Book Review: Amish Christmas at North Star

I am on Katie Ganshert’s street team, and had the pleasant surprise of receiving a free copy of the book from her publisher recently. I’ve been reading it ever since, and must confess I forgot how much I enjoy reading a real, honest-to-goodness paper book. I live in the land of ebooks so often – especially when it comes to Christian fiction – that I forgot what it was like to hold the book in my hands, smell the paper, and just plain read.

It was even better to have a book focused on Christmas, as the big day is almost here! I may be channeling Buddy from Elf‘s level of excitement.

So I wanted to make sure and share this with you at Christmastime!

Amish Christmas at North StarAbout the Book (via Amazon)

One night four lives entered the world by the hands of an Amish midwife, just outside North Star, Pennsylvania.

Rebekah’s Babies, as they are called, are now grown adults and in four heartwarming novellas each young person experiences a journey of discovery, a possibility of love, and the wonder of Christmas.

Guiding Star
by Katie Ganshert

Curiosity gets the best of Englischer Chase Wellington when he investigates the twenty-five-year-old disappearance of an Amish baby. When he finds adventurous Elle McAllister in Iowa will his discoveries upend her world?

Mourning Star
by Amanda Flower

Eden Hochstetler slips from her parents’ fudge shop to investigate the death of her friend Isaac.  Who is guilty? Isaac’s handsome great nephew Jesse, an angry Englischer, or someone else?

In the Stars
by Cindy Woodsmall

Heartbroken Kore Detweiler avoids North Star after Savilla Beiler rejects his love.  But when he is unexpectedly called to return home, he and Savilla must join forces to keep a family together.

Star of Grace
by Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark

Andy Danner left North Star to join a new Amish settlement in Mississippi. His little brother devises a scheme to bring Andy home for Christmas and unwittingly unleashes the power of forgiveness in a reclusive widower’s life.

Purchase on Amazon for your Kindle or buy the paperback: Amish Christmas at North Star: Four Stories of Love and Family

My take:

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from Katie Ganshert’s publisher as I am on her street team. Posting a review was not a requirement but I am doing so out of appreciation for receiving a free copy. All opinions are, as always, my own.

ACANS is a fun, easy read – especially since it’s really four novellas. Any and all could be read in one sitting, easily.

Ganshert’s story, Guiding Star, was my favorite; I love her writing style and was easily sucked into the story of an Englischer investigating a long-ago disappearance. She is also the only author I was familiar with prior to reading ACANS!

I didn’t have a least favorite novella, but did think that Star of Grace felt a little out of place as it focused more on the sibling relationship than a romance like the others. Still, its story of forgiveness and redemption is moving, and I could easily picture Ed Asner’s Carl Frederickson from Up as the widower!

I also couldn’t always determine whether “Rebekah’s babies” were still Amish – and/or if they were, whether they were Old- or New-Order. The lines were somewhat blurred, and I’m still deciding how or if that impacted my enjoyment of the book as a whole. It was certainly confusing at times, and may just be chalked up to the four-novellas-by-four (or really five)-authors factor.

Mourning Star was a fun read with a hint of mystery to it; In the Stars also has some mystery as the reader tries to piece together Savilla’s past. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted Kore and Savilla to get together – but was a shipper by the end!

If you’re looking for a seasonal, easy read, I definitely recommend ACANS. It’s particularly enjoyable in print – there’s nothing like the feel and smell of a real book. 🙂

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Book Review: Susan Anne Mason’s A Worthy Heart

Do you ever find yourself in between reads, looking for a book you could dive into and get lost in? I recently found myself in that exact conundrum, when along came Susan Anne Mason’s A Worthy Heart.

It’s book 2 in a series; I don’t recall if I knew that when I selected it for reading and reviewing – I was just so excited to find a new Christian-fiction/historical-romance read – and the cover is beautiful, is it not? (I may have, yes, initially judged a book by its cover. *innocent grin*)

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About the Book (via Amazon)

Maggie Montgomery’s long-held wish to see America is finally coming true. She’ll visit her beloved brother Rylan and his wife, Colleen, and at the same time, escape Neill Fitzgerald’s unwanted attention. In addition, Maggie has a secret! She plans to remain in America to seek her fortune and to hopefully find love. While visiting Irish Meadows, she meets an intriguing man whom she thinks is a stable hand. Only when Rylan demands she stay away from Adam O’Leary does she realize he’s Colleen’s brother, recently released from prison. Nonetheless, Maggie can’t seem to make her heart conform to her brother’s request.

Adam O’Leary has never felt worthy of his place in the family. Spending time in jail only reinforces his belief. Now that he’s free, Adam hopes to make amends and earn back his family’s trust. Falling in love with Maggie Montgomery, however, was never in his plans.

Despite everyone’s effort to keep them apart, the two develop a bond nothing can break–but has Adam truly changed, or will the sins of his past prove too much for Maggie to overcome?

Preorder on Amazon: A Worthy Heart (Courage to Dream)

Release dates: 12/29/15 for Kindle, and 1/5/16 for paperback

 

Susan Anne MasonAbout the Author (via Amazon):

Susan Anne Mason’s historical novel Irish Meadows won the Fiction from the Heartland contest from the Mid-American Romance Authors Chapter of RWA. A member of ACFW, as well, she lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children.  She can be found online at www.susanannemason.com.

 

My take:

Disclaimer: I received a free advance ebook in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

I rate A Worthy Heart four out of five stars. I enjoyed the book; I really did. But I struggled coming into it as Book 2 without having read Book 1, Irish Meadows; I will, of course, go read that next, and I’m sure it will fill in some of the inevitable blanks/gaps I experienced. So the one-star knock-off is not because I overlooked its Book-2 status; rest assured.

