March Happenings

March Happenings

Welcome to my new feature, a monthly wrap-up of sorts!

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Having seen several blogger friends’ takes on a month-end post, I have decided to attempt such a summary or fun little recap at the end of each month. So, here goes!

on the bookshelf

I added SEVERAL books to my TBR shelf, most ecopies and a few paperbacks. Out of all of them, I think I’m most excited about reading With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall and The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan over the next weeks.

on the blog

textgram_1488839984.pngMost popular posts:

  1. 4 Reasons to Read Inspirational Fiction
  2. How-To: Solar Dyed Yarn Project (With Kool-Aid!)
  3. Top Ten Tuesday: 10+ Novellas You Can Read in One Sitting

Most popular book reviews:

  1. I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones
  2. Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke
  3. The Message in a Bottle Romance Novella Collection

in the kitchen

Thanks to a Facebook post by author Hillary Lodge, I tried this amazing recipe for a pan baked lemon almond tart. It’s naturally gluten free, if you’re conscious of that, AND I made it dairy free by using full fat coconut milk in place of the cream and earth balance “butter”. I’ve already made it a second time.

I’ve also discovered the brilliance of overnight oats. Mix together oatmeal and your favorite add-ins, like nuts, flax, coconut, cinnamon, etc., add milk, and let sit overnight in the fridge. Instant breakfast! It’s even better if you throw in some fresh fruit. This recipe on my local news station convinced me to try it!

on the screen

I wrapped up the premier season of Victoria on Masterpiece Classic. My mom and I LOVED this series. It is worth a watch for the costumes and architecture alone. On top of brilliant acting and a well-structured script, the growth of Victoria as she adjusts to her role as queen and the love story between her and Albert is all the more enjoyable because it is true. History is NOT boring, people!

Force_of_Arms_FilmPosterI happened upon the classic movie Force of Arms (1951) this month. It’s a WWII drama/romance starring William Holden and Nancy Olson reminiscent of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Considering its era, I thought it a very well made piece of art, even if the romance was a *little* fast moving and melodramatic. Somehow that made it all the more entertaining with William Holden’s sappy declarations of love amidst army advances in Italy. The wit and sometimes fast-paced dialogue of the script reminded me of the banter that’s more often found in rom-com novels. It is as much drama as love story, though, and does a decent job showcasing the perils of fighting, sometimes featuring real-life footage of the army or city scenes. If you have a chance to watch it, do so!

 

Until last week, I had not seen the 2006 biography/drama Miss Potter. I don’t know how I went this long without seeing it or really knowing more of the story behind Beatrix Potter’s life. (She’s the one who wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, etc.). It is all kinds of sweet and poignant with a fantastic cast (Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson). Fans of children’s literature and period drama enthusiasts alike will enjoy it!

around the web

I’m still sporadically participating in the #WishfulWonder book photo challenge on Instagram (AKA #bookstagram for we book-loving photo enthusiasts). The prompts are curated by Tressa and Rissi each month. See Rissi’s post here for the April schedule!

Author Pepper Basham has begun a blog feature called “Swoony Saturdays“, complete with ratings on a Jane Austen- inspired hero scale AND a kissing level. It’s terribly fun. She’s featured 2 of her own fictional book heroes so far with plans for more.

I recently saw and LOVED Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. From the costumes, sets, casting, and MUSIC it was gorgeous. My little girl heart was happy. There were a couple things, though, that I was slightly disappointed in. This blog post by Sarah Cinnamon sums up my feelings perfectly and shines a light on the love that can be seen in such a story.

Review & Book Spotlight: “Second Impressions” by Pepper Basham from the Love at First Laugh Novella Collection

This little review features a wonderfully Austen-esque novella, a modern day rom-com set in Bath, England, amid matchmaking schemes, Regency attire, and a historical inn. Second Impressions by Pepper Basham is the first novella in the recently released “Love at First Laugh” collection, further detailed below.

About Second Impressions

Nora Simeon is a Jane Austen nut. After years of putting her dreams on hold, she’s given the opportunity to attend the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, but a brooding American businessman threatens to upend her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Ethan Keller hate his uncle’s sordid penchant for matchmaking. With a string of failed attempts in Ethan’s past, the last thing he needs is another ‘opportunity’ in the person of Nora Simeon, but her country charm brings color to his structured life in the most unexpected ways.

