Sunday, August 28, 2011

I've Moved - This Blog is Closed

I have relocated and am not posting here anymore. My new blog is located at Through the Fog. I'm sorry for any confusion, but I hope to see you all there. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Lady of Bolton Hill

I just know you want to read all about this book. I'm switching over to my new blog though (see the last post to see why if you missed it) so check it out here: Through the Fog. I hope you like the new blog and will decide to "follow" me over there. lol

Monday, May 30, 2011

New Blog

I think most of you know that I've been toying with becoming a writer. Lots of "life" has happened and there has been a lot about the industry I needed and continue to learn. I have one manuscript I'm working on and two more I'm in currently planning and researching. I also will be attending my first writing conference this fall. One of the things I had to look at was name recognition. There is more than one author that shares my name - and I've already been confused more than once with one of the most popular ones.

I sought the advice of people much more experienced than I am and all of them thought that a pen name would be best. I looked at several variations and ended up with Margaret Metz. I've got a new facebook page under that name, changed my Goodreads account to that name, and I've established a new blog called Through the Fog where I'll be posting from now on. Please join me there. It's pretty empty right now, but I could use all the friends I could get. It's hard starting over.

Thanks and I hope you enjoyed your holiday weekend.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Friday 56

Freda @ Freda's Voice is hosting The Friday 56.

Here are the rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence that grabs you.
*Post it.

Then you go to her blog and enter your blog URL in her linky area on her Friday 56 post. :o)

Here's mine:

    "He's gentle with his children, well respected in the community, doesn't indulge in tobacco or alcohol."
    "Guess he didn't tell you about my drinking habit."

That's from Spring for Susannah by Catherine Richmond.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Brides Too Many

Kat and Nell Sinclair are headed west—away from the manicured lawns of Maine to the boisterous, booming mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado to start new lives for themselves as mail-order brides. Aboard the train, romantic dreamer Nell carries a photo of her intended close to her heart and imagines an exciting and love-filled future, while her pragmatic older sister Kat resigns herself to marriage as a duty, not a delight. But when the ladies disembark at the train depot, neither fiancé Patrick Maloney or Judson Archer awaits them with open arms. The well-bred Sinclair sisters find themselves unexpectedly alone in the wild, frontier town—a place where fire threatens to reduce the buildings to rubble, the working women strut the streets, rogues will gamble for the shoes on one’s feet, and God’s grace is found amongst the most unlikely of folks. Two sisters,Two missing misters,A shocking welcome to the wild west that leaves both Kat and Nell Sinclair questioning their dreams­ and the hope for true love.

My Take: 

One of the things I liked about this book was the way the cover and the writing made me think of my own sister. I've got dark hair and my sister is a blond. She's the social butterfly and I tend to have just a few close friends. I could go on and on. Just like Kat & Nell, we would have fought anyone who tried to hurt the other. 

These sisters are also very different from each other but they have their world turned upside down. Their tight-knit family is broken apart and they are forced to become mail order brides far from home and everything they know and dreamed of. When they arrive they find even those plans have gone awry. 

I loved the characters the author created in this book. Hattie and Boney are especially memorable. This is a "sweet" romance and though it features romances for both sisters - one of them has to wait for so long that it feels almost like it was skipped over and then inserted. 

I kind of wondered why some minor characters were given point of view in scenes. I can only guess that they will be featured in the rest of the series. 

Those tiny negatives were not enough to take away from two very well written characters. Nell and Kat both stood out as individuals and as women who were taking risks to try and settle in a very turbulent area that wasn't safe for single women. Both showed courage and compassion as well as loyalty to each other and those they came to know and care for. Both were willing to sacrifice for strangers as well. It's just that kind of spirit that got our country started. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Musings

Right now my thoughts and prayers go out to those in Joplin that were devastated by the latest tornado. That's close to where I live and my husband often travels there for work. I can't even imagine what the people there are going through.

What is truly amazing is that in Joplin - and in so many other areas that have been hard hit lately - volunteers have stepped up and the community has rallied to help one another. They aren't waiting for a government hand out or even for FEMA to show up. These are ordinary citizens standing up and doing what needs to be done to help one another and rebuild.

That's the kind of character and spirit that made America strong. We don't need more government programs and interference. Americans have shown they have what it takes to do what has to be done on their own. They can stand on their own two feet and they like to do it. They want to help one another. Americans are a generous people. We have always been one of the most charitable people on the planet.

We showed unity and strength after 9-11 and we're showing it now. It's not about politics - it's about character. I'm proud to be an American.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Surrender the Night

Summary: When British soldiers invade Baltimore amid the War of 1812, Rose McGuire, alone on her family farm, is easy prey for a brutal lieutenant. In the midst of the attack, she’s saved by British 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Reed. Will she now have to heal, as well as hide, this enemy soldier?

            Alex hadn’t meant to kill his superior or get shot in the process. Now badly wounded, he’s at the mercy of this tomboy who obviously hates him. Can he trust her, or will she turn him over to the Americans?

            Rose is having trouble keeping Alex hidden from her family, the townspeople, and the man intent on courting her. Will the discovery of Alex’s presence force her to accept an abhorrent proposal?

            As their love blooms, trouble looms, for the British are on the move again. This time, their target is the city of Washington. Will these young lovers at heart find themselves enemies at war?

My Take:

I love MaryLu Tyndall. She writes about real history and then adds in these fabulous characters that tear at your heart and make you feel as if you lived their story right alongside them. This is one of her best so far.

Rose has gone through some horrific experiences and has come through it with a strength that covers fear. She hides away on the farm and shuns the social life in town. She likes animals more than people and spends copious amounts of time in the barn instead of dressing up and tea parties. She certainly isn't interested in men, especially the one that comes calling most often - and wants her land more than her. She's fiercely patriotic and hates what the British have done -- especially to innocent women and civilians.

Alex is a man of integrity. He's a loyal subject in His Majesty's Navy who has an overwhelming desire to prove himself. He can't ignore what he sees around him though. When a particularly nasty man attempts to rape a young rebel girl he tries to talk him out of it and the encounter ends up with him killing him in self defense. He's badly wounded and though it's clear she hates him, he has to trust her to take care of him until he's well enough to get back to his ship. They know his being there is dangerous for them both.

Alex is protective, honorable and attractive. Rose is intelligent, caring, independent, and beautiful. The sparks fly between them for many reasons. I love how the relationship develops slowly and how they fight so realistically over things that would have truly divided them. It was also wonderful how the author used the different relationships between her Aunt and Uncle and their wishes for Rose. There were a lot of unexpected plot twists and turns. It was an exciting and satisfying book. This one goes on my favorites list for the year.   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

To Win Her Heart

Summary: Having completed his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade he learned at his father's knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past. But small towns leave little room for secrets...
Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she steels herself against the attraction he provokes. His halting speech and hesitant manner leave her doubting his intelligence. Yet as the mysteries of the town's new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.
Levi's renewed commitment to his faith leads Eden to believe she's finally found a man of honor and integrity, a man worthy of her love. But when the truth about his prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian's affections?

