Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Home Run" Review

Cory Brand, major league baseball player for the Denver Grizzlies, is a star on the field, but his personal life is spinning out of control. After years of alcoholism, a violent outburst on the playing field leads to a suspension from baseball and a mandatory stint in a recovery program. Cory’s agent thinks the best thing to do during this time is to escape the spotlight by spending his recovery time in his hometown of Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

But Cory knows that it will be impossible to escape the spotlight even in Okmulgee. His hometown will only bring to light all of the bad memories and broken relationships that he sought to escape all those years ago.

For almost as long as he can remember, Cory has used baseball and alcohol to fill the hole in his life. Now that he no longer has baseball, will his time spent in Okmulgee lead to his destruction? Or to the grace and peace that he didn’t even know he was looking for?

When I first requested this book for review, I actually didn’t realize that it was a novelization of a movie that is coming out in April. I thought that the book had been written first and that someone was making a movie out of it later. When I realized that the movie came first, I was actually not quite as excited to read the book. I have not had great experiences with movie novelizations in the past.

But this book took all of those preconceived notions I had about movie novelizations and threw them out. If I had not known that it was written from a movie, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. It is far and away the best movie novelization that I have ever read. I’m also glad that I read the book before I saw the movie, which is my preference!

In my younger days, I was much more of a baseball fan than I am now. (Football consumes my sports-watching time now). As I began reading this book, I wondered if there was going to be much focus on the game or if it was going to be more of a character study. It turns out that the latter was true. Being a sports fan, I was a bit disappointed in this at the beginning (and I’m sure die-hard baseball fans might feel the same way), but as I kept reading, I got so involved with Cory and his story that I didn’t mind. There was still enough baseball intertwined in various ways throughout the book that kept it from being entirely character-driven.

Even though character-focused novels are not always my favorite, this one was written so well that I stayed interested in the story throughout most of the book. The emotion that comes across so easily in a movie is not always translated as well when written into a novel. But that was not the case with Home Run. The author was able to portray those emotions and actions very well without being over-the-top. I found myself thinking about Cory and his friends and family even when I wasn’t reading the book.

The struggle with addiction comes across very realistically in this novel as well. Towards the middle, I thought this part of the book got a little bit long-winded, but I understand why this was done. It made the story even more realistic. As for the other characters, although I didn’t agree with some of the actions of Emma (Cory’s former girlfriend), I did understand them. I liked how the author showed how every character, not just Cory, struggles with things that simply cannot be handled without the strength that comes from God.

The ending to this book also got a little bit long. It seemed as if each section break toward the end could have been an ending to the book, but I think that was because there was so much to wrap up.

Since I knew that the book was also a movie, I think I was able to picture things happening in my mind much more than I normally do when I read a book. My husband says that he does this all the time with books, and now I understand even more what he means! I usually tend to separate books and movies and enjoy them differently, but now I might be more willing to combine the two in my head a little bit.

Ultimately, this novel is about a journey – the journey that Cory takes but also the journey we all must make. The question is whether or not we are going to let sin rule our lives or if we are going to choose to experience the freedom from sin that can only be found in Christ.
In that sense, and in many other ways, Home Run hit it right out of the park.
(baseball pun most definitely intended)
Watch the trailer for Home Run here -

I will give Home Run … 4 BookWorms, and I can’t wait to see the movie.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from David C. Cook Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Love in the Balance" Review

It’s 1879 in Lockhart, Texas, and Molly Lovelace finds herself in a quandary. Her parents want her to marry well (i.e. for money), but Molly is hopelessly in love with Bailey Garner. Bailey is a nice, handsome, hard-working fellow – he just hasn’t found exactly what he wants to do with his life. And until he settles down and makes some money, Molly just doesn’t know if she can marry him.

Bailey wants more than anything to find his purpose in life, and if that life includes Molly, then that’s even better. But Bailey just can’t seem to figure out what God wants him to do. It doesn’t help that an intriguing visitor to Lockhart, Edward Pierrepont, has caught Molly’s eye.

When circumstances lead Molly to make a hasty decision, all seems to be lost for Molly and Bailey. Will they ever be able to find the balance in life, and in love, that they desire?

I read Regina Jennings’s debut novel, Sixty Acres and a Bride, last year, and although the plot was good, I thought the writing was a bit awkward. The writing was much improved in Love in the Balance. It was still a bit disjointed and out of control at times, but it wasn’t as vague on the details as her first novel was. There were still a couple of times when I would read a paragraph and think that I didn’t know at all what that paragraph was trying to say, but this sort of thing happened much less often than in her earlier offering.

The main character, Molly, is quite silly throughout most of this novel, which meant that I didn’t connect very well with her from the beginning. I liked that she was a whiz at math and with numbers, but that didn’t make up for her immature ways. I’m still not sure I actually like her, but she definitely grew tremendously over the course of the novel, which is a very good thing.

