Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I've Read (So Far) in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke & The Bookish

This week the topic is the top ten books I've read so far this year. That's HARD! I mean, I've already read 86 books so far this year. So here goes. In no particular order. And they are not all books I rated five stars, three were re-reads, one was a library book, and the rest are all review copies.

1. Juliet by Anne Fortier
2. Married Til Monday by Denise Hunter
3. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
4. From the Start by Melissa Tagg
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
6. How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck
7. Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer
8. Roses for Mama by Janette Oke
9. Together With You by Victoria Bylin
10. Hearts Made Whole by Jody Hedlund

What's on your list today?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Scribbles Vol 20

Happy Saturday my friends. My week has been rather intense this week. I taught my first class at my new job, an Excel Level 1 class. The students in it were all from where I used to work. So it helped that I knew them all. But even if I hadn't, I still would have done well. They all gave me glowing evaluations. And my boss was thrilled. I'm co-teaching another computer course on Monday and a workshop on Wednesday. Then my next solo class is another one for Excel. Only this time it's Level 2. It should also be pretty easy as once again, I know the participants.

But this week, I took a journey. A Journey Off the Map. You see, my church has had Vacation Bible School all week. And the theme has been a journey to draw closer to Jesus. I'm not in the classroom with the kids. My strength is working registration. And this year, I'm checking the 1st through 3rd graders. There were a couple of times when it got a little crazy, and one of the other leaders commented that they didn't know how I did it. I laughed and said that I was used to it. After all, I do the same thing in AWANA. Only difference is that I have help at VBS (3 tables, one for Nursery-Kinder, one for 1st-3rd, and one for 4th-6th). With AWANA, it's just me. And no, the Nursery-PreK is not open to everyone. Just the workers' children. So those classes are small.

It's been quite fun to be up there every night. Even with Mary Kay end of the year and working hard to meet some of my goals. The church is decorated in a jungle theme. We even have LIVE reptiles. Snakes, dragons, frogs, etc. We have one volunteer whose sole job is to manage the reptiles to ensure that the kids aren't causing them to be nervous. No, I've not handled any of the snakes and I had no intention of it. But I did hold the gecko and the bearded dragon. I make a wide berth around the snakes when I walk by.  When I walked in on Sunday holding my friend's baby, the reptiles weren't there yet. But her eyes got huge when turned down the hallway with the children's classrooms. Because that entire hall has been turned green.

But it's still been a fun week. Even if I come home exhausted. I figure that I can nap later. Like over the weekend.

One of the volunteers makes sure that the workers get a chance to have dinner. She has organized meals for each night (Monday - Pasta, Tuesday - hot dogs, Wednesday - sandwiches, Thursday - Mexican, Friday - Potluck). I'm a picky eater, especially when it comes to sandwiches. I like meat, cheese, and bread. Or peanut butter and jelly. So she made sure that there was a special ham & cheese sandwich just for me. I found out though, that I'm not the only one who requested something special. Some requested a chicken salad without onions/pickles. Others requested crackers instead of bread. And this volunteer has had the monumental task of doing what she can to accommodate the workers.

My poor kitty. I'm home for all of about 5 minutes before I leave for the church. That's usually just long enough to feed her. And when I finally arrive home in the evening, she wants to be cuddled. So of course I oblige her.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Tuesday Favorites over the past 5 years

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke & the Bookish

This week's topic is about the TTT anniversary at the Broke & The Bookish. Evidently it's been going on for the past 5 years. I only discovered the feature LAST year. So my list only includes the ones I participated over the last year. And I have to say it was rather fun to search through my posts and see which ones would make this list. 

Here are my top ten (in no particular order) and linked to the original post:

So it's 11 really. But I did find it hard to narrow them down. I'm awfully glad that I labeled posts so that I could easily search. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Taken - A Review

Published - May, 2015, Bethany House Books
Author - Dee Henderson
Title - Taken
Format - ebook, paper, audio
Find on Amazon

Eleven years ago Shannon Bliss was abducted. Now she has returned. And she needs help easing back into her life as well as putting those who abducted her in jail. Shannon seeks out Matthew Dane, a PI from Boston, because of the situation he went through with his daughter. Under Matthew's care, Shannon begins to share about her time in captivity. As she shares, Matthew realizes that Shannon is the key in crippling a very large crime family and wants to make sure that the authorities have what they need to stop that family's activities. But his biggest concern is Shannon. With each new revelation and piece of evidence coming out, Matthew sees how she draws into herself. Will she be able to have a normal life?

I've read every single one of Dee Henderson's books. While my favorites, and in my opinion her personal best, remain the O'Malley series, I did find that this book was very good. Unlike her other more recent novels, I didn't feel bogged down in details. The story in this book moved along at a pace similar to her O'Malleys.

I liked Shannon. I liked how what she went through turned her into who she is. I liked how Matthew was patient with her. I liked how he was able to relate to Shannon because of what he went through with his daughter. I LOVED seeing Rachel and Cole from the O'Malleys in this book. Catching up with Paul & Ann and Bryce & Charlotte was nice too.