My Take:  Karen Witemeyer creates some of the most appealing heroes in the business. This book is no exception. Levi is a complex man with a past he hasn't totally forgiven himself for - even if he has made peace with God. He settles in to the new town, determined to keep a low profile and somehow trouble just keeps finding him. A man picks a fight with him - bringing back old memories and guilt. Then he's brought work from the mine - and he'd sworn to stay as far away from that as possible. The worst thing is the librarian. She is as prickly as a hedgehog but he can't seem to stay away from her. The sparks fly between them like striking hot metal. Levi believes in his heart that his past makes him unworthy of her and he decides to stay away...

Eden is strong, driven and intelligent. She has been hurt badly before by a man who just wanted to use her for her father's money so she doesn't trust easy. Living out in these towns has also shown her too many men willing to resort to violence to get what they want. She doesn't want anything to do with criminals and fighters. She despises people who push her around and try to control her - like the Sheriff of their town who insists they are betrothed when she has no interest in him at all. She likes Levi but he seems to be keeping secrets from her and that's one thing she can't abide.

Both these people grow over the course of the book and learn from each other and from Chloe, a girl Eden takes in that Levi helped rescue. Faith is challenged and there are some who learn a valuable lesson about what it means to be "rock toters" instead of those who share grace. Having said all that, this is not one of those books that beats you over the head with preaching and the romance was realistic. I truly enjoyed it would suggest it to anyone who likes this genre.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!

May we be thankful for the many wonderful mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and "substitute" mothers who stepped in and influenced us to be better people, to reach for the dreams we were afraid to hope for, who loved us despite our faults and taught us so many things.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Larkspur Cove

Summary: Adventure is the last thing on Andrea Henderson's mind when she moves to Moses Lake. After surviving the worst year of her life, she's struggling to build a new life for herself and her son as a social worker. Perhaps in doing a job that makes a difference, she can find some sense of purpose and solace in her shattered faith.For new Moses Lake game warden Mart McClendon, finding a sense of purpose in life isn't an issue. He took the job to get out of southwest Texas and the constant reminders of a tragedy for which he can't forgive himself.
But when a little girl is seen with the town recluse, Mart and Andrea are drawn together in the search for her identity. The little girl offers them both a new chance at redemption and hope--and may bring them closer than either ever planned.

My Take: If you've never read a book by Lisa Wingate before, you are missing out. One of the things she is truly gifted at is making a setting come alive. Each book I've read has a place that becomes a character itself -- it has its own special feeling, rhythm, atmosphere... magic about it. I feel like I've been to Moses Lake and know the people there after reading this book. That's a special gift.

The story has powerful messages of forgiveness, acceptance and healing without being preachy. Andrea and Mart are both realistic and like able. Andrea's relationship with her son also feels real - as do his struggles. This book is not as funny as her Daily, Texas series, but it will tug at your heart and make you fall in love with the characters. When you close the back cover it's the very essence of bittersweet. You feel like everything is just as it should be, but you're sad to see it end.

I want to thank Bethany House for my copy though it did not influence my review.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Max on Life

Summary: We have questions. Child-like inquiries. And deep, heavy ones.In more than twenty-five years of writing and ministry, Max Lucado has been the receiving line for thousands of such questions. The questions come in letters, e-mails, even on Dunkin Donuts napkins. In Max on Life he offers thoughtful answers to more than 150 of the most pressing questions on topics ranging from hope to hurt, from home to the hereafter.
Max writes about the role of prayer, the purpose of pain, and the reason for our ultimate hope. He responds to the day-to-day questions-parenting quandaries, financial challenges, difficult relationships-as well as to the profound: Is God really listening?
A special addendum includes Max's advice on writing and publishing.
Including topical and scriptural indexes and filled with classic Lucado encouragement and insight, Max on Life will quickly become a favorite resource for pastors and ministry leaders as well as new and mature believers.

My Take: I'm a huge fan of Max Lucado. I think he takes complicated issues and makes them simple. I think he manages to stay true to the gospel without being self-righteous or judgmental. I loved the format of the book because it fits who we are and seemed so honest. People ask these kinds of questions - these are the things that bother, hurt and trouble us. The answers were brief but honest and I thought they were handled very well. I think this is an excellent book to have on any church library bookshelf and for gifts to new believers or those wanting answers and not knowing who to trust. The topics range from everything to basic faith to parenting, marriage, friendships... anything and everything.

As a writer I wished that section was a little longer, but I wish I had the money to buy a thousand copies and pass them out to everyone I could think of. 

I want to thank Thomas Nelson for my copy although their gift did not influence this review.


Everyone has troubles and mine are not any bigger than those faced by those you know and love. You may remember that we moved here about 9 months ago because my husband got a new job. That blessing hasn't worked out as well as we hoped.

His new boss doesn't care for him. My husband is doing very well. He's ranked 7th in the nation for his company. He's improved the numbers and quota for his area and now has 115%. When it came time to give raises a couple months ago, he was recommended for the highest level available. Now the boss has decided my husband doesn't know what he's doing and just doesn't "fit in" with this company and maybe his profession. He gave him a verbal warning - put it in his file and then suggested that he get his resume ready and look for other opportunities before it got to the point where a written warning was in his record. He's also going around to all the people my husband deals with and trying to get them to complain about my husband. It's a bad situation.

We went six months without a job before he got hired this time, so our financial situation isn't great. If we don't find something before his boss decides to fire him... I'm concerned how we'll manage.

The stress of that has been bad enough, but I also had to switch doctors and our insurance company is switching us over to a mail order program at the same time. That has caused a lot of confusion with prescriptions and I've been without some of my meds for a while and I still haven't gotten them all switched over in the system.

The good news is that I'm seeing a wonderful doctor, I took a trip and got to see my oldest son and visit with my old church members as well.... I'm also sure that God has a plan. I would appreciate your prayers and patience as we go through this stressful time.

Blessings to you all ~

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Baby Hedgehog - aka adorable ;o)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Musings

This is my oldest cat. She's Siamese but she kind of breaks a lot of the expectations of a Siamese cat. She's very cuddly and loves to be around people like many Siamese - but she isn't picky about her human companions. It could be a perfect stranger that just walked in. We once had company that accidentally stepped on her and she jumped up on his lap as soon as he sat down. She also is much quieter than the typical Siamese. Since my mom bred them, I was very familiar with the.... shall we say persistent and sometimes very high pitched yowl they can produce? She frequently does something we call the "silent meow." She opens her mouth and looks at you - but no sound comes out. She can and does meow (though not usually loud -unless we're giving her the occasional tuna treat) but those silent meows got me thinking.

