Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorites of 2011

It took me long enough, I know. It was harder than you realize to narrow down the list too. I had 25 books designated as favorites this year. I didn't think you all would let me list them all, so I had to go through them and pick out those that were the very best of the best. Here's that list (in ABC order):

Best of 2011

1. A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander ~ I still think this is one of the most most stunning covers. I love looking at the book - and the inside is just as good.

2. Dance of the Dandelion by Dina L. Sleiman ~ This was one of those fantastic surprises you're so thankful you got a chance to read. If you haven't yet ... 

3. Letting Go by Michelle Sutton ~ Michelle tackles subjects other authors wouldn't want to come anywhere close to. This is a great example of how well she does it.

4. Surrender the Dawn by M.L. Tyndall ~ I pre-order all her books and haven't regretted it yet. They all have plenty of adventure and romance. 

5. Surrender the Night by MaryLu Tyndall ~ This is one of those stories that reaches off the page and captures your heart. I felt I lived it all with Rose.

6. The Colonel's Lady by Laura Franz ~ This one had everything ~ a little mystery, a little adventure, a lot of romance, colorful characters ... I didn't want it to end.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins ~ {blushing} I didn't read the 1st book until this year. It's my favorite book in the series. If you don't know what all the fuss is about, you should really check it out. It's great fodder for discussion.

8. The Lady of Bolton Hill by Elizabeth Camden ~ I talk a lot about characters, but this book sort of exemplified what those can mean to a story. Gorgeous.

9. The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson ~ This is pure magic. She manages to make the story totally new and keep the heart at the same time.

10. While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austen ~ This has a lot of layers - and tons about relationships. I found it very touching and the kind of thing that changes you ... makes you feel as if you've read about real people.

Well, that's my list. I thought about adding honorable mentions, but I better end before it gets to be every book I read this year. lol

Friday, December 30, 2011

Heart of Ice

The Triple Threat Club novels follow three fiercely intelligent women-a TV reporter, a Federal prosecutor and an FBI agent-as they investigate crimes as current as today's headlines.
The Triple Threat women have faced intense situations before…but never such a cunningly cold-blooded murderer.
Elizabeth Avery is a stunningly beautiful woman. But her perfectly managed exterior hides the ice cold heart of a killer.  She ingeniously manipulates everyone who crosses her path to do exactly as she wishes--from crime reporter Cassidy Shaw, who thinks Elizabeth is her new best friend, to a shy young man Elizabeth persuades to kill for her.
As Elizabeth leaves a trail of bodies in her wake, Federal prosecuter Allison Pierce and FBI agent Nicole Hedges must piece together clues from seemingly unrelated crimes. Can they stop her before she reaches her unthinkable, ultimate end-game?

My take: This is the third book in the series, something I didn't know when I chose it. I think it would benefit readers to read the others in the series first - not for the story but so you can better "bond" with the characters.

Elizabeth is fascinating and very well written. I disliked her immensely, but I couldn't take my eyes off my Kindle when she was there. I wanted to see what she would do next.

The "triple threat" all did their jobs well and were pretty realistic. Their friendship didn't get in the way of the case (I've known some books that have done that - and it becomes more about the friendship than the mystery). The problem was that I hadn't read the other novels so the relationship felt somewhat shallow to me.

Although this is put out by a Christian publisher, one of the three is very anti-religion and one is a Christian who mentions she prays every now and then. There is no Christian themes or people accepting Christ, no prayers, sermons or anything like that in the book. This could just as easily have been published by a secular publisher.

It was an interesting story the pacing was good throughout. I want to thank Thomas Nelson for providing my copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year Giveaway

There is a giveaway being hosted at Stiletto Storytime for Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King. Hurry because the fun ends midnight, December 31, 2011 (EST).

Here's the summary of the book:

Refugee. Queen. Saint. In eleventh-century Scotland, a young woman strives to fulfill her destiny despite the risks . . .

Shipwrecked on the Scottish coast, a young Saxon princess and her family—including the outlawed Edgar of England—ask sanctuary of the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore, who shrewdly sees the political advantage. He promises to aid Edgar and the Saxon cause in return for the hand of Edgar’s sister, Margaret, in marriage.

