“Dancing with Fireflies” by Denise Hunter

Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.
As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt.” Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.
 I’ve got a new favorite Denise Hunter book.  
On the surface, this doesn’t sound like a perky book.  Jade is trying to overcome some pretty heavy wounds, and Daniel’s family isn’t exactly a picnic, either.  Trying to forge a romantic relationship where there has been a strong friendship, however, is the best kind of basis for love, and Jade and Daniel do much to help each other.
It’s those strong feelings that pave the way for a sweet, strong story.  Hunter doesn’t focus on the pain of the past but the strength of the present to reach for future’s hope.  It’s the acknowledgement of the pain that lends credence to the growth of the character and of the storyline, and therein lies the very best part of the story: the stretching of maturity, the sacrifice of love, and the melding of individuals into a couple – and a family.
Stories of healing and hope are among my favorites, but when the characters don’t just survive the trauma but grow through it, that’s the very best scenario ever – because in real life, isn’t that exactly what Jesus asks of us?
Click here to read other bloggy reviews or here to purchase your own copy now.
Denise Hunter is an internationally published best-selling author. Her books have won The Holt Medallion Award, The Reader’s Choice Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and was a RITA finalist. In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all of her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps, too. When Denise isn’t writing, she’s busy raising three heroes-in-the-making with her husband.

Learn more about Denise at: http://www.denisehunterbooks.com
I received a free copy of Dancing with Fireflies in exchange for an honest review.

“The Dancing Master” by Julie Klassen



 Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.

Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch’s daughter. Though he’s initially wary of Julia Midwinter’s reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul—and hidden sorrows of her own.

Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master—a man her mother would never approve of—but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec’s help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village . . . and to her mother’s tattered heart?

Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a “good match” in Regency England.

I have loved every Julie Klassen book to this date, which is why I was disappointed when the beginning of this one didn’t hold my attention.  There is mystery and drama from the very first page, so I’m not sure of the problem.  Was it the headache I was fighting?  Possibly, but after the initial swirl of suspense, the action slowed to a dribble while we became acquainted with each character and their story.
By the middle of the book, however, I was enthralled.  By this point you knew that there was far more to each character than meets the eye, and I couldn’t wait to figure out who did what.  I was cheering for Alec and his family and was flying through the pages to find out how this crazy situation would reach resolution.
Unlike most of my favorite books, I didn’t love Julia.  I thought I would, at first, but her manipulative ways didn’t endear her to me.  I’m not sure that I wouldn’t behave differently if put into the same situation, but, still … there you go.  Her maturation at the very end of the book helped, and I was definitely fascinated with her situation. 
It was the strength and determination of the other characters that made this book for me, character-wise, and the suspenseful way that Klassen played out the twenty-year-old mystery.  She completely nailed it in this one.  I’ve never seen an author delicately pluck mysterious threads in a way quite like this before – one that masterfully shows the hidden backstory of several major characters and of the area overall in distinct, slow, suspenseful ways.  
So while I enjoyed this story, and the suspense even more, Klassen revealed herself to be the true master here:  The Mystery Master.
Read other reviews in this bloggy hop here or purchase your own copy now.
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She is a three-time Christy Award winner and a 2010 Midwest Book Award winner for Genre Fiction. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Learn more about Julie at: http://julieklassen.com

I received a free copy of The Dancing Master from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review. 

“Damascus Countdown” by Joel C. Rosenberg

If you only read one book this year – or perhaps one series – it should be this one.

Described as a ‘geopolitical thriller,’ I never would have picked up a Rosenberg book on my own.  I’m about as political as a daisy, and trying to figure out the truth from all of the he saids/she saids that are popular in politics these days are way beyond me.

But then a friend lent me Rosenberg’s first series, and I couldn’t put it down.

This one is just as, or perhaps more, relevent to world events than the first that I read.

We often hear people speculating about what might happen when Jesus returns, but Rosenberg takes a different tack in this series:  What might happen if the Muslims believe that their end-time prophecies are being fulfilled?

Many Muslims believe that this fulfillment is imminent, and they are actively working to push towards that day – to be prepared for what they consider to be a holy war against Israel and the US when the Twelfth Imam returns.

