Friday, February 5, 2016

A Son's Vow by Shelley Shepard Gray

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
January has been a surprisingly busy month for me. I'm not sure I could put a finger on what exactly we did, but it flew by. As the month was winding down, I finally found a chance to pick up a book again. This time, it was a copy of the new book from Shelley Shepard Gray, A Son's Vow. A Son's Vow is the first in a new series called The Charmed Amish Life, conveniently set in the community of Charm.

Shelley Shepard Gray has a great knack of writing a book about the Amish with a plot that transcends the setting and the faith of the characters. In this story, several characters in town were recently impacted by a deadly fire at the local mill that killed five Amish men. Each of the characters that were impacted were dealing with the grief in their own way, and not all in the healthiest of ways. As the story unfolds, they discover that pulling together after that devastating event that drove them apart will help them all heal. She writes such a captivating set of characters and as you join them on their journey of healing, it is hard to not feel a connection with the characters.

The one thing that kept me guessing was the vow - I had expected it to be an early revelation in the book, but the nature of the vow was not revealed until much later in the book (almost at the end). I don't think it hurt the story, but it did leave me wondering if I had missed something.

I look forward to the next book in this series, as I know it will likely be about some of the other shadow characters in this story and that it will allow me to follow the progress of the stories of those characters that I came to love in this story.

About the book:

A Son's Vow (Avon Inspire, January 2016)

Three months ago, everything changed for Darla Kurtz and her family.

Darla's father was responsible for a terrible fire at Charm's lumber mill which killed five Amish men. And though he, too, lost his life, the town of Charm hasn't looked at her family the same since. Even Lukas Kinsinger---with whom Darla used to have a close friendship.

Now her brother's anger at the town is spilling over onto Darla, and she has the bruises to prove it. The accident already cost five lives, but if something doesn't change soon, Darla fears it will cost her---and her family---even more.

Lukas Kinsinger wants to mourn the loss of his father, but he can hardly find the time to breathe. Suddenly the head of his father's lumber mill and responsible for taking care of his three siblings, he's feeling the pressure. He has also never felt more alone---especially with the new tension between he and Darla. But when he learns of her troubles at home, Lukas knows he can't simply stand by and watch. Someone has to help her before another tragedy occurs.

As Lukas and Darla attempt to repair their families, they discover something deeper than friendship growing between them. But will Lukas and Darla's love be accepted after so much loss? Or will the pain of the past overcome any chance of future happiness?

Shelley Shepard Gray's first book in her Charmed Amish Life series is set in the quaint Amish village of Charm, Ohio, and tells the stories of the Kinsinger siblings who are each struggling to find both forgiveness and love in the face of tragedy.

Purchase a copy here.

About the author:

Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full-time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town's bike trail.

Connect with Shelley: website, Twitter, and Facebook

You can learn more about the book and find other reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Easy Peasy Holiday Entertaining

*information for this post was in part supplied by Hormel Foods through their Hormel Extended Family Blogger program. No compensation was received for this post.
A few months back, we made the decision that since our house hunt hadn't led us to the right house for us, that we would enter into the project of updating the kitchen. Originally, we were focused on getting a quote and planning to wait for spring to start the project Then, as luck would have it, the cabinets that we had selected were on a special. We decided that we should take advantage of the discount and get the cabinets. We didn't want to pay for cabinets and not install right away, so we decided to move the whole project up. We chose a start date, knowing that with a 4 week timeline, we would be without a full kitchen on Thanksgiving, but anticipating that we would be back to normal in early December.

Unfortunately, some quality issues with a cabinet, some unexpected water pipes in a wall we removed that had to be rerouted and an issue with the counter top led to an extension to our timeline. I wasn't too worried about this, other than the holidays. We had gotten rather adept at using our bar kitchen and our oven, which was operational most of the project time-frame, to keep ourselves fed. As the holidays approached, I started to worry. I rely on baking to provide gifts to the kids' teachers, my team at work, our neighbors and family. I also have various holiday parties that I attend, where I need to bring a dish to share. All of these things are more challenging without an operational kitchen.

Fortunately, I like to think outside of the box and came up with several things that I could make that provided great flavor and could be made without a kitchen.

For the holiday food day at work, I turned to my crockpot and LLOYD’S® Pulled Pork.
The product is very flavorful on it's own, but since I was planning to warm and hold in my crock-pot I added our favorite barbecue sauce. I grabbed some slider rolls on the way to the office and voila, I had a great dish to share at lunch.

