Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh Review

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Synopsis:

After tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home–a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work–something her eclectic family doesn’t understand.

Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal.

Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away at the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a terrible truth even he is reluctant to believe. Facing a crossroads that could define his future with Lane and jeopardize his relationship with the surrogate family he’s found in the Kelleys, Ryan hopes Lane can see that maybe what really matters has been right in front of her all along–if only she’d just look up.

My Thoughts:

This story follows Lane, who struggles with social anxiety and has trouble fitting in with her family. She still feels the effects of her childhood, where she was nicknamed “Pudge” and not treated well.

I related to Lane in many ways. She felt very real and the descriptions of her anxiety were very accurate. As I was reading, I was reminded of some difficult memories from my childhood of being teased and feeling left out. I also related wholeheartedly when her brother was almost questioning her anxiety and making her feel like she could control it. (Been there, done that). I also found myself nodding furiously during the scene when she goes to her hometown church.

I loved how Ryan helped Lane to see where her priorities should be and found his love for her to be very special.

The town of Harbor Pointe was a great setting and I’m excited to know that this is only book one in a series of stories taking place in this small lakeside touristy town.

I also found Lane’s job as an interior designer to be interesting to read about. I’ve often thought that would be a fun job so it was fun to learn some of the ins and outs of it.

Overall, I loved this book. The writing flowed very easily and I flew through the story and was very sad to see it end. I will definitely be reading more books by Courtney.

My Rating:

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Justice Betrayed by Patricia Bradley Review

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Synopsis:

It’s Elvis Week in Memphis, and homicide Detective Rachel Sloan isn’t sure her day could get any stranger when aging Elvis impersonator Vic Vegas asks to see her. But when he produces a photo of her murdered mother with four Elvis impersonators–one of whom had also been murdered soon after the photo was taken–she’s forced to reevaluate. Is there some connection between the two unsolved cases? And could the recent break-in at Vic’s home be tied to his obsession with finding his friend’s killer?

When yet another person in the photo is murdered, Rachel suddenly has her hands full investigating three cases. Lieutenant Boone Callahan offers his help, but their checkered romantic past threatens to get in the way. Can they solve the cases before the murderer makes Rachel victim number four?

My Thoughts:

This is the third book in the Memphis Cold Case series and the second book I’ve read in the series. Although the stories are slightly connected, the books work fine as standalone novels. One thing that stood out in both books I’ve read by Patricia Bradley were the first chapters…they both started out with a bang and let me know that I was in for a wild and adventurous ride.

This story is a murder mystery that involves Elvis impersonators and takes place in Memphis Tennessee. The book is Christian fiction but is still gritty and disturbing, which I strangely enjoy.

I liked that this story was light on the romance…it’s there but it’s subtle.

There were a lot of characters to keep track of, which became a bit confusing at times and I was able to guess the culprit pretty early on but I still found the story to be a lot of fun.

Overall, this was another winner from Patricia Bradley. I now consider her one of my favorite Christian Fiction author.

My Rating:

4.5 stars

I received this book from the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Orphan’s Wish by Melanie Dickerson Review

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Synopsis:

From the streets to an orphanage in a faraway kingdom, Aladdin has grown up alone. Until he meets Kirstyn. With a father who is the duke of Hagenheim and a mother who is the patroness of the orphanage where Aladdin lives, Kirstyn is a member of the most powerful family in the land . . . and way out of his league. Despite the difference in their stations, Aladdin quickly becomes Kirstyn’s favorite companion for taking walks in the forest, and their childhood friendship grows along with them.

Through his scrappy skills, intelligence, and hard work, Aladdin earns a position serving in the duke’s house. But he knows it isn’t enough to grant him his one desire: Kirstyn’s hand in marriage. If he hopes to change his station in life and feel worthy of marrying Kirstyn, he must leave Hagenheim to seek his fortune.

But once Aladdin leaves, no one is around to protect Kirstyn, and the greedy men desperate to take advantage of her father’s wealth take notice. Now, more than Aladdin’s background stands in the way of the future he’s worked so hard to obtain. His only hope is to rescue Kirstyn and somehow manage to win her hand as well.

My Thoughts:

I have been eager to pick up a fairy tale retelling for a long time and have heard amazing things about Melanie’s writing so I couldn’t wait to dig into this book. Unfortunately, this probably wasn’t the best one to start with.

