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March 18, 2017


Deborah Raney Home at Last

I started reading Deborah Raney’s five-book Chicory Inn series in the summer of 2014, and so it’s with a sigh I’ve reached the closing chapter of her Whitman family saga. It’s similar to how I felt while viewing the final episode of Downton Abbey.

In her author’s note at the beginning of Home at Last, Deborah Raney expressed similar emotions:

It seems like only yesterday that I was signing the contract for this five-book series. I could hardly imagine a day when the first book would be finished, let alone a day when I’d be writing “the end” on the final book! But here I am, and I must admit I shed a few tears saying good-bye to the Whitman family. We authors are strange that way. Our characters do become like family to us.

Over the past three years, the Whitmans have become like family to me, as I’ve worked my way through the series and gotten to witness the writing process a bit through Deborah Raney’s facebook posts. I plan to catch up and review the fourth novel once school is out for summer. These books have been sent to me by the wonderful team at Litfuse, but you can easily find them online or in stores like Wal-Mart or Target. I highly recommend the Chicory Inn novels for women who want to read something positive and uplifting.

Here are the five titles:
Book 1: Home to Chicory Lane
Book 2: Two Roads Home
Book 3: Another Way Home
Book 4: Close to Home (Review to come this summer!)
Book 5: Home at Last — here we are!

The stories follow the lives of Grant and Audrey Whitman, parents of five adult children (though one son was killed in action), and now grandparents of a growing brood. Each book is a love story, a midwest American version of what Lord and Lady Grantham have dealt with at Downton Abbey. Chicory Inn is the childhood home of the Whitman family, and in their empty nest years, Grant and Audrey have transformed it into a beautiful Bed and Breakfast.

Bi-weekly Tuesday nights at Chicory Inn are sacred and off limits for outsiders, with Grant and Audrey gathering their adult children and offspring for a home-cooked meal and fellowship. In Home at Last, bachelor Link Whitman becomes the focus of the story, as he’s the last man standing unattached to a spouse. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Link in the other books, so this story allowed me to delve further into his character.

Twenty-nine year old Link is not exactly unhappy at the beginning of the book, but in his six years since graduating from college, he still hasn’t landed a “real job.” He’s stuck in an entry level position testing electrical wire, exhausted from working double shifts and coming home to a bachelor pad studio in a not-so-great part of town. Something is missing in his life, and his sisters’ attempts at playing matchmaker leave him edgy and unsatisfied.

In a split second on an icy road, Link’s distracted driving (talking on his cell phone to his mom!) almost causes his truck to hit a small child. It turns out she is the five-year-old niece of the attractive Shayla Michaels, who works in the local Coffee’s On bakery. He’d met her at a nearby homeless shelter, where he’d volunteered his computer knowledge for a while. Link had been drawn to her, yet her mysterious life was unknown to him until the near tragedy causes their casual friendship to deepen.

Shayla’s life has always been a challenge, as she’s straddled two worlds, being the daughter of a white mother and African American father. Both extended families rejected the other, but after the death of her mother, she’s embraced by her father’s family. She bears the heavy load of raising her niece, Portia, since her brother is serving time in jail and the girl’s mother is out of the picture.

Link and Shayla begin a relationship, allowing readers to witness the difficulties they must face as a mixed-race couple. Reading the novel as part of a group will open up opportunities for conversations about topics such as interracial dating and parenting. As always, Deborah Raney includes a Group Discussion Guide at the back of the book, with questions that will allow readers to dig deeply into contemporary issues.

One of the best parts about finishing a whole series of books is that you can finally realize the author’s long-term vision as she commenced writing. When I began the series, I didn’t realize each book would focus on one of the Whitman offspring, so now I can understand how all the books tie in together. They take up a special place on my bookshelf, and I look forward to reading them again. Now, if only a producer would pick them up to make a Chicory Inn mini-series or film!

About the author:
Deborah Raney 2017

Deborah Raney’s novels have won numerous awards including the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, the Carol Award, and have three times been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken Raney have traded small-town life in Kansas-the setting of many of Deb’s novels-for life in the city of Wichita.

Find out more about Deborah at her website here.

**************************************************

Conclude Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn novels with the final book, Home at Last, a story of acceptance, trying to overcome differences, and love. Everything changes for bachelor Link Whitman one icy morning when a child runs into the street and he nearly hits her with his pickup-and then the girl’s aunt Shayla enters Link’s life. Can Shayla and Link overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?