A foreign queen in a strange land, Margaret adapts to life among the barbarian Scots, bears princes, and shapes the fierce warrior Malcolm into a sophisticated ruler. Yet even as the king and queen build a passionate and tempestuous partnership, the Scots distrust her. When her husband brings Eva, a Celtic bard, to court as a hostage for the good behavior of the formidable Lady Macbeth, Margaret expects trouble. Instead, an unlikely friendship grows between the queen and her bard, though one has a wild Celtic nature and the other follows the demanding path of obligation.
Torn between old and new loyalties, Eva is bound by a vow to betray the king and his Saxon queen. Soon imprisoned and charged with witchcraft and treason, Eva learns that Queen Margaret—counseled by the furious king and his powerful priests—will decide her fate and that of her kinswoman Lady Macbeth. But can the proud queen forgive such deep treachery?

Sounds great, right? Good luck and let me know if you read it first. :o)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Merchant's Daughter

Summary: An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice.Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf's bailiff---a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff's vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

My Take: I think someone needs to check Melanie Dickerson for a magic wand. She knows how to weave an almost magical tale that manages to reinvent the classic tale completely and yet keep it's heart and soul. 

This is one of those perfect books. From the cover, (I thought it was so cleverly designed. I love his reflection in the mirror on her arm.) to the last page,  you are totally submersed in the world she has created. She balances it so perfectly that you aren't overwhelmed with details about how they live.

The progression or pace of the story is done very well also. Instead of Annabel immediately falling for Ranulf (or the other way around), their relationship slowly develops over time. In the meantime there is plenty to keep you interested and flipping pages. Will she really go to the convent? Will the villagers accept Lord Ranulf or will they blame him for their troubles? That kind of thing. 

I loved the back story she gave Ranulf to explain his appearance and attitude. She is wonderfully creative. I shut the book and actually sighed with contented pleasure - beaming all the while. It made me feel like a twelve year old girl again -- lying on my bed and dreaming about fairly tales. Thank you for bringing back that lovely feeling. I can't wait for whatever she decides to do next. 

I do need to thank the publisher for providing my copy in exchange for my honest review. It didn't influence me in any way, but I appreciate their generosity. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Quiz

This is a picture of our old house - all dressed up for Christmas - that we now have to rent or sell. :o(

I got this idea from Diane Estrella's blog That's What I'm Here For.

  1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? I'm not ashamed to say Hot Chocolate - and with all the mini marshmallows I can fit in my mug. :o) 
  2. Colored lights on tree/house or white?  I like white. We used to have enough space at the old house to have two trees -- one in the entryway that had colored lights and kind of funny decorations and one in the living room that was white and gold. Now it's just the white and gold.
  3. Do you hang mistletoe? No. We're actually pretty low key about decorating inside. We switch out some pictures, cover the tables with Christmas mats and runners, put up an advent candle wreath, hang stockings ... I have a corkboard that I covered with a "Christmasy" plaid and we attach our cards to it. We have a Nativity that stays out all year and we put up a tree and a couple small decorations - but that is about it. 
  4. When do you put your decorations up? Usually we do it Thanksgiving weekend. It was a little later this time because we had to travel to do work on the other house to try and get it ready to rent/sell.                        
  5. What is your favorite holiday dish? I like the homemade bread... then I guess Buttermilk pie ... candied sweet potatoes. 
  6. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? I remember the first year my parents used all white lights on the tree. I sat under it at night and saw the glow ... I sung Silent Night over and over to myself and felt like I finally understood what that star lighting the way was all about. It's why I like white lights now.
  7. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I was fairly young - but one of those ... precocious children - always hanging out with adults and acting more mature than I was. I must have been 6 or 7. I had decided they were lying to me about Santa and I was going to catch them "in the act." Then they wouldn't be able to lie anymore. Our house was a bi-level and they had the tree downstairs and our bedrooms upstairs. I waited until I heard them putting together the presents and I slipped down to the staircase and watched for a little while. Then I confronted them - crying. I told them lying was bad and they shouldn't do it to someone they loved. So they must not love me. Then I ran off to bed. The next morning they explained why they had done the Santa thing but I was not budging. I told them it meant more to me that they picked out the gifts for me. They agreed not to "do" Santa anymore and I agreed not to talk about Santa with any other children. lol The next couple years were hard on my family and it really did mean a lot to know how they sacrificed for us.
  8. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We used to. The boys got older and started wanting less presents. Partly because their own faith was stronger and they wanted to focus more on others - and partly because what few gifts they got were more expensive. So we started saving all the gifts for Christmas morning.
  9. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? How? We use an artificial tree - it helps my allergies, saves a tree, helps with the cats, saves money ... There's a picture below.   
  10. Snow! Love it or dread it? I don't like snow except to look at when it has just fallen.
  11. Do you remember your favorite gift? Nope. I know it sounds strange, but I don't like getting gifts.
  12. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Making a body pick? Totally unfair!
  13. Candy Canes: Yuck or Yum? I like them - for a while. They can get old fast.
  14. Favorite Christmas movie? I don't know - I'm a sap for all of them. 
  15. What is your favorite Christmas song? "Little Drummer Boy"  & "Silent Night"  

