Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (Review)


Unwrapping the Greatest Gift
by Ann Voskamp
Christian / Christmas / Family / Children
Available November 2014
Tyndale House Publishers
160 pages

About the Book
Based on the overwhelming success of The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp has expanded her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree so families can celebrate together. Each day, families can read the provided Scripture passage (in connection with the original book), engage with a specially written devotion to help children of all ages understand the Advent theme for the day, and participate in suggested activities to apply the theme.

This special edition is beautifully illustrated. It can serve as a precious guide to help recapture the sacredness of the Advent season and to help the entire family understand and celebrate the epic pageantry of humankind from Adam to the Messiah.

Buy a copy  |  Read an excerpt  |  Find out what others think

My Thoughts
I am so excited about Unwrapping the Greatest Gift! This is an excellent resource that will help families of all ages and sizes discover the beauty of the Christmas season by diving into God's Word for 25 days of Advent. Each "day" includes a short Bible reading, a few pages of the story as written by Ann, thoughts to discuss, and family activities. There's also a code in the book that allows you to download a set of ornaments to create your own Jesse tree, or you can purchase a set through (in)courage.

Ann's lyrical writing style will help you think through God's most amazing gift in a fresh way. And the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! You'll be tempted to tear them out and hang them on the wall! (Oh wait. Was that just me?!) We know that families come in all shapes and sizes, and you could easily adapt how you use this book to accommodate families with young children, teenagers, no children, or any other combination you can think of.

 Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is such a wonderful book. It's one I plan to give as a gift, and one I pray we will use year after year to make new memories each Christmas season. [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Ann Voskamp is a farmer's wife, the home-educating mama to a half-dozen exuberant kids, and author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, a New York Times sixty-week bestseller. Named by Christianity Today as one of fifty women most shaping culture and the church today, she's a global advocate for needy children with Compassion International, a loser of library books, a stirrer of soup, a loud laugher, a kid snuggler, a Jesus lover and honestly, a bit of a mess. It's okay really. Grace is the most amazing of all. Her online journal, one of the top 10 most widely read Christian blogs online, is a relief of quiet vulnerability and an oasis of sacred, seeing God in the everyday ugly beautiful: www.aholyexperience.com

Ann Voskamp Online
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A Robertson Family Christmas by Kay Robertson & Travis Thrasher (Review + Giveaway)

A Robertson Family Christmas
by Kay Robertson & Travis Thrasher
Christian Fiction / Contemporary
Available October 2014
Tyndale House Publishers
320 pages



About the Book
Hunter Clarke wanted one thing for Christmas: to spend it with his dad and his brother. He misses being included in any guy trips since his parents divorced and he went to live with his mom. So he’s less than happy when his mother tells him that he won a contest to spend Christmas in West Monroe, Louisiana, with a family named the Robertsons. For some reason, they’re supposed to be a big deal. How did he win a contest he didn’t enter? Besides, he’s never heard of them and sure doesn’t want to spend Christmas in a swamp with a bunch of strangers.

Korie Robertson is excited to open her heart and home to Hunter and show him what the Christmas season looks like for the Robertson family. And like it or not, Hunter experiences it firsthand. From duck-hunting disasters with the bearded guys, to learning to cook with Miss Kay, Hunter quickly discovers what it’s like to live with this boisterous, yet loving family. Putting on his headphones and ignoring them is not an option. Before long, Hunter begins to let his guard down. But with Christmas and the end of his trip fast approaching, will it be too little, too late? Or will Hunter be open to the greatest gift of all?

Buy a copy  |  Read an excerpt  |  Find out what others think
 
Watch an inteview with Miss Kay and John Luke Robertson about their new books here.

My Thoughts
It's a pretty well-established fact that I'm a huge fan of all things Duck Dynasty. A Robertson Family Christmas is a bit different from the non-fiction books I've read by the various family members, but I enjoyed it just the same.

This fictional Christmas story is a quick, fun, Christmas read. The story is sweet, yet meaningful. And I felt more like I was watching several episodes of the show than reading a book. The writing was so realistic that I could hear the voices of the family members in my head as I read the dialogue. That's hard to pull off, but the authors were successful!

I recommend A Robertson Family Christmas to readers of all ages! Grab a copy and get in the Christmas spirit! [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Giveaway
One person will win a hardback copy of A Robertson Family Christmas. Open to US residents only. Giveaway ends December 7. Enter through the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
 
*** All participants must be 18 years or older. The winner will be contacted via email. Once contacted the winner has 72 hours to respond with the required information. If the winner does not respond within the timeframe specified, another winner will be chosen. I am not responsible for shipping mishaps. Void where prohibited. ***

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Magnolia Market by Judie Christie (Review)

Magnolia Market
by Judie Christie
Trumpet and Vine series, Book 2
Christian Fiction / Contemporary
Available September 2014
Zondervan
342 pages



About the Book
The self-help books lied: fresh starts aren’t nearly as glamorous as they appear. And love isn’t any easier the second time around.

