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Love's Sacred Song ( Book #2): A Novel

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Well, this book was a long one, but beautifully written to the point that it captured my heart and I spent two solid days reading it until I finished. It had everything I love to read in a book. Deep truths about faith and God's love, intense emotion and intrigue, and people shown as flawed, but redeemable because they are loved by a Holy God who only wants to claim their hearts and devotion. That was well portrayed in this book. It made me think more deeply about God's ways not being our ways and how He uses willing vessels to accomplish His perfect will, even though it often hurts.Real love is not without pain. There were many beautiful illustrations of this fact in Love's Sacred Song. I loved how Arielah exemplified Christ's love in many ways. I was riveted by her devotion to Solomon despite everything, but at the same time saw it as real and painful and not painted to be perfect and easy as is often the case. And in some crazy way, this story helped me to see that while having a ton of wives was never God's will, that He blessed Solomon despite it, and at the same time it was Solomon's downfall. I loved how Arielah's love was shown as being so pure and intense that it often broke Solomon's heart because he felt so unworthy of her. Just like Christ's love overwhelms us to the point of repentance.This was a deep and profoundly beautiful story that gave me a greater appreciation for the Old Testament because it helped shine a light on God's plan and setting the stage for the Messiah. I loved this book and was emotionally moved by it on many occasions. It's making my favorite fiction list for 2012. Well done!
The Lady of the Rivers: A Novel

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I couldn't stop reading this book and picked it up every chance I could get until I finished it. It's a bit long, but worth it. In fact, when the story ended I had hoped to read more. That's good writing. Now I want to read the next book, but I do have the non-fiction book, The Women of the Cousin's War, so I think I'll indulge in that a bit while waiting. There is just something about Gregory's writing that draws me every time. It feels so real that I forget I'm reading. She brings her characters to life. The Lady of the Rivers was full of action, very interesting, incredibly romantic, and kept my interest throughout. The author showed the horrors of war, and the sometimes agonizing service of noblemen for a troubled royal family and their kingdom very well. Sometimes with historical fiction it feels like the author is informing the reader about history, but with Gregory's characters, she brings history to life.I loved that Gregory showed the whole witchcraft thing not as something Jacquetta embraced, but avoided whenever possible. In fact, Jacquetta didn't want to have anything to do with it, but she had this gift as a descendant of Melusina. She had a gift that often foretold sad and tragic things. I was impressed that she resisted as much as she did considering it seemed like many times her foretelling came to pass, so most people would want to know more. But she was a loyal and faithful wife and mother who wanted the best for her family. That didn't include jeopardizing their well-being over some things that could brand her as a witch. And the way people were in those days, she was smart to tread very carefully around the subject. I had to admire her and her husband's loyalty for so long to a queen bent on vengeance. How sad that so many people died for one woman's need for revenge. I thought it was cool how this story tied in a bit with The Red Queen, which I read a few years ago. I recalled some of the battles and the shifting loyalties from that title. This story began with Jacquetta getting to know Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake and another woman who was intelligent and trying to educate herself, but misunderstood. Jacquetta was a smart and resourceful woman (and VERY fertile) and she was a real asset to the Lancaster throne. I found the subplot with the queen and the Duke of Somerset quite enthralling. When the king fell ill after being shocked by what he saw, I became wrapped up in the intrigue. Would he wake, and when he did, what would happen? Did Jacquetta's intervention cause his sleep. She was so worried that she had somehow caused it. I understood the queen's loneliness as well as Jacquetta's before Richard won her heart and they married. The author did a great job with creating empathy for the characters.The best part of the book was probably the love story between Richard and his wife, Jacquetta, who married for love, but at a great risk. I enjoyed the parts of the story where she looked for him after different battles and how she waiting fitfully for his safe return. When they ran to meet each other each time it was sigh-worthy. There were good marriages even in the middle ages. The fact that they had fourteen children was proof of that. I could go on and on about this book, but bottom line is the story was so compelling and interesting that it's making my best fiction list for 2011 because it made me think and feel a connection to the characters that I won't soon forget.
Into the Free: A Novel