The story drew me in in a way that her more recent books hadn't. I was glad to see a lot of action and things moving quickly. There is a romance element in it, but it's more implied than flat out specified. Because this story isn't truly a romance. It's more about helping the woman feel safe in her new world.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I love it? No. But I liked it well enough. I'd probably reread it at some point. It's not the O'Malleys, and it won't be.

I received this book for free from Bethany House for the purpose of reviewing. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Recommended to fans of Dee Henderson, Irene Hannon, Lynette Eason

Rating - 4 stars

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Desperate Measures - A Review

Published - June 2015, Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group
Series - Port Aster Secrets Book 3
Author - Sandra Orchard
Title - Desperate Measures
Format - ebook, paper
Find on Amazon

Kate Adams has finally identified the plant that is responsible for tearing her family apart. Yet someone else doesn't want her research into it to go any further than it already has. With Kate staying with her injured colleague, she hopes she's out of danger. And that's what detective Tom Parker hopes too. Yet a runaway case he's working keeps entwining with Kate's penchant for being in danger. Only this time, they seem to be related. Will Kate ever be safe?

This is the conclusion to the Port Aster series. Trust me. This is a series that needs to be read in order.

I thought that it was just ok really. First of all, I have read the prior books. And I enjoyed them. I enjoyed this one as well, but I felt that things got tied up too nicely. And too conveniently. I'd figured out about halfway through that one of the characters wasn't a suspect.

But still, reading Kate's romance with Tom was pretty fun. And learning about some of the different plants and their antidotes was interesting. I thought that the epilogue was a nice touch.

I'd say that those who enjoy cozy mysteries would really enjoy this book.

I received the Kindle version of this book from Revell books via NetGalley for free for the purpose of reviewing. I was not required to like this book, only give my honest opinion. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Recommended to fans of cozy mysteries, Love Inspired Suspense, Lynette Eason, Irene Hannon

Rating - 3.5 stars, which will be 3 stars

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Scribbles Vol 19

Happy Saturday my friends!

I was thinking about legacies earlier this week. And what sort of legacy I'd want to leave. You see, this train of thought was brought on by the death of probably the best Sunday School teacher I've had in my adult life. And so I got to thinking.

I started to think about my family and the legacies my father and grandparents have left. Those who know me, know how dad shaped my life. And how I am probably more independent than most women. Yet my faith was also shaped by my parents and grandparents. You see, my grandfather on my mom's side was a man of faith. And he raised his children that way. And they in turn are raising (or have raised) his grandchildren to know and understand what it means to be a Christian.

There are both good and bad legacies to leave. The question is, what do you want to be known for? Do you want to be known for what you do for the kingdom of God? Or maybe you'd rather be known for your stand on something else? If you've not thought about it, think about it. What are you doing today that will impact future generations?

By the way, Happy Father's Day out there.
My Daddy

Friday, June 19, 2015

Five Brides - A Review

Published - May 2015, Tyndale House Publishers
Author - Eva Marie Everson
Title - Five Brides
Format - ebook, paper
Find on Amazon

With five single women sharing an apartment together in the early 1950's Chicago, they each live their own independent lives. They rarely see each other let alone all have a day off at the same time. One rare occasion all five roommates were home on the same Saturday, and they spy a bridal gown in the window of the famous Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. Each of the girls fell in love with the dress. They immediately ask to try on the dress - all five of them - though none of them have a date let alone a boyfriend. The girls decide to pool their money and purchase the dress. Yet how can one dress be shared among five completely different women? And which woman will end up with the dress?

I'll admit that I was intrigued by one dress being shared among five different women and the stories they would tell. So I requested to review this book. I wondered how the concept would work. I was impressed. This is the first book I've read by this author. And I enjoyed it immensely.

I think that the story line that intrigued me the most was Betty's story. While it appeared that Joan really was the main character, I actually liked Betty the best. Though I'd have still liked to have discovered what happened to the other girls AFTER their weddings. Betty, though, we kinda of found out what happened. And then of course we discover which of the girls ended up with the dress.

I'd be interested in reading more books by this author. I found the book to be a rather quick read, once I started it that is.

I received the Kindle version of this book for free from Tyndale via NetGalley for the purpose of reviewing. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Recommended to fans of historical fiction, women's fiction, Susan May Warren, Deborah Raney, Katie Ganshert,

Rating - 4 stars

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Juliet - A Review

Published - August 2010, Ballantine Books
Author - Anne Fortier
Title - Juliet
Format - ebook, paper, hardcover, audio
Find on Amazon

When Julie Jacobs' Aunt Rose passes away, Julie is shocked to discover that she has been written out of the will. Everything has been left to Julie's selfish twin sister, Janice. All that Julie receives is a letter telling her to go to Siena Italy and a key to a safety deposit box. When she arrives in Italy, she is shocked to discover that the contents of the box are her mother's research into the story of Romeo and Juliet. And Shakespeare's story isn't the earliest version of the romance. All of a sudden, Julie finds herself in the middle of a centuries old feud, discovering she (and her sister) has a different name, and that the handsome, if arrogant, man she keeps crossing paths with may be an important player in the drama. As she delves into the origins of the famous love story, Julie comes to realize that unless something changes, she may be fated to play the role of Juliet. But who is Juliet without her Romeo? And if Julie is the modern version of the medieval Giulietta, then there has to be a Romeo as well. Will Juliet know her Romeo when she meets him?

