Monthly Recap: May 2014

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Books I Read:

Book Reviews:
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Submerged by Dani Pettrey
A Beauty so Rare by Tamera Alexander
Until I Found You by Victoria Bylin

Bookish Posts:
INSPYs Award Shortlists
Author Dani Pettrey visits the blog and talks about Silenced

And where have I been lately? My dad has been in and out of the hospital this month, so that has been my priority. My dad is getting better now, but I would appreciate your prayers for my family and me, as it has been a few rough weeks for us. Thanks, friends!

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Author Dani Pettrey discusses Silenced

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m very excited about Dani Petrrey’s newest release, Silenced. Earlier this month, I read Submerged, the first in her Alaskan Courage series, and shared my thoughts about how much I unexpectedly loved it! And today she is here to talk a little bit about her new book, so please join me in welcoming her!
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Hi Dani and welcome to Bookshelves and Windows! Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today. I’m excited to learn more about you and share it with my readers. And I can’t wait to read your new book!

Thanks so much for having me, Cassie. I’m thrilled to be here.

1. The high energy activities that your characters experience in your books are exciting and fun to read. These characters have active lifestyles–scuba diving and rock climbing, just to name a couple of adventures that we get to read about in your books. Have you ever experienced these activities yourself? And if not, what would you like to experience most from the things you’ve written about?

I have experienced quite a few of the activities I write about. I took scuba diving lessons, but found I enjoy snorkeling much better. I really love indoor rock climbing as well as hiking, kayaking, white-water rafting, and skiing. The one activity I haven’t experienced that I really would love to attempt is learning to fly like Kayden. I think it would be amazing!

2. One of my absolute favorite things about your books is the characterization and growth your characters experience. You manage to have several characters who are each so distinct and alive. How do you write characters with such unique voices? Does this come easily to you, or is it something you work hard to accomplish in your books?

I see my stories playing out like a movie in my head as I write them. I see the characters interacting and their conversations just flow. Not that I don’t ever stall while writing. I experience my fair share of blocks, but it’s never really related to the characters. They develop on their own as I write the first draft and continue to come alive from there. I honestly attribute it all to God.

3. Silenced is your fourth novel. How do you think you have grown from the time your first novel, Submerged, was published and now? How has your writing style changed?

I don’t think my writing style has changed any, but I do hope that my writing craft has improved. I hope that the stories continue to get stronger and to flow easier. I’ve grown as a person a lot since my debut novel. So much has happened in writing and in life, it’s crazy to think it’s only been two years since Submerged released.

4. What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Silenced? What challenges did you face while writing this story?

The most rewarding aspect was finally getting to tell Jake and Kayden’s story. It’s been building since Submerged and they were ready. I faced a number of the normal challenges. My husband says I write Tangled-style—hopefully a good number of you have seen the movie so you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s the scene where Rapunzel first tastes freedom and she goes back and forth between ‘Best day ever’ and ‘I’m a despicable human being.’ Well, a friend sent me a writer’s version of it that sits on my desk. It has ten images with sayings like ‘This story is so awesome’ to ‘I’m a horrible author and I’m going to quit.’ I pretty much hit both extremes during my writing process—more often the latter. Writing Silenced was no different. I still struggled with doubts, hit story walls, ran behind my ever encroaching deadline, but it’s all just part of the process.

5. What do you hope readers will take away after reading Silenced? What message do you want readers to be impacted by in your book?

I think Jake encapsulates it best in this line of dialogue:

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Book Summary:

A relaxing day of rock climbing takes a disturbing turn when Kayden McKenna’s route leads her to a face-to-face encounter with a dead climber. Is it a terrible accident or something sinister? When the case is handed to the overburdened sheriff, he turns to Jake Westin. With Jake’s past now revealed, he’s ready to use his talent for investigation again-–but he could never prepare for where the case will take him.

Kayden and Jake soon realize that the death was no accident. And worse, it seems the killer is on to them. When strange things begin happening in Yancey, Jake is terrified that once again his world may put someone he loves in danger.

But the truth is far worse than either of them imagine.

Are you interested in reading Silenced? Read an excerpt here!

Review: Until I Found You


Until I Found You by Victoria Bylin
Bethany House, 2014

My Thoughts:
As much as I wish I loved contemporary fiction as much as I love historical, I don’t.

