A Match of Wits by Jen Turano

matchA Match of Wits, written by Jen Turano, is a cute story with adorable characters, witty dialogue, and unsuspected romance.

 

When Agatha Watson stumbles upon her long lost friend, Zayne Beckett, “quite pathetic and bedraggled” in the middle of the Colorado frontier, she decides it is time to get him back home to New York and his family.

Zayne has no desire to leave Colorado until Agatha shows up. Their friendship slips back into their familiar banter and he is tempted to return to the life he had abandoned. Once they arrive in New York, Zayne realizes that Agatha is in trouble. Will Agatha allow him to be her “knight in shining armor?”

Will the match – that seems so obvious to others – blossom into something more??

 

–Book was provided by Bethany House for my honest review.

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Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

I will say this a million times.

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Edenbrook by Julianne Donaldson is a fantastic book.  I laughed, I cried, and my heart pounded with anticipation.  The clean romance was cute, incredible, and oh-so-fun.  I read the book at least a dozen times, emphasizing my favorite parts, until my library use period had expired.  This book needs to find it’s way on my bookshelf.  Pronto.

When Donaldson’s newest book, Blackmoore hit the shelves, I requested my copy right away.

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AND I AM SO GLAD THAT I DID!

When Kate learns that her budding friendship with her almost-suitor is unsupported by his family, she goes to great lengths to prove that she will never marry.  A trip to India becomes her sure ticket to escape when she learns that he has been bethroved to a lady of his mother’s choosing.  Kate’s mother gives her permission to pack her bags and flee to India – with one condition –  she must reject three proposals within a short period of time.  Once again, I found my heart pounding in excitement.  The characters are addictive.  I want more of their story.  And the romance?  It deserves a major A++.

It Had to Be You by Susan May Warren

978-1-4143-7842-8I love everything Susan May Warren.   Her books are the Perfect Match for My Foolish Heart.

When Tyndale asked me if I wanted a copy of Susan’s newest book, It Had to Be You, I didn’t have to think twice.  Susan’s writing always inspires me. It Had to Be You, is no exception. Cute kissing scenes, soul twisting, and happy-ever-afters. My kind of read indeed.

Eden is waiting for her life to start.  She writes the obituary section for the local newspaper and dreams of spreading her wings into a real-life reporter.  Her brother is an all-star hockey player and needs a lot of “big sister help.”  She sits on the side lines, picks him up when he is too intoxicated, and cleans up his life.  It’s what big sisters do.

Jace is a hard-time hockey player.  He lives for the spotlight, the cheering crowds, and the fighting on the rink.  Hockey provides purpose and worth.  When a few strong hits leave him physically unable to continue the game, his life no longer holds meaning.

Eden and Jace weave together an incredible story of love, forgiveness, and gratitude. Eden’s quest to create a life of worth made my soul scream out in sympathy while Jace’s quest to fight against the inevitable drove the point home.  This fictional couple needs to be added to my list of Fictional Couples I’d Invite Over for Game Night.

And today, I am super excited because Susie has agreed to answer some questions about  It Had to Be You.

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Hey Susan, it is great to have you here! It Had to Be You is the second installment of a new six book series. Can you tell us more about the background?

The Christiansen Family series is a spin off of the bestselling Deep Haven collection, stories about the townspeople of Deep Haven, Minnesota, a tiny resort town on the north shore of Lake Superior. The original series started with a book titled Happily Ever After and grew to include six titles. However, one family began to stand out, and we decided their story needed to be told. We wanted a series about a family with adult children learning what it meant to carry on the legacy of faith into their lives. And I wanted to write a series that would really let readers dig into the family, feel like they were a part of their journey.

This Christiansen Family series is set in Deep Haven, Minnesota. Tell us about this setting.

It’s a gorgeous place to set a story — on the rocky shores of Lake Superior, in a tiny town where everyone knows your name. It’s a town with a rich heritage, strong ties, and a place where people want to escape in fiction and in real life (as it is modeled after my town of Grand Marais, Minnesota). You’ll find people from all walks of life here and most importantly, Evergreen Resort, run by the Christiansen family for four generations.

What is your hope for this series?

Of course, I hope people fall as much in love with the Christiansens as I have. They’re a great bunch all led by John and Ingrid Christiansen, who have tried to instill their values into their children. But each child has their own path to walk, and part of the series is just watching as they walk that path through the good and the bad, trying to figure out where their faith and their parents’ legacy fit into their lives. It’s a contemporary epic family series set in the wilds of northern Minnesota with romance, suspense,

and lots of great family drama!

What was your inspiration for this particular book and the main character Eden Christiansen?

Eden Christiansen came from a number of places. Watching the siblings ofmovie stars and athletes, watching my own daughter cheer her athletebrothers, even watching my friends, parents who feel on the sidelines of their children’s lives… maybe even a little left behind as they leave for college. I began to wonder what if you had an amazing sibling, and your entire family focused on his or her successes, and you felt left behind, void of your own amazingness? This is Eden who feels like she hasn’t accomplished anything and is sitting on the sidelines of her life. She feels like she needs to “get into the game” but doesn’t know how or where to start. And she feels like she really has nothing spectacular to offer. But God has different plans.

Did you base the character of Jace Jacobsen on anyone in particular?

Jace was loosely modeled after famed Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died, in part, due to the many concussions he suffered as a hockey player. The problem of concussions with today’s athletes, especially in hockey and football, can be life threatening for athletes, and although hockey (and football!) is played much differently today, it’s still an issue.

I wanted Jace to have the opposite problem from Eden – he is only good at one thing. In fact, he’s spectacular at it, but he believes if he walks away from it, he will be nothing. So same problem… different perspective. It gave me a good opportunity as an author to examine our “worth.”

Of course, adding the John Doe element only rounded that theme out with yet another perspective. I loved how these three angles came together.

What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?

I think we all need to see our worth not in relationship to our external successes but in how we work out the task God has for us. How we love one another, how we use our gifts and talents. How we abide with God in our daily lives. Hopefully readers will begin seeing their worth in a new way.

How do you expect this new series to resonate with your audience? How do you want your books to make them feel?

I am hoping readers walk away from this book, and this series, with hope. The sense that they belong to something to God, to family and the feeling that our lives are not chaotic or out of control, but that God has a unique and amazing journey for each of us, and it’s lived out within our relationships. I want them to feel as if they’d found a new set of friends.

Have you received any feedback from your fans on this series? What are they saying?

People fell immediately in love with Darek and his sweet son, Tiger, in Take a Chance on Me, and I think readers will really enjoy Jace and Eden’s romance in this story. I’m thankful that people enjoy the work I put into developing my characters and the romance, and I have loved diving into these multi-layered stories about people with realistic, everyday struggles.

As a writer, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story?

I loved writing about Minnesota in the winter. And I loved the story of John Doe and uncovering who he might be. (I plotted it like a mystery, so it was fun to revisit my mystery – plotting techniques). I especially loved the layers of Jace, the hero, and how, with every turn, he became more intriguing.

What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?

Try to up your writing game with each book, and just keep writing. Not every story appeals to every reader, but I try to write a story I would enjoy and then hopefully my readers will also.

In your writing career, what are you most proud of?

I think I’ve stayed true to who I am and the kind of story I’m supposed to be writing. I’m very blessed by my reader friends and their constant encouragement. I am very blessed to spend my days with the Christiansen family!

Thanks Susan for another fabulous read!

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

nateandangieoriginalMy husband and I just celebrated our 10-year anniversary on December 30th.  We carted the older boys off to grammie’s house and kept the five-month-old with us.

We visited the outlet mall in search for a suede jacket.  My husband, Nate, is graduating with his PhD this fall and it is a well known fact that PhD’s need suede jackets.  Plus, ten-year anniversaries are exciting.  Suede jacket exciting.

We went to dinner, ate while passing the baby-that-hates-the-car-seat back and forth and picked up a movie from Red Box.  We are so exciting.

We had plans to watch a movie while I nursed the baby, play a game or two, and cuddle in bed. Such activities are a commodity when you have four kids running around.

We popped Lone Ranger in the DVD player and sat back to relax when the phone rang.  Ignoring it, we turned the volume up.

It rang again.

It turned out that our seven-year old had the stomach bug.  He was pale and ready to lose everything he had consumed since the beginning of time.

We kissed for a minute and then hurried out the door to pick up our son.  Our kid puked on the highway and wanted to puke again when he got home.

We tucked all four kids in bed – with pots and buckets near by just in case – and climbed in bed together.  Exhausted.  Cuddle time happened, but it was interrupted on regular intervals.  It reminded me of that Phil Vasser song: Just Another Day in Paradise.

Even though our day was interrupted and not what we planned it to be, it was wonderful.  Perfect because I spent the day with my best friend.  The last ten years of marriage have been a dream come true and I am so happy that he chose me.

indexBut not everyone gets their happy endings.  I’ve mentioned before that my favorite kind of books are the books that make me appreciate my life for what it is right now.  Julie Kibler’s latest novel Calling Me Home, did just that.  Based on a true story, the book takes place in the early 1900’s in Kentucky.  The fight for love is real when Isabelle falls in love with a black man.  Fighting against heaven and earth, the two of them try to find a place where they can simply love each other in a world that calls it illegal.  The ending is both happy and sad but extremely powerful.  The line we draw in the sand separating us from those we believe to be different is so hurtful and wrong.  In the end, all that matters is love.  Destroying those imaginary lines is worth any obstacles we might encounter.

Throughout history, happiness has been sacrificed for power and control – over and over again.  I think it is important to acknowledge that power and control never breed happiness.  The two of them together create an internal hunger that can never be satisfied.  The addiction grows until one day we abandon those we love for a hunger that never goes away.

The book left me with a renewed gratitude for the life and love I have every day and a desire to love the world a little more.  I am grateful for the ten-years I have had to love my husband and family comfortably and I dream of a world where everyone else can do the same.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

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The Masterpiece Classic series of Downton Abbey just launched their fourth season.

Yeah!

Mathew is dead and Mary is depressed.  My two favorite characters are gone.  I am 20 minutes into the season premier and I am so sad.  I want to sit down next to Mary and cry my eyes out while simultaneously shaking her back to life.  Maybe it is expecting too much of her character to be happy, but couldn’t she find the strength to love her child?  Instead she sends him off with a nanny all day and refers to him as an “orphan.”

Meanwhile, the staff is still engaged to make their “masters” happy.  Sometimes it reminds me of the joke: how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb, only how many people does it take to make the entire Crawley family happy?

indexThe book Longbourn by Jo Baker is the story of the maids and butlers in the Bennett household.  The Bennett household, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, thrives upon the maids and butlers that keep things running smoothly behind the scenes.  Similar to the responsibilities of the maids in Downton Abbey, Sarah is responsible for cleaning the house, scrubbing mud from petticoats, and preparing the meals.  While Elizabeth and Jane and Lydia  are busily stitching together their “happily ever after,” Sarah is tired of living a life of servitude.  Orphaned and cared for by the “head-maid” at Longbourn, Sarah is desperately unhappy and starving for love.

A strange young man appears to serve as the footman for the Bennett family and Sarah’s world is turned upside down. The book is everything Downton Abbey with a little heartache and a lot of love nestled in between.  Sarah’s love life reminds me a little of the separation between Anna and Mr. Bates in season 3.

This book was everything I thought it would be and so much more.  I am now left with one major decision: do I re-read Longbourn or launch myself into Season 4 of Downton Abbey?

Lassoed in Texas by Mary Connealy

9781620294628_p0_v1_s260x420Cafe Rio and Mary Connealy are two of my favorite nouns.

Cafe Rio – as you may know – creates amazing taco salads. I would do just about anything for their grub.

Mary Connealy is an amazing author. I had the opportunity to read the first two books of her Lassoed in Texas series – Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon – over the holidays. Squeal. These books have permanently plastered a smile on my face.

The parenting/child relationships in these two books are incredible. Petticoat Ranch welcomes a step-father into an all-girl-household while Calico Canyon introduces an uptight school marm into an all-boy-household. Holy crap it was fun. Mary did a fabulous job at detailing what it is like to raise boys. I found myself wanting to shout “hallelujah!” because someone out there understands what my life is like. I found myself sticking post-it notes to all the “good parts” so that I could share them with my husband. A lot of post-it notes were used in the process and date night (thanks to these books) was *amazing*! We both have a deep appreciation for Adam’s number one rule.

I love a good clean romance that increases my gratitude for my husband and my family and these books fit the bill. The romance is sweet and clean and inspirational. And Texas fiction – I love you.

Santa made a surprise visit tonight when I discovered the Lassoed in Texas Trilogy on my kindle for $2.99! And if life couldn’t get any better than that, I learned that salad dressing at Cafe Rio can be purchased by the pint. The pint! Heaven has arrived.

With the Lassoed in Texas Trilogy on my kindle and an entire PINT of dressing in my refrigerator – my weekend is calling.

“Made to Last” by Melissa Tagg

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Miranda Woodruff is a skilled carpenter and host to the popular TV sitcom From the Ground Up. When her TV show teeters on rejection, her husband is the needed ticket to save the show.

Only problem?

Her should-be-husband left her before their vows were shared.

When a handsome reporter begins following her every move, will she be able to maintain her on-screen persona? Will Miranda find the courage to set the record straight?

“Made to Last,” by Melissa Tagg, was amazing. Cute, fun, and inspiring – just the way I like it! This book quickly climbed its way into my top ten. To avoid spoiling this amazing book, I will stop my review right here.

I walked away from this book with a renewed sense of what it means to be “made to last” in the eyes of God. It is easy to believe that our sins and failures make us less worthy in His eyes when in actuality, He loves us for who we are. God always understands the beauty of our souls because He is the creator of all. Melissa nails this belief perfectly throughout the book, gently teaching that honest living with our fellow men and God is liberating and powerful. We don’t need a persona to be worthy in the eyes of God.

“He said, ‘Pastor, you were ready to get rid of this old pulpit because all you saw was that ugly stain. But all along, underneath was a sturdy, strong wood. The kind of wood that’s made to last. Just took a little stripping away for you to see it…. Here’s the thing, {he} saw the beauty all along, even when the curve of the wood’s grain was hidden behind a stain…. And it makes me think, what does God see in us that we don’t? That matters. Because when all the stuff we’re hiding behind is stripped away, it’s what He sees that’s left. So what does He see?”

-Melissa Tagg, “Made to Last”