Saturday, May 13, 2017

Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

I recently finished reading Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano, the first book in the Apart from the Crowd series. Set in New York City in the Spring of 1883, the story centers around Miss Permilia Griswold and those around her. A known wallflower, Permilia has a way of blending in and going unnoticed amongst members of society, until at the Vanderbilt Ball where she suddenly finds herself the recipient of additional attention and it turns into a pivot point in many aspects of her life. Permilia was my kind of girl, able to spend time around society but one who had other priorities and many other things which were more dear to her than the need to be accepted by society.


In good part, Behind the Scenes was a story of acceptance - acceptance of others, acceptance of self, acceptance of God's plan and acceptance of family and past. Permilia had plans for her life and being part of New York society was never on her list, but as the story unfolds and she faces many challenges, she finds herself visiting with Reverend Perry who reminds her that 'some of our life experiences should be looked upon as stepping stones, needed in order to cross the stream at large, but not meant to be lingered on' and that sometimes we have to turn our troubles over to God and be willing to accept what He may have in store for you. It was only after that pivotal conversation that she seemed to come to accept the changes that were happening and really found a path to happiness.

I thoroughly enjoyed Behind the Scenes. The author did a great job setting the scene and establishing the development of the characters through the backdrop of the Vanderbilt Ball, including details on the clothing, dancing and other details of the ball. The book drew me in from the beginning and surprisingly, with almost 1/3 of the book focused of establishing the situation and characters at the ball, the story never slowed. There was a great mix of love, intrigue, mystery and suspense within the story through which the reader grew closer with the characters and the challenges that they faced and successes that they achieved. I really look forward to the next book in the series, which I am sure will cast light onto Permilia's continuing story, as her friend Gertrude is the center of the story.

If you enjoy a good love story with a little mystery mixed in, I would recommend checking out Behind the Scenes.
About
After spending the last six years banished to the wallflower section of the ballroom, Miss Permilia Griswold has finally figured out a way to pass the time at all the New York high-society events she attends. Under the pseudonym "Miss Quill," she is the author of society gossip columns filled with tidbits only an insider in society--albeit one on the fringes--would know.

When she overhears a threat against Mr. Asher Rutherford, the owner of one of the most up-and-coming department stores in the city, she's determined to warn him. But the irritatingly handsome man doesn't believe her, leaving her no choice but to take matters into her own hands. What she doesn't anticipate is that she'll end up putting herself at risk in the process--or that she and Mr. Rutherford, a man with secrets of his own, just might end up joining forces after all.

Author

Jen Turano, author of eight books and two novellas, is a graduate of the University of Akron with a degree in clothing and textiles. She is a member of ACFW and lives in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. Visit her website at www.jenturano.com.





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, April 30, 2017

Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
When I got the invite to review Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson, I was intrigued. I am more of a fiction reader, but faith is an important part of my life and I was intrigued by the idea behind the book - that in our faith and our needs we have created this perception of Jesus as a Life Coach, a Checklist provider, a Movement Leader, or a Cultural Visionary. In the past, I have taken several courses in college and been part of groups as an adult that have leveraged one book or another to fuel a conversation that allows us to challenge what our interpretations of the teachings of the Church and the Bible are. So, I thought this might be a good book to continue those opportunities to challenge my thinking.
The book is set up with the first section sharing some examples that in retrospective the author felt were examples of the wrong approach to consideration of Jesus and the second section some thoughts for moving forward. There were a few that spoke to me...whether I agree or not, they were things that got me thinking.

"The advice-oriented teaching I received in churches was meant to be helpful. Nobody was knowingly trying to deceive me or the congregation." He shares about having an uneasy feeling after listening to a sermon on marriage. He shares that the Sunday church service doesn't feel like the right place for this, but rather that time should be focused on sharing Jesus and his forgiveness of sins, sharing Scripture and partaking in communion. "I can get sound marriage advice down the at the local bookstore...on Sunday, I need to hear the message I'm not going to hear anywhere else."

The author at one point talked about how to make the stories of the Bible relate-able to current times and situations. I think that is a challenge that many churches are trying to address and one that when they can draw parallels and convey the story in 'modern' times, goes a long way in helping the community hear the message and live the message.

There were examples he shared about the focus of many churches being about growing membership and raising dollars for the church. This was one that was interesting to me, because my husband and I have talked about how we have no problem with giving to the church, but that the constant inclusion in the sermon to remind us that we are obligated to give and the act of collecting during the service can be frustrating - I recognize that some people need it to be right there to remember or be willing to contribute - but it still makes it feel like the focus of the service is not on the Gospel but on 'making' money.

