August 25, 2016

The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall | My Review

Apparently my WiFi Thursday when I went to post this was not reliable, so here we have it.

With a depth of emotion and heart broached in the story thanks to a unique and stellar 1st person POV--this first Everstone Chronicles book took me on such a beautiful journey. A journey filled with twists and turns that had me guessing until quite literally the last page.

A cast of characters is set up in this first novel expertly for the next three books and their romantic leads. This story is about Amaryllis Brigham and Nathan Everstone, however. And oh, what a pair. They should not have worked--but they did!
Their romance was rife with chemistry from their first meeting and the sharp dialogue Crandall crafted was reminiscent of Lizzie and Darcy from Jane Austen's classic. It takes a truly gifted storyteller, especially from a singular POV, to craft a romance that has the reader invested and enamored with the development from prejudice, to warmth, to distrust, to the slow opening up of a hesitant heart to a changed man who is not at all who she assumes him to be. The grace of God mirrored in the pursuit of Nathan Everstone towards Amaryllis (what a gorgeous heroine name!) as well as in what was to be revealed as Nathan's redemption (which I wished we could've seen more of, he was that great of a hero) was nothing short of masterful.

Full disclosure? The heroine drove me nuts at a few parts, but partly because her stubbornness came through so starkly thanks to the 1st person POV. And hit close to home--her being so reluctant to open up and let down her facade. But this was a really beautiful story--with a surprising but happy ending that was so very well done and rewarding to get to that I finished this book on the plane satisfied--and looking forward to book two.

**Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest opinion from the author and was in no way compensated for my review and all opinions within are my own.**

After being unjustly expelled from the Boston Conservatory of Music, Amaryllis Brigham sees her dreams of founding a music academy disappearing before her very eyes. Now the only way to achieve her goal comes with high stakes for someone set on avoiding men as much as possible: marry within the year to inherit her grandmother’s fortune. Amaryllis reluctantly takes part in her aunt’s society, intent on getting to the west coast on her own… and without a husband.

Despite her own misgivings, she soon finds herself falling in love with the most unlikely of men, Nathan Everstone, whose father not only had a part in her expulsion, but whose ominous presence has haunted her dreams for a decade since her mother’s tragic death. Nathan turns out to be much more than he seems and everything she never knew she wanted. But just as everything Amaryllis has recently hoped for comes to fruition, it all falls apart when she finds that the real culprit who has been “managing her life” isn’t who she thought at all.


A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education, and a former bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn’t begin writing until 2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream of writing a book. Without a doubt about someday becoming published, he let her quit her job in 2010 in order to focus on writing The Hesitant Heiress. It didn’t take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do. Dawn is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary.

Apart from writing books, Dawn is also a first-time mom to a precious little boy (born March 2014) and also serves with her husband in a premarriage mentor program at their local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, secretary for the Indiana ACFW Chapter (Hoosier Ink), and associate member of the Great Lakes ACFW Chapter.
The Everstone Chronicles is Dawn’s first series with Whitaker House. All three books composing the series were semifinalists in ACFW’s prestigious Genesis Writing Contest, the third book going on to become a finalist in 2013.

August 18, 2016

Phillip's War by Rachel Muller | My Review

When asked if I could I'm not sure what I was expecting when I was approached to be an influencer by this talented independent author (and new friend!) but suffice it to say this third and final book in her Love & War series has blown me away. And I cannot wait to read the first two books in her standalone series, Letters from Grace and Maggie's Mission. What is one of many fantastic facets about this powerful story, is that you don't have to have read the first two books to know what is going on. You will want to though because the secondary characters within it have their own stories and you'll be dying to find out their backstories in short order. But onto today's review...