For a holiday gathering with my women's club, I turned to the microwave and Hormel Snackers dips. I took a bag of tortilla chips, some sliced baguette,
two containers of the HORMEL® SNACKERS® Cheesy Bacon & JalapeƱo Dip and two of the HORMEL® SNACKERS® Spinach & Artichoke Dip.

Of course, Hormel Gatherings snack trays would have been another easy solution.
With precut cheese, meat and crackers, it is ready to go and be part of your party in no time.

As for my holiday baking, I fortunately had a counter top and sink installed and reconnected in time to spend a weekend baking. I made over 30 batches of biscotti and one batch each of cut out cookies, Italian Christmas cookies, fudge and bruchtel bars.

How do you entertain at the holidays? What are your favorite snacks to take and share?

No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am completing this post as a participant in the Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger program. Hormel Foods provided some product samples for my family to try. I also receive thought starters, information and photos that can be used in a post.

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
For the past several weeks, we have been under construction at my house. We decided that it was time to make some upgrades to our kitchen and a project that was supposed to take about 4 weeks, somehow stretched to taking about 6 weeks. It left me with a few days early in our Christmas break, where we had to stay close to home and yet I was unable to do the unpacking into the kitchen that I had planned to complete. On the upside, it gave me the chance to just sit around. It wasn't like I could be doing laundry or cleaning or cooking/baking or anything else, there was construction going on and I had to stay out of the way. While I just sat around, I took advantage of the time and sat around and read...and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Finding uninterrupted time to read is a luxury for me, as life as mom is a busy experience.

The book that I was reading was The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck. I have read a few of her other books, and surprisingly, although not part of the same series, there were still at least one or two references to a character in one of the other stories. Nothing is lost if you haven't read those books, but I love how the author uses that device to help make the other stories more authentic (is that the right word?).

I love how Rachel uses the multi-character approach to telling the story. It allows the reader a greater insight into several perspectives and helps them more fully understand the story. With the story spanning 60 years, although focused in year 1 and year 60, if you will, she also takes advantage of the different times to keep the story moving, both with flashback portions as we are reading the story from one view point or another and with actual sections devoted to telling the story in a current fashion simply set in earlier year of the story. Both of these wound together, really let the reader fully immerse in the story and feel connected to all of the characters. Yet, even in all of this connection, she still manages to surprise the reader with minor turns and twists in the plots. Sure, some of the secrets you start to ponder and question earlier than they are revealed, but even with pondering, it is not until she reveals the turn that you are completely sure that you are right.

The stories told in The Wedding Chapel were realistic and experienced by what I would call everyday people, both of which allow the reader to be more fully immersed in the story and more able to relate to aspects of the story that they are reading. There are two main love stories, surrounded by other stories that help fill out the background, that despite the separation in time find themselves intersecting. There is growth that takes place in the characters and hard news to share and face along the way, as the characters learn and heal on their journey of love.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more by Rachel Hauck.

About the book:

The Wedding Chapel

For sixty years, a wedding chapel sat silent, waiting for love. But times have changed and the hour has come when it just might be too late.

Retired hall-of-fame football coach Jimmy "Coach" Westbrook never imagined anything would come of his labor of love---the wedding chapel he built for Collette Greer, the woman he fell for back in '49. But now an offer has come to turn the chapel into what it was meant to be---a place for love---and Jimmy sees no reason to hang onto his dream any longer.

Photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. Leaving her hometown of Heart's Bend, Tennessee, she put a lot of things behind her, including her family's abysmal marriage rate. But love surprises her when she falls head-over-heels for Jack Forester, a top ad man. Their whirlwind romance results in an elopement, and a mountain of doubt. Jack, while genuine in his love for Taylor, can never seem to overcome his own demons to find the words of his heart.

When Taylor takes an assignment in Heart's Bend, the job does more than send her back to her hometown, but into a world of family secrets buried beneath the sands of time.

When Taylor's journey intersects with Coach's, they rediscover the heartbeat of their dreams and that the love they long to hold is right in front of them. And worth every waiting moment.

Purchase a copy here.

About the author:

Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince. She also penned the Songbird Novels with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Booklist named their novel, Softly and Tenderly, one of 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets.

Find out more about Rachel at

Connect with Rachel: Twitter and Facebook

You can learn more about the book and read other reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
I have read a number of books by Shelley Gray, but to date, most of them have been Amish fiction. A few months back, I got the chance to read her novella An Outlaw's Heart as part of the book, Among the Fair Magnolias. So, when I saw that she had a new book coming out that was period fiction, I was excited for the opportunity to read it.