I discovered this book one day at Barnes & Noble. I was fascinated with the hardback's cover and decided to check to see if my library had the book. To my delight they did. I rented it, read it, and promptly fell in love with it. It's beautifully written.

There are two story lines in this book - the modern one following Julie and the medieval love story of Giulietta and her Romeo. I'm not sure which I enjoyed better. Both story lines fascinated me. Especially as current events began to mirror the ones of the past.

Like the majority of the world, I'm familiar with Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. So discovering that he based his story on events set centuries before he wrote his play intrigued me. I think I remember my 9th grade English teacher mentioning something about that, but I truly don't remember.

I'll admit that the book is a bit slow to get into, but I found it so worth it. I loved the history. And as I kept turning pages, I'd already figured out that Julie was the modern Juliet/Giulietta but who was her Romeo? I had my suspicions about who he turned out to be. But there were plot twists that made me wonder if maybe I was wrong.

Without giving away spoilers, I have to say that the man that Julie finds both handsome and arrogant to be a pretty intriguing character. I thought that there was more to him than what appeared. And I was right. He's a strong character, but also meets the classical brooding hero. Can a book have more than one hero? Yes! Especially when there are two story lines and they entwine as the book progresses.

The whole Julie/Giulietta story lines were fascinating. Julie came to realize that Shakespeare's curse was still alive and well. I loved how Julie was determined not the end up like Shakespeare's Juliet. And I loved how she changed in the course of the book. She starts off somewhat timid, but by the end she is a strong and has come into her own.

I really loved this book. It makes me want to revisit Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Around the time that this book came out, I'd recently discovered the movie Letters to Juliet, already loved the movie Shakespeare in Love, and became a fan of Taylor Swift's song Love Story. So this book fit right in with what I'd been enjoying. It isn't often that I will find a novel that is beautiful in story and in every aspect of it. Especially if it's one that I'd never heard of before. Yet this was one such novel. No one recommended it to me. It was one of those hidden treasures I'd stumbled upon and delighted in once discovered.

I highly recommend this to fans of Romeo & Juliet.

Rating - 5 stars

A special treat for you - I found the video of Taylor Swift's song Love Story. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books on my Summer To Be Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is  a weekly feature hosted by The Broke & the Bookish

Today's list is all about what I want to read this summer. The top ten books on my summer reading list. Which of course means that there will be some repeated books from previous lists.

1. One More Wish by Robin Jones Gunn - I gushed about this one last week. It's probably the book I'm most excited to read this summer.

2. The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier - I LOVED Juliet. This isn't a sequel, but it's one that I've been wanting to read for a while. I rented from the library yesterday. Here's the description.
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.

Oxford lecturer Diana Morgan is an expert on Greek mythology. Her obsession with the Amazons started in childhood when her eccentric grandmother claimed to be one herself—before vanishing without a trace. Diana’s colleagues shake their heads at her Amazon fixation. But then a mysterious, well-financed foundation makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse.

Traveling to North Africa, Diana teams up with Nick Barran, an enigmatic Middle Eastern guide, and begins deciphering an unusual inscription on the wall of a recently unearthed temple. There she discovers the name of the first Amazon queen, Myrina, who crossed the Mediterranean in a heroic attempt to liberate her kidnapped sisters from Greek pirates, only to become embroiled in the most famous conflict of the ancient world—the Trojan War. Taking their cue from the inscription, Diana and Nick set out to find the fabled treasure that Myrina and her Amazon sisters salvaged from the embattled city of Troy so long ago. Diana doesn’t know the nature of the treasure, but she does know that someone is shadowing her, and that Nick has a sinister agenda of his own. With danger lurking at every turn, and unsure of whom to trust, Diana finds herself on a daring and dangerous quest for truth that will forever change her world.

Sweeping from England to North Africa to Greece and the ruins of ancient Troy, and navigating between present and past, The Lost Sisterhood is a breathtaking, passionate adventure of two women on parallel journeys, separated by time, who must fight to keep the lives and legacy of the Amazons from being lost forever.

3. The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren - Book 5 in the Christiansen Series tells Amelia's story. I got it in the other and I can't wait to get into it.

4. The Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson - I was challenged to read this. It's been on my list for a while and I started it Friday, I think. So far, it's pretty good.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  by JK Rowling - I'm buddy reading this series with a friend who hasn't read them before. This is my second favorite in the series. I'm hoping that Melanie and I can get to it sometime this summer. 

