Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Good Old-Fashioned Roller-Coaster Read | Review of Mark of Distinction



About the Book (from Tyndale)

London is said to be the glittering jewel of society, a world unto itself—but to Julia Elliston it is a city of shadows. Her life is swiftly dissolving into scandal. And in Victorian society, even a whisper of scandal—substantiated or not—can be the death of a young woman’s reputation.

Now under the watchful eye of Lord Roy Pierson, one of the most influential men in England, Julia begrudgingly accepts his protection. But Chance Macy’s power is far-reaching as well, and he is eager to assert his claim over her.

Thrust into society as the Emerald Heiress, Julia is the toast of London, a celebrated curiosity. But in reality she’s trapped between the clutches of two powerful men. Aided only by a gentleman whose intentions she prays she can trust, Julia must finally take control of her own fate—but outwitting one’s foe rarely goes according to plan.

Available Now!

My Rating

Spring/Summer

My Review

Man, this series is a good old-fashioned roller coaster if ever there was one! This second book in the Price of Privilege trilogy continues Julia's story on the enchanting but frightful stage of Victorian-era London, with its parties and balls, desperation and lonely halls.

Everything is told through Julia's perspective, meaning we readers encounter the charming deceptions, timid hopes, and powerful emotions she experiences right alongside her. She once again faces a great amount of upheaval, and it's satisfying and inspiring to see her go to battle with her uncertainty in order to truly understand who she is and what she believes. By the last surprising scenes, she still has a long way to go...but she's taken important steps. And thank goodness there's still another book!

Danger and dark secrets continue to build in this series, layer upon layer. Mr. Macy lurks in the shadows, ready to appear and wreak havoc at any unexpected moment. Lord Isaac Dalry and his sweet family offer moments of brightness...but happily-ever-after is far from simple for a girl like Julia, who seems to have stumbled upon a fortune but prefers to cling to her treasure chest of childhood memories.

Mark of Distinction is a middle book, and it reads that way. One important character takes backstage for most of this story, so unless you're familiar with book 1, it might be hard to fathom (or care) why Julia feels so strongly about him. And knowing the whole story ultimately intensifies the dangers and revelations. So you'll definitely want to read Born of Persuasion first...and then you'll most definitely want to dive into Price of Privilege (book 3)!

*With thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a complimentary ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.*


Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Cake Kisses | Spotlight + Giveaway

I hope you all had a delightful Christmas with family and friends! If you're not quite ready to say goodbye to the holiday cheer, my friend Lena Goldfinch's new short story might be just the recipe for a little post-Christmas treat. :) I had the pleasure and privilege of reading the story and providing feedback before publication, and it's a really cute winter romance featuring newlyweds! If you liked Sleigh Bells & Mistletoe, you're sure to enjoy Christmas Cake Kisses.

(And hey, if you haven't read Sleigh Bells & Mistletoe yet, it's also only $.99 for Kindle!)


About the Book 

Arabella Ashbury, the new Countess of Kentwick, isn't satisfied with a mere marriage of convenience. Her handsome groom, his lordship Malcolm Ashbury, may be known for his glowers and growls, but she sees through to his softer side. She's in love and longs for his affection. 

It's nearly Christmas, and Arabella has an outrageous plan to win over her husband by baking him his favorite Christmas cake—a nearly impossible confection of meringue, genoise, and hazelnut cream. To do this, she faces her first challenge: enlisting the help of the earl's suspicious household staff, who view her as a wealthy, social-climbing commoner who cares only for Malcolm's title. 

Christmas Cake Kisses is a short-but-sweet Victorian holiday romance. The story was inspired in part by the author's love of Beauty and the Beast-themed romance, Victorian and Regency Christmas anthologies, and her near obsession with The Great British Baking Show

A quick romantic read of 6,200 words (approximately 40 print-formatted pages).

Available now!

About the Author

LENA GOLDFINCH is the Amazon-bestselling author of sweet historical western romance, inspirational romance, and books for teens. She's always been a sucker for a good old-fashioned romance, whether it's a novel or short story, young adult or adult, fantasy or realistic, contemporary or historical. Lena has been a finalist in several national writing contests, including the RWA Golden Heart and ACFW Genesis contests.

Giveaway!

Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter for a chance to win a free Kindle copy of Christmas Cake Kisses! This giveaway is open internationally (age 18 and older), but void where prohibited, and it ends December 30, 2018.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Compelling, Heartbreaking, Powerful Read | Review of Hidden Among the Stars



About the Book (from Tyndale House)

From the award-winning author of Catching the Wind, which Publishers Weekly called “unforgettable” and a “must-read,” comes another gripping time-slip novel about hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people who resisted evil in their own extraordinary way.

The year is 1938, and as Hitler’s troops sweep into Vienna, Austrian Max Dornbach promises to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions from the Nazis, smuggling them to his family’s summer estate near the picturesque village of Hallstatt. He enlists the help of Annika Knopf, his childhood friend and the caretaker’s daughter, who is eager to help the man she’s loved her entire life. But when Max also brings Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman, to hide at the castle, it complicates Annika’s feelings and puts their entire plan—even their very lives—in jeopardy. Especially when the Nazis come to scour the estate and find both Luzia and the treasure gone.

