Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year End Review

Today is New Years Eve. Can you believe it?! Where did 2014 go??? As I look back over the past year, I cannot believe how blessed I have been. It was a long year, for sure, but it was a great year. I reached, and exceeded, my goal of reading 100 books this year (yay!!!), I got my second chance at love and family. My heart is overflowing with love for my husband and my family and friends. I am looking forward to 2015!!

 
 2014 In Review: 

I made 184 blog posts.
I read 113 books. (View a list of those books here.)
I started a new segment called "Water Your Faith Wednesday," hoping to encourage my followers and get over the mid-week doldrums. View posts here
September 13, 2014: I got married!!!!
I bought a house.
I went on my first mission trip EVER to Belize.

Looking forward to 2015: I posted my goals for the new year yesterday. View them here.

I hope you all have a fun, safe, and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Goals for 2015

Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

For future Top Ten Tuesday topics & info on how to participate, click here! 

My bookish/blogging/personal goals for 2015:

1. Bookish: Read 120 books. In 2014, I have, to date, read 111 books (the Goodreads Reading Challenge tracker is fantastic for keeping count for me!) so I think this is a reasonable number.

2. Bookish: Re-read books that I read before I started blogging. This will be tracked in Goodreads under the Christian Book Lovers' Hideaway challenge.

3. Blogging: I have put a lot of effort into making my blog better this year and I'd like to continue that in 2015. My goal is to post at least 20 times during each month. I came close to that goal almost every month this year, sometimes exceeding it, but I want to be more diligent in posting.

4. Blogging: Expand my blog from just book reviews to different book related topics, devotions, etc. I started a segment called "Water Your Faith Wednesday" this year and I'd love to see that expanded!

5. Personal: God has been so good to me this year. I have been given a second change at love and marriage. My goal is to make my marriage better. Yes, it's only been a few months since we "tied the knot" but I would rather work on improving my marriage now, than wait until it's too late to change.

5. Personal: Work out more. I am NOT setting a "lose weight" goal because I know I won't keep it. I just want to spend more time exercising for health's sake, not weight loss' sake.

6. Personal: Declutter my life. I am a hoarder. I don't like to throw anything away. Why? I don't know, I have my reasons I'm sure, but my husband can't stand clutter. I started going through my stuff a little this year, so I'd like to continue that into 2015.

I know I couldn't come up with ten, but that's my list! What about you?!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter

Overview: She daydreams of whipping up sauces and souffl├ęs in her own restaurant. His heart is set on helping foster children. Both dreams are at stake. So are their hearts.

With grand plans to open her own bed & breakfast in Chapel Springs, PJ McKinley can't afford the most crucial part: the brick and mortar. But when the owner of a local historic home announces a contest and promises her property to the worthiest candidate, PJ makes a fervent wish and tosses her name into the hat.

Cole Evans is cool, confident, and successful, but he'll never forget his roots. He's thankful for how far he's come and knows his life could have turned out drastically different. If he can win the stately old mansion, he'll turn it into a home for children aging out of the foster system.

When the eccentric house owner narrows the entries down to only two applicants, she extends the contest, giving PJ and Cole one year to prove which one of them can make the best use of her beloved home. As the pair competes in close proximity, something deeper than rivalry sparks between PJ and Cole. And in this battle, they're likely to lose their hearts.
 
ISBN-13: 9781401687045
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 12/9/2014
Series: Chapel Springs Series , #3   
Pages: 336
Read an excerpt.
Buy It: B&N | Amazon | CBD
Read my review of Dancing with Fireflies.

My Review: I absolutely enjoyed this story. I read the entire book in one day because I just couldn't put it down. The story was well written and completely engaging from start to finish. I loved the competition, growth, flirtation and banter woven into each character.

