Sunday, December 30, 2012

A WREATH OF SNOW: A Victorian Christmas Novella by Liz Curtis Higgs

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by WaterBrook Press
Genre: historical fiction, Christian fiction, historical romance, holiday novella (Christmas), Victorian Scotland
Rating: 5 stars

Stirling, Scotland. 24 December 1894 
After a heated argument with her greedy and cynical brother Alan, a tearful and heartbroken Meg Campbell puts a sudden end to her Christmas visit, fleeing her parents' home and heading back to Edinburgh where she works as a teacher. The cheerful holiday sentiment is now replaced by sadness and guilt "as sharp as the wintry wind". Alan is disabled since the age of ten: under Meg's very own eyes, a granite curling stone was recklessly hurled against his back by an inebriated young man, causing a serious spinal injury.  As a young boy, Alan was already fostering feelings of resentment and jealousy toward his older sister. With her bright mind and independent spirit, Meg had always been her parents' favorite child and the tragic accident only fueled Alan's bitterness and cynicism, providing him also with a perfect excuse to work on his sister's guilt, drive her away from home, and finally win his parents' undivided attention. 
"Man's goings are of the Lord", and on the most saint of the nights a special present will be delivered to Meg by divine intervention in the person of handsome Gordon Shaw, the same man who had accidentally injured her brother Alan years back and whose conscience now refuses to be silenced. Not an object wrapped in paper and twine then, but the most redeeming gift of all, love.  Brought together by an unprecedented snow storm and stuck on the same train bound to Edinburgh, Meg and Gordon will be initially unaware of each other's identity, but once drawn to each other by mutual attraction,   nothing will keep them apart, not even that painful secret of their shared history.

She already missed Gordon. Though they'd met a mere twenty-four hours ago, he'd made a deep impression on her, like a thumb pressed into soft clay. [...] Meg loved the way he said her name, as if he'd just taken a bite of something sweet.

He'd known her for all of a day, yet he could not stop thinking about her. Aye, she was bonny, but her appeal went far deeper than those blue eyes of hers. She had a fine intellect and a broad streak of independence that matched his own.

They turned to each other at last, their breaths mingling in the frosty air. Meg thought Gordon might kiss her, so intently was his gaze trained on her mouth. She prayed he wouldn't. She hoped he would. Gordon slowly lifted his eyes until they met hers. "I came to say good-bye and I find I cannot.

As a first time reader of Liz Curtis Higgs, best-selling author of inspirational fiction, I couldn't have had a more pleasant and gratifying experience. Five shining Christmas stars is my heartfelt rating for a holiday novella that by all means excelled for the historical accuracy of the late Victorian setting, charming characterization of lead couple, clean romance, and meaningful plot. Imbued with the Christian cornerstone principles of forgiveness and redemption, and delivered with the grace of an emotionally descriptive and eloquent prose, this heart-warming holiday tale is actually good for all seasons and all ages. It will not fail to engross those readers who love all things Scottish and Christmas, as well as those who appreciate a sweet romance enriched with graceful shades of angst and suspense. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE BRIDGE: A NOVEL by Karen Kingsbury

Hardcover, 258 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Howard Books
Genre: contemporary romance, Christian fiction, inspirational, holiday (Christmas), novella
Rating: 4.5 stars

  "How many books had passed over the counter on their way to changing a life? Even saving a life? Books could do that. […] His hope was found in books, and in novels of redemption and hope, purpose and true love. Through them God had given him a purpose. The purpose of putting books in the hands of other people like him."

Goodreads blurb
Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but she left her heart back in Tennessee with a man she walked away from five years ago. They had a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since. Ryan Kelly lives in Nashville after a broken engagement and several years on the road touring with a country music duo. He can still hear Molly’s voice encouraging him to follow his dreams; Molly, whose memory stays with him. At least he can visit The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—and remember the hours he and Molly once spent there. For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books—even through dismal book sales and the rise of digital books. Then in May, the hundred-year flood swept through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store. Now the bank is pulling the lease on The Bridge. Despondent and without answers, Charlie considers the unthinkable. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, everything changes. In the face of desperate brokenness and lost opportunities, could the miracle of a second chance actually unfold?

My thoughts 
This year more than ever I needed to abandon the fast lane of the shopping frenzy and crazy holiday baking, and loose myself in inspirational reads, heartwarming messages of love and hope...the world needs more lovers, more storytellers and more readers, if you ask me.
Karen Kingsbury's novella is a lovely Christmas confection. Charlie's character, his shattered dreams and desperation really touched my heart. I found the lead couple's love story to be extremely poignant in its simplicity: rich highbrow girl from California meets small-town boy from Mississippi. Fate (and her father) keep them separate for quite a long time, until fate (and God, the giver of second chances) bring them together again, for good. It sounds like an Hallmark channel movie and it could easily be one. Such a pity the final chapter ended abruptly: had the author stretched it a few more pages, the novella would have been just perfect. All in all, this inspirational story made my heart flutter and wish for more.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


HIS MISTLETOE BRIDE   by Vanessa Kelly

Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages

Published October 1st 2012 by Zebra 
Genre: historical romance novel, Georgian/Regency England, holiday (Christmas) 
Rating: 5 stars

"She pulled his head down, feathering a kiss across his lips. "I love you," she whispered. It was reckless and foolish to admit it, but her heart refused to be silenced".

