The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FINDING EMMA By Steena Holmes

Finding Emma by Steena HolmesPublisher:  Lake Union Publishing
Release Date:  February 26, 2013
Pages:  258
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Book Description:  Megan sees her daughter Emma everywhere. She's the little girl standing in the supermarket, the child waiting for the swings at the playground, the girl with ice cream dripping down her face. But it's never Emma.


Emma's been missing for two years.

Unable to handle the constant heartache of all the false sightings, Megan's husband threatens to walk away unless Megan can agree to accept Emma is gone. Megan's life and marriage is crumbling all around her and she realizes she may have to do the thing she dreads most: move on.

When Megan takes a photo of a little girl with an elderly couple at the town fair, she believes it to be her missing daughter. Unable to let go, she sets in motion a sequence of events that could destroy both families lives.


Wanda's Thoughts:  I was profoundly moved by this novel, the story of a child who goes missing, and how it deeply devastates her mother and family. It is skillful storytelling at its best, and it simply draws you in. 

Megan didn’t know how to live her life without her daughter, Emma. It was like her life was on pause. In her quest to find her missing daughter, she’d forgotten that she still had two daughters by her side waiting to be noticed, and a husband who was dealing with Emma’s disappearance in his own way. 

The author manages to weave many elements into the storyline and the relationships between the characters are superb. Jack and Emmie’s relationship especially touched me. Deep feelings are portrayed in many scenes, with writing that is poignant and filled with emotion. 

Finding Emma has a well-constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion – a beautifully written story that will warm your heart. Most definitely a 5 star novel by and incredible author. 

Steena HolmesAbout the Author:  USA Today Bestselling Author - Steena is the author of the heart wrenching Finding Emma series and the upcoming novel The Memory Child.

Steena Holmes grew up in a small town in Canada and holds a Bachelors degree in Theology.

In 2012 she received the Indie Excellence Award. Holmes was inspired to write Finding Emma after experiencing a brief moment of horror when she’d thought her youngest daughter was missing. 

She currently lives in Calgary with her husband and three daughters and loves to wake up to the Rocky Mountains each morning.
~
Novels in her Finding Emma series:
Finding Emma
Dear Jack
Emma's Secret
Dottie's Memories

Monday, May 26, 2014

ARMS WIDE OPEN: A Call to Linger in the Savior's Presence By Sherri Gragg

Arms Open Wide by Sherri GraggPublisher:  Thomas Nelson
Release Date:  May 6, 2014
Pages:  223
Genre:  Religion

About the Book:  Come near. Stop striving. The Master of the banquet has raised His glass to welcome you as His dear child.

So often Christians view Christ as someone who's far away and can't be approached until they have their lives in order. In "Arms Open Wide," author Sherri Gragg proves that Christ is a kinder, more tender, more loving Savior than many understand Him to be.

Sherri writes in fictional narrative form while mixing biblical history with scripture, creating a setting that transforms readers back in time and places them right in Jesus' presence. For thirty-four days readers walk with the Savior to witness miraculous healings and events, and give fresh insight into His power by thinking and feeling with people whose lives became instantly transformed by His love and grace. Readers journey with Jesus and His disciples in the most important time in history.

Hearts will be stirred and lives will be changed as readers draw near and walk with the Savior as never before.

Features & Benefits: Helps readers experience the kindness and grace of Jesus. Instills a deep, lasting impression about the love and forgiveness our Savior offers. Will transform readers as they engage in a first-person experience of what it might have been like to walk with Jesus when He was on the earth. Brings to life biblical traditions and customs while helping readers experience Jesus' life and the miracles He performed.

Wanda's Thoughts:  This is a beautiful book, from beginning to end, that I truly loved. All Christians, young and old, will be inspired by this daily devotional that brings events in the New Testament to life. The author, Sherri Gragg, writing in a fictional form, makes you feel like you’re there with her beautiful descriptive writing. There is richness and depth to each reading that adds substance to the 34 beautiful stories told. You will be strengthened with fresh insights written in God’s word. 

I highly recommend this devotional. It would make a wonderful gift to a family member or a friend. My rating - 5 stars.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.
Sherri Gragg
About the Author:  Sherri Gragg is a Tennessee girl who spent 18 years reading theology books and scribbling in journals in between cooking dinner, managing homework, chauffeuring the masses to soccer practice and shouting things she never thought she would ever say like- "Do NOT put your hand in the toilet!"

She was doing all of these things for her five children while becoming a writer and waiting for her miraculous big break. Each day, just before she opened the mailbox, she would turn to her children and say- "Today could be the day. Today could be the day something wonderful is in here!"

And, at last, that day has come...

