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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

“What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

pastors wivesThat’s the central theme author Lisa Takeuchi Cullen explores in her debut novel, Pastors’ Wives. In it, she tells the stories of three pastors’ wives whose lives come together within the ministry of an evangelical megachurch in Atlanta.

I’ll admit to being unsure what to expect from this book. I won a copy from a website where the book had been reviewed but it sat on my shelf for months. In the midst of my own doubts about being a pastor’s wife and the loss of vision for what I thought that would look like, I avoided it, afraid that it might add to my overall negative attitude. Now I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner!

Far from a glossed-over, perfect portrayal of the women married to men with a call to ministry, Pastors’ Wives is an honest glimpse of the doubts, fears, complications, expectations and survival mechanisms of these women. I loved every page, and I’d happily hand out copies of this book to most pastors’ wives I know. (I say “most” because the book contains language that some people might find offensive. I didn’t feel it detracted from the story at all.)

One of the strengths of the novel is the author’s research. Pastors’ Wives is based on research Cullen did for a magazine article, including time spent with actual pastors’ wives from a variety of denominations. (You can read more about that on her website.) Those experiences bring to life the three fictional wives–Ruthie, Candace and Ginger.

A little bit about each of them: Ruthie, a nominal Catholic, is in the midst of a crisis of faith when her husband hears a call to leave his job on Wall Street to join the ministry of a suburban Atlanta megachurch. Candace is the church’s “first lady,” wife of the senior pastor and basically the Wizard of Oz. She runs the show for, and sometimes in spite of, her husband. Ginger is married to Candace’s son and struggles to maintain the proper image of wife and mother while hiding her past.

I was surprised to find that I identified with something in each of these women. While each character represents a particular kind of pastor’s wife, none of them felt stereotypical or exaggerated. Cullen seems to have a talent for realism in characters. I hope she decides to write more of them.

Some of my favorite lines from the novel:

  • The story opens with Ruthie in an airport newstand buying a Star magazine. “I would have to call it a $3.99 act of defiance. … Funny thing about becoming a pastor’s wife: You felt watched. Not by God, exactly. Just … watched.” Can I get an “amen” for that?
  • From Candace, in reflecting on friendships: “For such a public role, being a pastor’s wife can be the loneliest job in the world. No member of a congregation wants to befriend the bedmate of their spiritual leader, lest news of their base humanity filter back to him and handicap their shot at heaven.”
  • And Ginger, when her carefully covered up past begins to emerge, wonders: “What was better–living an ugly truth or a comfortable lie?

So many more, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you. I’m passing this on to another pastor’s wife, and I’d recommend it to others, especially those who struggle with their husband’s call or their role in ministry. Definitely, it’ll be among the best books I read in the second quarter of this year.

And if  you’re not a pastor’s wife, maybe it will offer insights into the life of the woman behind the man in the pulpit at your church.

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Whenever I pick up a Tracy Higley book, I feel smarter after I’ve read it, and it was no different with her latest, The Queen’s Handmaid. As a non-student of ancient history, I had never considered that Cleopatra lived only decades before Jesus was born. Shows what I know. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.) queen's handmaid

So, with that new knowledge, I was eager to read this story of Lydia, who is handmaid to Cleopatra in Alexandria at the time of Herod’s visit to the queen of Egypt. During his visit, Lydia is given a seemingly impossible mission by her aging mentor who is murdered not long after he reveals a secret to her. Lydia then embarks on a journey that eventually takes her to Jerusalem as lady’s maid to Herod’s wife, with the mission burdening her at every turn. What she carries with her is the hope of the Jewish people in a Messianic King, a hope Lydia, herself, will struggle with.

In typical Higley fashion, this is a suspenseful and entertaining read. But it’s also hard to follow at times, which is not necessarily the fault of the author but the scope of the story and timeframe. The book covers a lot of years, though the story is not bogged down by irrelevant events. And because the historical characters play a part in the plot, I often found myself confused by which Herod was which and who was connected and related to whom. Again, that’s information for a history book, not necessarily a novel, and I appreciate the way Higley is able to write a story using the historical context without it feeling like a textbook. I wish I knew the history of this time period better so I didn’t have to keep flipping back to the family tree at the beginning of the book.

