Monday, April 29, 2013

The Heiress of Winterwood - Sarah Ladd


The Heiress of Winterwood (Whispers on the Moors) by Sarah Ladd had all the components of a novel that I should eagerly devour, and I sat down to read it with great anticipation.  Perhaps these unrealistic expectations contributed to its downfall, for I found myself flying through the pages in search of an ending that never quite arrived.  That's not to say that this is an unenjoyable read, for the narrative is truly well written and peppered with complex characters and interesting plot twists.  Still, I found I reached the end of the novel with feelings of apathy as to the outcome of the story.

Sarah Ladd's debut novel takes place in 1814 on the moors of Danbury, England.  Due to a deathbed promise to a dear friend, Amelia Barrett finds herself raising the infant daughter of Captain Graham Sterling, who has yet to return from sea.  Amelia is willing to break her current engagement in order to raise little Lucy, who has stolen her heart.  But in order to remain heiress of Winterwood, she must convince a man she has never met to accept a most unorthodox proposition.  The lies and deception that unfold from this plan lead Sarah, Graham and Lucy down a dangerous path.

The Heiress of Winterwood hit all the right notes for historical romantic fiction.  There are beautiful settings, flawed characters, and nuggets of insight into the lives of those in 1800s England.  The author describes Winterwood Manor with great detail and while I appreciated this precision, at times I longed for a bit of dialogue to break up the descriptive narrative.  In the end, the story wraps up nicely and with a few surprises.  Overall, this is a good read and I would recommend it if you're a fan of historical fiction.  It was not my favorite foray into this genre, but I will gladly read Ladd's next offering.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy via Booksneeze. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Take A Chance On Me - Susan May Warren


Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren takes us on another journey to Deep Haven, MN and it might just be my favorite one yet.  Revolving around the Christiansen family of Evergreen Lake resort,  this piece of romantic fiction is exquisitely woven together to tell a story of forgiveness and redemption.

Darek Christiansen is learning to accept his new role as father and resort manager after the death of his wife, Felicity.  Ivy Madison is looking for a place to call home after surviving the foster care system and growing up alone.  Jensen is struggling to earn forgiveness for a mistake that haunts him, and Claire is looking for her purpose after losing faith in God's kindness.  The author writes this story from the perspective of four different characters, each struggling with anger and un-forgiveness related to the same tragic accident that killed a loved one.  As each person grapples with decisions that will change the course of their lives, they come to find peace and joy in the reality of God's love.

I enjoyed Take A Chance on Me so much that I finished it in two sittings- that's quite remarkable for someone juggling two kids and sleepless nights!  Revisiting Deep Haven was a treat, and I am so excited that this is just the first in a series of six new books, as I will get to read many more beautiful stories about the Christiansen family.  I feel privileged to share with you an interview with the author, Susan May Warren, and an excerpt from Chapter 1 of this novel.  I also encourage you to spend a rainy afternoon getting acquainted with the idyllic town of Deep Haven, you won't be disappointed.

Author Q & A witSusan May Warren 
1. This is the first installment in a brand new six-book series. Can you give us a bit of background on this series?
I love stories about families watching the members interact and grow together through challenges and victories and I conceived this series as I watched my own children begin to grow up and deal with romance and career and futures. I love Deep Haven, and it’s the perfect setting for a resort, so I crafted a family, much like the families I know, who run a resort. They want to pass on their legacy to their children...but their children don’t know if they want it. It’s sort of a parallel theme to the legacy of faith we instill in our children. As they grow older, they need to decide whether it is their faith too. It’s a saga about family and faith and what happens when those collide with real life.

2. This Christiansen Family series is set in Deep Haven, Minnesota. Tell us about this setting.
Deep Haven, Minnesota is based in a small vacation town in northern Minnesota where I spent my childhood. It’s located on Lake Superior, surrounded by pine and birch and the sense of small town and home. Populated by everyone from artists to lumberjacks, it’s Mitford, or perhaps Northern Exposure gone Minnesotan. Quaint, quirky and beautiful, it’s the perfect place to escape for a vacation.