My biggest struggle with A Worthy Heart was how every single main character seemed to have a broken engagement in their past. I felt that the circumstance became trivial, its significance lessened, as it was so often repeated.

The plot pacing for A Worthy Heart was a little slow for me at first, but I soon got pulled in, and by a third of the way in, I couldn’t put the book down. Characterization was well-done and thought-provoking; being single and in my early 30s (I definitely just caught myself adding three extra years to my age on accident when I first wrote that!), it made me think about what I might unnecessarily let stand in the way of a relationship. (Not that anything’s in the works; it’s not, and that’s fine! However – it’s something to keep in mind if/when something does come down the pike.) Keeping close to God is of the utmost importance, and I trust that He will lead with perfect timing, just like Maggie/Adam and Aurora/Gabe in A Worthy Heart.

Aside from my two issues (broken engagements and slow pacing at the beginning), the book is great fun. I read it on the bus ride home for several days, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened. My heart ached with the trials each character experienced (have no fear, no spoilers here!), and rejoiced with their triumphs.

I definitely want to read more of Mason’s work. Upon a cursory review of Amazon search results, Book 3 – entitled Hannah’s Choice – is releasing in May. Hooray! I’d been hopeful for another book in the series; more stories could certainly be told about current characters, and I’m looking forward to meeting new ones.

Black Friday book sale!

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Like most other bookworms, great books make their way onto my “things I’m thankful for” list every year. It’s hard to choose favorites, but I went ahead and picked five books I read in 2015 and am thankful for.

  1. The Fablehaven series, by Brandon Mull: I picked up Fablehaven (book 1 of the series by the same name) on a whim at Half-Price Books, needing a new book to read during my Europe trip this last spring. Little did I know how much I would enjoy it – so much so, in fact, that I purchased the bundled Kindle version of the entire series and blitzed through books 2 and 3 during the rest of the trip. I seem to have a habit of picking up fantasy books to read on Europe trips; I also discovered the Eragon and Inkheart series while in Europe on previous journeys.

    Fablehaven has a creative premise, and the five-book series fleshes out the characters, races, and how they interact with each other in our world very well. I was glad the entire series was available so I wouldn’t have to wait to find out what happened!

  2. Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien: This is a book of comfort to me. I’ve read it so many times (over 13) that the characters are like friends; I can pick it up at any time, flip open to any spot; and pick up reading.
  3. Ask a Missionary, by Jack Voelkel: As I look ahead toward full-time missions, this book was the first one my church suggested I read. It’s a great resource in and of itself, and includes an extensive appendix with further information and suggested reading material.
  4. The Russians series, by Judith Pella and Michael Phillips: GUYS. FAVORITE SERIES EVER (besides Lord of the Rings). AND GUESS WHAT ELSE. It’s available for Kindle as of this past September. YAY. In all seriousness, though, capslock of doom aside, this series got me hooked on Russia as a pre-tween. (I mean, really. How many 12-year-olds do you know that would devour this crazy-huge series? It’s so awesome. And I may point back to it as the reason I am a European Studies major.
  5. Without a Trace, by Colleen Coble: Ooh, I loved reading this book. I’d read maybe one or two of her books previously, but this book kicked off a binge-read of everything else I own by her. Mystery, romance, … it’s got both in spades and I love it. Proof that romance books don’t require steaminess to be good, and that Christian books are as good or better than secular.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to another great year of reading! Speaking of more reading, here’s one more thing to be grateful for. Books on sale! In honor of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a group of independent Christian authors banded together to offer over seventy discounted books on Nov 27-30. There’s literally something for everyone.

Every single book listed on Indie Christian Books is on sale in one or more ways. Find discounted paperbacks, dozens of books offered with free shipping, $0.99 ebooks, package deals and more. Even if you have a budget of $0, new reading material awaits you.

Don’t know what to pick? The fearless Indie Christian Books team created a quiz that will generate a book list perfect for you! Check it out!

Book Quiz

What awesome reads of 2015 are you grateful for? What books are you looking forward to reading in 2016?

A note on the Ebooks Only page. All books are listed as “Sold Out.” This only refers to paperback copies of these titles. Please click onto the product pages to find descriptions and links to discounted or free ebooks.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Leah E. Good for her work organizing this sale, Gloria Repp for completing the time consuming job of uploading book info to the sale website, and Hannah Mills for her fantastic design work on the website graphics. Hannah can be contacted at hmills(at)omorecollege(dot)edu for more information about her design services.

Book Review: Amber Stokes’ While You’re Awake

Hello again, dearest readers! How is your fall going? I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I have. I spent a week in Palm Springs, CA, for work earlier this month, and less than enjoyed the 106-degree temperatures that week. Grateful as always for the opportunity to travel somewhere I wouldn’t go on my own, but oh, was it hard. I’m thrilled to be back in the 50- and 60-degree weather here in Seattle; there’s a reason I live here, and its name is autumn. 🙂

(Okay, and the fact that we have fairly mild summers. Tully’s had an ad a couple summers ago about how we only had a week’s worth of actual heat. It’s true, folks, and the summers that top a week of over 80 or 90 degrees, we – I – struggle. Give me year-round 50-degree weather.)

A couple weeks back, I happily helped my friend Amber reveal the cover for her latest release, While You’re Awake. The book officially releases today, and what better way to celebrate its release than with a review? 🙂

Many thanks to Amber Stokes for a free eARC of While You’re Awake in exchange for my honest review!

