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Mist of Midnight and Coffee CupTitle: Mist of Midnight

Author: Sandra Byrd

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Series: The Daughters of Hampshire

Challenge #2 in the Bethany House Reading Challenge: Read a book that begins a series.

Rebecca Ravenshaw has returned home to England from India only to find her very identity has been stolen. Someone masquerading as herself not only tried to steal her estate and inheritance–the impostor also lies buried in her family’s grave plot after meeting a sudden and suspicious demise.

Who was she? Will Rebecca be able to prove that she is the true mistress of her own estate? And what about the dashing but mysterious Captain Whitfield living in her home now? Can he be trusted, or are his intentions even darker than the rumors would imply?

Where to start with all that I loved about this book! I guess by saying that Sandra Byrd never disappoints to deliver something that’s fresh in the market and is a much-needed reprieve from predictable plot lines. She expertly chooses eras, settings, and characters that are both relevant enough to find interesting but also different enough to keep your attention.

I’ve read books before about a missionary returning to England from India, but this is the first time where I actually believed the character might have truly lived there. It was clear the author researched both England and India and made it an integral part of Rebecca’s life, which was fascinating. She was not your typical main character and I loved that.

Not long ago I spoke of how I was growing tired of romances, but this book is an example of one done right in my opinion. Several different relationships were paid attention to throughout the book, and parts reminded me of Downton Abbey because of the conversations between characters, which was so very fun!

It held my attention from the moment I started reading, and I couldn’t even begin to solve the mystery. There were several things to mull on throughout the book, and although it was dark and suspenseful enough to keep you turning pages, it ended very surprisingly in a light and inspirational way.

I am very much looking forward to the rest of the books in this series.

(I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: What’s an interesting series you’ve read lately or have started to read?

Bonus shot. Just had to include this because I thought it was hilarious. My niece came over while I was taking pictures of the book and made bunny fingers behind it. She made me laugh treating the book as though it were a person, but then again, I think I was making her laugh taking pictures of a book... ;)

Bonus shot. Just had to include this because I thought it was hilarious. My niece came over while I was taking pictures of the book and made bunny fingers behind it. She made me laugh treating the book as though it were a person, but then again, I think I was making her laugh taking pictures of a book… 😉

the-colonels-ladyTitle: The Colonel’s Lady

Author: Laura Frantz

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Cover Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

You voted, and we had a winner! The last time we met, I asked you all which of the 16 challenges in the Bethany House book challenge I should tackle first, and you all chose for me to read “A book with a great cover.”

Considering I’ve had Laura Frantz’s book The Colonel’s Lady on my Kindle for what seems like forever now, it seemed like a good choice. And talk about a book with a beautiful cover! The blue of that gown, the natural light coming in, the silver locket she’s holding… I just loved it!

Unfortunately though, the book didn’t hold up as well as the cover did. There were aspects I appreciated and it was an all-around solid read, but it just felt like something I’d read many times before. But I’ll stop and warn you all that this may be more of a rant than a review, because I’m personally starting to tire of the romance genre, and that probably played a significant part in why I couldn’t really connect with this book.

There were redeeming factors, don’t get me wrong. A child of a prostitute shown mercy. A traitorous brother. An amazing act of God of Biblical proportions. But these things were just touched upon so that the main thing was still the romance. I guess I’m just starting to wonder, especially in the Christian genre… shouldn’t our relationship with God be the main thing? You still need a storyline, I get that. But can’t He be the focus with romance on the side, instead of romance the focus, with God on the side?

I guess that’s just where I’m at. Feeling like the Christian market is kind of missing it. And from a writer’s perspective, I get it. I know why, and it’s a hard line to walk. I could easily be accused of the same thing myself one day.

But… I just miss seeing Jesus in the books I read. And with the popularity of books like Fifty Shades of Gray right now, we need to be stepping it up. And I don’t mean in steamy scenes that try to tempt the general market over to our side, but by being the light and salt of the earth and leading others to the only kind of love that’s unfailing and true. That eternally saves.

