Tag Archives: general fiction

If You Liked The Hideaway . . .

31 Jul

By The Book was unanimous in our approval of The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton. This well-written novel focused on relationships that shape our lives. If you liked it too, here are a few suggestions for more great reading.

 

Hurricane Season by Lauren K. Denton

Betsy and Ty Franklin, owners of Franklin Dairy Farm in southern Alabama, have long since buried their desire for children of their own. While Ty manages their herd of dairy cows, Betsy busies herself with the farm’s day-to-day operations and tries to forget her dream of motherhood. But when her free-spirited sister, Jenna, drops off her two young daughters for “just two weeks,” Betsy’s carefully constructed wall of self-protection begins to crumble.

As the two weeks stretch deeper into the Alabama summer, Betsy and Ty learn to navigate the new additions in their world—and revel in the laughter that now fills their home. Meanwhile, record temperatures promise to usher in the most active hurricane season in decades.

Attending an art retreat four hundred miles away, Jenna is fighting her own battles. She finally has time and energy to focus on her photography, a lifelong ambition. But she wonders how her rediscovered passion can fit in with the life she’s made back home as a single mom.

When Hurricane Ingrid aims a steady eye at the Alabama coast, Jenna must make a decision that will change her family’s future, even as Betsy and Ty try to protect their beloved farm and their hearts. Hurricane Season is the story of one family’s unconventional journey to healing — and the relationships that must be mended along the way.

The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate

When Iola Anne Poole, an old-timer on Hatteras Island, passes away in her bed at ninety-one, the struggling young mother in her rental cottage, Tandi Jo Reese, finds herself charged with the task of cleaning out Iola’s rambling Victorian house.

Running from a messy, dangerous past, Tandi never expects to find more than a temporary hiding place within Iola’s walls, but everything changes with the discovery of eighty-one carefully decorated prayer boxes, one for each year, spanning from Iola’s youth to her last days. Hidden in the boxes is the story of a lifetime, written on random bits of paper – the hopes and wishes, fears and thoughts of an unassuming but complex woman passing through the seasons of an extraordinary, unsung life filled with journeys of faith, observations on love, and one final lesson that could change everything for Tandi.

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale

In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food — especially dessert — is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family —  even if the threat is something you cannot see.

In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way.

Test of Faith by Christa Allan

Elle Butler has managed to hold on to her politically-driven husband and her secrets until the unexpected happens. When one phone call rips her world apart, Elle will have to decide if the truth is worth the consequences. Especially when it threatens to destroy the world she’s so carefully built around her life and her marriage.

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Book Review: Before I Saw You

30 Jul

Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic, where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works.

Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer―not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.

 

A long-time believer in the power of story to change lives, Amy K. Sorrells’ diverse writing career includes over two decades of freelance writing including medical journal publications and a popular op-ed newspaper column.

Praised by reviewers for the way they both poetically and accurately portray real life hardship and hope, Amy’s novels are inspired by social issues which break her heart and the Bible stories which reflect God’s response to those issues. Her first novel, How Sweet the Sound, was written as a response to the personal questions she had for God about how He redeems the pain of sexual abuse. The driving mission behind all her writing is to bring words of hope to a hurting world.

Amy’s novels have been short-listed for various fiction awards, and How Sweet the Sound won the 2011 Women of Faith Writing Contest before it was acquired by publishers. Since then, she has published two more novels, Then Sings My Soul, and Lead Me Home.

When she’s not writing, Amy loves doting on her husband, three young adult sons, and their golden retrievers at their home in central Indiana. If there’s leftover time after that, she enjoys up-cycling, gardening, binge reading, exercising, and Bible journaling.

 

My Impressions: 

If reading two of Amy K. Sorrels’ novels (How Sweet The Sound and Lead Me Home) hadn’t already cemented her as a must-read author, her latest novel, Before I Saw You, certainly does. I don’t know how she does it. This author takes difficult subjects and portrays them realistically, but with a large measure of mercy and grace that leaves the reader feeling blessed at the last page. Before I Saw You was an emotional read for me. No, I have never experienced the troubles that the main characters faced, but its universal message met me where I live. All I can say is read this book! It deserves a very highly recommended rating.

