Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Trip Back in Time -- The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow

Olivia Newport's The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow provides an intriguing visit to the world of Chicago's rich Prairie Avenue district at the time of the 1893 World's Fair.  The characters -- both the wealthy Banning family and their servants -- come vibrantly alive, thanks to the great detail with which Olivia describes them.  

Charlotte's dilemma of how to handle the secret about her baby, as well as the difficulties encountered by the other servants, depicts much of the struggle of those seemingly trapped in the lower social class of the time.  The willingness of some and refusal of others to bridge the wide gap between the classes makes for a very engaging story.

Historical fiction has become one of my favorite genres, and this book is an excellent example.  The information Olivia Newport shares about Ferris's giant wheel and other details from that period of time make for fascinating reading.  And if you happen to be a fan of TV's Downton Abbey, I think you may find yourself making connections with some of its characters as you read this book.

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow is book two in the Avenue of Dreams series.  It worked well for me as a stand-alone novel, but  I enjoyed it so much that I want to go back and get the beginning of the story in The Pursuit of Lucy Banning.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

About the Book

In the second book of the Avenue of Dreams series, Olivia Newport explores the complicated relationship between social classes while creating a story of courage, strength, and tender romance.  Set against the glittering backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, this compelling story captures the tension between the wealthy class and the hardworking servants who made their lives comfortable.

Charlotte Farrow, a maid in the wealthy Banning household on Chicago's opulent Prairie Avenue, has kept her baby boy a secret from her employers for nearly a year. But when the woman who has been caring for her son abruptly returns him, Charlotte must decide whether to come clean and face dismissal or keep her secret while the Bannings decide the child's fate. Can she face the truth of her own past and open her heart to a future of her own? Or will life's tragedies determine the future for her?

About the Author

Olivia Newport is the author of The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. Her husband and two adult children provide welcome distraction from the people stomping through her head on their way into her books. She chases joy in stunning Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Light, Fun Romance -- Secretly Smitten

About the Book

Summer, fall, winter, spring-Smitten, Vermont, is the place for love . . . and mystery!

There's a secret in Grandma Rose's attic-a forgotten set of dog tags belonging to her first love. But David Hutchins was killed in action and never returned to Smitten. How did the dog tags end up in the attic?

The mystery intrigues Rose's three granddaughters-Tess, Clare, and Zoe-and they decide to investigate, though their mother, Anna, warns against meddling. But as the seasons turn and the mystery unravels, the three young women and their mother encounter some intriguing mystery men of their own. Has a sixty-year-old puzzle sparked something new for this close-knit family of women?

Join popular romance novelists-and real-life BFFs-Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter for four delightful intertwined tales of mystery and sweet intrigue.

My Thoughts

Secretly Smitten is a fun, light romance that will leave you feeling good.  Although the book is made up of four stories written by four different authors, the pieces flow together into one well-connected story.  I don't believe I would have known there were different authors if no one had told me.

The town of Smitten sounds like the perfect backdrop for romance, and there is plenty of romance to go around for Anna and her girls.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is how each section has a different main character, but the whole cast keeps showing up.  And the family mystery that flows from decades ago to the present is an important, yet sometimes subtle, thread that ties it all together.  The individual romances seem to come together at somewhat of an unrealistic pace, but that's pretty much necessary in the setting of such short stories.   

Secretly Smitten can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, but reading Smitten (the first book in the series) would make references to some of the people and events more meaningful.  And there is more romance still to come in a third visit to Smitten, Vermont, in January of next year. 

Link to buy the book: 

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Find out what other readers think about Secretly Smitten here.

About the Authors

Meet "The Gals": 

* RITA-finalist Colleen Coble is the author of several best-selling romantic suspense novels, including "Tidewater Inn", and the Mercy Falls, Lonestar, and Rock Harbor series.
* Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the ACFW Book of the Year award, Kristin Billerbeck has appeared on The Today Show and has been featured in the New York Times. Her books include "A Billion Reasons Why" and "What a Girl Wants." 
* Denise Hunter is the award-winning and best-selling author of several novels, including "A Cowboy's Touch" and "Sweetwater Gap." She and her husband are raising three boys in Indiana. 
* Diann Hunt has lived in Indiana forever, been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, her dog, and, well, chocolate.
Find out more about Coble, Billerbeck, Hunter, Hunt here.

