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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Egypt's Sister

Daughter of the royal tutor, Chava, has grown up alongside Egyptian princess Urbi in the royal palace at Alexandria.  When Urbi unexpectedly becomes Queen Cleopatra, Chava holds to a promise given by God that, "Your friendship with the queen lies in My hands.  You will be with her on her happiest day and her last.  An you, daughter of Israel, will know yourself, and you will bless her."  Despite their promise to be friends and sisters forever, however, Cleopatra imprisons Chava after an argument.  Sold into slavery and shipped to Rome, Chava begins a years-long journey back to her beloved home, that will eventually bring her face-to-face with the queen and friend who betrayed her so viciously.

From the palaces of Alexandria to the Roman countryside and the very halls of Roman power, Angela Hunt takes readers on a powerful and compelling journey in Egypt's Sister.  Impeccably researched and full of wonderful historical detail, Hunt's latest Biblical-era novel is nothing less than fascinating.  She expertly has readers explore the the competing worlds of Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, and Roman thought.  The story itself is fast-paced, and makes the books almost impossible to put down.  For such a lovely story of identity in God, faithfulness, and forgiveness, though, there was just so little joy to be had.  After finishing the novel, I felt like I had journeyed and learned alongside Chava, but that neither of us had truly reached a happy ending.  The hopeless romantic and occasional optimist in me simply wasn't satisfied by the ending and needed just one more-- perhaps cliche-- chapter to bring the story to its conclusion.

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Freedom's Price

In order to avoid an unwanted marriage after the death of both her parents, Catherine Hays leaves her home in England and crosses the Atlantic in an attempt to find her mother's estranged family in Louisiana.  On her journey west, she catches the eye of wrecker Tom Worthington in Key West.  Enchanted by Catherine, Tom leaves his own home to accompany Catherine on the remaining leg of her journey.  When they arrive at the plantation outside of New Orleans, though, it no longer resembles the paradise Catherine's mother had always described. And as they learn more about the man now controlling the plantation, it becomes clear that Catherine and Tom's lives are more intertwined than either could have imagined.  Will they each stubbornly hold to the dreams of their youth, or will they be able to make a new life together?

Christie Johnson tells an intriguing story of life along the Gulf Coast in the 1850s in Freedom's Price.    While I enjoyed Tom as a character, I just couldn't bring myself to like or understand Catherine.  Whereas Johnson, I assume, wanted readers to see a strong and independent heroine, I found myself annoyed with her.  Time after time Catherine makes truly idiotic decisions for absolutely no good reason.  From leaving England in the first place to adamantly staying in a dangerous situation, Catherine's choices make her seem spoiled, selfish, and plain stupid, and made me long for Tom to just leave her to her own devices and head back to Florida.  She would have deserved it.  It took me a while to get into the story, but once Tom and Catherine reach Louisiana (which should have happened several chapters before it did), the story picks up quite a bit.  Other than Tom's poor choice in a love interest, the plot itself was interesting full of lovely surprises.

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Matter of Trust

Renowned backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left fame behind after being sued for negligence in the death of one of his fans.  He finds satisfaction in his new life as a member of the PEAK Rescue team near Glacier National Park, but still has moments when he resents the life he lost, and those who stole it from him.  

State senator and lawyer Ella Blair-- former friend and admirer of Gage's-- deeply regrets the role she played in prosecuting the civil suit against him... especially when she learns a damaging truth about the case.  When her younger brother goes missing on one of the park's most dangerous areas, Ella knows Gage is the only one capable of bringing him home.  As Ella and Gage battle snowstorms and injuries, will they also have the courage to tackle their own feelings and regrets and make it back down the mountain safely?  

Susan May Warren doesn't disappoint in her third installment of her Montana Rescue series, A Matter of Trust.  I might go so far as to say it's my personal favorite thus far!  Warren developed Ella and Gage's characters in such subtle a way that the reader fully understands their individual choices, without the need to knock the reader over the head with a bunch of back-stories.  Minus the one mention of Gage sporting a "man bun" (ewww), he was a worthy and believable romantic lead.  I found Ella's personal journey of finding forgiveness and self-worth particularly poignant.  While Ella and Gage's story itself stands alone, Warren's weaving of series-long plot lines throughout this newest addition would make it confusing for readers not familiar with the previous novels.  

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