Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: The Christmas Angel Project

The Christmas Angel Project
By Melody Carlson
Revell, 2016


Five women from different walks of life have become close friends through their book club--enjoying one another's company even more than they enjoy the books. So when the leader of the book club unexpectedly passes away on the cusp of the Christmas season, the four remaining friends are stunned. They relied on Abby for inspiration and motivation. She was the glue that held them together, and they're sure that without her the group can't continue.

When the group gathers "one last time" to open a bag Abby's husband gives them, they find Abby had made each of them an angel ornament for Christmas, crafted especially for each woman and accompanied by a sweet and personal note. Inspired by their beloved friend, together Cassidy, Louisa, Grace, and Belinda decide to commit themselves to becoming Christmas Angels to others in need. Each woman will use her life situation and talents to reach out and help others in her own unique way--little knowing that her own life and her relationships will be changed forever.

My thoughts

Christmas novellas and Melody Carlson just seem to go together, and I always enjoy these uplifting, feel-good seasonal stories. The Christmas Angel Project is a welcome addition, and one of my favorites in the entire collection. I loved its women’s fiction style, spiritual themes, and focus on doing things for others. The writing flows easily and I knew each character well by the time the last page was turned.

Four women who couldn’t be more different – various ages and situations in life – are connected through their membership in a book club. But rather than developing deep friendships with each other, they each connected more with Abby, and her loss sets them adrift. Unexpected personal gifts that Abby had previously made for them leads to reflection, a spiritual journey, and fulfillment.

These four women felt real and I enjoyed watching them reach out to others with their God-given talents, helping each other in the process. Belinda was strong and determined, but lonely. Louisa had never regained her purpose in life after the death of her husband. Cassidy was a hard worker who had forgotten how to enjoy life. Grace was used to helping those who could do something for her in return. Through art therapy, making house calls on the pets of senior adults, putting together a teen fashion show, and decorating rooms in Habitat homes, these ladies learn important life lessons. Spiritual themes are beautifully woven throughout, such as selfless giving, serving others, and the need for community.

The Christmas Angel Project is full of Christmas cheer and will speak to everyone who reads it. Recommended.


Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than five million. She is the author of several Christmas books from Revell, including the bestselling The Christmas Bus, The Christmas Dog, and Christmas at Harrington's, which is being considered for a TV movie.

She is also the author of many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, Double Take, the Life at Kingston High series, and the Diary of a Teenage Girl series. She is the winner of a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and Finding Alice. Melody and her husband live in Oregon.


Disclaimer:  I was provided a free copy of this book from Revell. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: Life Creative

Life Creative
By Wendy Speake & Kelli Stuart
Kregel, 2016


What was God thinking when He created you creative and then gave you children?

Creative moms often feel as though they must lay their passions down. But God had something special in mind for the creative woman during this intense season of mothering.

In this Pinterest age of handcrafted children's parties, Instagram photos of beautifully decorated homes, and blogs filled with poetry and prose, it is clear that we are in the midst of a brand new artistic renaissance. Not one born in Italian cathedrals or Harlem jazz clubs, but rather in kitchens, nurseries, and living rooms around the world. Mothers, working in the cracks and crevices of each hectic day, are adorning the world with their gifts, and they're showing all of us the beauty of this Life Creative.

In this book, you'll learn:

-Why the world needs your art
-How this Life Creative begins at home
-When art can turn a profit
-Your part in this modern day Renaissance

Life Creative paints the stories of moms, just like you, who are fitting their inspired lives into the everyday, ordinary places of motherhood. Women like home decorator Melissa Michaels and jewelry designer Lisa Leonard, author Angie Smith, recording artist Ellie Holcomb, and many more.

Purchase a copy:

My thoughts

Take my painting and let it be . . . take my camera and let it be . . .
take my baking and let it be . . . take my designing . . .
my crafting . . . my writing . . . my mothering . . .
and let it all be ever, only all for Thee.

Life Creative is so encouraging, a book that any mom would find inspiring and very beneficial in living day-to-day life. Maybe not in all cases, but I do know several moms who have set aside their creative talent or outlet when children came along – and felt frustrated as a result, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart have literally become advocates to moms in this book of hope, encouragement, and application.

