Review: Made to Last

Made to Last by Melissa Tagg
Bethany House, 2013

“Your were ready to get rid of this old pulpit because all you saw was that ugly stain. But all along, underneath was a sturdy, strong wood. The kind of wood that’s made to last. Just took a little stripping away for you to see it.” (336)

Summary (from the back cover):
Miranda Woodruff has it all. At least, that’s how it looks when she’s starring in her homebuilding television show, From the Ground Up. So when her network begins to talk about making cuts, she’ll do anything to boost ratings and save her show–even if it means pretending to be married to a man who’s definitely not the fiance who ran out on her three years ago.

When a handsome reporter starts shadowing Miranda’s every move, all his digging into her personal life brings him a little too close to the truth–and to her. Can the girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her on-screen persona finally find the nerve to set the record straight? And if she does, will the life she’s built come crashing down just as she’s found a love to last?

My Thoughts:
Miranda thought that one lie would be okay. But lies have slowly overtaken her life, and what was once one lie, has turned into many. Now she is juggling three men: Robbie, the ex-fiancé who abandoned her years ago, Blaze, her pretend husband, and Matthew, the reporter who she accidentally finds herself falling for.

The worst part is that, in her tangle of lies, Miranda has lost herself. Her life is hollow and empty. Her life is a façade that she has created for herself and for other people to see. So, when people look at Miranda, they don’t see her, they see who she wants them to see.

This is a wonderful novel. Debut author, Melissa Tagg, has written a book infused with the perfect balance of humor and warmth, of light moments and poignant ones. It explores the truth that our identity is not in how other people see us, or in the image of ourselves that we create for the outside world to see. Rather, our identity is found in Christ alone.

I have to add that this book almost made me cry, which never happens to me! The moment when Miranda is sitting in the church pew, surrounded by the people in her life who matter. That is a beautiful moment that brought tears to my eyes.

One last thing I must mention is little Celine, Matthew’s niece. She is a deaf little girl who speaks ASL (American Sign Language), which is something that I am eager to learn. So, when I met this little girl in the book, I instantly loved her!

Rating: 4 stars

*I received an e-copy of this book for free from Bethany House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Keep an eye out for Melissa’s next book, Here to Stay. This sequel will follow Blake (aka Blaze), who was Miranda’s pretend husband in Made to Last!

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Review: Burning Sky

Burning Sky by Lori Benton
Waterbrook Mulnomah, 2013

“She was adrift between two lives, unable to grieve. Unable to hope.” (62)

The beauty and richness of this story will grab a hold of you and not let go until far beyond the last page.

Willa has endured so much pain and loss in her life. At the age of 14, she was taken from her family by Mohawk Indians. After adjusting, Willa lived a full life with her new family. Twelve years later, her family has been ripped from her again, and Willa finds herself at a crossroads: where does she belong?

She has had two families. Torn from both, belonging to neither, and caught between both, Willa must find a way to continue on alone.

The pain she has suffered has made her stronger, but her past has taught her to be cautious with her heart and not risk it again. She has closed her heart off to protect herself from any further pain in her life. This book is her journey of not only finding where she belongs, but also of learning to open her heart to love, despite the risk.

The book opens when Willa returns to the land of her parents. As Willa’s story is slowly revealed, the reader learns about the things she has endured. On the journey she takes in this book, there are three central characters in Willa’s life that, in a way, represent the three phases of her life.

-First, there is Richard Waring, who she knew in her childhood. Before she was taken, Richard had intentions to marry Willa. Now, he is a hardened man, bitter and angry from war and the things he has seen.

-The next man in her life, Joseph Tames-His-Horse, has been a close friend to Willa since she was adopted into the Mohawk tribe. He is a strong, loyal man who wants to protect and provide for her. They have unspoken feelings for each other, however, because they are in the same clan, he is considered her brother.

-Third is Neil MacGregor, whom Willa finds on the side of the road, injured and unconscious.  Willa takes care of him as she tries to readjust to the life she left long ago. Neil is a botanist and a doctor who is passionate about discovering new plants, but an accident has impaired his ability to read and write. Whereas the other two men know her from one of her previous “lives”, Neil knows Willa as she is now, fragmented and broken from her past.

This novel is a lengthy read, however, it is well worth your time. The plot is both intricate and well thought-out, which makes for a captivating and satisfying read. Toward the end of the book, many loose ends remain, but I was pleasantly surprised to read how everything unfolded, and it came together quite nicely. All the questions that you will have while reading the book will be answered by the end, and I found myself happy with the ending. (I have to say, Willa does not choose the man I wanted her to choose, however, I think the ending was very fitting for the story.)

Rating: 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group through the Blogging for Books program for my honest review.*

Lori Benton’s next book is coming out on April 15, 2014. I look forward to reading it! Here’s the cover:

Have you read or plan to read Burning Sky? What are your thoughts on the book? Will you be reading Lori’s next book?

How do you write a review with honesty and respect?

I have a dilemma. I recently read a book that I didn’t care for and I am having trouble deciding how to write the review. So much so, it has come to deciding if I will write a review.

The thing is, I’ve written negative reviews before, so that’s not the problem. When I do write a review on a book I didn’t like, I try to be honest and fair without being too harsh. Which can be difficult. In my negative reviews, I try to also point out those things that I did like about the book. But how do you balance a review with honesty and grace?