It doesn’t mean we become prudes. It doesn’t mean we completely ignore the physical attraction side of romance. But does 2/3 of the storyline have to be purely based off of the character’s physical responses to one another and both pretending they don’t like each other until the very end of the book with nothing more but maybe a prayer or two thrown in?

To me, a good book–especially in the Christian market–should draw me closer to God or deepen my relationship with Him in some way. But lately the opposite has happened instead. I realize that could be my own fault, but it’s happened in too many books and stages of life now for me not to wonder if there isn’t some level of improvement that could be made in the genre itself.

We’ve forgotten our first love, and it’s about time we got back.

Let’s Talk Book: I’m really curious to know– what do you all think? Do you find reading romances hinder or help your relationship with God? Could romance writers improve on this a little bit? Are we missing the bigger picture, or doing the best we have in years?

The First Principle, ShrockTitle: The First Principle 

Author: Marissa Shrock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Considering The First Principle is marketed for a YA audience, I was a little worried at first about whether or not I would like it. YA writing is often simplistic and condescending in a way that grates on my nerves like nothing else can. But the premise was intriguing, so I opened that first page hoping to find something different, and I am thrilled to say debut author Marissa Shrock did not disappoint.

The First Principle is set in a futuristic society where 15-year-old Vivica Wilkins finds herself in a dire predicament: abort the baby she suddenly finds herself pregnant with in obedience to the country’s underage Termination Law, or go against everything she’s ever been taught or believed as the governor’s daughter. Will she choose the way of her heart? The way of the underground Christian rebels? Or the way of her mother? Either way, the choice she makes will affect her for the rest of her life. The question is–is she ready to pay the price?

I appreciated this book on many levels. As a reader and as someone who has been disappointed in YA novels before, I found The First Principle to be refreshingly realistic and non-condescending. Never does Shrock take advantage of her reader’s intelligence. Vivica is a strong teenage character who cares about more than just what she’s going to wear and who’s-dating-who. The adults in her life are shown respect, but ultimately she’s the leader of her own life, and I applaud Shrock for respecting her audience and hopefully empowering young adults through this book.

As a writer, I found the book to be full of non-stop action and I finished it within two days. The futuristic world Vivica lived in was 100% believable, and all viewpoints were represented. The book doesn’t preach. Instead, it focuses on a question that brings a fresh perspective on the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate: not what if abortion was outlawed, but what if abortion was required by law? She lets Vivica face the question and then lets this play out naturally in a fictional setting that is at once intriguing and thought-provoking. For that reason, I’d recommend this book to people on both sides of the argument as a conversation starter.

And finally as an adoptee, I appreciated this book for another reason entirely. Suffice it to say that the story has impact and touched me enough to bring me to tears in a few places.

Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to both YA and adult readers alike. The First Principle has built-in appeal no matter the age. Shrock is a much-needed voice in today’s world and in this genre, and I cannot wait to see more from her in the future.

(I received this book for free from the author and Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.)

A Place in His HeartTitle: A Place in His Heart

Author: Rebecca DeMarino

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

First, a quick bio from Amazon.com: “Anglican Mary Langton longs to marry for love. Puritan Barnabas Horton still grieves the loss of his beloved wife, but he knows his two young sons need a mother. And yet these two very different people with very different expectations will take a leap of faith, wed, and then embark on a life-changing journey across the ocean to the Colonies. Along the way, each must learn to live in harmony, to wait on God, and to recognize true love where they least expect to find it.

This heartfelt tale of love and devotion is based on debut author Rebecca DeMarino’s own ancestors, who came to Long Island in the mid-1600s to establish a life–and a legacy–in the New World.”