I notice and respond to her a lot when she does it. It makes me pay attention. That made me think of a commercial that ran a few years back where there was silence for a while. That got us all looking at the TV too - we had to see what was going on and make sure nothing was wrong with the cable. We've been taught that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." We have to make a lot of noise to be heard and those making the most noise (and with all the best bells and whistles) must have the best message.

My old Siamese may be unusual but she's purebred. She's the real thing. Sometimes the real thing isn't loud and brash. I think of the story of Elijah. He wanted to hear from the real thing - God. We hear the results of his search in 1Kings chapter 19 verses 11-12:

And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

I love that! There was a lot of exciting things happening on that mountain ~ huge winds (capable of tearing things apart), earthquakes, and fires... All that so surely you would expect God to come out with some fireworks or at least a voice that would make your ears bleed. What does He do instead? He whispers. I think that is part of who He is - never forcing Himself on anyone and part of this whole philosophy that if the whole world is screaming at you, maybe what you need is a still, small voice.

When I grow up I want to be just like him. :o) (My way of saying I know I don't do this perfectly right now.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Heart Most Worthy


The elegance of Madame Forza's gown shop is a far cry from the downtrodden North End of Boston. Yet each day Julietta, Annamaria, and Luciana enter the world of the upper class, working on finery for the elite in society. The three beauties each long to break free of their obligations and embrace the American dream--and their chance for love. But the ways of the heart are difficult to discern at times. Julietta is drawn to the swarthy, mysterious Angelo. Annamaria has a star-crossed encounter with the grocer's son, a man from the entirely wrong family. And through no intent of her own, Luciana catches the eye of Billy Quinn, the son of Madame Forza's most important client. Their destinies intertwined, each harboring a secret from their families and each other, will they be found worthy of the love they seek?

My Take:

Wow! This book is like a sweet Vidalia onion that's been caramelized - lots of layers and all full of yummy goodness. I could analyze this for pages and pages but I'll try and restrain myself. ;o) It starts with the cover. Isn't it drool-worthy? I'm in total envy over that dress.

The author tackles surface issues like the the problems the Italian immigrants faced both from outsiders and from their own prejudices against other Italians. Tradition and family was all many of them had. Sometimes the same stubborn pride that helped them survive in this new country insulated them and even caused them to refuse help they needed.

What makes a healthy relationship? What is most important in love? All the main characters struggle with these questions on some level or another. Whether it's 1918 or 2011, people still mistake lust for love, they still think they're unworthy for whatever reason, they still fear what will happen if they trust... and sometimes they think it's too late once they've made mistakes. Sometimes people try to manipulate people and call it love.

Then you have the political undertones. People who think violence is the way to bring about change and that the government should do whatever they want. People who don't mind stealing, killing or dying in order to make their plans come to fruition. It sounds eerily like what is going on here and around the world. Yet you meet them, sympathize and want to be able to help them see what they're doing is hurting themselves and others.

The three main characters couldn't be more different. Add in Madame Fortier and you have four women who will stay with me for some time. They loved deeply, made mistakes, kept secrets, and showed a tenacity of spirit that made me love them all. From the beginning to end you can see each of them grow and change in individual ways that reflected the personal journey each had to take.

There were also some yummy heroes that you won't want to miss. Each had his own strengths (and weaknesses) that perfectly matched the girl he was destined to be with. Some had unflappable faith and determination, some patience that would try a saint, some were self-sacrificing... and some were forgiving and generous. All were romantic because true romance is loving in a way that brings out the best in them and is concentrated on their needs instead of your own.

This is going on my list of best books of 2011. I want to thank Bethany House for providing me my copy in exchange for my honest review.   

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Desert Gift


What does a nationally known marriage expert do when her own marriage falls apart? Just as Jillian Galloway sets out for a publicity tour to promote her new book, her husband drops a bombshell: He wants a divorce. Jill flees to her parents’ home in the California desert, wondering whether everything she’s built her career on—indeed, everything she’s built her life around—is a sham. Navigating this “side road” of life is an uphill climb that leads to new understandings about herself, her marriage, and her relationship with the One who created marriage.

My Take:

A book about a marriage falling apart didn't appeal to me at the outset. I'm more about romance and happily every after. There is a part of me that also thinks being real is valuable and I wondered just how this author tackled this very important topic. Was it sugar coated? Was everything fixed with a fancy dinner and flowers? Did a prayer make everything all better?

The truth is this book was refreshingly real in many ways. Jillian has been telling everyone how to make sure their marriages are perfect but she hasn't been taking note of her own. Her husband isn't even sure why he wants out at first - just that he feels like he can't breathe and that she is the cause of his pain. 

As time passes Jillian has to take a hard look at who she has become and whether she likes that person. Then she deals with her faith and how she feels about family as well. Only then is she truly ready to try and fix her marriage. Her husband deals with his own issues. Neither is perfect and on top of their marriage problems, their son comes back from a trip with a surprise fiance. They want to get married right away - so now the stunned couple have a wedding to plan while their marriage is disintegrating.

What I liked is that there were no easy answers given in the book. People judged, fought and struggled in a way that was both unique to her situation and that many people will be able to relate to. I thought the characters were well written. I got angry and felt bad for them at different times in the story. I don't know that enjoy is the right word for the book - but I took away a lot from it and I would suggest it to others. 
Tyndale provided my copy in return for my honest review.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Musings

I need to apologize for not posting. Spring is my favorite season but it's also tough on my asthma because of my allergies. I've been sick with a particularly nasty cough. I had a fever for a few days but thankfully that's gone and I am on the mend.

If you didn't read the contest post, Courtney was the winner of The Convenient Groom. I'm preparing for another drawing soon so keep an eye out for it in the next week or so. :o)

Someone showed me this famous picture taken at the end of World War II and asked me if I recognized it. Of course I did. I've seen it many times. She pointed out that a statue had been made based on the photograph. I didn't know that. A life size one is in New York and a giant one is in San Diego. 

The artist took a few liberties though. In the picture (and a different view shows it even more plainly) we can see the nurse is wearing white stockings. It's why her legs blend in with her shoes but her hand looks much darker. The description of the photo also says that she was clutching her skirt - pushing it down towards her body.

Look at the giant statue in San Diego ~

If you click on the picture and see it bigger, you can see that the face of the sailor is very poorly finished. Her legs look bare - but are visible for quite a distance. In order to view the statue you almost have to look up her skirt. I think it's in poor taste. If I took my kids on a trip to see the sights I would rather talk to them about the victory and the joy of that moment instead of talking to them about not looking up a statue's skirt. How silly. They could have blocked out the bottom of her skirt and made it solid or something.

