Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: THE WIDOW OF SAUNDERS CREEK by Tracey Bateman

When Jarrod Saunders gave his life for his country he left an old abandoned family home to his wife, Corrie. Six months after his funeral, Corrie comes back to live in the remodel-in-progress, hoping that by coming back to the place her husband grew up she can find a little bit of Jarrod to give her comfort. But what she thought she would find — and what she discovers — are not as comforting as she had hoped. In fact, some things are scary enough that she spends more nights on the porch swing than in the upstairs bedroom.
Jarrod's cousin Eli knows the house's history and fears for Corrie's safety — as well as her soul. Corrie's loss and longing make her a prime target for members of Jarrod's (and Eli's) extended family to recruit into their practice of Ozark folk mysticism and Eli feels the need — and a growing desire — to protect her.

Eli knows it's not Jarrod that keeps knocking over his thermos, slamming doors and causing the temperature in the master bedroom to drop; but how can he convince Corrie, who so longs for evidence of her husband's presence, that she's keeping company with something much darker than what she thinks? Especially when Eli himself is busy fighting his attraction to his cousin's grieving widow?
This story is engaging on so many levels that I found it quite hard to put down. It portrays a sweet and lovely romance, but also has moments that are so creepy in their realness that you might want to consider leaving the lights on — for a few hours — after spending time reading this novel.
Corrie senses that even though Eli, a down-to-earth contractor and part-time pastor of a small church, is a compassionate and caring friend, he would warn her off believing that Jarrod is still with her. Therefore, she doesn't confide to him many of her otherworldly experiences in the house. I loved that our hero wasn't the only person to serve Corrie's needs and that, in this delicate way, the author put the right Person (and, yes, that's a capital "p") on the white horse.
I enjoyed the romance of this story every bit as much as I appreciated the demonic details that shivered the dial of my creep-o-meter. And believe me, there were several times that sucker was pegged! My only complaint was the romantic timeline. At the risk of sounding like a scolding granny by harping on the lack of a longer, more traditional mourning period for a soldier's wife, I must admit that every time "six months" or "seven months" was mentioned, it made Corrie and Eli's attraction to each other a little less sympathetic to me as a reader. But I still couldn't help but bite my lip and hope they got together in the end. Since Corrie and Eli were both quite cognizant of the awkwardness of their attraction given the time table and the family ties, however, … I can live with it.
Fresh, compelling, romantic and a little bit scary, The Widow of Saunders Creek is a creepy but well-written contemporary gothic romance. With two fully realized leads, a colorful cast of characters and some surprising activities that might normally be seen as "taboo" for lead characters of a Christian novel to engage in, Bateman proves, to her merit, that the devil truly is in the details.
(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Katie Ganshert's debut novel, WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER takes place in Iowa and features a down-home farm boy as its romantic hero. Being an Iowa farm girl myself, I couldn't resist latching on to Evan for a MY BOOK BOYFRIEND post.

 My Book Boyfriend is an original meme created by Missie atThe Unread Reader. For more information on the guidelines for using this meme on your blog, go to THIS DIRECT LINK.  

Evan Price drives a pick-up truck, lives in an old farmhouse, and listens to country music: of course I had to pick a country singer to play Evan. And I picked Luke Bryan. He's got that down home, farm boy cuteness that says, "Yes, I can be charming when I want to be, but I earned my biceps by pitching manure."

Now I know y'all want the deets on Evan Price, but since I already gave away my signed copy of WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER (to Edgy Inspirational Romance reader Linda Kish -- Congrats, Linda!) I contacted Evan's creator, author Katie Ganshert for the real scoop. Like me, Katie's also an Iowa girl, and, sweet gal that she is, Ms. Ganshert gave me the lowdown on  Evan as a character -- and as a romantic lead. Here's what Katie said:

Brief Physical Description of Evan Price, courtesy of Katie Ganshert:
Evan Price is a little over six feet, with broad shoulders, hazel eyes, and brown hair. He's very casual about his dress and has some nice, defined muscles from all that farmin'. I imagine him to look like a scruffy, hazel-eyed version of Chris Pine. He's incredibly loyal, protective (sometimes to a fault), and hardworking with a sizable stubborn streak. Evan is your classic rock-like character. But he's a sexy rock! He's also a great dancer who knows how to lead a lady on the dance floor.