The main plot of this novel was the romantic back and forth between the two main characters – he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not – but this plot didn’t have much of a backbone. There didn’t seem to be any reason for them to be apart except for her parents’ possible disapproval, which came across as pretty flimsy. And then there was the aspect of the Great Miscommunication. When one of the main characters put all of her hopes and dreams (and the entire romantic plot) on the guarantee of a note getting delivered properly, then I pretty much just gave up on that part of the book.

The various other plotlines in this novel seemed to just be thrown in without much of a connection to the main story until the very end. These disjointed plots made the book feel “up and down”. It would get interesting for a few pages, mostly due to these out-of-left-field subplots, and then it would go back to the same old back and forth main romantic plot. Even though I didn’t really understand the connection, I was actually more interested in the subplots than the main one. Overall, I felt as if this book didn’t really know what it wanted to be. Did it want to be a light romance with a flighty female lead, or did it want to be a heavier drama with hints of suspense and weightier themes?

When the book finally got around to it, the themes of forgiveness and acceptance and God’s grace were actually presented very well. The last few chapters of this novel redeemed it somewhat and helped bump up the rating a bit. The whole thing finally settled down and came to a satisfying conclusion. I just wish the first 90% of the book had had the same sort of control and was as interesting as the ending.

I will give Love in the Balance … 3 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Scent of Lilacs" Blog Tour

The Scent of Lilacs
by Ann H. Gabhart
The Heart of Hollyhill, Book One
About the Book: After the summer of 1964, life for Jocie Brooke will never be the same.
Life-changing events rarely happen in quiet Hollyhill, Kentucky, and when they do, they are few and far between. But for young Jocie Brooke and her family, they happen all at once during the humid summer of 1964. Though on the surface things are just fine, it seems like everyone in Jocie’s life has something they’re not saying, something they’re hiding from her-and from themselves. As Jocie digs into her family’s past, she stirs up a whirlwind of discoveries. Will she find the answers everyone so desperately needs? Or will her questions lead to truths better left hidden?

Combining unforgettable characters, true-to-life struggles, and the perfect dose of humor and nostalgia, this riveting story from bestselling author Ann Gabhart explores the very essence of new life and love.

This is a re-release of this novel that was originally published in 2005.

About the Author: Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several novels, including Angel Sister, Words Spoken True, The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted. She lives with her husband a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Find out more at

My Take:
One of the things that I have discovered about Ann H. Gabhart as an author is  her ability to create a character-driven story that doesn't get bogged down. Character development as a plot-moving mechanism is not always my favorite in Christian fiction novels because it has to be done really, really well to keep it from getting boring.

But as with the previous novel that I read by this author - Angel Sister - you don't have to worry about it getting boring at all!

What struck me most about this novel was how the characters were so real and just seemed to leap right off the page. I cared about them and felt as if I somehow knew them. I also really identified with Jocie, the 13-year-old main character. While so many of the girls she knew were obsessed with boys and clothes and make-up, she would rather ride her bike and walk in the woods and play with her dog. I was much the same when I was that age - I would rather ride my bike or read a book than be all caught in the latest music craze or fashion style.

As I said before, even though this novel is character-focused, it is never boring. The comments from the characters about a small Southern town, families, Baptist churches, and about one character supposedly being from Jupiter were endearing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I especially enjoyed when they would talk about Vacation Bible School. My husband and I are in charge of VBS at our church, and some of those quips were hilarious.

There is a lot of action in this novel as well. The secrets that are revealed throughout kept me guessing and wanting to know more. However, I thought some of the secrets ended up being a bit too much. I won't reveal anything here, but one in particular was so hard for me to read and to imagine that it actually made me put the book down for a couple of days. The author did a great job portraying that emotion, but the thought of what might have happened actually decreased my overall enjoyment of the book.

I also was disappointed at the end of the novel when it seemed as if not everything was completely resolved. Then I realized that there are two more books in the series. So, I am OK with that. I'll just have to read the next ones, too.

I will give Scent of Lilacs ... 3 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Shattered" Review

Piper McKenna can’t believe it when her brother, Reef, stumbles into her house covered in blood. When he is later arrested for the murder of a fellow snowboarder, Piper is determined to learn the truth.

Deputy Landon Grainger feels caught in the middle as he makes the arrest of Reef for the murder of Karli Davis. The McKennas feel like family since they took him in years ago, and he feels as if he is betraying them. But the evidence is overwhelming, and so Reef has to go to jail.

With Piper launching her own search for the truth and the sheriff only concerned about a quick conviction, Landon makes the decision to follow Piper and see where their own investigation may lead. But is Landon concerned with finding the truth or with a growing sense of protectiveness towards Piper that seems to be leading to something more?