Reminiscent of Academy Award-winning classic film, The Best Years of Our Lives, this novel that just released yesterday has it all. Romance, loss, intrigue, mystery, and a varied tapestry of impressive characters. The title character, Phillip, is unlike any I have ever read before. Dealing with shell-shock (now known as PTSD), he is both the protagonist and in many ways to his wife Libby he is the antagonist in this, his own story. A feat not often balanced well but Rachel Muller spins their story with a finesse and grace unparalleled in the genre, especially for the subject matter. Never have I ever read a book that so deeply delves into the horrors of what a war leaves behind on its soldiers--and what it brings home to the families.
PictureAmidst the small town charm of Arbor Springs, Maryland, the Big Band music that this vintage-soul was thrilled to hear mention of--Rachel has woven a powerfully redemptive story. One with such an emotional depth you can't help but be pulled in alongside Phillip and Libby Johnson, feeling what they do so vividly--all as God brings them back together, and into restoration.

This story left me changed. Which is a rare feat. Getting to see God's masterful handiwork in what Rachel poured into this novel, straight from her heart, was nothing short of a blessing. She was unafraid to both tackle topics like PTSD, alcoholism and making a marriage work--and she tackled them so accurately and sensitively these topics were mere tools to point to the Ultimate Author who makes beautiful things out of the dust of history, and hearts.
They thought the war had ended…
but the real battle was just beginning.
When Marine Sergeant Phillip Johnson returns from the Pacific in the winter of 1946, no one could be happier than the gal that’s stuck with him through the duration—his Libby. Finally, it seems 1946 brings new promise to the citizens of Arbor Springs as the town learns to live life post war. But after the homecoming festivities have calmed, Libby senses something is wrong. The gentle and caring man she once knew is now an angry and bitter stranger.
Phillip can’t escape the haunting nightmares born on the bloody islands of battle. Blinded by grisly images, past promises, and buried secrets, new hostilities rise in his tortured mind. 
His irrational behavior soon dismantles his marriage. When Phillip’s despair turns volatile, Libby needs an escape. 
Will Libby and Phillip find the healing needed to restore their marriage? Or will their love sink in the midst of Phillip’s inward war?
Obsessed with World War II since the tender age of 17, Rachel has been studying The Greatest Generation for 13 years and composing stories of love and war for three years. Her first project, Letters from Grace, claimed a spot in Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write Contest in 2012 and semi-finaled in ACFW's Genesis Contest, 2014. Letters from Grace, book 1 in the Love & War series, released September, 2014 and its sequel Maggie's Mission released in December of the same year. Readers can learn more about Rachel at or find her on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and Goodreads.

August 11, 2016

The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof | My Review

via the author's Pinterest
When a novel leaves you speechless with tears in your eyes--you know it will forever remain a special kind of favorite. I have been aching to read this latest (and her first) full-length offering from one of my favorite authors, Joanne Bischof, for months ever since I had begun hearing bits and pieces about it. Historical romance, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables, the circus world--all in turn of the century Virginia? Not only does that combination sound too good to be true--but incredibly unique. Hence my increasing excitement especially when I got my hands on it. I was not prepared for just how much God would touch my heart through the work of this gifted author. And I am so, so glad I did not rush through the story as I was tempted to. This is a story to be savored.

The Lady and the Lionheart takes the reader on a gypsy's journey into the circus world of Charlie Lionheart. A man with a loyal, steadfast heart that fits his name. He is also a man with quite a number of secrets, a shield over his heart--but a deep, abiding faith. Ella Beckley is a seemingly "plain and boring" heroine--not my words, the novel's! Read and you'll find out the context of such a description. But Ella bears her own scars not unlike Charlie's, except longer buried. Despite storms of doubt and fear assailing, Charlie and Ella are drawn together with a mutual love over a very special infant who needs a family--and a care only Ella, a nurse, can provide. Then, what follows is a God bigger than their scars and pain and pasts--and futures--turning their lives upside down and inside out, drawing them nearer to Himself, deeper into His love...crafting a divine romance for these two characters. 

Two characters who, when the novel ended, felt like dear friends I had watched traverse up and down mountains to get to where they ended up: rooted in the love of the Lord. I so hated to see it end--but what an ending. This novel was, for me, one of those true rarities where I tried hard not to rush through it. To take in every aspect of the Victorian traveling circus world, to pay attention to every little detail about Charlie and Ella...I can honestly say that I was utterly embraced and whisked away into the story thanks to the talented storyteller who wrote her heart into every line of this redemptive story. So much so that I did not want to see it end.
Written with a bright, homespun warmth and graceful finesse, Joanne Bischof's The Lady and the Lionheart is a powerful story of how God makes beautiful things out of the brokenness of His people by the power of Jesus' name--the ultimate LOVE.