The characters were amazing. I loved PJ. She is smart, spunky, and just downright good. Her need to prove herself is something a lot of people can relate to. Cole was the hunky, heart of gold, yet brooding man. His past experience in the foster care system and current work made him that much more appealing. The competition between the two was fantastic. Sparks would fly the instant they were near each other. The problems they had to overcome were relatable and their romance was sweet.

The message was expertly weaved throughout the story. Each character experiences something in their life they regret. The guilt and shame of our actions can cripple our lives and keep us from experiencing the joy God intends for us. No matter what we do, we can't escape those feelings on our own. But God, in His goodness, sent His son to take away our guilt and shame. That's the beauty of believing in the Lord! 

Overall, I highly recommend  Denise Hunter's books. This is a poignant story with a beautiful  message.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookLook blogging program in exchange for my honest review, which I have given.*

About the Author:  Denise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 20 books, including Dancing with Fireflies and The Convenient Groom. She has won The Holt Medallion Award, The Reader's Choice Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist.

Denise writes heartwarming, small-town love stories. Her readers enjoy the experience of falling in love vicariously through her characters and can expect a happily-ever-after sigh as they close the pages of her books.

In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she's been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!

When Denise isn't orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking coffee, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband are raising three boys.

Connect with Denise: Facebook | Twitter | Website

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

Overview: Abigail Foster is the practical daughter. She fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry, and the one man she thought might marry her seems to have fallen for her younger, prettier sister.

Facing financial ruin, Abigail and her father search for more affordable lodgings, until a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem acquainted with the manor's past, the only information they offer is a stern warning: Beware trespassers drawn by rumors that Pembrooke Park contains a secret room filled with treasure.

This catches Abigail's attention. Hoping to restore her family's finances—and her dowry—Abigail looks for this supposed treasure. But eerie sounds at night and footprints in the dust reveal she isn't the only one secretly searching the house.

As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks . . . or very real danger?

ISBN-13: 9780764210716
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/2/2014
Pages: 464
Buy It: B&N | Amazon | CBD 
Read other reviews of Julie Klassen's books.

My Review: Julie Klassen does it again! She has created another wonderful story with mystery, intrigue, romance and faith. I absolutely loved this story. I especially enjoyed the references to Pride and Prejudice. The plot was engaging. I didn't figure out the mystery until Abigail did, which I love.

The characters were very well rounded and written. I loved Abigail's selfless characteristics and her obvious growth in faith throughout the story. Her curiosity about the manor and the people that she met added a delightful layer to the plot. William Foster is a fantastic character. He is not a typical curate. I loved that Julie allowed him such temptations and thoughts. It proves that he is just man, like every other man. Their romance was subtle and sweet.

The message was about overcoming your fears. Placing our trust in God allows us to overcome the fears and prejudices of the past. It allows us to fully embrace all that God has planned for us, as well.

Overall, this story is one of mystery, intrigue, faith, family, and overcoming your obstacles and fears. I highly recommend it to any of Julie Klassen's fans!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Bethany House blogging program in exchange for my honest review, which I have given.*

JulieAbout the Author: I worked in publishing for sixteen years (first in advertising, then as a fiction editor) and now write full time. Three of my books, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Silent Governess have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and The Girl in the Gatehouse also won a Midwest Book Award and The Silent Governess was a finalist in Romance Writers of America's RITA awards.
 
I graduated from the University of Illinois and enjoy travel, research, BBC period dramas, long hikes, short naps, and coffee with friends. My husband and I have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Connect with Julie: Blog | Facebook | Website

Friday, December 26, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up (Dec. 26)

 
This is the Weekend Wrap-Up, inspired by Melanie at Christian Bookshelf Review. This is where I will tell you what I've read in the past week, what I'm currently reading, and what I plan to read in the week ahead. I might also share some interesting events from the past week!
 
 
I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas! I know I did. It was relaxed and fun, even though we had to travel to two different places. As I look forward to the new year, I'm excited to see what God has in store for me, because 2014 was fantastic!
 