About the Book
Sweet New Adult Contemporary Romance Novelette

WhileYoureAwake - final cover

There’s no rest for the fearful.

Ava always knew the bees would come. Just when she’s settled into a place of her own, freelance editing and savoring her independence, her rental house is invaded by a swarm of honey bees. And with their arrival, her lifelong fear morphs into a full-fledged panic that steals her sleep—and her peace of mind.

Keegan knows all about fear. When he meets Ava at the coffee shop where he works, he can’t help but come to her rescue. Together with his German shepherds, Sun and Moon, he sets out to break the “curse” that hovers over Tired Girl. But is it possible to conquer nightmares and live a dream while you’re awake?

This sweet novelette is a contemporary re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale that sheds light on the worries that bind us and the love that leads to peace.

Purchase for $.99 on Amazon! | Add to Goodreads

About the Author
Amber StokesAmber Stokes works as a marketing content writer for a Christian publisher. On the side, she self-publishes inspirational fiction depicting the seasons of life and love. Her passion for books compelled her to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and run her own freelance editing and publicity business for over a year. Happily, this chapter of her career takes place in the Pacific Northwest—a part of the world she’s always considered home.

You can learn more about Amber’s books, sign up for her author newsletter, join the Amber’s Gems street team, and more at www.SeasonsofaStory.blogspot.com.

Blog | Goodreads | Pinterest | Twitter

While You're Awake Bee Quote Card 1

My Take:
Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney movies (aside from The Rescuers, because Bernard is just the cutest thing!). I love the story, too. I tried watching Maleficent a while back, when it came out at Redbox; I was too cheap to go see it in theatres (plus I’m somewhat bipolar when it comes to Angelina Jolie), so when it hit The Box, I was right there.

I hated it.

Sorry, Angelina. But I couldn’t get into it. And I tried. Believe me, I tried.

But I digress. This is not a review of Maleficent (and it’s a darn good thing); I am merely setting the stage for my review of Amber’s “contemporary retelling” of Sleeping Beauty.

I actually had to hunt a bit for the parallels between the two. And Amber, I’m very glad about that. So many “retellings” these days are so gobsmackingly obvious that they may as well have just taken the original text and changed a few names.

No, Amber’s retelling was much more subtle. (I won’t put in any spoilers here. It’s a novelette; I read it in less than half an hour, so you have no excuse to just go read it.)

The descriptions were vivid (ewww!!! Bees!!! I’m duct taping every gap in my window screens as soon as I’m done with this review); the story length was perfect, at longer than a novella but shorter than a short story; and the humor was spot on. I caught myself laughing out loud at several spots, and that is hard to do.

The story was paced well, and involved lots of coffee (always an added bonus!). I’d really like to try a dark chocolate mochaccino now (thanks again, Amber). But wait! I have an espresso machine, and my “lattes” are really more like cappuccinos with the amount of foam involved. Good thing I keep quite a bit of Hershey’s dark chocolate syrup on hand. 😉

All in all, a very sweet story with good substance and believable characters. As always, I love reading Amber’s books, and this one did not disappoint. Of her shorter works, this one is my favorite!

While You're Awake Dog Quote Card 1

Giveaway!
Enter to win a little something sweet from Ava, Keegan, and the author! One winner will receive a lovely yellow and gold flower necklace & earrings set from Baubles, Beads and Stuff; a $10 Starbucks gift card (delivered electronically); and a Kindle copy of While You’re Awake (can be gifted to a friend, if desired!). Open to US residents only due to shipping costs.

Jewelry Prize from Baubles, Beads and Stuff 2

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Novella Review: Kimberly A. Rogers’ “Tiger’s Paw”

Today I get to review a book for a new-to-me author: Tiger’s Paw, by Kimberly A. Rogers. Kimberly runs the site So You Want to Write Christian Fantasy?, which is also new to me, but definitely one I’ll be checking out down the line.

I was perusing her site in anticipation of writing this review, and immediately felt a kinship with her as she loves C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Those two names are like magic words to me (magic rings? hee hee). This also made me very excited to read her new novella, Tiger’s Paw.

Standard disclaimer before we get going: I received a complimentary ebook copy directly from Kimberly in exchange for my honest opinion as part of the blog tour.

Book Description:
TTW_TigersPaw_KimberlyARogers_EBOOK
What if history didn’t quite play out the way we know it? What would stay the same? What would change? Even in a world where Elves and Humans coexist, there are secrets. Not all the old legends are accurate, but neither are they false. Hidden among the Humans are the Therians, those gifted with the ability to shift into beasts. How long they will remain unseen by Human eyes depends on how well they adhere to their code of life and honor – The Therian Way.

When secrecy is vital to survive among Humans and Elves, the Therian Way offers balance. The Fringe, a militant group of discontented Therians, threaten to expose their race to Mankind. It falls to General Baran to track down and remove the Fringe Nest before time runs out. Who can he trust when the fate of his people lies in the Tiger’s paw?

Amazon Buy Link:
Tiger’s Paw: A Novella

About the Author:
Kimberly_2011_2
Kimberly A. Rogers writes in-depth reviews of Christian and secular fantasy as well as articles for Christian fantasy writers at her blog So You Want to Write Christian Fantasy?. Of course, only when not in the midst of writing papers and taking exams in the pursuit of her Masters in Religious Education. Kimberly lives in Virginia where the Blue Ridge Mountains add inspiration to an over-active imagination originally fueled by fantasy classics such as the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

My Take:
The cover: I am a huge fan of the cover. I hadn’t paid much attention to it when I started reading the book, so when I pulled it up in prep for writing this post, I was struck by Baran’s resemblance to Karl Urban. This is an automatic win in my book (no pun intended!), and actually makes me want to go back and re-read the novella with that in mind.