Two worlds collide when the circus comes to Victorian-era Virginia.
Raised amid the fame and mystique of the Big Top, Charlie Lionheart holds the audience in the palm of his hand. But while his act captivates thousands, it’s away from the spotlight where his true heart lies. Here he humbly cares for his pride of lions as if they were his brothers, a skill of bravery and strength that has prepared him for his most challenging feat yet—freeing an orphaned infant from the dark bondage of a sideshow. A trade so costly, it requires his life in exchange for hers, leaving him tarnished by the price of that choice.
As the circus tents are raised on the outskirts of Roanoke, country nurse Ella Beckley arrives to tend to this ill Gypsy girl. All under the watchful eye of a guardian who not only bears a striking resemblance to the child, but who protects the baby with a love that wraps around Ella’s own tragic past, awakening a hope that goodness may yet reign. When their forbidden friendship deepens, Charlie dares to ask for her heart, bringing her behind the curtain of his secret world to reveal the sacrifice that gave hope to one little girl—boldly showing Ella that while her tattered faith is deeply scarred, the only marks that need be permanent are his own.
A Carol Award and two-time Christy Award-finalist, Joanne Bischof writes deeply layered fiction that tugs at the reader’s heartstrings. She was honored to receive the SDCWG Novel of the Year Award in 2014 and in 2015 was named Author of the Year by the Mount Hermon Writer’s conference. Her 2014 novella This Quiet Sky broke precedent as the first self-released title to final for the Christy Awards. She lives in the mountains of Southern California with her husband and their three children. Website | Amazon | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