The "gals" are celebrating the release of Secretly Smitten with a fun Live Webcast on February 5th. They'll be debuting the *NEW* animated Smitten trailer, giving away tons of prizes, dishing on the book and their friendship. They'll also be wrapping up the Secretly Smitten blog tour, answering audience questions and testing your trivia skills. Don't miss the fun and bring your friends. Click here to RSVP and set up a reminder.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fantastic finish for a series -- The Lesson

The Book

Centered on one of Suzanne Woods Fisher's most loved characters, this is the story fans have eagerly anticipated. The precocious Mary Kate Lapp is all grown up (well, almost) and ready to take on the world – with surprising results. Fisher's trademark plot twists and turns are as unexpected and satisfying as ever in this third book in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series.

In her wildest dreams, spunky and impulsive nineteen-year-old M.K. never imagined herself behind a schoolteacher's desk. A run-in with the schoolteacher compels her to act as a substitute teacher, just as her restless desire to see the world compels her to apply for a passport . . . just in case. The only thing of interest to M.K. in the sleepy Amish community of Stoney Ridge is the unexplained death of a sheep farmer that coincided with the arrival of a mysterious young man into the community. Frustrated that no one takes the crime seriously, she takes matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, as tends to be the case for M.K., she jumps headlong into trouble.

My Thoughts

Mary Kate Lapp -- or M.K. as most folks call her -- is one of the most fun and interesting characters to pop off the pages of a book in a while!  She first appears as a precocious young girl in The Keeper, book one in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series.  She continues to play an important role in book two, The Haven.  And then she plunges head-first into adventure in this conclusion to the series -- The Lesson.   As you read the story, you may find yourself alternating between laughing at M.K.'s antics and wanting to shake some sense into her head and heart, but she will definitely keep your interest.

As always, Suzanne Woods Fisher gives her readers another great Amish story.  Her well-developed characters provide just the right mix of adventure, fun, love and faith.  The Amish romance is present but is not the main emphasis of the story.  Watching Mary Kate Lapp and Chris Yoder each grow through some internal and external struggles as they interact with family and friends makes for a very enjoyable read.  The slowly developed storyline of the connection between the two families provides a really interesting twist as well.  And even though the story ends without all the loose ends tied up in a nice little bundle, you can step away from the series knowing that the characters have learned the important lessons they need to face whatever events are headed their way.

I give 5 stars to Suzanne Woods Fisher's The Lesson.

Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Thanks to Revell for providing me a free copy of this book for my honest review.

The Author

Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, The Keeper and The Haven, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Christy Award finalist and a Carol Award finalist. She is the host of internet radio show Amish Wisdom and a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazines. She lives in California. For more information, please visit and connect with her on Twitter @suzannewfisher.

 Celebrate the release of The Lesson with Suzanne Woods Fisher by entering to win one of TWO iPads!
Two winners will receive:
  • A brand new iPad
  • A $15 gift certificate to iTunes
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on January 20th. Winner will be announced on 1/22/13 at Suzanne's Blog.

Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Top-Notch Romantic Suspense -- Vanished

The Book

In her newest romantic-suspense novel, critically-acclaimed author Irene Hannon asks herself what would happen if the victim of a deadly car crash on a secluded country road simply disappeared? Vanished is the gripping first novel in Hannon’s Private Justice series. It opens with a shadowy figure caught in the beam of reporter Moira Harrison’s headlights – followed by a solid thump before she loses control and crashes into a tree. But when Moira regains consciousness, the victim is nowhere to be seen.

The police say the disappearance never happened, but Moira can’t forget the look of sheer terror she saw on the person’s face in the instant it was caught in the glare of her headlights. Now her only hope of discovering the truth is a former police detective turned private eye—and her own investigate skills.

As often happens for Hannon, the genesis of this story came out of the blue, triggered by a simple incident.

