Monday, January 28, 2013

Recommended! The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

THE FAIREST BEAUTY by Melanie Dickerson
I love this beautiful cover!

What it's about (condensed from publisher Zondervan): Sophie has long wished to get away from her stepmother's jealous anger and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be her chance at freedom — but can she trust another person to keep her safe? 

Gabe defied his parents by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the orphan girl has stolen his heart. Though romance is impossible — she is his brother's future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else — he promises he will keep her safe, no matter what. When the pair is forced to run to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help — but their feelings for each other have grown. Can they protect Sophie while also safeguarding their hearts? 

Why you should read it: I adore how Melanie Dickerson reinvents a popular tale and makes it accessible even to readers who don't care for the magical elements typically found within classic fairy tales. In The Healer's Apprentice she retold Sleeping Beauty. The Merchant's Daughter brought readers a fresh vision of Beauty and the Beast. With the new release of The Fairest Beauty, Dickerson builds a believable world — and ups the romance factor! — of Snow White and imbues each character with a deepening faith that informs their necessary growth. With a steady heartbeat of romance pumping throughout the story, this is my favorite Dickerson tale yet!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

BEWARE OF ROMANCE NOVELS! (please note the sarcasm)

Over the past couple of years I've been troubled by the negative press and response romance fiction (including Christian romance) has received, specifically in the Christian community and sometimes even from the leadership of my own church. Joy and I have both commented on this controversy in the past, venting, as it were, our frustration and ire in response to the sometimes outlandish and even offensive claims made by those who oppose romantic fiction; claims that imply women aren't smart enough to tell the difference between reality and a character in a story.


But that would be like me saying that everyone who touts that belief is a Neanderthal, wouldn't it? But, of course I wouldn't be so closed-minded and prejudicial as that.  Would I?

Heh, heh. heh.

Perhaps that frustration is what led me to pose some of those questions (and more!) to nine diverse authors in a 5-part feature article for USA Today's Happy Ever After blog. 

Part 3 of this feature speaks specifically to the touchy subject above, but I think, as romance readers, you will appreciate the entire series.

CLICK HERE for Part 1

CLICK HERE for Part 2

CLICK HERE for Part 3 (linked also above)

CLICK HERE for Part 4

CLICK HERE for Part 5

Please forgive me for shamelessly promoting my work at HEA -- I believe this is a very important discussion and I hope you will join in. So hop on over to USA Today's HEA blog and see what some of our fave authors of Edgy Inspirational Romance (like Tamara Leigh, Lisa T. Bergren, Rachel Hauck, Kathy Tyers, & Sharon Hinck) as well as some great mainstream romance and YA authors (like Shannon Hale, Anne Browning Walker, Lizbeth Selvig, and Sharon Cameron) have to say in response to these ideas... and more!
Image credit: <a href=''>redkoala / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Image credit: <a href=''>refat / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: TO WHISPER HER NAME by Tamera Alexander

What it's about (from publisher Zondervan):

Olivia Aberdeen, destitute widow of a man shot as a traitor to the South, is shunned by proper society and gratefully accepts an invitation from "Aunt" Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation. Expecting to be the Hardings' head housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned when she learns the real reason Elizabeth's husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Not finding the safe haven she expects, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a Southern man who seems anything but a Southern gentleman.
Branded a traitor by some, Ridley Cooper, a Southern son who chose to fight for the Union, is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him. Determined to learn "the gift" that Belle Meade's head horse trainer and former slave, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley harbors secrets that threaten both their lives.
As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for "betraying" the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again.
Set at Nashville's historic Belle Meade Plantation, the most influential thoroughbred stud farm in America's history, To Whisper Her Name weaves the struggles of real people of the post-war South with the journeys of a man and a woman scarred by betrayal.
Why you should read it: Already a USA TODAY best seller, this novel draws a fresh thread in this author's historical fiction tapestry. Tamera Alexander's painstaking research into the people, places and times of which she writes is evident on every page and she depicts the famous residents of post-bellum Nashville with great detail and even greater affection.
Flitting among famous Southerners, Alexander's fictional protagonists are endearing and their romance sweet — with just the right amount of heat in their attraction. Both Ridley and Olivia grow in character over the course of the novel and readers will delight in seeing this Southern-bred Yankee and his Nashville belle reach their Happy Ever After.
Tidbit: Both Belle Meade Plantation (the setting for To Whisper Her Name) and Belmont Mansion (featured in last year's A Lasting Impression (see my HEA review) are open for tours. As a former Nashvillian (and graduate of Belmont University, where Belmont Mansion is located) I promise those tours are well worth the admission price if your travels should take you to Tennessee.