6. The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson - I've loved her other fairy tale retellings, so this one shouldn't be any different. Just have to get around to reading it.

7. Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar - I've loved Sideways Stories and Holes. I've got the review copy on my Kindle of this one. I'm hoping it's as good as  Holes.

8. A the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen - I enjoyed the movie for Water for Elephants. I've got this one on my Kindle to review as well. And since she gave an outstanding endorsement of Juliet by Anne Fortier, I figure I should try actually reading one of her books. It's been getting pretty good reviews too.

9. Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas - This one came out last year and I missed it. I've got a copy on my Kindle, so maybe I'll get to it this summer.

10. The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert - I'm currently reading it, though I've been slightly distracted by others at the moment. I'll probably restart it soon.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Crossroads - A Review

Published - April 2015
Series - Miller's Creek Book 6
Author - Cathy Bryant
Title - Crossroads
Format - ebook, paper
Find on Amazon

Summary (from Amazon):
After a devastating divorce, a bitter single mom and atheist starts her own real estate company in the nostalgic and picturesque town of Miller’s Creek, Texas. Then her young daughter’s disturbing symptoms lead doctors to discover that her leukemia has relapsed. With her new life now turned upside down, Mara Hedwig struggles to keep her business afloat. And her daughter’s worsening condition forces her to rethink her beliefs about Carter Callahan and his God. Will Mara make the return to Christian faith in the face of life’s greatest challenge? 

An ex-military operative struggles with the return to civilian life while coping with his rebellious teen-aged daughter. During a house-search, Carter meets Mara, a headstrong Realtor who wants nothing to do with his God. But when Mara’s little girl is diagnosed with leukemia, the clock begins ticking for him to convince Mara to return to a life of faith. Just as he seems to be making headway, circumstances beyond his control throw his efforts into a tailspin. Can Carter learn to rest in the sovereignty of God?

My Thoughts:
I've read most of the Miller's Creek novels. They are very well done. This one is no exception. The topics in this one seem heavier than most of the others, but it was still good. It took me a while to read it, because I actually forgot I had it.

Like each of her other books that I have read, Cathy Bryant's newest is also a novel that brings one to tears. And that's because of all of the emotion and the heart-wrenching that goes on in the book. I'd probably relate this to the Karen Kingsbury books I've read over the years. So for fans of drama, this is a book for you.

Yet this one didn't capture my attention like some of her others. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. But I didn't find that the characters drew me into their world like they have in previous novels. Maybe it's because I've just finished reading a really strong character driven novel that had me comparing this one to that one. But while I cared about the characters and they interested me, I didn't find myself invested in them. 

I'm not saying that I didn't like this book, because I did enjoy it. I'm really saying that this particular book is probably not my favorite in the series.

I received a free Kindle version of this book from the author for the purpose of reviewing. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Recommended to fans of contemporary fiction, drama, Cathy Bryant, Karen Kingsbury

Rating - 4 stars

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Scribbles Vol 18

Happy Saturday everyone! I was looking at the calendar the other day, and I realized that this year is just flying by. We are already halfway finished with the month of June! And almost halfway finished with the year! WOW!

Time is on my mind a lot lately. Probably because I am revising a time management class that is offered at my new job. I've had a lot of fun taking the material and developing a PowerPoint presentation for it. My Mary Kay training has given me a lot of fresh ideas for the course. I've also been taking the participants' manual and changing it up to correspond to my slides. Once again, FUN! And no, I'm not being sarcastic. I really do enjoy designing and developing materials like this.

But I truly didn't plan on talking about time today. Really I didn't.

Last night, I decided that it was time to make breakfast for dinner. I do that on occasion and it's rather fun. But I went beyond just making breakfast. My best friend gave me a cake pop maker for Christmas and I've wanted to experiment with using it for things that are not cake pops. So I took my mom's pancake recipe and decided I'd make pancake balls. And since Mom always slathers them in butter while they are still on the griddle (after flipping them over of course), I had to figure out a way to get the pancake balls all smothered in butter. So I melted some butter and as I took them out of the cake pop maker, I dipped them into the melted butter. I have to say that they tasted pretty yummy!

Figuring out the timing and temperature was another trial & error thing. Because the cake pop maker doesn't have any set temperature controls, I followed the advice I saw on a blog about plugging it into a power strip and turning it off/on between batches. That keeps the temperature steady. And since these only cook for just a few minutes, I set a timer.

I'll be honest. It took a couple of tries before I managed to figure it out. But I had fun while doing it.

I forgot to take pictures so that you could see the results. I'll have to do that another time.

And for those who want it, my mom's pancake recipe. Growing up, this was my normal Saturday morning breakfast. I have a friend who asked for it recently. And this friend spent many Saturday mornings at my kitchen table. :)

2 egss
2 cups Pioneer Baking Mix
1 1/4 cups milk
2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Chocolate chips (optional)

Mix all together in a big bowl.