What do you think - am I being an artistic prude and focusing too much on getting the historic details right?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Musings

"It's the little things that make up the richest part of the tapestry of our lives" -- Unknown

I read that quote and thought how true it is. We worry, fret and pray about the big things - but it is the little things in life that we miss and give life its joy and color. I think about seeing the Crocus bloom right on top of the snow - the first Robin of spring... Spotting a Cardinal that reminds me of my aunt or the Iris I had to leave behind when we moved.

Iris are especially meaningful to me because they were my grandmother's favorite flower. It was her life and death that convinced me to become a Christian. So I plant them in remembrance of her. This picture was the first year and the first bloom of my Iris patch at our old house. I don't have one here yet and I miss it. I see the shoots coming up and I know there will be no Iris here for me this year. No reminder - and it makes me sad.

I can fix it easily enough - and next year will be different. I know how much that means to me and then I think that maybe there are simple things I could do that would bring joy to someone else. Maybe it's someone who has a blog and needs followers, or their blog doesn't get comments very often. Maybe they need a friend to sit down and talk to or a ride somewhere... It doesn't have to be a grand gesture - sometimes it's the little things that stand out the most and make a huge difference in someone's life.

Have a great week. :o)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Summa Elvetica

From Goodreads:
Do Elves Have Souls? In a medieval fantasy world in which the realm of man is dominated by a rich and powerful Church, the Most Sanctified Charity IV decides the time is ripe to make a conclusive inquiry into the matter. If, in his infallible wisdom, he determines that elves do have immortal souls, then the Church will be obliged to bring the Holy Word of the Immaculate to them. But if he decides they do not, there will be holy war. Powerful factions line up on both sides of the debate. War-hungry magnates cast greedy eyes at the ancient wealth of the elven kingdoms and pray for a declaration that elves are little more than animals. And there are men who are willing to do more than merely pray. The delegation sent to the High King of the Elves is led by two great theologians, brilliant philosophers who champion opposite sides of the great debate. And in the Sanctiff’s own stead, he sends the young nobleman, Marcus Valerius. Marcus Valerius is a rising scholar in the Church, talented, fearless, and devout. But he is inexperienced in the ways of the world. Nothing in his life has prepared him for the beauty of the elves—or the monumental betrayal into which he rides.

My Take:

When I picked up this book I hoped for adventure, thought provoking debate... and lots of elves. Maybe you'll laugh at that last part but I really thought if your aim is to decide about the state of their souls - they should play a fairly large role in the story. The real central conflict (and thus the story) is centered around the men here. Elves play a secondary role  - almost as more of an excuse to examine the people than anything else.

This book was somewhat confusing to me. It's more like four things squished between one cover than a single novel. It sets up as this dramatic tale about what will happen when they meet the elves - but about 70% of the book is the journey there and back again plus the Summa Elvetica - which is short and really anti-climatic because the author already summarizes the important conclusions for us and what decision has been made. Then he shares his author's note and then goes back and shares two short stories that give background information for the main story. The two stories also don't connect to each other. It's almost as if the author had these great ideas but couldn't figure out how to make it into one smooth, connected novel so he just pieced it together into -- this. 

Despite this drawbacks I loved the characters we meet early on in the book. They are well-written and have engaging personalities. I like action more than long descriptions but I still enjoyed the camaraderie shared between the characters and "listening in" on and comparing the soldiers war stories was interesting. 

In the end, I wasn't the biggest fan of the format but there were lots on interesting surprises and great characters that made it a worthwhile read.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Monday Musings

Another new week rolls in and I'm so happy the temperatures have warmed up and the flowers have started to bloom! I hope spring has visited wherever you live. :o) Today I want to talk about that old saying "never judge a book by its cover."

I'm sure you've heard it before. I know I have. I've even said it - multiple times - to my sons. Still I've been guilty of it myself. Haven't you? Either you don't even glance at the book with the plain cover (that may or may not have the masterpiece of the century inside) and we oooh and ah at the one with the gorgeous cover that may or may not be worthless even as a paperweight. Sometimes we even misjudge the content of the book because of the cover. This is unfortunate (and as an aspiring writer I can tell you that authors cringe at that thought because most of them have nearly nothing to do with their cover art).

I've told you before that I'm not the biggest fan of war books so when I picked up a bag of "classics" that included a dog-eared copy of North and South and saw this forlorn scene (knowing nothing about the book), I didn't even read the back cover, I just put it off to the side and never read it. I just knew I didn't want to read a sad story about the Civil war (you can laugh at me, it's okay).

You also know I'm a HUGE Jane Austen fan and one of my groups was doing a side read and they were comparing North and South to Pride and Prejudice. What? I was confused and intrigued. Not enough to read the book, yet - but it just so happened that the movie came on PBS and I was able to watch it. They were right! I was wrong... I suddenly went on a search for that book (it's still packed). I bought the DVD for that movie though. It's a totally different story than I thought. I shouldn't have judged it by the cover.

We do that with people too. Someone may have a weight problem and we think they just sit around and eat all day. Maybe we judge because they have money or they live in a nice neighborhood so we think they don't have any problems. Maybe they attend a different church so we think they don't love God as much as we do. People are different and have all kinds of situations that we may not understand. We have to look beneath the cover and get to know them and try to see them the way that God would want us to. If we were all the same the world would be a pretty boring place and it wouldn't work the way it does. We need the strength that comes from the differences.

From the time I was in elementary school until now I've had a problem being almost painfully shy - especially in crowds of new people. Many times it was misunderstood as being stuck up because I was always off by myself and very quiet. I wish people hadn't judged me by my cover - and they'd taken the time to get to know the real me. It wasn't until much later that I found out what the problem was. Someone took a chance and got to know me. Since then I've tried to not only be more aware of my own problem but that other people might have "false covers" too. I try to pass the grace more often than condemnation.

Have a great week ~ and if you get a chance to read or watch North and South you should definitely do so, it's a great story! :o)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Always the Baker, Never the Bride

From Goodreads:

Thirty-six-year-old Emma Rae Travis has been baking specialty cakes and melt-in-your-mouth pastries at The Backstreet Bakery in historic Roswell, just outside of Atlanta, for the last six years. But here s the rub about her job as a baker ... Emma is diabetic. When she tastes her creations, it can only be in the most minute portions. Emma is considered an artisan for the stunning crème brulee wedding cake that won her the Passionate Palette Award last year, but she s never even had one full slice of it.
When Jackson Drake hears about this local baker who has won a prestigious award for her wedding cake artistry, he tells his assistant to be sure and include her in the pastry tastings scheduled at his new wedding destination hotel the following week. And for Jackson, that particular day has started out badly with two workmen trapped in a broken elevator and a delivery of several dozen 300-thread-count bed linens in the wrong size abandoned in the lobby. But when the arrogant baker he met a week prior in Roswell stumbles into the dining room with a platter of pastries and a bucketful of orders, he knows for certain: It s going to be a really rotten day.
Can these two ill-suited players master the high-wire act and make a go of their new business venture? Or will they take each other crashing downward, without a net? And will the surprise wedding at The Tanglewood be theirs?