August 8, 2016

54 Weeks | A Thank You

 Because when I try and convey how grateful I am I get shrugs and the reply of,
"This is what a family does."
Hence, this post.
Before my first surgery, June 2015 at Gettysburg
 It has been a long, hard year-plus since my first surgery. I won't go much into the nitty-gritty details because I chronicled enough of everything on here, my Facebook page and frankly--I'm so done recounting the details of the surgeries and days in the hospital and six weeks with a PICC line in my vein and so, SO many days using a walker and/or crutches.
What I want to recount today is the innumerable ways my amazing family has loved me through my darkest, quite possibly my most unlovable, and have sometimes quite literally supported me as I walked (or more accurately didn't) walk through this last year.
Picking out a Christmas tree, December 2015, on crutches after a short time of having my life back
I honestly think it was hardest on my parents--I can't even imagine the huge weight of being powerless seeing a child suffer. Even though all my surgeries served such good purposes to ultimately relieve my pain--Mum and Dad's huge hearts full of love and faith were tested as much as my own heart was. But still they never once complained, they shushed away the guilt I placed on myself, kept reminding me that just because I was literally laid up and helpless--I still had value and an irreplaceable spot in our family.
After Christmas Eve 2015 service at church--where I finally got into a holiday spirit
Thanks to Dad's hard work (and amazing insurance--thank you Jesus!) we saw not a bill, I was driven by the best chauffeurs around, my legs lifted by strong and steady hands when I was not allowed nor able to do so myself. And despite how his tender heart hurt for me--he is and was always ready with a hug and peck on the head when I needed it most. And we bonded over late night Jimmy Fallon a time or two, too.
And Mum. Propping with pillows, staying up late for infusions--longest six weeks of our lives--speaking tough loving truths over me that, yes Mum, did eventually sink in despite my thick skull and crises of faith. I don't know what I would have done without my entire family--but especially Mum. For all the times of butting heads and mutual tears--I have never seen more truly sacrificial love that the Lord calls us to: laying down ones life. It was immensely humbling to be on the receiving end of so much of that as I was utterly helpless for so long to even attend to intimate, taken-for-granted needs and tasks. That is what Mum did for me on a daily basis through all my surgeries and recoveries. It's what she has done for my entire life and I will never, ever forget this last year when the love of Jesus was walked out so beautifully by my mother.
At a dear friend's joyous wedding, March 2016. Two days away from 100% for my right hip.
 And my siblings. Much as we can all living together under one roof drive each other nuts--there are not any other three I would want as some of my best friends. Sara, my roommate I wouldn't trade for anything, stepped up above and beyond the call of duty this last year. Even in the midst of a ton of adulting adjustments, she helped fight to keep my spirits up, made memories with me even though I couldn't go anywhere, and also tough loved me out of a lot of funks.
Just the October weekend of my best friend's wedding I couldn't be at, Sara helped me up to our (former) room for the first time since July, and we watched Grey's Anatomy, and Grease, to keep me laughing...okay and crying at varying intervals.
April 2016, Ronnie's baptism. NO crutches! (I was leaning weird to hide my PJ pants)
Oh Ronnie. Adjusting to growing up, becoming his own person, figuring life and peer pressure and triumphing over a rocky year of school--he remains my Marvel buddy and an incredible helping hand. And comic relief roping me into playing MarioKart (and letting me win sometimes!) and binge-watching Agents of SHIELD. What's funny is that now that both hips of mine are replaced? We're the same height again! Also--scrolling through these photos? WHY DOES EVERYONE, ESPECIALLY RONNIE, NEED TO GROW UP SO FAST?! 
Vacation to Southport, NC May 2016
And Anna Banana. Our eleven year age difference means we have a Meg and Amy March-type relationship, to my mind. And oh, this girl. She may very well become a nurse or something like that when she grows up and goes out into the Great World. She was a sweet and tender caregiver, jumping up before a sentence asking for something was even fully out of my mouth. Taking after Mum anticipating needs, asking me if I needed anything and how I was feeling--she was and is a joy. One I am so glad to be here watching grow up into her own colorful person.
Really wishing this pic at Grammy and Buppy's for vacation May 2016 wasn't blurry!
This year was quite possibly the toughest year we've ever faced as a family. But we did it together, and even made so many sweet memories in the process. It taught me humility to let others help and love on me since I was helpless and could not lift a finger for myself. It showed me further depths of God's love exhibited in the living out of love from every single one of my family members. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that, as of today when I am cleared for 100% at 2:15(ish) Eastern standard time, that my chronic pain and cross to bear in the form of hip dysplasia, is finally, officially over.
Father's Day, a bittersweet one, 2016. Missing Zedoh. 5 days post-left-hip replacement.
To my family (Sara you'd better eventually read this): I could not have done this year without you. Thank you does not begin to cover it. I know I can be a pill and my impatient restlessness has been showing of late--but know I am not ungrateful or wanting to leave ya'll. Home is my safe haven. YOU ALL see me, and love me anyway and I know I can't ever repay you for the last year. Nor is there a need to. But just know that I love you all SO much. And even with all these words of mine (yes I know--brevity isn't a strong suit), there aren't enough to convey how full of love and gratitude my heart is for all five of you.
My 23rd Birthday, July 2016
It is mere hours until I am cleared for 100% weight bearing. On both legs, the same length, at the same time. The first time in a year. I get to put the crutches away for good. I get to drive home from the doctor's office. Just these few facts I've listed above? They may not seem like much but they are huge milestones, marks of a brand spankin' new season of life for me.
One I hope and pray to never take for granted.
As I told Mum after my last doctor's appointment--I will never forget the majority of my life thus far living with chronic pain. The lessons and reliance on Christ these years have taught me will carry me through, keep my heart soft and pliable as I walk every step through life without a limp.
Much like my surgical scars are only visible to me, so are the marks on my heart, soul and life from what the last twelve years--especially this last year--have taught me. 
Because that is what God has done.
And through Him all things work together for good.
Here's to a good future and
a hope that God has planned for me.

August 6, 2016

My Stream of Consciousness through out Revisions

Or in other words, the thoughts I had whilst spending the most Butt in Chair time I have ever solely dedicated to my novel.
 I forgot how much I loved this story!
Man, Margaret is a pill.
Oh crap. I wrote that.
Five cups of coffee FOR THE WIN in the mug from my TWIN.
I'm a poet and I didn't know it.
Okay, stay OFF social media, whatever you do.
(Full disclosure: I only checked it twice the day I went "dark.")
AW! I wrote that.