If too thick, add either water or milk until pours out at good speed.

Pour the pancakes onto the hot griddle. When they are bubbly in the middle, turn them over. Butter immediately. Remove when the other side is done.

Yes it's really simple. I don't make them like Mom does, but mine come pretty close.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Married Til Monday - A Review

Published - June 2015, Thomas Nelson Books
Series - Chapel Springs Book 4
Author - Denise Hunter
Title - Married 'Til Monday
Format - ebook, paper, audio
Find on Amazon

Over the past few years, Ryan McKinley has watched each of his younger sisters find love and happiness. He had that once too. But three years after his divorce, Ryan can't get Abby out of his heart. He's even bought her dream home and is living there. Then he gets a call from her parents out of the blue. Ryan soon learns that Abby has not told her parents about their divorce as he's been invited to celebrate their anniversary in Summer Harbor, Maine. Ryan sees the trip as a second chance to win his wife back. Abby doesn't want to go to her parents' anniversary party, especially with her handsome ex-husband along for the ride. But her parents don't know of divorce and she'd rather keep it that way. She doesn't want Ryan getting close to her. Or does she? Because each day is bringing them closer together. Can Ryan prove that he still loves her after all this time? And will Abby let her guard down enough to reclaim what she thought she'd lost forever?

I LOVED this book! Seriously loved it. Yes this is book 4. Yes it stands alone. While it is helpful to have read the others in the series before this one, it doesn't distract from this story if you haven't. Because I have only read book 3 prior to my picking up this one. I've since read book 2 and still need to read the first. But Ryan's story is not dependent on the events in the other three books.

First there's Ryan. He loves Abby. He will do all that he can to  show Abby the depth of his love. I love the way that he pursues her. And their story as to what happened in their marriage was rather heartbreaking. But I loved the way that Ryan recognizes the fault he had in their marriage and how he is willing to not make the same mistakes again. I also love how he defends Abby.

For Abby's part, I loved her struggle. She has a lot of emotional issues and she's afraid to trust Ryan again. But she slowly begins to trust him. I loved how the author shows Abby's problems and how she points out that Abby needs help and not to hide them. I loved how Abby was able to recognize that the things that happened to her were not in her control.

I love fluffy romance novels. And this one fit that bill. From the delightful cover to the rich story, I was utterly captivated. Fans of contemporary romance will surely enjoy this one.

I received a copy for free from the Book Look Blogger Program for the purpose of reviewing. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Recommended to fans of contemporary romance, Denise Hunter, Kristen Billerbeck, Melissa Tagg

Rating - 5 stars

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I'm looking forward to in the REST of 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly theme hosted by The Broke & The Bookish

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Tuesday! This week, is very similar to a TTT that was done back in December where the topic was the most anticipated reads for the year. You can find that post here. Let me apologize for the covers in that post. They don't seem to be working right now.

Anyway, this week I am focusing on books that are releasing from June to December of this year, and have not already made the other list.

1. One More Wish by Robin Jones Gunn - In this third volume of the Christy & Todd: The Married Years, Christy is celebrating her 26th birthday. She begins to long for a baby of her own. Especially as her closest friends announce that they are expecting. And as she and Todd figure things out, they both learn God's timing is flawless.

I've grown up on the Christy Books. I ADORE them. And if I've not mentioned it before, Robin is my all-time FAVORITE author! I'll be pre-ordering this soon. Releases August 15, 2015.

2. Luther & Katharina by Jody Hedlund - In a slightly different vein than her usual historical romances, Jody tells the love story of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora. I don't know much about this book other than what is on her website, but I KNOW it's one I'm looking forward too.

Releases October 6, 2015

Jody's website

3. Chivalrous by Dina L. Sleiman - This is book two in the Valiant Hearts Series. In it, Gwendolyn Barnes longs to be a knight like her brothers. However her parents view her as a nothing more than a means to a suitable marriage. But when she meets Allen of Ellsworth, she sees in him the type of man she could marry.

I really liked Allen in the first book, Dauntless. I'm so glad to see he is getting his own story. 

Releases September 8, 2015

Goodreads description

4. Fire & Ice by Mary Connealy - Book 3 in the delightful Wild at Heart series, this one tells Bailey's story. It has been hinted at from book one as to who she will end up with, so it'll be fun to see how her happily ever after unfolds.

Mary's books always make me giggle. This may be my favorite series of hers so far.

Releases October 6, 2015

Goodreads description

5. Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz - This is set in the days and months following the American Revolution. I don't know much more, but if it's anything like Laura's other books, I'm sure to love it!

Releases September 8, 2015

Goodreads description

6. Falling Like Snowflakes by Denise Hunter - Book one in a brand new series, this contemporary romance takes us to Summer Harbor, Maine. Eden Davis finds herself in the small town where she ends up helping Beau Callahan with the family Christmas tree farm in the busy season. But she's got secrets she's hiding and he's falling for her anyway.