Eighty years later, Callie Randall is mostly content with her quiet life, running a bookstore with her sister and reaching out into the world through her blog. Then she finds a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that connects her to Annika’s story . . . and maybe to the long-buried story of a dear friend. As she digs into the past, Callie must risk venturing outside the safe world she’s built for a chance at answers, adventure, and maybe even new love.

Available Now!

My Rating

Summer

My Review

I've read a few of Melanie Dobson's books, and this is my favorite so far! In the contemporary story line, the initial setting of a children's bookstore is whimsical and safe, and the latter setting is haunting and romantic. I enjoyed following Callie's progress as she seeks out answers with tenacity and subtle hope. As she faces new challenges, she is skittish and yet strong in the love of others.

The historical story line is so compelling and heartbreaking. I will say that, while the back cover description definitely piques interest, I do wish it didn't give quite so much away. I think if it held back a bit more, there'd be more room for wondering and uncertainty. Even still, while some twists might be a bit easy to guess—at least in general—I found myself surprised and touched by the details.

Each character in the pre-World War II timeline has their own depth, hurts, and difficult choices to make. The back cover description made me worried about a painful love triangle, but the complexities of the story and its characters put such worries to rest. Yes, this story is painful, but not petty. It's poignant in the best of ways. Annika and Luzia both won me over, and I found one scene toward the end to be incredibly powerful, aching, and beautiful in its portrayal of faith.

Hidden Among the Stars is illuminated with hope, as gentle and sparkling as starlight in incredibly dark circumstances. With engaging descriptions, relatable characters, and a grandly pieced plot, this is a story to love.

*With thanks to the author and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

Also by Melanie Dobson...
Chateau of Secrets {my review}
Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor {my review}

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Heartfelt Tale Full of Realistic Emotion | Review of The Innkeeper's Wife



About the Book (from Dragonpen Press)

On the edge of a secluded forest, the Timeless Bed and Breakfast greets its guests with promises of home-cooked meals, warm fires, and great service. Caleb and Ginny put everything they have into their little inn, keeping their own pains hidden from their guests. But when a poor young couple gets stranded at their inn on Christmas Eve in the middle of a blizzard, Ginny knows they can’t turn them away, even though they are completely booked for the holiday. However, letting them stay will push her strength to the limits and churn the deep wells of sadness inside her.

This heart-warming but wrenching novelette explores the events of the Nativity story, while simultaneously delving deep into the painful world of infertility.

Available Now!

My Rating

Spring

My Review

This story is not a light and cheery Christmas rom-com, but rather a heartfelt tale full of realistic emotion mixed with an unfading tinge of hope.

The heroine, Ginny, is rather difficult to befriend. We see her in one of her most painful moments, upset with her responses to the situation but ultimately willing to rise to the occasion, especially with the tender support of her husband. I would have loved to see just a bit more of her sweeter side, which makes itself known now and then. Still, her hurts and heartaches stir up empathy, and it's easy to understand her struggles with jealousy and sorrow.

The story mostly takes place on a fierce winter night. Quick glimpses of the inn make it seem like a lovely vacation destination, but it's in a tucked-away room in the garage where the external and internal battles—the heart of the story—are fought. The descriptions feel authentic, and the characters have a way of winning over the reader in their flaws, fears, and hope for the future. And Caleb, Ginny's husband, is such a sweetheart!

The Innkeeper's Wife is a very focused story about infertility and birth, years of someone's waiting meeting the arrival of new life. It's heavy, but still infused with light. If you're looking for a short read to make you think, encourage your compassion, inspire selfless acts of emotional bravery, and remind you of hope in the hard times, this one has a lot to offer during the holidays and beyond.

*With thanks to the author for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Meet the Mayberry Family | A Series of Endearing Contemporary Novellas

Since last December, I've mentioned a couple of Tracy Joy Jones's novellas here on the blog. They really are delightful! And I love that she released them to her newsletter subscribers throughout the past year in celebration of the different holidays and seasons. Over the last few days, I've binged on a few in the series—so fun! While these stories are fresh in my mind, I thought I would share some quick thoughts and also let you know how you can find two of them today. :)

You can learn more about this series on Tracy's website.

How Gretchen Stole Christmas (Novella #1)

Fun and full of heart! How Gretchen Stole Christmas starts out with a young woman eager to surprise her family for Christmas...but quickly takes a surprising turn that brings an old flame into the picture. I really enjoyed reading about Gretchen's big family and seeing how she reacts to a crazy situation. The ending is perfect for a Christmas romance, and I love the way the heroine's eyes are opened.

(This review was originally posted last December.)  

Unlucky in Love & Lyrics (Novella #2)

It's been a little while since I read this one, so my thoughts aren't as fresh. But I do think this might be my favorite in the series... It had an impact on me when I read it! The premise, title, and cover are all clever and compelling, and I remember loving the story, its conclusion, and its heart. Seriously, don't miss your chance to get a copy, especially with St. Patrick's Day not so far around the corner once again. :) 

When Fireworks Fly (Novella #3)

I confess this one was probably my least favorite of the series...but don't think that means it's not a great addition! It's a little short, and you really should read How Gretchen Stole Christmas first in order for the characters' continuing journey to mean more to you. But that journey really is sweet, and even more so with plans bursting apart and joy arriving in unexpected moments. 

