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"For the Record" by Regina Jennings




Betsy Huckabee might have been raised in the Ozark Mountains, but she has dreams to be more than your usual mountain lass. She knows that her imagination is the ticket to getting a cabin of her own so she's not bound to living with relatives forever. So far her stories haven't been picked up by any of the big city newspapers she's submitted them to, but she believes her day is coming. And that day might be here when she meets the new deputy and realizes she has the perfect hero to base her fiction tales around.

Running from a false accusation, Deputy Joel Puckett has taken the job in Pine Gap, Missouri, in hopes of a fresh start. He's heard about the corruption in the mountains and the gang called the Bald Knobbers who are trying to enforce their own brand of justice. With the hope that he can bring law and order to the area and breathe new life into his own career, Joel isn't prepared at the level of apathy and resistance he meets - except for Betsy, who as a female is one person he'd like to avoid more than anyone else!

When her first story about "Deputy Eduardo Pickett" is published and the newspaper asks for more stories, Betsy is thrilled but also knows she must keep it a secret. She'd be embarrassed to death if Joel found out, especially as they develop a friendship. He's realized that she can be a help as they try to figure out who is terrorizing the mountain folks. Is it a bandit or have the Bald Knobbers blurred the lines to become criminals themselves?

There was so much that I loved about this story!! Living in the Ozark mountains myself, I'm familiar with the historical Bald Knobbers and thought Regina Jennings did a great job bringing them to life. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor in the writing. I was laughing out loud as early as Chapter 2, with gems like this catching me by surprise: "'What made you think he was the deputy?' the cowboy asked, obviously unconcerned with the very important internal discussion going on in Betsy's head." The style of narration made this delightful and captivating.

This is the third book in Jennings' Ozark Mountain Romance Series, although this one is set several years past the other two and works well as a stand alone. I do recommend the previous books on their own merit, however! Here are my reviews for Book One and Book Two.

Thank you to the author my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



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It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, and this book is full of reminders about why I love it. Bob Welch thoughtfully dissects the movie and its characters, discussing what we can learn from this classic film. Having enjoyed his similar book on Les Miserables, I knew this would be perfect holiday reading material, and it was!

Each chapter begins with a quote from or about the movie, and then talks about how we can apply various themes and thoughts into our lives. I love George Bailey and the impact he makes on Bedford Falls. As Welch says on page 90, "...The good we bring to the world, to the community, to our families, doesn't necessarily have to be big and glitzy. It can be small and quiet, which doesn't negate its importance." This is something I'm passionate about, and I love it when other people catch this vision.

I enjoyed the backstory and behind-the-scenes tidbits about the movie that Welch highlights. He talks about various script changes that Frank Capra's story underwent, tells us which lines the actors ad libbed that made the final cut, and comments on public perception of the film when it was released in 1946 versus how it's viewed today. It was clear the cinematic history was carefully researched and is seamlessly woven into the narrative, showing the high regard Welch holds for the movie.

The book is also laced with Scripture and makes plenty of connection to faith's influence on our lives. How does God desire us to live? Does He value the sacrifices we must make for others? Jesus knows more sacrifice than any one of us. I'd definitely say this book was written for a Christian audience.

"People respond to those who inspire, which is what, in his quiet way, George does," Welch writes on page 157. I hope that you and I will be more aware of the ways we can touch and inspire the world around us, both in this Christmas season and throughout the New Year. May we change our worlds the way George Bailey changed Bedford Falls!



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"A Jane Austen Christmas" by Maria Grace




If you've ever wondered how Jane Austen might have celebrated the winter holidays, this book on Regency Christmas traditions is for you! This little book is full of information, everything from etiquette to activities to recipes taken directly from the time period.

This book contains sections devoted to different kinds of parties, whether a simple card party of an elaborate Twelfth Night celebration. It discusses different days that gifts might have been exchanged, and what those gifts might have been. I enjoyed the section about caroling and which songs Jane Austen might have sung.

There are plenty of things explained that sound strange to our American ears, like traditions from St. Thomas' Day and Boxing Day, or the description of a mummers play or yule candle. In short, this is a thorough examination of how Christmas and New Years was celebrated two centuries ago and a fun resource for history fans.



