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"Greater Than Gold" by David Boudia

As a huge fan of the Olympic Games, I've watched David Boudia dive for Team USA since 2008 and was so excited for him when he won gold in 2012. At that time I didn't know about his faith in Jesus Christ, and now I'm even more of a fan after getting a glimpse into his heart these past couple weeks, both with things he has said at the ongoing Rio Olympics and from the pages of this book.

In this easy-to-read memoir, Boudia tells about his active childhood, his natural competitiveness with his older sisters, and how his parents decided to get him into athletics to find a good use for his abundant energy. At first they put him in gymnastics, and it was through that training that David first began dreaming of being an Olympian. Then it was diving that captured his heart, and his goals changed. He still wanted to reach the Olympics, but this time as a diver.

David gives us insight into the technical side of diving as he tells his story. He breaks down dives and talks about training methods. When discussing his appearances at both the Beijing and London Olympics, he shares what it is like to march in the Opening Ceremony, to stay in the Olympic village, and the training you go through at off-site facilities while waiting for your event to arrive. He tells about personal decisions he made, such as where he attended college and when he eventually turned professional in his sport.

With tasteful honesty, David shares about how his passion and drive did not always lead him to positive things. He sought after fame and fortune, thinking they would bring him happiness. He had some substance abuse issues with marijuana and alcohol, and confesses that he struggled with smoking cigarettes for a long time. As he became a world class athlete he thought he would begin to feel fulfilled, but instead after achieving his goal to become an Olympian and then having a disappointing competition in Beijing, David actually began contemplating suicide because of the extreme emptiness inside of him.

It was after opening up about his struggles to his coach Adam Soldati that David was introduced to Jesus Christ, and from that day forward his life was changed. As he immersed himself into God's Word and found answers to his questions, his focus and drive shifted from how he could gain fame and love for himself to how he could love others and bring glory to God. He now sees diving as an outlet to proclaim Christ and exalt Him through the abilities and talents which were given to him.

David Boudia is not a mainstream Christian. He's someone totally sold out for the Lord who is willing to use his life, the lows as well as the highs, to point others to Jesus. He is the first to admit that he still has struggles in various ways, and the fame he achieved by winning a gold medal was not the wonderful thing he dreamed it would be. By far the most fulfilling thing is living for God and trusting that He is using every circumstance to make His children more like Jesus. Filled with Scripture and written with grace and tact that makes this a great read for teenagers and adults, I would recommend this book for all believers and Olympic fans. Watch David Boudia speak himself about why he wrote this book in the video below.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

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"Lady Maybe" by Julie Klassen

Hannah Rogers has earned her living as a companion to the flirtatious Lady Mayfield. When Lady Mayfield's husband swiftly ushers them out of Bath in order to try to reclaim his marriage, a carriage accident washes Lady Mayfield's body out to sea and severely injures Hannah and Sir John. By the time Hannah regains her senses several days later, everyone has assumed she is Lady Mayfield, and she thinks it may be best to keep that presumption alive until she has the chance to decide what to do, especially since Sir John lies unconscious with recovery uncertain.

There is only one thing that Hannah must do: find a way to redeem her young son from the corrupt maternity home matron who is holding him hostage for monies owed. Hannah had managed to keep her pregnancy a secret, but her heart is with her son and no matter what the future holds she wants to be reunited with him. It is easy to tell strangers that Lady Mayfield has a son, and though Hannah intends to quit the ruse and start life over as soon as she has Danny back in her arms, it may not be that simple.

Especially when Sir John's new solicitor arrives with a hostile attitude towards her, believing her to be the unfaithful wife. And when Sir John himself awakens, Hannah is completely unprepared for his response to her deception.

In this novel Julie Klassen has branched out from her original publisher, and I have mixed but strong feelings about this. On the positive side, it allowed the author to break out of her usual cloudy mystery format, which was a vast improvement in my opinion. I enjoyed the more straightforward telling of this novel, which is not at all to say that there were no twists and surprising turns, because there certainly were. On the other hand, going with a publisher not devoted to Christian novels opened the door for the author to include a lot more innuendo, adult situations, and mature content. I have read many other Klassen novels through the years and never once have I stopped and thought, "You know what this scene needs? Innuendo. Lots of innuendo." Unfortunately there's enough in this book to more than make up for what was not included in the rest.

I had a few other complaints about this story, and it was hard to fully enjoy it since the content made me so uncomfortable. I would strongly caution younger readers away from this book, as it departs so far from Klassen's wholesome reputation. I am disappointed with it, but will still be reading her future Bethany House releases in hopes of a return to clean and inspiring Regency fiction.

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"Catch a Falling Star" by Beth K. Vogt

I am pretty new to reading Beth K. Vogt's books, but this is my favorite of the ones I have read. I enjoyed having main characters who were a little older and more relatable to where I am in my stage of life.

