Monday, September 15, 2014

Review + GIVEAWAY: A Place Called Hope


A Place Called Hope
By Philip Gulley
Hope Series, #1
Center Street, 2014


Summary

Fans of the critically acclaimed Harmony  series will delight in the return of its central character, Sam Gardner, in this new series by Gulley.

When Quaker Pastor Sam Gardner is asked by the ill Unitarian minister to oversee a wedding in his place, Sam naturally agrees. It's not until the couple stands before him that he realizes they're two women. In the tempest of strong opinions and misunderstandings that follows the incident, Sam faces potential unemployment. Deeply discouraged, he wonders if his pastoral usefulness has come to an end. Perhaps it's time for a change. After all, his wife has found a new job at the library, his elder son is off to college, and the younger has decided to join the military once he graduates high school.

Sam is contemplating a future selling used cars when he receives a call from a woman in the suburban town of Hope, Indiana. It seems Hope Friends Meeting is in desperate need of a pastor. Though they only have twelve members, they also have a beautiful meetinghouse and a pie committee (Sam is fond of pie). But can he really leave his beloved hometown of Harmony?


My thoughts

Philip Gulley's stories are a delight and A Place Called Hope is a great beginning to this new series. With its humor and focus on small-town life and quirky characters, this story is the perfect cozy read. Fans of Philip's previous Harmony series will enjoy being reunited with Quaker minister Sam Gardner and other characters from Harmony, and new ones as well.

Although this book revolves around a Quaker minister and his congregation, I would describe it more as mainstream rather than Christian fiction, for it deals with some intense and controversial issues in an accepting and open-minded way that will make some readers uncomfortable. I don't think Philip has an agenda, though; it felt like he was merely writing his personal beliefs into the story. And that's okay, because the strengths of this book made it an enjoyable read for me - its humor, colorful characters, and Philip's great ability to bring out the eccentricities of small-town America.

Sam is an interesting character - he likes people and loves the ministry. But while ministry is rewarding, it can also be difficult - and it seemed that Sam had more than his share of difficult people to deal with on a daily basis. I liked that he was quick to admit his failings and even laugh at himself. I don't know much about the Quaker faith and found that aspect interesting also.

A Place Called Hope is a book about change - society's changing attitudes, a different personal life after their boys leave home, a change in ministry, and possibly even a career change. But at its heart is hope as Sam experiences closure and the excitement of a fresh start.

I find much enjoyment and laughter in Philip Gulley's writing and look forward to the next book in this series. Recommended to those who like to read mainstream stories about small-town life and populated with warm, quirky characters.

A Place Called Hope can be purchased online at Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, and Amazon. Book two, A Lesson in Hope, releases in 2015.




Philip Gulley, a Quaker pastor, has become the voice of small-town American life. Along with writing Front Porch Tales, Hometown Tales, and For Everything a Season, he is the author of the Harmony series of novels. Gulley lives in Indiana with his wife, Joan, and their sons. Connect with Philip online at philipgulley.com.

Thank you to Katie Connors and Center Street for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


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GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing for A Place Called Hope, simply leave a comment answering the question below. E-mail address are required for the drawing and be sure to leave them in a safe format - [at] and [dot]. If you're willing, it's also helpful to share about this giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter.


Question:
Do you find stories with small-town settings enjoyable?

Please "like" my Facebook page, ThePowerofWordsBookReviews, if you haven't already. And new followers of this blog are always welcome!


  • E-mail required, one entry per person. Odds of winning are based on number of entries.
  • Contest ends at midnight PST on Wednesday, September 24. No purchase necessary.
  • Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail  by Saturday, September 27. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.
  • Eligibility: US residents, 18 and older

Review: The Desire


The Desire
By Dan Walsh & Gary Smalley
Restoration series, #3
Revell, 2014


Summary

Can faith build a bridge between their dreams?

For two years, Allan and Michele have been trying to have a baby. The emotional ride has been taking a toll on their hearts--and their relationship. Michele is obsessed with researching fertility treatments while Allan seems content to spend his time--and their money--on supporting displaced children in Africa. Something's got to give. But they both hope it's not their marriage.