As these two lonely hearts sort through misunderstandings, a conniving assistant, and a homicidal bonnet, will the heart of Jane Austen’s novels inspire their own romance or will their story end in unrequited love?

second-impressionsMy thoughts

Second Impressions is Jane Austen meets rom-com in a modern world. With all the wit and heart of an Austen story, Nora and Ethan are thrown together with a little bit of matchmaking and a lot of personality.

One thing I love about Pepper’s stories is that her characters have a deep sense of normalcy. It shines through in the little habits and comments, like the simplicity of a dream or talking over tea with hand gestures and a butter knife. This authenticity makes them all the more relatable and down-to-earth as you journey with them through a story.

The references and clever parallels to Austen characters will bring a smile to any Austenite’s face. The humor and comedic situations had me giggling more than once — especially where Ethan and Regency attire was concerned. Beneath the lighter side of the characters, though, is a story of heart. Of realizing dreams might just be in reach, of having the faith to believe in them.

Nora and Ethan will work their way into your heart in this little novella. If you’ve never read a Pepper Basham novel (why not!?), this is a perfect place to start to glimpse her style and storytelling. And, if you love all things Austen, this book will have you swooning and wanting to dance a cotillion!

For more behind-the-scenes on this novella and LOCATION photos from Bath, England, visit Pepper’s “Book Journeys” blog posts Bath, UK Part 1 and Bath, UK Part 2.

Thank you to the author/publisher for the complimentary review copy of this collection. This is my honest review.

About the collection

Love at First LaughDive into eight brand new contemporary Christian romantic comedies from some of your favorite inspirational authors.

From light-hearted romance to laugh-out-loud love, this set will put a smile on your face and keep you reading long into the night.

Second Impressions by award-winning author Pepper Basham
He likes streamline. She prefers embellishments. His forte is business. Hers is atmosphere. Will they realize each has what the other needs most to create the perfect romance with a touch of Jane Austin flair?

Mowed Over by USA Today bestselling author Christina Coryell
A tiny, chatty fairy artist with multicolored pastel hair. A burly, bearded landscaper who can’t get a word in edgewise. They have nothing in common, but is that enough to keep them apart?

An Informal Affair by award-winning author Heather Gray
She’s tired of waiting for happily-ever-after, so she takes matters into her own hands…with online dating. He has the worst bad-date streak ever. How will God show two people who are determined to do things their own way that He’s had a perfect plan all along?

A Heart Restored by Elizabeth Maddrey
She renovates old houses. Can he restore her heart?

Unleashing Love by Jessica R. Patch
She’s a dog walker who agrees to a full-time position caring for a puppy. In total shock, she’s handed a precious baby girl. He’s a construction mogul who’s taken his infant niece into temporary relative placement — keyword: temporary. Unless the sassy southern nanny can change his mind…and his heart.

A (nearly) Normal Nanny by Krista Phillips
Normal is highly overrated…

That’s When I Knew by award-winning author Laurie Tomlinson
When two childhood sweethearts find themselves thrown together on the road to a trade show that could save her career, past mistakes threaten to ruin her chances–and the possibility of rekindling a romance. Will the end of the summer find them apart once again?

A Time to Laugh by USA Today bestselling author Marion Ueckermann
When an unexpected inheritance and a lung disease diagnosis coincide, a missionary couple realizes God is telling them it’s time to retire. But sometimes retirement comes with strings attached. Will their life-long dream be a blessing or a curse?

Add to Goodreads | Amazon

Top Ten Tuesday: 10+ Novellas You Can Read in One Sitting

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

The official topic this week is “read in one sitting”. With the open-ended nature of this, I decided to go with 10 different novellas or novella collections. Specifically, a novella is longer than a short story but not as long as a novel, so think 70-150 pages. Most of them can be read in 1-2 hours, I think!

10+ Novellas You Can Read in One Sitting

Standalone Novellas

…for when you want to read a delightful story and be happily satisfied at the end.

this-quiet-sky1. This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof

A touching and deeply emotional story, this one will give you a taste of Joanne’s prose-like style. Oh, and its poignancy might just leave you in tears.

HowaStarFalls-new2. How a Star Falls by Amber Stokes

This story makes you question the story world’s reality in the sweetest of ways. Is it real? Is it a modern fairy tale?

Novella Collections

…for when you want to read just 1 or several shorter stories with a related theme or element.

With This Ring3. With This Ring? collection by Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jaegars

This is a cute collection of 4 marriage proposal stories…  but the proposals are anything but traditional! Oh, and they are all western rom-coms! Fans of these authors might recognize the story settings or characters as minor ones from previous series.

