Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: To Follow Her Heart

To Follow Her Heart
By Rebecca DeMarino
The Southold Chronicles #3
Revell, 2016


Duty and love are powerful forces. Only one has the power to make her life complete.

It is 1664 and Patience Terry is devastated to learn that Captain Jeremy Horton's ship has been shipwrecked off the coast of Barbados. There were no survivors. She had hoped that Jeremy would someday give up the sea and settle down with her in Southold, Long Island.

Unaware his memorial service is being planned, Jeremy sails aboard a British warship with secret orders to attack New Amsterdam and claim it for the British Crown. When he makes his surprise return to Southold--and to an overjoyed Patience--it's not quite the happily-ever-after his beloved had hoped for.

With a finely tuned sense for authentic historical characters and settings, Rebecca DeMarino plunges you into a world of tall ships, daring journeys, and yearning hearts.

My thoughts

To Follow Her Heart concludes the Southold Chronicles series, three stories that I have greatly enjoyed. They are steeped in early American history, my favorite historical era and one that is sadly neglected in Christian fiction. Each book can technically stand alone, but as characters are interwoven throughout, reading in order would make for a richer experience. I loved following Barnabas and Mary from A Place in His Heart, and reconnecting with Dirk and Heather Flower from To Capture Her Heart.

To Follow Her Heart is a warm family story, inspired by Rebecca’s ancestors, that reflects the closeness of a community filled with settlers who left Europe to seek religious freedom. Her extensive research and passion shine through, giving the story a realism and authentic feel. The book is character driven and the pacing is not fast, but that’s the type of writing that I enjoy and was eager to keep turning the pages.

To Follow Her Heart is the story of Patience and sea captain Jeremy Horton, brother of Barnabas. They already have strong feelings for each other, so this is more of a story about duty vs. love and the decisions that conflict forces. It was a time when men did pretty much as they felt led, and women had to make the decision to follow or not. Jeremy and Patience’s story is sweet, but downright frustrating at times, because it seems that Jeremy was always arriving, then leaving.

Rebecca beautifully portrayed the strength of their beliefs and how vital worship was to this Southold community – and it’s obvious that this is something that America has lost. I especially loved how the series is brought full circle by a return to the Horton home in Mowsley, England – and also the featuring of Mary Horton in the epilogue that takes place almost fifteen years later.



Rebecca DeMarino is the author of The Southold Chronicles, a series based on the lives of her ninth great-grandparents, Mary Langton and Barnabas Horton. She inherited her love of baking and gardening from her mother; a love of horses, reading, and writing from her dad; and the wanderlust gene from both parents. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, New England Historical Genealogical Society, and the Southold Long Island Historical Society.


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

Review: Service Tails

Service Tails
By Ace Collins
Abingdon Press, 2016


Heart-tugging true stories of the courage, faith, and loyalty of remarkable service dogs.

Not all heroic dogs wildly toss themselves into lifesaving situations. Some save lives simply by their incredible commitment to duty and service. Some lead the way to independence for people whose disabilities were supposed to limit their lives.

In Service Tails: More Stories of Man's Best Hero, prolific author Ace Collins introduces us to leaders whose entire lives are wrapped in the banner of service. Their stories are remarkable snapshots of the value of vision and teamwork, as well as devotion to duty and unconditional love and acceptance---stretching the way we see both canine and human potential. Their training was intense, their loyalty unquestioned and each step of the way they constantly adapt to better serve those they lead. These unforgettable dogs are more than heroes; they are models from which we can learn how to love and serve unconditionally.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2bb7SeE

My thoughts

Like the title suggests, Service Tails is an interesting, well written, and informative collection of stories about service dogs that tugs at the heart – but it is so much more. Ace Collins delights with a collection of stories infused with knowledge and passion for his subject. Each real-life account is unique and, if you reflect on them for a while, a deeper spiritual truth begins to surface. On a physical level, it’s about the teaming of dog and person with the goal of enhancing the potential of a disabled person – and in that regard, they are very entertaining. But it all comes down to something that we often find challenging as Christians, and that is surrendering control and giving complete trust.