Before I Saw You is set in the small southern Indiana town of Riverton. The town has seen its share of hardships  — cholera epidemic, factory closings — but the ravages of heroin use has left it almost bereft of hope. The story is told in the first person voice of Jaycee Givens, a girl hanging on by the barest of threads. Tragedy seems to have followed her even before her birth, but she is doggedly determined to make better choices than others in her community. Jaycee is a wonderfully-drawn character, real and relatable. She struggles, doubts, and second-guesses herself and God. Her family consists of Sudie, an elderly wildlife rehabber/cemetery custodian, Carla, her boss at the local diner, Gabe, a newcomer to town and co-worker, and a host of others who stand with her in the darkest times. I loved the picture of church family that Sorrells portrays — grace-filled and mercy-led. Jaycee sees real religion in action. Two of the themes are learning to give things to God and trusting Him with the many what-ifs in life. I really, really needed to read those truths. It is incredible how a story many years in the making can arrive at just the right time for a reader. My reading experience was indeed God-orchestrated.

Before I Saw You is beautifully written, and takes its place as my favorite of all Sorrells’ novels (at least until I read the next one 😉 ). I laughed, I cried (ugly cry too), I rejoiced, and I found hope while in its pages. My only regret is that I did not read this book for book club. It is one I would love to talk about.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: older teens and adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

 

2018 Inspy Shortlists!

2 May

The Inspy Awards, the blogger-based awards program for inspirational books, has announced their 2018 shortlists. Whew! What a great bunch of books! Now it’s in the judges hands, and what a tough job they have. Congrats to all the authors! For more info, check out inspy.com.

 

Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense

A New Shade of Summer (Waterfall Press) by Nicole Deese

Then There Was You (Bellbird Press) by Kara Isaac

Jane of Austin (Waterbrook) by Hillary Manton Lodge

True to You (Bethany House) by Becky Wade

Just Look Up (Tyndale) by Courtney Walsh

 

Debut Fiction

 Still Waters (Firefly Southern Fiction) by Lindsey P. Brackett

Freedom’s Ring (Tyndale) by Heidi Chiavaroli

Count Me In (I21 Publishing House) by Mikal Dawn

Lady Jayne Disappears (Revell) by Joanna Davidson Politano

Stars in the Grass (Shiloh Run Press) by Ann Marie Stewart

 

General Fiction

Perennials (Thomas Nelson) by Julie Cantrell

A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (Kregel) by Susie Finkbeiner

Life After (Waterbrook) by Katie Ganshert

The Space Between Words (Thomas Nelson) by Michele Phoenix

The Austen Escape (Thomas Nelson) by Katherine Reay

 

Historical Romance

A Note Yet Unsung (Bethany House) by Tamera Alexander

The Road to Paradise (Waterbrook) by Karen Barnett

Many Sparrows (Waterbrook) by Lori Benton

A Lady in Disguise (Howard) by Sandra Byrd

A Moonbow Night (Revell) by Laura Frantz

 

Literature for Young Adults

The Returning (Tyndale) by Rachelle Dekker

Unraveling (Thomas Nelson) by Sara Ella

For Love and Honor (Zondervan) by Jody Hedlund

The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink) by Stephanie Morrill

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow (Thomas Nelson) by Mary Weber

 

Mystery/Thriller

The Enoch Effect (Waterfall Press) by Rick Acker

Death at Thorburn Hall (Bethany House) by Julianna Deering

Crown of Souls (Bethany House) by Ronie Kendig

A Portrait of Vengeance (Thomas Nelson) by Carrie Stuart Parks

Imperfect Justice (Thomas Nelson) by Cara Putman

 

Speculative Fiction

Raging Storm (Harvest House) by Vannetta Chapman

The Divide (Tyndale) by Jolina Petersheim

The Beast of Talesend (Indie) by Kyle Robert Schultz

The Girl Who Could See (Indie) by Kara Swanson

King’s Blood (Bethany House) by Jill Williamson

 

Book Review: Steal Away Home

21 Feb

Owen Cross grew up with two loves: one a game, the other a girl. One of his loves ruined him. Now he’s counting on the other to save him.