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"Courage to Soar" by Simone Biles




I was thrilled to have the chance to review this autobiography by Simone Biles, the darling of the 2016 Rio Olympics. While many might not have known who Simone was at the start of the Games, certainly everyone knew who she was afterwards! Winner of five medals, four of which were gold, Simone broke records and shone in the spotlight. Now we have the opportunity to read the story of her life in her own words.

Simone starts with her earliest memories of life with her birth mother, and talks extensively about the transition to being adopted by her maternal grandparents, who gave her a home full of love and stability. She tells about how she was first introduced to gymnastics through a daycare field trip and immediately fell in love with tumbling as an outlet for her unusual amount of energy. When her parents enrolled her in classes she caught the attention of the coaches from the very first day. Her natural gifts were evident even though she was getting a "late start" to formal training, at age 6. With her abilities she soon caught up and passed the other girls her age with the skills she was able to perform.

I enjoyed learning about Simone's relationship with her coach, Aimee Boorman, and also about all her parents did to support Simone's growing dreams as she advanced in the sport. Simone talks openly about times she struggled with attitude and how she agonized over certain decisions regarding her education. She discusses the times she failed and the times she succeeded, each one shaping her character and career in its own way. Simone's Catholic faith has also played a huge part in her life. In the telling of her life story there is a great balance of honesty, humor, and humility.

Once I got to the part of the book about Simone's senior gymnastics career, I read the rest of the book in one sitting. It was so exciting to read her perspective of events I'd watched on television, including all the way up her crowning achievements in Rio. I wanted to know what Simone thought about Martha Karolyi and the other Final Five gymnasts, and she did not disappoint or skimp on the details.

I would highly recommend this book to all gymnasts or gymnastics fans. It's a great look at the hard work at sacrifices that this sport requires, as well as the fun and glory of success. As someone who has made her place in history, Simone's story will attract readers for many years to come. Special thanks to Michelle Burford for helping make this book a reality.


I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this book. All opinions in this review are my own.



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"A Heart's Rebellion" by Ruth Axtell




This Regency story is a sequel to Moonlight Masquerade and features several of the same characters. This time our heroine is Jessamine, a vicar's daughter who is having a season in London thanks to the generosity of her godmother. Jessamine always planned to marry her best friend's brother, but when he chose someone else Jessamine was heartbroken. Now she's determined to catch the eye of a fashionable, wealthy man while she has the chance. Taking her cues from London's elite, Jessamine lowers her necklines and her inhibitions in pursuit of being found desirable.

Having spent time in India as a missionary, Lancelot Marfleet is unimpressed with his return to English society. He desires to find a parish and continue learning about botany, but his parents are insisting it is time he find a marriage partner. When Mr. Marfleet first meets Jessamine he accidentally offends her, and his quest to make up for his blunder brings them together at further parties and dinners. At first he is drawn to her because she is different and has a genuine interest in his life experiences, but soon he's dismayed to see the drastic changes to her person and the questionable decisions about her choice of acquaintances.

Jessamine doesn't realize that as a young lady with very little protection in town she is perfect prey for those of a less savory character. She only wants to be sought after and admired. While Mr. Marfleet is proving himself to be a friend, Jessamine doesn't want to further his attention too much. The last thing she wants is to end up with a man so much like her father.

I confess I found this story quite hard to get into, but once I came to care about the characters I could hardly put the book down. I would caution that this story does contain a few scenes which might be triggering for victims of assault. I would recommend the novel for die-hard Regency fans, especially if you enjoyed the first book in the series.



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"One Enchanted Eve" by Melissa Tagg




In a setting just perfect for Christmas, chef Rylan Jefferson is on the cusp of running a bakery again. She just needs to come up with one show-stopping dessert to have the opportunity to win the job. While she's never been good at original recipes, Rylan receives an offer of help that she can't pass up - even if it is from the class clown of her culinary class. Maybe Colin's natural inspiration will transform a wish into a reality.