The book was okay, but not great. It certainly got me to think about things like what sermons that speak the most to me, what do I look to get from my church experience, and how can I help give relevancy today to the stories in the Bible. In general, I expected it to be more about how people as individuals or part of groups get Jesus wrong, but it felt like it was all about the different churches approaches (that are wrong) and how people are drawn to those approaches and thus get it wrong. It might be an interesting book to use as part of a book club or a good conversation starter for a Bible Study group.

About the book:

Jesus is not a life coach, a movement leader, a cultural visionary, or a blessing dispenser-but you might not know that by listening to many Christians talk about their faith.

Feel-good slogans promote a caricatured Jesus made in our own image who cannot save us and leave us feeling guilty for not saving ourselves. Following the wrong Jesus disappoints us and produces anxiety, pride, and despair.
The first half of

Getting Jesus Wrong recounts pastor and author Matt Johnson's personal encounters with a string of false saviors-false saviors that many, especially young adults, will recognize. Johnson's humor and transparency in recounting his own painful experiences will appeal to those who have tried a "brand" of Christianity and found it lacking.

The truth is, we all want something from Jesus. Some are just hoping for a little help to get through life-a new direction, a purpose that will get us up in the morning, an exercise plan, a way to get organized. But that approach to Jesus doesn't result in real faith or love.

Whether we've followed a false Jesus or attempted to coopt the real Jesus,
Getting Jesus Wrong ultimately offers us hope because it helps us see Jesus as he is.
Getting Jesus Wrong shows that the message of the Bible is about Jesus coming to us as we are-which is good news for exhausted and disillusioned disciples. It shows us that getting Jesus right means a whole new way of thinking (the way up is down) and a whole new way of life (daily dependence on the one who knows the beginning from the end). Getting Jesus right gives us more than spiritual vitamins or a blueprint for living; it gives us a full, rich life spent exploring the depths of gospel love together.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
About the author:
Matt Johnson is a husband, father to two little girls, and is an armchair student of theology living in Seattle. He is also a freelance writer and editor. Until recently, Matt spent 7 years as an associate volunteer pastor in counseling and recovery ministry.
Find out more about Matt at https://www.therealmattjohnson.com.


Learn more 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, March 26, 2017

Her Secret by Shelley Shepard Gray

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

The weather here has been amazing these past few days, which to me equals a great day to curl up with a good book (after I enjoyed the outdoors of course). There is something so nice about being able to have the doors and windows open and feel the gentle breeze while you get lost in a great story - in this case Her Secret by Shelley Shepard Gray.

Her Secret is the first in a new Amish series from Shelley Shepard Gray, focused on the Amish of Hart County in Kentucky. This book had a nice balance of suspense mixed in, which was a nice addition to this love story set in the Amish community.

The Amish youth have a period in their life when they are allowed to explore their world before committing to join the church, it is referred to as 'running around' or Rumspringa. This period normally begins around the age of 14 to 16 and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church. It is also commonly the time when they court and look for a spouse. In Her Secret, we find out that it was during her running around that Hannah dates a young Englischer named Trent. It made me wonder, with the conservative life that the Amish leave, are their youth more likely to misjudge the character of a young man than non-Amish youth. I would guess that when someone is being sweet on you, that regardless of your upbringing, there is a tendency to ignore signs that should probably be warnings. The two went on only a few dates and the stalking did not necessarily start right after they stopped seeing each other, but as we later learn (I can't tell you why - you have to read it to find out) there were likely other influences that caused Trent to become jealous and start stalking her.

The family moved away to escape the threat of this young man stalking their daughter (turns out that's not the only reason - but again, you will have to read to find out the other reason). They finally started to settle into their new community and begin to make friends, not realizing that the threat is not yet over.

This book was captivating, suspenseful and had me hooked from the beginning. The story was filled with characters that are easy to relate to and has the right balance of friends and family, love and suspense. It showed the importance of open communication to keep a family strong and of depending on those around you in times of need. I wanted to keep reading and was a little disappointed when it ended. For now, I will have to wait on future installments in the Amish of Hart County series to keep learning more about they Hilty and Troyer families and how their stories continue to unwind.

