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Ella has made a quiet life for herself as a maid in a hospital, shutting out as much of her soul-splitting pain as she could. Everything she knows changes drastically when Charlie Lionheart bursts into her life, little baby Holland in arms. With hardly two coins to rub together, Charlie is having trouble finding someone to care for his girl. Feeling the unjustness and a pull towards someone so small and helpless, Ella quits her job to dedicate a few days to nursing Holland with all the herbs and remedies she's been studying.

Charlie's home is far from normal. As a lion tamer with the circus, all of his belongings and responsibilities can be packed up in a couple of wagons. He knows he shouldn't be bringing the young nurse to his tent, not at the risk of what it could cost him where his contract is concerned, but Holland has never been so sick and there is no one else skilled in caring for her. He would - he has - given up everything for Holland, and he's not about to stop now.

While Ella enjoys tending to the baby, meeting Charlie's friends, and seeing the amazing sights around the circus, she worries about where to find a new job and how she's going to pay her rent. Maybe she should consider going home to her parents. But that would mean returning to the place where she endured so much agony. Agony that all comes back to the surface as she spends time with Charlie, caring and kind as he is.

Drawn to the serious and sweet woman, Charlie doesn't know how to tell her of the dark secrets in his own life. Secrets that would be inescapable were their relationship to become closer. He is counting down the days until the agreements that made Holland his are fulfilled and he is free of the evil lurking in the far corners of the circus.

This is a truly beautiful story. It's not without darkness, but it is so strong on hope and love. Joanne Bischof allows her characters the time to explore their emotions, to fully develop their feelings and draw readers in. This was a book I did not want to put down, and though it's the first Bischof I've read, I'm sure it won't be the last. I would give a word of caution that there are disturbing elements to this story and it is definitely not one for everyone. But it also has allegorical veins that point to the Bringer of Hope and Light and Love - Jesus Christ. Through Him we face our fears, our darkness. Through Him we have a future, no matter how cloudy it is at present. Through Him we have all we need. All in all.

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Three years ago when tragedy took the life of their 12-year-old daughter, Libby closed her heart to her husband Greg. Now she's decided that she's going to leave him when he returns from his annual trek into Quetico Provencial Park. The only problem with the plan is that Greg is a few days late returning from his wilderness journey. More than grief or worry, Libby is furious that whether by choice or by accident Greg has found a way to get out of their marriage before she did.

As she goes through the motions of filing a missing person's report and talking with authorities on both sides of the border, Libby weighs various scenarios. She can't picture her faithful-to-a-fault husband deciding to drive away from their home and vanish without a trace, but the distance has grown so far between them that it's not something she can automatically discount.

When Libby, her best friend, and her father-in-law decide they must go to Quetico themselves and retrace the voyageur route Greg had planned, they don't know what they will find, or if they will find anything at all. Libby doesn't know if she even wants to find Greg or what she'll say if she ever sees him again. But she knows this is a trip she has to make before she can move forward one way or another.

The depth of this book left me at a loss for words. Cynthia Ruchti writes with beautiful and lyrical maturity as she delves into loss, uncertainty, and pain in the human soul. I had no idea how this book would end, but the more I read the more I could not put it down. Thoroughly captivated, thoroughly touched. Cynthia is a can't-miss author in my estimation, with both her fiction and non-fiction. Highly recommended.

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The year is 1915 when we rejoin the Ramsey family, whom we have followed in The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall. With England embroiled in the Great War, many men are joining the armed forces, including Alex Goodwin, longtime friend of Julia and Jonathan. A fearless pilot, Alex agrees to correspond with Penny Ramsey when he is shipped off to France.

With Zeppelins bombing London, Penny and her sister Kate retreat to the safety of their family home in the country, bringing with them Kate's large family of adopted children. Helping with the boisterous youngsters keeps Penny busy, but not so busy to keep from missing her new friend and praying for his safety.

As Alex goes on missions and builds up a reputation, he takes great comfort thinking of Penny's sweetness and growing affection towards him. After a turbulent home life while growing up, it seems too good to be true that he could have a hope for a happy future. If he survives the war, that is. With the short life expectancy for pilots, Alex knows there's no guarantee for tomorrow.

While this book almost seemed to have too many characters, I would have missed any storyline that was left out. The novel was fascinating from a World War I standpoint, with an emphasis on the new ways war was being waged in the sky, with Germany thinking they had superior air technology with their Zeppelins. I also had not realized there were German internment camps in England during World War I, and the story of Marius being imprisoned for his heritage was very touching. I love learning history through a well-written story!