Katie picked out the following passages from her novel to show why this farm boy hottie is our book boyfriend this week:

"I'm an adult. I don't need to be taken care of."
Evan leaned over the railing, the cold metal stinging his palms. "Everybody needs to be taken care of, Bethany."
"Not me."
Evan glanced at his coat wrapped around her shoulders and smiled. Sure you don't. 

"We can't both lead here." His breath tickled her ear.
"I'm not leading."
"You're not following either."
"That's because I don't want to dance." She stepped on his foot and the heat in her cheeks exploded. "Evan, I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Bethany, it doesn't matter." He pulled her closer. "Because I do."

"You looked"--she motioned to his flannel pajama bottoms and Fruit of the Loom undershirt--"ready for bed."
Evan couldn't help it. The smile he'd attempted to suppress broke through. Bethany was embarrassed about catching him in his pajamas. It was cute. 

"All you ever think about is business."
"And all you ever think about is farming."
"Not true. In fact, tonight I was thinking about a lot of things."
She narrowed her eyes. "Like what?"
"A wife and children, actually."
Crimson spread down her neck and disappeared beneath her jacket.

Before she could heed the logical side of her brain, he opened her door and rested one hand on the roof of her car, the epitome of calm and collected.
He tipped his head, his cheek dimpling with a suppressed grin. "Bethany."
And then they spoke at the same time. 
"To what do I owe this--"
"I need my purse."
He blinked.
Bethany swallowed. "I left it on your kitchen table."
He straightened and backed away. "And here I thought you were coming over to wish me happy birthday."
The lighthearted tone of his voice baffled here. Seriously. Had last night not happened? Has her deluded mind somehow made up the entire almost-kiss scenario? Her eyebrows drew together. He stood there in his sleeveless T-shirt, showing off tanned, rippling biceps she didn't want to notice and looked nothing but amused. 

A special thanks to Katie Ganshert for helping me show why our homeboy Evan Price is such a good catch! Make sure you check out my review of WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER and the results of my stalking expedition when I tracked Katie down at a BOOKS-A-MILLION recently! Then, head over to Missie's blog, The Unread Reader, and see all the delicious picks for this week's MY BOOK BOYFRIEND weekly meme. Thanks for stopping by -- come back often!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: WISH YOU WERE HERE by Beth K. Vogt

