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Book Review: Defending the Duchess by Rachelle McCalla

He’ll keep her safe—at any cost

Protecting the royal family is Linus Murati’s job. So when the queen’s younger sister is attacked, the devoted Lydian royal guardsman goes into action and saves her life. But this was no random occurrence. Danger has followed Julia Miller across the Atlantic from Seattle. Now Linus has two missions: to keep the maddeningly independent future duchess in his sights at all times, and to catch the culprit who threatens the woman whose trust—and love—he desires above all others.

Protecting the crown: The royal guardsmen serve their country with honor and integrity

This series is a sequel to Rachelle’s earlier series, Reclaiming the Crown, which follows four siblings – children of the king and queen of the fictional country of Lydia. This series picks up not long after that one leaves off. This time we’re following some of the men who make up the royal guard.

In this case, it’s Linus. A man whose past may come back to haunt him as he tries desperately to keep the new queen’s sister safe.

Julia came to Lydia to help her sister, but trouble has followed her. As with many of the books in the first series, time is split between Lydia and at least one other location – in this case, Seattle.

The suspense is enough to keep you guessing. The romance is enough to make you sigh. The hero is a true hero. The heroine is tough but tender.

I enjoyed returning to Lydia – as well as the “prequel” of sorts in the Love Inspired Historical offering from Rachelle – A Royal Marriage – set in Lydia during the time of Charlemagne. I can’t wait for the rest of the books in this series or going back to see what happens to John’s brother centuries earlier.

Overall rating: 8.5 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ecopy in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Swept Away by Mary Connealy

Laughter, Romance, and Action Abound in This New Series from Mary Connealy

Swept away when her wagon train attempts a difficult river crossing, Ruthy MacNeil isn’t all that upset at being separated from the family who raised her. All they’ve ever done is work her to the bone. She prayed for a chance to get away, and then came the raging flood. Alive but disoriented, she’s rescued by Luke Stone…so unfortunately, there are more chances to die in her immediate future.

Luke is heading home to reclaim the ranch stolen from his family. But the men who killed his father are working hard to ensure Luke doesn’t make it alive. He has no choice but to keep moving. Still, he can’t just abandon Ruthy, so she’ll have to come along.

His friends–a ragtag group of former Civil War soldiers–take a fast interest in the pretty gal. Luke thinks that’s rather rude–he’s the one who found her. And the more time he spends around the hard-working young woman who is a mighty good cook, the more he finds himself thinking beyond revenge and toward a different future. For the first time in a long time, Luke is tempted to turn from his destructive path and be swept away by love.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big Mary Connealy fan. Both Mary the author and Mary the person. I tend to preorder the books as soon as they’re available to do so. And I offer to review them as soon as they’re available too. The side benefit? Getting to read before they release ;). The downside? It’s still months before the next one – even if I get it early too :p.

I’ve seen Mary talk about this opening over on Seekerville and it lived up to my expectations. Almost immediately we’re thrown into the river with Ruthy and wondering whether her no good “family” will survive – and will she?

She does of course – or the book would be awfully short. She’s rescued by Luke. Readers of Mary’s Kincaid Brothers series will recognize Luke’s sister Callie as the heroine from Over the Edge, book 3 of that series.

Callie, pregnant then with an infant, was unable to hold onto their family ranch when a bad guy steals it from under her. With nowhere to go, she headed to Colorado to find her husband, Seth Kincaid.

Now Luke has taken it upon himself to get the ranch back. He spent too much time in Andersonville Prison, becoming a Regulator. He’s in the right when he says the ranch was stolen and he can prove it. But the man who’s taken over won’t leave without a fight.

Luke has a group of men he trusts with his life. And now he has Ruthy, too. He wants her to stay home and stay safe. She rolls her eyes and does what she wants – and helps him out in the process.

As always, Mary brings her A game – and she keeps getting better and better. Luke Stone hasn’t replaced Tom Linscott from Sharpshooter in Petticoats as my all-time favorite of Mary’s heroes, but he’s a close second. That says something. A lot of something actually.

In Swept Away, there’s laughter, tears, heart-pounding action and that’s just for the reader. The characters experience all those things, plus love, pain, shoot-outs, rock climbing, and clandestine meetings.

