Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Most Anticipated Books of 2016

Thank you to the folks at The Broke and the Bookish for hosting this fun Top Ten Tuesday meme each week! Visit here to see tons of other bloggers’ lists.

Top Ten most anticipated 2016 releases (first half of year)

I am so far behind in my reading that I shouldn’t even take time to create this post, yet I couldn’t resist. Oh, the anticipation! Most of these are by authors whose previous work I have enjoyed immensely, but there are a few new or new-to-me authors I’m eager to try. And just ignore the "top ten" label because there's no way I could stop there! (Books are listed in no particular order.)

Be sure to share your thoughts!

The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim
Almost Like Being in Love by Beth K. Vogt
Bride of a Distant Isle by Sandra Byrd

Broken Ground by Karen Halvorsen Schreck
Eden Hill by Bill Higgs
The Hearts We Mend by Kathryn Springer

Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar
The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry
Sea Rose Lane by Irene Hannon
Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

Song of Silence by Cynthia Ruchti
What Matters Most by Kellie Coates Gilbert
Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

The Quieting by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Someone Like You by Victoria Bylin
Joshua’s Mission by Vannetta Chapman

The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron
Undaunted Hope by Jody Hedlund
An Amish Market by Amy Clipston
Kathleen Fuller, Kelly Irwin, Vannetta Chapman

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas with Erma Bombeck

I couldn’t let this holiday season pass without posting two of my favorite timeless Christmas articles by Erma Bombeck. Christmas Shopping is a funny monologue, but guaranteed to make you think. Look for the second one on Thursday . . . And now, may you enjoy Erma as much as I do!

Christmas Shopping

"Who cares if it fits? She takes everything back anyway. Billie Joe, if you get hit by a truck, the next time I'll leave you at home! Why did I wear these boots? It never fails. I wear boots and the sun comes out! Will you please stop pulling at me. I did buy my Christmas cards last January. I just can't find them. Cheap stuff. They always put out cheap stuff at Christmas. Did you see that man shove me? Same to you, fella!

"Don't dilly-dally to look at store windows. I've got all my baking to do, the house to decorate, presents to wrap, the cards to mail . . . mailman! I forgot to get something for the mailman. Boy, everyone's got their hand out at Christmas, haven't they. Well, did you see that? I was here first and she hopped in right in front of me. We oughta get numbers like they do at the butcher counter. That would take care of those pushy ones. Same to you, fella!

"I don't care if the box fits, just any box will do. So don't send it. Let me occupy a whole bus with it. You tell the policeman when I occupy a whole seat that your truck driver couldn't deliver it. Lines . . . lines . . . I'll have to get in line to die . .. Billy Joe, you're too old for the Santa Claus bit. Don't think I don't know why you want in line . . . for a lousy candy cane. You'd stand in line if they were handing out free headaches.

"What music? I don't hear any music. I think I'll just give Uncle Walter the money. He always liked money. In fact, he's never happy with anything else you give him. And that gift exchange. Wish we could get out of that. I always get something cheap back. My feet hurt. You'd think some man would get off his duff and give a woman a seat. No one cares about anyone anymore. I don't hear any music.

"My headache's back. Wish I could take off these boots. I think we're ready to . . . wait a minute, Billie Joe. I forgot Linda's birthday. Doesn't that beat all. It's what she gets for being born on Christmas Day. Now, I've got to run up to the fourth floor and fight those crowds all over again. You wait here with the shopping bags and don't wander, do you hear? Boy, some people have a fat nerve having a birthday on Christmas Day. I don't know of anyone who has the gall to be born on Christmas Day. What did you say, Billie Joe?"

"I said, 'I know SomeOne.'"

- Erma Bombeck, At Wit's End, Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1965

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review + GIVEAWAY: Whispers in the Reading Room

Whispers in the Reading Room
By Shelley Gray
A Chicago World’s Fair Mystery, #3
Zondervan, 2015


Lydia's job at the library is her world---until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World's Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn't merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks-the man so many people fear-is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

My thoughts

Every once in a while, a book that is uniquely different appears in the Christian market, and Whispers in the Reading Room is one of those. Lead characters are realistically flawed and complex, the writing sparkles in places, and the historical setting is vividly conveyed. Sebastian, a charismatic leading man, has a questionable career, much of the action takes place in a seedy section of Chicago, there’s a formal style of communicating, and Lydia and Sebastian are total opposites on the surface. Yet friendship is a beautiful theme woven throughout, and while spiritual elements are subtle, they are clearly communicated.

