  Emily is a young teenager that dresses in a manner that seems inappropriate to her grandparents.  Christopher, the youngest, is just a sweet boy that wants everyone to be happy.  Not only do the children have to adjust to their mother being one, but they have to move from their home in California to their Grandparents’ farm in Nebraska.  Meanwhile, Charlotte is trying to adjust to having teenagers in the house again, while worrying about how to parent them properly so as not to push them away.

This was a very good story.  I really enjoyed Charlotte’s character.  She tried so hard to put on a happy face and didn’t want anyone to know that she was suffering over the loss of her daughter.  But by doing this, she didn’t realize she was pushing her grandchildren away.  Her character really developed throughout the course of the story, in a good way.

Reviewed by: Sarah Meyers

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Veronica Roth's Divergent ~ Reviewed

By Veronica Roth
May 2011
Katherine Tegen Books

Back Cover Copy:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Review:

Want to know why I bought this book? It was on the end-cap at the bookstore. It wasn’t Hunger Games. The movie is coming out in March so I’d actually have a chance to finish reading it before seeing it…one of my life rules. Plus, the bright reddish-orange against a dark backdrop caught my eye.

So I thought, what the heck? Without even reading the back cover copy, I toodled home with Divergent and tossed it on my TBR pile, having no expectations whatsoever.

The first fourth is a bit tedious. Half-way through, it picks up speed. By the end, you’ll be like, “BRING IT!”

What’s the pull? Two things. The heroine, Beatrice, aka Tris, is a survivor.  She’s smart, adaptable, and just like the rest of the human race, struggles with a sometimes lack of confidence and fear. Occasionally she rides the rail and tips over onto the arrogant side of things, but overall, she’s a heroine you’ll root for.

Four is the other reason. No, I haven’t lost my ability to count, though my checkbook would say otherwise. Four is the hero’s name. I won’t tell you why he’s called that, or even what his real name is, because that would spoil the fun. You’ll have to trust me that it’s satisfying when you do find out. Four is a mixture of brute violence and compassion, innocence and intelligence. He’s a hero you’d want to have on your side when times get tough.

Divergent is labeled as young adult, but I honestly wouldn’t give it to a teenager…well, maybe an older one. They might come away with wanting to get a tattoo and/or give hopping on a moving train a try. Plus the violence is pretty off the charts. If you like Dystopians, go ahead and toss this one on the top of your TBR pile, just do it before March 2014. That’s when the movie comes out.

Will I read the next 2 in the series? Yep.

Reviewed by: Michelle Griep

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mark McClelland's Upload ~ Reviewed

  • Upload
  • Mark McClelland
  • Category: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
  • Published:Sep 28, 2012
  • Publisher:
  • Seller: Lulu Enterprises, Inc.
  • Print Length: 484 Pages

Back Cover:
His criminal past catching up with him, a troubled young man seeks escape into digital utopia by uploading his consciousness into a computer -- just as first love casts his life in a new light. In this thrilling near-future science-fiction novel, Mark McClelland explores the immense potential of computer-based consciousness and the philosophical perils of simulated society.

Mark McClelland’s Upload is a troubling, difficult novel. The protagonist is by no standards a hero, and the world he lives in is both probable and disturbing. Set in 2060, the story focuses on a lab working to successfully upload organic consciousness into the digital world. Raymond Quan, the novel’s focus, is a brilliant, self-contained man with a dark past and a self-serving outlook. Attempting to escape from a messy world into the digital paradise he has designed, Raymond wants to prematurely upload his own consciousness and has no problem manipulating and using others in the process.
The story is split into two parts, however. The first deals with Raymond’s meticulous planning and execution, up until the moment of his uploading. The reader gets to know the character in all his flaws: his pride, selfishness, and cruelty. They watch while he heartlessly chooses his own happiness over the needs and desires of others. However, the book’s second half deals with Raymond’s realization of his own evilness. Placed into a world he expected to be utopia, Raymond recognizes the darkness of the creator through his creation. Faced with his innate vileness, Raymond is forced to make a decision: continue pleasing himself and gratifying his own desires, or become a part of something greater?
While this novel posed some interesting ideas, it was a very uncomfortable read. Sort of like Lord of the Flies with nudity. Not that the language or sexual content was out of control in Upload; rather the world and characters themselves lacked the innocence of the children in William Golding’s novel. Reader should brace themselves for a story that is a little too realistic to be comfortable, and complicated questions that won’t be easily answered.