Before reading Service Tails, I knew very little about these special dogs, but my interest was piqued some time ago when I discovered that Suzanne Woods Fisher raised puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, so I was eager to discover more. All I can say is that these are amazing animals and there is no way to comprehend how they do what they do. Their service reaches far beyond seeing-eye dogs, to hearing and beyond. They are selfless. They sense a person’s needs and are constantly adapting to meet those needs. They change lives, unlock potential, and restore a person’s freedom. For people whose disability made them somewhat of a social outcast, these dogs were a magnet that made them the center of attention. In the chapter entitled “Team Potential,” Christina says about Tatiana . . .

“The dog epitomizes pure, selfless, and unconditional love. She lives in the moment, accepts people for who they are, and simply loves life. She is loyal and dependable and never holds grudges. If I could be half the person my dog is, I’d be twice the human I am.”

Beginning with the story of Morris Frank, the young man who started the service dog movement, the Service Tails collection reminds us to not let people be defined by their disability. And maybe you know of someone who could be helped by a service dog.

When asked about this book’s main message, Ace replied, “Don’t fall into the trap of underestimating a person or a dog. No matter the disability, with the right partner and enough faith, the sky is the limit. These stories prove that.” They certainly do, Ace.

Highly recommended.


Ace Collins defines himself as a storyteller. He has authored more than sixty books that have sold more than 2.5 million copies. His catalog includes novels, biographies, children's works as well as books on history, culture and faith. He has also been the featured speaker at the National Archives Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted a network television special and does college basketball play-by-play. Ace lives in Arkansas.

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

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: The Things We Knew

The Things We Knew
By Catherine West
Thomas Nelson, 2016


A tragedy from the past resurfaces in this tale of family secrets and reignited love.

After her mother's death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to harbor animosity toward their father, silently blaming him for their mother's death. Nobody will talk about that dreadful day, and Lynette can't remember a bit of it.

But when next-door neighbor Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, he brings the past with him. Once her brother's best friend and Lynette's first crush, Nick seems to hiding things from her. Lynette wonders what he knows about the day her mother died and hopes he might help her remember the things she can't.

But Nick has no intention of telling Lynette the truth. Besides the damage it might cause his own family, he doesn't want to risk harming the fragile friendship between him and the woman he once thought of as a kid sister.

As their father's failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets begin to surface---secrets that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question all they ever believed in.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/29vkFGh

My thoughts

“The truth will set you free.”
- John 8:32

I couldn’t help but think of these words of Jesus as I made my way through Catherine West’s exquisite novel, The Things We Knew, for they reflect the essence of this beautiful story. Grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope are very much present also, but truth is foundational.

Whether you classify this story as contemporary romance or women’s fiction, it resembles the type of novel that I used to read in the general market and have long wished to see more of in Christian fiction. The Things We Knew is a family drama centered around Lynette Carlisle and her four siblings, and it has everything that makes for a memorable read – idyllic setting, rich characterization, sweet romance, mystery, a plot that engages the emotions, and a spiritual message reflected through the characters’ struggles and victories.

I’ve been blessed to visit Nantucket and it’s hard for me to describe the feel and beauty of this small island community, but Catherine has conveyed this so vividly that I could almost hear the waves break on the shore of the Carlisle family estate. There’s a realism reflected in this dysfunctional family and serious elements are treated with sensitivity – alcoholism, drug addiction, Alzheimer’s, etc. There’s also a spiritual reality that I think many readers will relate to, and that’s how “life” sometimes causes us to drift away from a childhood faith until circumstances lead to a renewal or rediscovery.

I was drawn to Lynette, who anchors the story, from the very first page. She has a fierce determination in the face of several daunting obstacles, loves her family, and freely shares her faith. Tension builds and layers are slowly peeled back as Lynette’s siblings return to Nantucket and are forced to confront the truth. The rekindling of a lost friendship with Nick that slowly builds into something more is also a delight.

Catherine is an excellent writer and she doesn’t waste a single word. There’s a strong ensemble of supporting characters, and each one is important to the intricacies of the story. And I have to mention one brother who touched me so much that I long for his story to be told, and that is Gray.