Must Love Pumpkins (Novella #4)

It's hard to say whether this one or the next one is  my second favorite in the series. I do so love autumn, and I could totally relate to Kayla's infatuation with the farm where she's working. I greatly enjoyed the descriptions of all the different aspects of this farm's fall business: the corn maze, the treats for sale, and pumpkins everywhere! It reminded me a bit of the pumpkin patch I used to go to with my family growing up, although the one in this novella has even more attractions, like a "haunted house" and pony rides. This is a charming little story with a few serious twists and the unfolding of a sweet friendship.

A Very Mayberry Christmas (Novella #5)

I think perhaps Unlucky in Love & Lyrics and Must Love Pumpkins could be enjoyed on their own, but this Christmas story that wraps up the year is one made most enjoyable through knowing the characters and their backgrounds beforehand. I loved getting so many different perspectives from the family as a beautiful wintry wedding takes place. A Very Mayberry Christmas throws some curveballs that leave the reader touched, surprised, and eager for more of the Mayberry family and their heartfelt love. 

*With thanks to the author for providing me (as a newsletter subscriber) a complimentary copy of each of these books. Opinions expressed in this post are my own.*

P.S. Don't forget that you can currently purchase novella #1 on Amazon and get novella #2 FREE when you subscribe to Tracy's newsletter! You'll definitely want to be subscribed so you can stay up to date on all her upcoming book news. :) 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Heartwarming Read for the Holiday Season | Review of Here to Stay



About the Book (from the author's website)

Blake Hunziker has played nomad for five years and landed in his fair share of trouble too. But now he’s finally returning to his hometown–the Lake Michigan tourist town of Whisper Shore. Counting on a not-so-warm welcome, he’s surprised at not only a positive reception but also a job offer. Determined to settle down and prove himself responsible, he agrees to the catch that comes with the job offer–coordinating the annual Christmas festival–even though he has no idea how he’ll pull it off.

Autumn Kingsley, inn owner and experienced organizer of the Christmas festival, has always dreamed of traveling the world. Now she has a job opportunity in Paris and a surprise potential investor coming to town who just might take on her family’s inn and finally leave her free to go. The only problem is that she has just two weeks to whip the inn into shape.

Their families have a long history of not getting along, but when Blake comes to Autumn for help with the festival, she actually agrees…in exchange for his help with the repairs to her inn. They may have struck a simple deal, but complications are quick to pile on when the guy who’s had enough of running away and the woman who can’t wait to leave join forces.

Available now!

My Rating

Spring/Summer

My Review

Ultimately, Here to Stay is a very heartwarming story about two characters who think they understand their needs and desires...but start to open their eyes and hearts to a future that looks much different than they expected. The setting of a cozy lakeshore town is enjoyable to visit through the pages, especially with the heroine (Autumn) running an older inn. And this is a great read for the holiday season, as the majority of the book takes place in the late fall and early winter, leading up to Christmas and the town's Christmas festival.

Possibly due to my mood or current preferences, I didn't feel 100% invested or engaged in the story. But the characters are definitely endearing, and there is a good amount of sweetly romantic scenes and cute/funny/difficult challenges for those endearing characters to face. I liked the growth of relationships and the thoughtfulness and love both Autumn and Blake show to others (and each other) on different occasions and in different ways.

Here to Stay is a lovely contemporary romance showcasing Melissa Tagg's talent in creating sweet settings and characters. While perhaps not a favorite for me and a little less exciting than the premise of her first book (Made to Last), I still enjoyed my visit as a reader-tourist to Whisper Shore.

*With thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Christmas Book Shoppe | Book Blitz + Review + Giveaway


It's so fun to see dear blogger friends like Miranda Atchley (A Real Writer's Life) publishing new books! Today, as we celebrate the start of the Christmas season, we also celebrate the release of The Christmas Book Shoppe. Gather round to hear more about this sweet novella (and a chance to win an e-copy)!

About the Book

Keeping her book store might take a Christmas miracle…

Trudy Gallagher is quite content with her simple life. For the past five years, she has lived and worked at The Christmas Book Shoppe, a new and used book store formerly owned and operated by her great-aunt. She loves nothing more than spending her days in the Victorian house filled with books, surrounded by her cat and loved ones. As Christmas, her favorite day of the year, approaches, she begins the season with her usual verve and excitement.

Yet when her landlord threatens to sell The Christmas Book Shoppe, she is devastated. She cannot imagine life without the book store she calls home. As she struggles to create a plan to keep the book store open, it seems as if her whole word is turned upside down and her every attempt to save the store fails.

Can she find a way to keep the store she loves?


My Review

The Christmas Book Shoppe is a light, quick, and sweet novella. Trudy's plight to save the bookshop she loves is reminiscent to that of Kathleen Kelly in the beloved movie You've Got Mail, but this little story is populated with its own endearing characters and set in a charming small town in Arkansas.

I enjoyed this glimpse into Trudy's world. It's a very gentle read, especially in the beginning. Tension arises as the bookshop's existence is threatened, but the main draw of the story is in Trudy herself and her friends and family (and her lovely cat!).

Some details don't quite seem to add up, some scenes don't really add much to the plot, and the writing feels somewhat unpolished, but all in all, The Christmas Book Shoppe is simply sweet in its Christmas cheer and hope. This is a "day in the life" sort of story about a bookshop owner with kind parents and good friends—and it includes plenty of nods to the life of a modern reader. For those who share Trudy's love of books, independent bookstores, and the Christmas season, this would make a cozy little addition to a holiday collection!

