Monday, August 14, 2017

Loving Luther


Left at a convent by her father as a small child, Katharina von Bora knows little about life outside cloistered walls.  Though she takes her vows and maintains dear friendships, a part of Katharina still chafes under the strict way of life she has chosen.  When the writings of Martin Luther begin finding their way into the convent walls, though, Kat begins to look at her life-- and her faith-- in a much different way.  With the help of Luther and his friends, Katharina a group of fellow nuns escape the convent to embark on a new adventure.  Without a family to support her, Kat must live in the homes of Luther's friends and supporters while the reformer himself tries to find a husband for her.  Will Katharina learn to navigate life outside a religious order?  Will she trade one life of service for another, or dare to risk her heart for a chance at love and a family?  

Allison Pittman tells a compelling story of both love and faith in Loving Luther.  Rather than focusing on Martin and Katharina as a couple, like Luther and Katharina, Pittman simply tells Katharina's story... and what what in intriguing story it is!  From a fascinating look into life inside 16th century convents, to the dangers and details of the Reformation and its leaders, I couldn't put the book down.  As a proud protestant, I've always loved this era or church history, but I also appreciated Pittman's tact in not maligning our Catholic brothers and sisters.  I loved than women of deep, abiding faith existed both inside and outside convent walls.  As with all of Pittman's works, this one was excellently researched, superbly written, rich in historical detail, and full of compelling characters.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, August 7, 2017

All That Makes Life Bright



Despite her sister's concerns, Harriet Beecher doesn't question that her married life with Calvin Stowe will be full of happiness, family, independence and literary opportunities.  Just two months into their marriage, though, Harriet finds herself overwhelmed with household responsibilities she detests, pregnant, and having to bid her new husband farewell as he embarks on a long European trip.  Between Calvin's high domestic expectations of Harriet and his tendency to compare her to his first, beloved wife, Harriet begins to wonder is she is capable of being the wife Calvin needs, as well as the woman she needs herself to be.  After months apart, the addition of children to their family, and constant financial struggles, will Harriet and Calvin remember how to cherish one another despite their extreme temperamental differences?

Josi S. Kilpack tells yet another gut-wrenchingly beautiful story based on the life of acclaimed author Harriet Beecher Stowe in All That Makes Life Bright.  Words cannot express how much I adored this book.  Kilpack does a flawless job alternately portraying both Calvin and Harriet in realistic and sympathetic ways.  Neither one is always in the right, and thus the novel perfectly exemplifies the daily struggles of the early years of marriage.  Are Calvin's expectations reasonable, or overbearing?  Both.  Is Harriet a wife and mother, or an author?  Both.  Every stay-at-home mother will shed a tear reading of Harriet's struggles to find an identity outside that of a cook/housekeeper/nanny... as well as the accompanying guilt associated with those feelings.  It's as if Kilpack had read my own diary.  Perfection.  Absolute perfection.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Reads Highlight: Tamara Leigh

Well, having spent the summer without a Handsome Hubby to snuggle up with... I've read a truly embarrassing number of romance novels over the past few months!  My favorite authors haven't been able to keep up with my voracious appetite lately, so I've read and re-read some of my all-time favorites.  And since I don't have a new book to review, I thought I'd reveal what my favorite guilty pleasure summer reads have been:

Medieval Romances by Tamara Leigh 


Amazon-- in its infinite wisdom-- had been recommending Leigh's books to me for years.  Here's why it took me so long to read them... 
  • Let's be honest, the covers look like the type of romance novels I'd be embarrassed toread in public.  In fact, when the Hubby sees them in the Kindle Cloud, he chuckles.  
  • I've typically been more of a Regency or Tudor England type of girl.  Manners and social graces and all things Jane Austin have traditionally been my cup of tea.  Medieval stuff?  Not so much.  I've been to Medieval Times... bad food and smelly horses?  Eh, no thanks.  Beowulf and Canterbury Tales? Never my favorites.  
  • I'm pretty sure Amazon recommended Leigh because I've read and reviewed several of Melanie Dickerson's medieval fairy tales, and have found them pretty hit or miss.  Reading them for free to write a review?  Sure.  Paying money for them?  Not always worth it.  The fact that Amazon linked the two authors have me pause.  As much as I love reading, I can easily spend WAY more money than I should on books!  Side note... why aren't any of Leigh's books available to review on NetGalley?!  I'd be all over that.  
  • Amazon also kept telling me I'd like Leigh's time travel series.  Time travel?  Really?  I know many of my friends LOVE Outlander, but I just didn't.  The whole idea just seems so silly.  And I'm a serious historical fiction reader (or so I tell myself...) 
Ok, now that that's out of my system, here's why Amazon was right and why I should have been reading EVERY SINGLE ONE of Leigh's books all along:
  • Yes, the covers are kind of embarrassing.  But I DO love romance novels, so why not let the world know?  But most importantly, the books are not smutty.  There's love and romance and plenty of kissing, but that's really it.  Most even have a religious element or theme running through them.  
  • Even though I still adore the Regency and Tudor periods with all my heart, medieval stuff is cool too.  Leigh does an excellent job weaving historical fact with romantic intrigue and I've learned a lot about the period... which is why I love historical fiction in the first place!  I don't know how many times I've checked this British Royal family tree to get a better idea of how the events she mentions affected British history.  
  • While I do understand why Amazon thinks Melanie Dickerson and Tamara Leigh are similar-- Christian medieval romance writers-- their styles are quite different.  All of my issues with Dickerson's writing (simpering females, awkward dialogue, heavy-handed character development) are not a problem with Leigh.  I thoroughly enjoy her writing.  Her characters are all unique, believable, and intriguing.  Not an annoying, insipid, or wimpy female lead in the bunch.  And, my goodness, this woman has a talent for creating one swoon-worthy male protagonist after another!  
  • I'll admit that even after having read every other book available on Amazon, I still couldn't bring myself to do the whole time travel thing until I got truly desperate.  She handled the whole thing well, and while they probably aren't my favorites... I still devoured them both. 
If I had to pick, I think her Age of Faith series is my favorite.  But I truly love them all.  

In fact, Lady Betrayed comes out on August 4, and I've got it pre-ordered!  I can tell you without a doubt I will spend this entire weekend reading it. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Moana Birthday



 

My baby sister turned 19 last week... what?!  Since the boys and I just happen to be visiting this summer, my Mommy and I decided to go a little bit overboard when Katie mentioned she wanted a Moana themed birthday.  What started as a small, family get-together with some pizzas and cake... turned into quite the celebration!

While we had plenty of fun decorations around the house, here are a few of my favorite additions:

The Heart of Te Fiti cookies turned out fun, and were super easy to make!  Just plain, old sugar cookies, with some green royal icing in a double swirl.  Done.  


The boat cupcakes were another hit.  My favorite chocolate cupcake recipe, blue buttercream, candy dipping sticks, sails cut out of cream-colored cardstock, and a swirly thing made with a red sharpie: easy-peasy.  

Tiki-head fruit kabobs!  I printed the heads on brown cardstock, glued two to the top of each skewer, and added some nice, fresh fruit.  

The biggest hit, however, was the photo-booth!  What's a party without a photo-booth these days?  Boring, that's what.  A giant backdrop and some fun props from Amazon cost about $20, and was worth every penny.  




I think we all had a little too much fun!  

Monday, July 17, 2017

To Wager her Heart


After the tragic death or her fiancé in a train derailment, Alexandra Donelson decides the best way to carry on David's legacy is to teach at Fiske University-- the first freedman's university in the country. When she accepts a position at Fiske and refuses to marry the man her parents have chosen for her, Alexandra finds herself penniless and cut off from her family.  Spending a few days with her friend Mary Harding at Belle Meade Plantation, Alexandra meets and impresses railroad owner Sylas Rutledge.  