My Take: 
This one had it all: romance, laughs, family drama - and food. ;o)  Seriously, this book had me glued to my Kindle. Jackson Drake was the perfect hero in that he was a little bit flawed - still hanging on to the memories from the wife he'd lost years ago - and certainly not welcoming to any ideas about religion of any kind that would say that it was okay that she was gone and that God had a plan for his life without her. He's compassionate and understanding with Emma, handsome, more than a little over his head... and just all around wonderful. 

Emma is talented, loaded with family issues, and has more than a little space between her and God as well. I loved seeing how much stronger she became over the course of the book. She didn't start off insecure but she ended in a position of strength and confidence that I think a person can have from knowing who God made them to be.  

Together these two had a great romance. It had some wonderful kisses, some heated exchanges, those moments when you wonder will he/she? And I learned a whole new term/idea about what makes men do the things they do sometimes in dating/relationships. I'll leave you to discover that one for yourself when you read the book. 

This is one of my favorite reads of the year. It is very well written and I loved all the inserted sections that had everything from mouthwatering recipes to tips on wedding favors. Add in the extended families and all their eccentricities... I wouldn't hesitate to suggest this book to any of my friends. :o)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Convenient Groom

From Goodreads:

She wrote the book--literally--on finding the right mate. But does she really understand what love's about? Five hours before her Nantucket beach wedding--and on the eve of her big book launch--celebrity marriage counselor Kate Lawrence has everything in place. Everything, that is, but the groom. She might not have a career, either, when her nationwide audience finds out their marriage guru has been left at the altar. Enter Lucas Wright, who offers to stand in for the missing husband-to-be and marry her. Kate's desperate enough to agree--although she's sure this Mr. Wright is completely wrong for her. Can they pull it off? And why would Lucas marry her in the first place? With her life spinning out of control, Kate wonders what good her carefully laid plans are if they only lead to chaos. Could it be that "Dr. Kate" doesn't know the first thing about love? When she seeks God's will instead of her won, Kate finally discovers true and lasting love.

My Take:

One of my very favorite verses  is:

"The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over over you with singing." 
Zephaniah 3:17

The author was inspired by it when she was writing this book. I would love to say that great minds think alike, but Denise Hunter is in a class all her own. This is not your ordinary Christian romance novel. It's not your ordinary romance novel either. She doesn't preach or even overtly talk about God most of the time. Still, the message is there if you look for it.

This is one of the most touching love stories I've read in a long time. It's a re-release with a beautiful new cover. It's a chance for those of you who haven't read it to get in on something special - and I'm going to be offering you an extra chance as well. :o) Before we get there, let's talk about the story a little more.

Marriages of convenience aren't commonplace today. A lot of couples choose not to marry so a contemporary romance with that theme is a little different right from the beginning. Then you start to notice the people involved and the roles they play. Kate is the relationship expert - but she's stood up on her wedding day because her groom claims to be in love with someone else. Lucas offers to help because he doesn't want Kate hurt and he hopes that he might be able to win her over in time. 

As you watch their relationship, you see Kate accept help in the crisis and yet want to stubbornly cling to her independence - as if giving in to his love (let along returning it) would somehow make her weak. He persists - refusing to give up on her. Sometimes while reading I wanted to reach in and shake her. I couldn't believe she was missing how wonderful he was and all the good he was trying to do for her. 
Then you take two giant steps back. Isn't that how we all are with God? We only call out or accept His help in crisis moments and then we want Him to back off and let us take charge again. In the meantime, he just keeps loving us and trying to help. Without the notes and the preface, this love story could be any romance. It certainly wouldn't offend anyone who doesn't believe in God. If you want to, you can find another layer though.

Now for the good stuff. :o) Thomas Nelson provided me with this copy for review and since I already had my own, I am passing along my good fortune to one of you. This is how you earn entries: 
  1. Be/become a follower
  2. Announce the giveaway on your blog (share the link)
  3. Friend me on goodreads (or share that you are my friend)
  4. Announce the giveaway on goodreads (send/show me announcement)
Don't forget to leave your email address. The drawing will be held on 30 March 2011 - midnight CST. It is only for residents of the United States and is void where prohibited. Thanks and good luck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday Musings

What happened in Japan last week reinforced many of the lessons driven home by 9-11. Things I think we had started taking for granted a little bit. What matters most? What is vitally important to me?

It also reinforced how very interconnected we all are. What happened (and is happening) in Japan isn't isolated to just their country. Not only did huge waves literally hit the shores of the United States and other countries, but because of their role in the world economy, the shock waves from this event will be felt for quite some time.

I look around at the many wars and natural disasters in the world and it can be very scary. It is also wonderful to see how people stand back up, brush themselves off, gather their loved ones around them and work at rebuilding. Sometimes our greatest strength is only seen when we face adversity.

My nephew and his wife live in Japan. He used to be in the Army. They are alive and well. Other families weren't as lucky as mine. As they rebuild, I'm thankful for my family, friends, faith - and so many other blessings. May I never take them for granted. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Springtime of the Spirit

Title: Springtime of the Spirit
Author: Maureen Lang

From Goodreads:

By the fall of 1918, the Great War has ended and the world is at peace, but there is little to celebrate in Germany. After four years of fighting for his homeland, Christophe Brecht returns to find there is little left of what he once called home. So when family friends ask him to travel to Munich to bring back their runaway daughter, Christophe agrees.
When he finally locates Annaliese Duray, he discovers she is far different from the girl he once knew. Headstrong, idealistic, and beautiful, she is on the front lines of the city’s political scene, fighting to give women and working-class citizens a voice in Germany’s new government.
As the political upheaval ignites in Munich, so does the attraction between Annaliese and Christophe. With an army from Berlin threatening to squash everything Annaliese has worked for, both she and Christophe are forced to choose between love and loyalty.

My Take:

This is one of those books that make me think of irony. I've avoided "war" books because I tend to read mostly for escape and entertainment and I don't enjoy stories about wars. I do love historical fiction and this was offered to me for my honest review so I thought I might as well take a chance on it. The first thing I learned was that this isn't really a book about war ~ it's a book about people.

The author has written some compelling characters that are exactly the kind I prefer. These aren't marshmallow fluff characters that leave you feeling as if you may need to visit the dentist because they are just a tad too sweet - too perfect to actually walk planet Earth. Annaliese is basically in rebellion against her parents, her government and her faith. Christophe is so angry at what has happened that one of the first things we see him do is try and destroy a poster of the Kaiser - his mind full of thoughts about how the army was lied to and betrayed by the people who led them into the war.