*With thanks to the author for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

About the Author

MIRANDA ATCHLEY has written several novels, both historical and contemporary, one of which was a finalist for an indie writing award. When she isn’t writing, Miranda loves getting lost in a good book and watching period dramas. She lives in a small town in Arkansas. Visit her blog and subscribe to her mailing list at arealwriterslife.blogspot.com

Connect with Miranda on social media:

Enjoy an Excerpt from 
The Christmas Book Shoppe...

As she placed the last ornament on the Christmas tree, Trudy Gallagher stood back and looked at her handiwork with a gratified smile. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and she had spent the majority of the day decorating The Christmas Book Shoppe for the holiday. Like every other year, she and her assistant Marge had placed the eight foot artificial Christmas tree before the front window in the foyer, and Trudy had happily wrapped it in lights and tinsel, placing book themed ornaments along the branches.

“A little early to be putting up a Christmas tree, don’t you think?” Mr. Scranton, a regular patron at the book store—and the town’s resident curmudgeon—asked when he came to donate yet another stack of used books.

“Well, Thanksgiving was last Thursday,” Trudy replied in the kindest tone she could muster. It was tradition at The Christmas Book Shoppe to decorate for the holidays the Monday after Thanksgiving. After all, they were The Christmas Book Shoppe, a store that carried a mix of new and used books and was housed in the historic district of a small town called Christmas, Arkansas—which was named for the town’s settler as opposed to the holiday, as most out of towners understandably believed. They had to embrace the spirit of Christmas, just like most other businesses in town did. Yet there was always someone who accused them of decorating too early. Trudy couldn’t help but wonder; what would Mr. Scranton say if he knew that she had decorated her apartment on November first?

Scoffing at her, Mr. Scranton turned and went on his way, his pace slow as his cane assisted him. Trudy could have sworn she’d heard him mutter “bah humbug” under his breath as he exited through the front door, his harsh tone clashing with the twinkling bell above the door. Though that could have simply been her imagination, which, given all the novels she read, was usually quite overactive. 

Trudy shrugged as she placed the two heavy plastic bags full of moldy paperbacks on the desk and began to sort through them.

Really, who could blame her for embracing the Christmas spirit as fully as she did? After enduring long humid Arkansas summers that often started as early as April and boasted weeks of temperatures in the high nineties and low hundreds, it was a relief to have cooler weather. When the heat of summer was too much to bear, she often daydreamed about the Christmas season just to distract herself from the reality of living in such a humid climate.

But it wasn’t just the cold weather she enjoyed. She loved everything about Christmas. Watching classic Christmas movies, drinking hot cocoa while reading a light and cheery Christmas novella, and listening to Christmas songs all December were some of her favorite things. And there was just something about all the pretty decorations and lights that made the whole town of Christmas, Arkansas, look like the inside of a snow globe…minus all the snow. It was simply a magical time of year.

“I’m glad you enjoy decorating the tree so much,” said Marge when Trudy made her way back to the front desk. With a deep sigh, she added, “Putting that tree up just wears me out.”

Looking up from the copy of Thoreau’s Walden she’d been inspecting, Trudy offered a smile and said, “Well, I’m happy to do it.” 

With raised eyebrows, Marge shook her head. “I can certainly tell.”

Marge was a middle aged woman who had been working at The Christmas Book Shoppe for the last few years. While she was a good employee, she didn’t share Trudy’s excitement about literature and holidays and found her boss’s enthusiasm rather tiring. It was amazing that the two got along as well as they did.

Trudy once again smiled and then took the newly arrived books and began to shelve them. It was a little curious that Mr. Scranton had donated so much as of late. Counting what he’d brought in today, he’d donated a total of ten bags full of books in two weeks. Trudy wondered how many books he had in that old, somewhat off-putting house he lived in on the edge of town.

After Mr. Scranton’s donations were situated on the shelves, Trudy took to straightening the book cases, and in the process she found herself somewhat distracted, reading the synopsis scrawled on the back covers of titles that caught her attention. She often found herself similarly distracted while working here at the shop and realized that this was one reason why her to-be-read pile was growing entirely out of control.

When she found a particularly interesting novel set in the Edwardian era, she flipped open the cover and read the first few pages. Soon her mind was thousands of miles and a hundred years away, caught up in a world of lords and ladies.

“That a good book?”

With a gasp, she slammed the book shut. Looking up, she saw her friend, Reed Thornton. A roguish smile twisted his mouth, making him look more like Downton Abbey’s Tom Branson than ever.

“You scared me to death,” she said, taking a deep breath in an attempt to steady her heart rate. “And yes, it is a good book. I think I’ll keep it for myself.”

In his hands, she saw a stack of books, all bearing familiar titles. The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Persuasion. In Trudy’s world, it was unusual for most guys to even like reading. But for a guy to pass up science fiction and thrillers for classic romance? That was just unheard of.

“Looking for a good romance, are we?” she asked as they made their way back to the front desk.

He gave her the same exasperated expression he offered each time she made a wise crack about his reading habits. “It’s required reading for my classic lit class.”

Trudy smiled skeptically. She knew Reed had in fact enrolled in a classic lit class at the university after recently going back to college in order to earn a master’s degree in literature. Yet she also knew that Reed had always been a sucker for classic literature, just like her. They’d taken literature classes in high school together and their mutual love of the classics was one reason why they’d been such good friends for most of their lives.