This is the story of Damascus Countdown.  A fast-paced, around-the-world story of a lone CIA agent hidden inside Iran trying to locate and neutralize nuclear warheads at all costs – before they could be used to neutralize Israel or the US.

I’ve had Damascus Countdown on my bookshelf for a few weeks now, and I can’t get the plot out of my head – in large part, because it could be playing out in the Middle East right now.  With Iran working frantically to go nuclear, with Israel trying to keep the US as a strong ally, with many wanting the US to do more to stop Iran’s nuclear efforts, this book is straight out of today’s headlines.

David Shirazi, the main character, is kind, determined, and brilliant.  He doesn’t want to be violent but is totally committed to stopping the kind of nuclear war that he is positive is coming – and this smart intensity makes him a fascinating character.  It doesn’t hurt that he has a kind, praying love interest back in the States, either.  The love angle softens the sharp edges of the story and adds a softness that would be missing otherwise.

Despite Shirazi’s perfection as a lead character, the reader can never be totally sure that he will survive through the plot.  He is, of course, an American spy in Iran, with bombs and gunfights exploding on nearly every page – and Rosenberg keeps you in suspense in every single chapter.  Generally one is sure that the main character will survive the story victorious, but Rosenberg writes his plots as he sees them, not as we do, and he does not provide this certainty.  This makes Damascus Countdown a suspenseful thriller on every single level.

You shouldn’t miss this book – it’s a must-read – but you should also be prepared with some chocolate and a day off, because neither will you be able to put it down.  It has some heft to it, so clear your schedule and get reading.  This one is demanding your attention now.

I received a free copy of Damascus Countdown from Tyndale House in exchange for an honest review.

“The Crossing” by Serita Jakes

Cheerleader Claudia King refuses to leave her teacher and friend when she’s shot aboard the athletic bus following Friday night’s football game.  Her boyfriend Casio Hightower is also shot in the altercation, but unlike Ms. Remington, he survives – though their relationship does not.  Ten years later both have moved on – Claudia is married with a child, and Casio is dating seriously – but neither have forgotten their experience on board the bus.  When Claudia’s lawyer husband decides to reopen the case, can he and Casio find the elusive killer – before anyone else dies?

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  The characters are not the cardboard Christian type – they’re real and flawed and confused, much like any other human on this planet.  For that reason, I was enthralled by the mystery in this story and couldn’t wait to solve the case.  I cheered Claudia for taking steps toward her healing even as I mourned the way she was often hurting those who loved her most.  I wanted to like Casio as I could see great potential in him, but his flaws made him difficult to like.  Ultimately, I would have liked to see more of Claudia’s husband Victor as he seemed to have the best handle on what was happening.  Without him, this would have been just another mystery – but his faithful influence made all the difference.

As much as I liked the authenticity of the characters, I disliked the ending.  A sudden twist at the end kept me from predicting the ending entirely, but the conclusion came abruptly, and even though all loose ends were wrapped up, I felt at odds when the book ended.  The major issues that kept Claudia suffering from PTSD for a decade seemed gone too quickly, and with faith issues on the peripheral of the main characters’ vision for much of the book, the resolution just seemed too fast.

Ultimately, this book explored trauma and our reactions to it in several different ways.  Many books pull you in and make you feel as if you’ve experienced what the characters have – and so you can see yourself taking similar actions if you’re ever in that kind of situation.  Not so with this story – I felt as if this was more of a “what not to do” than “here’s how you do it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Jakes’ writing style and am interested in reading more of her work for the realistic characters – but this story is not one I’ll read over and over due to the negative feeling I was left with.

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

“The Corruptible” by Mark Mynheir

Ray Quinn, PI, wants a client different from the usual enraged, cheating husband type – until he gets one.  After being hired to find Logan Ramsey, former cop and current alcoholic and thief, complications arise from a sudden murder, a dishonest employer and his romance-minded secretary.  Staying on top of the twists and turns in the case challenges Quinn’s physical strength as he recovers from a serious shooting and self-medicates with a bit too much Jim Beam.  What is Quinn’s employer hiding, and what did Ramsey have up his sleeve?  Of the many people who wanted Ramsey dead, can Quinn find the real murderer – before they find him?

