Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days


What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days
By Holley Gerth
Revell, 2014


Summary

In this uplifting book, Holley Gerth invites readers to sit down with her to be filled with the strength, peace, and joy that come from God's promises to us. Each of the 52 devotions based on the Psalms will help weary women remember that God is good and we're all in this together. Whether it's a bad hair day or a broken heart, Holley offers hope and encouragement to get us through whatever life brings.

Women need that kind of encouragement because we all have hard days--days that make us want to give up, retreat inside ourselves, and drown our sorrows in a pint of ice cream. And while we may crave all sorts of things to ease the pain we feel in our hearts, what we really need is truth. We need to be confident in God's character and his promises. We need to remember--and celebrate--who he made us to be. And we need exactly the kind of encouragement Holley Gerth loves to offer.


My thoughts

What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days by Holley Gerth is a beautiful book for personal reflection and encouragement. It contains 52 meditations, each entitled with an important truth drawn from the Psalms. As Holley says in the intro:  "The book of Psalms is like a table covered with God's goodness. It's a place I'm often drawn to when I'm feeling down." I enjoyed reviewing this book and look forward to using these meditative thoughts over the next few months.

Each chapter begins with a short illustration or life observation, and ends with the opportunity to talk to God and listen for His voice. This devotional could be read as a daily or weekly devotional, and can be enjoyed by both new and seasoned believers. It also makes a great way to lead into a time of Bible study.

No matter where you are in life or what you're going through, there's just something special about the way the psalms speak to us, which is why I was initially drawn to this devotional, and Holley beautifully highlights many spiritual truths. I once heard a pastor say that we are either in the middle of a painful time, just coming out of one, or will soon be entering one - so everyone will find this book helpful and uplifting. In fact, its theme reminds me of the classic Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman.

Here are just a few quotes from the book that spoke to me:

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry (Psalm 10:17).  "What if God's cheering as you take your first step into a day that's not one you want to face? What if instead of saying, 'Get it together,' he's whispering, 'Let's do this together'?"

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 63:7).  Jesus "put himself between us and this world. He stretched out on a cross, and with his arms spread wide like wings, he said that we could all come there for protection."

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul (Psalm 23:1-3).  "A full schedule and an empty heart is a sure sign that it's time to draw closer to the Shepherd again."

I recommend What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days as a devotional resource. This book can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.


Holley Gerth

        Holley Gerth is a bestselling writer, certified life coach, and speaker. She loves connecting with the hearts of women through her popular blog and books like You're Already AmazingYou're Made for a God-Sized DreamOpening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream, and You're Going to Be Okay. She's also cofounder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring. Holley lives with her husband, Mark, in the South.
        This book is the perfect companion to Holley's book You're Going to Be Okay.

Meet Holley online at holleygerth.com, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: The Hesitant Heiress


The Hesitant Heiress
By Dawn Crandall
The Everstone Chronicles, #1
Whitaker House, 2014


Summary

After being unjustly expelled from the Boston Conservatory of Music, Amaryllis Brigham sees her dreams of founding a music academy disappearing before her very eyes. Now the only way to achieve her goal comes with high stakes for someone set on avoiding men as much as possible: marry within the year to inherit her grandmother’s fortune. Amaryllis reluctantly takes part in her aunt’s society, intent on getting to the west coast on her own… and without a husband.

Despite her own misgivings, she soon finds herself falling in love with the most unlikely of men, Nathan Everstone, whose father not only had a part in her expulsion, but whose ominous presence has haunted her dreams for a decade since her mother’s tragic death. Nathan turns out to be much more than he seems and everything she never knew she wanted. But just as everything Amaryllis has recently hoped for comes to fruition, it all falls apart when she finds that the real culprit who has been managing her life isn't who she thought at all.


My thoughts

I'm so glad author Dawn Crandall gave me the opportunity to review her impressive debut novel because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Hesitant Heiress is a historical romance set in 1890 New England - from Boston's Back Bay to Maine's Bar Harbor. The prose is polished and realistic for the times, characters are complex, the plot captured my attention, and . . . well, let me just say that fans of tender romance will find much to enjoy here!

Aside from the pure entertainment factor of this story, The Hesitant Heiress stands out to me because of its uniqueness and complexity. Although not a Regency, it features the polite social mannerisms, quiet humor, and expectations of behavior - especially where women are concerned - of writers like Georgette Heyer. Other factors - such as the setting, hint of mystery, and first-person point of view - are evocative of Gothic romance writers like Victoria Holt. Being a long-time fan of both of these styles made me feel right at home, often with a smile on my face as I turned the pages.

The way Dawn led into each chapter with a classic quote also added much richness and insight. For instance, it's great the way this quote from The Three Musketeers leads into a scene between Amaryllis and Nathan:  "You are very amiable, no doubt, but you would be charming if you would only depart."



Castle Rock, Nahant Island


Dawn did a great job at creating a sense and feel of place, making locations come alive. One of my favorite chapters describes a social outing north of Boston to a place called Nahant Island, home of one of Bram's hotels that looked like "an oversized cottage with walls of windows overlooking the coast." A touching and memorable scene takes place on the rocky coast and a boulder named Castle Rock. To get a feel for all the visual images created by this story, be sure to visit Dawn's Pinterest board for The Hesitant Heiress.