The plot/story: I’m actually encouraged skimming over the above notes about the cover. You see, I really struggled with the novella itself; I felt like I’d been dropped in the middle of a story, where the backstory had been set up already and I’d missed it all. I was confused by the Therians (is this dude a man? tiger? both? GAH); I thought other books in the series had been released already (they haven’t); I thought … well, I thought a lot that proved not to be the case, and perhaps those things would have been cleared up if I’d looked at the back cover prior to reading. 🙂

Perhaps my biggest struggle was that I didn’t feel like I could relate to the two main characters, Baran and Raina, and therefore felt disconnected from the rest of the story. I’m still asking myself why they are important. (But hey, if one looks like Karl Urban … #swoon)

I did enjoy one particular plot twist at the end (that I would love to include for you if it weren’t a spoiler alert). I had a feeling it would work out the way it did, which made me just a little (ok, a lot!) happy – I usually don’t pick up on that sort of thing. I’m typically the space cadet that does not see plot twists happening until they blitz by!

The premise of the series – not just this prequel novella! – is fascinating. I’m a huge fan and think it easily lends itself to multiple books and characters. While the execution of it was a challenge for me in the prequel, I think it will be redeemed in the following books. I’m hopeful there will be more back story and descriptors of the Therians, the Therian Way, and how in the world they can shapeshift. I would love to be a fly on the wall in some of the Therian compounds!

Book Review and Author Interview: Jaye L. Knight’s “Half-Blood”

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Jaye L. Knight’s new novella, Half-Blood, has been released! Learn more about this prequel story to Ilyon Chronicles (including my review and an interview with the author!) and make sure you also enter the tour giveaway at the bottom!

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About the Book
The gasps and murmuring grew. Though some were hardly more than whispers, clear words reached Jace’s ears—dangerous, monster, animal, soulless. He tried to back away from their accusing eyes, but the collar pulled hard against his throat and held him in place.

For all his years as a slave, Jace has known nothing but the hatred people hold for his mixed blood—one half human, the other half the blood of a race considered monsters. Always, he is the outsider and quickly learns it is better to keep to himself. But, when his volatile ryrik blood leads him to do the unthinkable, he is thrown into a world of violence and bloodshed.

Forced to become a gladiator, Jace finds more and more of his heart dying as his master works to break down his will not to become the monster everyone believes he is. When a stranger interferes with his master’s harsh punishment, Jace’s world is upended yet again. But with it comes the possibility of hope that has long since died. Could the man possibly hold the key to escaping the hopeless darkness that is Jace’s life? Is there such a thing as life beyond the cruelty of slavery?

See where Jace’s story all began . . .

amazon-buy goodreads
Haven’t discovered the world of Ilyon yet? Find out more at the official Ilyon Chronicles website!

IlyonChronicles

My Take:

Let me get the legal lingo out of the way, first of all: I received a complimentary copy of Half-Blood in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

You may recall that I have already read and reviewed Resistance and The King’s Scrolls, Books 1 and 2 respectively in the Ilyon Chronicles series. Ergo, my expectations were high with the release of Half-Blood … and it did not disappoint.

The cover itself is quite a bit different from Resistance and TKS, but by no means is it less stunning. Even looking at it now gives me a little bit of the chills – and not in a Lion King, hyenas-shivering-over-Mufasa way.

 

No, this reaction is more a “GAH I KNOW WHAT’S COMING AND IT’S NOT EASY” shiver/chill. (</end capslock of doom>) By the time readers encounter Jace in the Ilyon Chronicles (IC, from here on out) series, we know he’s had a rough go of it. Really rough. So coming back to where it all begins with Half-Blood, the cover is a perfect lead-in to what you’re about to read. His early years ain’t pretty; it really is as bad as you might have imagined in IC. But I’m getting ahead of myself here; this paragraph, at least, is about the cover. Every time I look at it, I have flashbacks to movie posters like Gladiator. Or The Patriot. Or Braveheart. (None of which, ironically, I have seen. #thepowerofhollywood) Props to the designer – it’s evocative and emotional.

And the story … oh, the story. I was so glad I could interview Jaye as part of this post, because the entire time – especially in light of some of the more emotional events in The King’s Scrolls – I kept wanting to ask how she felt writing the novella. (Read on for that … I’m getting ahead of myself, again.)

Half-Blood is not an easy read. It’s certainly not fluffy. But I was not expecting that, either, knowing it was about Jace and his childhood. My heart ached for him; I wanted to jump into the story (perhaps Silvertongue from Inkheart could read me in?) and I could channel Harry Potter‘s Hermione, quickly performing a shield charm to prevent the whippings and the fights to the death. So much emotion in this story; I really had a hard time, both from the subject matter as well as the simple fact that two books and now a novella later, I have a vested interest/abject desire for this character to live, survive and thrive.

The novella’s pacing is non-stop; something was always happening to move it along – but the plot does not suffer at all from that. The novella length was perfect to tell Jace’s story, without it being overdone – or, on the flip side, drawn out to fill time or a word count.

Jaye, as per usual, is stellar at drawing the reader into the story; I felt like I was right with Jace at every turn, feeling his grief, fear, pain – and hope. That, perhaps, is my favorite part of the book; if I may channel one more movie here, I must quote “A Knight’s Tale”. “And now to finish it …” “–With ‘hope’. Love should end with hope.”

That is truly how I feel I should wrap up this book review … as hard as it was to read aspects of Jace’s younger years, I love that it ended with hope. The novella absolutely lived up to my expectations, and I am looking forward to Jaye’s next IC book. Despair is not the end; hope and love will triumph!