“You know there isn’t any shame in guys reading romance novels, right?” With a snort she added, “I mean, look at Nicholas Sparks. His novels have been giving women false hopes for years now. And Fitzgerald was a guy, and he wrote The Great Gatsby. Besides, haven’t you already read that?” 

“When we were seniors in high school,” he said with a half frown. “But that was a long time ago. I’ve read too many books since then to remember all I need to know about it for this class.”

“Well, it is a pretty good one to revisit,” she said as she rounded the corner of the front desk.

As she scanned the barcode on Persuasion, she cocked an eyebrow at Reed.

He sighed as he dug his wallet out of his back pocket. “It’s the only Austen I haven’t read yet.”

She chuckled as she placed the stack of books in a bag bearing the store’s emblem.

“Do you give all your customers this hard of a time?” he asked as he accepted the bag.

She simply laughed in reply.

“You know, I could just buy my books on Amazon. I’d get a lot less cheek if I did.”

“Yeah, but you’d pay a lot more. Plus, you wouldn’t get this sparkling customer service that brings in customers from miles around.”

Chuckling, he rolled his eyes, took his bag and left.

Giveaway!

One winner will receive a Kindle download of The Christmas Book Shoppe. The giveaway begins December 4 and ends December 7. Open internationally to anyone who can receive a Kindle download via email. Must be 18 or older to participate.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 3, 2018

Brimming with Emotion, Adversity, and Hope | Review of Burning Sky



About the Book (from Waterbrook Multnomah)

A Christy award-winning novel about a woman caught between two worlds, and the lengths she goes to find where she belongs

Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence: her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage—the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

My Rating

Summer

My Review

Burning Sky brims with emotion, adversity, and hope. I'm ashamed to say I've had my copy since 2013, and it honestly should not have taken me five years to finally sit down and read it! Based on reading (and loving) Lori Benton's second book, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, I knew she could write an engaging story with beautiful characters. And once I got to know Burning Sky, Neil MacGregor, Joseph Tames-His-Horse, and others, Lori's debut didn't disappoint.

I will say it was a heavier, somewhat slower, read for me, as the main character (Willa or Burning Sky) has a long, painful, question-filled journey to take in the months covered through the pages of this historically rich novel. But it's a very meaningful journey, and I can absolutely see why this book won multiple Christy awards.

One of my favorite things about this book is the ending. Based on first impressions, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn might be my favorite of the two (although I might have to reread it to be sure!), but the one thing that disappointed me a bit with that book was what stood out to me as I finished Burning Sky. I would have loved a bit more from Tamsen's conclusion, but the end of Burning Sky was incredibly satisfying, moving, and uplifting.

This is a romance, yes, and I ultimately loved the direction it took. But this story also deals with other kinds of love and matters of faith and identity. With many layers and challenges, Burning Sky is the kind of read that takes time but offers much to take with you when the journey is done.

*With thanks to the author and Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a complimentary ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Winner and Tour Conclusion | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour

Good morning and happy December! Our festive Christmas blog tour has reached its end—but we still get to announce the giveaway winner, share some tour highlights, offer some gift ideas, and wish you a very merry Christmas! Let's get started...

Winner Time

Congratulations to the winner of the "party in a box" giveaway...

Cheryl H.!


She won a signed copy of Yes, Carol...It's Christmas!, two Betty Crocker sugar cookie mixes, two cookie cutters, a four-pack of sprinkles, a strand of Christmas lights, and two glass ornaments. Woohoo! Thank you to everyone who entered and spread the word. :)

Tour Highlights

This tour was filled with fun, creative, and touching posts from Cindy and our team of bloggers. If you missed any of them, it's not too late to check them out! Here are some handy links...

Cindy's Christmas Party Tips
Visiting Christmas Past, Present, and Future with...
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Reviews
  • "I liked Yes, Carol…It's Christmas! even more than A Christmas Carol if that is even possible, and it will now become a Christmas season re-read in the years to come." | Carissa's review
  • "If you are looking for a fun and fast Christmas read, this one will surely put you in the Christmas spirit!" | Julie's review
  • "I highly recommend adding this novella to your Christmas reading list this year." | Heather's review (+ author interview and fudge recipe!)
  • "Full of sass and heartwarming moments, this novella moves at a swift pace." | Miranda's review
  • "A very short, breezy read to help you get into—or sustain—the Christmas spirit." | Jes's review

Christmas Gift Ideas

With this blog tour, we've been celebrating Cindy Vincent's novella, Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! (which would make a fun holiday gift for yourself or a loved one!). But Cindy is also the author of many other books...

Perfect for Kids (and Cat-Lovers)


The Buckley & Bogey Cat Detective Capers
#1 The Case of the Cat Show Princess
#2 The Case of the Crafty Christmas Crooks
#3 The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues
#4 The Case of the Clever Secret Code

To learn  more about Buckley and Bogey, visit www.buckleyandbogey.com.

Perfect for Historical Mystery Fans


The Tracy Truworth, Apprentice P.I., 1940s Homefront Mysteries
#1 Bad Day for a Bombshell
#2 Swell Time for a Swing Dance

Perfect for Friends and Family


Daily Devotional
Cats Are Part of His Kingdom, Too

Find Cindy's books on Amazon, and learn more about Cindy and her work at cindyvincent.net.

Merry Christmas!

