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Courtesy Mesu Andrews’ Blog at http://www.mesuandrews.com

I’m so excited for today! I have had the incredible opportunity to interview two of the characters from Mesu Andrews‘ newest novel, Love in a Broken Vessel, published by Revell Publishing House. Mesu is the author of three Biblical fiction novels.  Love Amid the Ashes focuses on Job and his second wife, Dinah. Love’s Sacred Song is an exploration of the love of Solomon and his Shulamite maid. Love in a Broken Vessel is the story of the prophet Hosea and his wife, Gomer. I have read all three novels and I firmly state that I have never read better Biblical fiction.

Mesu’s research and knowledge of the time and setting of the novels are vast. In her introductions, she points out where she strays or adds to the Biblical narrative in order to flesh out the story, but she always remains true the facts of what the Bible says.

As a matter of fact, Mesu Andrews is one of the few authors who earns my “Enraptured Award”! It took me three days, because of my busy schedule, to read through Love in a Broken Vessel. During those three days, my thoughts rarely strayed from the story as I thought about what had happened up to that point and what was to come. Never did I turn to the back to find out what happens, as I was simply too deeply entrenched in the story itself and I longed to watch it as it unfolded.

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Mesu’s writing is beyond excellent: Enough detail to put the reader firmly in Israel and Judea, but not so much as to distract from the story itself; the characters are true to themselves always, which is a really big deal for me as a reader; over and over, I was overwhelmed with the idea that not only is the story of Hosea and Gomer a cautionary tale for the Israelites (and for us today), but it really happened. I came away from reading this novel, as I did with Mesu’s first two, with an overwhelming desire to read the Bible with fresh eyes and really understand the people behind the words that have become so familiar to me.

There aren’t many novels that can do that, now are there?

On to the interview! Delighted I was when Hosea and Gomer took a few moments from their very busy lives to sit down with me and tell me a little more about their love story. Fraught with heartbreak on both sides, their story is truly an inspiration to us all and a glowing beacon for God’s healing love.

So, Hosea and Gomer, you two knew each other as children, but were separated. How did you meet up again?

Hosea: “Yaweh told me to marry a prostitute, but He didn’t say exactly how to find one…”
Gomer: “‘No, you stay away from me!’ was the first thing I said to him after all those years.”
Hosea: “I prayed for Yaweh to soften her heart to become my wife willingly.”
Gomer: “I asked for independence and respect…”
Hosea: “But I wasn’t happy with that. No, I would love Gomer as the Lord loved Israel.”

You were finally married. How were things once you were settled together at home?

Gomer: “He left me.”
Hosea: “To prophesy!”

Wow. That had to have been difficult.

Gomer: “It was very difficult for me. But I needed to learn, learn about Yaweh and about my husband.”
Hosea: “It was difficult for me, as well. I didn’t want to leave the wife whom Yaweh had given me so soon. But neither would I disobey Him when He called me to speak to Israel again about repentance.”

Much of your story involves deceit and forgiveness. In fact, several years go by before the two of you reconcile completely. What can you tell me about that?

Gomer: “The Lord taught me that He can repair Broken Vessels, that He will love those whom He called unloved and will make a people of those who weren’t His people. He truly is my Redeemer.”
Hosea: “When Yaweh asks us to do a thing that seems impossible, He will give us what we need to do so. I could not forgive Gomer on my own; I could not love her so completely with my own heart. It is the heart which Yaweh placed in me that allows such a transformation.”

Thank you both, so much, for stopping by today. I am certain that your story will continue to show others the love and forgiveness that God offers us all.

And thank you for reading! Watch the trailer for Love in a Broken Vessel below. If my review didn’t cause you to get a hold of this book, the following video will!

Love in a Broken Vessel earns 5 stars.  I received Love in a Broken Vessel at no cost via NetGalley in return for an honest review.  My thoughts are my own.

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LoveInTheBalance

 

We first met the ambitious Molly Lovelace in Regina Jennings‘ debut novel, Sixty Acres and a Bride as she attempted to romance the hero of that novel, Weston Garner.  Fortunately for both Weston and Molly, the lovely and sweet Rosa entered his life and stole his heart.  However, Molly’s story wasn’t complete, as readers received a bit of a teaser in Sixty Acres and a Bride regarding Molly’s future romance with a sweet talking cowboy, Weston’s cousin Bailey.  In Jennings’ newest novel, Love in the Balance (published by Bethany House Publishers), readers are given to understand the driving forces behind Molly’s behavior in Sixty Acres, as well as learn to love her as she discovers, in many ways the hard way, the path God wants her on and how that path reconciles with her ambitions.

