Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Bound Heart


The Bound Heart
By Dawn Crandall
The Everstone Chronicles, #2
Whitaker House, 2014


Summary

One accidental kiss from Lawry Hampton. That was all it took to throw Meredyth Summercourt's world upside-down.

Determined to marry the ever-elusive Vance Everstone, she simply doesn't have the time or the desire to fall for her best friend. But with Vance out of the country, and with Lawry at her side nearly every day, teaching her what the world is like through the eyes of a little orphan girl named Wynn--Meredyth can't deny that what's holding her to Vance is nothing more than a desire to redeem herself from her past.

Will she marry Vance once he returns from Europe? Or will she be strong enough to break free from the tangled web she's convinced she deserves, and accept that God's plan for her life includes redemption...and, quite possibly, Lawry Hampton?


My thoughts

The Bound Heart is a historical romance set in 1891 New England - from Boston's Back Bay to Maine's picturesque Bar Harbor. The story is beautifully written, with a descriptive prose that is full of feeling, and rich in historical detail. The characters are complex, but so very real . . . storyline is emotionally gripping . . . romance is "swoon worthy," for lack of a better term . . . and the spiritual theme of forgiveness and redemption will touch every reader. The first book in this series, The Hesitant Heiress (reviewed here), is one of my favorite reads of the year, so I picked up The Bound Heart with high expectations and wasn't disappointed.

I'm not sure how to put it into words, but there's just something special about the writing of Dawn Crandall. Her prose is in an atmospheric, first person point of view that harkens back to another era - evocative of the gothic romance style without the scary parts. Each scene has emotional pull and depth. And I love the way Dawn leads into each chapter with a classical quotation that foreshadows the action, which signifies a wealth of literary knowledge.

Meredyth is a character who pulled at my heart strings from the very beginning. Raised in a prominent and wealthy Boston family, she realizes that financial help alone isn't enough, and gets involved in working with orphans. But spiritually, she exemplifies the prison-like and long-reaching effects caused by sin. Feeling that she had failed God and needed to pay the price, Meredyth felt that her only path to redemption was through marriage to a man she didn't love:  "I hated that I felt so bound to Vance, that there seemed to be some invisible, unbreakable thread, stitching us together against our wills."

If I kept a list of favorite male leads, Lawry would be on it. He's compassionate, patient, faithful, steadfast, serves "the least of these," and loves Meredyth with a fierce passion and unconditionally. I prefer characters to be realistically flawed, but Lawry's goodness seemed to fit this story well. My college professor always taught us to look for the "Christ figure" in literature, and I think that description fits Lawry in the way he reflected Jesus to Meredyth and others.

And I have to mention Wynn, the captivating little orphan girl that I hope we see more of in future stories. It just tugged at my heart every time she called Meredyth "Mere'dy."

____________________

"Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for
forgiveness, or else forgiving another."
- Jean Paul Richter
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Spiritual themes are strong, but fit very naturally into the flow of the story. The Bound Heart vividly portrays the meaning behind concepts like sin, guilt, atonement, redemption and grace - and it's so refreshing to find this in Christian fiction today. As I followed Meredyth into both the literal and spiritual cave of darkness toward the end, the words of this beloved worship song came to my mind:  "My chains are gone, I've been set free!"

Highly recommend, 5-star rating based on my enjoyment level.

Visit dawncrandall.blogspot.com to enter the drawing for ebook copies of either The Hesitant Heiress or The Bound Heart. Contest ends on November 24. Book 3, The Captive Imposter, releases February 2015.


Dawn Crandall

        A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education, and aformer bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn’t begin writing until2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream of writing a book. Without a doubt about someday becoming traditionally published, he encouraged her to quit working in order to focus on writing The Hesitant Heiress. It didn’t take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do. Dawn is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary.
        Apart from writing books, Dawn is also a first-time mom to a precious little boy (born March 2014) and also serves with her husband in a pre-marriage mentor program at their local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, secretary for the Indiana ACFW Chapter (Hoosier Ink), and associate member of the Great Lakes ACFW Chapter.
        The Everstone Chronicles is Dawn’s first series with Whitaker House. All three books composing the series were semifinalists in ACFW’s prestigious Genesis Writing Contest, the third book going on to become a finalist in 2013.

Thank you to Dawn Crandall for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Author Spotlight: Carol Moncado


Meet Carol Moncado and learn about her debut inspirational novel, Finding Mr. Write, a humorous contemporary romance . . .