After reading the Chapel Hill series pretty much backward, I'll be happy to start this one IN ORDER! Plus I'm hoping for a glimpse into Ryan and Abby's life since this book is about one of her cousins.

Releases September 8, 2015

Goodreads description

7. Counting on a Cowboy by Debra Clopton - This is the second book in the Four of Hearts Ranch Romance Series. In this one, Bo Monahan's world is turned upside down when the child he never knew about appears on his doorstep. Which now puts him in the market for a woman - not a wife. And Abby Knightly helps him figure out fatherhood.

If this one is anything like the first in the series, I'm sure to laugh. A LOT!

Releases August 11, 2015.

Goodreads description

8. Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke - This one appears to be two stories entwined. One is set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany and the other is the modern counterpart. 

If it's anything like Cathy's other books, this one will be one that I will really enjoy.

Releases September 2015

Goodreads description

9. The Sea Keeper's Daughters by Lisa Wingate - Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at The Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a depression-era love story change everything.

I discovered Lisa last summer with the Story Keeper. It was one of the best books I'd read last year. This one looks just as interesting.

Releases September 1, 2015

Goodreads description

10. Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen - One final cry…“God almighty, help us!” and suddenly her world shifted violently, until a blinding collision scattered her mind and shook her bones. Then, the pain. The freezing water. And as all sensation drifted away, a hand reached for hers, before all faded into darkness… Now she has awakened as though from some strange, suffocating dream in a warm and welcoming room she has never seen before, and tended to by kind, unfamiliar faces. But not all has been swept away. She recalls fragments of the accident. She remembers a baby. And a ring on her finger reminds her of a lie. But most of all, there is a secret. And in this house of strangers she can trust no one but herself to keep it.

I thought that Julie's last book, Secret of Pembrooke Park, was by far her best book so far. This one is intriguing me. 

Releases July 7, 2015

Goodreads description

So those are the books I'm most looking forward to the rest of the year. I'm sure I managed to miss a few. 

What ones are you looking forward to?

Monday, June 8, 2015

An Interview with Jody Hedlund

Hello reader friends. Today, I get to host an interview that Jody Hedlund sent her influencers for Hearts Made Whole.

Interview Questions for Hearts Made Whole
1. How did you come up with the idea for Hearts Made Whole?

Historical textbooks are full of stories about men like George Washington, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and so many more.  And while such men are truly remarkable, all too often their stories overshadow equally courageous and remarkable women. One of my goals as an author is to help bring forgotten women of the past to life.

In the Beacons of Hope series, I'm focusing on historical women light keepers who have often been kept in the dark by the more prominent stories of their male counterparts.  

As I researched for writing a lighthouse series, I came across a fantastic book called, Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The book is a tribute to the approximately 50 or so women who served either as primary or assistant keepers in Michigan Lighthouses.

I based the heroine in Hearts Made Whole on one of those women light keepers. It's my hope to bring her and the other women keepers out of the historical shadows and into the spotlight.

2. What is the story about and who are the main characters?

This story is set at a lighthouse in southern Michigan on Lake St. Clair where the heroine, Caroline Taylor, is the acting light keeper. However, in the time directly following the Civil War, women weren't allowed to be light keepers if a man was available instead. Men were almost always given precedence.

Along comes the wounded war hero, Ryan Chambers, who having a little bit of lighthouse experience is looking for a place where he can be isolated and nurse his physical and emotional wounds.

Of course, when the two meet, they're both competing for the same job. Caroline needs to stay in the position in order to provide for her four younger siblings. And Ryan needs the job so that he can save to repay his war debts.

As is always true for my books, when the hero and heroine meet both danger and romance abound!

3. Each of your lighthouse books is set at a real lighthouse that once existed in Michigan or still does exist. Tell us a little about the lighthouse in this second book.
In my first lighthouse book (Love Unexpected), the lighthouse was set at Presque Isle which is on Lake Huron on the north eastern side of the state. For the second book, I picked a lighthouse in a completely new location with the intention of giving readers a different flavor of climate, geography, and the population.

Windmill Point Lighthouse once existed on Lake St. Clair near Detroit, a much more urban and highly trafficked area than the remote wilderness of Presque Isle. Windmill Point Lighthouse was a strategic beacon that helped ships cross from Lake Huron over into Lake Erie as those ships transported raw goods from the Northwest states to eastern cities and seaports.

The lighthouse is named after the old ruins of a windmill where early frontiersmen brought their grain for grinding. Also, legends attribute the area to being an old battle field of a savage encounter between the early French settlers and Indians. As many as 1000 Fox Indians were slaughtered on the banks of Lake St. Clair. Later settlers to the area uncovered bones, arrowheads, tomahawks, and other gruesome mementos of the battle.

Today, all traces of the original windmill, lighthouse, and burial grounds are long gone. If you visit Grosse Pointe in the Detroit area, all that remains is a small conical structure with a white flashing light. 