Mynheir has written a classic detective novel.  His experience in police and undercover work shines through, making the inner workings of the story realistic and believable.  Ray Quinn sounds like a PI from an old black-and-white movie with modern technological trappings, and despite his flaws, one can’t help but cheer him on.

My favorite part of this book is the perspective.  The stereotypical view of an ex-cop is of a hardcore, no-holds-barred, tough guy image; and while Quinn is extremely cynical and somewhat down, he retains hope that he can make a difference in the world.  Mynheir writes without extensive bar-hopping (some Jim Beam being the exception), swearing, or casual sex, making this the cleanest, yet completely realistic and believable, detective story I’ve ever read.  Quinn’s focus on the job – not what some consider to be the ‘perks’ –  make him an old-world style hero.

The second book in the Ray Quinn series, Mynheir weaves the relevant information from the first book into the story seamlessly; however, this one was so good that I’m definitely going to find a copy of the first to read – and I’ll be on the lookout for the next one.

Want to read an excerpt of The Corruptible?  Check it out here.

I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

“Courting Cate” by Leslie Gould

In Paradise, Pennsylvania, Cate Miller is known more for her sharp tongue and fiery temper than her striking appearance. Her sweet and flirty sister, Betsy, on the other hand, seems to have attracted most of the bachelors in Lancaster County!
But the sisters’ wealthy father has made one hard-and-fast rule: older Cate must marry first, before younger Betsy can even start courting. Unfortunately, untamable Cate has driven away every suitor-until Pete Treger comes to town, that is.
Prodded by the men of the area, Pete turns his attention to winning Cate’s hand. But is his interest true or is there a scheme at play?

Book 1 in The Courtships of Lancaster County series. 
Courting Cate is an provocative, Amish twist on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and it was every bit as forceful as I imagine the original to be.  I must admit, I was frustrated by the beginning of the story because it seemed obvious that Cate’s prickly attitude was a result of pain and fear, not a mean spirit, and her father’s edict and sister’s decision to take advantage of Cate’s love for her seemed too much – and then I kept reading.
Reading this story went from frustrating to difficult – because Gould wrote it that well.  She painted Cate into an impossible situation and turns the mirror back on the reader, and I didn’t like what I saw.  Would I have reacted with Cate’s prickliness in the beginning?  For sure.  Would I have reacted as Cate did during her most difficult time in New YorK?  Could I have treated the immature Betsy as Cate did later in the story?  That’s a tough one.  While Gould follows the basic Shakespearean story, she adds her own faith-filled twists and turns that up both the suspense and emotional factor.  
I may have been a prickly reader in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I refused to put Courting Cate down. The transformation from Shakespeare to Lancaster Amish is a fascinating one – and Gould does it with exceptional grace.  Each modern element keeps you guessing while the basic plot line causes the reader to bleed a little more for Cate.  
This is definitely not your average Amish story.
I can’t wait for the next one.
To purchase your own copy of Courting Cate, visit here.
Leslie Gould is the co-author, with Mindy Starns Clark, of the #1 bestselling The Amish Midwife andThe Amish Nanny. She is also the author of numerous novels, including Garden of Dreams, Beyond the Blue (winner of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice for Best Inspirational Novel, 2006), and Scrap Everything. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Portland State University and has taught fiction writing at Multnomah University as an adjunct professor. She resides with her husband and four children in Portland, Oregon. 
Learn more at www.lesliegould.com.
I received a free copy of Courting Cate from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“The Courier of Caswell Hall” by Melanie Dobson


As the British and Continental armies wage war in 1781, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner feels conflict raging in her own heart. Lydia Caswell comes from a family of staunch Loyalists, but she cares only about peace. Her friend Sarah Hammond, however, longs to join the fight. Both women’s families have already been divided by a costly war that sets father against son and neighbor against neighbor; a war that makes it impossible to guess who can be trusted.