Another reason I don't much like "war" books is because I would like to keep all the horrible scenes and issues in the past - thinking it has no relevance on life today. I cringed more than once as I read the well-meaning Annaliese describe to Christophe why socialism was the right thing for Germany. Too often her speeches, along with those of her mentor, Jurgen, could have been ripped from today's headlines. 

What surprised me the most was how much I liked this book. It put a human face on a difficult period in Germany's history. Christophe's love and dedication to Annaliese wasn't conditional. He didn't stop caring for her because her views were different, or when she did things he didn't approve of. In many ways I think his love was a great example of how God loves us - patiently, completely and for who we are.

This book featured wonderful characters that exhibited great strength as well as weaknesses. I think it was one of the best books I've read so far this year and I thank Tyndale House for providing it to me in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Promises She Keeps

First I want to apologize for not posting for the last few days. I've been sick. I'm still not feeling very well, but hopefully I'm on on the mend. I think it's some kind of stomach bug. I guess it's just that time of year. Thanks for your patience. :o)

Title: The Promises She Keeps
Author: Erin Healy

Goodreads Blurb: It's her destiny to die young. The man who loves her can't live with that.
Promise, a talented young vocalist with a terminal illness, is counting on fame to keep her memory alive after she dies. Porta is an aging witch and art collector in search of the goddess who will grant her immortality.
When Promise inexplicably survives a series of freak accidents, Porta believes that Promise is the one she seeks. But Chase, an autistic artist who falls in love with Promise and opposes Porta, comes between the women with his mysterious visions and drawings, and plunges everyone into a flesh-and-blood confrontation over the true meaning of eternal life.

My take:

This was one of those books that was slow to make sense. It was hard to get into and then I wasn't quite sure I knew exactly where it was going - or agreed with it. There were some shining moments and well drawn characters... but I always feel the true test of a book is if I get so caught up in it that I believe in the characters and the story as if they were real people and events. I never got there with this one.

The first problem was the premise that Promise - who is sick with Cystic Fibrosis - suddenly gets better and survives all these near fatal accidents, but only until she is around Porta, a witch. The accidents make her feel better than ever before and they all occur around Porta's son (a drug addict that she is drawn to) and neither of them have any faith in God at all. In fact, I didn't notice any real redemptive message in the book at all. Sacrificial love, innocence, sharing... but no real redemption.

Only Chase (the autistic man) shows any signs of faith and his sister questions his understanding of it. Many times it appears he gets messages about what's going to happen from his father (who is dead). This may be the author's way of having God speak to Chase, but that isn't discussed or the way he seems to view it. More of a sci-fi/magical feel comes across as his drawing utensils rattle by themselves in their cans and "call to him" to tell him what to draw. Nevertheless, he does understand biblical principles and tries and share them with others through his drawings of trees.

The other problem is Chase's claim to love Promise, romantically. He first claims this when he hasn't even met her. He says that he loves everyone he gives his pictures to and I wish they would have left his feelings for Promise in this same category because it just doesn't make sense that he would have this romantic love for her (specially since it isn't returned - he makes her uncomfortable) with no real personal contact with her. It felt more like a stalker relationship after that instead of something good and with any promise for a future.

The ending felt rushed and unsatisfying. I felt like the story had potential, but took some wrong turns. It still is a very haunting and unique novel. I haven't read anything quite like it. I want to thank the people at Thomas Nelson for providing my copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday


Monday, February 21, 2011

Letting Go

Title: Letting Go
Author: Michelle Sutton

Goodreads Blurb:

Sometimes for dreams to come true, you have to let go . . .

Outwardly Diane Simmons appears to have everything a woman could want. A successful attorney, she’s beautiful and talented, and yet she always seems to be attracted to the wrong men. Longing to be loved for who she is, not for what she looks like, she finally realizes the world’s view of love is totally unrealistic and distorted and gives up on romance. She wants to find a better way but has no clue where to look.

Dave Passel can never father a biological child. He loves his foster son deeply, but something goes terribly wrong before the adoption can be finalized. When the State tries to reunite the child with the birth mother he has never known and the new caseworker accuses Dave of sabotaging visits with her, he hires Diane to fight for him in court. He believes in God’s sovereignty, but bad experiences with his late wife make it hard for him to trust Diane as she advocates for his son. If only he didn’t struggle so much with letting go . . .

My Take:

Michelle Sutton has done it again. Every time I pick up a book of hers I know I will meet real people facing problems in ways that normal people would. This book tackled huge issues and didn't shy away from the very real consequences that come from them.

Diane is damaged from abuse as a child. She can't relate to men in a normal way. She doesn't feel loved. Once she realizes how much damage she's been doing to other people's relationships (because she's had affairs with married men without knowing it), part of her doesn't think she deserves happiness even if she could find it. She's isolated in life. She doesn't have friends because she treats women as competition. When her situation comes to a crisis, she has to pick a path and that's when everything starts to unravel.

Despite her problems, Diane has a strength about her that keeps her going. She also is compassionate and has a career dedicated to helping children. She gets a lot of satisfaction from that. I felt my heart break for her more than once. I identified with her yearning to be loved and accepted. I think that's a universal desire. It's a mistake to think that those with money and looks are automatically happy and loved. This book is a great example.

Dave is a great dad who is expecting to adopt the foster child he's been raising for nearly two years. Suddenly a wrench is thrown into the works and both father and son are devastated. Add in a new caseworker that doesn't like him... Things go terribly wrong. Dave is normally patient and relaxed but he reacts as I think anyone in this situation might. He's defensive, tense, suspicious... He doesn't lose control and do anything drastic, but it tears his heart out and ours right with it. I think the only thing that keeps him from falling off the edge is his faith. 

In this middle of this, the two of them find each other. Neither wants it. Both fight it. Diane is seriously scared of it. The pain and heartache they both have gone through just make their relationship together that much sweeter when it comes. 

A side character, Ken, was also well done. He showed all the same realistic elements I love to see in Michelle's characters - especially those that are believers. He was a friend of Diane's that she used to date. He was kind and compassionate, struggled with temptation, but in the end stood strong and was honest about it. The small group Diane visits is not that well developed (mostly because they only played a very small role in the book). Many of them mention pasts, but as for the present, they seemed very sweet and were willing to be a friend to Diane no matter what.

This is a fantastic book and I would suggest you not only to read for yourself, but to share others. :o) 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Monday Musings

Are you familiar with the term "Standing or Memorial Stones? "

 4So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe;
 5and Joshua said to them, "Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.
 6"Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?'
 7then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off ' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever." - Joshua 4: 4-7 NASB

Especially during hard times people often need reminding of the good things in their life, the blessings they do have, and what God has done for them. It isn't something new. In the passage I just shared God shows He understands that need by telling the people to set up these stones as reminders of how they just witnessed a miracle that showed God's power and provision for them. We know how many times the people would doubt Him in the Bible. We aren't any stronger than they were.