3. What was your inspiration for this particular book and the main character Darek Christiansen?
As I started to put together this series, I began to think about our culture and our children today. I started to take a look at the big questions we are faced with as parents and as young people; the issues that affect us as a culture, as well as personally. I wanted these books to go beyond family drama, beyond a great romance to raise bigger questions and stir truths that we might pass along to others. This story is about our propensity in our culture to blame others for what goes wrong in our lives and how this alienates us from each other, and ultimately, God. Darek is the oldest brother in the family; the leader and a real hero. He’s a wildland firefighter and a widower who’s had to give up his job to come home and run the resort and care for his young son. Darek doesn’t realize he has a problem – he lives with anger on his shoulder, hating the man who killed his wife (his best friend). His real problem is that he can’t forgive himself. In this first story, readers meet the family, hang out at the resort and discover that God can redeem even a heart of stone, if we take a chance on Him.

4. What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?
This book is for the person who feels they just can’t get past the anger they have for someone else to live in joy again. It’s for parents who see their children making bad choices and don’t know where to turn. It’s for people who believe that no one will ever really love them because of who they are, or the things they’ve done. It’s for people who need the courage to take a second chance on love and faith and family. I’m hoping readers walk away with a sense of how much God loves them, and that yes, He can heal the angry and broken-hearted.

5. How do you expect this new series to resonate with your audience? How do you want your books to make them feel?
Great question! I love a story that brings me on an emotional journey from anger to laughter to hope. But most of all, I want readers to be wrapped up in joy, that feeling we get when watch our football team win, or when we’re hands up in a convertible on a hot summer day, or digging our feet into a sandy beach, or hugging our loved one when they return home. Ah. The sense that, just for a moment, all is right in the world and everything tastes and feels delicious. I write romances, and in the end it’s worth the journey to the happily ever after.

6. As a writer, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story?
I loved Darek’s transformation. His relationship with his son is so precious, but when he truly lets go of his anger, he becomes the hero I always knew he could be. I love writing about broken heroes who find healing.

7. What advice do you have for budding novelists?
Read! Then write the book you’d like to read. But, along the way, learn the craft. In fact, a good writer never stops learning.

8. What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?
Just keep writing. If you want to be a career novelist, you just have to keep writing.

9. In your writing career, what are you most proud of?
After over forty novels, I’m always striving to keep the stories fresh and unique; so I guess I’m proud that every book is bathed in prayer, has a message singular to that story, and has unique characters and journeys. Every story is a new adventure for me, and the reader. 

Continue Reading if you would like a preview of Take A Chance on Me by Susan May Warren

(Prologue Excerpt):

My dearest Darek,
Even as I write this letter, I know I’ll tuck it away; the words on it are more of a prayer, meant for the Lord more than you. Or maybe, in the scribbling upon this journal page, the words might somehow find your heart, a cry that extends across the bond of mother and child.

The firstborn child is always the one who solves the mystery of parenthood. Before I had you, I watched other mothers and wondered at the bond between a child and a parent, the strength of it, the power to mold a woman, making her put all hopes and wishes into this tiny bundle of life that she had the responsibility to raise.
It’s an awe-filled, wonderful, terrifying act to have a child, for you suddenly wear your heart on the outside of your body. You risk a little more each day as he wanders from your arms into the world. You, Darek, were no protector of my heart. You were born with a willfulness, a courage, and a bent toward adventure that would bring me to the edge of my faith and keep me on my knees. The day I first saw you swinging from that too-enticing oak tree into the lake should have told me that I would be tested.
Your brothers shortened your name to Dare, and you took it to heart. I was never so terrified as the day you came home from Montana, fresh from your first year as a hotshot, feeling your own strength. I knew your future would take you far from Evergreen Lake. I feared it would take you far, also, from your legacy of faith.
Watching your son leave your arms has no comparison to watching him leave God’s. You never seemed to question the beliefs your father and I taught you. Perhaps that is what unsettled me the most, because without questioning, I wondered how there could be true understanding. I held my breath against the day when it would happen—life would shatter you and leave your faith bereft.
And then it did.
It brought you home, in presence if not soul. If it hadn’t been for your son, I might have done the unthinkable—stand in our gravel driveway and bar you from returning, from hiding.
Because, my courageous, bold oldest son, that is what you are doing. Hiding. Bitter and dark, you have let guilt and regret destroy your foundation, imprison you, and steal your joy. You may believe you are building a future for your son, but without faith, you have nothing to build it on. Evergreen Resort is not just a place. It’s a legacy. A foundation. A belief.
It’s the best of what I have to give you. That, and my unending prayers that somehow God will destroy those walls you’ve constructed around your heart.
Darek, you have become a mystery to me again. I don’t know how to help free you. Or to restore all you’ve lost. But I believe that if you give God a chance, He will heal your heart. He will give you a future. He will truly lead you home.
Lovingly, Your mother