Shattered follows the McKennas and Landon as they race to uncover the truth about Karli Davis and her murder. And the more they find out, the more dangerous it becomes.

I enjoyed the first novel in the Alaskan Courage series, Submerged, by new author Dani Pettrey, but I wasn’t necessarily blown away by it. That is the same feeling that I have about this second offering, though from the many reviews I have read online, I seem to be in the minority.

While the suspense was great and the plot was action-packed, the main thing that made this novel only OK was that the mystery was almost impossible to figure out. A key piece of information – the only thing that I saw to figure out the killer and the motive and the connection to Karli – was not revealed until 80% of the way through the book. (I was reading on my Kindle, so I know!) It wasn’t even hinted at anywhere in the previous pages of the book. The reader didn’t have any idea that this person or place existed until that point in time, so how could we have ever figured it out? It just came out of left field. Even after finishing the book, I am having a hard time remembering the bad guy’s name and motive, which for me says that I had no connection with the facts throughout the novel.

One thing I liked about both books in this series is that there was a good balance between the suspense and the romance portions. While the reader knows from the beginning that the two will probably get together, it was neat seeing how all of that fit together within the background of the action and suspense.

If we are talking purely about the romantic story, though, I thought the plot devices used were ones that are overused in this genre. The “Big Misunderstanding” and the “If You Would Just Sit Down and Talk about How You Feel Already” tactics were what kept the characters apart for practically the whole book. Not the most original ways to keep that part of the plot going, but it did do its job, I guess. There are several times where it is mentioned that characters (not main ones) are sleeping around, a scene of almost date rape, and a couple of times where a character (a main one this time) mentions needing to take a cold shower. The good thing is that this is balanced by Piper and others saying that the best thing to do is to wait until marriage to have sex.

As for the characters in this novel, there are a lot of them, especially minor ones who are only mentioned in the course of the investigation. I did like how the next book was set up in this one, at least partially. It was also quite exciting to have the investigation take the characters to different places in Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. The characters talked so much about how cold it was in Alaska (zero or below zero in some cases) that I really felt sorry for those snowboarders out there having to compete in that cold weather!

So, after saying all of that, I think one of the best parts of the novel was that there was a clear message of God’s grace and forgiveness and guidance that came through. The main characters (most of them) comprehend the reality that Christ died for them on the cross and try to live their lives for Him.

While there were some things about Shattered that kept it from being a truly great read for me, the book was still compelling with its suspense and fast-paced action that kept the plot moving.

I will give Shattered ... 3 BookWorms.

Shattered by Dani Pettrey
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: February 1, 2013
Alaskan Courage Series #2

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"52 Things Daughters Need from Their Dads" Review

52 Things Daughters Need from Their Dads
What Fathers Can Do to Build a Lasting Relationship

by: Jay Payleitner
Harvest House Publishers

About the book: Most dads love their daughters, but they're uncertain how they can show that love in a way their daughters understand...or figure out what their girls really need from them.

Jay Payleitner has given thousands of dads great, man-friendly advice in his bestselling 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad. Now Jay guides his readers into what is unexplored territory for many of them--girl land--giving them ways to...

  • do things with their daughters, not just for them
  • lecture less and listen more
  • be on the lookout for "hero moments" and take advantage of them
  • realize that their daughters are females...and tailor their actions and responses accordingly
  • give their daughters a positive view of the male sex
Dads will feel respected and encouraged--not made to feel guilty--and they'll gain confidence to initiate activities that build lifelong positives into their girls.

About the author: Jay Payleitner is one of the top freelance Christian radio producers in the United States. He has worked on Josh McDowell Radio, Today's Father, Jesus Freaks Radio for The Voice of the Martyrs, Project Angel Tree with Chuck Colson, and many others. He’s also a popular speaker at men's events and the author of the bestselling 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, 52 Things Wives Need from a Husband, and One-Minute Devotions for Dads. He has also served as an AWANA director, a wrestling coach, and executive director of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. Jay and his wife, Rita, make their home in the Chicago area, where they’ve raised five great kids and loved on ten foster babies. Visit his website here:

My Husband's Take:

When I saw this book for review on Netgalley, I was really excited for my husband to read and review it. Here are his thoughts:

As a father of a 4-year-old girl, sometimes I worry about her future. I wonder if I am doing the right thing. I know I’m to raise her in the teaching and admonition of the Lord, but what about the details? I was never a girl, so how do I know how to answer the tough questions or deal with the tough issues that I know are coming? It can be a very scary ordeal, but one I want to get right. I love my daughter with all of my heart and want to get as much advice as I can.

Fortunately, Jay Payleitner, the author of 52 Things Daughters Need from Their Dads, knows the same fears and concerns and has great advice for fathers of daughters of all ages.

