Book Review: Austen in Austin (Vol. 1)


January 15th, 2016 from WhiteFire Publishing

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If I Loved You Less by Gina Welborn, based on Emma
A prideful matchmaker examines her own heart when her protégé falls for the wrong suitor.

Refinements by Anita Mae Draper, based on Sense and Sensibility
A misguided academy graduate spends the summer falling in love . . . twice.

One Word from You by Susanne Dietze, based on Pride and Prejudice
A down-on-her-luck journalist finds the story of her dreams, but her prejudice may cost her true love . . . and her career.

Alarmingly Charming by Debra E. Marvin, based on Northanger Abbey
A timid gothic dime-novel enthusiast tries to solve the mystery of a haunted cemetery and, even more shocking, why two equally charming suitors compete for her attentions.

My Thoughts

Very rarely am I afforded the opportunity to read an entire novel in a day, but this past Friday I read Austen in Austin in it’s entirety in one sitting. This book released in January of this year, but before I could review it for you I felt like I needed to read all of the Jane Austen books on which these stories are loosely based. Having done so, I can say authors Welborn, Draper, Dietze, and Marvin pay proper homage to the original texts while making these stories their own.

Austen in Austin is one of the most well executed novellas I’ve read. Each story is set in Texas and together they span from 1882 to 1887. The social structure found in Austen’s novels correlates very well to the upper-crust society of the Texas Hill Country. All of the novellas are interrelated, so where one author leaves off another picks up months or years later, with a new lead character and a familiar cast. I enjoyed the continuity as well as the familiarity which this team of authors developed.

If I Loved You Less probably held the closest to Austen’s works. In contrast, Alarmingly Charming struck me as an improvement on the original (because truthfully, I did not enjoy reading Northanger Abbey). All in all, these stories are irresistibly sweet romances with subtle elements of faith.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Austen in Austin Vol. 2

Releases September 15th, 2016


August Book Club Review: My Sister’s Prayer

AugustBookClubAdd My Sister’s Prayer to your Goodreads list.

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Women of Fearless Devotion Virginia, 1705 Celeste Talbot is usually such a sensible young woman–until she falls for an English soldier reassigned to the Colonies. Leaving her Huguenot family behind, she sets sail for America, only to learn that her younger sister Berta has been kidnapped and forced on board the very same ship. Whom can Celeste trust? The dashing soldier? Or the vigilant carpenter who remains by their side in the perilous New World? Virginia, present day Madeline “Maddee” Talbot has her hands full when she agrees to take in her younger sister Nicole following a serious car accident. The young women grew apart when Nicole fell into drug addiction, and Maddee prays this will be the start of a better life for her sister. But as they investigate a trauma from their childhood, Maddee must keep a diligent eye on Nicole–and the shadowy figure watching them from afar. From the Christy Award-winning team of Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould, My Sister’s Prayer tells the epic tale of two women compelled to protect their sisters, confront their fears, and navigate the muddy waters of betrayal to find true love.

My Thoughts

Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould continue their Cousins of the Dove series with My Sister’s Prayer. In this book, the historical storyline skips ahead to 1705. On the other hand, only a few months have elapsed for our present day characters. If you are just discovering this series, I advise you to return to the beginning where the authors established the Talbot family history.

For me, the present day drama involving Maddee and Nicole stole the show. Few Christian fiction novels deal with the harsh reality of drug addiction like this one. Maddee was my favorite character overall because of her desire to help her sister recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually from her addiction. At the same time she maintained loving and safe boundaries with Nicole.

My Sister’s Prayer uses a series of old letters to tie the past to the present. Through them we learn of a later generation of Talbots who journey to the New World. Whereas being Huguenot had been an essential element of the first book, it had little bearing on Berta and Celeste’s story. Instead, the focus is on the sisters’ rebellion and eventual repentance.

In the end, I felt like this book had too much going on. I would have preferred a simplified plot with perhaps a little more development on Berta’s character. Furthermore, I didn’t find the human trafficking storyline as compelling as the Huguenot history which pervaded book one.



I received My Sister’s Prayer as a member of the Harvest House Book Club. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 



God Gave Us Thankful Hearts by Lisa Tawn Bergren


Available August 23, 2016 from Waterbrook

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Adventurous Lil Pup is bummed that hibernating season will soon be coming to the Great North Woods. Why should so many of his friends have to go in for the winter and leave Lil Pup without pals? Mama reminds her little wolf that not all animals hibernate, and how he can be grateful for the beautiful autumn season – for jumping in leaf piles, eating apple treats, and celebrating the wonders of fall with his forest friends.  And she points out…

“I think the trick to having a thankful heart is thinking about the things that make us happy, rather than the things that don’t.”

As Mama and Lil Pup explore, she reminds him that God is the giver of all good things. Lil Pup learns that even when something fun comes to an end; his heart can be thankful when he sets his mind on the best things in his life.

My Thoughts

God Gave Us Thankful Hearts is a cuddle up and read aloud story, with a valuable lesson in thankfulness. As children read or listen to the exchange between Little Pup and his mama, they will gradually understand how there is something to be thankful for in every season and circumstance. When Pup sees only the negative, Mama draws his attention to the lessons he’s learned, and God’s presence during his trials. As the story closes, all three members of the wolf family are using the thankful hearts God has given them.

This story is precious! David Hohn’s illustrations pair perfectly with Lisa Tawn Bergren’s writing, capturing the colors of fall, a playful Pup, and the wolf family’s tender bond. Finally, readers young and old will be reminded to look for blessings both great and small. This makes it the perfect choice for anyone looking to inspire an attitude of gratitude in their home or classroom.

I received this book for free as a member of the Blogging For Books reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



The Trojan Horse Traitor by Amy C. Blake | Book Review & Giveaway



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Left on Castle Island to attend Camp Classic, thirteen-year-old, scrawny, redheaded, homeschooled Levi Prince finds himself at the center of an enchanted world of amazing abilities, cloudy motives, and wicked beings that will challenge his very spirit. He begins to form friendships, but life at camp becomes more confusing as questionable activities and uncertain agendas bring about conflict that tests his character in ways he never expected. Finally, faced with a friend’s betrayal, Levi is forced to confront true evil. Will he find the courage to stand his ground, and to become the hero he was always meant to be?

Quattro’s Thoughts

This book is for boys that like awesome action/Christian fantasy novels. I thought this book looked interesting and I was right! The Trojan Horse Traitor is very intriguing. I like this book because it tests some characters’ faith, they have a camp olympics, and sword fighting.

I want to go to the castle because I would like to meet the characters, especially Levi, and I would like to live in a castle for the summer. The whole castle (that they call camp) is mysterious. Levi Prince, is my favorite character because I can relate to him in some ways —like not being strong, yet getting stronger and wiser every day. He has some questions, and he won’t stop until he finds the answers. I like Sara, a friend of Levi, because she is nice and athletic. I also want to pop Hunter the bully in the nose because he is mean and wants to kill Levi for “untold” reasons.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series since this book was so fast-paced! It has lots of twists, and also has a bit of spiritual warfare. The Trojan Horse Traitor seems real to me, the dialogue was easy to follow, I love it, and I rate it five out of five!


Notes: Quattro is a middle school student. He has read and reviewed The Trojan Horse Traitor which was written as a young adult title. It may be helpful for parents to read Brian Klems article for Writers Digest entitled The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult

This book was from our home library. The author has graciously agreed to offer a paperback copy of her work for our giveaway.


Christian Shelf-Esteem and Amy C. Blake would like to bless one reader with a paperback copy of The Trojan Horse Traitor. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. Winner is subject to eligibility verification. Giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. only. Ends 9/2/16 at 11:59 PM.

Click here to enter.



Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Harvest Cookbook

1stYearFarmCollageIn February of 2013 my husband and I closed on our house in central Arkansas. This move marked the first time in our marriage we would own a home with land, having up until this point been suburbanites who both grew up in or near big cities. Yet we embraced country living with vigor: adopting a farm dog, raising chicks, buying sheep and planting a garden — all in our first Spring. It was an amazing period of discovery for us and we reaped a bountiful harvest from our garden that year. In fact, we had more veggies (and eggs) than we knew what to do with. This is one reason Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Harvest Cookbook caught my eye and why I am reviewing it for you here today.


My Thoughts

What struck me first about Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Harvest Cookbook was the practical wisdom and frugality of this cookbook. The book begins with helpful advice from Amish gardeners on how to protect your garden from pests and grow a larger yield. Later it concluded with around 50 pages of recipes for preserving the harvest. In between, you’ll find scores of fruit and vegetable recipes that make good use of your bounty.

VeggiePizzaDoughSince the cookbook is a compilation of recipes from numerous Amish and Mennonite communities, the meals can easily be prepared by any home cook. Many items which are not found in your own garden are pantry staples. Although servings sizes are not annotated for most recipes, this can be easily approximated by the volume and number of ingredients. Additionally, we found the lay-flat spiral binding convenient as my children and I were testing recipes.