And a wedding.

One of the things I loved about Swept Away was that Mary gives us some of the “After” in “Happily Ever After”. She didn’t stop with the first kiss or the proposal or even the “I do” but she gave us a hint of their life together.

Of course, she also gave us the first chapter of book 2 in the series :p.


Since I’m writing this six weeks or so before it’s release, I’ll set it to post early around the official 3/1/13 release date so it’ll ship when you order it. Because you know you wanna. And my paper copy will be here then, too :D.

Overall rating: 9.5 out of 10

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ecopy in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Love in the Balance by Regina Jennings

Handsome Cowboy or Debonair Tycoon.
How’s a Girl to Choose?

Molly Lovelace dreams of a life without cares in Lockhart, Texas. She also dreams of handsome wrangler Bailey Garner, her ardent but inconsistent beau. The problem is, with Bailey’s poor prospects, she just can’t fit the two dreams together. 

Then mysterious stranger Edward Pierrepont sweeps into town–and her life–and for the first time Molly wonders if she’s met the man who can give her everything. But he won’t be in Lockhart long and while it certainly seems like he talks about their glorious future together, she can’t quite get Bailey out of her mind. 

What’s a girl to do with all these decisions when love is in the balance?

It’s no secret I loved Regina’s debut novel, Sixty Acres and a Bride. A loose retelling of Ruth and Boaz, it was on the top of my list for 2012. This year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Love in the Balance. This one isn’t based on a Bible story, but does follow a couple involved on the periphery in the first book.

I loved Molly and Bailey. I hated Edward. But I was supposed to, I suppose ;).

This is one of those books where I don’t feel I can get too involved in discussing the plot without giving away major plot points. 🙁

And I hate that.

That said, Regina once again does a masterful job of pulling us back into Texas in the late 1800s and giving us characters we can root for, cheer with and cry over.

Her characters are flawed, but in the end, all is washed clean through the blood of Christ and His forgiveness.

The down side to reading this early? [I read an advance copy in January.]

I have to wait that much longer for her next book. Sigh.

Overall rating: 9.25 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ecopy in exchange for my review. Thanks to Regina and the publisher for a hard copy in exchange for my review [don’t ask how I somehow ended up with both ;)].

My Book Therapy (MBT) Frasier Contest – Be Like Mike and Just. Do. It.

So the amazing Melissa Tagg [coordinator extra-ordinaire of the MBT Frasier Blog Tour] sent those of us participating a bunch of questions that we could answer if needed help getting this blog started.

And I’m not ashamed to admit… I’m gonna use ’em ;).

But before that – have you seen her new cover?! You can see it in the right sidebar of her blog about the Frasier from yesterday. Isn’t it awesome?

Right. Why you should enter the Frasier? And what about my experiences?

What motivated me to enter last year?

Great feedback. Fabulous final judges. And that MBT retreat as a prize? Wowza! Plus I knew some of the finalists from the year before and they told me what an amazing experience being a finalist was.

Plus the pizza parties at ACFW [where the winner is announced] are a riot. Seriously. I have not laughed that hard in ages. And while you don’t have to final to go, the announcement of the winner is a sure highlight. But the rest of it is amazing fun. Not a finalist? Go anyway.

Why are you entering this year?

Uh… no. I’m not. I don’t think I am. I wish I was. But see, we have this family vacation coming up. A big one. Our first one in over a decade [you know, when I only had 1 kid instead of 4… and she didn’t eat solid foods yet]. And we’re gonna be gone eleven days – plus I’m sure y’all have seen the gas prices in the last month…

So, I’m having to budget my contest money. Very. Carefully. And I think I’m only gonna get one or two entries this spring – if I’m really lucky. 🙁 There’s some good contests out there – and Frasier is one of the really, really good ones. Man, I wish I had a money tree…

Did you learn anything from writing that 500-word synopsis?

That I hate writing synopses? But seriously, trying to figure out what’s important enough to include in that synopsis is a really good exercise. What’s important. What’s not. What’s really, really important. The very essence of the story. What it all boils down to. That’s something that all writers should need be able to do. Writing a 500-word synopsis helps you do that.