Kendall Haynes has worked very hard to become a doctor and establish a successful family practice with a focus on allergies and asthma. She never put aside the dream of having a family, but that part just never materialized. Now with her much-younger sister getting married, as well as the last of Kendall's single girlfriends, she's starting to feel that longing ache again. What's a woman to do, though? She's got her practice, her dog, and her Jeep. Maybe that's all of the dream she'll get to have.

Having never expected to become the guardian of his teenage brother, grounded Air Force pilot Griffin Walker is floundering with his new responsibilities. He already felt a little lost, a physical condition having put his career on hold. Now with the death of his parents Griffin has Ian ushered into his life - the little brother he'd only met a few times. When Ian has an anaphylactic reaction while eating out at a restaurant, Griffin realizes how little he knows about the boy. Thankfully a doctor is present to help Ian, but the feisty female doctor lights into him for being so careless about his brother's health.

Griffin books an appointment to get Ian's allergies evaluated, and comes face to face with the disapproving Dr. Kendall Haynes again. He can see that she and Ian have formed a connection, largely because Kendall knows what it's like to be a young person who has lost a parent. Even though she makes him feel even more incompetent as a guardian, he soon realizes that her friendship is valuable.

Meanwhile Kendall has started dating a doctor who has just returned from the mission field and is starting a corporation for medical advancements in third world countries. Perhaps her dream of having it all is still attainable. But why is it that even though Heath is the one courting her, it's Griffin and Ian she can't get off her mind?

As I said, I enjoyed this story a lot. It showed the complexities of lives that have not turned out as expected. There also were hints of a darker mystery just under the surface that kept me turning pages. I had a few minor complaints, mainly that a few things seemed too convenient early in the story, but overall this is one I'd recommend and it certainly kept me interested in reading more from this author.

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The Cranford Novellas by Elizabeth Gaskell

The BBC gave the world a gift in 2007 when it adapted three of Elizabeth Gaskell's shorter novels into a miniseries called Cranford. I have loved it since I first saw it, and have long wanted to read the stories as they were originally written. This summer gave me the opportunity, and now I can share my thoughts with you.

"Mr. Harrison's Confessions" is thoroughly delightful and had me laughing out loud often. Mr. Harrison is a young doctor new to the town of Duncombe. As he gets to know the residents he finds himself drawn to sweet-spirited Sophy Hutton, and dedicates himself to establishing his practice so that he may win Sophy's hand. Sometimes through misunderstandings and sometimes through no fault of his own, three other women soon believe that they are engaged to Mr. Harrison. He fears the mix-ups will prevent him from courting the woman he truly loves, and has no idea how to get himself out of these delicate predicaments.

"Cranford" was much harder for me to get into than the first novella. The story was not as engaging, especially because in the first few chapters Gaskell had the bad habit of establishing a character and then immediately killing them off. Because I'm familiar with this story through the miniseries, I continually felt like people were missing - until I recalled that the people I was missing are actually from "Mr. Harrison's Confessions." Therefore the actual society as presented in "Cranford" seemed to center on about four women, none of whom were all that exciting. The plot did seem to pick up in the final few chapters, when the women of Cranford rallied around Miss Matty when she has a sudden change in fortune. Their genuine love even through their amusing traditions and petty squabbles was sweet to see.

"My Lady Ludlow" is a story that I never could get behind. I don't understand the point of it, and the way Elizabeth Gaskell tried to impersonate Victor Hugo by going on a 64-page digression about the French Revolution did not help. Very little of the story I knew from the miniseries was there, and even the characters who had made it to the screen did not always have the same names. The plot involves a poor distant relation of Lady Ludlow looking back on her youth, when she lived with Lady Ludlow for a time. Although you could possibly pull out a theme or two, this mostly seemed like a collection of random, unconnected, and insipid narratives.

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"Unending Devotion" by Jody Hedlund

Lily Young wants one thing: to find her sister. It's a cold winter in 1883, and Lily is traveling with a photographer who is taking pictures at Michigan lumber camps. Lily's sister Daisy ran away a few months ago and Lily knows she has likely fallen into prostitution. Determined to save Daisy and every other young woman she can from this horrible lifestyle, Lily is on a one-woman reformation crusade.

Lily and Oren roll into Harrison and find the usual assortment of rough characters and a few good people. Based on actual historical events, Harrison is largely under the control of a villainous man known for killing and kidnapping. Very few dare to oppose him. That doesn't stop Lily from deciding she'll be the one who begin a change for good in this town.

Lumber boss Connell McCormick wants to honorably do his job and let other people make their own decisions. When he finds himself getting to know Lily and often needing to rescue her from her own heedless ambition, he questions how much one should stand against evil or just let things fall where they may.