Avery Broussard was savoring her long-dormant optimism. It was the first anniversary of her husband’s death, and she was finally going to buy the dress boutique from her former mother-in-law. After a year of saving, the deal was nearly done. Avery was about to get her life back.

But every deal in Samford, Louisiana, can change at the whim of a Broussard.

After being unceremoniously ejected from the very boutique she planned to buy—the boutique she herself had rescued from ruin—she becomes a woman without a future . . . suddenly at war with her late husband’s family.

When carpenter T. J. Aillet begins working for the Broussards doing manual labor, he overhears enough to know that Avery is being victimized. Soon enough, T. J. is lassoed into the squabble by his family connections, his good heart . . . and the undeniable attraction he feels toward Avery.

But the Aillets are no strangers to Samford society—and T. J. knows what happens when you cross the Broussards. Could these two misfits ever make a start together? Or will the pressures of Samford society pull them apart before they even get a chance to try?

My Thoughts
I'm a fan of anything southern (being from the South and all!) and Magnolia Market is a great southern read. While it doesn't highlight the best the south has to offer (initially, at least), it does give readers a glimpse into what "old southern money" is all about.

I liked Avery right away and found myself constantly frustrated by the things that kept happening to her. It was all just so unfair! But, alas, life is not fair ... and neither is Avery's. However, for every bad thing that is done TO her, a new friend comes along and helps her—even if it's in a totally unexpected way. I thought it was a great lesson in accepting help graciously and knowing we weren't intended to go through life on our own.

The other characters in town were a great addition to the book and helped round out the story. From eccentric and grumpy to rich and snooty to kind and generous and everything in between, we get a little bit of everything.

The middle of the book seemed to lag a bit for me, but otherwise, I truly enjoyed this book! I'm excited to read more of the Trumpet & Vine series! [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Judy Christie writes fiction with a Louisiana flavor. She is the author of the Green series of novels including Gone to Green. A fan of primitive antiques and porch swings, she blogs from her green kitchen couch at www.judychristie.com. She and her husband live in northern Louisiana.

How a Star Falls by Amber Stokes (Blog Tour + Review + Giveaway)

How a Star Falls
by Amber Stokes
Fiction / Contemporary / New Adult / Romance
Available November 2014
67 pages

About the Book
Sweet NA Contemporary Romance Novella

How does a star fall?

Quickly. Completely. Unexpectedly.



Derrick Knolane escapes to Trinidad Head most evenings, avoiding his apartment and planning for the day he'll break free of Humboldt County. Working in a music store might be fine for a while, but it's far from the goal he had in mind when he got his college degree. Not to mention the fact that his roommate is a jerk and his family won't stop trying to run his life.



Then Brielle falls into his world.



She claims to be a star. Not from Hollywood, but from heaven. He thinks she's crazy. Certainly delusional. Yet, he can't just leave her alone on the cliffs. So he takes her home.



And his whole world falls apart.



A heartfelt and fanciful contemporary romance novella, How a Star Falls explores the uncertain season of new adulthood and shows that sometimes the worst inconveniences make for the best miracles of all.

Buy a copy  |  Behind the scenes  |  Find out what others think

My Thoughts
I'm happy to see another book from Amber Stokes, and I have to say that How a Star Falls was a delightful read. Amber's previous books have been western historicals, and I was impressed that she managed to bring all of the things I loved about those books into a contemporary new adult story.

The story is very sweet and a bit mysterious. Derrick is an all-around nice guy who steps out of his comfort zone to befriend Brielle. I wasn't sure what to make of Brielle at first, but her sweet nature quickly overcame any reservations I had when I couldn't figure out what her "deal" was. :) Derrick's family really helped round out the story.

Amber did a wonderful job bringing the Pacific Northwest to life in this story. It's easy to tell that she loves the part of the country she calls home, and by the end, I was thinking my next vacation should be to Oregon.

How a Star Falls is another wonderful read, and I definitely recommend grabbing a copy at your earliest convenience! [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Amber Stokes works as a content writer (marketing services) for a Christian publisher. On the side, she self-publishes inspirational fiction depicting the seasons of life and love. Her passion for books compelled her to earn a bachelor's degree in English and to run her own freelance editing and publicity business for over a year. Happily, this new chapter of her career takes place in the Pacific Northwest—a part of the world she's always considered home. Learn more about Amber’s books at www.SeasonsofaStory.blogspot.com.