Although my children are grown, it was easy to reflect on my personal experiences as I read Life Creative. This book helps moms find ways to honor their artistic side that don’t require abandoning the people around us. Children bring a major change into life’s routines, but adjustments can be made with equally satisfying results. Some of my fondest memories are when my children would come into the room where I was practicing the piano in preparation for Sunday worship. I also loved how this book brings out many less obvious forms of creativity, so there is something for everyone.

A couple of chapters were especially meaningful to me. Chapter 6 talks about abiding, something that I found very difficult with young children. The authors talk about the importance of having three areas of sanctified time in our lives – for God, for family, and for creating – and give helpful ideas for implementation. Chapter 7 focuses on worship, how our roles as mom, wife, and creative artist combine in one giant act of worship. I loved how the authors illustrate this through the Hebrew word avodah, which has “three diverse meanings braided together in real life: work, worship, and service.”

There’s so much in Life Creative that will benefit any mom, an abundance of Scripture, application, encouragement and ideas that I would never have thought of on my own. Recommended to all moms.


Wendy Speake is a trained actress and heartfelt teacher. She ministers to women's hearts through storytelling and life applications, utilizing drama, comedy, poetry and the study of God's Word. During her career in Hollywood, Speake found herself longing to tell stories that edify and encourage women. She is the author of Triggers: Exchanging Parents' Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses (BRU Press, 2015). Speake is a wife and homeschooling mother of three boys.

Kelli Stuart is a writer and a storyteller at heart. She has written for several websites including The Huffington Post, 5 Minutes for Mom, The MOB Society, (in)courage and Compassion International. She is the author of three books, including Like a River from Its Course (Kregel Publications, 2016) and a noted speaker. Stuart her husband live in Florida with their four children.

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Disclaimer:  I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: A Day and a Life

A Day and a Life
By Penelope Wilcock
The Hawk and the Dove #9
Lion Hudson, 2016


The monastic rhythm of life at St. Alcuins means that all is peaceful on the surface, but beneath there are strong currents as each monk contends with his own hopes, fears, challenges, and temptations.

Not every monk is settled and secure. Sadness permeates the monastery when it is discovered early one morning that one of the novices, Brother Cedd, has disappeared.

It quickly becomes clear that disturbance in the life of one can impact many. As the day goes on, the question looms: will Brother Cedd return? And what will be the consequences if he doesn't?

In this moving conclusion to The Hawk and the Dove series, Pen Wilcock describes a single day in the life of the community weaving a deeply touching, frank, and witty tapestry of monastic life.

My thoughts

How fitting that the nine-volume Hawk & the Dove series, spanning many years of life in a 15th-century Yorkshire monastery, should end with a novel detailing one day’s activity, a day that begins with the disappearance of Brother Cedd. These stories by Penelope Wilcock are like nothing I’ve read before, beautifully written and touching in their simplicity – and, contrary to what one might expect, extremely relevant for us today.

A Day and a Life helped me understand the monastic life, for all that is promised at St. Alcuin’s is Christ and the community. “He must own nothing, demand nothing, set aside his personal preferences, be content with what he is given.” That speaks to me as I reflect on how God owns everything and all that I’ve been given is to be held loosely, used to benefit others.

A Day and a Life is about community and how the struggles of one affect all. It gently explores what it truly means to bear one another’s burdens. Brother Cedd’s feelings of inadequacy and doubts about his calling become my own insecurities and questioning. Community is “human frailty in all its ordinariness stitched together with love.”

Most of all, A Day and a Life points me to Christ with its message that life is more than about self or even community. William advises Brother Cedd: “The point of any life is to encounter Jesus Christ, to walk with him as a friend, to open your heart up for him to dwell in.”

I love the way this gently-paced, poignant series reminds me over and over of how faith can be applied in daily life, always pointing to Jesus, the Lover of my Soul. These are stories that will be read again. I share in these closing words by the author …

Now the abbey is wrapped in peace,
withdrawn into Great Silence.
Good night. Go well. God be with you.
Joy is there in the journeying. Keep the faith.

Highly recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.


Penelope Wilcock is the author of The Hawk and the Dove Series and many other books such as In Celebration of Simplicity and 100 Stand-Alone Bible Studies. She has many years of experience as a Methodist minister and has worked as a hospice and school chaplain. She has five adult daughters and lives in Hastings, East Sussex.