Sun rises are overrated. But hey--I woke up naturally. Even after going to sleep after midnight. I should take advantage of it.
*lies in bed for another hour as the sun casts its overcast glow over suburbia Pittsburgh*
Dawn is only enjoyable in Gettysburg (see photo below)
Huh, this mug holds a quarter of a pot of coffee. I NEED TWO.
Six. Hours. Later. and two chapters revised of my still-sagging middle:
(And for the record I stayed well hydrated and fed through out this epic consumption of coffee)
Oookay, why did I write this chapter? It's a filler chapter. But no, I can't cut it. This history actually happened and with how I need to keep the pace going to move the timeline along IT NEEDS TO STAY. Now I just have to make it interesting to someone other than me...
This sucks this sucks this suuuuuuuuuuucks.
Oh hey this is sweet...
Awww I forgot I wrote this.
Good Lord am I wordy.
This better be worth it.
I need more coffee.
This WILL be worth it.

August 5, 2016

The Heart of a Story Teller {A Pinned in Time Guest Post + Giveaway }

Welcome to the Pinned in Time Blog Hop: a twelve day party celebrating Pepper Basham's Penned in Time series! There is a Pinterest scavenger hunt, exciting giveaway, behind the scenes looks into the worlds of The Thorn Bearer and The Thorn Keeper--as well as a glimpse into the heart of their talented author.

It is my joy to "host" this wonderful friend/mentor who is also one of my favorite crazy-talented authors. In celebration of the Pinned in Time blog tour, Pepper is here today to virtually have a cup of tea (on that--check out the giveaway below!) and pour out some words of wisdom. Words I so hope everyone who stops by is touched by--I know I was.
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the mom of 5 great kids, speech-pathologist to about fifty more, lover of chocolate, jazz, and Jesus. Her debut historical novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in May 2015 and has garnered awards such as Reader's Favorites Award, finalist in the Grace Awards, shortlisted for the Inspy Awards, and most recently a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards. Her second historical novel, The Thorn Keeper, released in Feb 2016 and her first contemporary romance, A Twist of Faith, released in April 2016 with a 4 star review from Romantic Times. You can get to know Pepper on her website, on FacebookTwitter or over at her group blog, The Writer’s Alley.
Stories are powerful. They have the ability to teach deep truths wielded through words and veiled in imagination. They give us visual ‘images’ and emotional connections to print on a page or characters we’ve never met. It’s a magical journey with the ability to prick our consciences, grip our hearts, inspire our dreams, and point us in the direction of healing.
Stories are powerful.
I grew up in a world of stories, but not the typical kind one might think of. We had very few children’s books in my young world and the majority of the ones we did have were children’s Bible stories. Interesting books filled with colorful illustrations that helped bring the Bible to life for a young mind, but I also learned the power of story through my Granny.
You see, I’m from Appalachia. Storytelling is as much a part of the culture as family get-togethers. In fact, lots of times those go hand-in-hand. Much like the stories of the Bible, my Granny would tell stories passed down through five, six, seven generations or more. She knew details genealogy sites couldn’t provide. Fascinating and unbelievable stories that carved out the lives of my ancestors and put flesh-and-bone on names. Good and bad tales. Heart wrenching and joyous tales. Every possible kind woven through the palate of our family history, but one thing remained constant.
The thread of Redemption.
God ALWAYS showed up in some part of the stories. In fact, as I look back on those stories (many of which I tried to write down to remember), I’m in awe of how God used all sorts of situations – horse thieves, fires, sickness, death, trading wives, stowaways, martyrs, meanness, alcoholism, strength, addiction, grace, money, weakness….- to bring about the most amazing beauty and show His mercy and plan.
And from that culture and background, God cultivated in me a deep love of story. I think it’s also an example of why I like so many different types of stories, because truth and depth can grow from all sorts.
When I write I cannot separate the understanding that God’s fingerprints are stamped on each scene of every life, and whether overtly or in more subtle ways, that truth comes out in my writing. Not every story of mine has an obvious faith thread, but for those who have eyes to see those Godly fingerprints, they’ll recognize them.
Hope is the theme of God’s love and the main goal of what I hope writers find when they open the pages of my stories. Hope brought so many of the Bible characters through dark times and helped them rejoice in the truth. Hope quilted my family’s generations with grace and offered a glorious option to despair.
The Gospel is an awe-inspiring reminder that Christ’s love for His Father was so fierce, powerful, and pure that He would choose to die for His enemies to rescue them for His Father. That sort of eternity-shaking, world-changing kind-of-love causes ripples throughout time, space, and imagination. It inspires the heart of many stories from some of the greatest authors to those of us who are still finding our feet in the writing world.
And its beauty shines in stories that never even mention the name of Jesus, because…. His story has power. Heart-shaking, life-changing power. And it should be told in every form, through any genre, in various colors, shades, and hues. Which is what I hope to do.
When you read novels, which do you prefer – overt Christian threads or themes that are more subtle? Does it make a difference to you?