There were some things I liked about this book, and some things I didn’t. So to make it easier, I’m just dividing this review into two straight-forward categories: things I liked about the book, and things I didn’t. 😉

Things I Liked:

Lately I’ve been lacking in my early American history, and this book immediately caught my attention because it’s set right in that time period. We owe so much to those first settlers and explorers who paved the way for us. It had to be terrifying, striking out into the great unknown like that, and it was people like the author’s ancestors who played a part in creating what we now call The United States of America today.

That’s one of the main things I really appreciated about this book. I was just washed anew with an overwhelming gratitude, appreciation, and understanding for what all of our ancestors endured to give us the land we live in today. Because the author was writing this about her own distant family, I think her passion and understanding of what they had to sacrifice for The New World really came through.

And how about that–this story is actually true! Of course, creative license is almost always taken with Historical novels to fill in the blanks–and the same is true here–but Mary Langton and Barnabas Horton were real people. They actually existed. For me, that just adds a whole ‘nother layer of “cool.”

Things I Didn’t Like:

This book was so sad! The title gives you a clue, but it apparently went right over my head, because the entire book really is about Mary trying to win a place in Barnabas’s heart. As far as romance goes, it’s all one-sided until almost the very end. I hurt for Mary trying to win her husband’s heart, but it just takes way too long for them to get there and becomes a pretty depressing read. Barnabas was also a really hard character to like. To me, he came across as a very selfish character, and with Mary making one too many excuses for him, I didn’t see how winning his heart was all that big of a deal. Granted, it’s obvious these characters are developed enough to have very strong feelings towards them as a reader. I just wish there had been a better hero and heroine to cheer for.

All-in-all, it was clearly very well-researched and pretty well-written, but I just couldn’t get behind those characters.

(I received this book for free from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Let’s Talk Book: What’s a time period you enjoy reading about or would like to read so that you can learn more about it?

Full Steam Ahead, WitemeyerTitle: Full Steam Ahead

Author: Karen Witemeyer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I usually love Karen Witemeyer’s novels, and Full Steam Ahead was no exception! There is just something so down-home and American about Witemeyer’s books. Like tucking into a thick quilt on a cold night, or dipping into a steamy apple pie fresh from the oven. They’re simple, sweet, and completely satisfying.

Full Steam Ahead focuses on two main characters: Darius Thornton, who’s hiding his past–and Nicole Renard–who’s hiding a knife.

Nicole Renard just wants to carry on her family’s legacy and find an heir for her ailing father. Striving to be the son her father always wanted, she’ll do anything to continue his legacy and protect the family heirloom, the Lafitte Dagger. Even if that means marrying to do it.

Darius Thornton, on the other hand, has left his family behind to work on perfecting boilers to reduce the risk of steamboat accidents. But now he’s nothing more than an obsessed scientist focused only on blowing things up. It’ll take a miracle–or one very pretty lady–to get his attention.

Basically, I loved this book, and this review may start sounding more like a cheesy fan letter than it does a critique. But when there’s humor, romance, action, and a moral to the story, what’s not to love? It was one of the first books in a while that I just couldn’t put down, and it had me laughing and/or sappily sighing pretty much every other page.

The whole harried professor thing is hard to beat as far as humor goes, then you get Witemeyer’s talent for creating sweet romances and the most down-to-earth characters you’ll ever find, add a pirate dagger for a dash of danger, throw in some very realistic spiritual journeys, and how can you not like this book?

True, she does lean very heavy on the romance. It can get a little sappy in parts. So if romance isn’t something you enjoy reading, you’ll probably want to stay away from this one. But other than that, I can’t think of anyone else I wouldn’t recommend this book to.

Read it, loved it, can’t wait for her next book!

(I received this book for free from Bethany House on NetGalley.com in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: Who’s an author you’re pretty much guaranteed to love and never hesitate to read?