        When she’s not writing about her imaginary friends, Carol Moncado is hanging out with her husband, four kids, and a dog who weighs less than most hard cover books. She prefers watching NCIS to just about anything, except maybe watching Castle. She believes peanut butter M&Ms are the perfect food and Dr. Pepper should come in an IV.
        When not watching her kids – and the dog – race around her big backyard in Southwest Missouri, she’s teaching American Government at a local community college. She’s a founding member and President of MozArks ACFW, category coordinator for First Impressions, blogger at InspyRomance, and represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency.


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        Jeremiah Jacobs moved to the Ozarks for a fresh start. He knows no one and has no plans to get romantically involved with anyone. Ever. He’s already had his heart ripped out once and once is enough. Besides he has contractual obligations that prevent him from talking about work - and what woman would want to be involved with a man who has to keep his job a secret? When he attends his first local writers’ group meeting, he finds the leader so intriguing, his instant attraction to her threatens to complicate his currently uncomplicated life.
        Dorrie Miller has never been good enough. Not for her father or any of the guys she’s dated in the past. She’s pushed beyond her father’s disapproval to have a good career while pursuing her dream of becoming a published novelist. The Christian Authors Network – Dedicated to Inspirational Distinction, or CANDID, is hosting their annual conference in Indianapolis and who’s rumored to be in attendance? The super reclusive, super-star author, Mya Elizabeth Linscott.
        The hunky new member of her local CANDID group, Jeremiah, wants to carpool to Indy. Dorrie can handle not making a fool of herself for eight hours each way. Right? But she never imagined doing a favor for someone during the conference would leave her accidentally married to the gorgeous guy she barely knows. How will she get out of this mess, married to a near stranger? Does she want to? Will her insecurities and Jeremiah’s secrets tear them apart? Or can she trust that, all along, God’s been helping her with Finding Mr. Write?


____________________


Q:  Where did the inspiration for Finding Mr. Write come from?

        The inspiration came from a conversation I had with Casey Herringshaw in the comments on Seekerville one day in mid-2011. We were planning for our first ACFW conference and debated whether or not we should stalk Julie Lessman while there. It turns out we didn’t need to, but the idea had taken root. The original concept had a much more Lucy-Ethel tone to it, but I love the way it turned out.
        So why Mya Elizabeth Linscott? Mya... well, the reason is implied in the book so I won’t spoil it here. I don’t remember the inspiration for Elizabeth, but likely just looking for something with an “E” to make it MEL. Linscott comes from my favorite Mary Connealy hero, Tom Linscott in Sharpshooter in Petticoats.


Q:  Where did the inspiration for Dorrie and Jeremiah come from? What about the skin cancer on Dorrie's nose?

        Dorrie embodies pretty much every author I know, myself included. The insecurities. The fears. The rejection. But with all of that comes friendships that transcend writing. Camaraderie. Growth. And I do know of at least one couple that met at a conference and married later. Her journey mirrors mine in many ways (though not the contest final/win - or the random conference wedding!).
        As for the skin cancer... as I was working on a round of edits for this book, I was diagnosed with exactly what she was. Her experience there also very much mirrors my own - from the nickel-sized crater to the second surgery and the lasering. And yes - my eyelids were numb at one point!
        My husband isn’t a writer, but he’s a lot like Jeremiah in a lot of ways. He’s incredibly supportive and I couldn’t do this writer thing without him. I don’t know where the whole “Prince Caspian” thing came from, but came it did. And I loved it!


Q:  What fun, real-life, stories about writers ended up in Finding Mr. Write?

        When Jeremiah talks about worshiping in a room with several hundred other people who get it, that’s very much a real experience for me and many others. I cry during the first worship session at ACFW - Every. Year.
        But my favorite story is about Dorrie and the writer she was talking to in the elevator. At ACFW 2012 in Dallas, a woman walked into the elevator. We greeted each other like long lost friends. About halfway through the elevator ride, we realized we didn’t know each other, but neither of us wanted to admit it. To this day, I can’t tell you who I thought she was. And vice-versa. We ran into each other constantly that year. In Indianapolis in 2013, we hung out a lot on purpose and she joined my critique group (though she fails to see the wisdom in adding dinosaurs to a WWII epic - sigh). This year, in St. Louis, we were roommates with plans for Dallas again next year. I thank God for the best “oops you’re not who I thought you were” ever! Jen Cvelbar is a true blessing!