Join Deborah on Thursday, March 23, for a live author chat party in her Facebook group with fun prizes to be won! Click the graphic below for more details and to RSVP. Hope to see you there-bring a friend or two who loves to read!

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney’s Home at Last Wraps Up the Chicory Inn series



April 20, 2016


Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures



March 15, 2016

Happy Spring everyone! I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful season in your corner of the earth, wherever you are. When I first saw the cover of Gwen’s Smith’s new book, the title jumped out at me, like that sign was written to get MY attention.

I Want It All cover
I’m certainly guilty of feeling like I always want a little more, and so I thought this book might speak to me about learning to be more content, more satisfied with the gifts God’s given me. Instead, it pushed me into deep conviction.

I didn’t realize Gwen Smith is a singer/songwriter, as well as an author, yet I was soon mesmerized by her poetic cadence:

Lord, I want it all today
Every blessing you ordain
Every trial, every strain
Break and build me for your gain.

In fact, if you’ve never heard her speak or sing in person, I think you should stop reading right now, and listen to her voice share these words with you. I would not even call them words — they’re lyrics.

The book begins with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote in Through Gates of Splendor: “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” Every woman reading this knows our energy is limited, no matter how old we are. We can’t possibly say yes to everything asked of us and get it all done, so it’s a crucial decision: where are we supposed to put our energy and strength to live this life of reckless abandon?

Reading I Want It All will definitely give you ideas of your uniquely personal calling. It’s divided into three main parts: All the Faith, All the Power, and All the Impact. As you increase your faith, you’ll be able to tap into the power available to you through the Holy Spirit, and live with greater impact.

Each chapter begins with a personal story from the author’s life, so in many ways, this reads like a memoir, which is my favorite type of non-fiction book. I love it when a writer is brave enough to allow thousands of strangers to peek into her heart. She’s also deeply knowledgeable about Scripture and how it applies to the life of the 21st century woman. She says her three “go-to principles” for gaining wisdom are:

1. Fear God.
2. Ask God.
3. Seek godly counsel.

I’ve heard these statements before, but Gwen brings such a freshness and zeal with her personal stories about how she seeks wisdom as one digging for sparkling rare gems. “Look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

This book would work great for a women’s Bible Study or Book Club, as each chapter ends with Reflection and Response questions. There’s also an extensive Study Guide in the back section that would make it very easy for anyone to pick up and lead. While reading, I realized that’s truly the value of inspirational books, when you can get together with others and share Truth.

Once again, I will defer to this energetic author, Gwen Smith, and let her share with you her purposes for getting this book into your hands!

I had to laugh at the title of her last chapter “Who Me? Yeah You? Couldn’t Be! Then Who!” I grew up in the 80s and played many rounds of “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?” In fact, this game worked well in my English classes when I taught junior high students years ago in Japan.

But Gwen’s point here really convicted me — sometimes we want to ignore the pricking of the Holy Spirit when God calls us to be open to opportunities He gives us. I was really amazed at reading some of her stories of how she talks to people in airports, coffee shops, and grocery stores, taking a few extra moments to realize God has put that person in her path for a Divine Appointment. I thought of how often I rush by someone with a smile and a quick “Hi!” instead of stopping to really ask how they’re doing. Yet, I’ve crossed paths with many people who are just the opposite, and have taken the time to really reach out to me.

Gwen writes:

Being salt and light and pointing people to Jesus doesn’t mean we need to start handing out Bible tracts on street corners…It means that you and I should be open to the random God opportunities He brings our way each day, and we should intentionally bless others on His behalf.

So, you can see why this book is easy to recommend — fresh, energetic, and inspiring. Definitely a great pick-me-up for Spring reading.

Enjoy!

About the Author:
Gwen Smith
Gwen Smith is an author and volleyball enthusiast who lives in sunny North Carolina and has been married to her college honey, Brad, for 23 years. They are tired parents to three competitive-sport-playing teens who keep them on their toes and on their knees. Her online friends meet at GwenSmith.net to connect and be encouraged, and her goal is to help women think big thoughts about God and be inspired to live out the grace and truth of Jesus. Gwen speaks, leads worship, and eats potato chips at women’s events everywhere, and she is a co-founder of the conference and devotional ministry Girlfriends in God.
Thank you to the wonderful staff at Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Marriage,Motherhood,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on When You’re Ready to Make an Impact: Gwen Smith’s ‘I Want It All’



November 6, 2015

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, friends and family are contemplating who’s going to cook the turkey this year, where everyone will gather, and why in the world Christmas decorations are already filling the shelves. It’s easy to forget this season is all about gratitude — being thankful for all the great gifts God has given us.
Another Way Home

Author Deborah Raney welcomes readers back to the Whitman family home for Thanksgiving in the 3rd book of her wonderful Chicory Inn series, Another Way Home. I’ve loved being able to read Book 1, Home to Chicory Lane, and Book 2, Two Roads Home.