So, my question is: when you read a book that you do not like, and you have no commitment to write the review (as in, the book was not sent to you for free from the publisher in exchange for a review), what do you do?

Do you write the review because you spent the money to purchase the book and the time to read it? Or, do you pass on reviewing the book because it’s too hard to find that balance?

I want to stay true to myself, but I also want to respect the work of the author.

I would love some feedback on this topic. To my fellow book bloggers, what do you do? Are you faced with this dilemma often? And to my readers, how do you feel about negative reviews? Do they turn you off from the book or does the review reflect more on how you see the blogger?

Review: Love’s Awakening

You know those rare books that you wait for all year because you just know that it’s going to be a good one? And then, once it’s finally yours, you are content to just stare at the beautiful cover for a few days, wondering about the story you will find inside and knowing it will be over far too soon.

When you finally allow yourself to read it, you excitedly read too fast and have to force yourself to slow down and savor this book. Because after it’s over, you will have to wait another whole year for the next one.

Let me introduce you to Love’s Awakening by Laura Frantz. This is one of those books.

Love’s Awakening by Laura Frantz
The Ballantyne Legacy, Book 2
Revell, 2013

My Thoughts:
Ellie Ballantyne, delicate and dainty as a flower, has just returned home from finishing school. She is the apple of her parents’ eyes and holds a special place in the heart of the family. Jack Turlock, on the other hand, is the rough, tough man whose family is infamous for making their living on whiskey.  No two people could be more different, neither in the way they were raised or in how they see life as adults.

Ellie and Jack’s lives are thrown together when Jack’s sister, Chloe, becomes a student to Ellie.  Chloe definitely has some rough edges, but she is also thoroughly entertaining and endearing at the same time.  However misguided, her attempts to bring Jack and Ellie together are genuine.

Meanwhile, Jack has an internal battle, in which he struggles between being the man his reputation makes him, or being who he wishes he could be, the man who is deserving of Ellie’s heart.

Some books hit you head on, with full force. Laura’s writing is more like a soft, gentle whisper. She captures moments and emotions with beautifully poetic words, and her stories find a way into your heart. You will find yourself thinking about the lives of the Ballantynes and the Turlocks as you go about your day.

And seeing Silas and Eden again was such a treat! Love them!

Rating: 4 stars

At the end of the book, there is an excerpt from Book 3, which Laura has just recently announced the title will be Love’s Fortune. I am excited to say that the third book is about Wren, Ansel’s daughter. Ansel was one of my favorite secondary characters in Love’s Awakening, so I’m thrilled that we will be following his daughter.

Summary (from the back cover):
The path to true love lies somewhere between two feuding families.

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don’t seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan–particularly the handsome Jack Turlock–she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

happy, free, confused, & lonely

Taylor Swift. The Red Tour.
It was amazing. All of it.

what I loved the most:

-her entrance

-the dancers & choreography

You Belong With Me– one of my favorites!

22– sang while she was carried to the second stage, what?

-and how does she get back to the main stage from the second stage ? well, she is lifted into the air over the audience, of course…

-Ed Sheeran.

violin solo before I Knew You Were Trouble– crazy good. best thing ever.

-multiple costume changes

-red piano

-Ellie Goulding.

-the finale, in which confetti was everywhere. she ended with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, which I think is genius.

Taylor Swift  puts on a show. An amazing show. She is a wonderful performer.

It was especially fun to see that she still has moments in which she looks surprised that so many people love her. She is still blown away at the way people react to seeing her. Almost like she is amused. And then there are other moments when she just knows she is awesome and she has a huge smile on her face.

I would definitely go see her in concert again if I get the chance. Amazing.

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this is the best picture I took. seriously.

Review: When Love Calls

When Love Calls by Lorna Seilstad
The Gregory Sisters, Book 1
Revell, 2013

Summary (from the back cover):
When romance calls, will she choose to answer?

Hannah Gregory is good at many things, but that list does not include following rules. So when she must apply for a job as a switchboard operator to support her two sisters, she knows it won’t be easy. Hello Girls must conduct themselves according to strict–and often bewildering–rules, which include absolutely no consorting with gentlemen while in training.

Hannah doubts it will be difficult to keep that rule–until a handsome young lawyer starts getting under her skin.

With historic details that bring to life the exciting first decade of the twentieth century, Lorna Seilstad weaves a charming tale of companionship that blossoms into sweet romance.

My Thoughts:

When Love Calls introduces us to Hannah Gregory, a character who is witty, strong-willed, and independent. As the oldest, she has been left to take care of her two younger sisters since her parents died.  She faces many challenges, including coming to terms with her parents being gone and learning how to raise her sisters.

I love how opinionated Hannah is and that she speaks her mind. Her heart is in the right place, but she can get herself into trouble since she doesn’t do well with obeying the rules. Her aspirations give her the motivation to succeed, and she doesn’t let the difficulties she faces stop her. And she is so stubborn!

Hannah takes a job as a switchboard operator, which was a really interesting aspect of the book. The history of Hello Girls is intriguing and I loved reading about Hannah’s experiences at work.

I did have a few objections as I was reading. I felt that there were some plot holes; there was conflict in the book, but it was resolved too quickly. The main characters had trust issues, and then, on the next page, everything was fine. I didn’t understand how something like that could be fixed so suddenly.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Despite my few problems with it, I enjoyed both learning the history of the Hello Girls, and I liked Hannah and Lincoln’s relationship.

Rating: 3 stars