Several important messages stand out:  grace – both the giving and receiving of it – and hope that helps us rise above seemingly hopeless situations. And finally, truth . . . “Truth that had the power to blast though thick concrete walls that secrets and deceit hid behind. Truth that overshadowed lies, spoke of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Truth that bought revelation and healing.”

Highly recommended.


Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she's not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border collie for long walks on the beach or tending to her roses and orchids. She and her husband have two grown children.

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

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Spotlight (+ Giveaway): The Honeybee Sisters

Jennifer Beckstrand writes wonderful Amish fiction and I’m enjoying Sweet as Honey, the first book in her new series, very much. My review will be posted in a couple of days.

About the Books

Sweet as Honey:

Smart, kind, and good-hearted, the three Christner girls are affectionately known as The Honeybee Sisters in the beloved Wisconsin Amish community where, under the care of their aunt, they’ve grown into skilled beekeepers–and lovely, sought-after young women. . .

Though she has blossomed into a beauty, Lily Christner doesn’t really believe it. Deep down, she still feels like a lonely, gawky teenager. Maybe that’s why she’s all but promised herself to Paul Glick, the one boy who never teased her in her awkward girlhood–unlike Dan Kanagy, whose creative name-calling left her in tears many a time. Now he’s back in town after two years away–and being surprisingly sweet, suspiciously attentive–and making Lily unsettlingly yet deliciously nervous. It seems Dan wants Lily’s forgiveness–and her heart. But can he convince her–not to mention her protective schwesters and aendi–that despite the past, her future lies with him?…  

A Bee in Her Bonnet:  

Lively, determined, and independent, Poppy Christner isn’t about to let some vandal keep making mischief on her family’s farm. She’s been outrunning boys and standing up for picked-on children ever since she was a girl–no matter how much her prideful, arrogant schoolmate Luke Bontrager insulted her. 

So Poppy certainly doesn’t need his interference now, especially since he’s made it plain he prefers demure, ladylike companions. In fact, if Luke doesn’t stop helping her find the culprit–and growing humble and remorseful–she’ll be forced to notice how handsome his change-of-heart is making him. And that could mean falling in love–maybe for a lifetime…

Like a Bee to Honey:  

Shy, skittish Rose Christner is more comfortable tending to the beehives on the family farm and keeping her aunt’s unruly cats in line than attending social gatherings with the rest of the die youngie. A childhood trauma and secret shame keep her heart under lock and key, and Rose just can’t accept the sweet attention she’s receiving from a handsome neighbor. 

But the more she shies away from Josiah Yoder, the more their families sneakily plot to bring them together. And when a vandal who’s been plaguing the Honeybee Farm starts targeting Rose, Josiah’s steadfast protection—and patience—just may lead her into his waiting arms…

About the Author

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 Examiner.com 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.

Guest Post from Jennifer Beckstrand

Lily, Poppy, and Rose Christner are known as the Honeybee Sisters in their Wisconsin Amish community because they keep bees and sell the honey they pull from their beehives. The orphaned sisters came to live with their aunt Bitsy when they were very young. Aunt Bitsy was an Englischer for twenty years, but she is trying to raise her nieces to be gute and devout Amish girls.

Still, Aunt Bitsy is a bit eccentric and has brought some of the Englisch ways with her to the Honeybee Farm. She wears her dangly earrings when she’s in a bad mood, sports temporary tattoos just for fun, keeps a shotgun by the front door, and has a cat named Farrah Fawcett. (Bitsy simply adored “Charlie’s Angels.”)

With the honey they pull from their hives, the Honeybee schwesters make all sorts of appeditlich, delicious, things to eat. Their baking and their beauty attract boys to the Honeybee Farm, so Aunt Bitsy has to keep her shotgun handy to ward off the would-be suitors.

Many of the Honeybee Sisters’ recipes are included at the back of the three Honeybee Sister novels. Many more can be found in The Honeybee Sisters Cookbook available on Amazon and other online bookstores.

I hope you’ll fall in love with the Honeybee sisters, Aunt Bitsy, and their incomparable Bienenstich (Bee Sting) Cake—which recipe is included in both the cookbook and Sweet as Honey.

