Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride


The Brickmaker's Bride
By Judith Miller
Refined by Love, #1
Bethany House, 2014


Summary

Yearning for a fresh start, Ewan McKay travels with his aunt and uncle from northern Scotland to West Virginia, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial assistance from his uncle Hugh. Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, but it's Ewan who gets the business up and running again. Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man---a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Besides, Ewan has resolved he'll focus on making the brickmaking operation enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Scotland.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work may come to naught. As his plans begin to crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. She and her mother may have a way to save the brickworks, and in turn Ewan may have another shot at winning Laura's heart.


My thoughts

When it comes to historical fiction, you can always count on Judith Miller not only for meticulous research, but to be transported into an interesting era or situation. The Brickmaker's Bride, book #1 in the Refined by Love series, takes the reader to the Reconstruction era in West Virginia, 1868, and to the world of brickmaking. Greed, social climbing, political drive, addiction and unforgiveness are there - but we also see honesty, integrity, caring for and helping others.

I particularly enjoyed two aspects of this story. First, I knew nothing about the business of brickmaking and found that part interesting. It wasn't a simple process; much knowledge, care, attention to detail, and hard work was required. Sometimes the descriptions slowed the action down, but still contributed greatly to the story.

Secondly, I liked that the characters were well drawn and in no way perfect. Ewan McKay, a Scots-Irishman, makes a great leading man. He is kind, generous, and believes in doing the right thing and keeping his word. He has a deep love of family, working hard to bring his three sisters over from Ireland, and has a strong faith. But the characters being imperfect almost became a negative for me, because many of them were absolutely unlikeable. Ewan's uncle Hugh was greedy, addicted to gambling, made poor business decisions, and was slow to keep his promises - and I could hardly stand to read the scenes involving his wife. Winston was controlling and unkind, and even Laura's mother constantly pushed her into a relationship with Winston. Yet all of this made for interesting reading.

I really liked the way spiritual themes were gently woven into the story, like being patient and waiting on God's timing, not judging a person's relationship with God. But my favorite message was that of helping others in the same way as we have been helped, a theme that is seen more than once.

I enjoyed The Brickmaker's Bride overall and would like to see more from these characters. Book #2 in this series, The Potter’s Lady, will follow one of Ewan's sisters, Rose McKay, as the family moves to Grafton, West Virginia. Recommended to those who enjoy historical fiction.

The Brickmaker's Bride can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.


 Judith Miller

Judith Miller is an award-winning author whose avid research and love for history are reflected in her bestselling novels. When time permits, Judy enjoys traveling, visiting historical settings, and scrapbooking the photographs from her travel expeditions. She makes her home in Topeka, Kansas.

Meet Judith online at judithmccoymiller.com, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also visit the Litfuse blog tour page for more information.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Enter the Rainbow's End Giveaway!


For the next two weeks, you have the opportunity to enter a contest to win one of two themed gift baskets. What do I mean by themed gift baskets? These aren't your run-of-the-mill, one-size-fits-all gifts. Instead, they were carefully chosen to highlight important things that happened in At Bluebonnet Lake. You'll find everything from a gorgeous quilt to a special cookbook and apron. Full details and pictures are on the Rainbow's End Giveaway website
                                                                                                         - Amanda Cabot

Enter here by November 4.



The Story

Marketing maven Kate Sherwood's world is fast-paced, challenging, and always changing. The last thing she wants to do is slow down to a crawl at Rainbow's End, a dilapidated resort in the Texas Hill Country. But she cannot deny her ailing grandmother's request to visit the place where she and her deceased husband spent one glorious week (albeit fifty years ago). There Kate meets Greg Vange, the resort's handyman. But there's more to Greg than meets the eye--billions more, in fact, as he recently sold his successful software company and is at the resort in search of what's next for his life.

Kate isn't looking for romance, but she can't deny the sparks of attraction that fly every time she and Greg are together. She even starts to see potential in the rundown resort. Could there be a future there? Or will Kate's long-sought promotion take her back to the big city?


Rainbow's End Giveaway


Amanda Cabot invites readers to step away from the pressures of the daily grind. They might be surprised by what they find at Rainbow's End.