The picture I shared is of an Iris from the garden I had to leave behind when I moved. Every place I've lived since I became a Christian has had them. They are part of my "standing stones." You see, my grandmother was the one who influenced me her life and death to accept Christ. The Iris was her favorite flower. Every time I see one I think about her and how much her love and her powerful witness has impacted my life, my marriage, my children... and so many other choices I've made. It's a reminder to me of the kind of woman I want to be and the kind of love I want to share with other people. It's also a reminder of the grace and mercy God has for me - because he put her in my life.

For the times when they aren't in bloom, I have a picture on my bedroom wall with the sign "Believe" hanging on top of it. I think we need reminders of the times that are important in our spiritual walk to help us when times are rough and to pass down stories to our children to strengthen their faith and help them to know the stories of how God has worked in their family. It can be a shadowbox with momentos, a photo collage, a single item mounted... or a jar where you record moments on paper and then make a tradition of pulling out one a week and discussing it.

If you do this already I'd love to hear your stories. If not, let me know how you feel about it. Have you tried before? How much can the past offer us~ either in comfort or edification?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quote It Saturday

"In the end, what affects your life most deeply are things too simple to talk about." -- Nell Blaine

"The happiness of life is made up of little things--a smile, a hug, a moment of shared laughter." - Unknown

Quote It Sat is hosted by Freda @ Freda's Voice.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Gunman's Bride

Title: The Gunman's Bride
Author: Catherine Palmer

From Goodreads:

Bart Kingsley had followed her to New Mexico, ready to lay his love—and his life—on the line. But spirited Laura Rose had made a fresh start for herself. She hadn't left her controlling father in Kansas to let some gun-slinging outlaw ruin her hopes—no matter what scandalous past they shared six years ago. Or how his green eyes beckoned!

Rosie was his light in the darkness—Bart would do anything to win back her trust. But he was a wanted man. Would the past, with its dangerous demands and debts, conspire to destroy their new beginning? Or would his faith in God—and in Rosie—be rewarded?

My Take:

On many levels I could relate to Rosie because she often let her fears and worries get the best of her. I have one of those minds that can imagine a hundred different outcomes - vividly. It's one of the reasons I write. It's a mistake to oversimplify and think she's weak. She did leave her father for a fresh start on her own. She also was so determined to get the teaching job of her dreams that she made a plan and saw it through - step by step. She wasn't honest with her father or herself though.

When Bart shows up, everything gets complicated. Not just her life and plans - but her feelings as well. She wants her safe and secure plan and suddenly everything has gone off the rails.

Bart is... Bart. lol He struggles against his past - both what people did to him and what he has done himself. Part of the time he doesn't believe he deserves any better and part of the time he wants more so badly he would do nearly anything to get it. He only knew one good thing in his life - Rosie. He wants a chance to win her back, whatever that takes.

This couple have a true and passionate love. It was an interesting story to see how they found each other and overcame their obstacles. There were some tense and frustrating moments, but I enjoyed it very much. I also need to mention a lot of research went into this book and I enjoyed meeting the true-life characters that were introduced.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Gift I made for a freelance editor who worked on my manuscript and helped me a lot.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Musings

I've decided to try a new feature on my blog. On Mondays I will have a post about something I have been thinking about, writing about, something that God has been teaching me... Those kinds of topics. I expect it will be something where there can be a lot of discussion from you as well. I hope you enjoy this new feature and I look forward to your feedback.

Today's topic came from a discussion I had with a military wife I know. She's upset about the number of commercials that feature soldiers. She complained about them because she believes they're using the military as a way to take advantage of the American public and their patriotic feelings as well as their desire to support the men and woman serving overseas.

It's true that many companies that have nothing to do with the military are using images of soldiers and their families to sell products.

There are other companies, like USAA, which caters only to military families (retired and veterans as well) and their dependents. They've also been running commercials lately with images of soldiers (I don't think I noticed many commercials by them before - I'll have to look it up). I'm guessing the greater frequency has to do with the economy and restrictions put on banks in general. Maybe there just is greater competition and they need to get their name out there more.

Is there a difference between the two companies? Do you think she's right to be offended at either? Should we be using images of our soldiers to sell products like this? I'd really like to hear your view, but whatever it is, I'm sad the military community would think all they're worth to a company is an advantage to gain profit. I stand behind them and pray for their safety. Thank you to all those who serve and their families for their sacrifice for freedom.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Quote It Saturday

"A good goal is like a strenuous exercise -- it makes you stretch." -- Mary Kay Ash

Quote it Saturday is hosted by Freda @ Freda's Voice

Friday, February 11, 2011

Love on Assignment

Title: Love on Assignment
Author: Cara Lynn James

Goodreads Blurb:

While Charlotte is focusing on uncovering sordid information on columnist Daniel Wilmot, her heart leads her into uncharted territory.During the summer of 1900 Charlotte Hale, a native Newporter and secretary for the Rhode Island Reporter, accepts an undercover assignment as temporary governess to Daniel Wilmont's children in order to secretly gather evidence against him. As he helps her rediscover God, Charlotte learns that Daniel is an honorable man.They unexpectedly fall in love despite their different backgrounds and social positions. Charlotte soon realizes she must defend Daniel against the forces set against him-a willful student with a romantic crush and the newspaper editor determined to destroy his reputation.

My Take:

This is the second book in the series and only the second book I've read by this author, but I know it won't be my last. I think I liked the first one a little bit more but they are both great stories and I can't wait to read the third in this series.

Charlotte is working as a secretary but wants to be a journalist. She supports her family and they can't earn enough for medical expenses or the damage to the roof. She feels enormous pressure to provide for them. So when her boss gives her the opportunity to go undercover as a chance to prove her worth as a journalist, more than just her ambition is on the line. I loved that she was a career woman with intelligence but also cared so much for family and had a strong sense of right and wrong.

The deeper she gets involved, the less comfortable she feels. Her boss seems willing to destroy Daniel by any means - even dishonest - and Daniel seems innocent of all the things she's supposed to find evidence of. If she doesn't comply she's afraid of losing her job. If she does...

Daniel asked Charlotte if she was a Christian and she told him she was but lots of little things are adding up to say she might not be. He promised himself not to get involved with anyone after what happened with his first wife but there is just something about Charlotte that draws him...  He's the kind of strong, righteous, hero who is willing to stand up for what he believes in no matter what. He's also truly willing to believe the best in people. If anything, he's almost too perfect.

I thought perhaps a bit more time could have been spent in Daniel's perspective to answer some questions and give some more depth. There were some loose ends that never seemed explained - like what was so special about the things in the attic. There was a touching secondary romance for his mother as well. 