Love at First Laugh4. Love at First Laugh collection by Pepper Basham, Chrinstina Coryell, Heather Gray, Elizabeth Maddrey, Jessica R. Patch, Krista Phillips, Laurie Tomlinson, and Marion Ueckermann

This humorous little collection is one I’m currently reading. It promises many laughs, romance, and fun banter!

The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection5. The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection by Joanne Bischof, Amanda Dykes, Heather Day Gilbert, Jocelyn Green, and Maureen Lang

I recently finished this unique collection of stories all connected with a bronze keepsake bottle and a theme of hope. I enjoyed all of the different historical settings and time periods this collection spans.

Series Start Novellas

…for when you want to try out a new series or author. These wonderfully introduce the characters and establish the setting. Plus, series start novellas are often free ebooks!

If Ever I Would Leave You by Susan May Warren6. If Ever I Would Leave You by Susan May Warren

Setting up the Montana Rescue series, this novella introduces us to key characters and to a main conflict that carries on through the series. Plus, it establishes a certain relationship dynamic that I love and still want to see resolved!

Three Little Words7. Three Little Words by Melissa Tagg

If you’ve never read anything by Melissa, this is a perfect place to start! This is really more of a standalone, too, because the main characters’ story is wrapped up nicely by the end. There are letters, people! But if you want more, the setting and family are featured in the Walker Family series.

 

A Singular and Whimsical Problem8. A Singular and Whimsical Problem by Rachel McMillan

This is a little mystery to introduce you to Jem, Merinda, Ray, and Jasper with their quirky habits and penchant for crime solving. It’s the start of a must-read historical mystery & romance series, Herringford and Watts Mysteries.

the-warriors-seal9. The Warrior’s Seal by Ronie Kendig

This sets up the Tox Files series very nicely with plenty of action and intrigue in itself. It’s the backstory, if you will, of this special team and the events that lead up to a predicament which carries on into book 1.

 

The Boden Birthright10. The Boden Birthright by Mary Connealy

You just can’t go wrong with a single-dad-turned-cowboy, a ranch in the middle of a land dispute, and a beautiful rancher’s daughter thrown together with the humor and wit of Mary’s storytelling. This is a “family history” story, if you will, that sets up Mary’s The Cimmaron Legacy series.

Did you participate in Top Ten Tuesday this week? Do you enjoy novellas or short stories? Do you have any recommendations? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review: The Message in a Bottle Romance Novella Collection

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Welcome! Today is all about a delightful novella collection from Barbour Publishing, The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection by authors Heather Day Gilbert, Amanda Dykes, Maureen Lang, Jocelyn Green, and Joanne Bischof. With five separate stories, this collection is tethered with a common theme of hope and an antique bronze bottle that travels around the globe and through the centuries, appearing in each story.

About the Book


Join the journey as one word etched in Latin on an ancient bronze bottle travels through the centuries to reach five young women who are struggling to maintain their faith in God and love. An Irish princess, a Scottish story weaver, a Post-Colonial nurse, a cotton mill worker, and a maid who nearly drowned each receive a message from the bottle just when they need their hope restored. But will the bottle also bring them each to a man whose love will endure?

Review

Each story has a unique setting and voice, but a common theme of hope can be found in them all. The Message in a Bottle Romance CollectionSometimes it’s a hope to survive, a hope for a second chance, a hope for love and belonging, or a hope that trusts in God for a better future.

The entire collection was delightful and encouraging. Each had a sweet romance, sometimes with a surprise or two thrown it. Each told a different story of family or culture, presenting its era and setting with bright clarity and detail. All of it was threaded with the theme of hope and connected with a seemingly small item, a brass bottle. I thought it was representative of the hope we do share — in faith and trust in God — that might seem small but has a mighty strength and endurance when tested.

Prologue 834 AD & The Distant Tide • 1170 Ireland • by Heather Day Gilbert

  • The origin story of the bottle is very well told and connects closely to the characters in Heather’s story.
  • I enjoyed the setting and conflict: a northern Irish kingdom during medieval times with threats from Vikings and Northmen. This is a period I’ve not read (or heard much about) in the Christian fiction genre. I do know that Heather has penned a Viking series I’m now interested in!
  • This story surprised me in a few ways – what I would have predicted about a certain character’s response and attitude was completely turned around in a very good way.