Cindy and I want to offer our sincere gratitude to all the bloggers who participated in the Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! blog tour, as well as all those who joined the fun by leaving comments and entering the giveaway! It was wonderful to kick off the Christmas season with you all. :) Wishing each of you a joyous Christmas!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Cindy's Christmas Past, Present, and Future | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour


In honor of Cindy Vincent’s novella, Yes, Carol…It’s Christmas!—a fun modern-day reimagining of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with its ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future—Cindy is going to visit Christmas past, present, and future in today’s tour post. Enjoy!

Christmas Past

When it comes to Christmas Past, one of my favorite memories is from Christmas 1988, when my husband, Rob, and I were still dating and just a few months from getting engaged. That year, his Christmas present to me was one of the most special he has ever given me.

So what was this treasured gift? Diamonds, emeralds or rubies? Nope. He gave me a computer program. MS Word, to be specific. On the surface, it doesn’t sound all that exciting, does it? Especially since I didn’t even own a computer. Back in 1988, computers weren’t so prevalent like they are today, and not everyone had one.

But Rob did own a computer, an Apple Macintosh. (And yes, it was a pretty big hint that he bought me a computer program to use on his computer someday, considering we had a long-distance relationship at the time!) But here’s the rest of the story.

Only months before, I went through my employee evaluation at work, and my boss asked what my long-term goals were. Of course, I listed all the usual things, but I also told him that I wanted to write books. It wasn’t a big leap in my mind, since I’d enjoyed writing fiction as a child, and later, my college professors had encouraged me to write professionally. Thankfully, my boss responded with encouragement, too, and I left his office feeling elated.

Then I ran smack dab into a whole lot of discouragement. When my colleagues asked how my meeting had gone, I told them about my goals. Much to my horror, my much older colleagues (mostly with Ph.D.’s) treated the idea like it was a joke. After all, I was only in my twenties at the time and merely had a master’s degree. What could I possibly know about writing a book? To make matters worse, after I mentioned the idea to friends later, I got a pretty lukewarm reception from them, too. 

With so much negative feedback, I immediately started to wonder if my dream of authoring books was too outlandish and beyond my abilities. And for a while, I actually listened to those naysayers. That was, until Christmas morning when I unwrapped my present from Rob—a computer program. A program he thought I would need when I wrote my first book. In other words, my soon-to-be husband not only gave me a huge vote of confidence, but he also gave me the practical application to achieve my goals. It was just the encouragement that I needed, and it also let me know that he was the man for me. We got engaged less than a month later.

Christmas Present

Every year at Christmas, it always seems like there’s a mad rush to get all the decorations out. I put up three inside trees every year, and plenty of other inside embellishments as well. But the biggest show for us takes place outside, in our front yard. And this year, we’re expanding our Griswolds-style light show. We’ve got three controller boxes hooked to a computer, and the lights are choreographed to music. Here’s a picture of last year’s lights.


And here’s a picture from a couple of years ago. (Yes, we often win the neighborhood light competition!)


Otherwise, for once, we’re just looking forward to a quieter Christmas season than normal. Instead of hosting a party this year, I think we’ll have some friends over for dinner and maybe take some time to relax and contemplate the reason for the season. Sometimes it’s just nice to slow down and gaze at the stars.

Christmas Future

To look forward to Christmas Future, I want to start by looking back. Specifically, to the old black-and-white movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Within the story, you’ll note that celebrating Christmas and wishing people “Merry Christmas” was commonplace during that era. Much like it was when I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. But over the last few decades, I’ve seen a decline in the celebration and open expression of Christmas, with a debate on whether people should even wish each other “Merry Christmas” or not. In fact, here in Texas, our governor signed into law something that was dubbed the “Merry Christmas Bill,” making it legal for teachers and other school employees to continue to say, “Merry Christmas,” without fear of being fired. To me, it’s pretty sad that such a bill might even be necessary.

So . . . when I look to Christmas Future, I know in my heart that I want to do all I can to help preserve the traditions of Christmas, so that future generations can know the joy I have known, as we celebrate Christ’s birthday during this very special season.

How about you? 

Cindy and I would love to hear a favorite memory, your plans for this holiday season, or a dream you have for a future Christmas! Also, don’t forget to enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a “party in a box”! (See the tour introduction post for more details.)


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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Cindy's Christmas Party Tips: Part 1 | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour


The blog tour for Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! continues with the first of three posts featuring Cindy's Christmas party tips. Since the heroine of her novella is a former party host, it's a perfect topic for the tour—and so timely for this season!

Today, discover some delightful decorating tips...

Cindy’s Christmas Party Tips
Part 1: Decorating

Ah, Christmas . . . Just the mere mention of the name can bring back all kinds of wonderful memories for those who celebrate the season. In fact, many of us take a wonderful trip down memory lane every year when we decorate our trees, with each ornament bringing back thoughts of old friends and parties and times gone by.

Needless to say, Christmas is steeped in tradition, so it’s important to keep that in mind when hosting your own Christmas party. And while holiday decorating styles come and go, there are some things that are so iconic and so completely associated with Christmas that they will immediately make partygoers feel the joy and warmth of the season.

A Christmas tree, of course, is just one of those items, and I’d suggest having at least some kind of tree in your home for a party. Thankfully, you have tons of options to choose from—big, small, wide, narrow, real, artificial, tinsel, and on and on. Whatever you like, you’ll pretty much find it’s available. It’s a good idea to display your tree where all the party guests can see it and maybe even have their moment of basking in the beauty and lights of a decorated tree.