In all truth, I wanted to read this book based on the cover alone, which is beautiful. However, the story within did not capture me the way the cover did, and I did not finish this book.

I liked the premise of the story, where Nick heroically rescues Kate from the edge of a cliff. They meet in one of the most precarious situations possible, both in survival mode, trying not to panic in the face of possible death.

But the things I didn’t like overshadowed this promising premise. There was too much telling going on, when I wanted to be shown what was happening. The characters’ backstories were revealed prematurely, leaving me without the anticipation of learning more about their pasts. And the flow of the story was slowed by the detailed history about condors.

Unfortunately, this story fell flat for me. It just wasn’t something that resonated with me. For readers who love contemporary novels, this may be something you enjoy.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.*

Summary (from the publisher’s website):
Finding each other was only the beginning . . . 

When Kate Darby swerves off a mountain road to avoid hitting a California condor, she ends up trapped in her car, teetering on the edge of a cliff. Terrified, she breathes a prayer that changes her life.

It’s Nick Sheridan who comes to Kate’s rescue. Nick is handsome and confident, and he seems to develop a habit of rescuing her, but Kate is in town only until her grandmother recuperates from a stroke. She’s not planning to get involved with one of the locals.

Nick is a reformed veteran of life in the fast lane, a new Christian, and a travel writer. When he sees a car dangling on the edge of a cliff, the daredevil in him jumps into action. He doesn’t expect to be swept off his feet by the car’s occupant. He’s made a vow–no dating for a year–but keeping that vow is going to be a lot more difficult now that he’s met Kate Darby. . . . 

The Book That Stole My Heart

Can I please live in post-Civil War Nashville? Pretty please? Because I absolutely loved this book. You better believe that it will be in my top ten books of 2014.

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander
A Belmont Mansion Novel, Book 2
Bethany House, 2014

“Every brick laid in the foundation of a life, however meaningfully or haphazardly placed, shaped the whole” (156).

Eleanor Braddock is nearly 30 and has little prospect for a husband, but she doesn’t mind. Her dream is to own a restaurant and cook wonderfully delicious food.

Marcus Geoffrey, errr… should I say Archduke Marcus Gottfried, is hiding his royal Austrian heritage as he is determined to make a name for himself in his personal endeavors. He has a passion for botany and architecture that he is eager to see come to fruition.

Marcus and Eleanor slowly get to know one another, and their friendship blossoms on the pages. They truly know one another, as they share their hopes, dreams, and passions with each other. Their friendship becomes an important part of each of their lives as they begin to spend more and more time together and eventually see their dreams take a new path—one that is better than either of them had ever imagined.

As the characters grow and relationships develop, I was completely enthralled. Not only were the main characters completely realistic, I also thought the supporting characters were equally believable and added a extra layer of depth to the story.

A Beauty So Rare quietly unfolds and immerses you in a time and place that is entirely real as it comes to life. Tamera Alexander has a beautiful way with words, and she pulls you in to the story.

Beautiful. Enchanting. Lyrical. A completely wonderful and utterly satisfying read.

If you aren’t convinced (first of all, seriously? How are you not reading this book yet?), here are a few reviews that I absolutely love:

Jamie @ Books and Beverages
Courtney @ The Green Mockingbird
Lydia @ Overweight Bookshelf

A Bookish Pet Peeve and One Author Who Convinced Me Otherwise

Confession: One of my big bookish pet peeves is a large cast of family characters. You know the ones I’m talking about; those huge family sagas that have about twenty relatives and each get their own book. Somehow these families found between the covers are super close and loving despite the drama that ensues among them. Yep, I can’t stand those books.

Why? Well, to be completely honest, I find them completely unrealistic and frustrating. I mean, you have this large family and it feels like a cookie-cutter perfect family that goes through ridiculous amounts of drama. And there are so many of them, I can never keep them straight since I’m so confused as to who’s who. On top of all that, many times the character development suffers as a result of so many characters. So suffice it to say that books with a large cast of characters pretty much repel me.

Phew. Sorry but I had to get that off my chest. I’m sure I’m in the minority on this but that’s how it goes folks.

Now, what does my little rant have to do with anything?