Bailey, finally released from his duties on his family farm, is desperate to gain employment and finally be in position to court and marry the lovely Molly.  Molly, while desperately hoping Bailey can make good on his promises and desires, is continually pestered by her social-climbing parents who raised Molly to only accept a marriage proposal from someone wealthy and powerful.  With Bailey scoring a zero on both of those descriptions, Molly is left with the decision to allow Bailey’s pursuit or accept another man’s invitation.

Edward Pierrepont stopped in the small Lockhart, Texas on his travels across America and his eyes immediately found Molly.  Determined in his pursuit of her, he wooed her and more importantly, wooed her parents.  With his fine manners, wealthy family, and handsome countenance, Edward is everything the Lovelaces hoped for their daughter.  Molly, too, enjoyed Edward’s company, although her heart still called for Bailey.  Who will she choose and where will that decision lead her?

Love in the Balance is a powerful story on so many levels.  The overarching story of following one’s heart over one’s head is, of course, a standard among romantic fiction.  But Regina Jennings has gone deeper.  In this second novel, the reader confronts the ideas of grace and forgiveness, wisdom in physical relationships and the effects those relationships have in the future, splinters and logs in Christian circles, and of course, making one’s own decision instead of allowing others full control.

For readers who’ve read Sixty Acres and a Bride, I fully recommend that you give Molly a chance in Love in the Balance.  Not only do I think you’ll come away with a greater understanding of this young woman, but also a deeper love for those around you.  I give Love in the Balance 5 stars.

**I received a copy of Love in the Balance from Bethany House Publishers for free in return for an honest review.  My thoughts are my own.**

ImageI’m a terrible reader.  I’ve confessed this before and I’ll confess it again.  I am that reader your mothers warned you about. I read the end of the story of most books long before I should.  Usually, I wait until the characters have hooked me.  By the third or fourth chapter of a decent book (mysteries included!), I’ve turned to the end to discover how it all turns out.  Of course, I then go back and finish the story through.  I love to know the end and watch how the author brings his or her characters through. The better written the book, the longer it takes me to turn to the back, because I am enraptured by the story itself.  There are a few books that slip by me and I am at the end before I even realize it, so well-written is the story.

Karen Witemeyer‘s Stealing the Preacher wins such a distinction. Published by Bethany House Publishers, Stealing the Preacher is a companion to Short-Straw Bride, where we first meet the steadfast Archer brothers.  In Stealing the Preacher, Crockett Archer is finally fulfilling his calling to preach to his own congregation, or at least one made up of more than just his brothers.  While on the train headed for a possible job at a Texas church, Crockett is pulled from the train by a group of middle-aged bandits looking for a preacher.  The leader’s daughter, Joanna, has asked her father, tongue-in-cheek, for a preacher for her birthday.  Joanna promised her departed mother that she would continue to sow seeds of the gospel within her father’s life and feels she needs the support of a nearby man of God to help her follow through.  Of course, she never intended for her father to kidnap the man!

What follows is a gentle romance that lacks for nothing in its telling.  Witemeyer’s skilled pen weaves a tale of a compassionate young man and a gracious young woman who fall head-over-heels in love with one another, all the while fighting off unwanted advances from the local single women, handling emergency medical situations, and dodging a snooping sheriff with a grudge.

For me, well-developed, entirely human characters whose actions in the story reflect who they are make a great story.  Karen Witemeyer achieves this ideal over and over in her books and Stealing the Preacher is no exception.  Both Crockett and Joanna are devoted Christians, yet they struggle with inner tumults that add conflict to the story.  I love how Witemeyer treats the ideas of forgiveness, steadfastness, and love in action throughout the story and causes the already “good” characters to grow even more.

Karen Witemeyer‘s balance of meaningful characters and flowing action in Stealing the Preacher earn not only 5 stars, but also my Enraptured Award.

