Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

I’m generally in awe of debut authors who make such a good first impression. And Kristy Cambron’s novel The Butterfly and the Violin makes a great introduction to a new writer. (Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

Butterfly and ViolinThis book is a work of art, not just because it centers on a lost painting. It’s the kind of story that makes me want to slow down and read the words over and over again so I appreciate the nuances of how they’re put together. I get the feeling that the more time spent with this story, the more details and layers I’d discover. Not unlike most pieces of art.

The Butterfly and the Violin combines the stories of Adele von Bron, a Viennese violinist during World War 2, and Sera James, a New York City art dealer in present day. Sera has been obsessed with the painting since she saw it a gallery in Paris when she was 8. Her life’s mission after her life crumbled has been to track down the painting. She and her assistant have hit a dead end when William Hanover, the heir of a wealthy California family, makes an offer to aid her search in an effort to save the family business. Sera and William try to piece together the clues to the painting’s owner and the story of Adele while each trying to patch up their broken pasts.

Adele’s story is woven into the contemporary storyline, a method of storytelling I love when it’s done well. And Cambron excels at it.

If you’ve read Susan Meissner’s The Girl in the Glass, you’ll find a similarly mesmerizing story in this book. The Butterfly and the Violin is part of the Hidden Masterpieces series, which is good news for those of us who want more stories that blend past and present.

About the book: A mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz—and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl—a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover, the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul, who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together, Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: in the grim camps of Auschwitz and in the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
Purchase a copy: http://ow.ly/zhXo3

About the author: Kristy Cambron has been fascinated with the WWII era since hearing her KCambron-238grandfather’s stories of the war. She holds an art history degree from Indiana University and received the Outstanding Art History Student Award. Kristy writes WWII and Regency era fiction and has placed first in the 2013 NTRWA Great Expectations and 2012 FCRW Beacon contests, and is a 2013 Laurie finalist. Kristy makes her home in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons.

Find Kristy online: websiteFacebookTwitter

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Every time I read and review a Jody Hedlund book, I feel like a recording with my praise. So, if I haven’t convinced you historical fiction fans to read one of her books yet, consider these reasons to pick up her latest, Captured by Love, or any other book she’s written. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.) captured-by-love-662x1024

1. History. Duh. She writes historical fiction, right? But each of her novels leaves me wanting to know about the historical events she’s writing about. In this one, she focuses in on the War of 1812 and the British occupation of what we know as Mackinac Island in the Michigan Territory of 1814. I feel like I get an interesting history lesson when I read. But if history’s not enough to convince you, how about …

2. Hunky heroes. In Captured by Love, Pierre is a fur trader from the Michigan island settlement of Mackinac, which is currently occupied by the British. He’s the manliest of men with charm to spare. I’ve read all of Hedlund’s published books, and no two heroes are the same. I appreciate the diversity in character development as well as the predictability of some of their charms. Still, it’s fun to see how these men woo the women and also how they change. (My favorite hunky hero is from A Noble Groom. I’m swooning as I type.) But they’re not all typically hunky. Take Ben, who is modeled after John Adams, in Rebellious Heart. He woos with his words and his commitment to political change. That’s hunky in its own way. It’s not just about the men, though. Let’s not forget the …

3. Spunky heroines. This was a question posed by another historical fiction author recently: Do you like spunky heroines or more genteel ones? And honestly, I like them both for different reasons. Hedlund’s heroines are a mix of both but they lean toward spunky. They are not weak, damsel-in-distress types, though they do get rescued quite often. They are strong, passionate women with goals and ideas. In Captured by Love, Angelique has had to fend for herself for some time while also taking care of Pierre’s nearly-blind mother. She holds her own among the men in her life, even when she has little choice or say in matters. I appreciate female characters who earn the admiration of the men because of their minds, not just their pretty looks. Which is good because they face plenty of …

4. Peril. Hedlund’s stories are not sweet romances. There is danger, and the characters face opposition from without and within. Sometimes their lives hang in the balance. The stories are full of adventure and hold-your-breath moments, the kind where you know (you think!) things are going to turn out okay but you’re not sure how. Hedlund keeps me turning the pages and isn’t afraid to put her characters through the worst of circumstances for the sake of a good story.