About the book:

A suspenseful tale of a young Amish woman who is forced to move to a new town to escape a threatening stalker

After a stalker went too far, Hannah Hilty and her family had no choice but to leave the bustling Amish community where she grew up. Now she's getting a fresh start in Hart County, Kentucky...if only she wasn't too scared to take it. Hannah has become afraid to trust anyone-even Isaac, the friendly Amish man who lives next door. She wonders if she'll ever return to the trusting, easy-going woman she once was.

For Isaac Troyer, the beautiful girl he teasingly called "The Recluse" confuses him like no other. When he learns of her past, he knows he's misjudged her. However, he also understands the importance of being grateful for God's gifts, and wonders if they will ever have anything in common. But as Hannah and Isaac slowly grow closer, they realize that there's always more to someone than meets the eye.

Just as Hannah is finally settling into her new life, and perhaps finding a new love, more secrets are revealed and tragedy strikes. Now Hannah must decide if she should run again or dare to fight for the future she has found in Hart County.

Learn more and purchase a copy.


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.


Learn more about the book and see additional 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, March 19, 2017

The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
With a sudden return of winter weather to our area, I found myself with some time to curl up and read. This time, the book of choice was The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller. This is the debut novel by Carolyn Miller and also the first in the Regency Brides A Legacy of Grace series. This piece of Regency Era fiction, set in 1813 was well written and has me looking forward to learning more about it's characters in the future books in the series.

I loved the character of Lavinia Ellison, or Livvie, as her friends know her. She is a well-educated young woman, who is a talented pianist and vocalist and one who is not afraid to speak her mind. She recognizes that she lives in a world with strict social divisions, but in spite of that she finds pleasure in helping the servants keep up with weeding the garden, tending to the needs of the poor in the village and to engage in conversation on all matters with the Earl, who has recently returned to the village of St. Hampton Heath. There is something about her lack of worry about the norms of society, her educated view on life and her almost quiet assertiveness that I was able to relate to. I love that unlike even her dearest of friends, because of her character and her up bringing, she was not focused on the latest fashions, the social scene and finding a husband...

"She could hide nothing. Like the fact she now enjoyed his company. Which was just as well, because he enjoyed hers. She was interesting, well-read, able to converse on all matters of life. How refreshing to speak to a young woman whose topics of conversation were not limited to the latest fashions or gossip about others. And her quiet absorption in his conversation had led him to open his heart as he never had before." (p 170)

...and it was as though that lack of focus and her intelligence were exactly what made her so attractive. Of course, there always has to be a foil to an easy boy meets girl story. In this case, it was of course the difference in their station - him an Earl and her merely the daughter of the reverend. I was not surprised at the change in environment when the Earl's mother arrived at his house and decided to invite over friends, whose daughters were a better match for the Earl in her mind. She definitely was not about to let her son fall for the daughter of the reverend and did her best to intervene.

I was at first a little bit disappointed to learn about the family secret that was revealed to Liviana as she dealt with disappointment in herself and the loneliness that ensued. It felt like too neat of a turn at first, but the author did a great job using it to help unwind the story without allowing it to become a truth that made all the rest neatly fall in place. The story wrapped in a great fashion, almost in spite of the turn of the family secret, leaving me wanting for more. I guess the good news is that the next book in this series is set to be available this summer and I can continue to learn more about this set of characters from the Regency Era.

If you enjoy period fiction, and more specifically Regency Era fiction, I would recommend this book to you.


About the book:

Handsome appearance counts for naught unless matched by good character and actions.

That's the firm opinion of not-so-meek minister's daughter Lavinia Ellison. So even though all the other villagers of St. Hampton Heath are swooning over the newly returned seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, she is not impressed. If a man won't take his responsibilities seriously and help those who are supposed to be able to depend on him, he deserves no respect from her. In Lavinia's pretty, gray eyes, Nicholas Stamford is just as arrogant and reckless as his brother-who stole the most important person in Livvie's world.

Nicholas is weighed down by his own guilt and responsibility, by the pain his careless brother caused, and by the legacy of war he's just left. This quick visit home to St. Hampton Heath will be just long enough to ease a small part of that burden. Asking him to bother with the lives of the villagers when there's already a bailiff on the job is simply too much to expect.
That is, until the hoydenish, intelligent, and very opinionated Miss Ellison challenges him to see past his pain and pride. With her angelic voice in his head, he may even be beginning to care. But his isn't the only heart that needs to change.
These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society's opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

Fans of Georgette Heyer, Lori Wick, and Julie Klassen will enjoy the spirited exchanges between the bluestocking minister's daughter and the bruised war hero as they move past pride and presumption to a humbled appreciation of God's grace and the true strength of love.