I have to admit that this book did not engage me for a long time. Main characters who are so headstrong that even the soundest counsel is beneath them are possibly my least favorite. Strong is one thing, but strong also means knowing when to listen and act wisely instead of rashly. Eventually in chapter 27 Lily realizes that she may have her priorities mixed up. "Maybe it was time to stop trying so hard to be in control. ...Maybe it was time to start asking God what His plans were instead of always taking matters into her own hands." From that point on the story was a lot better.

Like with many Jody Hedlund books, I would not recommend this book for younger readers. I generally enjoy Jody's stories but sometimes they push the boundaries of what I am comfortable with. There is quite a bit of mature subject matter in this one, and coupled with a mostly unlikeable main character makes this one a miss for me.

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"Seasons of Tomorrow" by Cindy Woodsmall

We wrap up the Amish Vines and Orchards series as the community in Maine faces much scrutiny. Although new families are moving into the area, the original community members are being held accountable for letting their English assistant grow too close to Leah King. Now either Leah or Landon will be forced to leave the farm. Orchard Bend Farms also faces a crisis of a different kind as young preacher Steven Byler's family goes through a major health emergency.

Now that the love triangle between Rhoda Byler and brothers Jacob and Samuel King has been resolved, the brother who gave Rhoda up seeks to forget her by throwing himself into his work. When he meets a fascinating woman with an unusual skill set who runs a home for unwed Amish mothers, he finds that his heart might make a faster recovery than he expected. But can she set aside past hurts and independence to think of a happy future with a King brother?

Through the ups and downs, the Bylers and Kings learn lessons about following God above and beyond the laws of man. Although all cherish their Amish upbringing, not all will choose to remain within the fold. Those who do realize that they are willing to suffer consequences if they choose to live and love as Christ set the example, rather than blindly go along with a list of rules.

I enjoyed this interesting and complex series. Cindy Woodsmall is a gifted author, and I look forward to the upcoming release of her next book, which will be the sequel to Ties That Bind.

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"For Every Season" by Cindy Woodsmall

Book 3 in the Amish Vines and Orchards series skillfully picks up the story from where Book 1 and Book 2 left off. The new Amish settlement in Maine is working hard to establish its roots, and it hasn't been an easy task as legal troubles have kept Jacob King off the farm. His girlfriend Rhoda, gifted in horticulture and intuition, has struggled with his absence and unintentionally grown close to his brother Samuel. Now alternately kicking himself for getting caught up in the wrong crowd when he was younger and dealing with irrational jealousy, Jacob tries to ease back into a farmer's life while his heart longs to return to carpentry.

Samuel never meant to fall in love with Rhoda, but that's exactly what has happened. Dedicated to keeping King's Orchard growing, giving Rhoda and Jacob the freedom to be together, and still being a friend and support to both keeps Samuel on his guard and on his knees to seek God's strength for everything on his shoulders.

Relieved that Jacob is back home at last, Rhoda is determined to put any awkwardness behind and give 200% effort to rebuilding their relationship. All she wants to do is become Jacob's wife and see King's Orchard become successful and part of her future for years to come. When it becomes apparent that she may have to choose between the two, Rhoda realizes she has hard choices ahead of her.

As other individuals and families begin to join their small community, pressures mount to see their endeavor flourish. Meanwhile Rhoda feels called to help to help their English neighbor find her granddaughter - a granddaughter the woman doesn't even know exists. Rhoda begins to make peace with her unusual gift of intuition, although there is still quite a bit of prejudice towards her in regards to it.

This is a very well-written and engrossing series by Cindy Woodsmall, and I look forward to finishing Book 4 and reviewing it soon!

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"Impactivity" by Tracy Higley

I was so excited when I heard that one of my favorite fiction authors was releasing her first non-fiction title! Plus "Impactivity: How to Set the World on Fire Without Burning Out" sounded like it would be right up my alley. The idea of truly impacting the world is exciting to me, and it's something I believe in with my whole heart.

Within the first few chapters I was able to tell that I was not the target audience for this book, because this really was written for vision-oriented Christian entrepreneurs. I do not have the entrepreneur gene. At all. My heart for impacting the world is through relationships - my direct one-on-one contact with the lives I touch. Neither approach is wrong, because God is the originator of those desires, and He made people with different and unique strengths and weaknesses. For my own personality I didn't feel that I gained a lot from this book, but for those who want to build a business or pursue a specific dream, I think you'd find a lot more here than I did.

The principle that I enjoyed the most from this book was Unshackle. Sometimes it is hard to give ourselves permission to lay down responsibilities that do not truly belong to us, or to feel the freedom to follow our own Great Adventure rather than being caught up in Other People's Adventures. This is a message that is quite important for everyone, because pleasing people is such a common setback.

This book is the introduction to a set of five guidebooks meant to delve deeper into Higley's principles for Impactivity. If you are a Christian entrepreneur, I would recommend checking these out.