Through all the long and uncertain days, Penny, Alex, Marius, and the rest face challenges that will shake their faith. I greatly enjoyed this series by Carrie Turansky and would definitely recommend it to all historical fiction fans.

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"Fraying at the Edge" by Cindy Woodsmall

Life could not have changed more dramatically for either Ariana Brenneman or Skyler Nash. In this sequel to "Ties That Bind," the two twenty-year-old women who discovered they were switched at birth are now trying to fit in with their biological families. Ariana has agreed to leave her Amish home for a one-year trial period in exchange for her father not suing the midwife who made the mistake, while Skyler chose a year with her Amish family rather than going to rehab for a drug addiction.

Ariana has a sincere desire to do her best in getting to know her new family, but she is quickly overwhelmed by all they ask from her. Her biological father is an atheist who challenges the beliefs she was raised with, and he gives her a 'bucket list' of experiences she can pursue in order to earn points towards a visit with her boyfriend. The title of this book perfectly describes the confusion and self-doubt Ariana goes through as she navigates the changes that have been thrust upon her.

Meanwhile Skyler is determined to be as insolent and difficult as possible towards the Brennemans, feeling like her parents disowned their troubled daughter in exchange for a chance to bring home a brand new innocent one. She believes she can still find suppliers to keep her drug habit going, and as soon as she can manage it she plans to run away. Yet as she unwillingly helps around the farm and in the cafe Ariana that bought just before finding out about her heritage, something begins to change inside Skyler. If this is what working together and truly loving others looks like, maybe she could begin to accept the love and care the Brennemans are offering.

We also continue following Quill, the former Amishman who helps families who want to leave the Amish community. Having facilitated Ariana and Skyler reuniting with their biological families, he is the last person Ariana wants to reach out to, but he is also the only one who can help her make sense of all she is thinking and feeling.

I greatly enjoyed the second book in The Amish of Summer Grove series. Cindy Woodsmall has a way of drawing you in with characters you can't help but cheer for. If you would like more information about this story, please click here.

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

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"Starving Hearts" by Janine Mendenhall

As a fan of Regency fiction, I was drawn to this book not only by the setting but also by the first line of the back cover. "Since her assault, Miss Annette Chetwynd has been plagued by nightmares and worries about an arranged marriage." This was definitely a unique concept - I have never read anything from this period that dealt with a woman's physical assault or how it might affect her. If handled with grace, what a great story that could be! My expectations were almost immediately dashed, however, when I discovered that this is not actually what the story is about. From the beginning Annette has no fears of an arranged marriage or even meeting men; in fact, she is plotting how to escape from her chaperon to have one-on-one conversations with gentlemen at a party in the very first chapter.

I was also dismayed at the inconsistent behavior of our main characters. For example, when we first hear of the chaperon it seems as though Lucy is one of the biggest annoyances in Annette's life and we are set up to dislike her, yet a few scenes later we find Annette actually views Lucy as a close friend. This kind of thing happened multiple times throughout the novel and made the characters seem unresolved and waffling.

I found a few historical inaccuracies in the text, and more than a few grammatical errors. It bothered me that the Lord's name was taken in vain, and that a minor character prayed by name to a voodoo god. I did read the book all the way through, and I can say it was full of twists and turns. It was clear that the author is a dedicated Christian who desires to use her writing to glorify God. I wish her well as she grows in craft and experience.

Starving Hearts Janine Mendenhall

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 "Starving Hearts," click here.

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This is a book I've been wanting to read for a long time. Boundaries are so key for all areas of healthy living, and I thought this book did an excellent job discussing them from a Biblical standpoint. This book is full of Scripture and the authors are kind as well as straightforward in showing the problems that come from not having boundaries, reasons we might not have proper boundaries, and how to begin and continue building healthy boundaries for ourselves.

A lack of boundaries will sabotage our lives. If we are incapable of saying no when something is asked of us, how can we ever give a whole-hearted yes? This book covers boundaries of all kinds - in relationships, at work, in the church, and even towards God. If this is a topic in which you are interested or a way in which you would like to grow, I would highly recommend this book.

I grew up in a boundaryless family, and while I have learned a lot of hard lessons about boundary setting in my adult years, this book helped explain the way my journey has unfolded. Many things fell into place and made sense. I was strengthened and encouraged as I read through these chapters.

One of my favorite things that the book focused on was having good support around you. The authors stress that healthy change cannot be made without people around us who can help us grow. This is so important! We need safe and trustworthy people who can help us with our boundary needs, whether good friends, professional counselors, a support group, etc. We as humans are built for relationships, and the best relationships are those with healthy boundaries. I'm so thankful for resources like these that help us take responsibility for our lives and grow in love and maturity.

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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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