“I was driving home from church one rainy night and my headlights fell on a bicyclist on the edge of the narrow road. I swerved to avoid him, thinking what a risk he was taking. Then the wheels in my brain started turning and I began what-iffing. What if a woman was driving alone on a country road and suddenly caught a desperate figure in her headlights? What if she swerved, but hit the figure? What if a stranger appeared out of the darkness to offer assistance before she lost consciousness? What if she woke up and both the stranger and the victim had disappeared? My five-second encounter on that rainy night was the impetus not only for this book, but for my whole Private Justice series, which focuses on situations that have fallen through the cracks of official law enforcement or been dismissed by the police.”

My Thoughts

Irene Hannon has done it again with the first book of her Private Justice series!  Just like her previous two series, Vanished has all the elements that make a winner -- gripping suspense, intriguing romance, exciting characters, and practical faith.  She hooked me on page one and never let me go.

As the saying goes, "the plot thickens," page by page throughout the story.  Secrets are revealed on an as-needed basis, at just the right pace to keep you guessing and checking your theories.  As always, Irene's in-depth research into the various aspects of her plot and characters keeps things "real" and lends credibility to her story.  The characters' difficult discussions about justice and morality added a very thought-provoking touch to the book.

And I have to admit it's sort of fun to see my own town of Potosi (a small, relatively unknown Missouri town) show up occasionally in her books -- even if for less than ideal reasons!

Dee Henderson and Terri Blackstock set the bar for me several years ago in the Christian suspense genre.  Dee Henderson has been quoted as saying about Irene Hannon, "I found someone who writes romantic suspense better than I do."  I definitely agree that Irene belongs there at the top with those other favorite authors.

I would recommend finding a time when you can read uninterrupted for a few hours, if at all possible, and get started on Vanished.  I can't imagine having to put down this book once you get started, as I read the entire thing in one afternoon/night. 

Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  Book 2 in the series is due out in fall of 2013, followed by book 3 next year.  I'll be waiting impatiently to learn more about the characters introduced in Vanished.

Thanks to Revell for providing this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.
The Author

Irene Hannon is the author of more than 40 novels, including the bestselling Heroes of Quantico and Guardians of Justice series. Her books have been honored with two coveted RITA awards from Romance Writers of America, a Carol Award, a HOLT Medallion, a National Readers’ Choice Award, a Daphne du Maurier Award, a Retailers Choice Award and two Reviewers' Choice Awards from RT Book Reviews magazine. She lives in Missouri.
For more information about her and her books, visit her web site at and follow her on Twitter at @IreneHannon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Food, Family and Love -- An Amish Kitchen

The Amish Kitchen is the Heart of the Home – and the Ideal Setting for Stories of Love and Hope.

Fall in Paradise, Pennsylvania, always brings a brisk change in the weather. This season also ushers in unexpected visitors, new love, and renewed hope for three women.

Fern has a green thumb for growing healing herbs, but longs for love to bloom in her life. Then the next-door neighbor’s oldest son, Abram, comes running into Fern’s kitchen seeking help for his little sister. The crisis soon leads to a promise of romance—until mistrust threatens to end the growing attraction.

Nearby, Hannah runs her parents’ bed and breakfast, Paradise Inn—but her life feels nothing like Paradise. She longs for a man of integrity to enter her life, but never expected him to knock on the front door looking for a room. Will she be able trust Stephen with her future once she discovers his mysterious past?

When a storm blows a tree onto Eve’s farmhouse, she has little choice but to temporarily move her family into her parents’ home. Outside of cooking together in the kitchen, Eve and her mother can’t agree on anything. But this may be just the recipe for hope in healing old wounds.

Three Amish stories—each celebrating love, family, and faith—all taking place in a tight-knit community where the kitchen truly is the heart of the home.