The setting is Chicago during the Gilded Age, 1894, and a major theme revolves around literature. With Chicago’s Lincoln Lending Library as a backdrop, this story holds a natural appeal for readers and I found it fascinating. Nothing about this novel makes it a typical historical romance, and I see it as more of a relationship-driven story with a historical setting – and therein lies its strength. An air of melancholy surrounds Sebastian and I was immediately drawn to this vulnerable leading man who struggles to find his place in society and life. These quotes convey that longing and the gateway he discovered through works of literature . . .

“He went to the library to read for pleasure, to lose himself in the
allure of printed pages without anyone in his world taking note.”

“Austen and Bronte and Wilde taught him to speak. Dickens
taught him about ills . . . and about what he had a hope of being.”

“. . . all of his learning had come from a poor boy’s desire to become something he’d only witnessed in printed pages.”

Lydia was lonely and anxious, weighed down by the responsibility of obtaining a wealthy husband in order to meet her mother’s needs. I loved the growing friendship between this unlikely pair, and the way Lydia made Sebastian desire to be a better man. Self-worth and sacrifice enter into this narrative, as well as how deceptive appearances can be . . . “Just as she feared Sebastian might bolt if he knew her exact address, he feared Lydia would run if she knew how disreputable he actually was.”

Much richness comes through the supporting characters of Vincent, Sebastian’s assistant, and Bridget, his maid. It was great to see not one, but two romances! Although this third story in the series stands alone, readers will enjoy seeing the return of previous characters Sean Ryan and Owen Howard.

The only thing that I found lacking in this otherwise excellent story was the rushed ending. In the last two short chapters, the timeframe jumps ahead by nine days, followed by another week, and storylines are wrapped up with little foundation or development. An excellent story overall, though, one that I have no hesitancy in recommending.


Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.

Connect with Shelley at, Twitter, and Facebook

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

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My deepest thanks to Litfuse Publicity for making this giveaway possible!


To enter the drawing for Whispers in the Reading Room, simply leave a comment and then please click on this link to my Facebook post and share. Thank you for visiting my blog and may all of you have a wonderfully blessed Christmas.

BE SURE to leave your name and your email address in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing. E-mail required for entry. Contest ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, December 22. Winner will be chosen by and contacted by e-mail. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.

Eligibility: US residents

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Review: Like Father, Like Son

Like Father, Like Son
By Pete Alwinson
New Growth Press, 2015


What do men need in the twenty-first century? There are so many opinions---some think the answer is a masculine to-do list. Others give detailed directions on how to become a "real" man. Those things can be helpful, but do they get to the core of the identity issues that men are facing today? You can't know who you are and who you are meant to be without knowing the love of your Father---that is, your Father in heaven. Without knowing the Father's love and acceptance, men are adrift looking for identity in imperfect relationships or cultural norms about manhood. But knowing God's fatherly love changes everything. A man who is forgiven and accepted by his heavenly Father is free to become like him. Living out of the love of God the Father changes everything for his sons.

Instead of telling men how to recover and reclaim their masculinity, Pete Alwinson invites men to recover and reclaim an intimate, growing relationship with their heavenly Father and live out of that identity in their particular calling as sons, fathers, brothers, friends. Using personal stories and anecdotes from his many years of men's ministry, Pete shows men that the way forward in life and relationships is through their growing relationship with their heavenly Father.

My thoughts

Like Father, Like Son is a book any man will benefit from reading – whether you had a great relationship with your dad or a less-then-perfect one. This is not a “how to” book with guidelines or goals that many men would struggle to live up to, but rather flows in a conversational style and draws from Pete’s experience in men’s ministry.

God’s Father/son relationship with us is found throughout Scripture – yet I suspect there are many men out there who, based on personal experience, have a hard time relating to God as Father, believing that He truly loves them. Like Father, Like Son is easy to read and a book that encourage all men as they learn more of God’s Father nature and are able to be all that God intended for their children.

Each chapter focuses on God’s father/son nature and character – welcoming, approval giving, guiding, wisdom giving, grace giving, etc. – and concludes with a “take it to heart” section for personal reflection. I especially enjoyed the chapter entitled “The Guiding Father,” which begins with this quote by Steve Brown: “God is not in the business of keeping his will from us!” So good to be reminded of this truth.

I believe Like Father, Like Son is a book that all men will find beneficial. It would also be great for men’s ministry and Bible study/accountability groups.


Pete Alwinson has been a youth pastor, solo pastor, church-planting pastor, and senior pastor for 30 years. He has also served as an adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, teaching Communication and Theology of Ministry, and has written and spoken nationally for Man in the Mirror and Key Life Network. He has been married to Caron for 34 years, has two married sons and one college-aged daughter.

Connect with Pete at, Facebook, and Twitter.

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

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Review + Rafflecopter Giveaway: The Amish Christmas Sleigh

The Amish Christmas Sleigh by Molly Jebber, Amy Lillard, and Kelly Long is a 384 page book in the Christian Amish fiction genre.  It is published by Kensignton and was released on September 29, 2015. Click on this link to purchase The Amish Christmas Sleigh.

