Review: In Firefly Valley – Amanda Cabot

Amanda Cabot. In Firefly Valley. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2015.

When I read books, sometimes I find myself transported to a different place or time. Other times, a book seems perfectly designed to be read in the environment described by the author. As part of the Revell Reads Blog Tour, I just read Amanda Cabot’s In Firefly Valley, which somehow seems like the perfect book to read at the Texas resort that serves as the novel’s primary setting.

The second book of Ms. Cabot’s Texas Crossroads series, In Firefly Valley continues the story of Rainbow’s End, a Texas Hill Country resort, and the people who work there. Marisa St. George returns to her hometown as Rainbow’s End new business manager after her career as a CPA in Atlanta falls apart. There she meets Blake Kendall, a college friend of the resort’s new owner and a bestselling author with a chronic case of writer’s block. After enduring a rough childhood, Marisa struggles to trust Blake, especially when she discovers his true identity. Together, they overcome their respective pasts and find a second chance at Rainbow’s End.

In Firefly Valley captures the enchanting setting of Texas Hill Country and the role of Rainbow’s End resort in the lives of a diverse cast of characters. Along with main characters, Marisa and Blake, Ms. Cabot delves further into the lives of her other characters that were first introduced in At Bluebonnet Lake, including Rainbow’s End owners Kate Sherwood and Greg Vange.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about In Firefly Valley. While the concept behind the novel seems well-developed, the storyline and characters lacked depth in portions of the book. The book’s pacing felt somewhat slow, although some readers may be intentionally looking for this type of story for a summertime or vacation read. I personally enjoyed At Bluebonnet Lake more than In Firefly Valley, in part, due to the main characters. While Blake Kendall seems realistic and relatively interesting, Marisa St. George comes across as relatively whiny and her sections resulted in me nearly skimming to get to other portions of the novel. The secondary characters were generally the most interesting and will be the likely reason for me to pick up the series’ next novel, On Lone Star Trail (Spring 2016).

Fans of Ms. Cabot’s other novels, including At Bluebonnet Lake, will find In Firefly Valley to be a worthwhile read. Additionally, those who enjoy aspects of the Texas-inspired settings and storylines created by Lisa Wingate and Becky Wade may want to try Ms. Cabot’s novels. The pacing of the novel itself will likely be the greatest challenge for readers, as it’s too slow to recommend to readers like my mother and sister. Instead, my grandmother (who enjoys slower and calmer storylines, such as those found in novella format) would be the most likely person out of my family to read In Firefly Valley.

Special thanks to the Revell Reads Blog Tour program for the advanced copy of In Firefly Valley!

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Amazon – In Firefly Valley: A Novel (Texas Crossroads) – In Firefly Valley

Review: Taken – Dee Henderson

Dee Henderson. Taken. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

Several times a year, I find myself looking forward to the release of books by certain authors. Those authors are particularly dependable at delivering spectacular Christian fiction that continues to push the boundaries of the genre and I enjoy being able to support their work by pre-ordering their books every year. For the last several years, Dee Henderson has been one of the foremost authors in that select group.

Ms. Henderson’s latest novel, Taken, returns her readers to the suspense-filled lives of many of her much-loved characters based in Chicago. Matthew Dane, a private investigator and close friend of law enforcement characters introduced in Ms. Henderson’s earlier novels, finds himself encountering one of the Midwest’s most sought-after kidnapping victims at a conference in Atlanta. Shannon Bliss, the sister of Illinois’ future governor, has been missing for eleven years after a ransom-kidnapping went horribly wrong. Having worked for the Jacoby crime family during the years of her captivity, Shannon holds many of the family’s secrets and evidence that has the power to put the Jacoby family members away for decades. With the possibility that the Jacobys realized Shannon survived her escape, Matthew must use every connection at his disposal to ensure that Shannon safely regains a normal life and law enforcement catches the family of criminals before they find her.

Filled with jaw-dropping detail and heart-pounding scenes, Taken continues a series of novels and characters that have made Ms. Henderson a best-selling author in the Christian romantic suspense genre. Shannon’s story will capture readers’ imaginations and satisfy their insatiable need for further development of Ms. Henderson’s cast of Chicago-based characters.

Overall, I would highly recommend Taken for any fan of Christian suspense. The novel presents a unique take on the stories that Ms. Henderson’s fans love, while further developing incredibly intelligent and realistic characters that bring her stories to life. Personally, I greatly appreciated the length and complex development of Taken, although I could see some readers struggling with some of its themes and difficulty level. Additionally, those who are more accustomed to a strong romantic emphasis within Ms. Henderson’s stories may be marginally disappointed with certain aspects of Taken. However, I found the novel to present an intriguing variation on the relationship-oriented stories that Ms. Henderson’s fans have come to expect. As always, Ms. Henderson never fails to keep me intrigued and guessing at every twist and turn.

Fans of Ms. Henderson’s books, especially Full Disclosure and Unspoken, will love Taken. Likewise, readers who are curious to try suspense novels in the Christian genre should definitely look into Taken and Ms. Henderson’s other books. With complex story development, interesting characters, and expert pacing, Taken will definitely become a much-appreciated addition to the canon of excellent works by Ms. Henderson!