An ex- soldier who won't give up his warlike manners, let alone surrender his heart to love. A virtuous and strong willed Quaker who will need to cross the ocean to connect with her passionate nature and find a place she can really call "home". An arranged marriage and a quest for love. All wrapped in vivid and accurate descriptions of the Georgian England winter season and its rituals. A colorful Christmas tableau and a hero/heroine chemistry that escalates from warm to scorching hot. Here's your perfect romance-lover holiday gift.
One of the most distinctive qualities of this historical romance novel is the refreshingly different kind of heroine. Young Phoebe Linville lives a very singular condition of outsider among her own people. Member of a Quaker  family, but subtly shunned by her community because of her deceased mother's refusal to conform to some tenets of the faith, she decides to accept his maternal grandfather's invitation to leave New Jersey and join him in England. The characterization of the female heroine is quite solid and detailed, consistent in the way she struggles to meet the rigid expectations of a religious community and gradually reveal a surprisingly head-strong and passionate nature. Phoebe was doomed to live a quiet spinsterhood, steeped in an austere village upbringing, but once in England she will meet her perfect half in an unexpected place. Major Lucas Stenton, distant cousin of hers and heir to her grandfather's earldom, welcomes her upon her arrival with two shocking pieces of news: her grandfather has passed away during her boat trip to England, not before asking Lucas in his final will to become Phoebe's guardian and husband. The marriage may be an arranged one, but the chemistry between the handsome and intimidating  ex-soldier, and the unconventional and genuinely beautiful American is as immediate as the blink of an eye. She is a starchy Quaker by upbringing, but she can't help being affected by the large framed and hard eyed soldier. He may have spent years and years on the battle fields leading armies and defeating enemies, but he can't resist her innocent beauty and straightforward tongue. Despite his reluctance to surrender his heart to any woman after a former lover had demolished his life, Lucas is won by Phoebe's gentle manners and quick wit. A clear declaration of love won't be easily yielded by our emotionally armored soldier, 

"...when dealing with matters of the heart, [Phoebe's] fearless warrior husband turned tail and headed for the hills."

But he tremendously enjoys his wife and while his heart lacks the eloquence, his actions will speak volumes. The author's clever choice to bring the lead characters close together from the start, sets the scene for some warm "interactions", incandescent I would say. In the cozy isolation of his country estate, and with the aid of a festive Christmas spirit, Lucas conducts a "sensual assault" that will breech Phoebe's inhibitions and crumble his own emotional barriers.
The introduction of a secondary plot thread, that doesn't really get thick except for the final pages, serves the purpose of enhancing the conflict and test the trust issues between the newly weds. With weak-in-the-knees romance, sexual chemistry a go-go, and as sumptuous as equally accurate descriptions of holiday traditions, His Mistletoe Bride will bring the winter temperatures up a notch or two.

***Review based on a complimentary copy graciously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased opinion

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

EMBRYO by J. A. Schneider

Kindle Edition

Published May 18th 2012 by Amazon Digital Services 
Genre: medical thriller, romantic suspense, science fiction
Rating: 5 stars

In its ambition to treat human infertility and genetic disorders, Madison Hospital Medical Center has pioneered advanced and acclaimed techniques for the early diagnosis and treatment of birth defects and inherited diseases. But in doing so, it may have crossed the line of what is considered ethically legitimate. When in less than twenty four hours, four different OB/GYN patients see their pregnancies and their lives end in an unexpectedly tragic way, a brave and promising intern (Jill Raney) won't stop in front of what is too easily dismissed as isolated and tragic coincidences. In order to find the answers, Jill will put her career and her very life (as well as the name and the life of brilliant resident doctor David Levine) on the line of fire.
I enjoyed it immensely! A very entertaining and well-conceived medical thriller, gripping from the first dramatic scene to the white-knuckle finale.  Driven by interesting and full-drawn characters, as well as a tantalizing pace, and a thought-provoking story-line, this highly suspenseful debut novel by self-published author A. J. Schneider had me on the edge of my seat for the vast majority of its eventful and highly-descriptive chapters. Leading to the momentous final pages, the author breaks up Embryo's pulse-pounding narrative with the pleasant injection of a tenuous romance and sparse, although effective, love scenes. I congratulate the author on her tasteful and wise use of sensual chemistry as a narrative tool to advance plot and character development. The female protagonist initially lacks the cool detachment that usually characterizes the spunky heroines from many a suspense novel, but she is sheer determination in doc scrubs, and despite her emotional outbreaks and show of vulnerability in front of the tragic outcome of some ER situations, she comes through as an endearing character capable of beating a system that would like to cover up its wrongs and seal her mouth. Meticulously researched and solidly rooted in human biology, Schneider's use of  medical terminology (especially obstetrics and genetics) is robust but not overwhelming, quite interesting rather. It enhances the realistic effect with the use of accurate medical facts and procedures that are certainly  not unfamiliar among the fans of this genre, and not beyond whomever retains memory of the basics of human genetics or has experienced pregnancies and maternity.
A fearless and vulnerable heroine, a charming and protective hero, an ambitious and controversial fertility expert, acclaimed for his pioneering work in human reproduction,  an imposing medical institution renown for its researches and breakthroughs in prenatal diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders, an ethical debate, a malignant genius, and a final plot twist that you won't take for granted, Embryo has it all. For me it was a skillful and intelligent concoction of  suspense and science fiction, an absolute page-turner. My only minor complaint, if any, is that the novel could have used an epilogue: the closure, although not rushed and actually well built in terms of suspense and climactic resolution, needed to deflate in some sort of tension relief, maybe even with a shift of focus on the romantic involvement between our lead characters.  All in all, yet another pleasant surprise from the usually underestimated world of indie authors.

*Review based on a complimentary e-copy provided by the author in return of an unbiased opinion.

To know more about J. A. Schneider, please visit her on
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Monday, December 3, 2012

TOUCH OF A THIEF by Mia Marlowe GIVEAWAY: "And the winner is..."

And the winner is...

Emily Tardy

Congratulations, Emily! Please check your email. To all the other contestants, thank you for participating. You haven't won this time, but keep stopping by the blog with your comments for more reviews and exciting giveaways.