Still, God has a plan for Allan and Michele that they could never have imagined. And all it takes to set it in motion is a change of heart . . .


My thoughts

The Restoration Series is an extremely well-written family drama that combines the literary talents of Dan Walsh and the relationship expertise of Gary Smalley. These stories pull back the curtain of a family that has laid their foundation on shifting sand, but is slowly rediscovering genuine love and the power of forgiveness. The authors did a great job in writing so that each story can stand alone, but I highly recommend reading from the beginning straight through in order to understand the characters' backgrounds.

Book one, The Dance, is the parents' story, and we quickly see that Jim Anderson's insensitivities as husband and father cast a long shadow over his three children. Book two, The Promise, is the oldest son's story and now The Desire focuses on daughter Michele. The Andersons could easily be the family next door and I immediately connected with them. I have enjoyed everything about this series, especially the way family members love and support each other as marital conflicts surface.

The Desire stands out because it deals with some sensitive issues - infertility, adoption, and foreign missions. Michele seemed selfish in her all-consuming desire to get pregnant, yet I could relate to her because pregnancy didn't come quickly for me and I often received thoughtless comments from well-intentioned friends. Allan's passion for the mission work in Ethiopia was moving, and I don't think I'll ever get the image of Korah, the urban slum in Addis Ababa, out of my mind. I would have liked to see Allan's character fleshed out a little more, but that didn't really detract from my enjoyment.

Michele's struggle makes me realize how easy it is to be so blinded by what we want or desire that we can't accept other options. We see beautiful spiritual growth in Michele as she comes to realize that she can't love God and others in the way He asks under her own ability. Michele says it best in these words:  "When we're loving God wholeheartedly - which grace helps us to do - we're finally putting him in the highest place in our hearts. He becomes the object of supreme value. And we start looking to him to meet our deepest needs instead of to other people and other things."

The secondary plot with Christina was also enjoyable and I loved her growing friendship with the youngest Anderson son, Doug. I believe Doug is going to need a friend with a strong faith very soon and I look forward to their story in the next book.

Storylines will continue, so everything wasn't neatly tied up. The ending is emotionally touching, and all who read this story will want more of precious little Ayana. Highly recommended.



Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of several books, including The Dance and The Promisewith Gary Smalley, as well as The Unfinished GiftThe Discovery, and The Reunion. He has won three Carol Awards, and two of his novels were finalists for RT Book Reviews Inspirational Book of the Year for 2011 and 2012. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Dan served as a pastor for twenty-five years. He lives with his wife in the Daytona Beach area, where he's busy researching and writing his next novel. Visit danwalshbooks.com for more.



Gary Smalley

Gary Smalley is one of the country's best known authors and speakers on family relationships. He is the bestselling and award-winning author or coauthor of 16 books, along with several popular films and videos. He has spent over 30 years learning, teaching, and counseling, speaking to over 2 million people in live conferences. Smalley has appeared on national television programs such as OprahLarry King LiveExtra,The Today Show, and The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, as well as numerous national radio programs. Gary and his wife, Norma, have been married for 50 years and live in Branson, Missouri. They have three children and six grandchildren.

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

“Love & Cupcakes” Kindle Giveaway and Facebook Party from @BetsyStAmant!

Don't miss Betsy St. Amant's latest fiction release, All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes. A "sweet" tale of two best friends and the choices they make between dreams and a possible "sure thing," St. Amant's novel is sure to satisfy your romantic-fiction craving.


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Betsy is celebrating with a fun Kindle giveaway and a Love & Cupcakes Facebook party! One winner will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle
  • All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 18th. Winner will be announced at the "Love & Cupcakes" Author Chat Party on 9/18. Betsy will be hosting a "sweet" book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at her next book project!

So grab your copy of All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes and join Betsy on the evening of September 18th 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!)


Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 18th!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Author Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Lorna Seilstad


After reading my first of Lorna Seilstad's books recently, I can certainly say that it is an honor to have her with us for the next few days. Lorna is a funny, sensitive, and talented author who writes historical romance with a charm, and she has become one of my favorites. You can see my review of While Love Stirs, book #2 in the Gregory Sisters Series, here.

Lorna has a great sense of humor, and I just have to share these words from her website:  "I taught high school English until my oldest child was born. After that I began my career as a professional wiper. I wiped noses, counter tops, tiny tushes, tears, and scraped knees."

Lorna is graciously giving a copy of While Love Stirs to one of you and entry details follow this interview. Now enjoy Lorna . . .


Q:  Have you always wanted to write, Lorna, and does your writing fit into a particular style or genre?

I’ve wanted to write since the fourth grade. I have always loved making up stories. My writing style is often described as breezy. As far as genre, I always say that I write historical romance with a generous dash of humor.


Q:  Please share 3 random or surprising facts about you.

1) I have potty trained over 20 children. I did daycare for about 15 years.
2) I knew I’d marry my husband the night we met. It scared me to death, and I didn’t talk to him for months.
3) Like Charlotte in While Love Stirs, I love to cook. I grew up on a pig farm. My mother made me a deal. I could either cook supper—and do it well—or I could scoop pig pens. Needless to say, it was great motivation to become a good cook.


Q:  I understand from your bio that you enjoy working with youth, Lorna. Is there a special experience or child's story that has touched you over the years?

There have been several, but I’m especially close to a little girl right now whose mother is in jail. This little girl is a tenacious, spirited survivor. Not only does she come to church on her own (a member brings her), but she brings two neighbors. I’d love to pack her up and take her home.


Q:  Tell us about the Gregory Sisters Series and how the novel we're featuring today, While Love Stirs, fits in.

After the death of their parents from influenza, the Gregory sisters must pull together to survive. They make a promise to support one another’s dreams. While Love Stirs is the story of the middle sister, Charlotte, whose dream was to have her own restaurant.


Q:  What will draw readers to Charlotte and Joel?

Great question. I think both Charlotte and Joel are very real. Joel is a little OCD, and Charlotte knows what she wants, but doesn’t always present her thoughts in the most productive manner. I always try to create main characters that a reader would like to have as a friend—warts and all.


Q:  Times have certainly changed! Putting yourself in Charlotte's place, how would you have responded to these words of Chef Reisen:  "Go home, little cook. You don't belong in a real kitchen. No woman does"?

Since I’m not as confrontational as Charlotte, I would have probably suffered in silence. That’s why it’s so much fun to write characters who will stand up for themselves. The attitude of some men of that day is hard to take. The chef wasn’t being mean with his   condescending words. It was an accepted attitude that’s hard for us to imagine.


Q:  I loved these words of wisdom from Molly's character:  "God doesn't want us to settle for what's in front of our face. He wants to bless us with things beyond our imagination." Have you found this to be true in your own life, Lorna?

Absolutely! When I held my first published book in my hands, I was overwhelmed by this thought. I would have probably kept on writing stories for my friends if I hadn’t felt God’s strong nudging that it was time to seek publication. Then, he opened doors in absolutely amazing ways that I couldn’t have possibly imagined.


Q:  What do you hope readers will take away from While Love Stirs?

I hope readers will take away the importance relying on God and not on ourselves. We all expect to be so self-sufficient today that I think we forget to let God fill our empty vessels.


Q:  What stories can readers expect from you in the days ahead?

As Love Blooms, the story of Tessa, the youngest Gregory sister, will come out in April 2015. It was such a fun story to write!


Q:  How can we support and/or pray for you, Lorna?

I would greatly appreciate prayers for my writing ministry. I want the stories I write to minister to those who need a little boost of encouragement and joy in their lives. As a relatively new writer, the best way my reader friends can support me, besides prayer, is by telling others about my books.

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Lorna, I am so glad to have discovered your writing! It has been a joy having you here and I hope you will come back soon. Readers, you can learn more about Lorna and her writing at lornaseilstad.com.


GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing for While Love Stirs, simply leave a comment about Lorna's interview or a question for her. E-mail address are required for the drawing and be sure to leave them in a safe format - [at] and [dot]. If you're willing, it's also helpful to share about this giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Please "like" my Facebook page, ThePowerofWordsBookReviews, if you haven't already. And new followers of this blog are always welcome!


  • E-mail required, one entry per person. Odds of winning are based on number of entries.
  • Contest ends at midnight PST on Friday, September 19. No purchase necessary.
  • Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail by Monday, September 22. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.
  • Eligibility: US residents, 18 and older

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: The Promise


The Promise
By Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley
Restoration series, #2
Revell, 2013


The Promise is book two in a beautiful series that combines the literary talents of Dan Walsh and the relationship expertise of Gary Smalley. The Restoration Series pulls back the curtain of a family that has laid their foundation on shifting sand, but is slowly rediscovering genuine love and the power of forgiveness.


Summary

One home, two hearts, and the power of a promise kept . . .

For the last five months, Tom Anderson has been without a job, a fact he's been hiding from his wife Jean--and everyone else. He leaves each morning, pretending nothing has changed, and spends his disheartening day rotating through coffee shops and the library, using their wifi to search job listings online. The stress of keeping this secret is beginning to put serious strain on his marriage.

But Tom's not the only one hiding something. Jean Anderson has a secret of her own--one that will seriously complicate their situation. Will the promises they made on their wedding day hold firm?


My thoughts

When it comes to my favorite genre, character-driven/relationship stories, Dan Walsh has always delivered - and continues to do so in the Restoration series co-authored with Gary Smalley. This is a series that entertains, engages the emotions, spiritually uplifts, and makes readers think about the relationships in their life.

This novel begins approximately seven months after the ending of book one, The Dance. Jim and Marilyn are happily together and on their second honeymoon, but still working on minor challenges in their marriage. I'm as big of a romance fan as anyone, but we all know the story doesn't end with "I do." What I appreciate most about this series is that it focuses on the struggles and problems couples face, exemplified by the Anderson family - beginning with Jim and Marilyn, and radiating on down to their three grown children. It's hard to separate this book from the whole series, because they all blend together.

The Promise focuses on Tom and Jean, Jim's son and daughter-in-law. The whole Anderson family could live in my neighborhood, they're that real - and I love following their stories. Tom had spent his life to date "trying to win the approval and affections of a man who somehow managed to remain continually just out of reach." And when his life and marriage began falling apart, he couldn't let his father find out about the mess he had made. Jean was a loyal wife who, in Marilyn's words, tried to cope by "hiding her hurts and fears, sometimes even from herself, hoping that things between them will get better if she can just hold on a little longer, give things a little more time."

Communication, trust, sharing struggles and working through hard times together are key factors in this story, but for Jim, everything goes further back than he realizes. In the words of one of my favorite characters, Jim's uncle Henry, it's the Anderson legacy - "harsh, demanding fathers begetting more harsh, demanding fathers. No one ever being truly happy, or ever measuring up to their father's expectations or experiencing the simple joy of hearing the words "I'm proud of you, son."

I can't help but think of the reference in James 3 about the power of the tongue - and especially when it comes to children, the power to build them up or tear them down. Dan writes in his author's notes at the end:  "It happens a lot, even in solid Christian families - parents who love their children but fail to recognize their great need for regular encouragement and blessing."

The Promise is a moving, compelling story of God's grace and how He can work in our lives when we give control over to Him. The Anderson family may be fictional, but I've come to care about them as Dan and Gary entertain and seamlessly weave relational gems into their writing. Everything isn't tied up in a neat bow, but the ending is one of happiness and life-changing promise. I look forward to Michele and Allan's story in book three, The Desire.


Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of several books, including The Dance and The Promisewith Gary Smalley, as well as The Unfinished GiftThe Discovery, and The Reunion. He has won three Carol Awards, and two of his novels were finalists for RT Book Reviews Inspirational Book of the Year for 2011 and 2012. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Dan served as a pastor for twenty-five years. He lives with his wife in the Daytona Beach area, where he's busy researching and writing his next novel. Visit danwalshbooks.com for more.