Review (+ Tour Giveaway): The Devoted

The Devoted
By Suzanne Woods Fisher
The Bishop’s Family #3
Revell, 2016


Restless and adventurous, Ruthie Stoltzfus is right on the cusp of leaving her Amish home. Secretly, she’s earned her GED, saved her money—but she can’t quite set her journey into motion. Just as everything falls into place, along comes Patrick Kelly.

Patrick is a young man on a journey of his own. He’s come to Stoney Ridge to convert to the Amish and has given himself thirty days to learn the language, drive a buggy, and adapt to “everything Plain.” Time is of the essence and every moment is to be cherished—especially the hours he spends with Ruthie, his Penn Dutch tutor.

Ruthie’s next-door neighbor and cunning ex-boyfriend, Luke Schrock, is drawn to trouble like a moth to a flame. Rebellious, headstrong, defiant, Luke will do anything to win Ruthie back—and Patrick Kelly is in his way.

Bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher invites you back to Stoney Ridge for a story of dreams deferred—and the promise of hopes fulfilled.

To purchase your copy, click here.

My thoughts

Reading a novel by Suzanne Woods Fisher is always an entertaining, satisfying, and fulfilling experience. It’s finding yourself pulled into the day-to-day life of a community, and filled with new insights after turning the last page. The Devoted concludes one of my favorite series, The Bishop’s Family – and while it can stand alone, I highly recommend reading the series in order.

Suzanne’s stories reflect the heartbeat of a community and we get to watch families grow – often learning of a child’s characteristics and seeing how that plays out into adulthood several novels or a series later. One such example is that of Luke Schrock, who I fell in love with as a child in The Letters. But now he is 17 and in so much trouble as he lives life on the edge, not caring about the consequences of his foolish actions. I look forward to Luke’s story in the future.

The Devoted features an ensemble cast where Amish and English interact, which widens its appeal beyond the Amish market. It’s a story about relationships, growing up, discovering how faith intersects with life. I love the gentle humor that’s reflected through characters’ thoughts. And I was touched by memorable characters like Birdy, who makes me see the wonders of God’s creation with new eyes … Hank, who absolutely has no filter … Patrick, the miracle of Stoney Ridge … Ruthie, who wants her life to matter and, because of Patrick, discovers what was right in front of her all along … David’s sister, Dok, who has a heart for the Amish people and discovers the meaning of a lasting relationship.

With Suzanne’s books, it’s a case of whatever I’m reading at the time is my favorite, but I have to say that this series has a special place in my heart because of David, Stoney Creek’s bishop. In working closely with two different pastors over the years, I know firsthand that leadership is lonely – heartbreaking and rewarding at the same time. It requires a heart for people, wisdom that only comes from God, and courage to make tough decisions. David Stoltzfus reflects all that and more.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free of charge through Celebrate Lit.


Suzanne Woods Fisher is an award-winning, bestselling author whose most recent novels include Anna’s Crossing and The Inn at Eagle Hill series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace and The Heart of the Amish. She lives in California.



To celebrate her tour, Suzanne is giving away a copy of The Devoted and an iPad Mini 2 16GB! Click here to enter . . .

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review + GIVEAWAY: Deadly Wedding

Deadly Wedding
By Kate Parker
The Deadly Series #2
JDP Press, 2016


Why murder a dying man?

Olivia Denis is hesitant to help an old family friend get ready for her wedding outside London. The so-called friend is a master at using people. As a young widow trying to find her way through a new romantic relationship, Olivia would rather avoid the large party.

She definitely didn’t plan to find the bride’s grandfather stabbed to death. The cruel, enormously rich aristocrat had changed his will only the day before, angering all his children.

As Olivia is forced to investigate the murder, she’s called away by her employer, the owner of an influential London daily newspaper. She must carry out another secret assignment, one that will take her to Vienna, now part of Nazi Germany.

With war on the horizon and attacks on the old man’s family increasing, can Olivia find a way to save lives in two countries?

My thoughts

A family patriarch changes his will, World War II setting, step-by-step investigation without the aid of modern technologies, and nothing is quite like what it seems. Deadly Wedding is an excellent cozy mystery and I enjoyed every minute spent in the world of Olivia Denis. British mysteries are a favorite of mine and I was delighted to discover the writing of Kate Parker in this story that spans from outside London to Vienna in 1938. Deadly Wedding is #2 in this series, but can stand alone.