I'm looking forward to book three, and if you like Christian Historical Fiction, I hope you'll consider this series. :o)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

Title: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
Author: Stephanie Barron

Goodreads Blurb:

For everyone who loves Jane Austen...a marvelously entertaining new series that turns the incomparable author into an extraordinary sleuth!
On a visit to the estate of her friend, the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel's husband—a gentleman of mature years—is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl's death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the beginning of her she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl's nephew of adultery—and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords—a trail that may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy.

My Take:

I'd never heard of these books until I decided to try the challenge this year and I am so glad I did. The premise is that the author is acting as an editor of a journal which Jane Austen used to relate several times where her wit and connections allowed her to take part as a sort of amateur detective and help find out the truth in complicated and mysterious situations where crimes had been committed. I thought it sounded a little far-fetched considering the roles of women during the times, but the author pulls it off in a very believable fashion. Not only that, but the tone and writing have a rhythm and certain phrases that make you feel the similarity to Austen's writing.

The story itself is very interesting and the mystery is good enough that you begin to wonder whether Jane will succeed in solving it. It's fun to see her discover how many wrong conclusions people (including herself) have come to along the way by having only part of the information.

The only drawback was that Jane was certainly the star of the show and the other characters didn't seem as fully developed. They may have had some fun quirks or you may have disliked them, but in general they seemed more like a chorus line that stood in the background for Jane. Much of that may be because we really don't spend much time with them. The book is designed as her journal entry - so it is Jane's voice and her perspective we see events through.

I LOVED this book and can't wait to read the rest in the series. If you like Jane Austen and/or mysteries, this series would probably be a great one for you to try.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beneath The Night Tree

Title: Beneath the Night Tree
Author: Nicole Baart

Goodreads Blurb:

Do I have a child? Julia DeSmit knew she would face the question eventually, but she didn’t expect it now. At twenty-four, she is finally content with the way her life has unfolded. A single mother to her son and young brother, she works at the local grocery store while chipping away at a two-year degree. All her free time is spent with her unorthodox family—her boys, her grandmother, and her boyfriend of five years. It’s not perfect, but Julia is happier than ever.
So when she receives the cryptic e-mail from her son’s father, Julia’s world is turned upside down. She hasn’t heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot nearly six years ago. But one look at her son—the spitting image of his father—is enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story. Faced with this new reality and an unexpected tragedy, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was and what is, what she hopes for and what will be.

My Take:

The first word that comes to mind when I think of this book is beautiful. The author's writing is almost poetic. She uses words in a unique way. 

She also tells the story of a broken family - in more ways than one. She shows you all the little pieces and how sharp and painful the edges are - how they rub up against the characters and cut them just when all seemed to be peaceful and "safe" again. For a while they've been in the business of ignoring those broken pieces. Like a bunch of broken glass, whenever someone is cut, then all those pieces get swept under the rug with the hope they won't slip out and cut anyone again.

None of them truly believe that's the best way to deal with it, they just don't want the pain of trying to gather all of them up and face the probability of getting cut by more than one piece at a time. They are all just holding it together and fear that if anything changes - it won't work anymore. Change comes for them whether they like it or not. 

This book had romance in it but it was more a powerful story about life and how the choices we make shape us and our families. It was about forgiveness, grace, choosing to live without fear and not settling for what is expected and safe because we think we aren't worth anything more. It's also about faith but in a subtle way and without being the least bit preachy. 

I enjoyed it very much and need to thank Tyndale for providing my copy in return for my unbiased review.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gauis Petreius Ruso 1 - 3

Divorced and down on his luck, Gaius Petreius Ruso has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. In a moment of weakness, after a straight thirtysix-hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to compassion and rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from the hands of her abusive owner. Now he has a new problem: a slave who won't talk and can't cook, and drags trouble in her wake. Before he knows it, Ruso is caught in the middle of an investigation into the deaths of prostitutes working out of the local bar. Now Ruso must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next. With a gift for comic timing and historical detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.

 It is spring in the year of 118, and Hadrian has been Emperor of Rome for less than a year. After getting involved with the murders of local prostitutes in the town of Deva, Doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso needs to get out of town, so has volunteered for a posting with the Army on the volatile border where the Roman-controlled half of Britannia meets the independent tribes of the North. Not only is he going to the hinterlands of the hinterlands, but it his slave Tilla's homeland and she has some scores to settle there. Soon they find that Tilla's tribespeople are being encouraged to rebel against Roman control by a mysterious leader known as the Stag Man, and her former lover is implicated in the grisly murder of a soldier. Ruso, unwillingly involved in the investigation of the murder, is appalled to find that Tilla is still spending time with the lover. Worse, he is honour bound to try to prove the man innocent - and the Army wrong - by finding another suspect. Soon both Ruso's and Tilla's lives are in jeopardy, as is the future of their burgeoning romantic relationship. 

 At long last, Gaius Petreius Ruso and his companion, Tilla, are headed home-to Gaul. Having received a note consisting only of the words "COME HOME!" Ruso has (reluctantly, of course) pulled up stakes and brought Tilla to meet his family. But the reception there is not what Ruso has hoped for: no one will admit to sending for him, and his brother Lucius is hoping he'll leave. With Tilla getting icy greetings from his relatives, Lucius' brother-in-law mysteriously drowned at sea, and the whole Ruso family being sued for bankruptcy, it's hard to imagine an unhappier reunion. That is, until Severus, the plaintiff in the bankruptcy suit, winds up dead, and the real trouble begins... 

My Take:

I'm combining these three because I'm horribly behind in reviews and because they're all part of a series so I thought perhaps I could cheat like that. :o)

I'm awaiting the fourth novel, which I won in a contest, and so I thought I would read the first one and see about "catching up" on the series before I read the one I'd won. I'm so glad I did. These are really well written historical novels that manage to capture the essence of the time period without sacrificing the character of any of the people involved. 

These are secular novels, but they are fairly clean. I have to say fairly because that time period included things that many people would find objectionable. Gladiator fights, brothels, false gods... Still all these things are treated in a way that shows the negative aspects of the things that are truly evil and the humanity of the things and people who did things we would disagree with today. 

The entire series centers around a Roman doctor (medicus) and the slave he rescues from death. She hates the Romans and wants to die. He is in dire financial straits and shouldn't have wasted the money on the girl. She is expressive and emotional, he is reserved. Together they form an unlikely bond of friendship and loyalty that helps carry them through many potentially dangerous situations. 

These books were funny, challenging, engaging and even thought provoking. One of the things that made them stand out was the fact that they weren't over sanitized. It wasn't a case always of who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. You could see both sides and that there were good people on both sides of the argument. I can't wait for book four and if you haven't read these yet, you may want to consider adding them to your list.