Considering you’ll have guests who really take the time to look at your tree, be careful about the kinds of lights you use for decorating it. LED lights are the modern thing, but frankly, most of those lights are just too bright for comfortable viewing. Especially if you have the room lights down low during your party. Instead, it’s better to stick with the old-fashioned incandescent lights, which aren’t so vivid and are more comfortable to look at. To add interest to your tree, don’t forget to add a strand or two of blinking or running lights, which will typically appear to keep time to any music you might have playing.

Here’s a photo of a dress-form tree that I made, and not only is it a great conversation starter, but it’s also much easier to create than it looks.


I simply took the top section of an old mannequin and put it on the bottom half of an old Christmas tree. (I believe I found both items at a thrift store.) Then I sewed a bustier for the mannequin top, though you could easily just pull a piece of fabric around for a top, and either glue, pin, or staple it in place. I added marabou (fake feathers) and other sparkly trim that can be found at a craft store. Once I had that in place, I plumped out the branches of the tree bottom, to create the skirt. I wound two strands of lights—one red and one white—through the branches. Finally, I used a glue gun to attach varying sizes of fake poinsettias to the outer branches. If you want more of a “tree” look, you can glue on fewer flowers. But I wanted a more concentrated look, so I actually glued 200 flowers onto my tree.

Twinkle lights are also one of those iconic items that practically scream . . . or rather, blink . . . Christmas. Because let’s face it, what other time of year would you put strands of lights around your home? And the best part is, you’ll actually get more bang for your buck with a strand of lights than most other decorating items.


This year, I’ve especially enjoyed these little micro-lights that I found at Costco. You can get a pack of four for around $10, and they’re battery operated, so you don’t need a plug-in nearby. These little lights really do pack a punch and light up a nice area for their size. They also come with a multi-function feature, so they can blink, fade, and even change colors. They’re especially beautiful when placed around clear glass.


Using lights to decorate are also wonderful symbols of the season, as it evokes the concept of light out of darkness. It also exemplifies that most beautiful sight of all—the star in the night sky over Bethlehem, on that very first Christmas of all!

And now, be sure to join us tomorrow (November 29th) for my second post on Christmas party entertaining at another wonderful blog, My Favorite Pastime. See you there!

Let the Party Continue!

We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. How do you like to decorate for Christmas? What do you enjoy seeing at a Christmas party?

Don't forget to enter the giveaway below for a chance to win your very own "party in a box"! (See the introduction post for more details.)


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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Visiting My Christmas Past, Present, and Future | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour


With December 1st only a few days away, it’s almost time for me to pull out the wreath for our door, the tree for under our stairs, and all the little decorations that make our house just a bit more festive for this most delightful time of year. :) I can’t wait!

In honor of Cindy Vincent’s novella, Yes, Carol…It’s Christmas!—a fun modern-day reimagining of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with its ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future—I’m going to visit Christmas past, present, and future in today’s tour post.

The Past
A Favorite Christmas Memory 

On December 10th, two years ago, my boyfriend and I spent the day on the coast. It was a Christmas miracle that he even made it for a visit—you can read more of the story HERE. After having breakfast with a beach view and walking around cute and festive Old Town, we drove to Heceta Head Lighthouse. As we looked down on the lighthouse from a trail, my boyfriend proposed and became my fiancĂ©. :)

We then made our way back down to the bed-and-breakfast (what used to be the lightkeeper’s home), which was all decked out in its Christmas finery, and indulged in some cookies and a bit of Christmas cheer to conclude our memorable coastal outing.



I do so love that bed-and-breakfast, and it really is lovely dressed up for the holiday season! If you’d like to make their Christmas open house part of your plans this year, you can learn more HERE.

The Present
Plans for This Christmas 

As far as family goes, it’s just Josh (my husband) and me in this part of Montana. So if our Christmas this year is like our holiday last year, it will be simple and sweet, the two of us combining some of our favorite traditions. :)

One tradition Josh enjoys is baking and decorating Christmas sugar cookies. His family has a delicious recipe that calls for a bit of orange zest, which makes the cookies extra special.



I’m sure we’ll make more of these yummy cookies this year! I actually used the recipe for making Halloween cookies not too long ago…but I’m excited to make a bigger batch, with enough to munch on and share. :)

One tradition I enjoy is decorating the Christmas tree. My parents have a rather large artificial tree, and when I was growing up, it was a fun event to fill it with all sorts of Hallmark ornaments and other meaningful decorations. The tree even rotates, so guests can see everything and try out the interactive ornaments that speak or light up or play music.

Josh and I have a lovely little artificial tree a dear friend gave me when I was living on my own in Oregon. And happily, it fits perfectly under our stairs! The branches can hold quite a few ornaments, too, so I’m looking forward to once again adding some cheer to this spot in our main room.



The Future
Dreams for Christmas…Someday 

I have so many wonderful Christmas memories, and I hope to make even more with Josh and any children we might have someday. :) I want to pass along some of my parents’ and Josh’s parents’ traditions and create some more of our own. My deepest hope for Christmas future, should kids be part of the picture, is to pass along a love for Jesus and a desire to celebrate His coming to earth with reflective, joyful, grateful, and generous hearts.