Silenced, PettreyTitle: Silenced

Author: Dani Pettrey

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s finally happened! I’ve finally read a book by Dani Pettrey! I’ve been wanting to read a book by her for ages now, so when I was offered a free copy in exchange for my honest review by Bethany House, I leapt at the chance! I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Silenced is the fourth book in the Alaskan Courage series, and it mainly focuses on expert climber Kayden McKenna and man-with-a-past, Jake Cavanaugh. When Kayden comes face to face with a dead rock climber, she won’t rest until the killer is found. Choosing to listen to his heart instead of his head, Jake decides to come alongside her and assist as deputy in the investigation. But as the mystery grows, Kayden and Jake will have to decide which is the bigger danger: a killer at large, or giving away the key to their hearts?

For the most part I’m mainly a Historical Fiction lover, but for a change of pace, I really liked this book! It starts out as a classic murder mystery with a plentiful suspect list and a million plausible motives. Then the story branches out a little, and it suddenly becomes a lot more dark and sinister than you’d originally expect. On one hand, I liked that. It switched things up a bit. On the other, it came across as a little disjointed. The shift was kind of abrupt and made me wonder about a few things that felt like loose ends.

But that may be because I didn’t start from the very beginning of this series. The characters in Pettrey’s books are all deeply connected, and while she does an excellent job of catching up a reader with all that’s gone on before, I couldn’t shake the feeling of coming late to the party. From this book alone, it appears as though relationships are big to Pettrey books. Both romantic and familial. I really enjoyed that aspect of it, but I think I’d need to go back and read the first three books to really “get” it.

Overall, Silenced doesn’t quite get a spot in my “Favorites” list, but it does make me very glad to have tried out Pettrey and eager to read some of her earlier books! Who knows–maybe a “favorite” is hiding out there. 🙂

(I received this book for free from Bethany House on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: What kinds of things do you read when you need a change of pace or a break from the usual?

Today I am so excited to host Dani Pettrey, author of the award-winning Alaskan Courage series, as well as having the privilege to give away one copy of her newest book, Silenced! Read on to find out more about Dani and how you can enter.

Dani PettreySo glad to have you, Dani! How did you first get your start in writing?

I have always loved daydreaming and making up stories. I dabbled with creative writing growing up, but set it aside. It wasn’t until after the birth of my youngest daughter and a bout with a serious illness, that I really felt God stirring me to start writing again.

All four of the books you’ve released so far have an Alaskan setting. Can you tell us where that love of Alaska comes from?

I chose Alaska because I wanted a setting that worked well for adventure and suspense. Alaska is a gorgeous state full of adventurous possibilities, and there is an inherent risk of danger if you aren’t prepared properly. It seemed the perfect fit.

You have a new release out called Silenced–can you tell us a little bit more about that?

A relaxing day of rock climbing takes a disturbing turn when Kayden McKenna’s route leads her to a face-to-face encounter with a dead climber. Is it a terrible accident or something sinister? When the case is handed to the overburdened sheriff, he turns to Jake Westin. With Jake’s past now revealed, he’s ready to use his talent for investigation again-–but he could never prepare for where the case will take him.

Kayden and Jake soon realize that the death was no accident. And worse, it seems the killer is on to them. When strange things begin happening in Yancey, Jake is terrified that once again his world may put someone he loves in danger.

But the truth is far worse than either of them imagine.

Authors often talk about God teaching them something through the stories they’re writing, or discovering something at the same moment their character does. What’s one memorable thing the Lord’s taught you through your writing?

The Lord has taught me through life and through the Alaskan Courage series that He is in control, that He is always with us, and that He has a plan. None of that means we will have a perfect life free from trouble. Jesus tells us specifically we will have trouble in this world, but He is with us through it all. Seeing my characters experience sorrow and loss and seeing the Lord carrying them through has mirrored what I’ve experienced in my own life and helped reaffirm God’s abiding presence in all circumstances.

You just recently had surgery–how are you doing, and how can I and my readers pray for you?

Thank you so much for asking. I’m recovering very well, thanks. Prayers for continued healing and no future problems would be wonderful. Prayers for my writing to be guided by God and for every story to be for His glory would be amazing too.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Dani! It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you better! 🙂

Thank you so much for having me!