The part I love most about this book is how Jay writes. He writes like I imagine he talks; very informal and personable. And, it is how I would talk, too. I could relate to his points, his stories, and his fears. I connected with him very quickly and felt like he was talking straight to me about my daughter.

The advice given is wonderful. Jay has taken time to interview many daughters (including his own, grown daughter) and fathers to get input. He also references scripture frequently to support his points. I really enjoyed hearing the thoughts of grown daughters remembering their childhood and their fathers. The advice they give is very poignant and eye opening. Many of the points he makes are things I would not have thought of in raising my own daughter. It was good to hear their opinions and have it backed up by scripture.

I highly recommend this book to any father raising a daughter. It was eye opening,  reassuring, and still scary all at the same time. Much like the thought of my baby girl growing up. I know she has to grow up, and it is exciting and scary at the same time. But, with the help of the Lord, and other fathers like Jay Payleitner, I think she will grow up to be a wonderful woman who loves the Lord…and her Daddy…very much.

I will give 52 Things Daughters Need from Their Dads ... 5 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Harvest House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Firefly Island" Review

Mallory Hale, a 34-year-old congressional staffer who is quite content with her life in D.C., is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. And it’s all because of a man.

After a chance meeting and whirlwind romance, Mallory agrees to marry Daniel Everson and go with him and his 3-year-old son, Nick, to pursue his dream job in the remote town of Moses Lake, Texas.
But the seemingly peaceful town has secrets of its own, including a small island just off the shore of the lake, Firefly Island, which is forbidden to outsiders.

As Mallory adjusts to her new home, her marriage, and her first foray into parenting, the questions that surround the island and her husband’s new boss become more and more intriguing and possibly dangerous. And Mallory is realizing that she may be willing to risk more than she ever thought possible for the family and town that she has come to love.

After reading and reviewing Blue Moon Bay last year, I was looking forward to returning to Moses Lake, Texas, in Firefly Island. I absolutely love the way this author can turn a witty phrase, and there were several times when I laughed out loud at one of the characters’ antics or the humorous way that something was described.

The beginning of this book was a whirlwind of the main character, Mallory, meeting Daniel and his son, Mallory and Daniel getting married, and all of them moving to Moses Lake. These events got me interested in the characters and this particular story right away.

However, after they all arrived in Moses Lake and the hilarity of the fish-out-of-water plotline was mostly resolved, I thought the narrative moved slowly and was very repetitive. The novel is written in first person, and sometimes the internal monologue was just too much. I got a bit tired of Mallory’s internal struggle. It was encouraging at times and thought-provoking at other times, but it didn’t always do enough to keep the plot moving. About halfway through, however, the mystery part of the plot picked up and things started going again. The overall story finally came into its own with some compelling suspense in the second half of the book.

The romance portion of this novel was fun to read but was too hasty for my taste. The undying love Mallory claimed to have for Daniel came off as a bit immature and unrealistic, considering the entire novel takes place over only a few months. The overall feeling I got from the romance was of a love that had endured the test of time, and that was obviously not the case here. But, I feel as if I am being nitpicky about this particular aspect, considering that this portion of the novel was still fun to read.

As for the spiritual aspect, my overall feeling was that it was fairly shallow. There were things that I liked and that I thought were highly encouraging such as the tremendous growth Mallory experiences in her compassion toward others. But as for her faith in God, I’m not sure what it was based on. Mallory admits to herself several times that she never took her faith in God seriously (rarely went to church growing up, never prayed, etc.), yet when she finds herself in Moses Lake, her faith seemingly starts to grow. So, what was that based on? She read her Bible only once (and it was a passage in Job relating to dreams that I question the interpretation of…not going to get into the whole dream thing here…). She does pray quite a bit, but there is no talk of Christ except for a brief mention of His compassion. It just seemed to me as if the book was trying to portray this tremendous amount of growth in the spiritual life of the main character. But if it doesn’t mention Christ and the character’s knowledge and acceptance of Him, then there is definitely something lacking.

One of my favorite parts of the Moses Lake books are the quotes that are at the beginning of each chapter in the book. They are writings that were left on the wall of the Waterbird Bait & Grocery, a tradition in Moses Lake, and they are in turn hysterical and touching.

The secondary characters in this book are also an added bonus. While I didn’t quite connect with the actual town and citizens of Moses Lake as much in this one as I did in the previous novel, it was still fun returning to this small Texas town. This can be read as a standalone novel if you are just now discovering this series.

The mystery part of this novel is really what was interesting to me, but there was more to it than just that. Romance, humor, mystery, family, a cute kid, and even a dog – Firefly Island has a little bit of everything.
I will give Firefly Island ... 3 BookWorms.

Firefly Island by Lisa Wingate
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: February 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."