In this series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a beautiful bed and breakfast, which they imagined would fill the autumn season of their lives with the joy of hospitality. Although they do entertain guests regularly, it is their grown children and grandchildren who continue to keep them completely busy and on the verge of prayer.

Another Way Home focuses on their middle daughter, Danae, and her husband, Dallas Brooks, who have been trying for years to grow their family, but have yet to be able to have a baby. Danae has visited fertility clinics for three years and is ready to consider adoption, but her husband, Dallas, will not even discuss it.

At the prompting of an inspiring sermon at church, Danae decides to begin volunteering at a newly opened shelter for abused women and children. She has no idea how this one small step of faith will lead her in a completely new direction. As Danae is finally learning to live her life with gratitude, heart-wrenching events on Thanksgiving weekend threaten to pull the entire Whitman clan into turmoil — and leave them all forever changed.

If you’re ready to kick back and read a relaxing book that will help you face the trials of life with an even deeper faith, I heartily recommend this series for you. I love all of Deborah Raney’s books because they’re clean — no disgusting language or vile images — and have the power to transform and uplift my faith.

As my own children are beginning to leave the nest and move to the next season of life, I’m eagerly learning from Grant and Audrey Whitman to see how they handle grown children and the choices they make.

Now I’m looking forward to the fourth Chicory Inn book, which will be released next June!

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Enter here to win a copy of Another Way Home—five winners will be chosen! Click the image below to enter to win. The winners will be announced November 23 on the Litfuse blog!

Another Way Home Giveaway
About the Author:

DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.
Deborah Raney
Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:

Website: www.deborahraney.com.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.raney
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authordebraney
Amazon.com: http://amazon.com/author/deborahraney
Instagram: http://instagram.com/deborahraney
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/deborahraney/
Blogs: http://novelgarden.blogspot.com
http://inspiredbylifeandfiction.com/
http://just18summers.com/category/a-happy-home/makeing-your-house-a-home/

Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a complimentary copy.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn Series Continues with Another Way Home



July 14, 2015

Letters from My Father's Murderer


The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.

Romans 13:12

When I first encountered the story behind Laurie Coombs’ newly released book, I couldn’t wait to read it. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how she could ever forgive the man who took the life of someone she loved so much. I thought right away of how Corrie ten Boom was able to forgive the German guard who caused the death of her sister in Ravensbruck concentration camp. The book struck me as a modern-day story of the power of forgiveness.

From the very first page, I was amazed at Laurie Coomb’s bravery in sharing personal details of the events leading up to the crime, as well as the years of agony following this horrific event. As she searches for truth, she has the courage and tenacity to pursue a correspondence with the killer, even behind bars of a maximum security prison. She cares about him as a human being, knowing that despite what he took away from her, God still loves him and has a plan for his life.

She writes:

I began to see Anthony as a real person, just like me, with thoughts and feelings and life circumstances that molded and shaped him into the person he is. I began to question what happened in his life that allowed him to become the person who ultimately murdered my dad… As the days passed, I felt God’s nudge to write back. But the thought of engaging this man in correspondence was unsettling. I was standing on rocky ground, and every step I took would lead deeper into enemy territory–deeper into the pain of my past. It was scary, but I knew this was where God was leading.

Over the course of four years, Laurie and the man responsible for her father’s death, write letters. Through it all, they both begin to see a greater purpose for their own lives. Even a man imprisoned for a lifetime can still make an impact on the people around him. The book contains pictures that also bring the story to light, and its messages are applicable to any reader who is struggling with forgiveness. The truth sets all of us free.