Reviewed by: Shea Nolan

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kathleen Y'Barbo's Millie's Treasure ~ Reviewed

Millie's Treasure (Secret Lives Of Will Tucker V2)
By Kathleen Y'Barbo
Pages 333
Binding Softcover
Release Date Jun 1, 2013
Publisher Harvest House Publishers
Series Secret Lives Of Will Tucker
ISBN 0736952136


From bestselling author Kathleen Y'Barbo comes Millie's Treasure, the second book in The Secret Lives of Will Tucker series, a new set of novels involving romance, adventure, and hidden identity.
Memphis 1890--Bookish heiress Millie Jean Cope is as clever as she is beautiful. Unfortunately, though adept at solving puzzles and cryptograms, she doesn't realize her new fianc? isn't who he claims to be, but instead is a charming scoundrel. The infamous Will Tucker is presenting himself as a British gentleman, Sir William Trueck, though in reality he is a crafty criminal looking for a hidden map to a secret treasure.
Pinkerton agent Kyle Russell has been on Tucker's trail for years. At last Kyle believes he has Tucker cornered, but he is uncertain whether the lovely woman on the con man's arm is an unsuspecting victim or willing accomplice. Finding reasons to spend time with Millie is easy. Keeping himself from falling in love with her is another issue entirely.
A fun and entertaining story of how God can shine the light of truth on the most cryptic circumstances. 


Millie’s Treasure is book two in the series, “The Secret Lives of Will Tucker.”  Pinkerton agent Kyle Russell picks up where his former partner, Logan, left off in book one.  Will Tucker was put away but has escaped prison, and is still on the loose, stealing from innocent women.  In the midst of his search, he meets a young woman named Millie, who happens to be engaged to Will ‘Trueck,’, also known as Will Tucker.  However, she is only engaged for convenience, not for love.  Kyle and Millie happen to meet one evening before her wedding, and find that they are attracted to one another.   However, many complications arise that come between them and could possibly keep them apart for good.
    I was surprised when I started reading to find that the Will Tucker story continued.  Yet I was glad.  I think I loved this one better than book one.  It flowed nice and kept me interested.  Other twists and turns in the story made it really interesting.  If you liked book one, you’ll love book two!

Reviewed by: Sarah Meyers

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lisa Wingate's The Prayer Box ~ Reviewed

The Prayer Box
Lisa Wingate
Pages 386
Binding Softcover
Release Date Jul 1, 2013
Publisher Tyndale House Publishers
ISBN 1414386885


When Iola Anne Poole, an old-timer on Hatteras Island, passes away in her bed at ninety-one, the struggling young mother in her rental cottage, Tandi Jo Reese, finds herself charged with the task of cleaning out Iola's rambling Victorian house.Running from a messy, dangerous past, Tandi never expects to find more than a temporary hiding place within Iola's walls, but everything changes with the discovery of eighty-one carefully decorated prayer boxes, one for each year, spanning from Iola's youth to her last days. Hidden in the boxes is the story of a lifetime, written on random bits of paper--the hopes and wishes, fears and thoughts of an unassuming but complex woman passing through the seasons of an extraordinary, unsung life filled with journeys of faith, observations on love, and one final lesson that could change everything for Tandi.


Over years of reviewing I've gotten a little more critical and a little less impressed with basic word weaving. I hate to admit this, it makes me feel jaded because writing is hard work and any person who puts the effort into creating the best book they can and seeing it through the difficult editing and publishing process should be celebrated. But not every tale resonates with me, not every author has a magic touch that pulls me into a story. And I know opinions are so subjective and my definition may not be yours. However, I'm talking about books that get me so let me share my thoughts further. Every once in a while I pick up a book, crack the cover and read the first paragraph, then eagerly read the next, and I find myself falling into a story that pulls at me and touches my soul. When this happens, I slow down and savor the journey I was blessed to travel between the title page and the end. A sigh of contentment comes as I close the cover for the final time.