Arms Open Wide will be released by Thomas Nelson Publishers in May, 2013.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

THAT NIGHT By Chevy Stevens ⭐️⭐️⭐️

That Night by Chevy StevensPublisher:  St. Martin's Press
Expected Release Date:  June 17, 2014
Pages:  384
Genre:  Mystery/Suspense

Book Description: As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn't relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren't easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. 

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

Wanda's Thoughts:  I received an Advanced Readers Edition of THAT NIGHT to read and give an honest review.


2012-Rockland Penitentiary, Vancouver - 34 year-old Toni Murphy is being discharged from prison.  Toni has been in custody since she was 18 years old, when she and her boyfriend, Ryan, were arrested and convicted of her sister’s murder – a murder she says they didn’t commit.  And the story unfolds as the past 16 years are played out into the present – Toni as a teenager, and Toni as an adult. 

Toni is a bit hard to like, perhaps because of her dysfunctional family.  Her mother never seemed to care about her, always giving her sister, Nicole, most of her attention.  And she believed that Toni was guilty of her sister’s murder.  Toni’s father believed she was innocent of the crime, but most of the time sided with her mother.  Nothing is, as it seems, in Toni’s life, with the multitude of lies, deception, and dark secrets that develop throughout. 

In my opinion, this book read as a YA novel, although I can’t imagine recommending it to a young adult.  There is scene after scene filled with teenage bullying, which at times was over-bearing and implausible. The book was drawn out, with a storyline that was a bit unrealistic, and cluttered with too many unnecessary scenes.  I found myself skimming over a few chapters, hoping the storyline would soon pick up.  The last third of the book did finally develop into a crescendo of suspense, with an exciting drama that develops into a good ending.  But, in general, the book was just lukewarm, and not one I’d enthusiastically recommend.  My rating is 3 stars.
Chevy StevensAbout the Author:  Chevy Stevens is the New York Times Bestselling author of STILL MISSING, NEVER KNOWING, and ALWAYS WATCHING. Chevy grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still lives on the island with her husband and daughter. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her family in the local mountains. Her debut novel, STILL MISSING, won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. 

Please visit her at www.chevystevens.com.




Tuesday, May 20, 2014

24 HOURS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD BY Adam Hamilton ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

24 Hours That Changed The World by Adam HamiltonPublisher:  Abingdon Press
Release Date:  2009
Pages:  133
Genre:  Religion/Christianity

About the Book:  No single event in human history has received more attention than the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In this Lenten journey, Adam Hamilton guides us through the last twenty-four hours of Jesus' life. Each chapter is designed to help the reader experience and understand the significance of Jesus' suffering and death in a way you have never done before. Whether readers are long-time Christians or simply curious about the story of Christ's crucifixion, they are invited to join the author in retracing the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. The program that supports this product includes: 1) a DVD that contains session video filmed in the Holy Land and a leader's guide; and 2) a paperback devotional book. Lent, Lenten, Lenten Resource, Lenten Resources, Lent Study, Lent Studies, Easter, Easter Study, Easter Studies.

Wanda's Thoughts:  I just completed a Bible study on 24 Hours That Changed the World and it truly exceeded my expectations. Adam Hamilton writes in a clear and simple way, while providing a wealth of information, showing us the power of evil, and the victory of death, with the triumph of Easter.  Uplifting, insightful, and powerful! I highly recommend.  

Adam HamiltonAbout the Author:  Rev. Adam Hamilton is the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. He grew up in the Kansas City area. He earned a B.A. degree in Pastoral Ministry from Oral Roberts University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection has grown from four people in 1990 to more than 16,000 adult members with an average weekly worship attendance of more than 8,600 in 2011. The church was listed as the most influential mainline church in America in a 2005 survey of American pastors.

Adam has been married 30 years to LaVon. They have two grown daughters.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

THE ARSONIST By Sue Miller

The Arsonist by Sue MillerPublisher:  Knopf
Expected Release Date:  June 24, 2014
Pages:  320
Genre:  Contemporary Mystery/Romance

About the Book:  From the best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, a superb new novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist begins setting fire to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town.

Troubled by the feeling that she belongs nowhere after working in East Africa for 15 years, Frankie Rowley has come home-home to the small New Hampshire town of Pomeroy and the farmhouse where her family has always summered. On her first night back, a house up the road burns to the ground. Is it an accident, or arson? Over the weeks that follow, as Frankie comes to recognize her father's slow failing and her mother's desperation, another house burns, and then another, always the homes of summer people. These frightening events, and the deep social fault lines that open in the town as a result, are observed and reported on by Bud Jacobs, a former political journalist, who has bought the local paper and moved to Pomeroy in an attempt to find a kind of home himself. As this compelling book unfolds, as Bud and Frankie begin an unexpected, passionate affair, arson upends a trusting small community where people have never before bothered to lock their doors; and Frankie and Bud bring wholly different perspectives to the questions of who truly owns the land, who belongs in the town, and how, or even whether, newcomers can make a real home there.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Several house fires within a short period of time had residents in Pomeroy, New Hampshire, fearful. The fires were started in the early morning hours and occurred in summer residences that were unoccupied – families had not yet arrived for the season. It seemed there was an arsonist in this small town.

I was immediately swept in by the promising beginning, but the storyline soon fell flat, and my expectations were not met. Unfortunately this book had little or no impact on me. 

A few positive comments – The descriptive writing was beautifully crafted and most of the characters were vibrantly drawn. My favorite characters were Alfie and Sylvia, and this part of the story did capture my attention. Alfie’s failing health and his early stages of Alzheimer’s, along with their lost love and failing marriage drew me in. Their story developed with emotion throughout, but suddenly it seemed to be dropped, and went nowhere – disappointing. 

Bud and Frankie’s romance seemed to take over the storyline and the arson fires took a back seat. There was no intrigue and very little emotion connected to the fires – little to no suspense, whatsoever. Fires started by an arsonist should have been a terrifying experience, with a crescendo of suspense, but it just didn’t happen.

And finally, the ending was disappointing– not a satisfying conclusion. I’m sorry to say, this book failed to capture my excitement. 2.5 stars
I received an ARC as a Goodreads First–Reads Winner. All opinions shared in this review are my own.

The Author:  Sue Miller (born November 29, 1943 in Chicago) is an American writer who has authored a number of best-selling novels. Her duties as a single mother left her with little time to write for many years, and as a result she did not publish her first novel until 1986, after spending almost a decade in various fellowships and teaching positions. Since then, two of her novels have been made into feature films, and her book While I Was Gone was an Oprah's Book Club pick in 2000.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

THE GOD - FIRST LIFE: Uncomplicate Your Life, God's Way By Stovall Weems

The God-First Life by Stovall WeemsPublisher:  Zondervan
Release Date:  March 25, 2014
Pages:  224
Genre:  Religion

About the Book:  here are thousands of how-to books for improving various areas of life. And there are nearly as many books written for believers offering a framework for the 'right' approach to a new life in God.

What if it were possible, Pastor Stovall Weems asks,to boil it all down to one practical, un-complicated principle that would yield the vibrant, purposeful spiritual life so many are looking for? 

That principle, says Weems, is the God-first principle: True success in our walk with God and in life in general is not an issue of WHAT I need, but WHO should be first.

Unpacking Matthew 6:33, Weems gives a fresh and practical perspective on what Christian 'discipleship' is all about. Bringing clarity, depth, and simplicity, Pastor Weems makes very clear core truths that have been mystified and misunderstood by many Christians and non-Christians alike.

A must-read for all believers and a must-have for pastors and churches, The God-first Life will be a standard resource for believers and churches around the world for years to come.
Wanda's Thoughts:  God’s way – adding these two words can change our perspective on daily living.  It is so simple – just put God first.


Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” – God promises you a new family.
“Seek --- his righteousness.”    God promises you a new life.
“All these things will be given to you.”  -  God promises you new freedom. 

Happiness isn’t about more, better, or greater; it’s about order.  If we get the order right, God promises to meet our needs, and with unexpected blessings.

An interesting section on Talking with God is explained by breaking down the Lord’s Prayer.  When we pray, or talk to God, our prayers should be genuine because it’s really about connection. 

Divided into four sections:
New Priority
New Family
New Life
New Freedom

 Quotes from the Book -  “He meant that a life of anxiety is never an issue of unmet need but always an issue of disordered priorities.” 
“When we strive to set our own priorities, however — when we put God way down the list — we miss out on a life marked by blessing and peace.” 
And there is so much more, told in depth, but in a clear and concise way that we can understand.  Rich in content, The God-First Life is both inspiring and thought provoking.  It will encourage you to put “God First” in your life.  I highly recommend.  5 stars.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for and honest review.

Friday, May 9, 2014

BUTTERFLY PALACE By Colleen Coble

Butterfly Palace by Colleen CoblePublisher:  Thomas Nelson Publishers
Release Date:  January 21, 2014
Pages:  320
Genre:  Christian Historical Fiction

Book Description:  When Lilly Donnelly arrives at the Cutlers' famed Butterfly Mansion in 1899, the massive house and unfamiliar duties threaten to overwhelm her. Victorian Austin is lavish, highly political, and intimidating, but with the help of the other servants, Lilly resolves to prove herself to her new employers.

Then, while serving at an elegant dinner party, Lilly recognizes one distinguished guest as Andrew, the love of her life, who abandoned her without a word back home. He seems to have assumed a new identity and refuses to acknowledge her, leaving her confused and reeling.

Before Lilly can absorb this unwelcome news, she's attacked. Could it be the sinister Servant Girl Killer who has been terrorizing Austin? Or is it someone after something more personal--someone from her past?

Does she dare trust Andrew to help or is he part of the danger threatening to draw Lilly into its vortex?