First Prize: Movie Night at Rainbow's End Kate Sherwood and Greg Vange find magic at a run down resort called Rainbow's End, and one beautiful summer night they help to give new life to the nearby town by giving them all a magical evening at Rainbow's End. Experience your own magical movie night with this first prize package:

        1) Star Bright Rainbow Quilt The artisans of the nearby town of Dupree capture Kate Sherwood's attention with their craftsmanship. One stunning rainbow quilt in particular tugs on her heart, and through its beauty the seed of a dream begins. This gorgeous hand crafted quilt captures that artisanship and will inspire your own dreams. (A $250 value)
        2) South Pacific DVD Rainbows End is full of memories of a bygone day and those happy moments spill right into the present when a new generation enjoys an evening on the lawn watching the movie South Pacific.
        3) Zebra Caramel Corn Kate's favorite treat will make your movie night complete. Until you've tried it, you may not believe that the simple act of striping fine dark and white confectioners chocolate onto award-winning Caramel Corn could have such a delicious effect.
        4) Enjoy your own copy of At Bluebonnet Lake and discover the magic for yourself.


Second Prize: Heart of the Hills basket The flavors of Texas and specifically of a wonderful little resort called Rainbow's End are delivered right to your home with this second prize package.

        1) Even though Kate Sherwood is supposed to be on vacation, her marketing work just won't leave her alone and one delicious product is giving her sleepless nights: Organic Peanut butter. Enjoy your own jar of this delicious confection, just don't let it keep you up at night!
        2) Amanda Cabot's Recipe for Chocolate Pound Cake is amazing and included in the back of At Bluebonnet Lake. Callebaut Cocoa powder is consistently rated the best tasting cocoa powder and will add the perfect touch to Amanda's delicious recipe.
        3) Ninety-nine of the leading cookbooks from the Lone Star State have contributed their most popular recipes to create this remarkable collection, Best of the Best from Texas. Taste the true Heart of the Hills with the truest flavors of Texas.
        4) Slip on your favorite cowgirl boots, grab this apron and head for the kitchen! Country fried chicken and Texas BBQ come to mind with this country style retro full apron covered in boots and bluebonnets.

Click on the Rainbow's End Giveaway link for more details and to enter by November 4.


____________________



Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of the Texas Dreams series, Christmas Roses, Summer of Promise, and Waiting for Spring. Her books have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Awards and the Booksellers Best. She lives in Wyoming. Find out more at amandacabot.com.

Monday, October 20, 2014

KEEPERS OF THE COVENANT Kindle Giveaway and Live Author Chat with Lynn Austin!


Keepers of the Covenant is outstanding biblical fiction that not only entertains and inspires, but is extremely relevant for today. Highly recommended! Please see my review at http://tinyurl.com/lpzg334. And be sure to enter the Kindle HDX giveaway by clicking on one of the picture icons below.

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Lynn Austin is back with the next book in The Restoration Chronicles series, Keepers of the Covenant. Austin weaves together the struggles and stories of both Jews and Gentiles, creating a tapestry of faith and doubt, love and loss. Here, the Old Testament comes to life, demonstrating the everlasting hope displayed in God's unwavering love for His people.

Lynn is celebrating with a Kindle HDX giveaway and a live author chat webcast on October 21st.



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One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle HDX
  • Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 21st. Winner will be announced at the Keepers of the Covenant LIVE webcast event on October 21st. Connect with Lynn for a fascinating evening centered around God's unwavering love for His people. She'll be hosting a Biblical fiction book club discussion, giving away prizes, answering your questions, offering an exclusive peek at the next book in The Restoration Chronicles, and much more!

So grab your copy of Keepers of the Covenant and join Lynn and friends on the evening of October 21st for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)


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Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 21st!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Keepers of the Covenant


Keepers of the Covenant
By Lynn Austin
The Restoration Chronicles, #2
Bethany House, 2014


Summary

In one life-changing moment, the lives of the Jewish exiles in Babylon are thrown into confusion and despair when a decree arrives from the king's palace in Susa. It calls for the annihilation of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the empire on the thirteenth day of Adar, in less than one year.

Ezra, a quiet but brilliant Jewish scholar and teacher, is suddenly called upon to lead the community as they seek God for a reason for this catastrophe. When a second decree arrives, authorizing them to fight back, Ezra is thrust into the role of military leader as they defend themselves against their enemies.

When the battles come to an end, Ezra's brother Jude is dead and Ezra is required by the Law he so diligently studies to marry Jude's widow, Devorah, and provide an heir. Fatherhood changes Ezra, and he asks God to make a way for him and the other exiles to leave Babylon for good and return to Jerusalem. His prayers are answered and the exiles move to Judea to revitalize worship at the temple---but the fight to keep God's Law is never easy. As more and more of his community are tempted, a new battle emerges . . . this one for the survival of God's covenant and the souls of His chosen faithful.