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Into the Free was an intense story, but I loved it and was pulled into the story and the characters' lives. The portrayal of their hardship was very realistic in that many abused children feel exactly the same way that Millie did. I appreciated that because so often people don't understand that abused children get a bit freaked out by loving families. Having worked with foster children for almost two decades, I saw this scenario often. Those same children are also very loyal to their own families, twisted as they might be. They are always waiting for the other ball to drop and to be hurt again. Too often that is exactly what happens. And they are drawn to the dark, dangerous types of boys. Many of those men start out amazing but once a girl is in a relationship with them, they are trapped. I felt really bad for the gypsy boy, River, because I do believe he sincerely loved Millie, but one never knows where that intense emotional stuff will lead, good or bad. In fact, her life often reflected the savagery of the dog that ate her own pups. I loved that metaphor and many of the other metaphors used in the story.At any rate, I adored this author's voice, and the way she wasn't afraid to show the ugliness of life in all of it's authenticity, including how people perceive things who have been wounded. Faith isn't about dressing up on Sunday and sitting nicely in a pew. Not all Christians are white, though southern preachers in those days very well may have tried to present it that way. I agreed with Millie when it came to the hypocrisy she saw. I don't think God cares about that. What He wants is our hearts and He will use everything and anything to bring us to Him. This story showed that well. It also showed strength and determination from a girl only used to seeing passivity, weakness, and neglect. Unfortunately, many women think they must stay and bear the brunt of the man's abuse. The strongest thing Millie's mom ever did was not to take him back after that last time where he nearly killed her. I understood the rage Millie felt toward her mom's depression. So well done!The Sloth character was great, but I also found it a bit disconcerting how she "saw" him even after she died. Then again, I can see a wounded child like Millie looking for comfort and security anywhere, even if she imagines it and believes it is real. When Sloth passed, she lost her best friend and the one person who seemed to care about her. The story was sad, but empowering at the same time. I like deep reads like this because they make me think about life, faith, and real love. I find survivor stories empowering. I didn't feel like anything was over-the-top. In real life, God doesn't always intervene. Most of the time, He doesn't. But He holds us when we hurt and carries us through. This story shows how anyone can survive and change the direction of their life. Even the most wounded people can still find God. There were many nuggets of truth in this novel that were an integral part of Millie's coming of age and her faith journey. I can see this book as a classic and I think it would make a great movie! Anyway, it's making my favorites list. It's fantastic!
Forbidden

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Well... this was one interesting story. I've read Dekker by himself, then Dekker and Healy, and now Dekker and Tosca Lee (whose writing I adore!) I can see bits an pieces of the feminine perspective in this story. The imagery surrounding love was pretty profound. Better to have loved and truly live, then to merely exist. That was a big part of the story. It made me also think of the scripture where it says Jesus came to give us life, and not just life, but abundant life. That symbolism is clearly in the story. I loved that. While a bit violent in several parts (I'm a wuss when it comes to gore as I have a very visual mind,) the passion in this novel shines through and overtakes the darkness. Passion is part of life, and with it comes not only joy, but pain. Rom's extreme grief was very well done, as was his anger at "The Maker" for allowing him experience love so profoundly only to feel like his heart had been cut out from the intense loss of that object of his affection, Avra. I found the symbolism with Feyn quite profound, too. The slow dying of a person's heart back into death is symbolic of those who forget who saved them and thus allowed their hearts to grow cold. But the sacrificial lamb in this book was a powerful message, because she remembered that love... enough to give everything for it. So deep and heartfelt! I loved that about the story. I loved the characters' discovery of love for the first time. It was precious to them, as it should be to us. There was some similarity regarding betrayal and the reasons behind it (like with Judas in the Bible) that I also found quite thought-provoking. Great imagery there as well. All in all this was a great book. Some parts seemed futuristic, and some seemed like a shadow of the past. It also had a bit of a dystopian feel to it. I am looking forward to the next book when it releases in 2012.
The Merchant's Daughter

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The Merchant's Daughter was a compelling read that had a creative twist on the infamous fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. I fell in love with the characters. The intro of the family situation that led to her being an indentured servant was a bit tedious, but once she entered the service of Lord Ranulf, the pacing picked up and I was enthralled with the story until I finished the last page. I read this novel quickly, but not because it was a simple story. I loved the depth of emotion and the character arc. I wanted to smack bailiff Tom for being such a slimy jerk and for causing so much trouble for everyone. I felt Annabelle's frustration as she could not do much about it without causing more difficulty for herself and others. Thankfully Lord Ranulf was a decent man who protected his servants.I felt Lord Ranulf's pain from his past and loved when the author placed the reader in his point of view. I enjoyed watching him go from gruff and defensive, to softening as she read the Holy Writ to him. Once again, Melanie Dickerson shows the reader how beautiful a person's tender spirit is, and how that can soften even the hardest of hearts. Annabelle wasn't just comely on the outside, which, as she said, caused her more trouble than anything else. Lord Ranulf wanted to judge her as shallow because she was beautiful, but he learned that for some women beauty is truly more than skin deep. Annabelle was a wonderful heroine with a precious personality. She wasn't a wimp, though. She was a fighter, but she did everything with dignity. She exemplified a beautiful spirit as her faith grew from reading the Bible. She protected those she loved.My heart was gladdened when Annabelle realized that she had feelings of love for Lord Ranulf, and they were good rather than something to be afraid of. I thought that was well done. I loved how they both concluded that they must tell the truth. I didn't feel like the communication was contrived at all, nor did their relationship feel forced. It developed naturally and in a way that made my heart warm. And those kisses were well worth the wait! This would be a great book for teens to show them that beauty isn't recognized by a good man through flirting or enticing ways, but depth of spirit and character. A soft spoken woman with honor and integrity will attract a good man more than any of the things the world says will draw the attention of men--at least not the kind of attention most woman want--which is the kind resulting in love. This story does a great job of illustrating true beauty. Loved this novel!
When the Smoke Clears (Deadly Reunions Book #1): A Novel