Note: Do not under any circumstances THROW your laptop across the room during this process. It will not end well. But if you don’t throw it and work through the 500-word synopsis, you’ll be glad you did.

How did the feedback from judges benefit you?

They were right. The judges saw things I didn’t. I was too close to the story and couldn’t see the problems. The characterization problem. The random insertion of a taste or smell line just so I could say that I had all 5 senses in there [because those are the two I struggle with]. The feedback helped me fix those things and many others. Anyone who enters will get the same thoughtful comments I have gotten – and many others have as well.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering entering this year?

DO IT! Enter! If you’re not planning a Disney vacation for ten [or if you are – and you have a money tree – enter then call me ;)]… GO FOR IT! The final judges are incredible – Susan May Warren, award winning author and Founder of MBT. The incomparable Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Agency. And Shannon Marchese, senior fiction editor at Waterbrook-Multnomah.

Read through the guidelines. Make sure you have what they’re looking for worked in – things like the five senses [and not just a throwaway line about how it smelled like puke [trust me on that one ;)]], proper formatting and so on. Then polish those entries till they shine and be like Mike. JUST. DO. IT.

I can’t wait to see who wins this year!


Entries for the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest for unpublished novelists will be accepted through Sunday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. The contest is open to Voices members. The winner will receive a scholarship to a My Book Therapy coaching retreat ($500 value). Final round judges are award-winning author Susan May Warren; literary agent Steve Laube; and Shannon Marchese, senior fiction editor for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. For more information, FAQs and to enter, visit

Book Review: The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

A daring rescue. A difficult choice. Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe? Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what. When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.

Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?! I just love it!

And I love this book. I have the privilege of being a first reader for Melanie [meaning I get to read the books way early and make suggestions if necessary]. I first read The Fairest Beauty last year and have been itching to get my hands on an actual copy ever since!

The second time through, it still didn’t disappoint! Ah! Happy, waffy sigh!

I love Sophie and Gabe. I love the Cottage of the Seven and how she made only one of them a dwarf and loved the rest of them just as much as she gave them the characteristics of the more traditional dwarfs in other ways.

I loved to hate Duchess Ermengard [sp?]. I loved the way Melanie worked the elements of the more traditional retellings of Snow White into this book while not resorting to any of the fantastical, magical or mystical elements usually found. Everything in here was realistic in that sense. There were healing herbs and so on but no more so than anywhere else – or what we would call homeopathic remedies today.

Gabe is the younger brother – the one who never quite measures up. Here, in rescuing Sophie, he proves his worth not only to her but to his family as well. Though Sophie is betrothed to Valten, Gabe’s older brother, and Gabe is betrothed to another girl, any reader of romance [even YA romance like this one], knows the two main characters will end up together – and Melanie does a masterful job of this.

Already, I’m looking forward to the chance to reread Melanie’s next book, The Captive Maiden. You can find out more about it in this post on her blog.

Overall rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Thanks to Melanie and the publisher for a copy in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Shattered by Dani Pettrey

When her prodigal brother Reef’s return to Yancey, Alaska, is shattered by his arrest for murder, Piper McKenna is determined to protect him. 

Deputy Landon Grainger loves the McKennas like family, but he’s also sworn to find the truth. And he knows those closest to you have the power to deceive you the most. With his sheriff pushing for a quick conviction, some unexpected leads complicate the investigation, and pursuing the truth puts Landon’s career in jeopardy.

When Piper launches her own investigation, Landon realizes he must protect her from herself–and whatever complications await as the two follow clues deep into Canada’s rugged backcountry. Not only does their long friendship seem to be turning into something more, but this dangerous case is becoming deadlier with each step.

I loved Landon and Piper in Submerged. I was so glad to see them get their own book!

I loved the two of them together. Working hard to prove Reef is innocent. I loved Alaska and Canada and California and the places they went to investigate. I loved the relationship between the siblings and the may-as-well-be-siblings McKennas. The changing relationship between Piper and one of those may-as-well-be-siblings is enough to make a girl shed a tear then smile and sigh happily.