Interview With The Author

Jaye – thank you for returning again and again to my blog, by way of book reviews, cover reveals, and always interviews! 🙂 Can I just have you on permanently? That ok? 😉

Meagan: Half-Blood is a novella set prior to Resistance. Which book did you write first? Do you think that helped or hindered the writing process?

Jaye L. Knight: I wrote Resistance first. I only just wrote Half-Blood this past winter, though I did have a couple of scenes written long before that. I don’t think writing them out of order hindered me in any way. The only difficult part was making sure all the facts in Half-Blood matched what I had mentioned about Jace’s past in Resistance and The King’s Scrolls.

We talked at The King’s Scrolls’ release about how hard it was to write certain plot points. I can only imagine how it must have been writing Half-Blood – between the gladiatorial action and other brutality, it was certainly not easy to read at times. How did you cope with the stresses of certain scenes?

Thankfully, the story flowed really well and I wrote it in only a couple of weeks, so I didn’t have to dwell on any scenes too long. I think most of the stress for me came in wondering what reader response was going to be like. I have a tendency to get slightly depressed when I’m getting ready to release a new book as writer insecurities creep in. This was especially bad with Half-Blood because it is such a tough story, yet one I really wanted to tell because it’s what shaped Jace into the person he is in the series.

What kind of research did you do for Half-Blood?

Most research I needed for Half-Blood I had already done for the other books in the series. I’ve read quite a bit about gladiators and other gladiator stories over the last couple of years, so I drew on that.

Thanks again, Jaye! 🙂 Looking forward to more in Ilyon Chronicles!

About the Author
JayeAuthor2015Jaye L. Knight is an award-winning author, homeschool graduate, and shameless tea addict with a passion for Christian fantasy. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even in the deepest darkness, God’s love shines as a light to offer hope. She has been penning stories since the age of eight and resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

You can connect with Jaye on her website, blog, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Etsy, and on her new fiction forum where you can interact with other readers of the series.

Giveaway
Share in the excitement of the release and enter to win a themed giveaway pack! Prizes include an autographed copy of Half-Blood, a blue feather bookmark hand crafted by Jaye, a bronze sword pendant, and a $5 Amazon gift card! (Giveaway is open to US residents only. Cannot be shipped internationally.)

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Tour Schedule
Tuesday, July 14

Wednesday, July 15

Thursday, July 16

Friday, July 17

Saturday, July 18

Sunday, July 19

Monday, July 20

Tuesday, July 21

Wednesday, July 22

 

Book Review: The Prayers of Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

How many of my fellow female readers read that in Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy Bennett’s voice?

Yeah, I did too. 🙂

I jumped at the chance to review something lesser known of Jane Austen – lesser known even, dare I say it, than my not-so-secret favorite, Northanger Abbey (which I laughed hysterically at and with all the way through reading – thankfully, that was Jane’s point in this witty satire of gothic fiction!).

Unbeknownst to me, and possibly to many of us, Jane Austen, that paragon of 19th-century writing, wrote – in addition to her beloved Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, the aforementioned Northanger Abbey, and more – also wrote prayers.

Yes, my friends! As if I had not esteemed her highly enough already (she’s already got me using words like “unbeknownst, paragon, and esteem” in this blog post …) – she’s got more for us to read, love, and hopefully, deepen our spiritual walk with Christ in the recently-published Prayers of Jane Austen, edited by Terry Glaspey.

The Prayers of Jane Austen

About the Book

You know Jane Austen as the beloved author of Pride and PrejudiceEmma, and other witty, insightful novels of the early nineteenth century. Now come to know her as a woman of unexpected spiritual depth. Jane Austen wrote beautiful, heartfelt prayers for use during her family’s evening devotions. Each one reveals her gratitude for God’s blessings and her pursuit of a holy life—expressions of a woman whose heart was profoundly moved by faith.

In this beautifully designed book, author Terry Glaspey introduces you to Jane Austen the Christian by sharing this powerful collection of prayers and also a glimpse into her life story and the impact she had as a writer of virtue, character, and morality.

About the Editor

Terry Glaspey has degrees in history and pastoral ministry and is the author of several books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know and Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis.

My Take

I’ve already noted how much I adore Jane Austen. I’ve read most of her books (still trying to get through Sense and Sensibility, an unexpected challenge); I’ve seen nearly every movie known to man; and could wax eloquent on the finer points of Darcy as played by Colin Firth over Matthew MacFadyen – but I’ll spare you.

So I leapt (see? There goes Jane again, getting me to use spellings like “leapt” rather than “leaped”) at the chance to read this delightful book of her prayers. And yes, allow me to get the legal disclaimer out of the way from the get-go; I received a free PDF copy in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are always my own.

I could not get enough of this book. The downside of it was that it didn’t want to transfer to my iPad, despite its PDF formatting; I will freely admit, however, that I didn’t try very hard once it failed the first time. It’s equally as good on my computer – if not better, because it features delightful sketches throughout, and I loved to zoom in and see every tiny detail. If I could figure out how to share one of the images, I completely would here – but my technology challenge is still present!

The sketches remind me very much of those one would see on a plate, similar to this blue toile from Zazzle:

Image from Google search.

Apparently the sketches from Prayers of Jane Austen are all taken from the British Library and are in the public domain on their website … but darned if I could find them. (Side note, I had no idea how many blue plates there are out there. As blue is my favorite color … I just got sidetracked for about 20 minutes looking at them. I wants them, precious … gollum.)