Title:  The Thorn Bearer
Series: Penned in Time, Book 1
Author:  Pepper D. Basham
Publisher:  Vinspire Publishing, LLC
Release Date:  May 7, 2015
When Ashleigh Dougall’s fiancĂ© leaves her eight months before their wedding, the unexpected blow ignites a battalion of insecurities stemming from her father’s intimate betrayal. In an attempt to escape her shame, Ashleigh boards the ill-fated Lusitania to cross the war-torn waters of Europe. Much to her dismay, she isn’t traveling alone.
Sam Miller is always making up for his best friend’s mistakes. Determined to help his childhood friend, Ashleigh, he offers his compassion and companionship as she ventures across a perilous sea. With the faint hope of renewing his lost love for Ashleigh’s sister, Sam never expects to find the woman of his dreams in the love of his childhood friend.
Neither are prepared for the life-altering and heart-breaking journey of their friendship.

Title:  The Thorn Keeper
Series: Penned in Time, Book 2
Author:  Pepper D. Basham
Publisher:  Vinspire Publishing, LLC
Release Date:  February 28, 2016

With her past in shambles, how can she fashion a future of hope?
Catherine Dougall’s past of manipulation has left her future in threads. With a new faith, she longs to take the remnants of her life and make something beautiful, but shame, societies’ judgments, and the natural consequences of an unplanned pregnancy test her newfound hope. Dr. David Ross doesn’t help either. His kindness, sacrifice, and tenderness tempt her to impossible dreams. A fallen woman doesn’t merit a fairytale.

David Ross has made every effort to keep his life above reproach. His passion for the sick pump fresh purpose through his choices, but without financial support to maintain his war hospital, all is lost. When his notorious aunt offers an easy solution, David is tempted to give in to her demands, but his growing affection for the reformed flirt, Catherine Dougall, unwinds the careful wall around his heart and offers an unexpected choice.
When the worst of war tears them apart, can love renew the memory of what was lost or will tragedy steal away their hope forever?
From the beautiful Derbyshire countryside to the trenches of World War One, Catherine and David must learn to trust in a God who designs a masterpiece out of brokenness and fashions hope in the most unlikely places.
Join the Pinned in Time scavenger hunt for a chance to win this awesome Penned in Time-themed prize pack below plus a $25 Amazon gift card.
Pinned in Time Scavenger Hunt Rules:

  1. Each blog hop stop contains an image clue, with a link to a Pinterest Board filled with pictures related to the Penned in Time series. 
  2. Using the image clue, find the corresponding answer image.
  3. Create a Pinterest board, titled "Penned in Time," and pinned the answer image to your board, and hashtag #pinnedintime.
  4. Enter your pinned (answer) image link on the Rafflecopter entry form, correspond to the stop on the Blog Hop. 
  5. Check out the other blog hop stops for more entries!

Here is my clue for the scavenger hunt!

August 2  l Mikal Dawn
August 3  l Just Commonly
August 4  l A Way With Words
August 5  l  A Northern Belle
August 9  l Stuff and Nonsense
August 11 l Bookworm Mama
August 12 l Faithfully Bookish