Q:  Where exactly is Serenity Landing?

Serenity Landing is a fictionalized version of Republic, Missouri - about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years now and wouldn’t trade it for anything! Look for a Serenity Landing website, coming soon! Most (all?) of the books I have planned are connected to this town in one way or another, so you’ll learn a lot more about it as they go on.


Q:  What books are coming out next?

This is the beginning of my “grand opening” as an author! Six books are releasing this year and I’m working to finish them up right now.




Finally Mr. Write: CANDID Romance book 2; November 24, 2014
Falling for Mr. Write: CANDID Romance book 3; December 2014




Good Enough for a Princess: The Montevaro Monarchy book 1; November 17, 2014
Along Came a Prince: The Montevaro Monarchy book 2; December 2014
More Than a Princess: The Montevaro Monarchy book 3; December 2014


Connect with Carol at carolmoncado.com and on her Inspy Romance blog.

Finding Mr. Write is available for Kindle readers at Amazon for $3.99.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Where Treetops Glisten


Where Treetops Glisten
By Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, & Sarah Sundin
WaterBrook Press, 2014



Very often a novella collection just seems to hit the spot, and there's something special about a Christmas collection. Where Treetops Glisten is a seamless collaboration by three talented writers who just happen to know quite a bit about World War II - Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin. With its family emphasis, spiritual insights, World War II theme, romance, and the clever use of beloved Christmas carols that debuted during the era, this collection stands out among other Christmas stories. While the authors' writing flows together effortlessly, I liked that I could recognize each one's unique voice. These entertaining and uplifting stories couldn't be more perfect for the Christmas season!

Spanning three Decembers from 1942 to 1944, Where Treetops Glisten centers on the Turner siblings and their experiences during the war. Characters are richly drawn, the romances are heartwarming, and the realities of war are not downplayed. Whether set at home in Lafayette, Indiana or on the front in the Netherlands, the characterization and historical detail makes each story feel real. The contrast in mood also worked extremely well, making the overall collection very appealing. I enjoyed each story and wouldn't want to pick a favorite, for they felt like three parts of a whole.


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White Christmas
By Cara Putman
Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements---until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.

        It was in Cara's story that I first connected with and fell in love with the Turners, a family who had known deep grief, but still believed in God's providence during tumultuous times. The wise grandmother, Louise, gives the stories cohesion, but Robert Turner is a strong character in White Christmas and the mutual father/daughter love and respect was moving.
        Abigail's sensitivity made her so easy to connect with - a college student who "felt overlooked in between a fighter pilot and soon-to-be nursing sensation." Cara's story brings out how God places people in our path when needed, and I thought Grandma's words to Abigail especially meaningful:  "No tears are wasted, unless you allow their cause to freeze you in place."



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I'll Be Home for Christmas
By Sarah Sundin
Abigail's brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete's friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he's no longer the bully she once knew?


        Sarah's story focuses on a war hero returning home with memories that rocked him to the core, a man who had retreated into "numbness, hard work, and solitude." There's good character depth as we see the contrast between Pete's old life and the person he had become in Christ. And Grace's daughter, Linnie, will steal readers' hearts!
        Sarah's story contains another voice of wisdom that I appreciated, and that's Pastor Hughes. I think his advice - not to try to be as good as someone else, but to be the best we can be - speaks to all of us from time to time. And his words to Pete offer godly wisdom when we just can't seem to move forward:  "When you're empty inside, the best thing you can do is give. Find a need, step outside of yourself, and give."


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Field hospital in Nieuwenhagen



Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
By Tricia Goyer
Meredith Turner, "Merry" to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that's precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.


        Tricia's moving story takes us to the frontline, in a field hospital in the Dutch village of Nieuwenhagen, and enables the reader to feel the horror of war. Merry, who wanted to leave the small town of Lafayette behind, comes to realize that she is here by God's design - and there's a romantic twist that readers will love.
        Daaf, who worked at great risk "to save the lives of the defenseless and helpless," is a character I greatly admired. The words of his uncle are speak to us all:  "Remember that there are times when your life must take a backseat to the needs of many. . . . Remember that there are some things worth fighting for."

Where Treetops Glisten is one of my favorite Christmas reads and I highly recommend it to all readers.