Here is a recipe the Honeybee Sisters would definitely make. My dear friend gave me some of these caramels for Christmas last year, and they are heavenly. The honey is used in place of the more-common corn syrup and gives the caramels a rich, deep flavor. My favorite thing about these caramels is the coarse sea salt that gives the caramels a salty crunch. Yummy!  

Honey Vanilla Caramels

1 ½ cup sugar 
½ cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup salted butter, cut into bits
 Coarse sea salt  

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a clay, enamel, glass, plastic, or stainless steel (non-reactive) pot, combine the sugar, honey, and vanilla extract. Mix everything together using a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar melts. When the sugar has melted, increase heat to medium and cook until the mixture caramelizes and is a deep amber color. Do not stir the mixture once it starts to boil. Instead, swirl it around occasionally with the pan’s handle. (This will help the caramel cook more evenly.)

While the caramel is cooking, place the heavy cream in a small saucepan on low heat. As soon as it reaches a simmer, remove pan from the heat and set aside.

When the caramel has reached a deep amber color, reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in the bits of butter. Whisk well until the butter is completely melted.

Add the warm cream and whisk until smooth.

Turn the heat back up to medium and cook until the caramel reaches a temperature of 245°. Carefully pour the hot caramel onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Let it rest for about 8 minutes, then sprinkle with desired amount of sea salt.

Cool completely (about three hours), before cutting into squares and wrapping with parchment paper.

(Adapted from http://www.unegaminedanslacuisine.com)

Blog Stops

August 25: A Reader’s Brain
August 28: The Power of Words
August 31: cherylbbookblog
August 31: Quiet Quilter
September 1: Rhonda’s Doings
September 1: Book Babble
September 2: Lighthouse Academy
September 4: Bukwurmzzz
September 5: Donna’s BookShelf
September 7: Blogging with Carol


To celebrate her tour, Jennifer is giving away five copies of The Honeybee Sisters Cookbook! Enter below:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: The Loyal Heart

The Loyal Heart
By Shelley Shepard Gray
Lone Star Heroes #1
Zondervan, 2016


Robert came to Galveston to fulfill his promise to a dying man and look after his widow. He didn't expect to find love in the unlikeliest of places.

Robert Truax, former Second Lieutenant and Confederate officer in the Civil War, made a promise to his comrade Phillip Markham. If anything happened to Phillip, Robert would look after his beloved wife, Miranda. She was his life, his world, his everything.

After the war, Robert is left to pick up the pieces and fulfill his pact. When he arrives at Miranda's home in Galveston, Texas, things are worse than he imagined. Phillip's name has been dragged through the mud, everyone in town believes him to be a traitor, and his widow is treated as an outcast. Even more disturbing is her emotional well-being. Miranda seems hopeless, lost, and so very alone.

Robert had thought his duty would be simple. He would help Miranda as quickly as possible in order to honor a promise. But the moment Robert laid eyes on her, his plans changed. He's mesmerized by her beauty and yearns to help her in any way he can.
He makes it his duty to protect Miranda, turn her reputation around, and to find some way to help her smile again. But it doesn't prove to be an easy task---Robert knows something about Phillip that could shake Miranda to the core and alter her view of the man she thought she knew so well.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2ae3eOX

My thoughts

I’m always eager to read anything Shelley Shepard Gray writes and The Loyal Heart begins a wonderful new historical series. The characters are well developed and the dual settings of Galveston, TX and Johnson’s Island, Ohio come alive. Miranda steals you heart and emotions, and Robert Truax . . . let’s just say that he’s the kind of hero that makes you go weak at the knees. Some might think the pacing is a little slow at first, but the second half picks up speed, building to a suspenseful ending.

If I had to describe this story in one word, it would be loyalty. The setting is 1865-1867, but the premise knows no time constraints: a group of men form a strong bond while in prison camp and make a pact to have each other’s backs, to protect each other in the years outside of war. That alone makes for great storytelling as we get to focus on the different men.

The Loyal Heart is Robert’s story. Formerly a second lieutenant in the CSA, he is honorable, tenacious, sharp. I loved his backstory, how he grew up on the streets, educated himself through reading, and was taught even more by those he served with. I appreciated how Shelley handled tough topics in a realistic manner, such as the lasting effects from the trauma of war – and then depression through Miranda’s character. Grief over the loss of her husband was compounded by the instability of the Reconstruction years, and I found the historical aspect of this story very appealing.