A Song in the Night • 1715 Scotland • by Amanda Dykes

  • A bit of a secret propels this story and adds dramatic suspense to the plot. The way the main characters are established allows them to “speak for themselves”, in a way, and reveal their hearts and pasts slowly.
  • I loved the simultaneous journies of this story, a physical one across borders and to a new destination (Scotland to England), a new experience for the characters, and an emotional one from brokenness to restoration.
  • Also, I was really impressed with the lyrical writing style of Amanda and the way she incorporated Scottish culture and language into the story. Yay for discovering new authors!

The Forgotten Hope • 1798 New York • by Maureen Lang

  • This story’s spot in the lineup of the collection provides contrast and a fresh perspective. The setting, post-Revolutionary America, is appropriately different and tenuous for a young lady aspiring to follow her father’s career path in doctoring.
  • This story had a coming-of-age, young adult feel to it.
  • The two main characters, Abigail and Cal, complement each other very well. At times, I thought Abigail was a little immature in her behavior, but after finishing the story I can see that Cal’s more serious demeanor was a good fit for her. They encourage each other to be compassionate toward others and hopeful of a life beyond the sorrow of their pasts.

A River Between Us • 1864 Georgia • by Jocelyn Green

  • Jocelyn has a style that is vivid and immersive emotionally and in a sensory way. I felt like I was there, experiencing the danger of a battlefield or the uncertainty of the future through Cora Mae’s eyes. I was rooting for Ethan, the hero of this story, who demonstrated integrity and honor on multiple occasions.
  • To me, this story is about learning to see the heart of people beyond outward appearances or seemingly opposite sides. In this case, it’s a very human look at both sides of the Civil War, how both sides sacrificed and experienced pain, and how the hope for peace can be a driving force in caring for others.

The Swelling Sea & Epilogue • 1890 California • by Joanne Bischof

  • What a setting! The Hotel del Coronado near San Diego, CA just at its beginning as a travel destination for the high class. I’ve added a new destination to my dream travel list.
  • Joanne has an exquisite way of presenting a story. Whether through a personality or physical trait, her characters often exhibit a unique characteristic which further challenges their journey and enlightens the reader to a new side of human nature. In this case, Rosie and Jonas separately face a part of their past that is holding them back. Theirs is a story of finding the freedom to seek joy, to hope for happiness.
  • Reading this novella would help you to fully experience what I mean, but I have to say I ADORED the way certain aspects of this story reminded me of the importance of an unabashed, childlike faith. And, how our imperfections might just be a tool to teach us that we are not alone, that other people are placed in our lives for help and encouragement.

I was a little sad to come to the end of the journey with this bottle, but I know it’s not the end of its encouraging message of hope. These stories are ones that resonate. I hope you have the opportunity to experience this little collection some time!

Find the book on Goodreads | Amazon

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. This is my honest review.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s TTT topic is all about that growing, towering, To-Be-Read pile, shelf, island, or whatever shape it may be. Mine seems to be ever-increasing with new releases happening ALL THE TIME, lovely reviews from other book bloggers, and recommendations from friends. It’s a delightful problem.

These are the top 10 books on my Spring TBR. More like the top 10 books I’d like to read next. The first 5 will be conquered because they are review copies from generous authors or publishers (Ya’ll are awesome for keeping me in books! Thank you.).

Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR

(Book titles linked to Goodreads)

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Shoes to Fill by Lynne Gentry

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

With Love, Wherever You Are

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

second-impressions


Love at First LaughSecond Impressions
by Pepper Basham (and the rest of the Love at First
Laugh
novella collection)

Close To You

Close To You by Kara Isaac

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Sweet Surrenders

Sweet Surrenders by Rachel Fallin

Edenbrooke

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Sway by Amy Matayo

Sway by Amy Matayo

What is on your Spring TBR?

4 Reasons to Read Inspirational Fiction

I was pondering some of the reasons I’m drawn to inspirational fiction over other literature. Let’s just get this confession out of the way: I read very little nonfiction. So, why am I constantly enthralled by a great character arc or story of the good guys winning? I think it’s deeper than just loving a good story. I’ve realized there are a few reasons I personally love Christian/inspirational fiction. I’m sharing 4 reasons to read inspirational fiction in this post hoping that YOU will relate and, perhaps, gain perspective from having them outlined. (Or, even add a few titles to your TBR!)
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1. Inspirational fiction teaches empathy

More than entertaining, stories teach empathy, helping us identify with other people and experiences. It’s sometimes like experiencing life through new eyes because each author pours him or herself into story, whether from his or her own life or family experiences and perspective. Reading multiple authors leads to experiencing life as a single mom on the run from a criminal and her past in New England, a watch maker’s daughter in old Chicago, a destitute spinster in post-Revolutionary War America, a firefighter carrying grief in the modern Rockies, or a holocaust victim trying to survive in Germany. And through all of this, hopefully we treat the people we encounter with more understanding and grace as a result.