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What a fantastic Romantic Suspense novel! Not only was it packed with romantic tension, but there were twists and turns all through the book. The hero was yummy and the way he related to Alexia was endearing. Gotta love a man who wants to keep his woman safe, right? One thing I loved most about this story was that I didn't know who was behind the killings, and at the same time I love that there will be another book in the series that ties with this one. Talk about leaving a trail of red herrings and leading the reader on a bit of a goose chase! Great job there. And the fact that Alexia even looked guilty herself on a number of occasions was sheer brilliance. The ending left me a bit speechless, but I like that, too. There were many characters in the story I could relate to because the author made them feel so human. I understood Alexia's disillusionment with life based on her childhood pain, and Chad's issues regarding rejection based on his divorce. I loved how God put so many people in her path to reach out to her until her heart softened on a spiritual level. That aspect of the story was very well done and felt natural. I can't understand the extreme hatred her father had toward her, but maybe that will be revealed a bit more later. There is certainly potential to explore that more in future installments. The romantic elements in this story were particularly yummy. I loved that there were several kissing scenes and various romantic situations. The best part was it didn't all happen at the end. Hunter played a big role in Alexia's healing, and that part of their relationship certainly helped her learn to trust a man, and one man in particular. I was feeling the love and the heat between them, but it never scorched me in a negative way. It was a warm experience for me as a reader. (Just using a bit of firefighter lingo to fit with the theme.) Anyway, I really enjoyed this story!
Dry as Rain

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Dry as Rain is not only a great title, but an incredible story of redemption and discovering what is truly important in life. Money won't keep you warm at night or hold your hand when you are old. Just like in real life, the author doesn't make it easy on the characters when their lives unravel. I've read a number of great books this year on the subject of infidelity and found this one to be better than most for a number of reasons. First, I loved how the author wrote the entire story from the male point of view even though the author is a woman. I thought she did a great job with first person point of view. Eric's internal dialog rang true to me. For the duration of the novel, I felt like I was Eric. I really empathized with Eric on a number of issues. He'd dug himself a pretty big hole with a few dumb decisions that cost him dearly, and he couldn't take the consequences back for a do-over. Who wouldn't want their wife to forget the bad stuff from their past when an opportunity to have their heart's desire--intimacy with the person who hate been hateful toward them--presented itself? The guilt he experienced was plenty of punishment, and typically the anguish a person can inflict on himself from guilt is often worse than what the spouse can dish out anyway. While it's not an excuse, as is true in most affairs, one person strays because the other has grown cold toward them. It usually starts out with something as innocent as an e-mail. Most of the people I know who have had infidelity in their marriage said it started the same way. It's a sorry substitute to feel valued and attractive by someone other than your life-mate, which Eric soon discovered after he got a taste of what he thought he wanted. He learned the hard way that he'd sacrificed his family to earn more money, which caused his wife to resent him and grow distant. So many men do that when what their family really wants is not a bigger house, but a dad and husband who spends time with them. I have never understood how women can become such witches when they have been cheated on, but I found the portrayal in this novel totally believable because I've known many women who acted just like Kyra did. Their anger and hurt just makes them look ugly and bitter, rather than attractive and someone desirable to the person who cheated. So in my opinion, Eric was a saint to be patient with her. I know he's the one who did wrong, but how many times does someone need to be yelled at and reminded of what they did wrong over and over again? He was truly sorry for what he did. He realized his mistake and had no desire to repeat it. Bitterness just hurts the person who is bitter about things, and Kyra was a great example of that. Sure she had the right to be angry, but she hurt herself more than she hurt Eric. At any rate, I loved how the story played out and how Eric learned to be honest with himself and others over time. I loved how his priorities changed and how he decided to never give up regardless of what he faced every day. Most of all, I loved how God took an ugly situation and turned it around so it was used for the good. Great story with a convincing spiritual arc too. This is a powerful novel that is definitely making my top fiction list for 2011.
The Unlikely Wife