Characters are well drawn; some are likeable and some, not so much. There’s lots of tension – from within a really dysfunctional aristocratic family, and then from a nation on the brink of war. Not only does the author know history, but she conveys it in a way that pulled me right into that era.

Olivia is a strong young woman, an appealing protagonist, and I hope to see more of her in future stories. From the backstory provided, we learn that her husband was murdered in the previous book, which led to her combining natural intelligence with journalistic skills in investigation. The mystery storyline is well developed, with lots of red herrings and a conclusion that surprised me.

I especially appreciated that this story is a clean read with no language or graphic scenes. I recommend Deadly Wedding to all who enjoy cozy mysteries.

I received this book free of charge through Great Escapes Tours.


Kate Parker has wanted to travel to 1930s England since she read her mother’s Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers mysteries when she was a schoolgirl. After many years of studying science, she decided a time travel machine was out of the question so she found herself limited to reading about the period and visiting historic sites. Her love of this fascinating and challenging period led her to the research from which the Deadly series grew. Eventually, she found it necessary to spend several days in the British Library reading old newspapers, which meant another trip to England. Near Christmas. A sacrifice she’d gladly make every year.

The first story in the series is Deadly Scandal, released January 14, 2016.


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To enter the drawing for a print copy of Deadly Wedding, please click on this link and share my Facebook post, then leave a comment here.

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 Saturday, November 5. Winner will be chosen by and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Union with Christ

Union with Christ
By Rankin Wilbourne
David C. Cook, 2016


Nothing is more basic or central to knowing and enjoying God than Union with Christ.

Have you ever had difficulty connecting what you know to be true about God with how you feel or how you live each day? Have you ever longed to change but just felt stuck?

The Bible makes a stunning claim: God has provided a way for your life to be united to Christ's. What does that mean? Is it really possible for me, now? What would it look like?

In Union with Christ, Rankin Wilbourne makes union with Christ accessible and beautiful, for you. Union with Christ is not an abstract idea. It is a powerful reality. And recovering a sense of your union with Christ can change everything for you, like finally putting on a pair of desperately-needed glasses.

Discover how coming to see your life through the lens of union with Christ can help bridge that gap between your head and your heart, between your belief and your experience. Union with Christ is what we most need in order to know and enjoy God.

My thoughts

Rankin Wilbourne has written an in-depth book that explores a topic that believers should find exciting, and that is being in union with Christ. The Bible refers to this extensively, yet few probably understand the concept fully. Union with Christ is a book for all believers, but one that the serious student of the Bible would especially enjoy.

In the simplest of terms, union with Christ means that you are in Christ and Christ is in you. Although it is difficult, maybe even impossible, to explain a mystical concept, the author has done a thorough job in exploring the subject and his writing is easy to follow. The greatest benefit for me personally is that I’m giving a lot of thought to all that this means and want to go back through the book slowly and in depth.

Union with Christ is divided into four sections:

-- What is it and why do we need it?
-- Where did it come from? Where did it go?
-- What problems does it solve?
-- Union with Christ day by day

In the Introduction, the author talks about the role imagination plays in our faith, something that I found very interesting. I also liked how, in one of the early chapters, he talks about living in the gap between what we believe and what we experience. I suspect that many believers find themselves in this gap – at least from time to time.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Chapter 3, where Wilbourne talks about the necessity of union with Christ:

“The song of grace without union with Christ becomes impersonal, a cold calculus that can leave you cynical. The song of discipleship without union with Christ becomes joyless duty, a never-ending hill that can leave you exhausted. . . . Union with Christ allows us to sing of a grace that asks nothing of us to love us – amazing grace – but at the same time, demands everything from us – my soul, my life, my all.”

Union with Christ is very informative, thought provoking, and spiritually uplifting. Recommended.

I received this book free of charge through Litfuse Publicity.

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Rankin Wilbourne grew up in Louisiana and was educated at the University of Mississippi and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is now the senior pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles.