Also Includes Reading Group Guide and 45 Old Order Amish Recipes

My Thoughts

This trio of novellas by Kelly Long, Amy Clipston, and Beth Wiseman is an enjoyable quick read for fans of Amish fiction.  A Taste of Faith, A Spoonful of Love, and A Recipe for Hope are all set in Paradise, Pennsylvania, and share an overlapping cast of characters.  Each story focuses on one Amish lady and her love and family relationships.  The authors do a great job of weaving their stories and styles into a nice collection that flows together very well.  These short stories lack the depth and plot development that each of these authors does so well in her full-length novels, but readers can still get involved in the characters' lives and loves.

An extra bonus is the large collection of recipes at the end of the book.  I'm looking forward to trying shoofly cupcakes, Rosemary's apple crumb pie, sour cream pancakes, and . . .

Thanks to the BookSneeze blogging program for providing this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

Two-thirds of a great trilogy -- Belonging and Betrayal


In the high desert town of Frenchman’s Bluff, Idaho, Felicia Kristoffersen has set out to create a future for herself that is better than her painful past. Alone in the world with only her faith to sustain her, she must prove herself as this tiny community’s new school teacher. She cannot, must not, fail. But, there are those who never wanted her there to begin with.

Five years after the death of his wife, local merchant Colin Murphy cares about just one thing: raising his daughter, Charity. Colin wants to give her the educational advantages he never had. The new schoolmarm’s inexperience doesn’t sit well with him, and if this teacher up and marries like the last one did, Charity’s heart will be broken once again.

A woman who hasn’t known love. A man who lost the love he had.
In the midst of the wide, sage-covered plains, each is about to discover that life’s bitterest circumstances truly can work together for good.


It’s the turn of the twentieth century and drifter Hugh Brennan is a man well acquainted with betrayal. Hugh finds himself drawn to the attractive widow, Julia, yet when he looks into her eyes, he recognizes the same hurt that haunts him.

Julia Grace has little reason to trust men, but she’s going to have to trust someone if she’s to keep her ranch from the clutches of her dead husband’s half-brother. Is it possible God had a hand in bringing Hugh to her door?

The latest historical romance from award-winning author Robin Lee Hatcher and the second book in the Where the Heart Lives series, Betrayal will take you to the high desert of western Wyoming, through the crags of the Rocky Mountains, and into the hearts of two seekers learning to trust God’s love no matter the circumstances.

My Thoughts

Robin Lee Hatcher is a name I've seen around Christian fiction for a while but had never taken the opportunity to try out.  I'm glad I finally took the chance with her "Where the Heart Lives" series.

In the beginning of Belonging, we are introduced to Hugh, Felicia, and Diana Brennan, siblings living in a Chicago tenement in the late 1800s.  After the death of their mother, they come under the care of Dr. Cray's Asylum for Little Wanderers and are each sent to different families out west to begin new lives.  They reach adulthood without seeing each other again.

Belonging is Felicia's story as she leaves a home in Wyoming where she knew no real love and begins her life in Idaho as a teacher.  Betrayal begins with Hugh traveling from Chicago (where he returned in his teen years) to reunite with Felicia in Idaho.  Both their lives take unexpected turns as they find much more than they dared hope for.

Both stories were a delight to read.  I was drawn into the characters' lives immediately and felt that I was right there with them as they found their places in new surroundings.  These are comfortable, feel-good stories with very real people who struggle through day-to-day challenges and draw their strength and wisdom from their relationships with God. 

My only negative comment is this:  Beloved, Diana's story is not available yet.  Now I have to impatiently wait for the conclusion!

(By the way, am I the only one who sees Jane Seymour as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, in the model on the cover of Belonging?)

Thanks to Zondervan for providing these books free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

In fact, the publisher provided two copies of each book, so I will be happy to share a copy of each with someone who expresses an interest in response to this review.  If there are multiple responses by 5:00 p.m. on January 5, I will draw one winner's name randomly.


About the Author

Robin Lee Hatcher is the bestselling author of over sixty-five books. Her well-drawn characters and heartwarming stories of faith, courage, and love have earned her both critical acclaim and the devotion of readers. Her numerous awards include the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, two RITA Awards for Best Inspirational Romance, Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards for Americana Romance and for Inspirational Fiction, and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Robin currently resides in Idaho. For more information, visit