Gary Smalley

Gary Smalley is one of the country's best known authors and speakers on family relationships. He is the bestselling and award-winning author or coauthor of 16 books, along with several popular films and videos. He has spent over 30 years learning, teaching, and counseling, speaking to over 2 million people in live conferences. Smalley has appeared on national television programs such as OprahLarry King LiveExtra,The Today Show, and The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, as well as numerous national radio programs. Gary and his wife, Norma, have been married for 50 years and live in Branson, Missouri. They have three children and six grandchildren.

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: A Light in the Wilderness


A Light in the Wilderness
By Jane Kirkpatrick
Revell, 2014


Summary

Letitia holds nothing more dear than the papers that prove she is no longer a slave. They may not cause most white folks to treat her like a human being, but at least they show she is free. She trusts in those words she cannot read--as she is beginning to trust in Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant cattleman who wants her to come west with him.

Nancy Hawkins is loathe to leave her settled life for the treacherous journey by wagon train, but she is so deeply in love with her husband and she knows she will follow him anywhere--even when the trek exacts a terrible cost.

Betsy is a Kalapuya Indian, the last remnant of a once proud tribe in the Willamette Valley in Oregon territory. She spends her time trying to impart the wisdom and ways of her people to her grandson. But she will soon have another person to care for.

As season turns to season, suspicion turns to friendship, and fear turns to courage, three spirited women will discover what it means to be truly free in a land that makes promises it cannot fulfill. This multilayered story from bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick will grip your heart and mind as you travel on the dusty and dangerous Oregon Trail into the boundless American West. Based on a true story.


My thoughts

Letitia's story needed to be told and Jane Kirkpatrick is the one to tell it. I've read enough of Jane's novels to know that readers can trust her to create an accurate story through meticulous research, and turn it into a compelling read through the eyes of fiction. Letitia's story is one of courage and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, faith in God, and a most satisfying triumphant ending.

"She had imagined the day she would escape; it would be high noon when people least expected them to run, when the dogs lay panting in the Kentucky sun and the patrols rested, not seeking a colored woman making her way to freedom."

The first sentence captures the heart of Letitia. A Light in the Wilderness is the moving and poignant story of Letitia Carson, a little-known African-American pioneer - one of the first black women to cross the Oregon Trail in 1845, giving birth along the way. Characterization is strong and the setting is vividly conveyed, but I think the story's main strength is that Letitia is a character to which everyone can relate. It was easy to connect with what she was feeling, seeing, and experiencing - from her desire to be recognized as free to her need to be treated as a partner and a person of worth. I loved her thoughts about the wisdom of relocating:  "She wasn't sure what drew people from their homelands to the unknown, what certainty they felt compelled to set aside for the imaginations of a future believed to be somehow in a 'better place.' There could be no better place than where one was . . ."

Letitia was free, yet treated as a slave; married, but not in the eyes of the law. It's always hard to read about man's cruelty to certain races or classes of people, and that is vividly pictured in this novel. Every time I see the word "exclusion" from now on, it will bring Letitia's story to mind. And I can't help but wonder, have we really come all that far today?

I enjoyed the Author's Note section at the end, and wanted to share Jane's words concerning the personal impact of A Light in the Wilderness:  "I discovered the nature of freedom in the midst of chains and the strength of character it takes to persevere through the bondage of the spirit and the law. Safety is a state of mind, a matter of faith."

I enjoyed A Light in the Wilderness and recommend it to all who enjoy well-crafted historical fiction.






A Light in the Wilderness can be purchased online at christianbook.com, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.



Jane Kirkpatrick

Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the coveted Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have been finalists for the Christy Award, Spur Award, Oregon Book Award, and Reader's Choice awards, and have won the WILLA Literary Award and Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Many of her titles have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. Jane lives in Central Oregon with her husband, Jerry.

Connect with Jane online at jkbooks.com, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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