Here is a recent interview with author Laurie Coombs telling her story to Anchor/Reporter: Kristen Remington on KTVN Channel 2 News:

From Litfuse Publicity:
Can God heal the deepest wounds and redeem what seems unredeemable? Laurie Coombs experiences God’s transforming and redemptive power in her new book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer. When her father was murdered, Laurie Coombs and her family sought justice―and found it. Yet, despite the swift punishment of the killer, Laurie found herself increasingly full of pain, bitterness, and anger she couldn’t control. It was the call to love and forgive her father’s murderer that set her, the murderer, and several other inmates on the journey that would truly change their lives forever.

Join Laurie in celebrating the release of Letters from My Father’s Murderer by entering to win a Kindle Fire!

letter from father's murderer - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HD 6
  • A copy of Letters from My Father’s Murderer

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on July 20th. The winner will be announced July 21st on Laurie’s site.

letter from father's murderer - enter banner

About the Author:
Laurie Coombs
In 2010, Laurie Coombs was called to love and forgive the man who murdered her father, which led to an exchange of letters between she and Anthony, her father’s murderer. During their correspondence, Laurie was healed from her past wounds, was given grace to forgive Anthony, and witnessed a powerful transformation in Anthony as Jesus brought him to repentance.

Laurie’s story is featured in Billy Graham’s new film, Heaven, part of the “My Hope with Billy Graham” series broadcast nationally in an effort to reach people with the message of the gospel.

Laurie writes on her blog to encourage others to draw close to God and follow Jesus despite fear or feelings of resistance. She is passionate about the topic of forgiveness and feels called to share the story God has entrusted to her in hope that, through her testimony, many may receive the freedom she has experienced through Christ. Laurie is a regular contributing writer and blogger for iBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.

Thank you to Litfuse for allowing me to review a complimentary copy of this book.

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on Laurie Coombs’ ‘Letters from My Father’s Murderer’ Kindle Fire Giveaway



June 17, 2015

Two Roads Home

It’s summer, and my stash of great books to read has grown. You’ll hardly find me anywhere without a book in my hand or at least one close by. Sometimes I can only snatch a quick page or two in the five minutes waiting for band or theater camp to end, but I love making progress through a novel. I even signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Club at our local library, which makes me a good role model for my kids, right? (Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind winning the grand prize night out on the town: dinner, movie, and spending money for a shopping spree!)

At the top of my summer reading list is Deborah Raney’s Two Roads Home, the second installment in her Chicory Inn series. I loved the first book, Home to Chicory Lane, which I reviewed last August here. I wasn’t surprised to learn Home to Chicory Lane is a 2015 Christy Award finalist, among several other prestigious awards. It captivated me because my husband and I are in the midst of parenting our own five children/teenagers, and the main characters Grant and Audrey Whitman are a few years further along, having reared five children who have left the nest and are now out into the world.

In the Chicory Inn series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a welcoming bed and breakfast. I enjoyed spending time with all of my favorite characters from book one, which focused on daughter Landyn and her struggles as a newlywed. The second book takes us into the home of the Whitman’s daughter Corinne, whose marriage to Jesse Pennington is being stressed to the breaking point due to his relentless travel schedule.

Corinne’s husband Jesse is good-looking and friendly, and one of his young female coworkers takes his outgoing nature the wrong way. She thinks he’s flirting with her, as they find themselves traveling together to various sales conferences, while Corinne stays home taking care of her and Jesse’s three young daughters. The plot is full of twists and turns, as this attractive single coworker takes a “Fatal Attraction” interest in Jesse and his family. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, wondering what would happen. I really put myself in Corinne’s shoes.

Jesse is surprised to find himself called into the office of his boss, at first wondering if he’s been promoted, but then he learns his spurned and angry coworker has decided to retaliate by launching a sexual harassment scheme, jeopardizing both Jesse’s career and personal life. Meanwhile, Jesse is propelled into some deep soul-searching, as well as an early mid-life crisis. He and Corinne are living in their recently built dream home, and their hefty mortgage and comfortable lifestyle prevent Jesse from quitting his job. Yet he feels something is missing, and he sometimes wonders whether he’s called to be a teacher.

I loved seeing how Grant and Audrey Whitman balance their empty nest and desire to operate a successful B&B with their roles as mentors of their adult children. I could also relate to the exhausted young mother, Corinne, who is wiped out by the daily demands of parenting toddlers and preschoolers. Deborah Raney’s skillfulness as a Christian author shows us how to follow God’s Way above the world. As the characters struggle, their faith emerges, and every decision leads back to Christ. This novel series is an excellent handbook for life, and I know I’ll return to it in years to come!