Amber Stokes Online
Website  |  Blog  |  Twitter  |  Pinterest  |  Google+  |  Goodreads

Endorsements
"Perfect for when you want a whimsical, heartwarming read, How a Star Falls is more than an inspirational romance...it's a wink and a smile."
- Joanne Bischof, award winning author of This Quiet Sky 



"Amber Stokes has perfectly expressed the challenges of twenty-something life in her sweet contemporary new adult novella, How a Star Falls. Brielle and Derrick's journey reminds us all of the search to find ourselves in the midst of young adulthood. Their story is charming and wistful with emotions we can all relate to experiencing at some point in our lives. It is a tale about letting go in order to find yourself once again while never losing the importance of who you are...and who you can be."
- Cerella Sechrist, author of Gentle Persuasion and The Paris Connection



"Though not typically a reader of contemporary fiction, I found How a Star Falls to be a wonderfully told story of both sweet romance and coming to terms with the fact that even though life doesn't always turn out exactly as we dreamed it would, even our undesirable circumstances can lead to a bright future."
- Jaye L. Knight, author of Ilyon Chronicles

Giveaway
Share in the excitement of Amber’s new release with a special starry giveaway! You can enter to win one of three prize packs using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to U.S. residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, November 24, 2014

Love at Mistletoe Inn by Cindy Kirk (Review)

Love at Mistletoe Inn
by Cindy Kirk
A Year of Weddings Novella (2), Book 1
Christian Fiction / Contemporary / Romance
Available November 2014
Zondervan
112 pages



About the Book
They've helped orchestrate the perfect day for countless couples. Now twelve new couples will find themselves in the wedding spotlight in the second Year of Weddings novella collection.

An owner of a Victorian inn and charming rustic barn is used to creating the perfect setting for other couples' nuptials. But when she falls head over heels for the new man in her life, will she be prepared to walk down that aisle?

My Thoughts
I am so thrilled that Zondervan has chosen to continue the "Year of Weddings" series through 2015! I thoroughly enjoyed reading a new novella each month, and, while I didn't fall in love with every one, I definitely enjoyed the majority of them! Unfortunately, the second year of novellas is off to a rocky start, in my opinion. 

Plot: It seemed that the plot alternated between being extremely rushed and dragging. I never felt that the author found a steady pace for the events taking place. Additionally, the story was fairly boring. With the exception of one moment (to be addressed later), nothing really surprised me, and I was never left wondering what might happen next. Verna's request for help planning a wedding for an unknown bride and groom felt contrived and over-the-top. I realize that authors face great challenges when trying to develop an engaging plot in so few pages, but this still fell below my expectations for novellas.

Characters: Neither of the main characters were very likeable. Hope was whiny and immature. I wanted to like John, but he was portrayed as being pushy a few times, which left me wanting a true "hero" for this story. I thought perhaps they would both grow and mature, but it didn't really feel like they did.

Christian Content: Considering this is portrayed as a Christian book, I was disappointed by how Christianity was portrayed in this book. In particular, I was bothered by the fact that Hope kept referring to these little "mantras" to get her through situations (i.e., God helps those who help themselves.) While they may be catchy sayings, these sayings were simply not founded on biblical principles. I was waiting for another John or Verna (or even the pastor!) to drive home some solid biblical truths with Hope—perhaps showing her that true faith is founded on God's Word—but that never happened. John did offer a little more hope, as it seemed that his relationship with God had grown in the years prior to the book's opening scene. While I don't expect strong Christian themes in every "Christian" book I read, I do expect books published by a Christian publisher to portray Christian principles accurately.

Romantic Content: *****SPOILER*****I don't know how to discuss this last point without giving away some of the details of the story, so I'm not even going to try. Read ahead at your own risk. The most shocking and disappointing portion of this book had to do with how s3x was portrayed. Essentially, John and Hope elope when they are 18. However, Hope freaks out just after the ceremony conducted by an internet-ordained "minister" and they decide to simply not file the paperwork. Fast forward 10 years, and Hope learns they are—surprise!—married anyway. When John returns home after being away for 10 years, Hope tells him they are still married, says she doesn't know what to do (because she is dating another man), cries on his shoulder. The very next sentence (at the beginning of the next chapter) references Hope getting out of John's bed. WHAT?!?! I thought surely I had misunderstood, but, no, Hope and John apparently can't contain themselves after 10 years apart and have s3x. Despite not knowing they are married even 10 minutes before and despite Hope being in a relationship with another man, they still have s3x. After having s3x, Hope immediately goes to an attorney's office to find out how to annul the marriage. Hope later decides to try to make the marriage work, but says she won't say "I love you" or wear her wedding ring until she can know for sure this will work. Hello??? Did she not just have s3x with her "husband"? But now she doesn't know if it's going to work out? I'm sorry, but this put a really bad taste in my mouth. Yes, they were technically married, but there were so many other circumstances surrounding this revelation that I felt like this was totally uncalled for. It really felt out of place and not appropriate for a Christian book.*****END SPOILER*****

Overall, Love at Mistletoe Inn was a disappointing read for me. I'll definitely give other books in the series a shot, but I recommend skipping this one. [2 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Cindy Kirk is a lifelong Nebraska resident who started writing after taking a class at a local community college. But her interest in the written word started years before when she was in her teens. At sixteen she wrote in her diary, “I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t be a writer.”