But let me be clear: those are not reasons to not read this book. By the end, all of the connections and relationships made sense and I was excited about the possibility of another book to come that follows up the events in this one.

Higley is one of those rare authors who makes history lifelike to me, and I can see the events as they happen. Her stories enrich my understanding of Bible stories and events. For those reasons, her books are a must-read for me.

If you want to know more about the author, read the back cover synopsis or see what other people have to say, click here.

And if you want a chance to win a prize as part of the book’s release, keep reading!

Tracy L. Higley is celebrating the release of The Queen’s Handmaid with a fun giveaway.



Retailers + Resources gave it this glowing review: “Rich in historic detail, Higley’s vivid writing brings to life the plots and intrigues that swirled through the ancient world as alliances were built and broken on the calculated schemes of power-mad monarchs.” 

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  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 19th. Winner will be announced April 21st on Tracy’s blog.

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Tracy’s blog on April 21st to see if you won.

 

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The first time I read a book by Katie Ganshert, I had a strong dislike for her main character. As I followed the author on Facebook and Twitter during the writing of her latest release, I feared I’d have the same problem with this one.

Because Ivy Clark is a lost soul who doesn’t give off the appearance that she wants to be found.

broken kind of beautifulBut it’s her feelings of being unlovable–and the people who love her anyway–that make A Broken Kind of Beautiful a beautiful picture of grace and redemption. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my review.)

Ivy is a 24-year-old fashion model in New York City. With a decade in the business, her heart is hardened and her soul is empty. All she’s ever had to do is smile for the cameras and do what she’s told, nevermind her heart. But the only life she’s ever known begins to fall apart, and she has one last chance to save her career with a modeling gig linked to her broken past. In the island town of Greenbrier, South Carolina, Ivy finds herself confronted with people who see beyond her outward appearance.

One of those people is Davis Knight, who has his own demons to battle. Once a photographer in the high-powered fashion industry, Davis now lives in Greenbrier and is the maintenance man of a local church. At the request of his aunt, who owns a bridal shop, Davis picks up the camera he hasn’t held for two years to shoot a magazine spread featuring Ivy. Both of them wrestle with faith, forgiveness and calling.

Ivy is hardened by life, and she knows how to get what she wants by using her looks. Davis is living with guilt but feels a strong leading to treat Ivy unlike any man has ever treated her: as a treasure. Despite her prickly exterior, I felt sympathy for Ivy and desperately wanted her to realize her worth. And Davis … well, let’s just say he’s one of my favorite heroes ever.

As I read, I thought of Francine Rivers’ classic Redeeming Love, a book I absolutely love that leaves me sobbing. That’s a must-read in Christian fiction. A Broken Kind of Beautiful carries similar themes in a contemporary setting. If you like Redeeming Love, give Ganshert’s latest a try.

Need a sneak peek? Find Chapter One here.

And find out more about the author at her website or on Facebook.

This was a quick read for me, and I’m almost sorry I didn’t savor it. For me, it’s worth a rare re-read.

 

 

 

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One of my reading goals for this year is to branch out from my usual reading habits and try some new-to-me books and authors.

devil mattinglyThe Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey fits that criteria, and though I was afraid I’d have to only read this book during the day or when my husband was home, it turns out I had nothing to fear. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

In the sleepy town of Mattingly, Virginia, where nothing much out of the ordinary happens, three of its residents go about their lives but are haunted by an event 20 years in the past. It was the day teenager Philip McBride died. His death was ruled a suicide but these three know the truth: he was killed. Jake Barnett carries shame for what happened that day and how he’ll never be the man anyone else wants him to be. His wife, Kate, spends her days logging good deeds done for the poor and unfortunate of Mattingly, hoping it will outweigh the guilt she feels for her part in Philip’s death. And Taylor Hathcock, a mountain recluse, believes in his madness the time has come to make it all right.

Plagued by dreams and visions and events that don’t make sense, the three are drawn together to reveal the truth that will surprise them all.

And I can’t say anymore because I’ll give too much away!