This mystery didn’t have the same eyes-glazing moments that the first one did and I appreciated that. I loved it and the resolution.

I’ve heard Ms. Pettrey compared to Dee Henderson. I don’t know that I’d make that comparison but both books are great reads. I love the McKenna family and can’t wait to read more about them.

Overall rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ecopy in exchange for my unbiased review.

Book Review: Submerged by Dani Pettrey

A sabotaged plane. Two dead deep-water divers. 

One single clue.

Bailey Craig vowed never to set foot in Yancey, Alaska, again. She has a past, and a reputation–and Yancey’s a town that doesn’t forget. She’s returned only to bury a loved one killed in the plane crash, but then dark evidence emerges and Bailey’s own expertise becomes invaluable for the case.

Cole McKenna can face dangerous rescue dives. He can face the fear a murderer may be threatening his town. But facing the reality of Bailey’s reappearance is a tougher challenge. She broke his heart…but doesn’t seem to be the same girl who left Yancey ten years ago. And he’s not the same guy she left behind. 

Racing against the clock and a rising body count, Bailey and Cole must move beyond the hurts of their pasts to work together until the truth of what is hidden in the depths finally surfaces.

I’d heard good things about this book – and about Cole in particular. I saw the sequel, Shattered, up for review on NetGalley and decided it was as good a time as any to read this one ;). And since I’m reviewing Shattered tomorrow, I may as well review Submerged today :D.

I loved Cole and Bailey. Bailey who’s trying so hard to overcome her past – her high school reputation. Her past as a child unloved by her parents.

Years earlier, she broke Cole’s heart and he’s not quite ready to trust her again – for good reason. But his family opens their arms to her and, before long, she’s one of them again.

Overall, I loved the book and the mystery, but some of the explanation at the end about what the bad guys are looking for and why gets a bit convoluted and I had a hard time following it. But I was able to just sort of nod and ‘uh huh’ and go with it ;).

Overall rating: 8.75 out of 10 stars

Like to Garden? Check Out This Giveaway!

My friend Karen over at Only Sometimes Clever is hosting a seed giveaway on her blog!!

Below is a description of the prizes but to find out how to enter, you’ll need to follow this link.

Only Sometimes Clever Just Grow It Big Seed Giveaway From Botanical Interests

I’m late getting into this so you only have a few hours. Tonight at midnight Mountain Standard Time. So hurry on over!

  1. Can You Dig It?  Children’s Gardening Kit.  This retails for $29.99 and is a package that includes a colorfully illustrated instruction book, garden supply list, planting map, horticultural glossary, a reusable harvesting bag and garden markers.  The seed packets included in this collection are:  Carrot Baby Little Finger, Tomato Cherry Gardener’s Delight, Lettuce Butterhead Tom Thumb, Bean Bush Blue Lake 274, Radish Cherry Belle, and Marigold Dwarf Lemon Drop.  This would be perfect for a homeschooling project, a weekend family project, or as a project to do with your preschoolers!  You and your children can learn together!!


    Can You Dig It? Kit

    Can You Dig It? Kit

  2. Water-Wise Flower Mix.  Two large packets of seeds, enough to cover a total of about 500 square feet with water-wise color, both annuals and perennials.  It contains a mix of 20 different flowers like Arroyo Lupine, Sulphur Cosmos, Orange California Poppy, Moss Verbena, and Pink Evening Primrose.  Retail value:  $9.98. 

    Water-Wise Mix

    Water-Wise Mix

  3. Container Vegetable Seed Collection This collection retails for $15.00 and contains eight packets of seed, all selected to grow well in containers or other small spaces.  Included are:  Carrot Tonda di Parigi, Cucumber Spacemaster, Kale Dwarf Blue Curled, Lettuce Mesclun Farmer’s Market Blend, Onion Bunching/Scallion Tokyo Long White, Pepper Sweet Cherry Blend, Spinach Lavewa, and Tomato Bush Better Bush. 