Now I have to wait until October for the release of Book #3, Another Way Home, which deals with daughter Danae’s difficulties with conceiving a child. Unlike her two sisters who have been quick to start their families, Danae finds herself visiting infertility clinics and wondering if she’ll ever become a mother. Fortunately, there’s a snippet of the upcoming third novel in the back section of Two Roads Home so we can already jump into what’s coming next!

If you love television dramas like Downton Abbey, here’s a present-time story set in the heartland of America, Missouri. This novel series would be interesting for book clubs to discuss, and the author includes a Group Discussion Guide in the back section, making it easy to share with friends. You can enter for a chance to win one of five books here!

Deborah Raney
About the Author:
DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.

Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:

Website: www.deborahraney.com.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.raney
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authordebraney
Amazon.com: http://amazon.com/author/deborahraney
Instagram: http://instagram.com/deborahraney
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/deborahraney/
Blogs: http://novelgarden.blogspot.com
http://inspiredbylifeandfiction.com/
http://just18summers.com/category/a-happy-home/makeing-your-house-a-home/

Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing a complimentary book in exchange for my review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Summer Reading for Moms: Deborah Raney’s ‘Two Roads Home’



August 28, 2014

Home to Chicory Lane

I’ve been a fan of Deborah Raney’s books for quite some time, so I was happy to join in the tour telling people about her latest novel, Home to Chicory Lane. It’s the first installment in her Chicory Inn series, and I can already tell you I’m hooked!

Audrey and Grant Whitman have entered the “empty nest” season of life, with five kids grown and out of the house. Audrey has fulfilled her lifelong dream of turning their beloved century-old homestead into a charming bed-and-breakfast near Langhorne, Missouri. During opening weekend, family and friends come over to help celebrate, while future guests begin to book reservations.

It looks like nothing can go wrong…until their youngest daughter, Landyn, shows up, after driving all night from New York City, where she left her husband of six months behind. She’s hauling a trailer of newlywed furnishings, so now what? Audrey and Grant have gone heavily into debt to finance their new venture, and boomerang young adults are not exactly what they had in mind as guests.

Landyn is hiding a secret from her husband, Chase, and when her parents find out, they know Chase must be told. Yet he’s still in New York, broke, and trying to pursue his calling as an artist. Should he give up on his dreams to get back together with Landyn? And can she ever go back to him after their recent spat? You will just have to get a copy of this book to find out.

I loved getting into the minds of the characters and seeing how they think. Deborah has woven her faith so gracefully throughout the story as we see how Audrey and Grant deal with grown children making poor choices — time and time again! On Deborah’s website, you can see some really cool photographs of her characters, which inspired her writing. This series would make such a fun movie or TV mini-series, similar to “The Waltons.”

And while you’re visiting Deborah’s website, be sure to tour her beautiful writing studio in her new home in the big city of Wichita, Kansas. She’s an inspiration to all of us who are trying to carve out a tiny bit of creative space in the midst of family life.

Now, if you’re like me, and you love any excuse to travel, keep reading and find out how you can win a free weekend getaway!

*******

Deborah is celebrating the release of her new series with a $200 B&B Weekend Getaway and a Facebook author chat party.

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One winner will receive:

  • A B&B Weekend Getaway (via a $200 Visa cash card)
  • Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 9th. Winner will be announced at the Home to Chicory Lane Author Chat Party on 9/9. Deborah will be hosting a heartfelt book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at the next book in the Chicory Inn series!


So grab your copy of Home to Chicory Lane and join Deborah on the evening of September 9th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 9th!

About the Author:
Deborah Raney

Deborah Raney’s books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas—the setting of many of Deborah’s novels—for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita, where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deborah on the web at DeborahRaney.com.

A big thank you to those hard-working ladies at Litfuse Publicity for sending this book my way!

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney Welcomes You to Her New Chicory Inn Series



June 5, 2014

The Hatmaker's Heart

A few weeks ago, my daughter’s high school staged a production of Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway show, “The Music Man.” The story takes place in River City, Iowa, in the year 1912, so the costuming committee asked for volunteers to help make Edwardian hats for the women of the town. We showed up armed with glue guns, silk flowers, ribbon, tulle, feathers and an assortment of plain straw beach hats.

For several hours, we pretended to be milliners, designing and constructing hats that might have graced the heads of first-class passengers aboard the Titanic. I had more fun than I thought possible, despite burning my fingers with hot glue and needing lots of design help from my artistic teen daughter and other fellow milliners. When it was showtime, I was excited to see how a few hours of creative work helped transform a cast of modern teens into characters from a century ago.