4. Is there anything about this second lighthouse book that ties it to the first one? Or are they both stand alone novels that can be read in any order?

All of the books in the Beacon of Hope series can stand alone. Readers don't need to read one book to understand the next. However, I do recommend starting with the novella, Out of the Storm (free in ebook format) which lays the foundation for a common theme that stretches through each book in the series.

The hero of Hearts Made Whole, Ryan Chambers, is the brother of the heroine from the first book (Love Unexpected). Readers will enjoy meeting the younger, more carefree Ryan in Love Unexpected. But they'll fall in love with him in Hearts Made Whole even if they haven't yet met him in book 1.

5. Many of the heroines in your books are inspired by real women. Is that true of the heroine in Hearts Made Whole? If so, what women provided inspiration?

The woman light keeper in Hearts Made Whole is inspired by Caroline Antaya. Caroline lived at the Mamajuda Lighthouse on the Detroit River a short distance away from Windmill Point Lighthouse.

Caroline's husband served with honor in the Union army during the Civil War, losing several fingers on his hand at Gettysburg. Eventually after returning from the war, her husband was named as keeper of the Mamajuda Lighthouse, but he passed away of tuberculosis.

Part of what really impressed me about Caroline Antaya's situation was that she had been doing a fantastic job as a light keeper. But the district lighthouse inspector trumped up charges against her saying that she was in ill-health and incompetent. He took away her position simply because she was a woman and gave it to a man instead. Fortunately, her community rose to her defense and enlisted the help of a Michigan Senator to help her get her position back and she went on to serve as a light keeper for another three years.
In those days, when women were regularly discriminated against because of gender, Caroline's story is inspirational and an encouragement to persevere in the face of injustice. I admired Caroline's will to stand up for herself and to pave the way for women coming after her to use their God-given talents and abilities in roles and jobs that had previously been closed to women.

6. You also like to base your villains on real Michigan criminals. Who inspired the villain in Hearts Made Whole?

The villain in Hearts Made Whole is Stephen Simmons, a real rogue from the pages of Michigan history. While he lived in the early 1800's in the decades before the Civil War, I used this villain as the basis for Mr. Simmons in the book. He had a tavern outside of Detroit and was a Goliath-of-a-man. At first he gave the impression of being cultured and educated. But once people got to know him, they realized what a brute he really was.

The community where Simmons lived grew to fear him because when he was under the influence of alcohol, he searched out his enemies, picked fights, and inflicted painful beatings. Eventually he killed his wife in a drunken rage.

7. Which scene in Hearts Made Whole was the most fun to write? Which was the hardest?

My favorite scene to write was the shaving scene, where Ryan is attempting to shave himself one-handed (due to his war injury), and he ends up doing a terrible job! Caroline offers to help him which leads to a very romantic scene of her lathering him up and having to spend plenty of time in close proximity.

The hardest part of the book to write was the scene where Caroline's sister Tessa makes a BIG mistake (I can't mention it otherwise I will spoil the story). But it was a heart-wrenching scene (and difficult to write tastefully and required lots of editing to get it just right).

8. What do you hope readers take away from Hearts Made Whole?

Readers familiar with my books will know that I'm not afraid to tackle really tough issues. That's especially true in Hearts Made Whole. Since the hero is coming home as a Civil War veteran, he's facing some post-traumatic stress as well as debilitating war wounds that leave him addicted to his pain medicine.

At the same time the heroine is struggling to act as both father and mother to her four siblings while holding down a job as light keeper. She has the overwhelming job of trying to take care of everyone and everything while always remaining strong.

Both characters come to a point where they recognize they can't face all of their overwhelming troubles on their own and cry out to God their desperate need for Him. I hope that readers will take away a desire to turn to God in their most desperate needs too and know that He is there waiting to comfort and help them.

9. Why lighthouses? What fascinates you about these shining beacons?

I'm fascinated with lighthouses for a number of reasons. First, my state of Michigan is home to the greatest concentration of lights in the United States. In fact, Michigan is noted as the state where the most lighthouses were erected. And now today, more than 120 remain compared to 500 total for the rest of the nation.

Not only are lighthouse beautiful and picturesque, but they bring back a sense of nostalgia, poignancy, and romance that few other historical markers do. They're rich in historical details and stories. They're wrought with danger and death. And they're just plain fun to explore. Climbing the winding staircase, reaching the top, and peering out the tower windows (or in some cases going out onto the gallery) is breathtaking.

10. What kind of rules and regulations did lighthouses have?

The rules and regulations for keepers were often very strict. Keepers were expected to maintain spotlessly clean homes and towers, had to be ready for surprise inspections at any time, and had to maintain rigorous log books with accurate records that documented everything from ship wrecks to oil usage to weather conditions.

One rule that I found especially funny was that women were prohibited from painting the lighthouse tower. Obviously their skirts put them at a disadvantage over men, especially for painting jobs that required them to sit high above the ground. Nevertheless, it was one more area where women were not allowed the same privileges as men.