Image** I received Stealing the Preacher free from Bethany House Publishers (via Net Galley) in exchange for an honest review.  My thoughts are my own. **

Beautiful Blend of History and Faith

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Grave Consequences, the second book in Lisa T. Bergren‘s The Grand Tour series, published by David C. Cook, brilliantly continues the rags-to-riches story of Cora Deihl Kensington.  As readers discovered in the first book of the series, Glamorous Illusions, Cora was the daughter of a hard-working Montana farm family – or at least, she’d thought so all her life.  After her papa had a stroke, Cora was confronted with the fact that she is actually the illegitimate daughter of her mama and one of the richest copper kings in the US, Wallace Kensington.  Wallace arrives to finally claim Cora as his own and offers to not only pay for Cora’s papa’s medical treatment, but also to send her along with her three half-siblings on a Grand European Tour.  Cora agrees to go and so begins an unforgettable adventure.

In Grave Consequences, a tentative alliance has formed between Cora, her siblings, and the three family friends also accompanying the Kensington heirs.  Cora is also faced with unexpected and unacceptable romantic entanglements.  Throughout the story, amidst the glittering facades of European high society and the dangerous villains threatening the party’s safety, Cora’s journey reveals her strength of character and a gradual acceptance of this new hybrid woman – the dirt farmer’s daughter who is now wealthy beyond her imaginings.  Cora must decide who she wants to be and whether following that path is worth the possible struggles and sacrifices inherent to that decision.

Lisa T Bergren blends beautifully the rich European history and faith with the intimate details of Cora’s journey.  The characters are richly developed and true to themselves in both word and deed.  Their actions are so in keeping with their characters, the reader is effortlessly pulled along through France, Vienna, and into Italy, just as if she were on the Grand Tour herself.

One of the things I most appreciate about this series, and this middle book especially, is the tug and pull of the characters.  We, the readers, see Cora grow and change, some in ways neither she nor we like, and we are entrenched eyewitnesses to that struggle.  And so it is with the other characters in the book whom we are privy to their thoughts.

Because Grave Consequences is the middle book in a series, we are left once again wondering where our heroine will end up, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  I am eagerly looking forward to Lisa T. Bergren’s next book in the series, Glittering Promises.  I give Grave Consequences five stars.

**I received this book free from David C. Cook (via Net Galley) in return for an honest review.  My thoughts are my own.**

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Every year, I begin with the same thoughts: This year, I’m going to dive into the Bible with gusto! I’m going to follow a Bible-in-a-year reading plan. I.am.going.to.read.the.whole.Bible.this.year.  I do pretty well for three or four weeks, re-reading Genesis, getting through Exodus . . . . One time, I even made it all the way through Isaiah.  But, eventually, my good intentions fall away, my fatigue and busy schedule take preeminence, and I stop reading.  Usually in fits, missing a day here and there, then whole weeks; I try to read enough to catch up, but by March, I’ve given up completely.  I still read my Bible, but not daily and not in any organized fashion.

Sound familiar? What can we busy moms do to keep ourselves grounded in the Word, without adding guilt onto our heads?

Enter A Woman’s Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year by Diane Stortz, published by Bethany House Publishers.  Diane has not only provided a daily guide to reading the Word, she has offered encouragement for the journey, as well.

The first part of A Woman’s Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year is a series of testimonials given by women whose lives were changed by reading through the Bible with a small group.  I love this idea.  As women, we hunger for relational learning.  I have always stalled in my Bible-in-a-year reading, but if I felt part of a community, all facing similar struggles, where I could safely share not only my failures, but also my triumph, perhaps I could keep my momentum.  The testimonials are uplifting and encouraging, pointing to the love of Christ, not the legalistic reading of His word.

Next up are brief guidelines and explanations for using the plan, both individually and in a group.  Diane also includes a very brief overview of the Bible and how it came to be what we read today.

Finally, come the reading lists.  Each weekly reading comes with a brief introduction, the chapters to read, main ideas (checkpoints) from the reading, and an opportunity to journal your thoughts or insights.

I really appreciate the simplicity of the reading plan, which alternates between Old and New Testament writings, as well as the brief commentaries.  I’m excited again to jump into the Bible this year, but this time, I’m considering organizing a few other women who might like to join me and discuss our readings.  Even if it is only one or two others who want to get together over a Skype or Google chat, I believe this concept of community will greatly encourage us as believers.

I give A Woman’s Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year five stars.