Amaryllis and Nathan are likeable lead characters who immediately drew me to them. Amaryllis, a talented pianist who wants to establish her own academy of music, is frustrated to discover that she must marry in order to inherit. Nathan, born to wealth, has come to realize that there is a lot more to life, as evidenced in his words to Amaryllis:  "The impressiveness that comes from having such a large amount of money is quite overrated. Were you aware that all anyone really cares to know of me is the fact that I am born into the Everstone family, and that I am therefore wealthy beyond reason?" Nathan's father, Bram Everstone, is Amaryllis's nemesis and part of her reason for seeing men as controlling and undependable - and cause for her recurring nightmares. Although we don't see Bram until close to the end, he is a major character who casts a compelling shadow throughout.

The part that music played in this story was something else I really connected with. As a former student at the Boston Conservatory of Music, Amaryllis often had to entertain at the piano, and I loved how Dawn seemed to find pieces that expressed Amaryllis's mood at the current time. Nathan once commented to Amaryllis:  "Your piano playing has become alarmingly turbulent as the months have gone by. . . . Not once have you played anything as calm and relaxing as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata since the night of Claudine’s dinner party back in March."


____________________

"There are moments when, whatever be the attitude
of the body, the soul is on its knees."
- Victor Hugo
____________________


Faith is the backbone of this story, and we see that God has transformed Nathan from the man he used to be. For something that should be as natural as breathing for the Christian, I don't know why a scene like this surprises me, but I found Nathan praying over Amaryllis so in character and moving:

Nathan reached out and put his arms around me, bowing his head close to my shoulder, and whispered, "Lord God, I thank You for bringing Amaryllis into my life. Please watch over and protect her while I’m unable to be with her in these coming days. Strengthen her heart, Lord, that she may trust me as she trusts You. For I’ve taken Your commands to heart, and I strive to love her as You have. I would do anything for her."

Writing this review has made me want to go back and read The Hesitant Heiress again. Character-driven stories are my favorite, and I highly recommend this novel to all who enjoy gently-paced stories with charm and character depth. 5-star rating because of its uniqueness and how much I enjoyed it.

The Hesitant Heiress can be purchased online at CBD, B&N, and Amazon. Book 2, The Bound Heart, releases November 2014. 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.

Meet Dawn online at dawncrandall.blogspot.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Home to Chicory Lane


Home to Chicory Lane
By Deborah Raney
Chicory Inn Series, #1
Abingdon Press, 2014


Summary

Home to Chicory Lane offers a tender mix between big-city New York and small-town Langhorne, between big family drama and a faith that binds them together---for better or worse.

Landyn longs for home, but her mother may have other plans.

Audrey Whitman's dreams are coming true. Now that their five kids are grown, she and her husband, Grant, are turning their beloved family home into a cozy bed and breakfast just a mile outside of Langhorne, Missouri.

Opening weekend makes Audrey anxious, with family and friends coming from all over to help celebrate the occasion. But when Audrey's daughter, Landyn, arrives, the U-Haul she's pulling makes it clear she's not just here for a few days. Audrey immediately has questions. What happened in New York that sent Landyn running home? Where was Landyn's husband, Chase? And what else was her daughter not telling her? One thing was for sure, the Chicory Inn was off to a rocky start. Can Audrey still realize her dream and at the same time provide the comfort of home her daughter so desperately needs?


My thoughts

With Home to Chickory Lane, book one in the Chicory Inn series, Deborah Raney has created my kind of story - small-town setting, a family that I cared about, and plenty of romance and drama. The setting is the beautiful Whitman family home/B &B, located on 50 acres with a creek running through it. There's good character depth and Deborah's prose flows smoothly. A good bit of this story is told from the male perspective, making its appeal reach beyond that of women readers. The first page captured my interest and I'm eager to delve even more into this family's life as the series unfolds.

Deborah has a gift for creating realistic characters, and Landyn is kind of hard to like in the beginning. She initially comes across as the spoiled and selfish baby of the family, resenting anyone who tries to tell her what to do, and is willing to walk out on her marriage of six months.  Chase, who had been raised by a single mom, was drawn to Landyn's family, yet never felt he measured up in their eyes. I especially enjoy stories about a couple working at their marriage, and Deborah does a great job in showing the problems - insecurity, lack of communication, financial strain - as well as the maturity and growth that comes when love and commitment are in the picture.

Chase was almost terrified of being a dad, which made him such a sympathetic character to me. These words express that fear so well:  "The only thing he knew about fathers was that they left town the year you started T-ball, when all the other kids' dads were teaching them how to swing a bat and field a ball. And every few years they promised to come visit and take you to the zoo, or the rodeo, or Disneyland. And then you packed your bag and sat on the front stoop from morning till dark, waiting for an invisible hero who never showed up."

One theme of Home to Chicory Lane is about seeing the God-given blessings in our lives, for it is so easy for us to focus on the negatives, even as Christians. I loved the road-trip scene where the beautiful hymn, Count Your Blessings, became a springboard for Chase and Landyn to begin putting a name to all that they had.