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Amazon – Taken – Taken

Review: To Win Her Favor – Tamara Alexander

Tamara Alexander. To Win Her Favor. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

Some authors have the phenomenal ability to develop such a consistent style that you feel as if you’re walking back into their world every time you open one of their books. Tamara Alexander is just such an author, as her novels set in mid-nineteenth century Tennessee have created a fictional world onto itself.

To Win Her Favor, the second book of Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation series, returns readers to post-Civil War (1869) Nashville, Tennessee. Maggie Linden and her father have spent the years since the war fighting to save their farm, but they face a forthcoming auction that will soon leave them homeless. Irishman Cullen McGrath travels to Tennessee with the hope of a fresh start away from a scandal that forced him to flee England. When Maggie’s father accepts Cullen’s offer for the farm, Maggie’s future becomes permanently tied to the success of her ancestral home. While Cullen finds joy in his role as a farmer, Maggie continues to pursue her dream of racing her thoroughbred mare, Bourbon Belle. Together, Cullen and Maggie discover their love for one another and become intertwined in a thoroughbred race that has the power to ensure the future of Linden Downs for years to come.

Ms. Alexander writes an intriguing tale of love and commitment that supersedes the typical romance plotline. The novel shows the development and maturation of Cullen and Maggie’s marriage, as well as their growth as Christians in the face of exceptional trial. True to the form and style of Ms. Alexander’s other novels, To Win Her Favor also captures the prejudice and upheaval of Southern culture after the Civil War, while focusing on the challenges of both freemen and Irishmen during the period.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed reading To Win Her Favor. The novel expands upon Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation and Belmont Mansion series, as well as incorporating elements reminiscent of her earlier series (Timber Ridge Reflections and Fountain Creek Chronicles). I particularly enjoyed learning more about General Harding and the Belle Meade Plantations’s involvement in international thoroughbred horseracing. Additionally, I loved Ms. Alexander’s character development, as it felt realistic to the period and the ever-challenging lives that Christians lead. Maggie’s father serves as the ever-wise figure who teaches and inspires others to learn and grow in their faith, while her friends also juxtapose her personality and motivate her to face her future head-on. With tie-ins to these secondary characters, I am eagerly anticipating Ms. Alexander’s novella, “To Mend a Dream” in the forthcoming compilation Among the Fair Magnolias (July 2015).

Fans of Ms. Alexander and other authors of Southern fiction in the genre (including Dorothy Love) will thoroughly enjoy To Win Her Favor. Readers of Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation and Belmont Mansion series will particularly appreciate seeing guest appearances of characters introduced in the other novels. With a moderate pace consistent with Ms. Alexander’s other work, readers may find that the development of the story takes more time than those of other authors. However, I have always found that her style offers perhaps a more realistic impression of the period and individuals than the artificially-accelerated timeline depicted in other novels.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for the advanced copy of To Win Her Favor!

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Amazon – To Win Her Favor (A Belle Meade Plantation Novel) – To Win Her Favor, Belle Meade Plantation Series #2

Review: On a Ring and a Prayer – Sandra Bricker

Sandra Bricker. On a Ring and a Prayer. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015.

I find it interesting how sometimes I feel like reading dense and dramatic books and other times all I want is the lightest and funniest story that I can find. When I’m in a funny kind of mood, I find myself looking for a book by Sandra Bricker and a few other authors who simply make me giggle. :)

Ms. Bricker’s latest novel, On a Ring and a Prayer, kicks off her new Jessie Stanton series. Jessie Stanton arrives home to discover that her husband has vanished with just about everything, except the items in her closet and the diamond ring on her hand. With the help of a surf-guy private investigator, Danny, and her best friend, Piper, Jessie manages to fit her mansion-sized life into a shoebox apartment. To support herself, Jessie opens a store that makes her high-fashion closet open to girls on a budget. When the truth about her husband becomes apparent, Jessie and her newfound, fashionista friends discover that this new direction in their lives may be the God-given answer to a lifetime of prayer.

Ms. Bricker brings her hilarious storytelling ability to the world of “Christian chick lit” in this fun-filled tale of friendship and renewal. Filled with tons of fashion, laughs, and more coffee than I’ve seen in a lifetime, On a Ring and a Prayer will delight Ms. Bricker’s readers and those looking for an entertaining read.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed On a Ring and a Prayer! The novel marks a return to the style of Ms. Bricker’s Emma Rae Creations series, although set in sunny California and the wild world of fashion. Likewise, the Jessie Stanton series plays on Ms. Bricker’s strengths in developing a great story around a group of friends and colleagues, who continue to grow and learn about themselves and their respective careers throughout multiple novels. Although I’m not typically a fan of stories that involve divorced characters, I felt that Ms. Bricker did an amazing job of handling the novel’s conflict and turning it into a great piece of inspirational fiction. After On a Ring and a Prayer’s cliffhanger ending, I’m very excited to see how she continues Jessie’s story in the upcoming novel, Be My Valentino (August 2015).

At 304 pages, On a Ring and a Prayer feels much shorter in length, due to Ms. Bricker’s rapid-fire humor and quick pacing of her writing style. Fans of her previous novels, especially those in the Emma Rae Creations series, will love this book and the rest of the Jessie Stanton series. Readers of Janice Thompson and similar authors with a focus on humorous Christian fiction will also likely find Ms. Bricker’s novels worth adding to their must-read list.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for the complimentary copy of On a Ring and a Prayer!

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Amazon – On a Ring and A Prayer – On A Ring and A Prayer