Ways to connect with Dani:
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DaniPettrey
Website: http://www.danipettrey.com
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/danipettrey

~ About the Giveaway ~


Silenced, PettreyReaders, I am so blessed to be able to offer the chance for one randomly selected winner to receive a free copy of Dani’s book, Silenced! Here’s the details:

One winner will be randomly selected using the services of Random.org.

No purchase is necessary. Odds of winning are based on number of entries.

U.S. residents only are eligible to enter, starting from today, May 28th, 2014, and lasting until midnight (MST) of May 30th, 2014.

Enter by leaving a comment with your e-mail address. Your e-mail will only be used to notify you if you’ve won.

The winner will be notified by e-mail and announced here the morning of May 31st, 2014.

You will have until midnight (MST) of the 31st to claim your prize, otherwise the prize will be awarded to the second runner-up as chosen by Random.org, and so on.

If you’ve won, you will be notified and contacted for your mailing address so that your prize can be delivered to you.

Best of luck, and thank you so much to Dani Pettrey, Amanda Dykes of PulsePoint Design, and Bethany House for the amazing opportunity to host this giveaway!

The Pawn, JamesTitle: The Pawn (The Bowers Files Book #1)

Author: Steven James

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Boy, you better be ready for a ride with this one! The Pawn is somewhat of an older book, but since I’ve wanted to read James for a while now and this is the first in a series, I figured it would be better to start there. Based on the first book alone, I think it is the type of series where you have to start from the beginning to really get it. There were a few hints in this first book that suggested more of the story and main character would be revealed in the next. And good golly, that character! But let me give you a peek at the plot first before I get too carried away:

“Special Agent Patrick Bowers had only met one man who made him truly afraid. Until now. When he’s called to North Carolina to consult on the case of an area serial killer, he finds himself in a deadly game.
Cunning and lethal, the killer is always one step ahead of the law, and he’s about to strike again. It will take all of Bowers’s instincts and training to stop this man who calls himself the Illusionist. And just when the pieces start to come together, Bowers realizes they’re not quite adding up. Can he unravel the pattern and save the next victim? Or will the Illusionist win the game by taking one of his opponent’s pieces? Thrilling, chilling, and impossible to put down, The Pawn will hold suspense lovers in its iron grip until the very last page.” (Amazon.com)

Let me tell you, “thrilling and chilling” is one very apt description! The author goes so deep with his characters. Like, scary deep. Think Criminal Minds deep. On one hand, I was really impressed by that. His villain has a motive, and the motive is very plausible. His main character, Special Agent Patrick Bowers, is so well-developed he almost became like Sherlock Holmes, that’s how real and how heroic he became. A man with flaws but also almost otherworldly talent. If you’re going to name an entire series around a certain character, he better be a good one, and I’m pleased to say Patrick Bowers easily held up his end of the bargain.

The plot was also fantastic. The writing was superb. This will sound really strange, but my only complaint is that it was too real.

I got really freaked out by this book, I’m not gonna lie. There’s a scene at the very beginning of the book I just cannot get out of my head. It was grisly and creepy and just way too real. That’s where my struggle comes in. Because was it excellently written? Absolutely. The fact that it got under my skin so much shows how great of a writer Steven James really is. But can I recommend it? I’m not sure. Would I read him again? I don’t know.

I suppose it comes down to this: if this looks like your kind of genre, then by all means, read it! It’s very well-written. But if scary reads aren’t really your thing, you may want to avoid this book. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend this author. I’d just recommend him with a caveat.

So! Here’s my question for you:

Let’s Talk Book: Weigh in and let me know what you think! Should I read the second book in the Bowers series? Comment on this blog post with your vote by clicking on “comment” on the top right-hand side. If you’re voting no, tell me why and what I should read instead! If yes, then a review of The Rook may be coming to a blog near you!