These designs make what would have been a much shorter (and less fun) book significantly longer. The pictures not only add length – they also add depth to Jane’s prayers. Even the plate pictured above is kind of doing it for me, giving me a mental image of being outdoors, gazing on beautiful land and buildings, and contemplating topics of significant spiritual import (at least, as as significant as possible at 7:30 on a Saturday morning).

The marriage of words and pictures is a powerful one, and is well documented in The Prayers of Jane Austen.

And the words! Oh, my. Jane’s eloquence is just as powerful here as it is in Pride and Prejudice. She proves once again why she is one of the greatest authors not only of the 19th century, but of all time.

Perhaps my favorite line from her prayers was from the third prayer (page 60 in my PDF reviewer’s copy):

We feel that we have been blessed far beyond any thing that we have deserved; and though we cannot but pray for a continuance of all these mercies, we acknowledge our unworthiness of them and implore Thee to pardon the presumption of our desires.

I am confident I will return again and again to this little book in my devotional time. It is truly a gem, wonderfully edited by Terry Glaspey (with an excellent foreword) and interspersed with spectacular drawings.

Buy the book online at Amazon or Harvest House; add the book on Goodreads; join the fun on Twitter (with #InspiredByAusten) or Pinterest.

Join the fun!

Persuasion and Prayers Read-Along Button

A read-along of Persuasion and The Prayers of Jane Austen started earlier this week! Mosey on over to Amber Stokes’ blog at Seasons of Humility to join the fun. It’s not too late!

 

Audiobook Review: “How A Star Falls”

Oh, my, it has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m still here; I’ve just been enjoying a long-ish break from blogging. 🙂 And now I’m back with something a bit new to me: an audiobook review! Last November, I participated in a blog tour for the print and ebook release of Amber Stokes’ How A Star Falls; the audiobook version was recently released, and I couldn’t resist partaking. Had to see (hear?) if it sounded anything like – well, I was going to say the voices in my head, but that might be a little off-putting! 🙂

(Any “Chicken Run” fans out there?)

But I digress. Let me tell you a little bit about the book – and my take on the audio version. (Let it also be hereby known, to satisfy the powers that be, that I received a free copy of the How A Star Falls audiobook in exchange for my honest review.)

How A Star Falls by Amber Stokes

How A Star Falls by Amber Stokes

About the Book

Sweet NA Contemporary Romance Novella

How does a star fall? Quickly. Completely. Unexpectedly.

Derrick Knolane escapes to Trinidad Head most evenings, avoiding his apartment and planning for the day he’ll break free of Humboldt County. Working in a music store might be fine for a while, but it’s far from the goal he had in mind when he got his college degree. Not to mention the fact that his roommate is a jerk and his family won’t stop trying to run his life.

Then Brielle falls into his world. She claims to be a star. Not from Hollywood, but from heaven. He thinks she’s crazy. Certainly delusional. Yet, he can’t just leave her alone on the cliffs. So he takes her home. And his whole world falls apart.

A heartfelt and fanciful contemporary romance novella, How a Star Falls explores the uncertain season of new adulthood and shows that sometimes the worst inconveniences make for the best miracles of all.

Purchase your own copy on Amazon!

My take: Audiobooks are interesting. Clinically. I could count on one hand the number of audiobooks I’ve listened to – I think a whopping three so far, including this one; The Scarlet Pimpernel was my first, interestingly, and is perfect for a road trip from Seattle to Cannon Beach and back, if you wanted to know.

Why so few? Well … I get bored with their length. I am a fast reader and would just prefer to read the book myself. As that doesn’t work so well when I’m driving, the audiobook concept comes in handy; but, it still takes hours longer to listen to than it does for me to read – so I just don’t. Give me driving music.

How A Star Falls, on the other hand, was right up my alley. The audiobook clocks in at about two hours; its shorter length made my reintroduction to audiobook-land much more palatable. (Scarlet Pimpernel, for example, is about nine hours in audio.)

I got an Audible.com account and the iPhone app to listen to it, which I’d never done before, and I must say I’m already liking Audible more than the big honking CD sets you have to get from the library. This is pretty cool, I thought to myself repeatedly while listening. It’s incredibly easy to pause, play, and switch back and forth between the book and any tunes I want to listen to. Audible keeps track of my stopping point in any audiobook I may be listening to, compared to CDs, where it becomes a guessing game to figure out where I was in the story – because of course I never remember the track number I was on.

But this is not a review to say how great Audible and its iPhone app are (though they are). 🙂

How A Star Falls is narrated by a male – Patrick Mahaney, if you wanted to know. (I don’t know who that is, but it’s a good thing to know for future audiobook listening.) I was a bit surprised at the male choice, but it works, though as Amber said, it was funny to hear him read her author’s note, being written in the first person!

I have no earthly idea as to Patrick’s personal demographics, but he seemed a good choice in my mental assumption of age range to read the story. (It would have been weird to have Sean Connery, for example – much too old for this story’s setting, as lovely as his voice is!) And you know when you’re talking to good friends on the phone, and you can tell that they’re smiling when telling you something? I liked being able to pick up on that at times. It truly seemed like Patrick enjoyed reading the story, which made a huge difference. (One can also tell when a speaker would rather be doing anything else … this was not the case, thankfully!)

Listening to the audiobook also prompted me to think about phraseology a lot – how I would have verbally read a sentence. There were a couple times I sat back and went, “Huh” – different emphases than I’d placed (again, voices in my head … should I be admitting to that?) made me interpret the lines a bit differently. While I still preferred my own mental emphases (not biased at all!) in some respects, I was struck by the challenge and reminded that each person reads a book in a different, unique way.