And finally, you should read her stories …

5. To believe in love again. I know not everyone agrees that reading inspirational romance is a worthy pursuit, but don’t we humans love a good love story? I love reading true stories of love that lasts and weathers storms, and I’m grateful for authors who can write stories that reflect that real-life truth. Hedlund’s books are intense sometimes, and they are entertaining, but they are also pictures of undying and sacrificial love. These are not fluff romances meant to give readers a temporary thrill. They are stories that stick with you and rekindle the belief that love conquers all.

So, there you have it. Five good reasons to pick up a Jody Hedlund novel. She writes the stories I want to read, and frankly, I wouldn’t even have to know what the book is about beforehand as long as her name is on it. If you’re looking for a new author to love, give her books a try. And if you need further incentive to read Captured by Love, head on over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of 15 copies.

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Have you met the Christiansen family yet? I’m totally in like with this family created by talented storyteller Susan May Warren. This flawed family of faithful and forgiving people fills my heart. They’re so real. You can call me crazy, but I am love, love, loving these kinds of sibling series that focus in on one sibling’s story in a large family. When I Fall in Love is the third in this family’s story, and so far, it’s my favorite. (Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of the book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

when i fall in loveIn it, we meet Grace Christiansen whose life is all about playing it safe. She’s reluctant to leave her family and the community of Deep Haven for anything resembling adventure. But when her family gifts her with a culinary vacation to Hawaii, she finds herself unable to avoid a life beyond what she’s known, thanks in part to Maxwell Sharpe. Max is a Minnesota hockey player with ties to the Christiansen family. His former teammate Jace is marrying Grace’s older sister Eden, and he was a teammate of the bad boy Christianson brother, Owen. He’s headed to Hawaii, too, for his third culinary vacation: his time to relax and put away his fears for tomorrow. They meet on the plane and Max sets out to show Grace the beauty and wonder of Hawaii while trying to keep emotional distance because of the fate he knows awaits him in life.

Call this book Food Network meets The Fault in Our Stars. Grace and Max bond over cooking and enter a cooking competition as a team. At times, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to keep reading or get myself into the kitchen and cook something myself. It was the best of both worlds for me: reading and cooking. And I appreciated the hard questions Warren tackles in this relationship. Max knows his days on earth are limited, and because of that, he shuts himself off from the possibility of a relationship. He doesn’t think he deserves to fall in love or dream because nothing is guaranteed to last.

And Grace. Oh, how I could relate to her need to live a safe life. Her reluctance to step out in faith and try something new or big or great. There were times in the story when I read the words she was speaking about herself and her abilities and they could have been my words, too.

It’s an age-old question: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? And Warren answers it beautifully.

You can catch up with the Christiansens in books 1 and 2: Take A Chance on Me and It Had to Be You. And I, for one, will be following this family to the end of the series.


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I’ve been a fan of Karen Witemeyer’s books since the first ones I read last year before meeting her at a writers conference. And while those were enjoyable reads, each new book she’s released has been better than the last one!

full steam aheadHer newest release, Full Steam Ahead, might be my new favorite of hers. And I really liked her last book, Stealing the Preacher. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of Full Steam Ahead from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review.)

Witemeyer sets her books in 19th century Texas, generally. In this one, she focuses on Nicole Renard, only child of Anton Renard of Renard Shipping, who because of her gender is not a suitable heir to the company (despite her knowledge of the business). With her father ailing and the company’s future at stake, Nicole sets out to find a man to marry who can carry on her father’s shipping legacy.