(This review first appeared at USA Today's Happy Ever After blog)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Review: THE TROUBLE WITH COWBOYS by Denise Hunter

What it's about (condensed from publisher Thomas Nelson's description):
Annie Wilkerson is Moose Creek's premier horse trainer and equine columnist for Montana Living. When Annie's column is canceled, she's given first shot at a new lovelorn column — and she can't afford to turn it down. Only problem is … Annie's never been in love.
Always resourceful, she reluctantly strikes a deal with the town's smooth-talking ladies' man, Dylan Taylor: She'll work with his ailing horse, Braveheart, if he'll help her answer the reader letters.
Working closely with Dylan is harder than Annie imagined, but her unwavering conviction that cowboys are nothing but trouble has kept her heart safe for years. And she can't risk getting hurt now.
The trouble with this cowboy is that he might just be exactly what she needs.
Why you should read it: Jane Austen fans will appreciate the subtle yet delightful Austen vibe that flavors this contemporary cowboy romance — and not just becausePride & Prejudice is protagonist Annie's favorite book.
Dylan is a tad bit Knightley (from Austen's Emma) and a smidge Darcy (P&P) with just enough Wickham (P&P) to make him interesting. Dylan is a flirt and a friend, but when he finally proclaims his feelings, he does so most ardently. *wink*
Annie's distrust of cowboys, her desire to protect her possibly straying younger sister, and her dealings with a suitor who, while not entirely without merit, leaves a bit of a "Lady Catherine de Bourgh meets Mr. Elton" taste in your mouth, is all very Jane. And I'd be remiss if I didn't give a little shout-out to the eccentric and wise Miss Lucy who, along with her dolls, makes a few cameo appearances to remind series fans that this dotty old lady's inherent goodness is tempered with an equal share of the ridiculous.
The Trouble with Cowboys is a fast, fun and touching read with the added draw of a first kiss that made my Top 5 Most Memorable (Fictional) Kisses of 2012 and I recently gave it as a gift to a friend in need of a fun romance read... and couldn't help but mention that kiss. So saddle up, ladies: We have a winner!
(Other than a few minor changes, the above first appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Top 12 of '12--The Inspy Romance Year in Review


2012 was a year of awesome books. In fact, many of my fave authors released more than one awesome book. Even some debut authors released more than one! Considering the volume of books I read this past year due to my dual reviewing gigs here and over at USA Today's Happy Ever After blog, you can imagine how difficult it was to narrow down my favorites of Edgy Inspy Romance in 2012! I've listed historical titles & contemporary, fantasy & mystery, and YA & adult. And because this list is so diverse, I've decided against putting them in any particular order. Instead, I'll just give you the book cover and blurb, a link to my review (if available!) and you can decide for yourself where you think I'd rank them! (click on the title of the book to purchase from

After being inexplicably targeted by an evil intent on harming her at any cost, seventeen-year-old Nikki finds herself under the watchful guardianship of three mysterious young men who call themselves halflings. Sworn to defend her, misfits Mace, Raven, and Vine battle to keep Nikki safe while hiding their deepest secret---and the wings that come with. A growing attraction between Nikki and two of her protectors presents a whole other danger. While she risks a broken heart, Mace and Raven could lose everything, including their souls. As the mysteries behind the boys' powers, as well as her role in a scientist's dark plan, unfold, Nikki is faced with choices that will affect the future of an entire race of heavenly beings, as well as the precarious equilibrium of the earthly world. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

A time to live. A time to die. A time to dream.

Sleep disorders specialist Kennedy Plain has been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. When her research subject dies after trying to convince her he has achieved dream-induced time travel and her study is shelved, she enlists herself as a subject to complete her research. But when she dreams herself into 14th-century England and falls into the hands of Fulke Wynland, a man history has condemned as a murderer, she must not only stay alive long enough to find a way to return to her own time, but prevent Fulke from murdering his young nephews. And yet, the more time she spends with the medieval warrior, the more difficult it is to believe he is capable of committing the heinous crime for which he has been reviled for 600 years.