As for a whimsical dream… If Josh and I were to ever own and run a bed-and-breakfast someday, I think it would be delightful to decorate the rooms and building, serve extra treats throughout December, and gather around a fire in the sitting room as we swap Christmas memories with our guests and maybe even hand out a few little gifts. It would be so warm and cozy! :) 

How about you? 

Cindy and I would love to hear a favorite memory, your plans for this holiday season, or a dream you have for a future Christmas! Also, don’t forget to enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a “party in a box”! (See the tour introduction post for more details.)


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Monday, November 26, 2018

Welcome Christmas with This Festive Novella Blog Tour! | Introduction Post


With Thanksgiving 2018 now a memory and December less than a week away, it's time to deck the blogs with Christmas posts! I'm thrilled to be the coordinator for this tour on behalf of author Cindy Vincent. :) Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! is a contemporary novella that reimagines A Christmas Carol with a former party host as the heroine. Keep reading to learn more about the book, Cindy, the tour schedule, and the tour-wide giveaway...


About the Book

As the top salesperson for Pfunn Party Supplies, Carol Frost doesn’t exactly know how to have fun herself these days. Though she wasn’t always such a humbug. Once upon a time, she was famous for hosting Christmas parties that were filled with everything from laughing guests and luscious hors d’oeuvres, to artfully iced sugar cookies and creatively decorated Christmas trees. To top it off, she even wrote a bestselling book that became the authoritative tome on Christmas party entertaining at the time—The Complete, Total, Ultimate, Everything-You-Might-Possibly-Want-to-Know Guide to Hosting the Best Christmas Parties Ever.

Yet that was long ago, before her life changed and she stashed her tinsel and twinkle lights away once and for all. And while Carol soon learned to settle for her boring but comfortable existence, an old friend knows that Carol isn’t really living up to her potential. An old friend who . . . well . . . now enjoys her eggnog in the afterlife, you might say. To goad Carol into going back to her former party-hosting ways, said friend sends three of her specter pals to pester Carol. Then, much to Carol’s annoyance, she is visited by the Ghost Hosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on a plane filled with plenty of holiday revelers. And though Carol only wants to be left alone, the Ghost Hosts have other plans. Instead, they take her on an adventure that wasn’t exactly on her itinerary . . . or printed on her ticket stub. From that moment on, Carol’s life will never be the same. Provided, of course, she survives the jingle-bell rollercoaster of a ride and makes it home in time for Christmas . . .

Available now!


About the Author

CINDY VINCENT, M.A. Ed., was born in Calgary, Alberta, and has lived all around the US and Canada. She is the creator of the Mysteries by Vincent murder mystery party games and the Daisy Diamond Detective Series games for girls. She is also the award-winning author of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Caper novels and the Daisy Diamond Detective series. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and an assortment of fantastic felines.

The Tour Schedule

Monday, November 26 
Tuesday, November 27 
Wednesday, November 28 
Thursday, November 29 
Friday, November 30 
Saturday, December 1 


Giveaway!

Put together your own best-ever Christmas party with this fun “party in a box” giveaway! Enter for a chance to win a package with the following prizes: a signed copy of Yes, Carol…It’s Christmas! by Cindy Vincent, two Betty Crocker sugar cookie mixes, two cookie cutters, a four-pack of sprinkles, a strand of Christmas lights, and two glass ornaments. Due to shipping costs and varying international laws, this giveaway is open to US residents (age 18 or older) only. Void where prohibited. Good luck!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Adventure with Drama and Rekindled Hope | Review of The Liberty Bride



About the Book (from the Daughters of the Mayflower website)

War Forces a Choice Between Love and Country

A trip home from England to Maryland in 1812 finds Emeline Baratt a captive on a British warship and forced to declare her allegiance between the British and Americans. Remaining somewhat politically neutral on a ship where her nursing skills are desperately needed is fairly easy—until she starts to have feelings for the first lieutenant who becomes her protector. However, when the captain sends her and Lieutenant Owen Masters on land to spy, she must choose between her love for him or her love for her country.

Releases December 1, 2018!

My Rating

Spring

My Review

The Liberty Bride harks back to some of MaryLu Tyndall's earlier historical romances, particularly her Surrender to Destiny series, which is set in the same era. (One of the books is even referenced in the author's note.) And as with those novels, I enjoyed this new adventure with its tension and drama and rekindled hope.

Most of the first half of the story takes place at sea (albeit not far from land). While life aboard a British naval ship is quite different from the chaotic, dangerous atmosphere this author portrays aboard pirate ships in other books, there are still moments of violence, fear, and intrigue for this story's heroine, Emeline.

Then the plot shifts to land, bringing a few new characters and challenges to the fore. I love the way the hero, Owen, shines in this part—Emeline too! Their kindness and desire to do the right thing make for some sweet scenes in the midst of trying to outwit their enemies.

Some elements feel a bit too perfectly aligned or a little inauthentic in what some characters say and do. I wouldn't say this is my favorite MaryLu Tyndall book—although I think my tastes have changed somewhat over the years. Still, this story's conclusion is heartwarming, and fans of inspirational historical romance with some excitement (as well as fans of this author's style) should find The Liberty Bride very enjoyable.

*With thanks to Barbour Publishing through NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

My Reviews of Other Books in This Series...
The Mayflower Bride (#1)
The Captured Bride (#3)
The Cumberland Bride (#5)