Monday, November 28, 2016

4-Star Review of "A Different Kind of Beautiful"


Discovering and Celebrating Beauty in Places You Never Expected

by Courtney Westlake

When Courtney Westlake’s family was given the shocking news that their daughter, Brenna, was born in 2011 with a severe, life-threatening skin disorder, they began to discover a new and different beautiful in their lives–one that values extraordinary differences and appreciates the wonderful sameness found in humanity. In A Different Beautiful, Courtney explores what her family has discovered in raising a child with physical differences and what she has learned about true beauty. Through her personal insights and experiences, Courtney shares how you, too, can learn to find and celebrate God’s version of beautiful in your life, especially within our differences and struggles.

MY REVIEW:  Courtney Westlake's water broke earlier than she had planned, and she awaited expectantly for the precious daughter that she and her husband, Evan, would soon hold in their arms and gaze in her eyes.  It didn't work out that way though.   Brenna was wiped and confusion and worry showed on the faces of all the doctors and nurses in the delivery room.   The loving mother's heart cried out, "Where's my baby?  When can I see her, hold her, kiss her tiny face?"  Instead of placing her sweet daughter in her aching arms, a neonatologist was summoned immediately.  Something was wrong. Something was wrong.  Something was wrong with Brenna.   Brenna was facing a fight.  She just entered the world and she was in pain and she had to fight, because the medical staff told her that babies born with harlequin ichthyosis rarely survived more than a few days.  They could keep her painfree until she passed.  That's when the heaviest decision fell on their shoulders.  Were they going to let Brenna just go?  She'd just arrived and they longed for this daughter.  
        Brenna's young mother, Courtney Westlake, walks us through the struggle for Brenna's life and then the joy the beautiful little girl brings to their home.   Brenna is blessed with the most compassionate brother and parents that God could have given her to.  I love the personal stories and the brutal honesty expressed in this book.  I did wish there were photographs.  I looked on Courtney's blog and looked at Brenna and smiled with tears in my eyes and whispered, "She is beautiful. She is precious."  Honestly, from the description in the book of her birth, I thought she would look frightening.   But she does not.  Her smile is infectious.   I did think that more scripture would have been helpful to accompany the stories and opinions.   What a lovely book, what an inspiring family!   
       I rated this book 4 stars and highly recommend it.
       I received an ARC copy of this book from netgalley and all opinions expressed are my own.
        As I finished the book, I thought of the song, "How Beautiful" by Twila Paris.  
How beautiful the hands that served
the wine and the bread
and the sons of the earth.
How beautiful the feet that walked
the long dusty roads
and the hills to the cross.
How beautiful
how beautiful
how beautiful is the body of Christ.
How beautiful the heart that bled
that took all my sin
and bore it instead.
How beautiful the tender eyes
that chose to forgive
and never despise.
How beautiful
how beautiful
how beautiful is the body of Christ.
And as He laid down His life
we offer this sacrifice
that we will live just as he died:
willing to pay the price
willing to pay the price.
How beautiful the radiant Bride
who waits for her Groom
with His light in her eyes.
How beautiful when humble hearts give
the fruit of pure lives

About the Author:
Blessed by Brenna blogCourtney with her beautiful little Brenna

Courtney Westlake lives in central Illinois with her husband, Evan, and two children, Connor and Brenna.  When Brenna was born in 2011 with a rare and severe skin disorder called harlequin ichthyosis, Courtney began a blog to chronicle their family life and experiences raising a child with physical differences and special needs.  Her writing has also been featured on other sites such as Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, (in)courage, and Good Housekeeping.  Besides writing, Courtney enjoys photography, traveling, and a good bag of Doritos.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

5-Star Review of "Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born too Soon"


Review of Juniper: The girl who was born too soon

by Kelley and Thomas French

A micro preemie fights for survival in this extraordinary and gorgeously told memoir by her parents, both award-winning journalists.