    Your turn! Take the quiz on your blog and let me know here so I can check out your answers. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest New Year. I hope you have a wonderful time with friends and family - making memories, eating wonderful food, playing games with each other, and taking turns giving and receiving not just presents - but presence. Blessings to you all. {hugs}

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Wordless Wednesdays

    I don't often share pictures of my family on the internet. I like to ... protect them and let them choose to share what and when they want. My oldest son recently got married and I am so happy for them both. This is one of my favorite pictures from that day. Isn't it romantic?

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Save 30% on The Christmas Singing

    After Gideon coldly broke her heart, can the warmth of the season revive Mattie’s hopes?
    Mattie thought her childhood sweetheart adored her until he abruptly ended their engagement on Christmas Eve.

    Three years later, will learning the truth behind his rejection restore her Christmas joy – or open the door to even deeper heartbreak?

    Spend Christmas with the Amish in this story of love, romance, heartache, and restoration.


    If you love Amish fiction, I've got good news for you. Right now you can have 30% off and free shipping on The Christmas Singing (and any other title) when you use promo code CHRISTMAS11 at checkout at . The coupon code expires on December 20th, 2011.

    I haven't read this one yet, but if you'd like more of a peek, here's the trailer:

    Enjoy the book and the sale!

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    The Soul Reader

    Summary:  The two people Ward McNulty most wished he could forget were the woman he once loved and the man he still hated.

    He succeeded sometimes by smothering their memory under mounds of activity-his physical rehabilitation, looking for a job, and staving off foreclosure. But try as he might, it was always there-just under the surface, like smoldering embers embedded in layers of ash, needing only a breath of oxygen to burst into flame. And that's exactly what happens one sunny Saturday afternoon, when Carrie Hope unexpectedly breezes back into his life.

    It is a year after his father's murder when Carrie asks Ward to assist her in writing a book about the North Beach Project, the money-laundering scheme that led to his father's death. Ward initially turns her down. He knows that reopening the investigation would be dangerous for three reasons. First, it could cost them their lives-the identity of the man behind the scheme remains a mystery, and he would do almost anything to keep it that way. Secondly, it may cost Ward his very soul if he gets sucked back into the vortex of hatred and revenge that he has just escaped. And finally, Ward does not know if he or Carrie could survive falling in love and hurting each other yet again.

    But when Carrie decides to pursue the investigation without him, Ward is faced with a difficult choice: he can allow her to go it alone and possibly get killed . . . or he can join her in hopes of being able to protect her. Ward's uncanny insight might give him an edge-and allow him to see the evil coiled in the jumbled foliage of the North Beach Project before it has a chance to strike. He decides to collaborate with her on the book, but on his terms, and thereby launches a series of events that span the globe-from Colombia to Rome-and make Ward and Carrie the target of the most dangerous assassin in the western hemisphere, a man known only as "Culebra."

    It is in seeking justice that Ward discovers mercy-and love-once again.

    My Take: I had no idea this was a sequel to In Sight when I started reading it. The author did a great job filtering in the necessary back story from the first book so I never felt lost - just intrigued enough that I still want to read it. :o)

    The plot in the book kept me flipping pages to find out what was going to happen. It was exciting and tense. I loved all the twists and turns. The action felt realistic and intense at the same time.

    I liked Carrie and Ward - and the romantic tension between them felt natural. The secondary characters were complex and interesting as well. I especially appreciated the villains. I wish some of the characters had been described a little better/sooner though. I went through about half the book without figuring out one of them was African American. He's described exiting a plane and I thought to myself that an established character should already have a description by then - because we've already made our own picture of all the players at that point.