We first met Colin Renwycke in One Enchanted Christmas, when he was a rather disreputable teacher and model. He's never been good at life decisions, but last Christmas was a wake-up call. He's determined to make culinary school work and to become a successful chef, but he's still afraid to go home and face his family in Maple Valley, Iowa. In an effort to both help Rylan and bring a buffer of protection to himself, Colin invites her to spend a couple weeks on the farm inventing that wow-worthy recipe she needs.

Maple Valley is as charming and ever, as you know if you've read any of Melissa Tagg's other stories set there. While we do get glimpses of other characters we know, the story does a good job focusing on downtrodden but hopeful Rylan and bad-boy-attempting-to-turn-good-guy Colin. We get a look at their pasts, the way they think, and their family dynamics. These are two realistic and relatable characters striving to overcome mistakes and setbacks, dreaming of a hopeful future, and trying to make magic in the kitchen.

This novella was funny, thoughtful, inspiring, and yes, enchanting. A perfect holiday read from one of my favorite authors!



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"The Silent Songbird" by Melanie Dickerson




She's done it again! Melanie Dickerson retells a classic story with her own distinctive style, turning it into something fun and new. This time she tackles The Little Mermaid, resetting Ariel as Evangeline, cousin of King Richard II, in the fourteenth century.

Evangeline has hoped and dreamed of a marriage based on love, but as the king's ward she knows that may not be possible. When she finds out the king is going to give her in marriage to a middle-aged man who seems corrupt and salacious, Evangeline decides she will run away. She's lived shut up in Berkhamsted Castle, and now she is free to see all the beautiful creatures and places in the English countryside. Evangeline's maid escaped with her, and in order to disguise themselves they agree that Evangeline will pose as a mute and they will say they are servants looking for work.

They reach the village of Glynval, and Evangeline finds herself working for the le Wyse family, whom readers will recognize from some of Dickerson's other books. She is attracted to Westley le Wise, but since she is pretending to be a mute servant and he is heir to the manor, there are many impediments to getting to know him. Although Evangeline has never worked a day in her life, the blisters and soreness and her many blunders do not stop her determination to make a way for herself and to continue hiding from the king's men who are searching for her.

Evangeline is forced to use her voice when she comes upon an attempt on Westley's life. Still hesitant to tell the whole truth about her identity as she gets to know the le Wyse family better, eventually it all comes out. A showdown with King Richard and his minions is inevitable, and will require bravery and sacrifice from all who will stand for freedom and love.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys Melanie Dickerson and fairy tales.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



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"Snow on the Tulips" by Liz Tolsma




This is a unique story that is based on actual experiences within the author's family in the Netherlands during World War II. While the Netherlands had declared neutrality at the beginning of the war, Hitler invaded in 1940 and the citizens suffered much under Nazi rule. Our story focuses on a Dutch Resistance worker who was caught by the Nazis and executed - except his bullet wound was not fatal, and he survived and escaped.

Alongside the Resistance worker, who is named Gerrit in the story, our other three main characters are siblings. Cornelia is a young widow who is hiding her 20-year-old brother Johan from the Nazis in the closing days of the war. Since losing her husband she's tried to keep her head down and just get through until her country can be liberated. Anki is the oldest sibling and is married to a staunch pacifist. When Johan goes out exploring one night and comes back with the injured Gerrit, it thrusts them all into danger. Cornelia agrees to harbor Gerrit, and Anki goes behind her husband's back and uses her nursing skills to help Gerrit recover.

Once the Germans realize they are missing one of the corpses of the Resistance workers, they begin raiding neighborhoods searching for the wounded man. They also begin cracking down harder on anyone they suspect of hiding men or Jews. Johan longs to get involved in the Resistance after having spent so many years hiding. Cornelia has ignored Resistance work for so long but now that she's hiding a prominent member she can no longer turn a blind eye to the needs of the cause. Anki is risking her marriage and family to be involved, but can only do what she feels is right even though it may cost her everything.

As liberation comes closer but danger yet lurks in every shadow, bravery and romance bloom. And hope - hope that there can yet be a future for this family and for their beloved country after this long nightmare is over.