One snowy night Lydia discovers a wounded man on the riverbank near Caswell Hall, and her decision to save him will change her life. Nathan introduces her to a secret network of spies, couriers, disguises, and coded messages—a network that may be the Patriots’ only hope for winning the war. When British officers take over Caswell Hall and wreak havoc on neighboring plantations, Lydia will have to choose between loyalty and freedom; between her family’s protection and her own heart’s desires.

As both armies gather near Williamsburg for a pivotal battle, both Lydia and Sarah must decide how high a price they are willing to pay to help the men they love.

Part of the American Tapestries™ series: Each standalone novel in this line sets a heart-stirring love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. This is the fifth book in the series.

This is the best historical fiction I’ve read since the last time I’ve read a Melanie Dobson novel.  There’s just something about this author who is able to transport me completely to whatever time and place she chooses.  Her unique perspective helps to set her books apart from others; The Courier of Caswell Hall focuses on the many roles women played in the Revolutionary War – and I don’t mean from inside their kitchens, either.

I loved Lydia’s story.  I can’t imagine just how scary it must have been, knowing that to choose a side and lose, all principles aside, could mean the loss of your family’s security and social standing – things which mean little eternally but which can mean a great deal as you live through their loss.  I feel as if I can relate just a tiny bit more now for having read this story.

Lydia’s wasn’t the only fascinating one here, however.  I’ve always been interested in the role of women in early American wars since reading about Deborah Sampson as a kid, and Dobson included many such stories discreetly throughout this book.  It is fascinating to know that there were women, people who society completely ignored militarily, who felt so strong as to step out in courageous ways to fight for their country.

The Courier of Caswell Hall has found its way onto my bookshelf.  My children will be reading this when they’re older and studying the Revolution – not only to put themselves into the position of choosing which side to take, but also to use as a research starter – to take the details of this story and go find which ones are true.

I’d like to know that myself.

Click here to read other reviews on this bloggy hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

Melanie Dobson is the author of twelve novels; her writing has received numerous accolades including two Carol Awards. Melanie worked in public relations for fifteen years before she began writing fiction full-time. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides with her husband and two daughters in Oregon.
Connect with Melanie at: http://melaniedobson.com
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“Courageous” by Randy Alcorn

I had mixed feelings about reading the new Courageous novel.  I knew the movie would be good – how could the makers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants make anything else? – but I wasn’t so sure about a book made from a movie.

Alcorn’s Courageous far surpassed my expectations.

Adam is a long-time cop whose cynicism has pushed away his son and affects his relationships with his wife and daughter.  Nathan is new in town and struggling to be involved with his three children and keep his faith active despite job pressures.  Javy struggles to support his family and leans heavily on his strong faith, but does his family share his views?  David has turned his back on his daughter and her mother completely.  As each strive to hold their head above water and survive despite intense stress, their perspective changes when tragedy strikes one man’s family.  Can his new views of eternity and his role as a father improve his relationships – and those around him?

Alcorn’s easy writing style makes it seem as if this novel happened before the movie.  It has none of the trademark novelization issues –  it’s easy to read, flows well, has a great vocabulary, and features a tight plot.  Each character sprang to life within the pages of this book and made me want to cheer them on in his efforts to become closer to God and family.  The conclusions reached by Adam and his friends prompted me to rethink the way that I interact with my own children and to wish for these types of friends myself.

The only thing that would make this book any better is a companion guide, as the Kendricks created for Fireproof.  A non-fiction book containing Adam’s resesarch, conclusions, and the scriptures he used would make a fantastic springboard for those wanting to delve deeper into this subject – just like The Love Dare did for Fireproof fans.

If you like action and suspense … if you like to laugh … if you like drama … if you have a family … if you are a parent … if you have friends … if you don’t but wish you did …. this is the book for you.  Don’t miss it.

I received a free copy of Courageous from Tyndale House in return for an honest review.