2. Inspirational fiction contains spiritual truths

Because they are written with a Christian worldview, inspirational fiction stories encourage a walk with God through interwoven Scriptures or themes of faith. Sometimes it’s a subtle picture of making choices while believing God has an ultimate plan, or sometimes a book is more evangelical in nature, with a prominent story of forgiveness or a prodigal’s return teaching a lesson of grace.

3. Inspirational fiction inspires you to try new things or breach your comfort zone

This could be said of stories in general, too. Whether it’s by trying a new recipe, adding a destination to the bucket list, or resolving to treat that villain-personality in your life with kindness. Sometimes it’s an untold story from history that captures our attention and sparks interest in that time period. Other times, it’s a perspective learned from “visiting” a culture or place you will not likely ever see in person. Whatever the new thing or place, we get to explore it from the comfort of our cozy couch first!

4. Inspirational fiction shows the love of Christ

Specifically, I’m talking about the romance genre mirroring the love of Christ. I’m all for swoony romance, chivalry, and kisses in a closet/tower. (Sorry, I’ve been reading too many Pepper Basham novels lately. 😉 ) But the greatest Love Story of all is often echoed through the pages of a story of unconditional love, relentless pursuit, or of sacrifice. Whether it’s a riveting story of a fall and subsequent redemption that pushes the boundaries of Christian fiction, a sweet story of finding true love in an unexpected place, or a gripping tale of personal sacrifice and selflessness, these romances speak to the heart of the reader, reaching out to our need of belonging and pointing to Christ as the ultimate Savior and Lover of our souls.

Your turn. I really want to know why YOU love what you read (whatever the genre). Do you gravitate towards inspirational fiction? Do you agree with my musings? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Book Review: “Still Life” by Dani Pettrey

img_20170225_193923_755.jpgThis review is all about book #2 in Dani Pettrey’s “Chesapeake Valor” series, Still Life. It is a contemporary romantic suspense story continuing to focus on a group of crime-solving and law enforcement friends in the Baltimore area. This time, we get to witness crime scene investigator Parker Mitchell and professional photographer Avery Tate as they are thrown back together to solve a potential crime and confront their growing mutual attraction.

About the Book

Work hits too close to home for crime scene photographer Avery Tate when her best friend disappears. The only lead is a chilling photo of her–apparently dead. As Avery, her boss Parker, and his friends dig into the case, she’s forced to confront her feelings for Parker when they come face-to-face with a dangerous criminal.

Review

This novel is another GREAT work of romantic suspense from Dani. It’s action-packed and suspenseful, in the page-turning kind of way, the perfect blend of crime drama and slight thriller with a hint of romance.

still-lifeBook 1, Cold Shot, introduced us to this group of best friends with various accomplishments and roles in law enforcement, from FBI to forensics to homicide detectives. We glimpsed the working relationship between Parker and Avery in Cold Shot, and Still Life picks up a little after they have separated ways professionally. Circumstances out of their control force them to work together again to find Avery’s missing childhood friend. Confronting old acquaintances, however, causes Avery to begin a revealing journey back into a past she regrets — and fears will come between hers and Parker’s friendship with permanent ripples.

There are many things to love about Still Life, but my favorite thing is the relationship dynamic between Parker and Avery. The way both of them gradually realize the depths of connection they share; the way Parker is a very strong character (with quite the Irish brogue 🙂 ) but not above vulnerability; they way they are each encouraging and protective of the other, in different ways; and the way Avery is relatable and assertive. Most importantly, the story of forgiveness that unfolds a little at a time is a demonstration of how God can redeem your past and show you His unconditional love through the people close to you.

While the focus of this story is Parker and Avery, another criminal incident takes place that draws the whole group into the investigation. This adds even more suspense to the plot and sets up a few things to come in the next book, I think. Through this, we get to know the personalities of the next “couple” the series will focus on (Declan and Tanner). Also, a plot thread that will seemingly continue through the series, dealing with the group’s missing friend Luke, is developed further and is proving quite interesting.  I’m ready for more of this crew already!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.