Whispers in the Reading Room is set in Chicago in 1893. It turns out that it was the third in the A Chicago World's Fair Mystery series. Fortunately, there was no need to have read the earlier works to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Even from the first chapter, I was drawn into the story and found myself wanting to read more. There were evenings that went a little later than planned, as I convinced myself to read just one more chapter (and then perhaps another) so that I could see what happened next. My husband even made fun of me as I attempted to read a few pages on a short car ride to lunch one afternoon.

As with her other works, this story has great character development. Through the course of the story, I came to know the main characters and yet, they still managed to surprise me in their action.

I frequently find passages that strike me, but rarely share them. In this case, I tabbed the corner, because it was something that I really could relate to, that feeling when you finish a book.

"She still remembered the expression on his face last week when he'd finished and closed the last tome. He'd looked pleased and just a bit melancholy. She knew those dual feelings well - the satisfaction of completing a well-written piece of literature while also coming to terms with the fact that those few moments of pure bliss would soon be replaced with longing for more."

I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those that love period history and those that love stories of mystery and love.

About the book:

Whispers in the Reading Room (Zondervan, November 2015)

Lydia's job at the library is her world---until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World's Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn't merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks-the man so many people fear-is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

Purchase a copy here.

About the author:

Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.

Connect with Shelley: website, Twitter, and Facebook

You can learn more about the book and find other reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Five Times I Met Myself by James L Rubart

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

When I was presented with the opportunity to read The Five Times I Met Myself, I was definitely intrigued. At first, I thought it was non-fiction and would be about identifying your direction in light. As I read the description, I discovered that it was a work of fiction and was intrigued by the questions being posed. Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you should have done differently? What would you say if you met your 23-year-old self in a dream?

What made it more interesting to me is that a co-worker had just recenlty been talking about a book that she was reading about personal transformation. While it was not the same style of work, it seemed to be driving towards a common path.

As I read the book, I realized that the questions are not so straight forward and that what you might want to change in your life could result in a much further reaching impact than simply the path that you take. It made me take pause and think about who else and what else would have been impacted if I had made different life choices along the way. It gave me a great perspective on the idea that it was through a series of individual decisions that led me to exactly where I am, and where I feel like I belong. Any changes to those decisions could see me married to someone else, living somewhere else and not the mom to my kids. What a strange thought.

Brock learns a lot on his journey and I really enjoyed the journey, not just for what I learned alongside Brock, but for what it made me think about and consider in my own life.

About the book:
The Five Times I Met Myself

What if you met your twenty-three-year-old self in a dream? What would you say?

Brock Matthews' once promising life is unraveling. His coffee company. His marriage.

So when he discovers his vivid dreams---where he encounters his younger self---might let him change his past mistakes, he jumps at the chance. The results are astonishing, but also disturbing.

Because getting what Brock wants most in the world will force him to give up the one thing he doesn't know how to let go . . . and his greatest fear is that it's already too late.

Purchase a copy:

About the author:

James L. Rubart is a professional marketer and speaker. He is the author of the best-selling novel Rooms as well as Book of Days, The Chair, Soul's Gate, Memory's Door, and Spirit Bridge. He lives with his wife and sons in the Pacific Northwest.

Connect with James: website, Twitter, Facebook

Learn more about the book and read more reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

LLOYD’S® Babyback Pork Ribs #hormel

*information for this post was in part supplied by Hormel Foods through their Hormel Extended Family Blogger program. No compensation was received for this post.
We are doing a little bit of update work in the kitchen. As a result, we don't have any space to prep, but do still have use of the stove and oven. We also are relying on just our utility sink in our laundry room for clean-up. This has resulted in us having to be a little more creative with meal planning, looking for ideas that don't require much in terms of preparation or clean-up.

One night for dinner last week, we went with ribs and baked potatoes. Since we had a package of LLOYD’S® Babyback Pork Ribs, the preparation was easy.
Simply wrap the ribs in foil and bake for about an hour.
Even though you have to cook the ribs for an hour, I would say that these ribs are quick prep and best of all, you get the taste of slow cooked ribs in just about an hour.
The ribs are so tender and bones come out easily and clean.
The ribs are seasoned and you can enjoy them as is, or add your favorite barbecue sauce.

The ribs were very tender and moist. The flavor was great even without sauce. Both of the kids really enjoyed them. With about 2 pounds in the package, we had enough for the family and a little bit for leftovers. The leftovers will be repurposed for pork quesadillas, another low prep, easy and tasty meal that we can enjoy while under construction.

Have you tried making ribs at home?

No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am completing this post as a participant in the Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger program. Hormel Foods provided some product samples for my family to try. I also receive thought starters, information and photos that can be used in a post.