Robert and Miranda experienced my kind of romance, where – rather than fighting – they begin with friendship and steadily grow from there. I hope we see more of them, as well as Captain Monroe, Ethan and Thomas. Lots to look forward to!



Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full-time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town's bike trail.

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

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review + GIVEAWAY: Fetching Sweetness

Fetching Sweetness
By Dana Mentink
Love Unleashed #2
Harvest House, 2016


Standing between Stephanie and her dream is one hundred pounds of lovable trouble.

It should have been so simple for Stephanie Pink: Meet up with Agnes Wharton in a small town in California, retrieve the reclusive author's valuable new manuscript, and be promoted to a full-fledged literary agent.

But Agnes's canine companion, Sweetness, decides to make a break for it before Stephanie can claim her prize. Until Agnes has Sweetness safely back at home in Eagle Cliff, Washington, Stephanie will never set eyes on the manuscript she needs to make her dreams come true.

When Stephanie tracks the runaway mutt to a campground, she meets Rhett Hastings---a man also on the run from a different life and a costly mistake. Rhett agrees to help Stephanie search for the missing dog . . . thus launching a surprising string of adventures and misadventures.

Once Sweetness gets added to the mix, it's a recipe for love and loss, merriment and mayhem, fun and faith in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2auLee3

My thoughts

Without a doubt, Fetching Sweetness by Dana Mentink is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. It’s an exquisite little gem, a wonderful feel-good book – and, although I didn’t know it at the time, it really is possible to read an entire book with a smile on your face. In fact, I’d love to meet Dana because anyone who can write like this must be quite a character! Fetching Sweetness is #2 in the Love Unleashed series, but stands alone.

Part of the story takes place in Big Thumb, California – “south of Redding and north of nowhere” – and the rest involves a road trip up the Pacific Coast, which provides great opportunities for Stephanie and Rhett to gradually open up. There’s several hilarious moments also, thanks to Sweetness.

Rhett is a great leading man, simultaneously strong and vulnerable, arrogant and humble, “a man who was bent on living out the words in his Bible, determined to climb out from beneath the shadow of his sins.” And Stephanie is such a fun and unique character, with a passion for something to which all readers can relate, and that’s books. Stephanie loved the feeling books gave her, “a feeling that there was goodness and love and justice in the world, even if it was only fictional.”

And then there’s Sweetness, not really a secondary character because he plays such a pivotal role. Even cat people like me can’t help but fall in love with this guy. The relationship between Rhett and Sweetness is especially touching. “What does a dog see? he wondered. Dogs didn’t care if you were wearing wingtip shoes or flip-flops from the dollar store. They looked at you and saw the intangibles, the man inside. . . . What did a dog know of human failure? He just kept looking at you without bringing up your past or expecting you to do the right thing.”

Rhett and Stephanie are an unlikely match, yet they have one thing in common: they are each pursuing their own life agenda, one confident he was following God’s direction and the other without God in the equation. That’s pretty close to real life, if you ask me! And a little uncomfortable when I think how often I’ve been guilty of exactly that.

“Fiction tosses up the truth about life that
we’re too blind or preoccupied to see.”

How true are Stephanie’s words, for not only does Fetching Sweetness focus on how God’s plans trump ours every time, but that it often takes someone else to point out the obvious things that we fail to see.

Highly recommended.

Please click on the title – Sit, Stay, Love – to see my review of the previous book in this excellent series.


Dana Mentink lives in California, where the weather is golden and the cheese is divine. Dana is an American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year finalist for romantic suspense and an award winner in the Pacific Northwest Writers Literary Contest. Her suspense novel, Betrayal in the Badlands, earned a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award.

Besides writing, she busies herself teaching third and fourth grade. Mostly, she loves to be home with her husband, two daughters, a dog with social anxiety problems, a chubby box turtle, and a feisty parakeet.

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

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To enter the drawing for Fetching Sweetness, please click on this link and share my Facebook post, then leave a comment here. Has a pet blessed your life, present or in the past?

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 Monday, August 29. Winner will be chosen by random.org and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents