Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Review: The Art of Losing Yourself

This is a simply gorgeous cover! The first time I saw it, I just fell in love!  I also love the title - it held new meaning the further I read.  I was trying so hard to shorten my reviews, but this book just completely blew that up - so be prepared for a very long review.  Hope you enjoy it anyway!

Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.

Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together. But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?

About the Author:
Award-winning author, Katie Ganshert, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a degree in education, and worked as a fifth grade teacher for several years before staying home to write full-time. She was born and raised in the Midwest, where she lives with her husband, their young son, and their goofy black lab, Bubba. When she’s not busy writing or playing or reading or consuming chocolate, she is dreaming about the day her Congolese daughter can finally come home. You can learn more about Katie and her books by visiting her website at

My Review: 5 stars
 Honestly, I picked up this book a little unsure whether I would like it or not. It sounded very different from Katie’s previous books. I shouldn’t have wondered though, because I absolutely loved it! I definitely had high expectations for this book, having loved all of her other books. I expected to be taken through a story that would tug my heart, inspire and encourage me, and also draw me in, most likely to the point of tears. It certainly did all of those, including the last one.

Katie is one of the few authors that can draw me in so entirely that I struggle to separate fiction from reality. Her characters spring right off the page and into my heart. Even though I may not completely understand what they are going through, she shows me, page by page, until I feel like I traveled the path with them. I could almost feel their pain, it was so palpable. I reached a point where I had to stop reading, because I could no longer see the words through the tears pouring down my face. For me, that makes this a wonderful book and Katie an excellent author. Even though the things she writes about may be a bit uncomfortable for us, they are so important. This book is made even more powerful, because of the added weight of her personal experience with the trials the characters go through. 

This story is different from her previous ones in how it is presented. It comes from two point of views - Carmen’s and Gracie’s. Through their eyes, we see pain, fear, anger, and a multitude of other emotions. But the most important thing we see? Healing. Though they weren’t even aware of it as they struggled and fought to make something of the lives pain had almost destroyed, it’s there in the little things. I love that the title of this book made more and more sense the longer I read. It is intertwined in the very basis of the story and there were also several different interpretations for how it played into it.

Carmen and Gracie are so realistic! I actually had to remind myself that they are fictional characters, because they just became so real to me. I found myself almost praying for them a couple times, as well as wanting so badly to help them in some way. I loved that Katie was able to give them each such distinct voices. They don’t sound like any other characters I have ever “met.” They are so broken, so bruised by life. Watching them as they try to figure out where to go from here, how to keep moving. They both ask such heart wrenching questions, but reading them, I realized they resonated with me so much, because they are ones I’ve asked. I found myself crying out with them, asking where God is in those situations, why He allows the hard times. They are brutally honest, the heart cry of anyone who has ever tried to carry more than they can bear and found they aren’t strong enough. The most beautiful part in all of this - Katie didn’t try to wrap it up in a neat package. There are no cookie cutter answers, no platitudes. She shows the struggle, but she also shows God’s grace. I read this, thinking it was Carmen’s story, Gracie’s story, maybe even the story of countless people, but in the end, it’s God’s. It all leads back to Him in the end. He may not be mentioned on every single page, but He’s still there, woven throughout every word, every line. His love shows through this story, His grace. Even in the darkest moments, when it seemed they would be lost, He was there.

I never reached a place where I wanted to put the book down. More often than not, I was groaning mentally whenever I knew I had to stop and get something done. It kept me up late and I was right back at it at first opportunity. I would read for an hour, sometimes two, and not even notice the passing of time. I know some may read the synopsis and think this sounds like a boring book, but is it not. There is nothing slow about it. I was left guessing and asking questions ‘til the end.

I actually went into this book expecting a romance, but it ended up being so much more. There is a little bit of romance, but it is not the theme or even a major part of the story. There is some in passing, as Carmen and her husband work on their marriage, and Gracie has a guy friend (note: not a boyfriend). It was refreshingly absent, as it left the characters able to focus on things that seemed a bit more important.

I love the wisdom packed between these pages. I often found myself either writing down a line I wanted to remember, or else snapping a photo of it with my phone, so I wouldn’t lose it. There are so many quotes I could share, but then I might steal some of the fun of discovering them yourself. This is a book I seriously considered highlighting or underlining and I hate doing that to books. I prefer to keep them in near-perfect condition, but I was tempted.

I think the most surprising part of the story is how it ended. There is no pat “happily ever after” here. The characters still have things to deal with, they are by no means perfect now, but we’re left with hope. Hope, their future is bright. Hope, that they are finding their way again. Hope, that God is always there in the storms life throws at us.

A word of warning. If you’re looking for a feel-good “happily ever after” kind of story, then this may not be the book for you. It will grip your heart and emotions, pulling you into the messy lives of hurting people. It might make you cry, but it may also give you hope.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the author for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

I hope you enjoyed my review!  I'm sorry it's so long!  I find a book I adore and I just want to go on and on about it.  :)
Unfortunately, this awesome book isn't out yet, so I can't say "run to your book store and grab a copy!" - BUT if you'd like to check it out some more, maybe consider supporting the author with a preorder, here are some links to get you started.


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Friday, March 20, 2015

Random thoughts for Friday

Hello, everyone!  I've been pretty scarce around here lately and though I've been sharing book reviews, nothing personal has come across lately.  I stopped doing my Sunday devotions in January and kind of backed off for a while.  I was feeling distant from God and didn't want to post anything that was less than what He had for me to share.
Looking back, I can see what was happening.  I had given myself a deadline each week (Sunday) to have a post ready, but I wasn't taking the time I needed in order to seek God.  I wanted to simply write a post in a few spare minutes.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I absolutely despise waiting until the last minute for anything and I would become frustrated each Saturday, when it would be almost midnight and I would still have nothing to share.  But, as I learned, you can't force God and sometimes . . . we let His voice become drowned out with all the madness and noise of life.  It would be in those moments, when I reached the point of saying, "God, I've got nothing left" when I would finally hear His voice.  There's a line in Listen to the Sound by Building 429 (click on the title to hear the song), that says "Sometimes it takes a silence to finally hear His plan."  I've found that to be very true in my own life.
 When I've reached my wits end and I have nothing left, and there are no words to express what I'm feeling, that's when I feel His presence the most.  Because I've surrendered.  I've reached the point where I just can't keep going and I'm forced to let go and rely on Him.  Those times keep me humble and reaching out to Him.  They remind me that I can't do it on my own.  They might drive me crazy, because being vulnerable isn't my first choice, but at the same time, I'm grateful.  I don't want to ever reach the point where I feel invincible and I forgot Who has been carrying me every step of the way.
So, that's my recent epiphany - what's been going on in your life?  What has God taught you that was maybe a hard lesson, but one you needed to hear?   

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Review: After a Fashion

May I comment how much I loved this book? Because I did, truly.  It was a bit different from Jen's previous books, but definitely not in a negative way.  I found myself laughing out loud several times (which I rarely do while reading) and just simply grinning like a loon, causing people to give me strange looks.  :)

Miss Harriet Peabody dreams of the day she can open up a shop selling refashioned gowns to independent working women like herself. Unfortunately, when an errand for her millinery shop job goes sadly awry due to a difficult customer, she finds herself out of an income.

Mr. Oliver Addleshaw is on the verge of his biggest business deal yet when he learns his potential partner prefers to deal with men who are settled down and wed. When Oliver witnesses his ex not-quite-fiance cause the hapless Harriet to lose her job, he tries to make it up to her by enlisting her help in making a good impression on his business partner.

Harriet quickly finds her love of fashion can't make her fashionable. She'll never truly fit into Oliver's world, but just as she's ready to call off the fake relationship, fancy dinners, and elegant balls, a threat from her past forces both Oliver and Harriet to discover that love can come in the most surprising packages.

About the Author:
Jen Turano, author of five books, is a graduate of the University of Akron with a degree in clothing and textiles. She is a member of ACFW and lives in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. Visit her website at

My Review: 4.5 stars
Next one, please!
This is the first book in Jen Turano’s new series, “A Class of Their Own.” I’ve loved her previous books and have been anticipating this one for months! I can very happily say that it was great! It exceeded my expectations and thoroughly captured my attention and heart.
Mrs. Turano’s books always start off with a bang and rarely slow - this one was no exception. It held my attention hostage from the first page with vivid details, fascinating characters, and several laugh-out-loud moments. It is obvious the author did her research for the era and I very much enjoyed the trip to the Gilded Age. 

Jen’s writing is superb and I often found myself grinning from Harriet’s quick wit and her friend Millie’s blunders. The dialogue flows clearly, keeping the reader’s attention and neatly sharing the tale. I very much enjoyed the smooth changes from prose, to dialogue, to the characters thoughts. It was neatly done, giving a clear idea of the characters’ thoughts and opinions without feeling stiff or structured.

I found I very much enjoyed the main characters and even many of the secondary ones. Though I must confess that I didn’t love Oliver right away. He was rather the idiot Harriet labeled him, but as he grew and became more willing to look beyond himself, I began to fall in love with him. It was hard not to sigh over his treatment of Harriet and I found myself the teeniest bit envious of her. Harriet and her roommates are definitely unique characters and I loved all of them from the start: Lucetta with her quirky actress ways and habit of saying what others are thinking. Millie, trying to learn new words while also being a walking disaster when it comes to her previous positions. Harriet simply trying to do the right thing, while also taking care of those around her. While Millie and Lucetta occasionally stole the show, I can’t say I was disappointed in that. They all became like great friends to me and I cannot wait to visit them again in the next book!

I also really enjoyed the spiritual journeys of Harriet and Oliver. This book is a bit more on the serious side than any of Jen’s previous books, the spiritual side a little bolder. I loved seeing the change in both of them, as they worked through the questions and doubts and drew closer to God. Though I wouldn’t normally take it as a positive thing, I can say that this is a book I could recommend to my unbelieving friends, knowing they wouldn’t be offended. But I believe they may also be encouraged or inspired by this story, and would more readily accept it than one overtly spiritual. I think it is just the way the author weaves it throughout. It shows on almost every page, whether God is mentioned or not.

The ending was definitely sigh-worthy and I was grinning rather than mourning the end. I can honestly say I didn’t want it to end, but I knew it had to. My only negative comment is that I didn’t particularly care for the epilogue. It felt a bit forced, as though added as an after-thought meant only to entice readers to ponder the next book. I do understand why the author chose to add it, I just would have preferred to skip it. That’s simply my opinion and it truly didn’t detract from the rest of the book or even the ending much.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for my honest opinion, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review!  I hope you enjoyed it! 
If you're interested in looking into Jen's books, perhaps reading other opinions, here are some links to get you started.


Barnes & Noble

Christian Book

Oh, and if you haven't read her books before you may enjoy trying her novella (a prequel to her Ladies of Distinction series) which is currently FREE on Amazon.

Thanks again!  I hope you're having a lovely day! :)


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Review: To Win Her Favor

I really like this cover.  It is different from the norm and captures the story quite well.  This book reminded me a little bit of the movie Secretariat, the horse racing side of it, I'm sure.  It was very well written and I really enjoyed it. 
A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who could help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing forever.

An Irishman far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and begin farming, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden’s father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the inaugural Peyton Stakes, the richest race ever run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance—and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder—Maggie’s father, aging, yet wily as ever, makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail––Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.

About the Author:
Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of numerous books including A Lasting Impression and The Inheritance. Her richly-drawn characters and thought-provoking plots have earned her devoted readers worldwide. Tamera is a two-time Christy Award winner, two-time RITA winner, and a recipient of the prestigious Library Journal Award. Tamera and her husband recently returned to her Southern roots and now make their home in Nashville. Visit her website at Facebook: tamera.alexander Twitter: @tameraalexander

My Review: 3.5 stars
Enjoyable take on marriage of convenience. 
This is the second book in Tamera Alexander’s Belle Meade series and I have to confess, I’m quite unsure what to rate it. I’ve only read a few of Tamera’s books and it has been a while, so I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations for this one. I love marriage of convenience stories, so I had high hopes for that side of it, and I can happily say that it definitely met those. Though this is the second book, it does quite well as a standalone. There are a couple tie-ins, but I honestly only noticed them because I had read the first book and skimmed it again before picking up this one.
I think my favorite thing about this book is Tamera’s writing. It isn’t overly lyrical, but still has a few quote-worthy moments. Honestly, I’m not sure I can explain it other than to say that I was drawn in from the very first page. I would attempt to put the book down and would have to focus to pull myself out of the story and back to present day. That alone makes this a great book to me. There are few authors who can so fully absorb my attention.
The characters are another of this book’s strong points. Margaret and Cullen are very well drawn characters and very realistic. I could almost feel their pain, see the stubbornness reflected in their expressions, hear Cullen’s Irish brogue. I loved it! I quickly fell in love with them and really enjoyed following them through this difficult time period, when everything they thought they knew would have to be turned upside down and rearranged. I really enjoyed seeing Margaret learn to look beyond social status, skin color, and nationality to the real person.
Much of this story focuses on prejudice and the issues surrounding the end of the Civil War. It was definitely eye-opening for me. I knew about some of it, of course, but Tamera really brings it to life. She definitely made me stop and think. It broke my heart more than once, thinking about the hate they endured back then, and that some people still must deal with.

Part of the reason I’m struggling so much to choose a rating is because there was something I especially didn’t care for: the romantic or “intimate” side of it. Yes, they are married from practically the beginning, and yes, I did expect some closed door references, but there is a little too much detail for me to be comfortable recommending this to younger readers (under 17). What really surprised me though, when I read over parts of it again, is that there actually isn’t that much detail, but it’s more the wording and the way she wrote it. It feels more intimate, like we’re intruding on something extremely personal and shouldn’t be reading it, if that makes sense.

Ignoring that for a moment, I actually did enjoy the romance aspect. It was pretty believable and I liked the progression throughout the story. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide they were in love. They had to get to know each other and learn to trust one another, first. They also had several obstacles to work through and I appreciated that they had to work toward love, instead of it being portrayed as some ambiguous feeling that shifted like the wind.
Also, I was a bit disappointed in the spiritual side of the story. I found it to be very minor and almost added as an after thought. I would have enjoyed more of a discussion or maybe just answers to the questions the characters raised. As it is, I could definitely suggest this book to a unbeliever and not worry about them becoming offended. The characters pray a couple times and there are references to them reading the Bible. That’s it. More stock seems to be put in Mr. Linden’s opinion than God’s. That bothered me a bit, though Cullen does mention to someone that he’s trying to understand the faith that Mr. Linden so fully embraced.

Negative points aside, I do have to say that I really enjoyed this book. I loved being pulled into a story that challenges the norm and made me think. While I still wouldn’t suggest it for younger teens, if you go into it aware of the more intimate parts, I believe it would be okay. I think a lot of my problem is that I was blindsided by it. It’s definitely not what I had expected, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story that much.
Please note, my opinions are based on an advanced copy and may not be entirely relevant to the final published edition. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

This is one of the reviews with a slightly different style I commented on last week - what did you think?  Like it?  Didn't? Why or why not?  Feedback appreciated!

Thank you so much for reading my review!  I'm going to try to add some variety to what I'm posting on here right now, but it may take me a few weeks.  So until then, thanks for reading my reviews! :)

As this book hasn't released yet, I only have links if you're interested in pre-ordering it.  Sorry, but there aren't any reviews available yet.  It does release May 12th, in case you were wondering.


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