Owen Cross’s father is a hard man, proud in his brokenness, who wants nothing more than for Owen to succeed where he failed. With his innate talents and his father’s firm hand guiding him, Owen goes to college with dreams of the major leagues—and an emptiness full of a girl named Micky Dullahan.

Owen loved Micky from the first time they met on the hill between their two worlds: his middle-class home and her troubled Shantytown. Years later he leaves her for the dugouts and the autographs, but their days together follow him. When he finally returns home, he discovers that even peace comes at a cost. And that the hardest things to say are to the ones we love the most.

From bestselling author Billy Coffey comes a haunting story of small-town love, blinding ambition, and the risk of giving it all for one last chance.

Billy Coffey and his wife, Joanne, live with their two children in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. A product of his small-town locale, Billy counts as assets his rural authenticity, unwavering sense of purpose, and insatiable curiosity — all of which tend to make his front porch a comfortably crowded place.

 

My Impressions:

Billy Coffey sucked me into Steal Away Home with his description of baseball and small town romance. I found myself immersed in the life of Camden, Virginia and what I thought was a coming-of-age tale. But like all of Coffey’s books, this one has a twist, a bit of magic, and a message that made me stop and ponder. Steal Away Home is a book to be savored and is definitely a recommended read.

Steal Away Home is told from the first person perspective of former high school baseball star Owen Cross. The book’s framework is wonderfully creative, as it shifts from the action of a major league baseball game to recollections of his life. Each chapter is an inning of the game and a look back at what formed Owen’s life. Owen’s life was ordained by his father, and no one had doubts that he would one day be a major league player. But one night of mystery and wonder changes that forever.

Characterization is strong in Steal Away Home. Owen’s narrative allows the reader to know first hand his hopes, dreams, and motivations, but also gives a clear picture of the other characters. Owen’s pure Virginia mountain cadence is a joy to read and adds greatly to the reading experience. As I said, the story itself takes over the reader’s imagination — first with its small-town charm and promise of young love between Owen and Micky Dullahan, and then with an abrupt spiritual journey for the characters. There is a definite supernatural element in this book, but with different effects. It sets Micky free and paralyzes Owen with fear. A number of parallels can be drawn between Camden and the message Micky brings to both the shanties and the townspeople and the ministry of Christ. But as one character puts it, Micky is not Christ come back to life. But she does ask the same question — what do you love? This is the question the reader ponders for himself as well.

Steal Away Home is a complex novel in characterization, structure, and message and would make a good choice for a book club. It is not a book to be hurried through, so make sure you have ample time to pause and think. Another winner from Coffey, it gets a highly recommended rating from me.

Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson and TLC Book Tours for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Top Ten Tuesday — The Neglected TBR Pile

6 Feb

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme should be titled the Shame Pile, at least for me. Bloggers were charged to search their shelves (and other places hoarders collectors stash their books) for the books that have been waiting the longest to be read. Oh dear! I have to close my ears as I walk past the shelves that fill the rooms of my house because the books whisper, whine, and sometimes shout Pick Me! I’d like to say that the books I chose this week have been on my shelves the longest, but the task was so overwhelming that I settled for random selections. I had such high hopes when I bought these books (and the other fifty gazillion that await). I just knew I would love them because I had loved their sisters and brothers — the books written and read by their fabulous authors. And I am sure I will love them . . . someday. *sigh*  As I lovingly returned them to their places of honor, I promised that one day, they too would join the ranks of the read.

To find out what books other bloggers have waiting, please visit the Artsy Reader Girl.

Top 10 Neglected Books from My TBR Mountain

The Beach House by Sally John

Hope Springs by Lynne Hinton

June Bug by Chris Fabry

Leaving Yesterday by Kathryn Cushman

‘Mater Biscuit by Julie Cannon

The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson

River’s End by Melody Carlson

Ruby’s Slippers by Leanna Ellis

Sandpiper Drift by Vanessa Del Fabbro

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

What book do you have on your shelf that needs to be read?