(Author, Susan May Warren)

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe - Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson


Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. -Titus 2:3–5

Before I became a Mom, I obviously had no idea what it meant to be a mother.  I remember wondering if I would love my children more than my dogs (ha!).  If I would be a good Mom, be able to see past my own needs and desires in order to nurture another human being.  And then my son was born and in an instant my heart was beating outside of my body, it was no longer my own, he held it in his hands.

I remember the surprise of my second pregnancy- a little life I had not anticipated and would never have sought on my own.  I wondered if I would ever love this next baby as much as my first.  If there was any way I could handle two little ones day in and day out.  And then my daughter was born, and she looked into my eyes, it was love as first sight.

Nobody tells you how hard it is, this incredible job of raising children, of molding young souls to know and love the Lord.  I had no idea there would be so many sleepless nights, days where I literally make myself get up in the morning to change another diaper or cuddle a child to sleep.  I had no idea that I would second guess every word, every decision, every moment, asking myself- did I teach them something?  Have I crushed their spirit?  Do they see God in me?  Do they notice I'm struggling right now?  Do they know how much I love them?  Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson was a breath of fresh air to my soul.  I am convinced this book is for every Mom.  For the joyous Mom celebrating their baby's first steps to the exhausted Mom patiently discipling her screaming toddler or rebellious teenager, this book gives you hope that God has a plan and purpose for motherhood.

The authors start with an honest confession about their own struggles with raising children.  Sarah Mae goes so far as to say this, "Let me pull back the curtain on the idea that just because you love and are thankful to be a mother, parenting will come easily or naturally. The lifetime commitment that is motherhood will, many days, stretch you beyond what you think you can handle."  Author Sally Clarkson, who treasures her role as a mentor to young Moms, explains Desperate in these terms, "We are making a plea for older women to remember the tired years and come alongside young mothers, so that our children and our children’s children will know how to serve and to receive help."  Each Chapter of the book begins with a question or struggle from young mother Sarah Mae and then an answer of wisdom from Sally Clarkson.  There are also scripture verses, journaling questions and an activity to drive home the lesson from each section.

I often find myself struggling with the monotony of being a stay at home Mom to young children.  It is easier to stay in than lug around all the necessary equipment required to leave the house with two children.  Nap times and early bedtimes mean we're usually tied down to the house.  Honestly, having little ones is not at all conducive to having an exciting social life.  Then, taking into consideration my need for quiet in order to recharge....well, we don't have a lot of that around here!  Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, reminded me that we must first turn to God in order to have the strength to parent.  Family and friends are here to help recharge and love on our littles ones so that we can take a step back and focus.  Clarkson stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with wise women who can help you grow in the Lord.  She believes that it is helpful to find women who are strong mothers and raised children in the knowledge of Christ so that we might emulate them.

Desperate was such a wonderful book.  It reminded me about the beauty of motherhood and the high calling it is to invest in our children's lives.  The scripture, stories and encouragement truly breathed life into my tired mommy moments.  I felt encouraged both spiritually and mentally- knowing that it is ok to feel overwhelmed at times, as long as you remember Who to bring your burdens to.  Jesus uniquely equips each of us to parent the children we have been given and, as we turn to him, he gives us all we need to succeed.  I will never be a perfect Mom, but I can love God with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself.  My children will see the love of Christ in me, and in the end, isn't that all they need?

Get this book my mommy friends, it is honest, hopeful and helpful!

Disclosure of Material: I received this book free from the publisher via Book Sneeze. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.