As a former commercial banker, Rankin understands the "gap" between the gospel preached on Sunday and the world people face on Monday. Leading a thriving church in a city driven by stories, he's concerned with drawing connections between what we believe and how we live. Rankin and his wife, Morgen, reside in Los Angeles with their three children.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review (+ Tour Giveaway): Masking for Trouble

Masking for Trouble
By Diane Vallere
A Costume Shop Mystery #2
Berkley, 2016


Halloween brings more tricks than treats for costume shop owner Margo Tamblyn in the second in a new cozy series from the national bestselling author of the Material Witness Mysteries.

Halloween conjures up big business for Margo Tamblyn’s costume shop, Disguise DeLimit, but this year, the holiday comes knocking with serious trouble. Venture capitalist Paul Haverford plans to rezone historic downtown into a glitzy commercial area which would push out local business. Margo is set on saving her family’s store, especially after a nasty run-in with the chain-store tycoon, but after Haverford’s body is discovered during a spooky party at the derelict Alexandria Hotel, Margo finds herself dressed as the police’s prime suspect.

Anxious to clear her name, Margo begins hunting down anyone who might have wanted Haverford dead. Between all of his malicious maneuverings, the murdered mogul had buckets of people anxious to see him gone. Now, Margo will have to use every trick in the book to find a cloaked killer—before someone else winds up wearing a death shroud…

My thoughts

Masking for Trouble by Diane Vallere is a great cozy mystery and I enjoyed it very much. Characters are likeable and interesting, making me want to come back to them. Family, friendships and community play a big part. The writing flows easily and the mystery storyline is well plotted. Although the story is centered around Halloween, I was delighted that there were no supernatural or witchcraft elements; the focus is totally on costumes and parties.

Masking for Trouble is set in the fictional city of Proper City, Nevada, about 40 miles from Las Vegas – and I loved how the creative history of this small town made it feel so real. Future development plans for Proper City and small-town politics provide interesting conflict.

To truly enjoy a book, I have to like the main characters, and that was certainly the case with Margo and Tak. Margo is actually quite complex. She owns a costume shop, Disguise DeLimit, in a town that loves costumes – and she has some great friends. Growing up in her dad’s shop had given her a love for costumes, and elements of costumes became her everyday attire. I also loved the close relationship she has with her father.

Tak, half Japanese, is an appealing character with moral values and I enjoyed the developing romance between them. Their effort to date in secret was funny and Tak’s thoughts were right on … “Sometimes I can’t tell if we’re dating or if we’re practicing to be government spies.”

Masking for Trouble contains no graphic scenes or profanity, and I applaud Diane Vallere for showing that it is possible to write an entertaining story without these elements. Would that more authors would follow her example!

Recommended to all who enjoy cozy mysteries.

I received this book free of charge from Great Escapes Tours.


I’m a former fashion buyer turned mystery writer, trading fashion accessories for accessories to murder. I was bit by the mystery bug as a kid reading Trixie Belden, Connie Blair, and The Three Investigators. Now I’m writing three series: the Style & Error Mysteries, the Mad for Mod Mysteries, and the Material Witness Mysteries.

The Costume Shop mysteries debuted with A DISGUISE TO DIE FOR , which introduces Margo Tamblyn, costume shop owner, who helps solve a murder after one of her clients is found dead at his own costume party (dressed as Sherlock!). MASKING FOR TROUBLE , the second in the series, will be out in October 2016, just in time for Halloween.

The Material Witness mysteries feature Polyester Monroe, who inherits the fabric shop where she was born. Books include SUEDE TO REST and CRUSHED VELVET. The third, SILK STALKINGS, was just released.

The Style & Error Series features former fashion buyer turned amateur sleuth Samantha Kidd. Books in that series include DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY; BUYER, BEWARE; THE BRIM REAPER; and SOME LIKE IT HAUTE. (A short story, “Just Kidding,” tells the story of how Samantha first met shoe designer Nick Taylor). Book 5, GRAND THEFT RETRO, will be out in 2016.

The Madison Night Mysteries feature a modern day interior decorator who specializes in midcentury design (studying Doris Day movies to get the look right). Books are PILLOW STALK,THAT TOUCH OF INK, and WITH VICS YOU GET EGGROLL. A prequel novella, “Midnight Ice,” can be found in OTHER PEOPLE’S BAGGAGE.

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