Baron Fulke Wynland has been granted guardianship of his brother’s heirs despite suspicions that he seeks to steal their inheritance. When the king sends a mysterious woman to care for the boys, Fulke is surprised by the lady's hostility toward him--and more surprised to learn she is to be his wife. But when his nephews are abducted, the two must overcome their mutual dislike to discover the boys' fate. What Fulke never expects is to feel for this woman whose peculiar speech, behavior, and talk of dream travel could see her burned as a witch. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW

Rowen Mar finds a strange mark on her hand, and she is banished from her village as a witch. She covers the mark with a leather glove and seeks sanctuary in the White City. She lives in fear that if she touches another person, the power inside her will trigger again, a terrifying power that allows her to see the darkness inside the human heart . . . 

But the mark is a summons, and those called cannot hide forever. For the salvation of her people lies within her hand. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

Renaissance is a word with hope infused in every letter.
Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy, and being able to finally step into the place captured in a picture at her grandmother’s house. But after her grandmother passes away and it falls to her less-than-reliable father to take her instead, Meg’s long-anticipated travel plans seem permanently on hold.
When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. But when Meg arrives in Florence, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving aspiring memoir-writer Sophia Borelli to introduce Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims to be one of the last surviving members of the Medici family and that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.
When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives will be indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be? CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

Tessa Lancaster worked for her uncle in the Japanese mafia until she was sent to prison for a murder she didn't commit. Now, after finding God behind bars, she takes odd jobs as a bodyguard to keep her distance from the family business. In A Dangerous Stage, the second book in Camy Tang's Protection for Hire series, Tessa gets caught up in the web of lies surrounding a shady singing competition. Hired by one of the contestants, she works with Charles Britton---the lawyer who sent her to prison---to discover the dark figures manipulating the contest from behind the scenes. Tessa's abilities will be tested like never before as she's forced to balance the safety of her client's family and her deepening relationship with Charles. In the midst of the chaos, she holds on to her faith to keep her safe and bring down the shadowy organization. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

The author of To Die For returns to the court of Henry VIII as a young woman is caught between love and honor.  

Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight. Though her family wants her to marry the son of her father's business partner, circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his last wife, Kateryn Parr.
     Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle of the current heir, Prince Edward, returns to Wiltshire to tie up his concerns with Juliana's father's estate and sees instantly that Juliana would fit into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother agrees to have her placed in Parr's household for "finishing" and Juliana goes, though perhaps reluctantly. 
     For she knows a secret. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king's daughter, the lady Elizabeth, to perilous consequence.
    As Juliana learns the secrets of King Henry VIII's court, she faces threats and opposition, learning truths about her own life that will undo everything she holds dear. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

Morgan Spencer has had just about all he can take of life. Following the tragic death of his wife, Jill, he retreats to his brother's Rocky Mountain ranch to heal and focus on the care of his infant daughter, Olivia. Two years later, Morgan begins to make plans to return to his home in Santa Barbara to pick up the pieces of his life and career.

Quinn Riley has been avoiding her past for four years. Standing up for the truth has forced her into a life of fear and isolation. After a "chance" first meeting and a Thanksgiving snowstorm, Quinn is drawn into the Spencer family's warm and loving world, and she begins to believe she might find freedom in their friendship.

The man Quinn helped put behind bars has recently been released, however, and she fears her past will endanger the entire Spencer family. As the danger heightens, she determines to leave town for the sake of the people who have come to mean so much to her.

Fixing problems is what Morgan Spencer does best, and he is not willing to let Quinn run away, possibly into the clutches of a man bent on revenge. But Morgan's solution sends him and Quinn on an unexpected path, with repercussions neither could have anticipated. CLICK FOR MY INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR!

12th century England: Two men vie for the throne: King Stephen the usurper and young Duke Henry the rightful heir. Amid civil and private wars, alliances are forged, loyalties are betrayed, families are divided, and marriages are made.

For four years, Lady Annyn Bretanne has trained at arms with one end in mind—to avenge her brother’s murder as God has not deemed it worthy to do. Disguised as a squire, she sets off to exact revenge on a man known only by his surname, Wulfrith. But when she holds his fate in her hands, her will wavers and her heart whispers that her enemy may not be an enemy after all.