    Container Vegetable Collection (and yes, it comes in the cute, beribboned box)

    Container Vegetable Collection (and yes, it comes in the cute, beribboned box)

  4. Karen’s Selection for February-March planting in the Phoenix area.  With a (small bit of) knowledge of what is likely to grow well in the Sonoran Desert, and using the reliable, indispensable University of Arizona Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County, I have personally selected a eleven varieties that are perfect for late-February and/or March planting.  Of course, you don’t have to be in the desert to plant these gems, but the seeds, some good compost, some water, and the spring Arizona sunshine should net you some great veggies in a couple of months, right about the time that most people in cooler climates are starting to plant!  Nine of the the eleven varieties can be direct-seeded:  You plant them directly into the soil of your garden;  no need for starting them indoors.  Included in this package are:  OrganicGreek Yevani Basil, Heirloom Pencil Pod Yellow bush beans, Organic Heirloom Gourmet Blend beets, Heirloom White Stem bok choySpacemaster cucumbers, Organic Heirloom Hearts of Gold cantaloupe, Heirloom Tokyo Long White green onions (scallions), Organic Heirloom Early Jalapeno peppers, Organic Heirloom Cherry Belle radish, Heirloom Tatuma Calabacita summer squash, and Organic Heirloom Italian Roma tomatoes.  (Approximate retail value $23.00.) 

    Tatuma Calabacita -- this WILL become your new favorite summer squash.

    Tatuma Calabacita — this WILL become your new favorite summer squash.

Book Review: Rebekah by Jill Eileen Smith

Can love heal the rift between two souls?

When her beloved father dies and she is left in the care of her conniving brother Laban, Rebekah knows her life has changed forever. Though she should be married by now, it’s clear that Laban is dragging his feet, waiting for a higher bride-price to line his pockets. But then Rebekah is given a chance to leave her home to marry Isaac, a cousin she has never even seen, and her hope for the future is restored. Little does she know what a wondrous and heart-wrenching journey she is beginning.

As Rebekah experiences the joy of young love and the bitterness of misunderstanding and betrayal, her resolve is tested. When the rift between Isaac and her grows so wide it is surely too great to be mended, can she trust the God of Isaac’s father Abraham to bridge the gap?

Join bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith as she fills in the blanks around the life of the enigmatic Rebekah.

Isn’t that cover gorgeous? /sigh/

This is the second in Ms. Smith’s Wives of the Patriarchs series. I thoroughly enjoyed Sarai and have looked forward to Rebekah for nearly a year.

Ms. Smith does a fabulous job of pulling us into the world of ancient Israel. I love the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah – at least until Jacob and Esau are born and Jacob doesn’t quite believe Rebekah’s story that an angel appeared to her, telling her Jacob was to be the heir.

After that their relationship was strained – understandably so.

One… down side? to reading true stories is that the ending is a given and can’t be changed unless we don’t truly know the ending. Regardless, I was drawn into the world and Rebekah didn’t let go until I was finished several hours later.

Overall rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the author and publisher for a free copy in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

After a childhood rampant with uncertainty, Lydia Pallas has carved out a perfect life for herself. She spends her days within sight of the bustling Boston Harbor, where her skill with languages has landed her an enviable position as a translator for the U.S. Navy. 

Lydia’s talents bring her to the attention of Alexander Banebridge, a mysterious man in need of a translator. Driven by a campaign to end the opium trade, Bane is coolly analytical and relentless in his quest. He cannot afford to fall for Lydia and must fight the bittersweet love growing between them.

When Bane’s enemies gain the upper hand, he is forced to turn to Lydia for help. Determined to prove her worth, Lydia soon discovers that carrying out Bane’s mission will test her wits and her courage to the very limits.

When forces conspire against them from without and within, can their love survive?

I enjoyed Ms. Camden’s first two books and enjoyed this one as much.

Lydia’s past is tragic. Her present is nice, but lacking.

Bane’s past is also tragic though for different reasons. His present is even more lacking than hers is.

They both lack a sense of family. Of belonging. More than superficially anyway.

No matter how they try to fight it, the two of them are drawn to each other. They fight bad guys together. Try desperately to fight their attraction, but in the end, they can’t.

I liked the setting, the story, pretty much the whole thing and I can’t wait for Ms. Camden’s next offering.

Overall rating: 8.5 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the publisher for a copy in exchange for my review.
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