What I've Read
The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky 
 
Reviews Posted
The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky
 
What I'm Currently Reading
The Secret of Pembrooke Park 
 
What's Up Next
The Wishing Season (Chapel Springs, #3)At Home in Last Chance (A Place to Call Home, #3)Steadfast Heart (Brides of Seattle, #1)Price of Privilege (Price of Privilege, #3) 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

The Daughter of Highland Hall: A NovelOverview: What if the title, the estate, the life of security and splendor… what if it isn’t enough?
 
Strong-willed and beautiful, debutante Katherine Ramsey feels ready to take the London social season by storm, and she must. Her family estate, Highland Hall, has been passed to older male cousin Sir William Ramsey, and her only means of securing her future is to make a strong debut and find a proper husband. With her all-knowing and meddling aunt as a guide, Katherine is certain to attract suitors at the lavish gatherings, sparkling with Great Britain’s elite.

When a shocking family scandal sidelines Katherine, forcing her out of the social spotlight, she keeps a low profile, volunteering with the poor in London’s East End. Here Katherine feels free from her predictable future, and even more so as a friendship with medical student Jonathan Foster deepens and her faith in God grows. But when Katherine is courted anew by a man of wealth and position, dreams of the life she always thought she wanted surface again. Torn between tradition and the stirrings in her heart for a different path, she must decide whom she can trust and love—and if she will choose a life serving others over one where she is served. 
ISBN-13: 9781601424983
Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/7/2014
Series:Edwardian Brides Series
Pages: 336
Buy It: B&N | Amazon | CBD
My Review: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof... Be still, and know that I am God..." Psalm 46
 This was such a fantastic story. I absolutely loved the characters, plot, and the message that Carrie expertly weaved. The story was interesting and kept me engaged. The characters were well rounded and excellently written. It was definitely nice to catch up with William and Julia.

The characters were fantastically written and developed. I really like Kate as a character. At her age, the confusion and feelings that she felt were natural and appropriate. She is torn between what is tradition and what the Lord wants for her life. Accepting a path that is different from what you always envisioned your life would take is hard, and Carrie does a fantastic job of portraying that. Jon is a strong male lead character. I love his attitude and faith. He is a great example for Kate to follow.

The message, as I believe the verse above portrays, is to lean on God. Trust Him for all things in our lives, and He will bless us according to His will. When we place our trust and our lives in God's hands, all things work out for good, according to His purpose. Taking that leap of faith is a scary and somewhat intimidating, but the author is letting us know that it is worth it all in the end.

Overall, I recommend this story for anyone who loves a good, clean period romance with a strong message of faith, love, and trusting your heart.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books blogging program in exchange for my honest review, which I have given.*

Carrie Turansky
About the Author: CARRIE TURANSKY is an award-winning author of more than a dozen novels and novellas. She has been the winner of the ACFW Carol Award, the Crystal Globe Award, and the International Digital Award, and a finalist for the Inspirational Readers Choice Award and the ACFW Carol Awards and Genesis Contest. She has written contemporary and historical romances, women's fiction, short stories, articles, and devotionals. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Scott, and they have five adult children and four grandchildren.
Connect with Carrie: Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Website | Blog

Friday, December 19, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up (Dec. 19)

 
This is the Weekend Wrap-Up, inspired by Melanie at Christian Bookshelf Review. This is where I will tell you what I've read in the past week, what I'm currently reading, and what I plan to read in the week ahead. I might also share some interesting events from the past week!
What I've Read
An Amish Second Christmas 
Reviews Posted
An Amish Second Christmas: Christmas Novellas

What I'm Currently Reading:
The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky 
What's Up Next
The Secret of Pembrooke ParkThe Wishing Season (Chapel Springs, #3)Price of Privilege (Price of Privilege, #3)At Home in Last Chance (A Place to Call Home, #3)Steadfast Heart (Brides of Seattle, #1)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

An Amish Second Christmas: Four Christmas Novellas

An Amish Second ChristmasOverview: Second Christmas is a time of family, fun, and tradition in Amish communities. Come celebrate this special time with four heartwarming Amish romances.
 