Baron Wulfrith, renowned trainer of knights, allows no women within his walls for the distraction they breed. What he never expects is that the impetuous young man sent to train under him is a woman who seeks his death—nor that her unveiling will test his faith and distract the warrior from his purpose. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW! click for My Book Boyfriend, Garr Wulfrith!

Detective Kristen Conner goes undercover to find a serial killer who selects his victims - all successful young professional women - in the most unlikely of places - only to find herself as his next favorite target.

When Leslie Reed is found dead in her fashionable townhome, a red flag goes up in Washington, D.C. The FBI knows an elusive "organized killer" on a decade-long crime spree is at work again.  The problem is the Feds have only one tenuous lead to assist local police in the manhunt ... a most unlikely place the killer likes to find his victims.

Conner is light one her feet and packs a powerful punch - growing up in a cop's home, intense hand-to-hand combat training, and not being able to shoot a handgun straight - all encourage that. Her life is built on faith and family: she coaches her 7-year-old niece's soccer team, the Snowflakes, always shows up hungry for family dinner, and only misses church when she is fighting with her mom and glamorous TV news reporter sister - or relentlessly tracking down a ruthless killer.

Kristen is a good cop but she's never faced an adversary like the man the alternative press has dubbed the Cutter Shark.  From the opening chase scene that leads her to a back alley where a punk with a knife awaits her, to the climactic scene where she goes one-on-one with the hauntingly familiar man who is killing innocent women in her town, Cuts Like a Knife, is loaded with action, humor, a dash of romance, and wry introspection through the voice of its irrepressible lead character. CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

The River of Time Series--a Top Pick for over 20 YA book bloggers (includidng yours truly!) in 2011! If you like romance, adventure and a dose of medieval Italian culture, you'll love WATERFALL (book 1), CASCADE (book 2) and TORRENT (book 3).

BOURNE, a novella (1/3 the length of a normal novel), picks up right where TORRENT left off...Find out what has happened to men returning from the battle, gravely wounded, to the Betarrinis, fighting for the men they love, and just who is hunting them next... CLICK FOR MY REVIEW!

Just a girl. The only one strong enough to break the cycle.

In Depression-era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds longs to escape the madness that marks her world. With an abusive father and a "nothing mama," she struggles to find a place where she really belongs.

For answers, Millie turns to the Gypsies who caravan through town each spring. The travelers lead Millie to a key that unlocks generations of shocking family secrets. When tragedy strikes, the mysterious contents of the box give Millie the tools she needs to break her family's longstanding cycle of madness and abuse. 

Through it all, Millie experiences the thrill of first love while fighting to trust the God she believes has abandoned her. With the power of forgiveness, can Millie finally make her way into the free?

Saturated in Southern ambiance and written in the vein of other Southern literary bestsellers like The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, Julie Cantrell has created in Into the Free—now a New York Times Best Seller—a story that will sweep you away long after the novel ends.

A grief that knows no boundary. 
A love without any limit. 
A need that doesn’t end at death. 
Corrie Saunders grew up in a life of privilege. But she gave it all up for Jarrod, her Army husband, a man she knew was a hero when she vowed to spend her life with him. She just didn’t expect her hero to sacrifice his life taking on an Iraqi suicide bomber.  
Six months after Jarrod’s death, Corrie retreats to the family home her husband inherited deep in the Missouri Ozarks. She doesn’t know how to live without Jarrod—she doesn’t want to. By moving to Saunders Creek and living in a house beloved by him, she hopes that somehow her Jarrod will come back to her. 
Something about the house suggests maybe he has. Corrie begins to wonder if she can feel Jarrod’s presence. 
Jarrod’s cousin Eli is helping Corrie with the house’s restoration and he knows that his dead cousin is not what Corrie senses. Eli, as a believing man and at odds with his mystically-oriented family members, thinks friendly visits from beyond are hogwash.  But he takes spirits with dark intentions seriously. Can he convince Corrie that letting go of Jarrod will lead to finding her footing again— and to the One she can truly put her faith into?

STAY TUNED... BECAUSE FROM WHAT I'VE SEEN SO FAR, 2013 IS GOING TO BE ANOTHER AWESOME YEAR IN EDGY INSPIRATIONAL ROMANCE RELEASES! Blessings to you and yours for a prosperous 2013 full of love, reading, & romance! 

Image credit: <a href=''>dmytro121287 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


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