Her plans are diverted from the beginning as a rival family waits to take a valuable possession from the Renard family, so Nicole finds herself in the small town of Liberty, Texas, instead of New Orleans, where her prospects for a partner would have been plentiful. She seeks a job from Darius Thornton, the town’s recluse and a man obsessed with preventing boiler explosions on steam ships. Haunted by his past, he reluctantly hires Nicole when she shows she’s able to understand his notes.

Witemeyer sets this relationship up cleverly. Both are determined to avoid each other in favor of a greater, nobler pursuit, but as they work together, they’re drawn to each other. I love that Nicole shows ability in a field normally reserved for a man and how she’s able to surprise Darius with her knowledge. (Hint: This is a good book for smart girls. She’s more than a pretty face!) And Darius, though obsessed with a past he can never correct, has a vision for what the future can be. Nicole’s presence reminds him that he needs other people in his life.

If you’re in need of a beach book or story to read while traveling to your summer destination, I recommend this new one by Witemeyer (or any of her books). I keep saying I have a favorite of hers, but each new one that she writes becomes my new favorite.


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What if an impulsive decision changed your life forever?

meant to be mineCelia Park has had a thing for Ty Porter since high school and when their paths cross in Las Vegas, the spark is still there. After four unbelievable days of a Vegas-style romance, Celia and Ty end up at a wedding chapel for an equally Vegas-style wedding. In the morning, Celia wakes up with no regrets; Ty, on the other hand, has nothing but. Their dream relationship ends after four days and the two part ways. Five and a half years later, they’re still married though they haven’t seen each other all that time. Circumstances force Ty to find Celia and he finds more than his in-name-only wife–he finds Celia raising a daughter, his daughter, alone.

Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade is the story of Celia and Ty’s relationship as Celia learns to trust a man who broke her heart and Ty learns to live for something other than bull riding. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review.) It’s a sweet, funny, inspiring love story that mirrors the aches of the human heart for love and forgiveness.

Wade writes some of the best contemporary inspirational stories on the market today. I love her style of storytelling, especially in this book Celia’s spunk and Ty’s charm. You can almost hear the irresistible smile as he speaks. And the cover is just plain adorable and captures Celia’s personality perfectly.

If you’re stocking up on summer reading, add this one to your list. (And check out Becky’s other books, including the first in the Porter family series, Undeniably Yours.)


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If history books were written like Liz Tolsma’s stories, I’d have changed my major in college.

Okay, that’s probably not true because I was born to be a writer, but I want you to know just how amazing Tolsma’s tales of World War II are. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author and an e-copy from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

daisiesDaisies are Forever is the second of Tolsma’s novels that tell the lesser known stories of World War II. The first, Snow on the Tulips, was set in The Netherlands. This one focuses on an American woman living in East Prussia who is forced to flee to Berlin and a British soldier escaped from enemy captivity who pretends to be her husband.

History, especially war history, is not something I’m generally eager to read about, but Tolsma takes readers to the depths of the characters’ emotions. I felt the weight of the burdens Gisela carried as she fought for survival in a near-hopeless environment, and I gained a new appreciation for the immense suffering people all over the world felt during the long years of war.

These are not necessarily feel-good stories, but they do offer hope in the darkest of circumstances. And a unique aspect of Tolsma’s work is that her stories are based on ones that happened in her family. Through stories and pictures she’s heard throughout her life, she is able to take us along on the kind of journey most of us will never have to face.

This is World War II fiction at its finest.

To celebrate the release of her new novel, the author is hosting a giveaway. Details follow.

Liz Tolsma‘s latest WWII historical fiction novel, Daisies are Forever, is getting rave reviews. 

“. . . compelling and fast-paced tale about the atrocities and tremendous losses. . . .” —Library Journal

“Excellent storytelling, accurate historical reporting and gritty, persevering characters make this WWII-era novel a must-read.” —CBA Retailers + Resources


Liz celebrating the release with a Kindle HDX giveaway!

One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • Daisies are Forever by Liz Tolsma

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 31st. Winner will be announced June 2nd on Liz’s website.