The story is supposed to be based on Aladdin, but there are very few similarities, mostly only the names Aladdin and Abu. The main theme of the story is focused on a relationship between Aladdin and Lady Kirsten, who have serious communication issues. So many things could have been resolved had the characters talked things out. It became very frustrating for me to read.

I did enjoy the setting and the time period. I love stories that are in and around castles and small villages. I also related to Kirsten in the way she didn’t always fit in with her family, but felt that Aladdin really understood her like no one else (I have my own Aladdin in my life 🙂 The faith content was also great and the story is very clean. This would be a book I wouldn’t hesitate to allow my 12 year old daughter to read, which I really appreciate.

Overall, the story was a bit bland and the story dragged on too long for my liking but I still plan on revisiting Melanie Dickerson’s books.

My Rating:

2.5 stars

I received this book from the publisher to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Road Home by Beverly Lewis Review

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Synopsis:

Lena Rose Schwartz hadn’t planned to leave her Old Order community in Centerville, Michigan. But then, she could not have foreseen the accident that made her and her siblings orphans. After her parents’ funeral, her younger brothers and sisters are farmed out to various nearby relatives. But when the deacon in charge of the arrangements tells her there aren’t places enough for everyone, she agrees to go live with her father’s second cousin and his family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Beside the fact that Lena has never been more than a few miles from home, she’s never met the family she will now be living with. But worse than that is the thought of being separated from her siblings. How will they manage without her to care for them–especially eight-year-old Chris? And what about Hannes Lehman, the beau she was sure would soon be asking her to marry him? It was true that he was not the man her father would have preferred for her. Maybe that was what the deacon was hinting at when he said “a fresh start might do you good.”

It won’t be forever, she consoles herself. I’ll come back as soon as I can to take care of my family–and to make a home with Hannes. But doing so may prove far more complicated then she ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

I used to read a lot of books by Beverly Lewis…they are what I think of as comfort reads. The characters are usually kind and peaceful and provide a nice escape from the stressful “Englisch” world that we live in.

I enjoyed this story but found it to be a bit dull. There wasn’t a lot to the plot and I found the pacing to be slow. The characters were sweet, especially Lena, and I really felt for her with the difficult situation she found herself in. The scenes of Amish life were fun (another part of Lewis’s books that I enjoy), but I would have enjoyed more of them. I also loved the descriptions of yummy food that are always found in these books.

Overall, this was not my favorite of Beverly’s books but it did remind me why I enjoyed reading them…I really enjoy visiting the Amish community every once in a while.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

I received this book from the publisher to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

ESV Archaeology Study Bible Review

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Description:

The ESV Archaeology Study Bible roots the biblical text in its historical and cultural context, offering readers a framework for better understanding the people, places, and events recorded in Scripture. With editorial oversight from Dr. John Currid (PhD, University of Chicago) and Dr. David Chapman (PhD, University of Cambridge), as well as contributions from a team of field-trained archaeologists, the Archaeology Study Bible assembles a range of modern scholarship—pairing the biblical text with over 2,000 study notes, 400 full-color photographs, 200 maps and diagrams, 200 sidebars, 15 articles, and 4 timelines. These features bring life to the ancient texts, helping readers situate them in their historical context while recognizing the truth that the eternal God became flesh entered human history at a specific time and in a specific place.

  • 6″ x 9″
  • 9-point type (Bible text)
  • 8-point type (Study notes)
  • 2,624 pages
  • Double-column, paragraph format
  • Cross references
  • Footnotes
  • 2,000+ study notes
  • 400+ full-color photographs
  • 200+ maps and diagrams
  • 200+ informational sidebars
  • 15 articles like “The Bible and History,” “Archaeology and Preaching,” “Major Biblical Finds,” and “Daily Life in the New Testament Era”
  • 4 timelines
  • Black-letter text
  • Presentation page
  • Book introductions
  • 4-color printing
  • Smyth-sewn binding
  • Packaging: L-Card

My Thoughts:

I own several study Bibles but nothing like this. The archaeology study Bible is an excellent resource…it allows the reader to understand and picture the culture and times of the Biblical text. This Bible is full of illustrations, photographs, maps, and diagrams that shed light on the stories in the Bible and really help the stories come to life. When I received this Bible, I sat for about 2 hours, flipping through all of the pages and looking at the goodies that are inside, it is packed with helpful information!