It's only a few days until she says "I do," when Allison Denmen realizes she hates every detail of her upcoming wedding. Most of all, she hates the frothy wedding dress that is absolutely not her style. But since Seth's mother accompanied her to the boutique and declared it "the dress" immediately … of course it was as good as bagged. Arguing with a Raynor, at least for Allison, just doesn't happen.
Allison is wearing that very dress – just to see if it's grown on her since it was purchased – when her fiancé's brother shows up at her door.
Daniel Raynor is a good friend – and nothing like his conservative, take-charge younger brother. An adventurous entrepreneur whose resort consulting business allows him to send Allison postcards from all around the world, Daniel drops by to help Allison move some of her boxes to Seth's place. He's always enjoyed Allison's company, but … he didn't intend to kiss his brother's fiancée! And he certainly didn't expect that, in that unguarded moment, she would kiss him back.
But she did.
Of course, it was just a big mistake … wasn't it?
When the wedding day comes, Allison is only steps away from her well-planned forever with Seth, but overcome with guilt – and ill-timed questions about committing to forever with Seth, she can't go through with it. With nothing but the frothy dress on her back, she steals her best friend's car from the church parking lot and becomes a runaway bride.
Seth loves Allison and believes her cold feet can be conquered. When they finally reconnect, however, he discovers that Allison suffers from more than cold feet. Not yet knowing about the kiss, Seth enlists his brother's help in wooing Allison back. Daniel agrees to help. But at what cost to Allison – or himself – will Daniel remain loyal to his brother's plans?
I loved so much about this story. One of my favorite elements was the "postcard" beginning of each chapter. As the story progresses these short messages allow the reader to watch Daniel's feelings for Allison evolve. The postcards start out being addressed to the "kid" he sees only as his little brother's girlfriend, but they become subtly more intimate (while remaining postcard casual) as the story progresses. Through the postcards it's clear that Daniel has grown to care for Allison on a deeper level – but it's just as clear that he hasn't yet acknowledged the change. It's a clever sort of sweetness that really deepens the trueness of this very charming romance – so don't skim over those postcards!
With tenacious subtlety, Beth Vogt drops hints that Allison's attraction to a controlling man (Seth) is rooted much deeper than a surface weakness of character. As it turns out, Allison is not weak – not at all! – but her strength is camouflaged from everyone, especially herself, by the wounds of her past. It's easy to cheer for Allison to overcome her history (and her present entanglements!) as she discovers who she really is (and to whom she should – and should not – relinquish control).
With one blue eye and one green, Daniel Raynor is unique and pretty darn – dare I borrow a term from 1988? – studly. He's a lean, muscular, athletic guy who spends a lot of time on the slopes and even more time avoiding tricky relationships. It doesn't take too long after that ill-timed kiss for Daniel to realize that his brother isn't right for Allison (or that he has feelings for his brother's fiancée!), but he's so set on following "the code" pertaining to another guy's girl that he does everything he can to sabotage himself.
Wish You Were Here is an original take on the "runaway bride" idea and would have been just as enjoyable without the abundance of nods to the Julia Roberts movie. For this reader, the frequency with which characters likened Allison's situation to the movie gave a slight (and entirely unnecessary) taint to the fresh way Vogt brought her story to life. It was, however, a slight taint; although some of the themes are similar and the entertainment value is on par with that fun romcom, Allison is much more human and empathetic than the Roberts character; and I, for one, respected Allison a whole lot more.
Even though there are some snowy Colorado mountain scenes, this fun novel has "beach read" written all over it. I expect it will see a lot of pool time this summer. With equal parts drama and comedy, Beth Vogt's debut romance is as heart-tugging as it is funny and it keeps the reader guessing as to what Allison's Happy Ever After will look like up until the very last scene.
This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's Rating:

Saturday, June 09, 2012


Juliana St. John worries that she is a witch. Her own mother, after all, has proclaimed her as such after a terrible, vivid dream comes true. But when Juliana confesses her experience to a kindly priest, he explains that she is not, in fact, a witch, but that she has been blessed with the gift of prophecy. Shortly thereafter, Sir Thomas Seymour arrives in Marlborough and offers Juliana a position in the household of the woman he loves, Lady Kateryn Parr.
Juliana is quite happy to accept the honor, but fears her secret will be discovered. Her prophetic nightmares, however, are only one of the dangers that she will face by associating with Kateryn Parr. And Sir Thomas isn't the only man who has his eye on Kate — the king does, as well. And King Henry always gets what he wants.
The court of King Henry VIII is a perilous place for one such as Juliana. Rarely in favor of women, the definition of allowable religious practice is constantly changing under his rule — and by his whim. And no one, not even the beautiful and pious Kateryn Parr, is without enemies in his court.
In Kate, Juliana finds a friend with whom she experiences the longed-for mother/daughter relationship she never knew with her own critical mother. But that isn't the only form of love she discovers within King Henry's court. It is there that she meets Jamie Hart, a handsome Irish gentleman determined to win his knighthood.
Jamie is a lovely distraction (for more information, see my My Book Boyfriend post about him!), but when Juliana begins to recognize faces at court that match those in her dreams a sense of urgent fear propels her into danger. Entrusted with information that could ruin — or rescue — that which is most precious to Kateryn Parr, Juliana must decide who is worthy of her trust — and if she will allow one final secret to upend the future she had planned.
The Secret Keeper emulates the fast-paced tension of a great romantic suspense novel but relies entirely upon court intrigue to accomplish that pulse-pounding feat. Anchored by the proper but down-to-earth voice of Juliana St. John, the reader remains lip-bitingly engaged in the story and its characters even through the most mundane activities in which they take part.
Juliana is lovely as a first-person narrator. As a lady-in-waiting to Kateryn Parr, Juliana is privy to some of the most delicate and deadly secrets of court, yet it is her own secrets — the prophetic dreams and visions she has — that most frighten her. As Juliana's inner strength develops, the reader quickly becomes invested in her well-being — and in the romantic HEA Juliana doesn't believe possible after an enemy attacks.
With so many villains to choose from at court, Irish-born gentleman Jamie Hart is an entirely refreshing hero with just enough bad-boy charm to make him irresistible. Although we, along with Juliana, are given cause to doubt his sincerity from time to time, Jamie is, in every sense of the phrase, a true romantic hero.
Fans of To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn will appreciate the brief cameo appearance by that book's protagonist. Like its predecessor, The Secret Keeper illumines roles the royals played in the ebb and flow of the English Reformation Movement, but does so in such a suspenseful, romantic fashion that the reader is every bit as entertained as she is educated.
One of the most interesting ways the author marked the passage of time between To Die For and The Secret Keeper, however, was King Henry himself. Here again Sandra Byrd's skill as an author shines, leaving no doubt in readers' minds as to the power of the king's personal magnetism even as his midsection expands and his leg wound (ew) oozes. But even while aging somewhat ungracefully he is charming — and every bit as mercurial and dangerous in this novel as he was in the last.
I looked for a miss in this book — honest! — but I couldn't find one. And I'd be willing to wager that, come December, The Secret Keeper will find a firm ranking on many bloggers' Best Books of 2012 lists — including mine. The Secret Keeper is simply superb. It grabbed me from the start and never let go.
Even readers who shy away from the well-researched historical will get wrapped up in the Tudor trickery and lovely romance within this story. Byrd's tightly woven plot is laced with ever-splicing threads of intrigue that all but tie the book to your hands. Read it!

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's Rating:

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


My Book Boyfriend is an original meme created by Missie at The Unread Reader. For more information on the guidelines for using this meme on your blog, go to THIS DIRECT LINK 

My Book Boyfriend is:

Today's hero comes from The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, a brand new Tudor romance by Sandra Byrd.
Her first Tudor novel,  To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn made my "best books of 2011" list and I'm sure this one will make the cut for 2012! It is, as you will see in my upcoming review, simply superb.
(And so is it's romantic hero.)

Ahhh, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. He's the sort of guy who walks into a room and all sound stops. He's a warrior, a sailor, an Irish gentleman and, in short, a charming hottie who is part Chris Pine and part Michael Stahl-David (from The Black Donnolleys, a short-lived 2007 TV series I loved.) 
I think he looks a little like this, but in Tudor appropriate attire and a little bit longer hair, of course:

He's a good sort of bad boy. He's a lady's man with his eye on one particular lady -- Juliana -- who doesn't think she's the type to capture any good-looking catch's eye. But... that's her story, not his. So... on with the Jamie-ness!

Juliana describes this dashing Irish gentleman-warrior like this:
“His black hair charmingly tipped up at the ends like ravens’ wings; blue eyes were set in a sun-bronzed face that boasted a scruff that was undecided between a close beard and clean shaven.”

And, baby... that description had me at "hello." In fact, it reminds me a little bit of my own black haired, blue-eyed husband, the dashing Dave, about midsummer, when he thinks he needs a haircut. Although Dave's 2 o'clock shadow (yes, I said 2. He's very manly. Can't make it to 5)also includes a goatee.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out My Book Boyfriend this week. The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr hit bookstores yesterday, so make sure you throw it in your cart so you can see why I think Jamie is such a fantastic leading man.

