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A Refuge at Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

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Refuge-at-Highland-Hall1In A Refuge at Highland Hall, Penny Ramsey wants nothing more than to find a lasting love. Having been disappointed before, she’s a bit cautious when she meets pilot Alex Goodwin–but not that cautious. She’s bold enough to be the one to initiate writing letters to each other. The drama and chaos of World War One keeps Alex away fighting and takes Penny back to the magnificent Highland Hall, where she helps care for several orphan children. Right away, Penny’s letters become a lifeline to Alex. Both of them seem to grow attached to each other quickly, however, I think that is probably realistic to many relationships that formed during war-time. There are some twists and turns, and Alex is left very affected by events that happen while he’s at war. I thought the author did a good job with character development, especially with Alex. She also obviously did so much research to make the war events so realistic and true to circumstance. The cover of the book is gorgeous! Overall, it’s a very good read for fans of Christian historical fiction. The story is very faith-based. I do recommend reading the series in order, so you’re more familiar with the characters.

**I received an advance reader copy from the author for an honest review.

Finding Unauthorized Faith in Harry Potter by Nicole L Rivera

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41UIgwEIztL__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_So the very cool Nicole Rivera sent me a copy of her book Finding Unauthorized Faith in Harry Potter for an honest review. Nicole is the creative team manager for Mugglnet, which is, you know, awesome. If you know me, you know my love for Harry Potter is very real and very true. So I was thrilled to get the chance to read this book. And I really liked it! This book almost reads like a devotional. The chapters are mostly very short; it’s easy to read this in pieces. And the faith element is strong. Every section begins with a quote from one of the Harry Potter books (the quotes are great and lots of fun–C’mon, it’s HP. You can’t go wrong.) For believers who are fans of the Harry Potter series, this is a fun read, but it also has poignant faith observations. The theme is love throughout, which connects so well with Harry’s story. Check it out on Amazon!

The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren

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9781414326788_p0_v1_s192x300It’s Christmas in August over here, loveys. I’m reading a couple of holiday novellas. The other night while Jeff and the bigger kids were backyard camping, I was inside, weeping as I finished reading The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren. Gosh, this little novella was an emotional upheaval for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a sweet, family-oriented holiday story and I enjoyed it, but something about the story of a mom who’s coming to grips with the fact that her kids are grown and Christmas will never quite be the same–I was a mess. Maybe because I know it goes fast. Maybe because my youngest sister is getting married in October and I didn’t realize last Christmas was the last one we’d have before she got married. Maybe because I’m a grown-up girl who understands that there comes a point where the Christmases of our youth end.

But the love never does. And that’s where the weeping comes in.

One part stuck in my mind. The mom’s college-aged son mentions that one of his favorite Christmases was one that was less traditional (I think they took a vacation). He said it made him realize that Christmas “isn’t just one way and one place,” that it could follow them wherever they went. What a great truth.

Christmas is my favorite. It’s awesome. But it looks different for different families. I love the thought of mixing it up, not holding our traditions too tightly, so that traditions become the focus and not Jesus.

Super fun, easy read–but you might be weeping at the end!

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

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eight-hundred-grapesSo Eight Hundred Grapes was my choice for summer book club. I would have enjoyed reading this one even just on my own, but it’s packed with family drama so it’s even better to read with friends and discuss. This was a quick read for me; with every chapter, more kept unfolding and I wanted to know what was going to happen so I found myself reading while standing at the kitchen island while the kids ate lunch, reading just one more chapter at bedtime, and reading while the kids watched Peppa Pig in the afternoon!

The family dynamics were my favorite. There were moments I gasped out loud when things happened with the brothers or with Georgia’s mom. I had a hunch where the author was going with the love interest from pretty early on. And I had very mixed feelings about Ben, Georgia’s fiancé. (No spoilers here.) Overall, I thought it was a really satisfying read. There were parts that stayed in my mind afterward. The family–though crazy complicated!–loves each other fiercely. I love stories with families like that. Because truly, life is complicated, but your family should be there for you no matter what. I thought the book was well paced, it definitely held my attention. I loved the wine/vineyard aspect of the story. I could picture the earthiness of the ground and the grapes and the harvest. It’s definitely good to read this book with a glass of wine nearby (and maybe some lasagna)!

This was an excellent read. Loved it!