I like novella collections, especially at this busy time of the year, and found this Amish Christmas romance collection very enjoyable. Family is at the heart of these stories. All three involve winter weather, precious children, romance, and end with a delightful sleigh ride. I tend to romanticize snow because we rarely have it where I live, so these stories were especially fun to read.

Kelly Long

For solitary toy-maker Sebastian Christner, hiring Kate Zook as his new housekeeper is simply the right thing to do. Now she can support her special-needs brother. But one taste of her independent spirit is showing him undreamed-of holiday joy—and making him long to give her a home for always . . .

My thoughts: Kelly’s stories always engage me emotionally, and that’s again true in this novella with elements like the death of an infant, Sebastian’s slightly mysterious Englisch friend, Kate’s handicapped brother, Sebastian’s making of toys and visit to a pediatric oncology ward. I loved the ending that brings the prologue with Daniel, Kate's cousin, and Fran full circle. A word of caution, though . . . Although a very enjoyable and clean romance, the Ice Mountain stories published by Kensington tend to push the sensual elements a little further than what we usually find in Christian fiction. Overall, a beautifully moving story.

Amy Lillard

Bernice Yoder has far too much to do to entertain holiday dreams. Even if she can help Jess Schmucker outwit his three mischievous young daughters, it’s impossible to imagine the handsome widower can see her as anything but a scolding schoolteacher. He never guesses how a magical Christmas Eve will open his eyes to love or how Der Herr will awaken their faith and hope.

My thoughts: I loved the romance between Jess and Bernice, even if Jess is blind to what’s right in front of him for most of the story. Bernice is a good, caring person, so easy to connect with. But it’s Constance, Hope and Lilly Ruth who steal the show – three children who miss their deceased mom and attempt to take matters of the heart into their own hands in the most delightful and humorous ways. Amy’s writing flows easily across the page and I enjoyed her story very much.

Molly Jebber

As much as Charity Lantz’s children need a father, the young widow isn’t sure her new neighbor Luke Fisher can ever be the right choice. They’re having more disagreements than snowflakes in December. Besides, he’s never given a sign he wants to be more than friends. Can Gott show them a way past their misunderstandings to a forever love?

My thoughts: There’s something about Molly’s writing that pulled me right into this sweet story and I loved every minute caught up in its pages. Charity’s children, Josiah and Beth, simply tug at the heartstrings. It was fun to see Luke and Charity’s relationship start as friendship and grow into much more. But best of all was Luke’s bond with the children and his love for them. It was also touching to see the characters praying so easily, just like a natural conversation – which is exactly as it should be! The title of this story resonates beautifully throughout, as everyone found true Christmas blessings that came from God.


Molly Jebber is an educational, motivational, and Women’s Christian Connection speaker. She was raised in a small town in the Midwest, and insists if you had blinked twice, you would’ve missed it. She loves God, her family and friends, sunshine, swimming and traveling to the Amish communities.  Creating historical Amish characters and throwing them into difficult situations and joyous times has been challenging and fun for her. The greatest reward she’s experienced in becoming an author is meeting wonderful people from all over the world who’ve been encouraging and supportive.

Kelly Long is the author of the acclaimed Amish Patch of Heaven series and has been a finalist for the coveted Carol Award from the American Christian Fiction Writers. Her novel Lily’s Wedding Quilt was a 2011 Goodreads Favorite Book of the Year.  Born and raised in the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania, she’s been married for nearly twenty-five years and has five children. Please visit her at

Amy Lillard won the 2013 Carol Award for her first Amish romance Saving Gideon. She was also a Maggie Awards finalist. Born and bred in Mississippi, she now lives with her husband and son in Oklahoma. Visit her at

Be sure to enter Molly Jebber's Rafflecopter giveaway!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Review: Huckleberry Hearts + Rafflecopter Giveaway

Huckleberry Hearts
By Jennifer Beckstrand
The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill, #6
Zebra, 2015


Young-at-heart octogenarians Anna and Felty Helmuth never miss the chance to find a perfect match for one of their grandchildren. And when their beloved Cassie returns to Huckleberry Hill, Wisconsin, Anna has a feeling they might soon have a doctor in the family…

Though Cassie Coblenz left her Amish community to go to college, Mammi and Dawdi’s farm will always feel like home. It’s the ideal place for an extended study break—at least until her grandmother’s handsome Englisch doctor becomes a regular distraction. Zach Reynolds is the kind of heartbreaker Cassie has learned to avoid, no matter how charming he may be.