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Well, I've found my first "favorite" book for 2012! This story was fantastic! It warmed my heart and thrilled that emotional part of me that enjoys a smoking romance. I love mail-order-bride types of stories anyway, but this one was better than most. There were so many heart-warming moments that I lost count. There were also great references to the scriptures and to what marriage should be like. I felt inspiration for my own marriage, and that doesn't happen with Love Inspired novels (sorry, but it's true.) I tend to love historical fiction, but not LI fiction, yet this story made me want to read more in this genre. In fact, I think this is my favorite LI novel ever. The plot and pacing were excellent, the story was full of great tension and believable emotion, and the hero and heroine shared the yummiest kisses I've ever read in a LI book. My heart melted every time they kissed. I felt the love and was inspired by it. Seriously!Bottom line...Debra Ullrick outdid herself on this one. And I loved the fact that I also got to see Rainee and Haydon again from the first book, The Unexpected Bride. I enjoyed that story, too, but I absolutely adored this one. Selena was the most unique and lovable heroine that I've read in a long time. I fell in love with Michael as he fell in love with Selena. I really can't believe how good this book was... but then again, I can. Debra is a talented writer and this story should be on everyone's must-read list for 2012. If you love heart-warming historical romances that contain strong spiritual threads and great romantic tension (and if you don't mind shedding a tear or two, or three or four) then you'll love this book. I guarantee it!
Prize of My Heart

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Prize of My Heart was deeper and most touching than I expected. I have always been a softy when it comes to stories about orphans and people finding families where they feel like they truly belong. This story was emotionally engaging on so many levels. The romance was sweet, but tender and not at all fluffy. The heroine was a strong woman who loved deeply. She won me over and I could see how she softened Brogan's heart. I also felt crushed when he felt crushed. At the same time, I totally saw what she was trying to help him see, and thankfully, he listened and took it to heart. He was still hurt but saw beyond his pain. I loved that. I can't stand it when people declare to love people deeply, but then in their hurt they hurt the person they love more than they show that they love them. This story didn't do that, so it moved my heart. The ending was wonderful, too. The author's writing was beautiful and touching. This story shed light on forgiveness and what it truly means to let go of the past. It also shows how God wants to free us from hurt and resentment so we can enjoy His will and His plan for our lives. What an encouraging story! Loved it! It's making my favorites list for 2012.
Damaged: A Violated Trust

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I couldn't pull myself away from this story until I finished the book. Yeah, I read it straight through. I love this entire "Secrets" series by NavPress's TH1NK imprint. And frankly, out of all of the Melody Carlson YA books that I've read so far, I like this one the best. I know I also said that about Shattered, and Never Been Kissed so far this year, and about several of the author's YA books last year, but they were all good for different reasons. Damaged was a realistic and empowering novel for victims, and it gives readers a sense of hope and healing at its conclusion. That is an invaluable benefit of reading fiction, and from reading this book in particular. The potential positive impact on youth and even their parents, is enormous. We need more books like this for teens. The bottom line is this book really touched my heart. Maybe because it felt so real-life to me. The character's thoughts weren't toned down to fit what Christians think their response should be. The author pulls you deeper and deeper into the mindset of Haley and how she sees the world. That invincible, "I'm different" mindset that is so common with girls today was perfectly illustrated here. I don't think there can ever be enough books about this subject for teens. So many girls get pulled into situations like this without realizing it. With the naivete that many young girls have regarding a sweet talking teen boy's intentions, this could be eye opening for them. If nothing else, maybe they'll be less likely to put themselves in a situation where they can be vulnerable like Haley had done unwittingly. I have to say I was proud of her for speaking up even though she was terrified. Because it's about doing the right thing and not just protecting the secret, which enables the perpetrator to continue hurting others. Honestly, the story brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of things that happened when I was a teen. The author portrayed those feelings, emotions, etc. spot on. Why do girls tend not to tell anyone about things like date rape? If we're honest with ourselves, ladies, we all think we would tell BEFORE it happens to us. But when it happens, most of the time we don't tell anyone. We just turn on ourselves (hence all the drugs, cutting, anorexia, promiscuity, etc. that many girls immerse themselves in to block out the pain.) That said, this book would be a great tool to help girls who have experienced date rape. They will see that it was not their fault, and that they were manipulated, and even targeted, if you will. That message will help a lot of young women to heal.
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