Learn more and purchase a copy here.


About the author:

Carolyn Miller lives in New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. A longtime lover of Regency romance, Carolyn's novels have won a number of RWA and ACFW contests. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Australasian Christian Writers.


Learn more about the book and read additional 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, March 11, 2017

Home To Paradise by Barbara Cameron

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
The past few weeks, I took a break from historical fiction and returned to Amish fiction. I had the chance to read Home To Paradise by Barbara Cameron. It was the first book that I have read by her and the last book in The Coming Home Series.

The book was an enjoyable story with nice characters. I liked the dual perspectives, the chance to really get to know what Rose Anna and John were experiencing as well as their thoughts around it. The characters were real people and had real struggles - Rose Anna with her expectations of a future with John and a need to find a way to win him back to her and the community and John with his struggles with his father and trying to find his place in the world. This story of coming home allowed us to watch the characters make decisions that were not always easy or simple. Compared to many other books that I have read, there was a lot more interaction with Englischers in this story, such as volunteering at a Woman's shelter, teaching classes at the local fabric store and working on an Englischer's farm.

It was a good book, but seemed to be a slower moving book which is probably an okay thing in the fast moving world in which we live. It would be interesting to learn more of the back stories, but the book functioned well as a stand alone story and nothing was lost by not reading the earlier books in the series.


Book info

Highly anticipated final book in The Coming Home Series from best-selling Amish author Barbara Cameron.

Rose Anna Zook has watched her two older sisters marry two Stoltzfus men and has always thought she and John, the third Stoltzfus brother, would marry, make a home together, and have children. But John has other ideas. He's enjoying his Rumschpringe in the Englisch world a little too much and isn't interested in returning to the Amish community-especially to marry.

Rose Anna is determined to bring her man back into the Amish fold. John is equally determined to live his life free and unencumbered. Who will win this battle of wills? Will love prevail?

Learn more and purchase a copy.

Barbara Cameron has a heart for writing about the spiritual values and simple joys of the Amish. She is the best-selling author of more than 40 fiction and nonfiction books, three nationally televised movies, and the winner of the first Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Her books have been nominated for Carol Awards and the Inspirational Reader's Choice Award from RWA's Faith, Hope, and Love chapter. Barbara resides in Jacksonville, Florida.

Learn more about the book and see additional 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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
The weather here in Ohio has been unseasonably warm which has been wonderful, but with the early dark fall of winter, I have still found ample opportunities to read. Most recently, I have been reading An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter.
About the book:
Lord Trent Hawthorne couldn't be happier he is not the duke in the family. Free to manage his small estate and take his time discovering the life he wants to lead, he has grand plans of someday wooing and falling in love with the woman of his choice. When he finds himself honor bound to marry a woman he barely knows, his dream of a loving marriage like his parents' seems lost forever.

Life for Lady Adelaide Bell was easier when she hid in her older sister's shadow--which worked until her sister got married. But even with her socially ambitious mother's focus entirely on her, the last thing she expected was a marriage of convenience before she's been introduced to society.

With nothing going as expected, can Trent and Adelaide's marriage of obligation survive their own missteps and the pressures of London society to grow into a true meeting of hearts and minds?

The story is filled with challenges, growth and romance. It starts with a marriage of two young people that barely know one another and although they don't follow traditional paths, with effort and focus and a little help from family and friends, the young couple is able to slowly build a relationship and begin the journey to love.

This piece of period fiction, Regency fiction to be exact, was a wonderful story with memorable characters. The author does a great job of developing the characters and helping you feel a connection to the endearing, unique characters within the story. I found myself easily relating to the shy, book-loving Adelaide whose fidgets left something on her out of sorts by the end of the evening and cheering Trent along as he warmed to the awry portions of his wife's appearance and found himself looking for ways to protect his wife from the interference of her mother and the less than scrupulous men that seemed to cross her path. The class system of the era was a huge influence on the story and there were some characters who were so focused on the societal standing that they were willing to hurt their own family members to assure their own status, yet still there were some characters were more focused on family and acceptance and worried little about their status.

I didn't know it when I selected the book, but it is the third book in her Hawthorne House series. The good news is it works well as a stand alone novel and although I am a fan of following the lives of those I meet in earlier books, I don't feel like I missed out on anything by starting with the third book...of course, I would like to go back and read the first two. I know that I know where those couples wind up based on this book, but I think it would still be enjoyable to go back and learn more about them.

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.