What I can say is that Coffey’s writing is some of the best I’ve ever read. He creates deep character points-of-view using a blend of first- and third-person. It was like seeing inside their minds. And he crafts some of the most beautiful sentences I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He brings to the page the unique pace and wording of the Virginia dialect–philosophical, observational, straightforward, and down-to-earth. It can’t be easy to create such believable prose. It was not limited to dialogue. The whole book was full of these gently rolling sentences full of truth.

Consider these words from the opening page:

I come to this place of darkness because it is where the light of heaven once touched. I come here for the ones who were saved on a night long ago and for the ones lost. I come because heaven is not without the past.

Even as I re-read the first pages, which are titled “The End,” I noticed clues to the story I hadn’t picked up on at first. The Devil Walks in Mattingly is layered, and I think reading it through once won’t be enough.

While I was waiting for the book to arrive, I visited Billy Coffey’s website to get a feel for this new-to-me author. Check it out. He had me at “hello,” basically, with his talk of front porches and hospitality. I’m planning another trip to Mattingly in the near future. (A note in the book said that all his novels take place in Mattingly.)

Will this book give you nightmares? No. Will it make you uncomfortable at times? Yes. Will it leave you with hope? Definitely.

Intrigued? Find out more about the book, the author and what other readers think here.

And don’t miss your chance to win a prize to celebrate the book’s release!

Billy Coffey is celebrating his new book, The Devil Walks in Mattingly, with a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway.

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One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 5th. Winner will be announced April  7th on Billy’s blog. Watch Billy give the backstory of the book here.

 

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Billy’s blog on April 7th to see if you won.

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Secrets. And surprises.

Those two words sum up everything I love about MaryLu Tyndall’s new release, The Ransom, the fourth in her Legacy of the King’s Pirates series. (Disclaimer: I was given a free e-copy of the book by the author in exchange for my review.)

ransomSet in the Caribbean–Port Royal, Jamaica–in the late 17th Century, The Ransom is a story of identities and the roles we play to survive in whatever society we find ourselves in.

After the death of her mother, Juliana Dutton is left to run her family’s shipping business when her father becomes ill and her brother turns to gambling and drinking. With the help of the family’s butler, she’s got the town convinced all is well with the business. For now.

Alexander Hyde, on the other hand, has the town convinced he’s the dandy Lord Munthrope while he lives a pirate’s life by night. The son of the infamous Captain Merrick Hyde has turned his back on his parents’ faith as he seeks a release from others’ expectations for his life.

But when Lord Munthrope offers Juliana a pact that could help them both, their carefully constructed schemes begin to unravel as they discover who they truly are meant to be.

The Ransom is a fun tale laced with adventure and romance, bringing to mind the antics of Westley in The Princess Bride or any of the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean movies, all of which I now want to watch again.

When I first started reading Tyndall’s books just over a year ago, her seafaring adventures intrigued me because I hadn’t read anything like that in inspirational fiction. But I convinced myself that I wasn’t really all that into pirates. After much consideration, and plenty of reading, I can safely say that has all changed. I’m firmly rooted in the pirate camp, and what I love about Tyndall’s stories, including this one, are the elements of faith worked in. Everyone is struggling with their beliefs and has made mistakes they regret. But none are exempt from redemption.

Though technically book four in the series, The Ransom can be read as a standalone novel. But trust me when I say you’ll also want to read the other books in the series: The Redemption, The Reliance and The Restitution.

 

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Reading a book by Susan Meissner is like treating yourself to fine chocolate. Her last work was a masterpiece that left me aching to return to Italy. She is a masterful storyteller.

So, when I knew she had a new book releasing, I didn’t hesitate to enter a Goodreads giveaway for a copy, even though I knew next to nothing about the story. And I won!

fall of marigolds A Fall of Marigolds has been sitting on my shelf for a few months while I tackled other reviews, but I recently finished it and can easily say this book makes my top whatever list of best books I’ve ever read.

The book opens in Manhattan 2011 with Taryn, a woman whose husband died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. She works in a specialty fabric store and lives above it with her 9-year-old daughter. A picture of her from the day of the tragedy surfaces suddenly and the quiet life she thought she’d gotten on with is disturbed.