I enjoyed this novel and the chance to learn more about the Netherlands during the war, especially since the plot was based on real events. I would have liked to see more depth in the writing itself, as the style of using unvaried and simple sentences did not draw me in and engage me as a reader, even though I cared about the characters. Since this was the author's debut novel and I've not noticed the same thing in her later releases, I believe she has grown and improved in this. I would highly recommend her other books, Daisies Are Forever and Remember The Lilies.



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"An Endless Christmas" by Cynthia Ruchti




Katie is in love with Micah, but when he unexpectedly and very publicly proposes marriage to her when she's just met his extended family, she has no choice but to say no. And it's Christmas week at his grandparents' rural Minnesota homestead, so it's not like she can just catch the next flight home to Florida. There's no way she can accept Micah's proposal until she can talk through the reasons she said no, but privacy is hard to come by with Micah's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins filling every nook and cranny of the cottage.

In disbelief that the Binder family is still being so amazing and welcoming to her even though she may have broken Micah's heart, Katie tries her best to walk the tightrope of forming relationships while not letting herself get too close. It's hard, though. The Binders are so full of love and commitment and making the most of every moment - if she believed she could make a marriage last, this would definitely be the family she'd want to marry into.

As Christmas draws closer, there are surprises of both the happy and not-so-happy variety headed to the Binder farm. For this family who tries to celebrate each holiday as if it might be the last, what if it really is the last for one of their members? Sentiment threatens to become reality and leaves everyone scrambling.

This novella captured me from the opening page. Anyone who has a large extended family will enjoy the scenes of a packed home and family togetherness -- including waiting in line for the bathroom and sleeping anywhere you can find space to fit an air mattress. Those are all-too-familiar sights for some of us! Katie's emotional dilemma kept me reading more to find out when she and Micah would talk and if they could work things out. Through the ups and downs of this unforgettable holiday, love will see this family through - the same endless Love that will always be there for each one of us. Cynthia Ruchti weaves a sweet tale about family, faith, and finding yourself.



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"Restoring Christmas" by Cynthia Ruchti




Christmas can't be relaxing when you're trying to ratchet your career up to the next level. Interior designer Alexis Blake is competing for her own show on the Home Project Network, and the last step is a Christmas-themed home renovation. If she can beat out the other two finalists she'll achieve her dream. She knows things won't be easy, but she arrives on location near Door County, Wisconsin, to find that the homeowner doesn't want to cooperate and her videographer has sustained an injury that will sideline him from the project. This is not a promising start.

Elsie has lived many years in the fieldstone home which her father built. She's not happy that her neighbor submitted her house for the Restoring Christmas project, and she's very set on having her say in making sure Alexis doesn't change too much. She's also prone to taking mysterious trips and will shut down any conversation that broaches the subject of family. She begins to regret her begrudging consent to allow Alexis and the crew into her personal space.

While respected videographer George Langley can't be a part of the special, he insists his son Gabe is more than capable of stepping in. Alexis isn't convinced, but Gabe is larger than life with his optimism and generosity. As he sweeps away her objections and finds unusual solutions to plaguing problems, Alexis agrees to let him in on the project, but can't help wondering what's behind all the charm and personality.

While Elsie's house is under construction, so are the hearts of all those working on it. Gabe is dealing with his first Christmas since his mother's death. Alexis feels the stress and pressure of meeting deadlines and having everything turn out the picture-perfect way she's envisioned it - while meeting resistance from Elsie at every turn. Elsie's shrouded past and sensitivity to change keeps everyone guessing and on edge as to what she'll object to next.

In a story about the true meaning of Christmas and learning to listen to one another, Cynthia Ruchti has crafted a heartwarming novella that will leave you sighing with contentment. I'd highly recommend this for all readers, and especially if you enjoy shows like Fixer Upper. This story introduced me to the song Still, Still, Still, which I have a feeling will be a regular feature on my holiday playlist this year. Are you ready to have your own heart examined before we reach the height of this busy season? Check out "Restoring Christmas" and let the message soak into your spirit.

Thank you to the author for my copy of the novella. All opinions in this review are my own.



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