Summer Book Club

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Every now and then, people need a good book party, don’t you think? Hosting a book club can be a little intimidating for some people (maybe people like me with very small children who tend to make a mess every fifteen minutes). When I decided to host book club once this summer, I dived into Pinterest for ideas (hence the book page table runner! Do not think I came up with that on my own, lovey). Now that book club night has passed, I figured I’d share the love on ideas for book clubs.

First off, I picked a book, Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (I’ll do a review later). I’d seen this title on summer to-read lists and a friend of mine who does book and movie reviews (that’s you, Christa Banister!) recommended it on Twitter, and I trust her taste. Book chosen. Next up, find friends who like to read! (This can be more challenging than it sounds!) Some of us are in regular book clubs so maybe it’s just your turn to host. In that case, you can skip this step. If not, just throw it out there that you want to do a book club–either an ongoing one or a one-time thing and see who responds. Be brave!

Once you’ve got your readers, choose a night to meet. Some people are in clubs that meet weekly or bi-weekly for book club and they discuss as they go through the book. This works well for nonfiction, but for fiction, that format doesn’t work for me. For one thing, when I’m sucked into a good book, I want to read the whole thing and talk about everything. Plus, meeting weekly can be difficult with schedules. Just see what works for you and your friends.

For me, this was a summer read. We took about six weeks to read the book, then landed on a date that worked for most of us (very rarely will you find a date that works for everyone. That’s okay). As we got closer, I sent out an evite. Even though we landed on a date earlier, the evite helped a lot. Guest list, address, time, what to bring–it’s one place where you can give out all the info (and it’s cute. What can I say? I like cute!).

Next up, food. Extremely important. Second only to wine.

Eight Hundred Grapes is about a family who owns a vineyard. So I knew I wanted to serve grapes (of course) and wine. Cheese was a perfect fit. I also made bruschetta, because, well, I love to eat it. Good stuff. Add in some simple chocolate desserts, and you’re good to go. foodI had trouble finding the discussion questions for the book online. True story. So I tweeted the author, who was totally cool and immediately sent me the link to the discussion questions, which I printed off. Excellent.

Obviously I was a crazy woman, cleaning and going nuts the day of the party. This always happens so I assume it’s normal. Finally the Jeffster left with the kids and I was at least able to be crazy by myself. I wanted to play music during the appetizer-part of the party. However, 90s music helps me clean. I was cleaning right until the door rang, which means I didn’t have time to turn it off. Nobody seemed to care. (Really, who doesn’t like Jann Arden’s Insensitive?) (P.S. I did switch the music later.)

Everyone arrived on time. Wine is a great icebreaker. Talking or eating first makes people nervous. Pouring a glass of wine never does. Anyway, so, I had a stack of plain notecards (actually, I couldn’t find mine. So I texted my next-door neighbor who was coming over and she brought some. Thx, Jessica!). The notecards were for people to hold on to and ask around for other book recommendations. The idea was that everyone should go home with three book recommendations (hopefully that they heard while talking to someone new!). This gave people new book ideas and also served as a conversation starter if they needed one.

IMG_2717We mingled and talked and ate for an hour or more before finally sitting down for discussion. Obviously, if time is a factor then you need to have a schedule. However, it was Friday night and all of us moms were finally kid-free and ready to party together!

I was so pleased with the book discussion! Everyone shared and I loved hearing the different opinions. I think it helps to sort of have a moderator because without that, people start only talking to the person next to them. Some of this is okay and to be expected, but if you want to discuss as one group, you have to keep things moving together. Having those discussion questions gave us a jumping off place, but it was totally fine for the conversation to go in all sorts of directions. When four hours and five bottles of wine later, friends are still laughing and talking–you know the night was a success.

Honestly, I loved every minute of book club night at my house. If you’re part of a regular club, don’t be afraid to host! And it doesn’t have to be fancy! This was my one-time hosting for summer, so I decided to make it into a party. There’s just something special about sharing our stories with each other. That’s the best part. We begin by talking about Eight Hundred Grapes, and that segues into sharing about Nancy’s life in Africa, or Ryanne’s time in SoCal, or Heather’s anniversary trip, or Danielle’s dad, and so on. Then we’re sharing pieces of us. When books bring people together, you know that’s a fabulous thing.

Summer book club. Go for it, lovey.

Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

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01_mist-of-midnightSo I stopped by the library before our trip in the hope that I’d quickly find a book to grab. I was so excited to find Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd right up front with all the new fiction! I’ve heard a lot about it and have been wanting to read it. It’s a little hard to start new books at the moment. With baby feedings and the endlessness of getting Lincoln chocolate milk and snack–or the never-ending sweeping and dish washing–time gets away from me. (P.S. I recently told Jeff that even though I’ve just quit my job, we really might need a maid service. He just looked at me like maybe I am missing something.) Anyway, I find myself re-reading books that I’ve read (and enjoyed) so I can skim if I need to or skip around. But I knew we had a really long drive ahead of us once we got to Virginia, and a new book sounded doable. Luckily, Mist of Midnight drew me in right from the start and I finished it by the time we reached Florida.

It’s a gothic love story (feels a little Bronte-ish), which I like but only if the story isn’t too dark. (I’d always choose Pride and Prejudice over Wuthering Heights.) The heroine is smart and determined but not annoying. I feel like a lot of the female characters in books I’ve read lately are supposedly “strong” but mostly that translates to bossy and stubborn and must have her way. Uncool. The heroine in this novel is likeable and a woman of substance. Her convictions are tempered by her compassion. The story keeps you guessing and the romance isn’t too rushed. The cover is gorgeous and matches the tone of the book. It’s an enjoyable read. I’m definitely going to check out more Sandra Byrd novels.

Something about a Roomful of Readers

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IMG_1206So last night was really fun.

A while back my sister asked me if I wanted to go see author Diana Gabaldon. Sara and I get the same library emails so I knew about the “Outlandish Event with Diana Gabaldon” coming to Denver. But I was about eight months pregnant at the time and felt sure I would still be in recovery mode post-pregnancy. About a week ago I started feeling sad that I hadn’t signed up. Now that I feel like a normal human being again, a night out with other readers sounded delightful. So I got on the long waiting list, and lo and behold, I was able to get a ticket two days before!

I was reminded of how fun it is to be in a room filled with readers. Listening to Diana share her story of writing and being published was so inspirational (and she was so funny!). I loved hearing that she didn’t tell her husband right away that she’d started writing a book, then he found like 80 files on their computer, all named “Jamie.”  (The name of the leading man in Outlander!) She had some explaining to do! To make that easier, she’d written Jamie as a 6’4″ red-haired man, coincidentally (or not so coincidentally!), so is her husband. :)  It was a great night, starting off with a free glass of wine and lots of desserts. Yes, please.

Diana talked about knowing that she was meant to write a novel from a very young age. She went on to do other things, including writing (not novels), but all the while she knew she was meant to write stories. Do you know that feeling? Knowing something is your passion? Having that inward pull to do something–be it write a novel or travel somewhere or start a ministry or record a song or become a mother? My passion for writing stemmed from my love of reading and it’s still part of me today.

You guys know that I just had a baby six weeks ago. My days have been filled with feedings and diaper changes, along with car pool to kindergarten and taking care of my three-year-old. I’ve realized something recently: Being a mom is a lot like being a waitress. This occurred to me as I refilled Linc’s cup of chocolate milk the other day (for the millionth time) after I’d served him his umpteenth snack. And I don’t mind. It’s the season of life I’m in and it’s what I want. I hold baby Lillian and feel this surge of love and contentment because I wanted her so much. Being a mother is huge to me. It was a desire of my heart and it’s fulfilling to me.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have other passions. Reading and writing are two of those passions, and to neglect them entirely would make me less than who I am. Sometimes we need a little jump-start to our dreams and goals. Last night was a good jump-start for me. To hear Diana talk about how she creates scenes in her books was very cool. She places the characters in a room, for example, then she asks herself questions. Is there warmth from a fire? Oh, right. There’s a fire blazing in the corner. What does the room smell like? Oh, there’s the remnants of dinner on the table. Crumbs and empty wine glasses.

Building scenes and weaving together description and storytelling–those things are vital when you want to write words that come alive for the reader. Whether you’re writing under a deadline or just blogging at your own pace, writers need to write. Being in community with like-minded people helps. After spending the evening in what felt like a book club of hundreds of women who were excited about the same book series–I realized how much I need to be back with readers–sharing stories and ideas. For a reader, even just chatting on forums at can be great! Readers, we need each other!

So, what are you reading these days? ;)


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