So, when I heard about Carla Stewart’s latest novel, The Hatmaker’s Heart, I couldn’t wait to read it! I love books set during the Jazz Age, the roaring 20s, and this one promised to whisk me away to New York City, a welcome escape from the heat and humidity of summer in Georgia.

The story begins in 1922. Nell Marchwold has landed a job working in the Oscar Fields Millinery; she’s a rising star in the field of design, following her childhood dream of helping women realize their inner and outer beauty while wearing one of her handmade hats.

Nell’s life hasn’t been easy up until this point. The tragic death of her father in the Great War has forced her mother and younger sister to leave their beautiful estate in England and move across the Atlantic to live near relatives in the state of Kentucky. When Nell designs some hats worn by the fashionable elite at the Kentucky Derby, her talent is discovered by none other than Oscar Fields himself, and he invites her to New York to live with his niece and work as his junior apprentice.

But Oscar Fields is a difficult man to please. His constant criticism wears on Nell, yet she’s determined to learn and grow under his tutelage. When Nell’s unique designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she’s had since childhood reflects poorly on his salon’s reputation.

An older, wealthy client recommends a therapist who can help Nell possibly overcome her speech impediment, and I found this part of the book interesting, as the doctor explores Nell’s past to gain understanding into why she stutters. In many ways, this reminded me of The King’s Speech, one of my favorite films, and we see how Nell’s therapy makes her even more determined as she overcomes personal obstacles.

There’s a steady source of tension between Nell and Oscar, as she’s offered the opportunity to partner with an up-and-coming clothing designer for his 1922 collection. Her boss constantly reminds her that her value comes only from him, and he owns all rights to her personal work.

Because Nell is British, publicity for her design work leads to an invitation from London to set up temporary shop overseas to possibly create hats for the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Albert, Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. I enjoyed reading this section of the book, which has Nell voyaging as a first-class steamship passenger, surrounded by high society and inspiration for her designs. She spends her afternoons aboard ship sketching ideas in her room. To me, she is like a novelist who spends time observing and writing, though her creations take shape not as books but as beautiful hats.

As time passes, we learn of Nell’s childhood friend, Quentin, with whom she has corresponded for years. Nell has many choices to make as far as what she wants to put first in her life: her career, her family on both sides of the Atlantic, her new and old friends, and Quentin. Through it all, she holds a Bible verse close to heart, handstitched by her grandmother: “Strength and honor are her clothing” (Proverbs 31:25).

Nell’s heart is being pulled in different directions, and she must decide what she’s willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is. The novel spirals deeper and deeper into Nell’s past secrets and her longings for the future. She reminded me so much of how I felt as a young 20-something, and I think this book will appeal to a wide range of readers. The Hatmaker’s Heart would be a fun selection for book clubs — the back contains a reading group guide, and it would lend itself easily to a roaring 20s themed party!

As I read each chapter, I loved envisioning Nell’s colorful Jazz-age fashions. I wondered if Zelda Fitzgerald would have frequented the Oscar Fields Millinery Shop, and I could even hear saxophone music in my head when Nell went out dancing with her flatmates. The author did a wonderful job researching so that I felt like I was there, ready to place my own order for a new hat.

Author Carla Stewart is hosting an amazing Jazzy Hatmaker’s Heart giveaway (see photo below) from her website. Not only can you win a copy of the book, she also has all sorts of goodies to share with you. Be sure to enter her contest by June 14!


Jazzy Hatmaker's Heart Giveaway

Meet the Author:

    Carla Stewart
    Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more at www.carlastewart.com.

Disclosure: Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a complimentary review copy.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Crafty people and things,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off on The Hatmaker’s Heart, by Carla Stewart



February 19, 2014


Smitten Book Club

I’ve been reading another fun book lately that has kept my mind happily occupied while inching through car rider pick-up lines. Smitten Book Club is the third book in the Smitten series, written by four well-known Christian authors: Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter.

Set in the cozy fictional town of Smitten, Vermont, each author contributed one section to the book, writing from the viewpoint of a character in the Fireside Book Club. Their individual stories fit together like pieces of a quilt, and it was hard to tell they weren’t all written by the same author.