Wanda's Thoughts:  This book lured me in early with its excellent plot and exciting Prologue. However, the storyline lost its momentum and became drawn out and my interest waned. The tempo did pick up again towards the middle of the book and developed into a satisfying conclusion.

The author manages to weave many elements into the storyline. They include a story of love and loss, with an engrossing mystery that keeps you guessing. There are various scenes in the book that I found to be deeply touching. The book had very slight religious overtones – in fact, I’m not sure that it qualifies as a Christian read. 

A few negative comments – There was a large cast of characters with complex issues. I became confused at times. The dialogue was sometimes hard to follow – it seemed disjointed – going in too many directions. I found the story to be implausible, failing to convince me. 

I’ve read some excellent books by this author, but this one fell a bit flat for me. It was just lukewarm and not one I would enthusiastically recommend. 3/5 stars.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions shared are solely my responsibility.

Colleen CobleThe Author:  Carol Award winner Colleen Coble lives with her husband, Dave, in Indiana. She is the author of dozens of novels including the Rock Harbor Series, the Aloha Reef Series, the Mercy Falls Series, the Hope Beach Series, the Lonestar Series and two Women of Faith fiction selections, Alaska Twilight and Midnight Sea. She has more than 2 million books in print.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

SNOW ON THE TULIPS By Liz Tolsma

Snow on the Tulips by Liz TolsmaPublisher:  Thomas Nelson
Release Date:  August 2013
Pages:  336
Genre:  Christian Historical Fiction

Book Description:  In a time of unprecedented darkness and fear, Cornelia must decide if saving a stranger’s life is worth risking her own.

In the twilight of the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, the Germans have taken everything Cornelia had to give, even what was most precious to her. Now Gerrit Laninga—a man who puts God and country above all else—arrives at her house, needing help. She is terrified for herself and terrified for her family, but most of all, terrified of the pain she might feel again if she allows herself to love Gerrit. Her hope is to be free from her paralyzing fear.

Gerrit is a known and hunted Dutch Resistance member. When he comes to Cornelia’s home for shelter, he’s drawn to her strength and kindness. When he asks her to contact the local Resistance on his behalf, she refuses. Gerrit is determined to find a way to continue his underground work without putting Cornelia or her family in harm’s way.

When things start to unravel and Gerrit’s life depends on her actions, she must summon her courage and learn to depend on the perfect love that drives out all fear. But will her new love be snatched away before it has a chance to bloom?

Wanda's Thoughts:  Snow on the Tulips is a story of loss, survival, fear, and uncertainty.  It also has a strong thread of faith throughout with strong religious overtones. 


February 1945 – WWII in Occupied Netherlands – The storyline starts out strong as the Nazis are planning to execute several Dutch Resistance workers.  Gerrit Lanings is one of those men, but the Gestapo blotched his execution and he survives. 

Since her parents had died and her sister had married, the job of caring for her younger brother, Johan, fell on Cornelia.  Cornelia was still trying to get over the loss of Hans, her husband.  She became a bride and a widow on the same night when Hans chose his country over Cornelia.  Hans was in the army and he had an obligation to fight the Germans.  She begged him not to go – they would’ve exempted him as a newlywed – but he was determined. 

20-year-old Johan went into hiding at the farm.  He would work there to earn his keep, but he was always in danger of getting picked up by the Gestapo.  He was tired of sitting prisoner in the house, waiting to be either arrested or liberated.  He became bored and wanted to join the Resistance. 

Cornelia risks her safety and well being when she reluctantly takes in Gerrit and nurses him back to health.  Cornelia was no longer the innocent young woman she was when she married Hans.  She had been caught in a war zone without a husband, but she survived.  Life had become uncertain and fragile for Cornelia.  A love eventually begins and blossoms between Cornelia and Gerrit --- and the story unfolds with much suspense and drama. 

I truly enjoyed this book, a rich treat for historical fiction fans.  It is a book to be savored, obviously well researched, as it brings to life such a sad time in our history.  Parts of the book did drag somewhat and the romance faltered, being rather lukewarm – it just didn’t feel natural to me.  But – that being said – the storyline had a well-constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.  A richly written novel and a great read!  4/5 stars.

 I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions shared are solely my responsibility.  

About the Author:  Liz Tolsma has lived in Wisconsin most of her life, and she now resides next to a farm field with her husband, their son, and their two daughters. All of their children have been adopted internationally and one has special needs. Her novella, Under His Wings, appeared in the New York Times bestselling collection, A Log Cabin Christmas. Her debut novel, Snow on the Tulips, released in August of 2013. Daisies Are Forever released in May 2014. When not busy putting words to paper, she enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping with her family. Please visit her blog at www.liztolsma.blogspot.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@LizTolsma). She is also a regular contributor to the Barn Door blog.