My thoughts

No matter what genre, Lynn Austin is a masterful storyteller and exquisite writer. Her lyrical prose and characterization immediately capture my attention, her ability to paint word pictures literally puts me into the scene - and with The Restoration Chronicles series, Lynn makes an unfamiliar period of Israel's history shine with its compelling relevancy for today. The narrative closely adheres to Scripture and the addition of fictional characters only makes these events come alive. In Keepers of the Covenant, we see the Covenant God who balanced justice and mercy, law and grace. The best biblical fiction makes me eager to read the scriptural account, and that is exactly what happened here.

The first section of Keepers of the Covenant takes place in Babylon, opening with King Cyrus allowing Haman to issue a decree ordering that all Jews would be killed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, a decree that could not be rescinded (Esther 3:13). Although familiar with the biblical account, for the first time I wondered what it had been like to live each day in the knowledge that you would be killed in a few months. I could sense their fear and despair, questioning, trying to understand why God would allow this.

____________________

Ezra was no closer to discovering the mind of God or a way
to save his people. Instead, he'd discovered the vast difference
between talking about God all day and talking to Him; between
knowing about God and His laws, and knowing God.
____________________

I loved how Keepers of the Covenant focused on Ezra and really came to appreciate this wise spiritual leader. Upon hearing the phrase for such a time as this, we immediately think of Esther, but I believe the same can be said for Ezra. He was a quiet man who loved studying and teaching the Torah. But God had a plan for His remnant, and when the time was right, Ezra was in place to lead.

Secondary characters were fascinating . . . Devorah, who wanted marriage to be a partnership and went before the elders to battle for Ezra . . . Amina, the young Edomite girl who found unconditional love from a Jewish family . . . and Reuben, a Levite who ran far from God in anger, but eventually found redemption.

There was so much that spoke to me in this story, things that make it extremely relevant for us today. Spiritual Babylon's dangers of apathy, assimilation, and compromise are woven throughout, and could anything be more haunting than Ezra's words to Devorah:  "If we aren't careful, we'll wake up one morning and discover we aren't a separate people anymore."

This thought from Reuben's Abba expresses another theme, one that I will take away from this story:  "It's the highest form of praise to keep believing that God is good even when it doesn't seem that way."

Although #2 in the series, Keepers of the Covenant stands alone. You can see my review of the first book, Return to Me, here. I highly recommend Keepers of the Covenant to all readers.


Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin is a former teacher who now writes and speaks full time. Lynn was recently inducted into the Christy Award Hall for Fame for winning eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction. One of those novels, Hidden Places, has also been made into a Hallmark Channel movie. Lynn and her husband have raised three children and make their home near Chicago, Illinois.

Connect with Lynn online at lynnaustin.org, Facebook, and Goodreads. Also see the Litfuse blog tour page to learn more.

Keepers of the Covenant can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Evergreen


Evergreen
By Susan May Warren
A Christiansen Novella
Tyndale House, 2014


Summary

An empty nest has Ingrid Christiansen dreading the upcoming holidays, but her husband, John, couldn’t be more excited about this new season of life. He even has a surprise trip abroad planned. He’s sure she’ll love it. What’s more romantic than Christmas in Paris?

Before he can stop her, however, Ingrid agrees to spearhead a major church project. Then their faithful dog, Butterscotch, needs emergency surgery, draining their savings. And then—because disasters strike in threes—an unexpected guest arrives, dredging up old hurts.

As a beautiful blanket of snow transforms the north woods into a winter wonderland, a deep chill settles over John and Ingrid’s marriage. With the holidays fast approaching, their only hope of keeping their love evergreen depends on turning the page on the past and embracing a new chapter of their future.


My thoughts

Evergreen by Susan May Warren is a Christmas novella with all that you would expect, but with a lot that you would be surprised to find in this story that engages the emotions with its depth and insight. Heartwarming, bittersweet, funny, full of hope, Susan writes with humor and realism, making Evergreen is a wonderfully satisfying and enjoyable read.

I just want to stand and applaud when an author features an older couple as lead characters, and Susan did an outstanding job with John and Ingrid Christiansen. I thought I might be at a disadvantage because I have not read the previous books in the Christiansen family series, but while the grown children who had their own stories are involved, this story easily stands alone. Evergreen falls after book #3 in the series, but readers new to the series can jump right in.