When Christmas Comes Again, by Beth Wiseman:
Katherine knows the first Christmas without Elias will be hard for her and the children. But when a mysterious Englischer appears with photographs of her late husband, Katherine begins to wonder what other blessings Christmas could have in store.

A Gift for Anne Marie, by Kathleen Fuller:
Anne Marie and Nathaniel have been best friends since they were kids. Now things are evolving . . . in ways everyone else predicted long ago. But when her mother suddenly decides to remarry in another state, Anne Marie’s new chapter with Nathaniel looks doomed to end before it begins.

Her Christmas Pen Pal, by Ruth Reid:
Joy was expecting a wedding proposal from Henry — what she got instead was news of another woman. But when her heartfelt letter to a cousin ends up in the hands of a young cabinetmaker, an unexpected correspondence between two strangers gets interesting fast.

The Christmas Aprons, by Tricia Goyer:
Vanilla crumb pie has been Esther’s mem’s calling card for decades. But when Esther finally gets her hands on the secret recipe, she discovers that vanilla crumb pie is more than just dessert . . . it’s bachelor bait.
ISBN-13: 9781401689810
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/14/2014
Pages: 423
Buy It: B&N | Amazon | CBD
My Review: When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Wiseman - Understanding that the author's intentions for this novella were to show the blessings of family, this story is wonderful. It also does a wonderful job of showing that everyone grieves differently. Each member in Katherine's family is struggling with the loss of their loved one, but God's grace and love flow over them in the form of the "mysterious Englischer" that shows up in their lives.

Her Christmas Pen Pal by Ruth Reid - What a beautiful story! I absolutely LOVED the letters between Joy and her pen pal. That element added a special touch to the overall story. It also helped develop the relationship between Joy and Noah, before either character realized it.The message of the story, in my opinion, was about learning to trust the Lord with our future. Both characters had to learn to trust the Lord to overcome their fears.

A Gift for Anne Marie by Kathleen Fuller -  I love this kind of story (I won't say what kind it is because it might be considered a spoiler!). The relationship between Nathaniel and Anne Marie evolves and changes in ways neither one of them understand, so it was fun to watch them trying to figure it out. The message of the story is learning to trust in God's plan for your life, even when you don't think things are going the way they should. God knows what He's doing, and learning to "let go" and "let God" is sometimes hard.

The Christmas Aprons by Tricia Goyer - This was a fantastic story. The character development was well thought out and presented. The story line was sweet and swift moving. My favorite part, though, was the message. Esther has to learn to overcome her self-doubt, her fear of what others might think, in order to embrace the plans that God has for her. How many of us are doing the same thing??

Overall, this collection of Christmas novellas was sweet and the messages were well written and thought out. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookLook blogging program in exchange for my honest review.*

About the Author:
Award-winning, bestselling author Beth Wiseman is best known for her Amish novels, but she has also written several successful contemporary novels, set primarily in her beloved Texas, inlcuding Need You Now and The House that Love Built. Both have received glowing reviews. Beth's The Promise is inspired by a true story. Website: www.bethwiseman.com


Kathleen Fuller is the author of several bestselling novels, including A Man of His Word and Treasuring Emma, as well as a middle-grade Amish series, The Mysteries of Middlefield. Website: www.kathleenfuller.com


Ruth Reid is a CBA and ECPA best-selling author of the Heaven on Earth series. She's a full-time pharmacist who resides in Florida with her husband and three children.