I gravitate to authors who possess the magical ability to tell a good story with vibrant characters and poetic prose. Not everyone will agree with my definition of perfect. Some folks don't need or want depth, they want escapism and entertainment. But I crave beauty in my fiction, and characters I love to hate, hate to love, cheer for, almost even consider praying for because they become so real to me.

The Prayer Box was a pleasure to read. From the first paragraph I relished this novel. There is a poignant, underlying melancholy in Tandi's story. A wistful hope of something she could not define that was missing from her life, and in her brokenness she travels to childhood stomping grounds to find it. Tandi's life is a mess, and this is fiction that probably won't pass the standards of those who expect specific Christian conversion moments or inspirational cleanliness. The struggles in Tandi's world are too real and too challenging to be a pure read. However, those who want honesty tossed in with hope should find much to like in this novel. This novel might move a little slow for some, too, but I love a languid read and this style fit perfectly in a town crushed by a hurricane, and a woman crushed by loving the wrong people and finding solace in pills.

Many descriptions feel like works of art. The driving needs and emotions of the characters are often poignant and painful. The spiritual hungers and simple answers are realistic and the balm that comes from the hope Tandi finds in the creaky, ancient home of a dead woman is touching.

The Prayer Box would be a perfect book to tackle in January. January, when we all have fresh green tendrils of hope that we will make different choices and changes in our lives. That this will be the year we let go of something that holds on tight to our hearts or souls or bodies. Or this year will be when we stand up for ourselves or put our voice out there for the world to hear. Tandi has so much that has gone wrong in her life. And hope is very often a terrifying thing because it kind of demands that we step out in faith.

Fiction is a story. There is no real, brave Tandi outside of the character so well written. But, sometimes, a story can create a catalyst to do one thing differently and that one thing can open the door for another and that small flame of absolute truth about the human character and our very big and good God can ignite in a real life person. I believe that's why Jesus used story. And why the Bible contains so many stories. When God gets hold of the raw clay of a human life, watch out, people are changed and changed people change the world in wide reaching ripples.

I recommend this book, one of the best I've read in quite a while.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ginny Yttrup's Invisible ~ Reviewed

By Ginny L. Yttrup
Pages 352
Binding Softcover
Release Date Jan 1, 2013
Publisher Broadman And Holman
ISBN 1433671689

Ellyn DeMoss -- chef, cafe owner, and lover of butter -- is hiding behind her extra weight. But what is she hiding? While Ellyn sees the good in others, she has only condemnation for herself. So when a handsome widower claims he's attracted to Ellyn, she's certain there's something wrong with him. Sabina Jackson -- tall, slender, and exotic -- left her husband, young adult daughters, and a thriving counseling practice to spend a year in Northern California where she says she's come to heal. But it seems to Ellyn that Sabina's doing more hiding than healing. What's she hiding from? Is it God? Twila Boaz has come out of hiding and is working to gain back the pounds she lost when her only goal was to disappear. When her eating disorder is triggered again, though she longs to hide, she instead follows God and fights for her own survival. But will she succeed? As these women's lives intertwine, their eyes open to the glory within each of them as they begin to recognize themselves as being created in God's image. 


Invisible by Ginny Yttrup, makes my Top Ten for 2013 list and my Top Ten of All Time. Yttrup employs a light hand and humor to impart heavy truths. Normally, I read to be entertained. With Invisible, when I least expected it, I was touched and changed. Novel Rocket and I give it our highest recommendation. This is a book everyone needs to read. 

Reviewed: Ane Mulligan, President, Novel Rocket

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Sandra D. Bricker's Merry Humbug Christmas ~ Reviewed

Merry Humbug Christmas: Two Tales of Holiday Romance
By Sandra D. Bricker
Binding Softcover
Release Date Jul 1, 2013
Publisher Broadman And Holman
ISBN 1433680750

"A Merry Humbug Christmas" features two holiday romance novellas from hilarious and heartwarming author Sandra D. Bricker. -- the perfect gift to yourself or someone else at this most wonderfully stressful time of year. 
In "Once Upon a Jingle Bell," A "Bah Humbug" cruise to the Mexican Riviera is Joss Snow's answer to this year's quest to avoid the holidays completely; at least until she's rebooked on a different kind of cruise altogether. Candy canes, holly wreaths, reindeer and ornaments seem to be stalking her on the "12 Days of Christmas "holiday cruise extravaganza. An escape back to land is her only goal . . . until she meets a kindred spirit in rugged Irishman Patrick Brenneman, and then the game is on Avoid Christmas festivities at all costs . . . except maybe for that one stop under the mistletoe. 