“The Company” by Chuck Graham

A meteor strike plunges the world into darkness. A stranger to the village of Brigos Glen restores power and light, supplied by three businesses, known as “The Company,” located beyond the forbidden mountains. The stranger reveals a plan so the Brigons can maintain the power and share the light with outlying territories, which remain shrouded in darkness.
Now, seventy years later, The Company summons six Brigons, including the young engineer Sam Mitchell, to attend a conference in the mountains of the forbidden Outlands. 
Responsible for compiling a report about Brigos Glen from his five companions, Sam learns how managers and villagers largely ignored the plan or compromised it to self-interest, forsaking their duty to share the light. They also took for granted The Company responsible for generating and transmitting the power.
In an ordeal fraught with failure, revelations, and judgment, Sam discovers the true identity behind The Company and learns the fate that may befall Brigos Glen . . . that is, unless he can stop it.
The Company is a futuristic allegory full of wonder and suspense.  At times the comparisons are easy to spot, at others more obscure, but throughout the book the actions of the other characters keep you on your toes.    One minute predictable, the next explosive, it was their own changing attitudes that paint the confusion and scenery of this story.  
Reminiscent of The Giver and Dekker’s new Mortal series, The Company plants you in the midst of a selfish, greedy world that has lost sight of compassion and kindness.  With a new, mysterious regime in charge and enemies at every turn, it is a bit difficult to relate to parts of the story – and yet this is exactly what makes certain characters who fight this mindset so appealing.  
There are many lessons to take away from a reading of The Company – lessons of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, truth – and that doesn’t begin to touch the true moral of the story, an understanding of the Trinity.  
Graham has written a complex first book – and I look forward to reading the next installment of Sam’s story, The Rise of New Power.
You can order your own copy of The Company here.
I received a free copy of The Company from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.
Chuck Graham’s legal career as an attorney in private practice spanned more than thirty-one years. He represented many local, national, and international clients, acquiring intricate knowledge about the often-overlapping structures of the corporate world. He also worked against those seeking to create racial division, including the Ku Klux Klan. He has served as a member of the state bar of Georgia since 1979 and an instructor to attorneys and judges through the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE). He received the Medallion of Appreciation from ICLE.
Chuck is also a speaker and the author of Take the Stand (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) and the compilations, A Year of Encouragement (Xulon Press).
In 1997 he founded Ciloa (Christ Is Lord Of All), a ministry devoted to sharing God’s encouragement with the world and teaching those who follow Him how to encourage others. Today Chuck serves as executive director and principal author of A Note of Encouragement, a weekly e-zine reaching 175 countries.
He and Beverly, his wife of thirty-four years, have lived in Lawrenceville, a suburb of Atlanta, for fourteen years. God has blessed them with three children. In his free time, Chuck enjoys backpacking and hiking (especially on the Appalachian Trail), playing the guitar, dabbling in photography, and reading extensively about the Christian faith. 

“Come to the Table” by Neta Jackson

Come to the Table, SouledOut Sisters Series #2

“If you give a cup of cold water to the least of these you will surely be rewarded.”  ~ Matthew 10:42

Neta Jackson’s newest book is based on this verse.  Kat Davies wants to share her food knowledge with those in need, but as a new Christian, how best can she do that?  This calling becomes particularly difficult when her new friends at church are not totally on board with the idea.  With relationship complications among her apartment mates, no teaching job in site, and jealousy looming on the love horizon, her summer is not shaping up as planned.  

With a large cast of characters, this book took me a chapter or two to figure out the role that each person played, but then I’m never good with names, and when this plot began to roll, it really moved.  I love the realism of the characters – Nick, Kat’s flatmate and love interest, felt pressure as a pastoral intern as well as maintain the proper image.  His mix of wisdom and innocence felt right for a person in his position.  Kat, however, was written beautifully.  As a young on-fire Christian, she wanted to follow Jesus but still had lots to learn.  Her passion and fire made her an exciting lead.

My favorite aspect of this book is the the way that Jackson melded faith lessons with real life and issues.   Jackson explores the issues of hunger in America and what we as Christians can do about it as Kat struggles to set up a food pantry in a Chicago neighborhood.  Jackson doesn’t pretend to have all the answers to these issues, but this book could serve as a great opener to a group wanting to discuss American hunger.

If you like contemporary novels, you should definitely check out Come to the Table.  It has a lot to offer.

I received a free copy of this book from B&B Media in exchange for an honest review.