USA Today best-selling author Tricia Goyer is the author of 35 books, including the three-book Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors series. She has written over 500 articles for national publications and blogs for high traffic sites like TheBetterMom.com and MomLifeToday.com. Tricia and her husband John live in Little Rock, Arkansas where John works for FamilyLife. They have six children.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Water Your Faith Wednesday - The Power of a Praying Wife (Part 3)

Hello everyone! Welcome to "Water Your Faith" Wednesday! How do you feel after spending your Sunday at church praising and worshiping our Lord? I know I feel great! I start my week fired up and ready to face what's in store. Oftentimes, however, by Wednesday, life begins to drag me down. My goal is provide a way to overcome the spiritual doldrums with encouraging words, scriptures, devotions, songs, etc. Let me know what you think!
 
  Week 1, the introduction: The Power.
Week 2, His Wife.  
Week 2, His Work.
 
Today, we are continuing our devotions with the third chapter in The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian: His Finances
 
"Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you." - Luke 12:29-31
 
My Thoughts: This is another short chapter (pg. 51-55). However, the message Stormie is trying to communicate is very clear. "Nothing puts more pressure on a marriage than financial irresponsibility, lack of money, and huge debt," but seeking the Lord and His will for our finances can help ease that pressure (pg. 51). I make more money than my husband and I have to continuously remind myself that by telling him that, I am hurting his ego because he feels the pressure and responsibility to take care of our family. I pray that the "storehouses of blessings" will be opened upon my husband and I, but I want it to come directly from the Lord (pg. 52-53). I don't want him to get any financial gain that is outside of the Lord's will for us, which is why it's important to pray for the Lord to direct you in all areas of your life, especially in your finances.
 
 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Week End Wrap Up (Dec. 12)

 
This is the Weekend Wrap-Up, inspired by Melanie at Christian Bookshelf Review. This is where I will tell you what I've read in the past week, what I'm currently reading, and what I plan to read in the week ahead. I might also share some interesting events from the past week!
What I've Read
An Amish Christmas: December in Lancaster County - Four Amish Christmas NovellasSlave Again

Reviews Posted
An Amish Christmas: December in Lancaster County
Slave Again by Alana Terry

What I'm Currently Reading
An Amish Second Christmas

What's Up Next:
The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie TuranskyThe Secret of Pembrooke ParkThe Wishing Season (Chapel Springs, #3)Price of Privilege (Price of Privilege, #3)

Slave Again by Alana Terry

*Warning: this book contains content not appropriate for children under 13.*

 
About Slave Again: After escaping a North Korean prison camp, Mee-Kyong is hustled over the border and sold into the Chinese underworld. She vows to survive, but sheer determination and willpower won’t save her this time. Is she fated to remain a slave forever?



Slave Again is a Christian suspense novel from award-winning author Alana Terry, whose debut novel, The Beloved Daughter, won awards from Women of Faith, Grace Awards, The Book Club Network, and Readers’ Favorite.

Buy It: Amazon 



My Review:  Alana Terry is a fantastic author. She knows how to write a book that is not only engaging, but emotionally, spiritually, and heart-achingly beautiful. At times, this story was frightening. There were moments I cringed at the descriptions and the horrors of what Mee-Kyong endured and did. This novel brings to the forefront the problem of sex trafficking and the horrors the girls that are in that life have to face. It's not for the light of heart.

I liked Mee-Kyong, as a character. Her struggle to accept what she calls the "Westerners' diety" was very well represented and real.  I didn't care for Juliette and Roger at all. At times I felt like they were completely clueless about the refugees staying in their own homes. I'm glad they had the heart to bring refugees under their wings and try to witness to them, but I believe they failed miserably at it sometimes. 

The message, for me, was a little choppy. I understand that Juliette and Roger were acting as the mouthpiece in which Mee-Kyong and the other refugees could learn about the Lord and ultimately accept His offer of salvation, but because they were so clueless about their refugees thoughts and lives, I think the message was not well delivered. I like to think, at the end, it got through to Mee-Kyong.

Overall, if you're looking for a poignant story with twists, turns, and surprises, Alana Terry's Slave Again is the book for you. You should also check out her debut novel, The Beloved Daughter.

*Thank you, Alana, for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*