In "It Came Upon a Midnight Deer," Reese's guilt over abandoning best friend Joss on their holiday tradition of avoiding all things Christmas is trumped by the joy of her recent engagement. Meeting Damian's family for the first time on idyllic Sugarloaf Mountain is about as far from that "Bah Humbug" cruise as she can get, and Reese can hardly wait to get there. But from the moment they hit that deer in the road just two miles from the cabin, everything seems to go wrong. There are no drummers drumming or pipers piping this particular year And once she sets her future in-laws' family cabin ablaze, she's pretty sure there won't be even ONE golden ring in her future.


I will never sing the Twelve Days of Christmas again without thinking of Sandra D. Bricker! Merry Humbug Christmas has got to be the most endearing set of stories I’ve read in quite some time.  Yes, I said a set of stories – two to be exact.  The first story features Joss Snow’s adventures in the Mexican Riviera as she attempts to avoid the Christmas Holidays.  From Connie Rudolph and Caroline Denture to the Jenkins Von Trap family and Patrick Brenneman, Joss’ world receives an unexpected and total makeover when her Humbug Cruise is cancelled and she winds up on the 12 Days of Christmas Fun Cruise.  Only Sandra Bricker could place her readers squarely in the midst of such an exciting, life-transforming adventure!  Yes, it’s tons of fun, but real-life issues are presented and dealt with along the way, and they resolve realistically and with great satisfaction.
The second story centers around Dr. Reese Pendergrass as she breaks from tradition and spends the holiday with her fiancĂ©e instead of her best friend Joss Snow.  Life changes tend to disrupt traditions, and Reese’s introduction into Damion’s family brings about a few disruptions of its own!  Again, Bricker’s humor keeps the momentum building, and deposits her fans into a thoughtful, romantic and satisfying ending.  Truly, Sandra Bricker will make a romance fan out of the most Humbug of hearts! 

Reviewed by: Kim Ford

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Cynthia Ruchti's When the Morning Glory Blooms ~ Reviewed

When The Morning Glory Blooms 
By Cynthia Ruchti
Pages 351
Binding Softcover
Release Date Feb 1, 2013
Publisher Abingdon Press
ISBN 142673543X


Becky rocks a baby that rocked her world. Sixty years earlier, with her fiance Drew in the middle of the Korean Conflict, Ivy throws herself into her work at a nursing home to keep her sanity and provide for the child Drew doesn't know is coming. Ivy cares for Anna, an elderly patient who taxes Ivy's listening ear until the day she suspects Anna's tall tales are not the ramblings of dementia. They're fragments of Anna's disjointed memories of a remarkable life. Finding a faint thread of hope she can't resist tugging, Ivy records Anna's memoir, scribbling furiously after hours to keep up with the woman's emotion-packed, grace-hemmed stories. Is Ivy's answer buried in Anna's past? Becky, Ivy, Anna--three women fight a tangled vine of deception in search of the blossoming simplicity of truth.


When the Morning Glory Blooms revolves around the stories of three women from three different eras with a common bond.  Becky is struggling to keep her family together after her teenage daughter has a baby and isn’t taking the responsibility for it.  60 years earlier, we follow the story of Ivy, whose fiancĂ© leaves to fight in the Korean Conflict.  Ivy finds herself alone and pregnant, but finds a friend in Anna, an elderly patient at the nursing home Ivy works at.  We also follow the story of Anna, who tells stories of her life in the 1890’s, which give Ivy hope that her life will get better.
        I LOVED this book.  It jumped back and forth between the lives of all three women frequently, yet I was never confused or thrown off.  It was very well written, and each of the stories kept me on my toes, wondering what was going to happen next.  And I loved the way the author tied all of the stories together.  I would definitely recommend this book, and I would read it again.
Sarah Meyers