There are also 2000+ study notes that discuss things from an archaeological/ historical standpoint, which makes this Bible unique. I’ve found through my years of Bible studying that understanding context is extremely important to getting the most out of verses…this Bible really explains the context with the help of many visual aids (which is wonderful as I am a visual learner).

In addition to all of the great diagrams, photos, etc, there is also a glossary included and a large concordance as well as a timeline of Biblical history.

The ESV translation is one of my favorites as it is “an essentially literal translation”. It is also a very accessible translation that is easy to understand.

Visually, this Bible is gorgeous. The cover is very sturdy with cream and dark brown coloring that would be suitable for both men and women.  I love the spine of the book…it has a gold geometric design that would look gorgeous on a shelf. It feels like it is of very good quality and will last for many years to come.

I highly recommend this Bible for those who sometimes have difficulty picturing some of the scenes in the Bible. It’s a Bible that I will use for many years to come!

My Rating:

5 stars

I received this Bible from the publisher to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli Review

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Synopsis:

New York, 2016
Natalie Abbott offers answers for hurting listeners on her popular radio program. But she struggles to connect with her teenagers, with her daughter in an unhealthy relationship and her son uncommunicative and isolated. When one member of the family commits an unspeakable act, Natalie is forced to uncover who she truly is under the façade of her radio persona.

New York, 1776
Mercy Howard is shocked when her fiancé, Nathan Hale, is arrested and hanged as a spy. When she’s asked to join the revolutionary spy ring in Manhattan, she sees an opportunity to avenge Nathan’s death. But keeping her true loyalties hidden grows increasingly harder as the charming Major John Andre of the King’s Army becomes more to her than a target for intelligence.

Mercy’s journals comfort Natalie from across the centuries as both women struggle with their own secrets and shame, wondering how deep God’s mercy extends.

My Thoughts:

This story was heavy…it is the kind of story that will stay with me for a long time and caused me to think a lot about the issues that were presented.

I had a hard time getting into the story…it took me about 150 pages to really start to enjoy it but once I hit that point, I flew through the book. I became very invested in the characters (past and present) and learned a lot about historical events.

I love how the author took a story from the past and present and connected them. I also loved the faith content in the story. There are many quotes from scripture and references to the Lord as our “hiding place”, which I loved.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story, it just took a bit of time for me to become invested in it (but once I did, I was hooked!).

My Rating:

4 stars

I received this book from the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Theory of Happily Ever After by Kristin Billerbeck Review

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Synopsis:

According to Dr. Maggie Maguire, happiness is serious science, as serious as Maggie takes herself. But science can’t always account for life’s anomalies–for instance, why her fiancé dumped her for a silk-scarf acrobat and how the breakup sent Maggie spiraling into an extended ice cream-fueled chick flick binge.

Concerned that she might never pull herself out of this nosedive, Maggie’s friends book her as a speaker on a “New Year, New You” cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. Maggie wonders if she’s qualified to teach others about happiness when she can’t muster up any for herself. But when a handsome stranger on board insists that smart women can’t ever be happy, Maggie sets out to prove him wrong. Along the way she may discover that happiness has far less to do with the head than with the heart.

Filled with memorable characters, snappy dialogue, and touching romance, Kristin Billerbeck’s The Theory of Happily Ever After shows that the search for happiness may be futile–because sometimes happiness is already out there searching for you.

My Thoughts:

I wanted to love this book and I really thought that I would but unfortunately that was not the case. I love the cover of the book and the setting is a cruise ship which is one of my favorite scenes to read about.

The plot was decent…a woman who wrote the book on happiness gets dumped and falls into a slump filled with Hallmark movies and gelato. Her friends convince her to go on a singles cruise, where of course, she meets men. I wasn’t a fan of how the plot was executed…there was a lot of emphasis on Maggie’s research and a lot of scientific/psychology talk that I became very bored with. I also found the writing style to be difficult…it wasn’t an easy read, something about it didn’t flow well.

I also found the characters to be exhausting and unlikable. I had a hard time rooting for any of them.

I did find the faith content to be good and appreciated how it was included in the book.

Overall, this just wasn’t the book for me. I enjoy the occasional cute chick-lit, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

My Rating: 2 stars

I received this book from the publisher to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.