Intertwined with her story is that of Clara, a nurse working on Ellis Island in 1911. She was a witness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and has come to the island to escape the memories of her loss that day.

Both stories are steeped in heavy sadness, and honestly, I’ve been avoiding stories, documentaries and movies about 9/11 since the day it happened because I can sometimes still feel the weight of the national despair. I don’t often lean in to pain, and I might have been more hesitant to read this story if I’d known that was part of it.

And I won’t lie. This story is not all feel-good. There are heart-wrenching scenes as these two women, separated by a century of time, allow themselves to grieve the past and open their lives to the present and future. I had to set it down a few times and let the feelings sink in and pass before starting again.

The beauty of this story, though, is the thread of hope woven through the tragedies. Meissner does not avoid the reality of how these women were affected nor does she let them stay in their comfortable grief. When the story was finished, I felt full in my soul. I may have even released a satisfied sigh. This is one of those books that is not so much an escape as it is examination, helping readers to see that whatever hardship seems to be at the forefront, a larger, stronger force is at work.

After reading A Fall of Marigolds, I feel ready to explore other 9/11 literature, and I’d certainly read this book again.

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Biblical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and Stephanie Landsem is fast establishing herself as a talented re-teller of familiar stories. The Thief, her second novel, is the story of a Jewish woman, Nissa, who is caring for her blind brother, and Longinus, a Roman centurion, who witness a miracle by the mysterious Nazarene, Jesus. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the ebook from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.) the thief

Nissa is hiding a secret that could kill her, and Longinus is holding on to bitterness over a friend’s death, and The Thief follows them both on a journey that will change their lives. When I read The Well, Landsem’s first novel, last year, I was impressed with the way the story caused me to rethink the characters in John 4. In The Thief, Landsem zooms in on Jerusalem and the events leading up to Jesus’ final Passover, culminating in his crucifixion and setting up the story for her third book, The Tomb. I feel like reading this story drew me in to the events I often skim over in the Bible. I could see, hear and feel, and because the focus was on ordinary people in Jerusalem, I got a better understanding of what it was like to live in that time.

The Thief is captivating and emotional, a story I couldn’t put down. And it whetted my appetite for the next book. thiefbloggerbutton

Don’t miss Stephanie Landsem‘s outstanding sophomore effort, The Thief.

Best-selling author Tosca Lee had this to say of the book: Filled with memorable characters, The Thief is a tale of hopelessness turned to hope, of high stakes made higher, and ultimate love. What happens when a character at the lowest rung of society crosses paths with the most well-known figure in history? The story of The Thief. I couldn’t stop reading.

Stephanie is hosting a Kindle Fire HDX and book giveaway at her website.

CLICK THE BUTTON to find out more and enter to win. Find out what readers are saying HERE. (Click the REVIEWS bar.)

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Small town. Tea. Lost love. What’s not to like?

Anita Higman’s A Marriage in Middlebury is a sweet romance full of all the elements that make me sigh at a good romantic comedy. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for my review.)a-marriage-in-middlebury

First, there’s the likable, down-to-earth heroine. Charlotte Hill is the owner of Middlebury’s tea room, where she serves her customers with grace, humor and compassion, uniquely blending teas to fit their personalities. She’s a friend to all, including a young boy with a troubled family. She’d love to have a family of her own, but that ship sailed more than a decade earlier, when her high school love Sam asked her to marry him and she turned him down. Charlotte is delightful, the kind of heroine you think would be your friend, like Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping or Julia Roberts in just about anything.

Then there’s Sam Wilder, the gone-but-not-forgotten love who returns to Middlebury with a fiancée in tow. He’s not the hunky hero of some stories, but he, too, is a likable character. Think Bill Pullman. (For some reason I want to compare this book to While You Were Sleeping.) He’s caring and dependable and dedicated. You can almost see the chemistry between these two on the pages of the book. (I’m not always a fan of books-become-movies but I secretly wouldn’t mind seeing this one on the screen.)

The story is full of colorful side characters, too. There’s the old man atheist who winds up at Easter dinner with a room full of Christians. The mysterious homeless man who is good with plants. The single pastor being set up on blind dates by his parishioners. And the antique dealer who acts first and thinks later but with good intentions.