Originally from Colorado, Sy has come to Nashville to bid on a rail project at Belle Meade, but soon realizes that he lacks understanding in Southern business practices.  Finding a kindred spirit in Alexandra, Sy asks her to tutor him in order to improve his chances.  Needing the extra money, Alexandra agrees to help, despite Sy's connection to the train accident that killed her fiancé.  When the politics of the post-Civil War South threaten to steal Sy's investors and Alexandra's job, will they have the courage to accept the past, face their fears, and trust God's provision?  

Tamera Alexander brings her Belle Meade Plantation series to a beautiful conclusion in To Wager her Heart.  Though General Harding of Belle Meade does play a role, the novel primarily focuses on the formation of Fiske University and their Jubilee Singers choir.  The heartbreaking challenges the freedmen experience, and the courage they show in the face of adversity is equal parts fascinating and inspiring.  Alexandra's journey to overcome her fears and Sy's to accept his stepfather's death were well-written, believable, and engaging.  Sy's Western charm and altruistic nature made him a one of my favorite of Alexander's romantic leads thus far... especially in his interactions with General Harding (who happens to be one of my least favorite characters).   Overall, this latest installment was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

On Love's Gentle Shore


When her fiancé books their wedding in her hometown on Prince Edward Island, Natalie O'Ryan finds herself spending the summer surrounded by memories she had never intended to revisit.  Not only facing the questions and gossip of townspeople she ran away from, Natalie also has to work alongside the best friend of her childhood.  A friend she abandoned to start a new life in Nashville. 

Justin Kane still feels betrayed by Natalie's departure, and has never forgotten her or their shared dreams of a music career.  While running a successful dairy after his father's death, and playing with a local band on occasion, Justin thinks of his life as fulfilling and complete.  When Natalie returns and brings their childhood memories crashing back, Justin begins to realize that he never did fully recover from her hasty departure.  Will either one of them be able to address the wounds of their pasts and move on?  Are their lives so different after 15 years that they can even be friends?  

Liz Johnson tells a beautifully sweet love story in On Love's Gentle Shore.  I adored exploring Natalie's past, and how her perceptions of it had shaped her choices.  Brooding but kind, Justin was an equally compelling and entertaining romantic lead.  The rumors and gossip swirling around the small-town setting in addition to the excellently written lead characters made for a novel I could barely put down.  While I loved getting to see a bit more of Caden from Where Two Hearts Meet, I hated that Adam wasn't around much!  I enjoyed this installment every bit as much as its predecessor, and can't wait for more! 

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Secret of the India Orchid



Anthony Blake has finally decided to openly court the lovely Sophia Elliot and put his life as a spy for the British crown behind him.  When a document goes missing that puts all British spies and their families in danger, though, Anthony decides he must once again don his unreliable and flirtatious playboy facade and find the critical document.  He breaks ties with Sophia, but fully intends to undo the damage his lies have caused the very minute he finishes his last mission. 

As years go by without word from Anthony, Sophia decides to take a trip to the very edge of the British Empire and spend time healing in India.  Still heartbroken and confused, Sophia's plans to forget her former suitor come crashing down when she discovers that Anthony is also in India.  The pair soon find themselves amidst a swirling mystery that involves leading figures in both England and India.  To ultimately save her, will Anthony finally tell Sophia the truth and allow her to help him recover the missing document?  After so many lies and disappointments will Sophia ever learn to trust again?  Or will the dangers of Anthony's former life catch up to them both?  

Nancy Campbell Allen gives readers a fascinating glimpse into British Imperial India in The Secret of the India Orchid.  While I'm growing a bit tired of the "British spy has to break up with his love in order to save her and the country" plot line, the exotic setting and compelling mystery made up for the slightly unbelievable context.  I also appreciated that Anthony didn't keep Sophia in the dark for the entirety of the novel, but shows her the courtesy and respect to eventually treat her as an equal.  Both characters, as well as the many secondary characters, are well-developed and entertaining.  I thoroughly enjoyed the love story, as well as a look into a country and time-period I've not often explored.  I look forward to more from Allen in the future.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own