    That's one very small point in a great book. This book has a lot to offer. I want to thank the publisher for providing my copy in exchange for my honest review.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    The Land Beyond the Portal

    Summary:  It's a dark, snowy night when Laura awakens at the bottom of a staircase with a horrible headache and no idea how she got there. To make matters worse, she is alone in the house, snowed in by a blizzard, with no way to call for help. While exploring the house in a desperate attempt to trigger the return of her memory, she discovers a small room beneath the basement. She steps inside, and an unknown force instantly transports her to a mysterious, pastoral land.

    She finds a quaint village that at first glance seems like a peaceful place; but Laura soon learns that peace is merely an illusion. Why are terrible rumors circulating about the village's leader? Why do the villagers worship a sinister deity who bears no resemblance to her own powerful and loving God? Most importantly, will she ever remember who she is and find her way home? In her quest for answers, she uncovers a myriad of forbidden secrets that might keep her trapped in The Land Beyond the Portal.

    My Take: There were some very inventive and creative twists to this plot as well as some very obvious nods to iconic literary legends like Narnia. Most of the time the action kept the plot moving at a good pace.

    There were some inconsistencies that nagged at me - some more than others. One was that despite her coming through a portal (and their knowledge that others had as well) it was evidently never considered that the royal family's son may have accidentally fallen into one - instead of all the foul ends they dream up as rumors. 

    The faith aspect was somewhat confusing as well. Litchfield is set up as a false god and she is warned that the people are brainwashed into this all encompassing faith of him -- but little is mentioned about it. Most of the people don't mention him at all unless she asks. Her own faith is supposed to be strong but there isn't any mention of it in the beginning - very little in the middle - and suddenly she is wanting to evangelize everyone at the end. 

    Her memory loss was unusual. She found a name and thought it sounded like her - or didn't - and adopted it. She couldn't remember her past or what happened, but remembered musical pieces and things like that. She remembered geographical features as well ... I'm no expert - and it was never explained how or why that could happen so it just felt off. 

    Without giving anything away, the author's premise of how Laura ended up where she did (as well as the rest of the people) was creative and interesting. The book is fairly short -- maybe it would have been even better had there been more time spent developing her ideas and characters.

    The publisher provided me a copy in exchange for my honest review.

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    Dance of the Dandelion

    Summary: Love's quest leads her the world over.
    Dandelion Dering was born a peasant in the English village of Arun, but her soul yearned for another life, another world. One filled with color and music, with adventure and passion... with more.
    Haunted by childhood memories, Dandelion determines to find a better existence than the life every peasant in the village contents themselves with. Even if her sweetheart William's predictions prove true, and her journey leads straight to heartache.
    From her sleepy hamlet to the intrigue of castle life, from the heart of London to the adventurous seas, Dandelion flees from the mistakes of her past, always seeking that something, that someone who will satisfy her longings.
    Will Dandelion ever find the rhythm to her life's dance... or did she leave her chance for true love at home in Arun village?

    My Take : This book was a total surprise for me. When I saw the cover I thought it was going to be a fluffy read. It wasn't at all. This was one of the most ... "true" books I've read. 

    Dandelion (again a kind of ... fluffy name) is a character yearning for more. More romance, more security, more adventure, more education, more ... of everything than she thinks she can get from the little village she lives in and the people in it. She dreams of a knight to ride up, swoop her into his arms, and carry her away from all her troubles and into a happily ever after. What happens is a lot more complicated than that. She learns that the castle is not all she expected and money doesn't always bring the happiness or even the security she had been expecting. All along there is this emptiness that no amount of fancy clothes can fill.

    The story really revolves around Dandelion turning from a dreamy-eyed girl into a mature woman who is willing to accept the consequences for her actions and, even more importantly, is concerned about what other people might need and want and how she can best meet those needs. It's an amazing transformation and how it happens is so gradual and realistic that it resonates with you the whole way. Part of you totally relates to her dreams and desires in the beginning -- and you can also relate with her as she makes her journey (though I admit to screaming at the book, "Talk to him!" more than once. :o) 

    Characters make the story -- and this book was populated with very complex and genuine people. I believed in them. I enjoyed spending time in their world. The faith aspects were important to the story, but you never felt like you were being beat over the head with them. It just felt like an integral part of the lives of these - flawed, but evolving characters. 

    This one is going on my list to choose favorites of the year. I want to thank the publisher, White Fire Publishing, for providing my copy in exchange for my honest review.