TRICIA GOYER is a prolific author of nearly forty books, including Chasing Mona Lisa, and a speaker and blogger.
Website, Facebook, Twitter

CARA PUTMAN is the author of twenty books including Shadowed by Grace. She is the winner of the 2008 Carol Award for historical fiction.
Website, Facebook, Twitter

SARAH SUNDIN is the critically-acclaimed author of the Wings of the Nightingale series, the Wings of Glory series, and the forthcoming Waves of Freedom novels.
Website, Facebook, Twitter

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: If You Follow Me


If You Follow Me
By Pam Rhodes
The Dunbridge Chronicles, #3
Lion Fiction, 2014


Summary

In the parish of Dunbridge, the news is out--Claire and Neil are engaged! And yet, almost before the celebrations have begun, Ben, the father of Claire's son, appears back on the scene--keen to pick up where he and Claire left off.

As Neil reels in the face of Claire's confusion, Wendy always seems to be there to provide support and comfort. Little does he know of Wendy's involvement in Ben's reappearance . . .

However, Neil has little chance to ponder his love life as the whole weight of running the church and parish descends upon his inexperienced shoulders. His mother, Iris, who has never hesitated to share her opinions, has just moved to be near him and Neil's time as a curate in Dunbridge is coming swiftly to an end. Where should he go next, and just who will go with him?


My thoughts

I greatly enjoy British fiction with small village settings populated by quirky characters, and I found If You Follow Me by Pam Rhodes a delightful read. I chose to read this book, knowing that it was contemporary fiction with a religious backdrop rather than Christian fiction, and that any theology contained would be similar to that of mainline churches and therefore somewhat more liberal than I'm used to, and that's okay for a novel. I read it from the standpoint of enjoying the small-village setting, quirky characters, and plot - and was pleasantly surprised by its moving spiritual beauty.

If You Follow Me, book #3 of the Dunbridge Chronicles, is set in the small, picturesque town of Dunbridge and the St. Stephens church where the young Neil Fisher takes up his first curacy. Reading the previous two books would have given me a greater familiarity with the cast, but I had no problem reading this as a standalone, although I definitely plan to complete the series.

Neil is a sensitive and compassionate leader who struggles with handling the responsibilities of St. Stephens while still in training. I wasn't sure what to think about his engagement to a non-believer, but I found Claire appealing and came to appreciate the qualities she and Neil had in common, as well as the way she supported his ministry. I can't help but believe that if there were more books in this series, we would see Claire grow spiritually.

As with similar stories to this, one of the strengths lies in the eclectic mix of characters, and Pam did a masterful job at depicting life in a small English parish. There's a sense of unity and belonging, conveyed through humanness, wit, and poignancy. Some situations are really humorous, such as a wedding scene where Neil officiates, while others are touching, like little Rosie seeing an angel during a fire.

But it was the story of Blanche and Ernie that I found especially moving. Married sixty-three years, they had learned to laugh together through life's hard times. I'd like to end with Neil's descriptive words:  "They saw the positive in every experience, the best in each other, the best in the people they met, and God in everything around them. And one of the most wonderful of their many blessings was their love of laughter. They laughed at and with each other every day of their lives."

Pam Rhodes certainly has her finger on the pulse of village and church life, characterization, and the use of hymnody. Even if this series ends, I hope Pam will write more stories of a similar nature. I recommend If You Follow Me to all who enjoy cozy fiction.



Pam Rhodes

        Pam Rhodes cut her teeth in news journalism, firstly as Programme Organiser on Thames Television's network documentary series, This Week, then as the anchor for Anglia Television live daily evening news programme for seven years. She's featured on a very wide range of television and radio programmes ever since, but since 1987, has been best known as the familiar face of BBC Television's Songs of Praise. In that time she has interviewed people ranging from The Pope to Dolly Parton, earning herself a reputation as a highly professional and empathetic interviewer, especially when people are speaking about sensitive, perhaps traumatic experiences.
        Also, Songs of Praise is the perfect programme for a presenter who truly loves hymns, old and new. If you mention almost any hymn you can think of to Pam, she's likely to come back with the full story of who wrote it and why, as well as giving you renditions of a couple of tunes to which it can be sung - as you'd know if you've ever dipped into any of her weekly radio programmes With Hearts and Hymns, which have featured on Premier Christian Radio for a decade!

Meet Pam online at pamrhodes.co.uk and Facebook.

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