But it was the theme of following God's leading that spoke strongest to me, and all who have struggled with whether what they felt was from God or not can relate to this story. These words spoken by Landyn's grandmother to Chase sum it up well:  "God rarely works in ways that make sense to us while they're happening. All too often, it's only after we look back, sometimes many years later - often, truth be told, peering over heaven's balcony - that we can make sense of the way He was working."

I enjoyed Home to Chicory Lane very much and recommend it to all who enjoy relationship drama/romance. This is a great beginning to a series that will focus on Grant and Audrey's children, with Corinne & Jesse being featured in the next story, Two Roads Home.

Home to Chicory Lane can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon. You can also learn more at the Litfuse blog tour page.


Deborah Raney

Deborah Raney's books have won numerous awards including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Deb enjoys teaching at writers' conferences across the country. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas---the setting of many of Deb's novels---for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away.

Connect with Deborah online at deborahraney.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Wings of Glass


Wings of Glass
By Gina Holmes
Tyndale House, 2013


Summary

On the cusp of adulthood, eighteen-year-old Penny Carson is swept off her feet by a handsome farmhand with a confident swagger. Though Trent Taylor seems like Prince Charming and offers an escape from her one-stop-sign town, Penny’s happily-ever-after lasts no longer than their breakneck courtship. Before the ink even dries on their marriage certificate, he hits her for the first time. It isn’t the last, yet the bruises that can’t be seen are the most painful of all.

When Trent is injured in a welding accident and his paycheck stops, he has no choice but to finally allow Penny to take a job cleaning houses. Here she meets two women from very different worlds who will teach her to live and laugh again, and lend her their backbones just long enough for her to find her own.


My Thoughts

Wings of Glass by Gina Holmes is many things:

. . . a heartrending yet uplifting story of friendship and redemption
. . . a sensitively-told story about the difficult subject of domestic abuse
. . . a deep and well-characterized story told in an easygoing, flowing style
. . . a young woman's journey in small steps from addiction and denial to trust and freedom.

It is eye opening as we experience the story from the abused wife's viewpoint. Wings of Glass is a 5-star read for me, an important story that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

I was drawn into Wings of Glass from Penny's words in the very first sentence: "He always said if I left he would kill me, but there are far worse fates than death." Gina's engaging prose is populated with memorable, well-drawn characters.

     -- Trent Taylor, a farmhand hired by Penny's father during a bumper crop summer. "It was just like that story from the Trojan War. We all let him right in without looking first to see what was inside him."

     -- Penny Taylor, Trent's wife, who deluded herself into believing the abuse she suffered was somehow justified.

     -- Callie Mae and Fatimah, friends who care about Penny and don't hesitate to tell her the truth. "The shame is your husband's. Not yours."

The imagery of the book's title is drawn from a meaningful sculpture that Callie Mae gives Penny, depicting "a woman with butterfly wings fashioned from pink, purple, and blue stained glass. She reached her graceful fingertips heavenward with such a look of longing, I couldn't help but feel it too. Her wings were spread and ready for flight, but a vine wound tightly around her ankles, binding her to the stone base."

Wings of Glass deals with an uncomfortable subject in an uplifting and redemptive way. The book is well researched and Gina certainly writes from the heart. The effects of abuse are so far reaching that I feel anyone would benefit from reading this novel. Highly recommended.

In the author's note at the end, Gina provides some very helpful resources, as well as thought-provoking discussion questions.

Connect with Gina online at ginaholmes.com and Facebook.

This book was provided by BookFun.org in exchange for my honest review.



Gina Holmes

Gina shares her heart in these words from her website . . .

        "I suppose if I had never been the victim of domestic abuse, the word “memoir” associated with my novel wouldn’t make my stomach cramp, but I have and so it does. My past is something that defined me for much of my young adult life. As I matured and God healed me, I chose to leave that past behind me and focus on the future and good things. That is until I felt the need to slash open my veins onto the pages of Wings of Glass.
        "I’m not Penny, the main character. I’m all of the characters in the book to some degree. I am both the abuser and the abused. The sinner and the saint. All of my ugliness, and triumphs are right there on the pages for friends, foes, and strangers to read. And although all of those terrible things didn’t happen to me the way they unfolded for Penny, many of them did in one form or another over the course of my life. That makes me feel terribly exposed, but it also makes me feel incredibly liberated.
        "Darkness hates light and by sharing our experiences even under the guise of fiction, we are able to minister to those who are travelling the path we’ve already come down. By exposing our own sins and secrets, we are able to understand and sympathize in a way those who haven’t gone through what we have can. More than that, we are allowing others to share their struggles and find healing and support.
        "I believe, really good fiction happens when we get emotionally naked—make ourselves known on a level our parents, spouses, children, best-friends…even ourselves… have not experienced. Sometimes when we delve into our souls, the blackness we find there can be disturbing. Sometimes our shovel clinks against the lid of an unopened treasure chest— but as novelists, it is our job to break that ground, come what may. It is only then that we can heal and help others heal, and say to the world, you are not alone. I’ve been there and I understand."