Overall a very positive experience, and I am excited to check out more audiobooks down the road – for which I am hugely grateful! No more library monstrosities for me, thank you. 🙂 And How A Star Falls is definitely one I could listen to again.

Interview with the Author

Amber and I caught up quickly over email and she graciously answered some questions for me, all about the audiobook process, what we can expect down the line, and even some live tweets while she listened to the book!

  • Crumpets ‘n’ Cream: Is this your first audiobook? If so, what made you decide to go the audiobook route on this novella rather than on another work?

Amber Stokes: How a Star Falls is indeed the first of my books to be made into an audiobook. A little over a year ago, I had surveyed some of my readers and social media friends regarding their interest in audiobooks, and the response hadn’t been overly positive. So I had decided to put it off at that point. But with How a Star Falls, the risk seemed minimal—after all, it’s a short novella, and if I could find a narrator who would be willing to do a royalty share with me (instead of requiring a payment beforehand), why not try it out? I can be super impulsive at times…

So however the audiobook idea got back into my head, I jumped right on it this time around! ACX.com makes the process really quite easy on the author’s end. And if I could find a male narrator who could convey Derrick’s voice well, that would make this project so much easier than trying to find someone who could convey all the various points-of-view in my historical novels (including a POV with an interesting accent). Well, I found a narrator I liked; he took the project on; and the rest is history for this contemporary story! 🙂

  • CNC: How does prep work for an audiobook differ from the hard copy?

AS: It’s quite a bit different for the author! Most of the work comes from the narrator instead of the author—although I’m sure the amount of work the author contributes depends on the author, the project, how much the narrator is willing to edit, etc. For How a Star Falls, I created a profile for the book on ACX, which works as a sort of “pitch” to the narrators. Then I searched the site for a narrator who fit the gender, genre, age, and tone of my book.

Now, generally, you’d want the narrator to do an audition for you before offering the project to them. Me being impulsive and whatnot, I just outright offered the project to the narrator whose voice I liked. I’m grateful it worked out so well! I then offered feedback to the narrator when I received the first 15 minutes of the audiobook, and then again when I received the rest of the audio files—noting places where lines had been left out or where I had a different vision/intention for the tone and inflection of certain scenes.

I also had my designer create an audiobook cover. Again, she did the work on all that. So most of my work for this project came in offering feedback to the narrator and trying to be patient during the times of waiting. 😉 I’d say the author acts more like the editor than the creator in the audiobook process.

  • CNC: Do you get to choose who voices your book?

AS: I did! Authors on ACX have the option to wait for narrators (or “producers,” as they’re often referred to on the site) to audition for the book. But I’m often too impulsive and impatient for my own good (have I mentioned that already?), so I decided to seek out a producer whose voice fit well for this project. Once I heard Patrick Mahaney’s samples, I thought his voice could work great for Derrick (the main POV character in How a Star Falls). I’m glad he took on the project!

  • CNC: What did you think the first time you listened to the finished product?

AS: I was really pleased with how it all turned out! As previously mentioned, I had some minor edits to share before the final files were submitted, but I think Patrick did a great job of interpreting Derrick’s story and conveying the right tone. Here are some of my tweets that convey my feelings as I was listening to certain parts of the audiobook back in early February: HaSF Tweet 1 for Meagan HaSF Tweet 2 for Meagan HaSF Tweet 3 for Meagan HaSF Tweet 4 for Meagan

  • CNC: Do you foresee doing more audiobooks down the line, whether for existing works or new ones?

Yes, I think so! I had such fun with this experience, and I’d certainly enjoy hearing more of my characters come to life in this way. I’ve been encouraged by the response so far to the How a Star Falls audiobook and Patrick’s narration, and it would be neat to make a niche for myself—perhaps with the shorter, “clean” audiobooks? We’ll see how it goes, but I’m definitely open to the possibilities. 🙂

  • CNC: Thanks Amber! Looking forward to seeing what the future holds!

The print, ebook, and audio versions are all available on Amazon. 🙂

Fiction Friday – Book Review: Katie Ganshert’s The Art of Losing Yourself

I recently rediscovered Katie Ganshert‘s books when she put out a call for applications to be on her street team. Free books? Christian author? Where do I sign??! 🙂 Naturally, I applied to join the street team as soon as I could, and I’ll admit I was very (pleasantly) surprised to be accepted. Hooray!! I hadn’t read all of her books, so I honestly wasn’t sure what the verdict would be. Thankfully, God’s plans are different than my conjectures. 😉 I received my first galley copy (ever!) in the mail a week or two ago, and got to reading: it was for her upcoming release, The Art of Losing Yourself.

This does mean I got a free ARC of The Art of Losing Yourself, which releases on April 21, 2015, in exchange for my honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.

About the Book

Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.
Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together.  But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?

Release date: April 21, 2015 Publisher: Waterbrook Press ISBN-10: 1601425929 ISBN-13: 978-1601425928 Order from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books a Million | ChristianBook.com | Cokesbury | Family Christian | IndieBound | LifeWay Christian Store | Mardel | Parable Christian Stores | Powell’s | Random House Enjoy a Sneak Peek!