Well, I’m so glad you asked! There’s this one book that I read recently, that had me glued to the pages:

Submerged by Dani Pettrey
Alaskan Courage, Book 1
Bethany House, 2012

I absolutely loved Dani Pettrey’s first book in the Alaskan Courage series. The McKenna family has won me over. Yes, the McKenna family is a large one, with five siblings and some family-like friends, but it worked for me.

Each character had his or her own personality and flaws that jumped off the page. They were each so distinctive and I loved that. We have Cole, Gage, Kayden, Piper, and Reef. Five siblings and each one is their own person, with their own interests and quirks that I enjoyed reading. And I can’t wait to read each one of their stories. This book and the characters are so engaging and I enjoyed the way they interacted with one another.

First of all, this is Cole’s story, so we learn a lot about him in this book. He, as the eldest brother, has raised his siblings, in a sense, so he feels responsible for them and loves them fiercely. I loved his protectiveness and his desire to be the supportive big brother to his siblings.

I’m dying to read Piper’s story. I enjoyed her back-and-forth banter with Landon, the big-brother-like family friend. But is there more to that relationship? I’m really hoping the next book is about Piper because she was one of my favorite characters in this book.

Kayden is a character I can’t quite put my finger on yet, but she seems mysterious and I’d like to know more about her past.

Gage is intriguing to me. That tattoo of his has a story behind it. We got a tidbit of it in this book, but there’s a lot more to his story and I need to know it!

And finally we have Reef, the brother we haven’t even met yet. Now that is mysterious. And he is going to show up sooner or later, right? I mean he has to. You don’t mention an estranged brother and have it lead nowhere. He will return eventually, and I am very interested to see what happens when he shows up.

Submerged is a wonderful book. There is romance, intrigue, and suspense that keeps you engaged and eager to learn more about the characters. This book was a surprise for me, and I’m so glad I gave it a chance. Dani Pettrey has a talent for writing novels that are exciting and riveting. Time to add all of her books to my TBR list!

Inspy Awards– Shortlists

Hello my dear readers!

If you haven’t heard, the INSPYs is an award, given by bloggers, to the best faith-driven literature in the market. This year, I am excited to announce that I am a judge for the Historical Romance category.

Click here to see the full list of INSPYs judges.

Also, on April 30th, the shortlists were announced, and it is time to share that news with you as well. Here are the finalists for the Historical Romance category:

Though My Heart is Torn by Joanne Bischof

Love’s Awakening by Laura Frantz

A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund

The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

Duchess by Susan May Warren

I don’t know about all of you, but I am very excited about being a part of the INSPYs this year, and I can’t wait to get started! If you’d like to see the shortlists for every category, click here.

And now, my lips are sealed!

Review: For Such a Time

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Bethany House, 2014

My Thoughts:
As you all know, historical fiction is my favorite genre, particularly set during World War II. So when I heard about debut author Kate Breslin’s new book, I was immediately intrigued. Her novel retells the biblical story of Esther, yet it explores that story in the context of World War II. Sounds interesting, right?

As a blond, blue-eyed Jew, Stella Mueller’s appearance allows her to blend in and camaflouge herself behind her fair features. Her appearance may save her from the same fate as her people, but seeing them suffer causes her to question God. After everything she has endured and seen in this war, she struggles to hold on to her faith.

Colonel Aric von Schmidt rescues Stella from a firing squad and places her in his employ. He is a cold, severe man who is bound by duty, yet Stella sees the compassion that is hidden in the depths of his heart.

Just as Stella can see his compassion, Aric sees so much good in Stella. He sees innocence and hope. He sees the chance to start over and escape from the life he now leads. He wants freedom and he can nearly grasp it when Stella walks into his life.

As Stella and Aric face their personal struggles, will they win the battles they face? Or are they doomed to become victims of war?

Rating: 4 stars

*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.*

Summary:
Powerful Retelling of the Story of Esther

In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz. 

Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy. 

Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?

Monthly Recap: April 2014

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Books I Read:

Book Reviews:
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert
Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter
The Pelican Bride by Beth White

Other Posts:
I wrote an article for Family Fiction spotlighting author Lori Benton. You can read it here!
Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter– Litfuse Tour Promo
An Interview with Lori Benton

And here is a link to take you directly to Family Fiction’s April 2014 issue!

What did you read this month? What are you anticipating this May?