If you like this meme, hop on over to the The Unread Reader to check out Missie's pick for this week and find links to a bunch of other hunky book boys, too! And please come back to visit us at Edgy Inspirational Romance soon. Later this week I'll post my review of THE SECRET KEEPER: A NOVEL OF KATERYN PARR and you'll get a glimpse into its creation through my upcoming interview with Sandra Byrd.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Review: DAUGHTER OF LIGHT by Morgan L. Busse

Left on the doorstep of a military hero as an infant, Rowen Mar was an outsider until a prolonged illness put her on the brink of death and opened the hearts of her small community. That acceptance is the only comfort when news arrives that her father has died in battle. But her sense of belonging does not last long.
In a moment of danger Rowen experiences a horrifying vision of a violent man's deepest secrets and, with the release of her gift, a strange mark appears on her hand. Labeled a witch, Rowen is exiled from her village with the warning that if she ever returns she will be put to death. As she prepares to leave, an offer of employment in honor of her father's service arrives from Lord Gaynor in the White City. With that destination in mind and a leather swordsman's glove concealing the mark on her hand, Rowen leaves the only home she's ever known.
Captain Lore Palancar finds Rowen to be a quick student as he instructs her in the skills needed to perform her duties as varor (bodyguard) to Lady Astrea, Lord Gaynor's daughter. The more time he spends with her, however, the more his estimation of her ability and his attraction to her beauty grow. Rowen may have erected invisible guards around her own heart, but she has unknowingly worked her way into his.
As Rowen discovers the origins of her power and learns both the wonderful and horrible aspects of her gift, the emotional and physical agony she experiences through the simple act of touching another person with her mark makes her wary of becoming close to anyone — and resentful of that necessary wariness. She closes herself off to friendship, worried of what might happen if she gets too close to someone.
Meanwhile, an unearthly evil has taken hold in far-off Thyra, and a lone scribe from the monastery has escaped with instructions to go to the White City to seek help from powerful, legendary beings that may not still exist in the world. As she nears her destination, so does Caleb Tala, a deadly assassin with a particular target in mind — and an army bent on conquering the White City and all who dwell therein.
As the paths of these characters converge Rowen must decide if she can bear the agony of bringing what is hidden in darkness into the light — or if she will neglect the use of her gift and let all she's come to love be destroyed.
It is a frequent lament of Christian speculative fiction authors that most inspy publishers aren't all that friendly toward epic fantasy. This unfortunate slight, however, leaves the door wide open for a young publishing house such Jeff Gerke's Marcher Lord Press to skim the very creamiest cream from the speculative fiction crop; and he has found a rich dollop of that cream in Morgan L. Busse's Daughter of Light.
This novel is fast-paced with unique, visual characters placed within a fresh fantasy world. I love Rowen Mar as a heroine. She is hard-headed, likable, wounded and determined enough to engage sympathy while being unpredictable enough to keep the reader guessing. I also adore Captain Lore. He is handsome, moral, intelligent and … available. He's exactly the sort of wise, older man Rowen needs in her life. But there's another guy in her dreams and … he's trouble. And who doesn't like trouble?
OK, so I have a slightly dangerous fascination with bad boys. Sue me. But I must admit that I really, really loved Caleb — and he fully deserves the "bad boy" title. Here's why:
Caleb Tala is dark, sneaky, handsome — and an unrepentant killer of many. A casual pleasure seeker, Caleb is an entirely self-centered, greedy guy who just happens to have a mysterious, prophetic word spoken to him by one of his victims: "You are not who you think you are." Yes, it creeps him out a bit, but … he kills him anyway. See? Bad boy.
All signs point to Caleb being the lead character of the next novel in this series and I'm holding out hope that he has a romantic future with a certain scribe (who may or may not have survived this book) in the next novel. So … I hope she makes it. The epic nature of the story leaves several subplots unresolved, and I'm excited to see how Busse will drive those storylines through the rest of her series.
With a subtle nod or two to Tolkien, Busse's skill at world building will please fans of general market fantasy while those who enjoy inspirational content will appreciate the artful way the author employs Christian themes within the story.
With plenty of romance and the promise of more to come as the series continues, Morgan L. Busse's Daughter of Light series will be a great addition to the spare list of titles attempting to fill a gaping hole in the inspirational market. A rousing romantic adventure that engages the imagination and the heart, Daughter of Light will delight and refresh epic fantasy fans who've found little fodder for their literary appetites within bigger-housed publishers' inspirational fiction lists.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's Rating:


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