Not until her daughter was heading off to college did Cindy return to her first love---writing. Unlike some writers, Cindy wasn’t interested in newspaper or magazine articles, short stories or poetry. When she decided to start writing, she jumped feet first into book length fiction. She loves reading and writing romance because she believes in the power of love and in happily ever after. An incurable romantic, Cindy loves seeing her characters grow and learn from their mistakes and, in the process, achieve a happy ending.

Someone once told Cindy that to know a writer you just have to read what she's written; she hopes that once you read her books you can tell she is an eternal optimist, one who truly believes in the power of love. She invites you to kick off your shoes, pick up one of her books and get to know her.

Cindy and her high school sweetheart husband live on an acreage with two dogs and two cats—Oreo—a friendly feline who loves to sit next to the computer and supervise her writing and Leo, a white devil with a raccoon-like tail.

Revolutionary by Krista McGee (Review)

Revolutionary
by Krista McGee
Anomaly series, Book 3
Christian Fiction / YA / Dystopian
Available July 2014
Thomas Nelson
320 pages



About the Book
All her life Thalli thought she was an anomaly. Now she must use her gifts to fulfill the role she was called to play: Revolutionary.
 
Back in the underground State against her will, Thalli is no longer the anomaly she was before. She has proven herself to be a powerful leader aboveground and returns with information that Dr. Loudin needs to complete his plan of uniting the world under one leader: himself. But he, too, has information. A secret he has kept from Thalli her entire life. A secret that, once revealed, changes everything about the person Thalli thought she was.
 
Hoping to help Thalli rise up against the Scientists, both Berk and Alex join her underground, but their presence only brings more trouble for her. Now Dr. Loudin knows just the leverage to use on his captive, and she is forced to choose between the two of them. Is her first love her true love? Or does Alex ultimately claim her heart?
 
Unsure of everything around her, including her own identity, Thalli doesn’t know where to turn. She knows she needs the Designer, but he seems further away than ever. What she does know, though, is that if she doesn’t do something to stop Loudin, the fragile world aboveground will be lost once and for all.

My Thoughts
I had high hopes for this book as I've thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy. (Yes, you definitely need to read these in order!) For some reason, I wasn't able to get into this book the way I would have liked. I just couldn't really stay invested in the story. I ended up starting and stopping a few times along the way. BUT it was a good read, and I was glad to get resolution for the series after some serious cliffhangers in the first two books! Krista McGee is a talented author, and I'm glad to see a dystopian series with a Christian worldview available for readers (especially teens). This is a very clean series that consistently points to Christ. 

Despite my somewhat mixed thoughts on this final book, I still definitely recommend this series as a whole. It might help to read the books a little more closely together now that they're all available. Particularly if you've enjoyed other dystopian series like The Hunger Games or Divergent, I think you'll enjoy the Anomaly series! [3 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Krista McGee’s passion to see teens excited about serving God is a driving force behind her novels. Ever since college when she spent a summer working at a youth camp, McGee knew she wanted to invest in teenagers. Since then she’s been involved in a variety of youth ministries and currently teaches at a Christian school in Tampa, FL.

McGee broke into the writing world during her time in Spain. A friend encouraged her to submit an article to a Christian girls’ magazine, and it got published. Once her family moved back to Tampa, she got the idea for her first novel, First Date, a modern take of the story of Esther. Her subsequent books, Starring Me and Right Where I Belong, are based on Rebekah and Ruth.

When Krista McGee isn’t living in fictional worlds of her own creation, she spends her days as a wife, mom, teacher and coffee snob.

Krista McGee Online

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Where Treetops Glisten (Blog Tour + Review)

Where Treetops Glisten
by Cara Putman, Sarah Sundin, Tricia Goyer
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance
Available September 2014
Waterbrook Multnomah
368 pages



About the Book
The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime

Siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.

In Cara Putman’s White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.

Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?

In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for a future?

My Thoughts
Three of my favorite authors. Christmas stories. About siblings. Set during World War II. All of this combines for an amazing collection of stories in Where Treetops Glisten. Typically in collections/ anthologies, the stories are either independent or are loosely connected. I loved how these three stories are more closely tied together.

All three of these stories were amazing and well-executed! The romance thread is strong, which I love. And the historical aspects provided a balance to the primary relationship in each novella. I don't know that I can choose one favorite, so I'll just encourage you to read all three for yourself!  [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Litfuse Publicity in exchange for my fair and honest review.


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