General Questions:

11. How do you manage to balance your life as a full time author and mom to five busy children?
It’s definitely not easy to manage my busy household of five children and squeeze in time for writing. But fortunately my husband is very helpful and pitches in to help wherever possible. We really work together as a team to support each other in our pursuits and work.
For example, when he's home he often takes over the household responsibilities, runs kids to activities, and pitches in with homeschooling so that I can have concentrated blocks of time to write.
We've also simplified our home life and outside commitments as much as possible. We expect our children to shoulder responsibilities around the home. And last, but certainly not least, I rely upon my mom for lots of help too. She helps homeschool, cook meals, and even runs my kids to activities.
12. Do you ever get writer's block? How do you work your way past it?

No, fortunately, I rarely get writer’s block. I give myself a daily word count of how much I need to write, and I stick to it as best as I can. Whatever amount I miss one day, I try to make up on another day of that week. Having the daily/weekly goals helps keep me going even when I’m not in the mood. However, if I ever get into a slump, I put in my earbuds and listen to music. The steady rhythm helps me block out distractions, inspires me, and often evokes strong emotions deep inside me.
13. Do you do a lot of research for your novels? Do you do it before, in the middle, or after you write your novel.
Since I write historicals, research is an integral part of my writing process. I usually spend anywhere between 4-6 weeks on initial research, reading biographies, getting a feel for the time period, and digging into the meat that will comprise the plot of my book.
Once I start writing the first draft, I have to stop from time to time to do a little more research, particularly if I switch settings within the story. But usually, if I don’t know something, I’ll highlight it and then do more research during my editing phase.
14. How do you name each character?

The process of coming up with names is quite complicated, and I generally take a lot of elements into consideration. I keep a running list of all the heroes and heroines of my books and try not to duplicate anything too closely to a name I've already used.

I also take into consideration names used doing the time period and the ethnicity of my characters. For example, in my first lighthouse book, Love Unexpected, I chose Irish names that were commonly used during the 1800's because both of the main characters had an Irish heritage.

Sometimes I consider symbolism for names. Other times, particularly in my inspired-by stories, I try to pick a name that is similar to the character from history that I'm portraying.

15. What essential ingredients do you strive for in your novels to ensure an authentic love story emerges?

I always try to incorporate the elements that I like to see in the romances I read. That includes deep emotions that are birthed out of a character's past. I also like to have a relationship that evolves organically throughout the book. I try not to have my characters being antagonistic to one another the whole book and then finally falling in love in the last chapter at the last minute. I want the couple to move from friendship to falling in love gradually and to have a growing attraction (with the sparks flying!) throughout the book.

At the same time, however, I don't like to have the love relationship resolve too early in the book. Readers don't want the "happily-ever-after" moment to come until the end. So while the relationship is developing, it's important to find ways to keep the couple from being fully together until the end.

16. What stands out in your mind about what has made you grow the most as a writer?

If I had to narrow down one specific thing that has helped the most in my quest for publication, I’d have to say this: My careful, ongoing, and thorough study and practice of writing techniques has been the single most beneficial aspect of my writing career.

In other words, I read writing craft books, studied fiction-writing basics, and then put what I learned into practice. All the studying has been the number one thing to help me in my writing career.

17. What Scripture verse has inspired you in your writing?
Among many, here’s one I aspire to live by: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. (Ecc. 9:10) I believe in working responsibly and hard with the gifts we’ve been given.
18. What do you do to get away from it all?
READ!! I absolutely love reading! When I find a really good book, I have a hard time tearing myself away from it to get to sleep.
19. Do you have any pets?

Yes, I have four big (and I do mean BIG) cats by the names of Petunia, Patriot, Toby, and Liberty. They are incredibly spoiled and well-loved by all members of the house. And I have one dog, a Golden Retriever named Annabelle.

20. What is your family up to these days?

My husband and I are celebrating 24 years of marriage this summer! Yay! My oldest son is graduating from high school and will be attending a private Christian college in the fall, Cedarville University in Ohio. My twins will be turning 16 during the summer and getting their driver's licenses. Since they are involved in SO many activities, I'm looking forward to them driving themselves places! My youngest two children have completed 4th and 6th grade and are in an Adventures In Odyssey phase. I think they've listened to just about every episode that's ever been made!

Jody's Bio:

Jody Hedlund is a best-selling and award-winning author who loves history and happily-ever-afters. She makes her home in Midland, MI with her husband and five children. When she's not writing another of her page-turning stories, you can usually find her sipping coffee, eating chocolate, and reading.

Contact Jody:

I hang out on Facebook here: Author Jody Hedlund
I also love to chat on Twitter: @JodyHedlund
My home base is at my website: jodyhedlund.com
For lots of fun pictures, follow me on Pinterest: pinterest.com/jodyhedlund
I get personal on Instagram: instagram.com/JodyHedlund/

Or you're welcome to email me at: jodyhedlund@jodyhedlund.com