In our house we tend to select new recipes from cookbooks based on photographs, of which there is a significant amount.   However all the food photos are stock photos, which came to my attention as the Easy Veggie Quiche had a crust in the photograph, but no crust in the recipe. Secondly, we raise chickens and therefore have a lot of farm fresh eggs — sadly the quiche recipe is the only breakfast recipe that contained our much loved ingredient. Finally, hamburger and Velveeta cheese make numerous appearances. If by chance you are a Velveeta cheese fan, there are 8 new recipes for you to try. The hamburger in the recipes could possibly be substituted for ground venison, turkey, or chicken. In the end, ground beef is the predominant protein (it’s even in both the Easy Veggie Quiche and Green Bean Casserole) and frankly we don’t eat a lot of it. While these three observations may not apply to your kitchen, for me the allure of Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Harvest Cookbook will remain the canning and organic gardening tips.

“I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing in exchange for my honest review.”




When Death Draws Near | Review & Giveaway


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My Thoughts

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks made me want to draw the blinds when I was home alone and check the covers before I crawled into bed. It wouldn’t say it was scary, but the crime element of the story did rattle me a little.

In A Cry from the Dust, the first book of this series, the scandal revolved around a Mormon cult. This time Gwen Marcey becomes entangled with a group of snake handling Pentecostals (hence my need to check under the covers). I think it’s risky when an author targets different sects, but it works for Parks. On another note, reading A Cry from the Dust first helped me understand the characters’ thought processes in this book. One example is how Gwen often imagines conversations with her both friend and her ex-husband–having a familiarity with these characters was key for understanding and appreciating their banter.

As a middle aged mother of a rebellious teen, breast cancer survivor, and menopause sufferer; Gwen tends to use humor as a coping mechanism. I found myself laughing at her witticisms and enjoyed Carrie Stuart Parks’s use of humor throughout the story. It seemed to serve as a pressure relief valve given the seriousness of the investigations, as well as Gwen’s personal crises. Well balanced, well written, and thoroughly entertaining — suspense fiction fans will want to add When Death Draws Near to their reading lists.

I received this book free as a member of the Litfuse blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Plunge into forensic artist Gwen Marcey’s world, full of cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects. Add Carrie Stuart Parks’ new Gwen Marcey novel, When Death Draws Near, to the top of your must-read list. Gwen accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before she can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?

Join Carrie in celebrating the release of When Death Draws Near by entering to win an Undercover Artist Starter Set.

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One grand prize winner will receive:

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Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on August 22. The winner will be announced August 23 on the Litfuse blog.

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Review: The Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible


I’ve chosen The Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible as a gift for someone who is dear to my heart — my 8 year old daughter. Since last summer, we have been bible journaling together and we’ve even taken an online hand lettering class. Therefore, you can imagine her excitement when I presented her with her very own journaling bible. This bible has proven to be the perfect choice for her little hands.

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I’ll begin by sharing a little about the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation. I have read the entire translation cover to cover and believe it is a good choice for children for three reasons:

  1. Biblical accuracy
  2. Ease of understanding
  3. Capitalization of pronouns that refer to the Father, Son, and/or Holy Spirit. (At times, pronouns can be ambiguous and I feel this helps young readers remain clear about who is speaking or being spoken about.)

The only other aid I would have liked for my daughter would have been to have the words of Christ red, but I can understand why that is missing from this particular Bible.

On the inside, you will discover over 600 doodles, drawings, and select scripture verses. Some span an entire page, while others cover one side of the margin, and a few pages boast graphics in both margins as you look at it laid open. Given that the illustrations are printed in a soft gray, the ghosting effect on the following page is minimal. In fact, the thickness of the paper has withstood the addition of watercolors rather well.

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In the past 3 weeks, her Bible has gone everywhere with us. At home, my daughter follows along with me in the morning as I do my reading plan, highlighting verses that she can illustrate later. At church, it has served as more of a coloring book when the “wiggles” threaten before the sermon ends. It’s even been on family vacation with us, where our doodling caught the eye of flight attendants and fellow passengers.

The Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible is the best choice on the market for my daughter. It would also make a fine gift for anyone who wants to join this popular journaling movement, but feels they lack artistic flare. You can take your pick of a variety of covers choices, available from B&H Publishing.


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“I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for my honest review.”