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Liz’s website on June 2nd to see if you won.


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heart's pursuitIn all my years of reading Christian fiction, this is the first book I’ve picked up by Robin Lee Hatcher. I’ve heard good things about her stories, and The Heart’s Pursuit offered a compelling premise: a jilted bride, a bounty hunter bent on revenge, and travel through the barren Western states in the late 1800s. (Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of the book from the publisher through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

And it certainly had its moments. Silver Matlock and Jared Newman find themselves in plenty of scrapes and have their work cut out for them battling their personal demons and their growing affection for each other.

I enjoyed the story for the most part. It didn’t “wow” me, although that’s certainly not a requirement for novels. But the characters were strong and believable and the conflict was enough to keep me turning the pages.

And reading The Heart’s Pursuit hasn’t deterred me from trying another of Hatcher’s stories. If you like Western romance with a spunky heroine and a tortured hero, this is a book for you.

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If you’re a reader and happen to think inspirational fiction is limited to cozy, feel-good G-rated romance, can I introduce you to Dani Pettrey and her Alaskan Courage series?

I will confess that until I read Pettrey’s books and fell in love with the McKenna family, I hadn’t a clue about inspirational romantic suspense novels. Hers are among the best! Each novel focuses on one of the five siblings, a relationship and a criminal investigation. (To read my reviews of two of her previous novels, click here and here.)

silenced3dThe fourth book in the series (there are five total), Silenced, releases this month and follows rock-climber Kayden and Jake, whose past, until recently, was a mystery to the McKenna family. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for my review.) When Kayden discovers a body while rock-climbing, she and Jake set out to investigate while uncovering a new side to their relationship. Kayden has always held Jake at arm’s length, suspicious of his motives and his virtual anonymity. She’s also closed herself off to any possibility of love. Jake has harbored feelings for Kayden but knows she’ll run if he makes a move. As the search for a killer intensifies, Jake’s past collides with the future he hopes to have with Kayden.

Pettrey never fails to keep me reading. The mystery and suspense hold up throughout the novel, and I’m never quite sure how it’s all going to end. While not much of an extreme sports/risk-taker type myself, it’s fun to live vicariously through the McKenna family’s hobbies, professions and rescue efforts. If you’re new to this author and series, I think you’ll appreciate it more if you start at the beginning with Submerged. The story continues with Shattered, Stranded and Silenced. (Care to take a guess at book five’s title? It follows the pattern of the others! The title and cover for that one will be revealed on May 23 during a Facebook party on the Bethany House Publishers events page.)

Although it wasn’t my favorite of the four books thus far, I enjoyed Silenced for its plot twists and themes, one of which is about letting our past experiences and hurts control and limit our futures. Not just fun, suspenseful reads, Pettrey’s books are stuffed with spiritual truths that encourage readers to live an adventurous spiritual life and fiercely love those around us.

And if reading her books wasn’t enough of a treat, Pettrey’s also hosting a fun giveaway in honor of Silenced! Between now and May 21, head over to Pettrey’s website and enter to win one of three great prize packages, including an air travel gift certificate, Alaskan art and a romantic picnic pack.


Enter the RUGGED ROMANCE Sweepstakes from Author Dani Pettrey!


I can’t wait for book five and just might go back and re-read the other books to immerse myself in the McKenna family’s world. (It’s not healthy, but I want to hang out with them!)

Here’s more about the author:

Dani PettreyDani Pettrey is a wife, home-schooling mom, and the acclaimed author of the romantic suspense series Alaskan Courage, which includes her bestselling novels SubmergedShatteredStranded, and her latest release, Silenced. She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves–the thrill of adventure, nail biting suspense, the deepening of her characters’ faith, and plenty of romance. She and her husband reside in Maryland, where they enjoy time with their daughters, son-in-law, and super adorable grandson.

Connect with her on her website, through Facebook, on Twitter and Pinterest. (Warning: her stories and pictures will make you want to travel!)

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“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.” 

  • 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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