John and Ingrid have been loving, committed parents in the previous books, and now Evergreen gives us some insight into their marriage at a time when an empty next triggers the release of long-buried resentments. It's about the quiet that comes after the children have gone . . . figuring out how to go back to just being "us" . . . confronting old hurts long buried under the sounds and activity of a large family. Ingrid reflects that she and John "were like the old live Nativity tradition - soldiering on despite a lack of attendance."

It is so easy to relate to every character in this book because they feel like old friends, and a story that focuses on forgiveness within marriage is timeless. I experienced a range of emotions throughout, and a story that makes you really feel is a sign of great writing.

On her website, Susan describes Evergreen as "the story of the next season, the snapshots still to be taken."  All parents will experience that empty nest at one time or another, and Evergreen's message of forgiveness and hope captured in those future snapshots rings joyfully. Highly recommended!

Evergreen can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.


Susan May Warren

        Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning novelist of over thirty novels. A five-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award.
        A seasoned women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!
        She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Meet Susan online at susanmaywarren.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thank you to Tyndale and Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Covered Deep


The Covered Deep
By Brandy Vallance
Worthy Publishing, 2014


Summary

An incurably romantic bookworm from Appalachia wins a contest and travels to England and the Holy Land in search of the perfect romantic hero. Set in 1877.

Bianca Marshal is holding out for the perfect husband. Finding a man that meets the requirements of her “must-have” list in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains has proven impossible. Bianca’s mama insists that there’s no such thing as a perfect true love, and that Bianca’s ideal man is pure fiction. On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Bianca discovers a devastating statistic: her chance of marrying is now only eighteen percent. Unwilling to accept spinsterhood, Bianca enters an essay contest that propels her into a whirlwind search for her soulmate. Via the opulence of London and the mysteries of the Holy Land, Bianca’s true love will be revealed, but not without a heavy price.


My thoughts

The Covered Deep, by debut author Brandy Vallance, is a historical romance with depth, written by an author who obviously loves history. The story is unusual, different - and I mean that in a good way. The premise is refreshingly unique, with well-developed characters, twisting plot, and lots of historical detail. I'm no expert on history, but I thought Brandy captured the essence of both Victorian London and the Holy Land in 1877. The writing is good overall and some lines are stylistic gems.

The characters were realistic in their emotions and flaws. Bianca was a young, somewhat naive young lady with unrealistic goals, eager for adventure and romance. And she was attracted to the historian, Paul, from their first meeting - "To say that he was handsome was like saying that the sun had a little bit of shine." But it was Sir Adrian who orchestrated everything - a schemer who selected his travel companions based on their unsuspected relationships, which provides great conflict in the story. I couldn't figure Sir Adrian out for a long time, and it was only toward the end that I began to comprehend his ulterior motives.

The only negatives to me were that I thought the writing could be a little tighter because plot sometimes seemed to take second place to historical descriptions, slowing down the action, and it was also a little difficult to really connect with the characters. But I thoroughly liked Paul and thought the romantic element was sweet, with a touching ending that I loved.

Forgiveness and redemption are key themes, and the title offers a world of meaning, assurance and comfort to us as Christians. Hymns minister to me in a great way, and I loved the worship scene on the ship, with the singing of All the Way My Savior Leads Me. But my favorite scene was when Paul tells Bianca of his conversion two years earlier, describing the evening D. L. Moody preached at Her Majesty's Opera House. His repentance was real, "not just in lip service, and not in the general sort of a way that the English like to consider themselves to be." Paul walked forward as I Will Arise and Go to Jesus was sung, and the words of that beautiful hymn express my thoughts much better than I ever could . . .


Come ye sinners poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity, love and power
I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
O there are then thousand charms

I recommend The Covered Deep to fans of historical romance with depth. Brandy Vallance shows a lot of promise as an author and I would like to read more from her.

The Covered Deep can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.



Brandy Vallance

Brandy Vallance fell in love with the Victorian time period at a young age, adoring the customs, manners, and especially the intricate rules of love. Since time travel is theoretically impossible, she lives in the nineteenth century vicariously through her novels. Brandy’s fondness for tea can only be paralleled by her love of BBC period dramas, deep conversations, and a good book. Brandy lives in Colorado with her adventurous missionary husband, a debonair son who has adopted her love of all things British, and a beautiful daughter who reminds her to pay attention to moments and never lose the wonder.

Meet Brandy online at brandyvallance.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Thank you to Worthy Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.