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"Dawn at Emberwilde" by Sarah E. Ladd

In another delightful Regency story by Sarah E. Ladd, we meet Isabel Creston on the day she receives extraordinary news. While she has grown up at Fellsworth School and expects to land a governess position in order to provide for herself and her young half-sister, she now learns that her mother's long-estranged family is seeking her out and inviting her to join the family at Emberwilde Hall. Isabel and Lizzie leave Fellsworth the same day and are ushered into a life of luxury and privilege.

But very soon Isabel can see that life at Emberwilde is not all that it appears. There are concerns about the estate's financial future, and Aunt Margaret is insisting that Isabel find a suitable marriage partner in as short a time as possible. Aunt Margaret believes the best match would be Mr. Bradford, who runs the local foundling home, but Isabel has barely even made his acquaintance.

Local magistrate Colin Galloway is captivated by the fair-headed newcomer with her winsome, innocent ways. He doesn't have time to think about getting to know her, having recently discovered Emberwilde forest is being used by smugglers, yet he keeps crossing paths with Miss Creston anyway. Meanwhile his cousin's widow, the woman he used to love, is making it no secret that she would welcome his renewed attention, should he care to extend it her direction.

As the secrets and mysteries surrounding Emberwilde begin to bring Isabel and Lizzie into threatening circumstances, Isabel must decide where she will take her stand. Her aunt's demands grow heavy, and refusing to comply may come with a heavy price tag. Should she submit or listen to what her own heart says is true?

I was captivated by this novel! There is just enough mystery, and plenty of delightful character-driven scenes. If you enjoy the Regency era, Sarah E. Ladd is an author you need to be following. I have loved all of her releases and am eagerly looking forward to more in the future!

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received my copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

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The margrave of Thornbeck finds himself ordered by the king to find a bride, and preferably one who will strengthen his allies with neighboring noblemen. Deciding the most expedient way to do so would be to hold a two-week house party with carefully designed tests for ten young women to pass, he opens his home and invites them in. Lord Thornbeck has a past shrouded with some mystery and pain, and his goals for leading a quiet and unobtrusive life are challenged with the thought of taking a wife.

When the earl of Plimmwald's daughter cannot take part in Lord Thornbeck's quest to find a bride, he orders her servant Avelina to take up Lady Dorothea's identity and go in her place. He needs to keep his alliance with Thornbeck strong due to threats of invation. He has two edicts for Avelina: don't let anyone find out she's masquerading, and don't attract Lord Thornbeck's attention because of course it would be treacherous and impossible for him to marry a servant.

Avelina only wants to obey her lord and get through these two weeks so she will be able to take care of her crippled father and younger siblings who are relying on her. She finds herself unable to imitate Lady Dorothea's forward and proud ways and decides that being herself will be the best option. Surely Lord Thornbeck isn't interested in someone who is opinionated and believes that servants should be treated with respect and that marriage should involve being loved and cherished. While she can't help noticing that Lord Thornbeck is very handsome and that there's a tender heart underneath his gruff and imposing exterior, she knows he must not choose her and tries in every way to promote kind Lady Magdalen, a young woman who has become a fast friend.

Lord Thornbeck was positive he did not want an opinionated wife, but Lady Dorothea captures his attention immediately with her straightforward and humble ways. As she and Lady Magdalen continue passing each test to find a compassionate and worthy wife, his admiration for both of them grows and he seeks them out more and more.

Danger is lurking in the old castle. One of the guests is part of a plot to kill Lord Thornbeck and overthrow his realm. As the crucial night for Lord Thornbeck to choose a wife draws near, who will he pick? Will any of them survive the planned attack?

I thought Melanie Dickerson outdid herself with this book. I loved the characters, their personalities, and the fast-paced excitement. The tension was extremely well-written and everyone's motivations were clear and easily understood. I was quite uncertain about how the book would end until the last pages. This book is a sequel to The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest but also works as a stand alone title. If you enjoy medieval stories or fairy tales, I can't recommend this author enough. This particular story seemed to be part Beauty and the Beast, part the Biblical story of Esther, with distinct nods to ABC's The Bachelor and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Intriguing and delightful!

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Beautiful Pretender," click here.

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Inheriting the new title of margrave means Reinhart has two weeks to find a noble bride. What will happen when he learns he has fallen for a lovely servant girl in disguise? Find out in the new medieval fairy tale, The Beautiful Pretender, by Melanie Dickerson. Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?

Join Melanie in celebrating the release of The Beautiful Pretender by entering to win her Once Upon a Kindle giveaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A copy of The Beautiful Pretender

  • A Kindle Fire tablet

  • A $25 Amazon gift card

  • The choice between a Funko POP Disney Beauty or Beast doll

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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on June 7th. The winner will be announced June 8th on Melanie's blog.

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