Unlike every woman Zach has met in recent years, Cassie doesn’t fall at his feet. Strong, generous, beautiful within and without —she’s everything he could want. Yet the gulf between them deepens when a tragedy shakes his faith. Now the good doctor has one goal—to become a man who could be worthy of Cassie’s love…

My thoughts

The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill, a six-book series with octogenarians Anna and Felty Helmuth at its heart, is simply outstanding. Set in the Huckleberry Hill community of Bonduel, Wisconsin, each story has character depth, wonderful humor, an intriguing storyline, and spiritual values. While I’ve enjoyed these stories so much that I couldn’t begin to pick a favorite, something that’s hard for me to put into words elevates Huckleberry Hearts to a different level. Maybe it’s a combination of things – faith struggles, human frailties, love for a sick child, details of the Amish lifestyle, romantic chemistry, and God working in one of the most touching ways I’ve ever seen in fiction. Jennifer has written a story that speaks to my heart.

Anna and Felty are the glue that holds this series together – and one of the most endearing, memorable couples I’ve ever come across. When I first began reading Huckleberry Hearts, my eagerness went deeper than just the joy of returning to these characters, for they feel so real to me. With their love for God, each other, family and community, their lives are a testimony of God’s faithfulness through good and bad times. And the humor! In an effort to match up their granddaughter, Cassie, with Dr. Zach Reynolds, Anna points out to Zach: “Cassie just graduated from college in art history. She looks at a lot of naked people in her studies. You two have that in common.”

With her tender, forgiving and gentle nature, Cassie exhibits a genuine goodness that immediately captured my heart. Desiring to attend college, Cassie maintained her strong faith after leaving the Amish culture, only to find the Englisch world – men, especially – a great disappointment.  Thinking about her Amish roots, Cassie reflects that “she didn’t belong here, but nowhere else seemed like home.” Cassie finds herself trapped between family expectations and her own personal desires – and that’s something to which many readers can relate.

Zach – realistically flawed, angry at God, trying to put his somewhat risqué college reputation behind him and do the right thing – is one of my favorite leading men. The romantic attraction and chemistry between Zach and Cassie is undeniably strong. I also love how, as Zach seeks to learn about the Amish lifestyle, we get to experience firsthand things like hog butchering, washing clothes, and maple sugaring. Most touching to me, however, is Zach’s caring relationship with the seriously-ill child, Austin. My heart melted when Zach, attempting to allay Austin’s fear of another IV needle, let one be put in his own arm at the same time.

One of the most beautiful strengths of this novel is its faith content, all of which spoke to me on a personal level. The contrast between Amish legalism, forced on Cassie by her mom and brother, with Felty’s simple faith was fascinating. In Felty’s words, “My job is to live my life the best way I know how and leave the judgment to Him.” Wow, is that ever relevant for us in today’s world!

Then there’s the reminder of God’s power to transform, evidenced in Anna’s words to Cassie: “Zach may have lost his faith in God, but you’ve lost your faith in God’s ability to change people’s hearts.” And that God often places a person in someone’s life when they need it, as He did with Zach and Austin.

Felty’s conversation with Zach regarding Shadach, Meshach, and Abednego reminded me of a very important spiritual truth, one that trips a lot of us up when it comes to the age-old problem of pain and suffering. Felty reminds Zach that these guys knew that, while God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, He might not choose to do so – and that they affirmed their faith in God, no matter the outcome. I couldn’t help but wonder what my faith must look like in times when my deepest heart’s desire is denied.

And finally, there’s the dream Austin’s mom shared with Zach. Rarely am I brought to tears when reading a book, but this scene is so poignant, uplifting, hopeful and promising that there could only be one response. Very well done, Miss Jennifer!

Because Huckleberry Hearts focuses on an Englisch couple with Amish ties, I believe it would appeal to any audience and I recommend it highly.

Jennifer has a new series in store for us, but I suspect we will eventually see more of Felty and Anna. Please click on the titles below to see my reviews of the first three books in this series.

Huckleberry Hill
Huckleberry Summer
Huckleberry Christmas

Link to purchase Huckleberry Hearts


Jennifer Beckstrand is the bestselling Amish romance author of The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series for Kensington Books. Huckleberry Summer was nominated for the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Award and the 2015 RITA® Award, and Huckleberry Hill won the 2014 LIME Award for Inspirational fiction. Both Huckleberry Hill and Huckleberry Christmas appeared in list of top ten inspirational books for 2014.

Jennifer has always been drawn to the strong faith and the enduring family ties of the Plain people and loves writing about the antics of Anna and Felty Helmuth. Jennifer has a degree in mathematics and a background in editing. She and her husband have been married for thirty years, and she has four daughters, two sons, and four adorable grandchildren, whom she spoils rotten.

Find Jennifer online at, Facebook and Twitter.

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

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