**I received a free review copy from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review.  My views are my own.**

lilys_plight

Lily’s Plight, the third and final installment of The Harwood House trilogy written by Sally Laity and Dianna Crawford and published by Barbour Press, closes the stories of three British sisters who, for their own individual reasons, sold themselves into indenturement in America.  Lily Harwood, the youngest of the sisters, served the Waldon family willingly and with joy for the four years of her indenturement.  She cared for Susan Waldon, the beloved and terminally ill wife and mother, as well as mothering the four young Waldon children placed in her care.  The only dark spots in her life are the constant threat of Indian attacks on the wilderness settlement and her burgeoning love for the Waldon family patriarch, John.

With John often gone from the homestead serving in the colonial militia, the burdens of farming, homemaking, and warrior-life fell to Lily.  When her chance comes to leave the homestead, Lily must decide where she truly wants to be – with John and his children or with her now-wealthy sister, Mariah, enjoying a life of ease more suited to her upbringing.

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review Lily’s Plight.  I truly enjoyed Laity and Crawford’s earlier series, Freedom’s Holy Light, and knew that this newest series would carry the rich historical detail, genuine characters, and well-paced plot that I was accustomed to from their earlier work.  I did not have a chance to read the first two books in The Harwood House series, Rose’s Pledge and Mariah’s Quest, but I didn’t find that this hindered my reading of Lily’s Plight.

The historical detail was a very accurate.  In some ways, I wished Laity and Crawford would have softened the emotions of the settlers toward the raiding Indians, just to make it a little easier to read.  However, their characterizations of both the  Indians and the Colonials as pawns in the war between the French and British was spot-on.  I think a little modernism may have been added when treating the possible romantic entanglements for Lily.  It seemed to me that the young men were quite forward in both speech and mannerisms, but then again, life on the frontier did not have the ultra-civilized, restrained atmosphere of a colonial city.

The romantic tensions between Lily and John were well-played out through the whole story.  Thankfully, as  expected, Laity and Crawford did not leave that tension as the only one.  Family disputes, Indian attacks, military fiascoes, and spiritual growth all work together to move the story of Lily along at a moderate pace.  No break-neck racing toward the finish line of this story, but neither does the book bog down at any point.

I am very interested in picking up a copy of both Rose’s Pledge and Mariah’s Quest to find out these sisters’ stories.  I give Lily’s Plight 5 stars.
**I received a free review copy from Barbour Press in exchange for a review.  My views are my own.**

She could never shake the feeling of abandonment she had carried with her since she was four years old and an Indian brave found her burn-riddled body beside a cold campfire. Raised by a loving woman but never quite feeling comfortable in her scarred skin, Beth Roberts has been recognized for her talent as an illustrator but tries to keep that part of herself secret from all but her closest of companions. Having come to Baker City, Oregon with the woman who raised her, “Aunt” Wilma Roberts, to escape a less-than-reputable suitor, Beth looks forward to a future as a spinster illustrator.

Then Jeffery Tucker, frustrated author and fellow boarder at the Jacobs’ boarding house, begins to take an interest in Beth.  He is determined to make his own way as an author and not as the pampered son of a retired judge. His own feelings of not measuring up blend with Beth’s lack of confidence and lead the two of them into a hesitant friendship that blooms into love, although neither is willing to admit it.

Wishing on Buttercups by Miralee Ferrell, published by David C Cook, is the second novel in the Love Blossoms in Oregon series. The characters in the book walk a thin line between remaining stuck in their wounds and finding freedom from them, which, I am discovering, is a difficult thing for authors to do well. Miralee Ferrell managed this pretty well, although there were certainly moments where I tired of the constant back and forth of “I want, but he/she couldn’t” between Jeffery and Beth. While this stagnation may be true to life, it can make for drag in a novel.

Otherwise, the mystery of Beth’s past – both where she came from and her untrustworthy former suitor – were well-done and really saved this book.

I give Wishing on Buttercups by Miralee Ferrell 4 stars.  I didn’t read the first book in the Love Blossoms in Oregon series (Blowing on Dandelions), and while it would have been nice to have that back story of the minor characters, it was absolutely not necessary to enjoy Wishing on Buttercups.

**I received Wishing on Buttercups by Miralee Ferrell from David C Cook (via NetGalley) free in return for an honest review.  My opinion is my own.