Here’s the main plot: while hosting a rummage sale in support of club member, Molly, who has recently lost her firefighter husband in a tragic accident, Heather discovers an antique book with the title, A Gentlewoman’s Guide to Love and Courtship, penned by once-famous Smitten resident Pearl Chambers. She wonders whether this century-old tome may actually offer some wisdom for modern relationships and shares it with the other members of her book club.

Each chapter begins with a charming quote from Pearl Chambers, and I enjoyed seeing how the characters find something uniquely personal and relevant to apply to their daily lives. And there’s another surprise: a handwritten note tucked inside says the book offers clues to a gold mine hidden on the property belonging to Molly’s deceased husband. If she could only find the gold, perhaps she’d discover a way to salvage the expedition business her husband started … and save the home that’s been in his family for generations.

The book club members — Heather, Molly, Abby, and Lia — dissect Pearl’s book individually, trying to decipher the possible hidden messages that may lead to the treasure of gold. I especially loved reading Kristin Billerbeck’s section focusing on the character of Abby, a librarian who relates to the world through her favorite Jane Austen literary heroines. She also tackles her sleuthing adventures in a way similar to Nancy Drew, decoding words with hidden meanings.

I’ve always relished the hilarious chick-lit books by author Kristin Billerbeck, and I interviewed her several years ago on my blog here. Colleen Coble also visited Mom 2 Mom Connection a few years back, and I reviewed Diann Hunt’s book, RV There Yet for Christian Women Online. I was sad to read that Diann Hunt passed away from cancer right before this book went to press, so it must have been bittersweet for the four writers to work together one last time. The authors’ collaborative blog, Girls Write Out, has been one of my favorite spots to visit for years.

I missed reading the first two books in the Smitten series, but since I enjoyed this one so much, I’ll have to find copies of the first two and get caught up. Keep reading below to learn more about upcoming events surrounding this book’s release!


*****

The Smitten gals are back with their newest release, Smitten Book Club! Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, and Denise Hunter are celebrating with a Kindle Fire giveaway, a Facebook party on February 20, and a nationwide book-club brunch on March 22.


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One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Smitten books (Smitten, Secretly Smitten, Smitten Book Club)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 20th. Winner will be announced at the Smitten Book Club Facebook Author Chat Party on February 20th. Connect with Colleen Coble, Denise Hunter, and Kristin Billerbeck for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! The Smitten gals will also be taking questions from the audience, giving away books and gift certificates, and sharing news about their upcoming nationwide Smitten Book Club brunch on March 22nd. (Sign up to host today!)



So grab your copy of Smitten Book Club and join Colleen, Denise, Kristin, and friends on the evening of February 20th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 20th!


Sign up to host a Smitten Book Club Brunch on March 22nd!
Smitten Book Club Brunch Coble, Hunter, Billerbeck, Hunt

Meet the authors:


Smitten Book Club Authors

RITA-finalist Colleen Coble is the author of several best-selling romantic suspense novels, including Tidewater Inn, and the Mercy Falls, Lonestar, and Rock Harbor series.

Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the ACFW Book of the Year award, Kristin Billerbeck has appeared on The Today Show and has been featured in the New York Times. Her books include A Billion Reasons Why and What a Girl Wants.

Denise Hunter is the award-winning and best-selling author of several novels, including A Cowboy’s Touch and Sweetwater Gap. She and her husband are raising three boys in Indiana.

Diann Hunt has lived in Indiana forever, been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, her dog, and, well, chocolate. Diann lost her courageous battle with cancer in December 2013.

Blogger’s Note: I received this book from Litfuse in exchange for my honest review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Friendship,Marriage,Motherhood | Permalink | Comments Off on Entering the World of the Smitten Book Club



February 16, 2014

Friend Me
Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller like Friend Me. We had an ice storm hit this week, so schools were closed, and I actually found time to devote to reading. From the very first page, I was hooked and couldn’t put this novel down.

When I first heard about Friend Me, I was intrigued because the author spent over 30 years as a missionary in Asia. I wondered how he would handle the whole topic of virtual friendships — this affects all of us, especially our children. I know of homes that have been destroyed because of “online relationships,” and I’m constantly telling my kids not to share private information with strangers. This book is centered on the theme of Philippians 4:8:


Finally, brethren,
whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report,
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things,
–Philippians 4:8

What happens when a person deviates from pure thinking as set forth in the Bible? It all starts off so innocently.