If that’s not enough to sell this book as a must-read, then consider the writing. In the first book I read by Higman, I was blown away by her use of metaphors. It holds true for this book, too. There’s a casual, friendly style to her writing but it’s full of spiritual insight without feeling forced. Higman’s insights about life and faith flow naturally through the story. I love reading what she writes.

 

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Regina Beswick is a restorer of classic cars. At least, that’s her dream, the one she left her corporate accounting job to pursue. And she’s on the brink of making it a career when a handsome stranger arrives from overseas with some world-shattering news: She’s actually a long-lost princess.

princess ever afterRachel Hauck’s second offering in her Royal Wedding series, Princess Ever After, is everything you want in a modern fairy-tale. There’s a spunky heroine, a handsome hero, and plenty of conflict. (Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of the book from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review. And keep reading to find out what the author is giving away to celebrate this release!)

This book has a bit of The Princess Diaries feel to it as Regina weighs her options as the newly found heir to the throne. She prefers the company of cars and working folks to ceremony and pomp, yet she charms most of the people she meets. And Tanner, the government official sent to fetch her from America, is a caught between the man he used to be and the man he wants to become. The sparks fly between them, and the story isn’t easy to walk away from. I stayed up too late to finish it, always the sign of a good book, in my opinion.

What I have loved about both of the books in this series is the fictional countries, part British, part German, Hauck has created, and how much they appeal to my love of all things British. The way Tanner speaks is believable in its foreignness. The point of view is deeply un-American (not anti-American, mind you), which I would think is hard for an American to write. I was impressed in both books with the authentic words Hauck uses for everyday items in the fictional countries.

Princess Ever After is the perfect Valentine’s Day read, and Hauck is one of my new favorite authors.

Want to know more about the author, the book and what others are saying? Go here.

And now for the giveaway and party invitation!

Rachel Hauck is celebrating the release of her latest “swoon”-worthy romance,  Princess Ever After, with a fun $200 “Princess” prize package giveaway and a Facebook “Princess” party on March 6th. Grab your tiaras and RSVP today!

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One winner will receive:

  • A $200 Visa cash card (buy your very own “princess ever after” gown or tanks of gas for your “royal” ride)
  • Princess Ever After, Once Upon a Prince, and The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 6th. Winner will be announced at Rachel’s “Princess” Facebook Party on March 6th. Connect with Rachel for an evening of “royal” book chat, princess-themed trivia, laughter, prizes, and an exclusive look at the next book in the Royal Wedding series!



So grab your copy of Princess Ever After and join Rachel and friends on the evening of March 6th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 6th!

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Saphora Warren seems to have it all: Married to a successful plastic surgeon, living in a house being featured in Southern Living, with youthful looks that belie her grandmother role.

But on the day Southern Living comes to feature her garden party, Saphora is planning to leave her husband, Bender, for his repeated unfaithfulness. When the party’s over, she packs her bag, intending to retreat to their Outer Banks house for some alone time. But then Bender comes home early and announces he’s dying. Cancer. And her plans vanish into a frenzy of doctor visits and Bender’s convalescence at the very house where Saphora planned to escape.

pirate queenThus the story begins in The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman.

The family–sons, daughter, grandkids–gathers at the house as Bender battles cancer. Through surgery and further complications, they all cope in various ways. Saphora busies herself with family, including grandson Eddie who is with them from day 1. When they arrive at the beach house, they meet another boy, Tobias, who they eventually learn is also sick.

Honestly, it’s hard to pin down what I loved about this book. The characters are well-developed, and there’s an air of mystery as Saphora tries to discover why her neighbor stays up late digging holes in his yard. There’s friendship forged in trial and love discovered and rediscovered. It’s not an escape-your-troubles kind of book, but it’s not depressing, either. Hope threads through the pages as Saphora discovers treasures hidden within herself and her marriage.

I don’t read many books whose lead characters are over the age of 50, but it’s not really an issue in this book. Saphora has a strength of character and grace about her that I think most women would envy.

The Pirate Queen is an honest take on how tragedy can transform a person and a relationship.

To learn more, visit the author’s website.

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