First Line Friday — Missing Isaac

12 Jan

This week, First Line Friday is featuring Diversity. Books featuring characters of color, civil rights, or Martin Luther King, Jr. are being shared by other bloggers. Over the years my book club has read books that involve the fragile state of race relations in the United States. Sometimes difficult to read, many times challenging to our mindsets, these books have created thought-provoking discussions. Be sure to check out The Color of Justice by Ace Collins, A Time to Stand by Robert Whitlow, and Snapshot by Lis Wiehl.

This week I am featuring By The Book’s February selection, Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse. Set in the American South in the 1960s, I anticipate that this one will be another great read. Please leave a comment with your first line and then head over to Hoarding Books to check out what other bloggers are sharing.

 

 

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete — and the people he loves most — will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.

 

Book Review: Stars in The Grass

21 Dec

Nine-year-old Abby McAndrews has just experienced her greatest loss, and in its wake, her family is unraveling with guilt, grief, and anger. Her father, Reverend McAndrews, cannot return to the pulpit because he has more questions than answers. Her older brother Matt’s actions speak louder than the words he needs to confess, as he acts out in dangerous ways. Her mother tries to hold her grieving family together, but when Abby’s dad refuses to move on, the family is at a crossroads.
 
Stars in the Grass, set in a small Midwestern town in 1970, is an uplifting novel that explores a family’s relationships and resiliency. Abby’s heartbreaking remembrances are balanced by humor and nostalgia as her family struggles with — and ultimately celebrates — life after loss.

 

Ann Marie Stewart grew up in Seattle, Washington and is a die-hard UW Husky (and Wolverine) after earning a Masters in Film/Television from University of Michigan. She originated AMG’s Preparing My Heart series, write the column “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for The Country Register and blog for Mentoring Moments. Her first novel, Stars in the Grass released February 2017.

When not writing, She is waving her arms directing musicals, teaching middle schoolers, or watching UVA Basketball or Madam Secretary. In her free time she hangs out with her husband, raising two lovely daughters and a whole flock of fuzzy sheep on Skye Moor Farm, in Virginia — where unscripted drama provides plenty of entertaining material.

 

My Impressions:

Ann Marie Stewart’s novel, Stars in The Grass, won the 2017 Christy Award for Debut Novel, and after reading it I can understand just what wowed the judges. Moving, insightful, and full of heart and heartache, this novel grabbed my imagination from the beginning. I would not characterized it as an easy read by any means, but would call it a must-read. A grieving family is the at the center with all facing a new reality with differing responses. The journey is painful, but with a whisper of hope that touched this reader. Stars in The Grass is very highly recommended.

The year is 1970 and nine year old Abby McAndrews is faced with days of love and fun with her family. That is until the unthinkable happens, leaving a gaping hole in their hearts. Abby, brother Matt, dad John, and mom Renee return to their home and begin the process of getting over what occurred. But there is no getting over a broken heart or lost dreams or a shattered family. And the grief they experience prevents them from going back or moving forward.

Stars in The Grass is told in Abby’s first person perspective. I really identified with this character for a number of reasons — I am exactly one year older than her since we share the same birthday — so her life and times were mine. But it is her response to the loss of her brother that resonated with me. The losses I have experienced in my life — death of a child, loss of parents, and sudden death of my brother-in-law — were met with the same reaction as Abby. Fear. The fear of what the next day or moment could bring because life had become uncontrollable and uncertain. Stewart’s realistic portrayal of Abby and the other characters’ responses to death are so realistic that I felt the bitterness, the guilt, the anger, the fear, and the hopelessness of each. But in the end they and we can know that grief can be accompanied by hope. Was it easy for the McAndrews family (or for us)? No. But the assurance of a God who brings light even in the darkest of pits can get us through.

Easter came in the midst of the family’s grieving and Abby found the following:

My Easter was about being lost and found. It was about a Comforter. About hope and life, and the birth of a Church, and resurrecting dreams even when nobody quite knew how. But we were together and we were talking. And something about that felt — for now — almost good enough. (p. 245)

As I stated, Stars in The Grass is not an easy read, nor is it a quick one. This book is meant to be read in an unhurried manner, allowing for breaks for emotion and thought. It is an award winner for a reason. It is beautifully written with realistic and complex characters, and a subject matter that will make you think. If this is what a debut looks like, then I am eager to read more from Stewart.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to the author for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)