My take:

I was lost in this book from the moment I picked it up. It was gripping, tearjerking (and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried while reading a book), funny, sad. Katie is not afraid to address tough topics and the rougher aspects of life, drawing pearls of wisdom out of the good and the bad. The book switched back and forth between Gracie’s and Carmen’s perspectives, and I was entertained comparing the two; Gracie, at 17, approaches life situations very differently from Carmen’s late-20s outlook, and the two certainly balance each other out well. Having had a grandparent who suffered from Alzheimer’s, I could relate to Gracie and Carmen, whose aunt suffers from a form of dementia. Gracie and Carmen weren’t always sure which Ingrid they would experience when they came to visit – the lucid Ingrid, or an Ingrid locked in the past? Would she know them? Would something set her off or back or [fill in the blank here]? The portrayal of both Ingrid and the family around her was very touchingly and realistically handled and presented, and I appreciated that immensely.   Katie has a way with words that draws the reader in; having spent the last week reading three different books of hers (this one, along with Wildflowers from Winter and its sequel Wishing on Willows), I can safely say that she has another winner in TAOLY. I’m excited to continue being a part of her street team, and look forward (already!) to the next one. (No pressure, Katie.)

Bonus Features

Inspiration:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great meany bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” ~Ezekiel 37:1-3

The Cast:

Behind the Scenes with Carmen Hart Behind the Scenes with Gracie Fisher Behind the Scenes with Ben Hart

The Setting:

Bay Breeze is a fictitious town on the panhandle of Florida, fifteen minutes outside of Pensacola.

Book Review: Michele Cushatt’s Undone

Michele Cushatt's Undone

Michele Cushatt’s delightful, heart-wrenchingly honest memoir Undone releases in just a few days – March 10! – and I had the great privilege of reading an ARC this week. I must confess that I’d put it off a little bit; I’m a contingency reader, with three or four books going at any given time. And when I suddenly remembered that its release date was coming, I sighed, Oh, goodness, I’d better get on that.

It quickly turned into one of those reads. I read; I paused; I read a little more; I went back and re-read some earlier parts.

This book is a joy. That doesn’t mean that it’s happy; it’s certainly not “happy” – in the easy sense. Michele had mouth cancer. And lots of doctor appointments, and surgeries, and heartache. But there is joy radiating on every page of this book. And that is what I take with me every day as I walk by my bookcase and see Undone out of the corner of my eye.

There are so many pearls of wisdom in this book … I wish I could share them all with you. 🙂 Go buy the book for yourself and see what I mean. (And automatic win; she includes a quote or two at the beginning of every chapter, and Chapter 14 has one of my favorite JRR Tolkien quotes: “Not all who wander are lost.”)

Disclaimer: Zondervan provided me with a free ARC in exchange for my honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.

About the Book (from the back cover)

Michelle Cushatt is on a quest to make peace with a complicated life. An honest confession of a cancer diagnosis and the joys and disappointments of motherhood and marriage, Undone is ripe with regret over what is, yet still hopeful for what could be.

With enough humor to ease the rawness of the story, Undone takes the reader on a roller coaster two year journey through the unexpectedness of life. A look back makes Michele long for a do-over, the chance to make fewer mistakes and leave less of a mess to clean up. A look forward makes Michele wonder if all her attempts to control life have robbed her of the vibrancy of it. And, in the middle of this internal chaos, she finds her once-pristine house filled with the sights and sounds of three small, uncontainable children who just want to be loved.

In the end, Undone turns complication into a beautiful canvas, angst into joy, and the unknown into an adventure, revealing that sometimes life’s most colorful and contagious stories are written right in the midst of the mess.

Forgiveness, of the authentic and true kind, is a rare find. We spend years restoring worn antiques, hundreds of dollars repairing wrecked and dented cars. But if a relationship sustains damage, we’re more likely to relegate it to the scrap heap than try to restore its shine. We’re far more enduring with our valuables than with the people we claim to value.

– Michele Cushatt’s Undone, p. 40

About the Author (from the back cover)

Michelle Cushatt is a successful speaker and author who shares about the complicated intersections of real faith and real life, speaking for Women of Faith, Compassion International, Focus on the Family, and Hearts at Home. She and her husband, Troy, have been married for twelve years and share a stepfamily of three boys, and, more recently, three small children who arrived just as they thought they were preparing to enter the empty nest phase of family life. They live in Denver, Colorado.

Peace isn’t a byproduct of control, the payout of a happy conclusion. Peace is the infiltrating, life-giving presence of a very real God. One who loves nothing more than to step into the middle of locked and darkened rooms and impossible circumstances, close enough to tough.

– Michele Cushatt’s Undone, p. 57

My take: Wow. Just … wow.

I’ve been to several Women of Faith conferences, and sincerely wish I’d had the chance to hear Michele speak. Her engaging writing style gripped me from the beginning, and I did have to work not to read the entire thing in one sitting. Undone is a book you need to sit with, enjoy, let the words seep into your soul; it merits a re-read – or two – to fully appreciate the story, the wisdom, and God’s heart, which leaps off the page at you with every word.

Michele is incredibly relatable and very honest; she makes no secret of the struggles she went through, and the times that she went in her closet, shut the door, and cried. And cried. And that takes guts to share.

Want a life rich with joy? Spend yourself. Desire fullness from head to toe? Find someone to feed. Looking for a light that shines, turns dark into light? Find a need and meet it. No questions asked.

– Michelle Cushatt’s Undone, p. 132

Undone‘s subtitle is”A story of making peace with an unexpected life”. This small phrase packs so much meaning into it; by the end of the book, I was still wanting more (in a good way). More of Michele’s wisdom. More updates on the three littles, and the three bigs. And thankfully, a modicum of that will come by way of her website; her blog is delightful. Now that I have read her book, I feel like I know her a little bit; her posts, her tweets are so much deeper, as are many things once you know even part of the story behind the person.

Thank you, Michele and Zonderfan/HarperCollins, for the sweet blessing of reading and reviewing Undone. I am blessed.

Undone officially releases on March 10, just three days away. Available for order at Amazon or your favorite retailer!