The contemporary story takes place in Indiana, and involves a complicated web of three main characters: Scott Douglas and his wife, Rachel, and a mysterious software developer with a dark past named Melissa. We read from all three points of view, so it’s interesting how the author gets into each character’s mind and shares what they’re thinking.

On the surface, Scott and Rachel have the perfect life: he has a good job with an investment firm, and Rachel stays home full-time to care for their two young children. But below the surface, trouble is brewing. Scott gets called into the office of his boss because his company’s wealthiest client is unhappy, and it’s up to Scott to turn his account around. This propels him into the world of risky trading, and his stress level increases because he may lose a huge amount of money, as well as his job.

Meanwhile, since Scott works long hours and is hardly ever home, Rachel finds herself starving for deeper friendships. While exploring online, she discovers the “Virtual Friend Me” website that offers her the chance to create her own virtual friend, someone who’s always available to listen, unlike her husband.

After she tells Scott about it, he decides to check out the website to see what his wife is up to. He too is drawn into the idea of having a virtual friend, and he steps into a landmine of trouble when he requests a “female” for his friend. This leads to intimate conversations, and Scott begins to spend every spare minute chatting with his virtual friend instead of spending time with his real-life friends and family.

Behind both Rachel and Scott’s creations is Melissa — the brilliant designer who helped start the company. When she created the software, she secretly programmed it with a search parameter to find her ideal match, but she’d forgotten to specify his marriage status. Too late, she thinks Scott is the perfect man for her, and she’s determined to be with him. She craves Rachel’s life as Scott’s wife and the mother of his children, and she begins to stalk their home and look for ways to get rid of her.

Because Scott and Rachel both share openly with their virtual friends, Melissa knows every detail of their personal lives … when they’ll be home, the code of their garage door, what’s in their medicine cabinet, everything. Melissa reminded me of the creepy mistress Glenn Close played in the 1987 film, “Fatal Attraction.”

The plot gets scarier and scarier and is filled with so many twists and turns I couldn’t stop reading! I love the author’s subtle message — that we as a society must be careful not to cross the lines that lead us away from what is true, pure, honest, and lovely. This book would be a fantastic springboard for discussions in a book club, and it even contains questions and additional activities in the back for that purpose.

On his Christian Suspense blog, author John Faubion explains how he got the idea for this book, while sitting in a software meeting:

While we were talking, something occurred to me that had not been done yet. Something really revolutionary. There were bits and pieces of it all over the world wide web, but no one had yet brought them together yet, not in the way I was thinking. Consider the whole Facebook phenomenon. How people want to be “friended” and “friend” other people. What a lot of people really want is a true friend. Someone they can pour their hearts out to. A person who is totally trustworthy, and who would keep every confidence sacred.

The truth is, there are not many like that!

But what if. . . you could design your own friend. Not a real person, but just as good as real. A virtual person. You would pour into your design all the traits that you thought were most important — trustworthy, friendly, discreet, constant, forgiving. Just think about your list. When you were done, you’d have the perfect friend …

I told my wife about this. . . that maybe I’d get some people together and we’d do it. Make such a product available and see if we could make it work. I got back an unequivocal, “NO.” When she explained why, she made sense…It would really get weird, and pretty fast. So she said to me, “Why don’t you write about it? Just don’t really do the software.”

The result? Friend Me.

If you visit the author’s Christian Suspense website (which is so interesting!) you can actually have a conversation with a virtual friend programmed by the author. Yikes! I also loved reading Faubion’s blog post about how he got his first book contract. I really can’t believe Friend Me is his first published book! It’s published by Howard Books, the Christian division of Simon & Schuster.

If you’d like to read it, you can enter to win a free copy in the upcoming giveaway!

*****

John Faubion is celebrating his debut novel, Friend Me, with a Kindle HDX giveaway!

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One winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Friend Me by John Faubion

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 22nd. Winner will be announced February 24th on John Faubion’s blog.


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by John’s blog on the 24th to see if you won.

About the Author:


John Faubion

John Faubion spent many years in Asia as a missionary with his family. Since returning to the United States, John has worked as a senior software developer for a large appliance chain. He teaches an adult Sunday School class and enjoys writing and driving his 1949 Packard automobile. John lives near Indianapolis with his wife, Beth, and their daughter. He is still fluent in Chinese. You can learn more about him and his writing at his website, Christian Suspense.

Blogger’s Note: I received a copy of this book, complimentary, from Litfuse.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Marriage | Permalink | Comments Off on Inspirational Suspense from a Missionary Turned Author