Juniper French was born four months early, at 23 weeks' gestation. She weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces, and her twiggy body was the length of a Barbie doll. Her head was smaller than a tennis ball, her skin was nearly translucent, and through her chest you could see her flickering heart. Premature babies like Juniper, born at the edge of viability, trigger the question: Which is the greater act of love--to save her, or to let her go?

Kelley and Thomas French chose to fight for Juniper's life, and this is their incredible tale. In one exquisite memoir, the authors explore the border between what is possible and what is right. They marvel at the science that conceived and sustained their daughter and the love that made the difference. They probe the bond between a mother and a baby, between a husband and a wife. They trace the journey of their family from its fragile beginning to the miraculous survival of their now thriving daughter.

MY REVIEW:  This book is absolutely mesmerizing!  I grieved and prayed and cried along with her parents, Kelley and Thomas French.  Tom was a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and he and his wife, Kelley, are both award winning journalists.  So I expected impeccable writing when I read about the authors.   Such a tiny tiny little warrior, Juniper fought through what seemed like too many obstacles.  Tom and Kelley had to sit helplessly by and watch the doctors and nurses work their magic.  
           I taught a Preschool for Developmentally Delayed in a public school in North Carolina and many of the children in my class were preemies.   Tom and Kelley worried that Juniper, or Junebug as they called her, would also have developmental delays.   They longed to hold her and were terrified to hold her.   They watched as cubicles became empty and blankets were drawn over a lump in the incubator.  They knew they could be next.  Any day. Any moment.  They had longed for this child, this daughter.   Juniper is the answer to their dreams.  Readers simply must read this book.  It would definitely be appealing to those who have also experienced life with micro-preemies and/or preemies.  I had three perfectly normal daughters, but found this book to be breathtaking!  
             I rated this book 5 stars and give it the highest possible recommendation.
             I received a copy of this book from the publishers and netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

About the Author:

Thomas French, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, has spent the past quarter century redefining the possibilities of journalistic storytelling, both in his writing and in his teaching around the world.
French grew up in Indiana and attended journalism school at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, where he was a Poynter scholar and editor-in-chief at the Indiana Daily Student, and where he won a Hearst award for a profile of a giant hog at the Indiana State Fair. An editor at the St. Petersburg Times read the hog story and hired French, just as he was graduating from IU, as a night cops reporter.
French spent the next 27 years at the Times, covering hurricanes and criminal trials and the secret lives of high school students. He experimented with narrative techniques both on deadline and nondeadline work and specialized in serial narratives, book-length stories published one chapter at a time.
In 1998, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and a Sigma Delta Chi award for Angels & Demons, a series that chronicled the murder of an Ohio woman and her two teenage daughters as they vacationed in Tampa. Two of his other serials, A Cry in the Night and South of Heaven, were later published as books. His most recent project, Zoo Story, explored the inner world of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and is scheduled to be published in book form by Hyperion in July 2010.
French is a Writing Fellow at the Poynter Institute and has taught there for more than 20 years. He also teaches in a nonfiction masters program at Goucher College, outside Baltimore, and has led narrative workshops across the U.S. and around the world, from the Nieman conference at Harvard to newsrooms in Dubai, Singapore and Johannesburg. He is married to Kelley Benham, a national award-winning reporter and editor at the St. Petersburg Times, and has two sons.
He is proud to have returned to his alma mater and is currently teaching narrative journalism and story mechanics.
Kelley French

Friday, November 25, 2016

4-Star Review of "A Soldier Finds His Way"

Review of A Soldier Finds His Way

(A Veteran's Heart #1)

by Irene Onorato


Sometimes getting lost is the best way home . . .
After a painful youth spent in foster homes, Special Forces soldier Edward Giordano has all but given up on love. Returning to New York from a dangerous mission in Costa Rica with no one to welcome him home, he knows he must find a way through his bitterness and embrace faith, or he’s destined for misery and loneliness. But he never expects that saving someone else’s life might help him save his own…
Audra Lorenzo is a first-year school teacher with a bright future. All she’s missing is a man to share her happiness. Her father wants her to rekindle her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, but she can’t stop thinking about the handsome, kind, and courageous soldier who rescued her from a near-deadly car accident…
Edward too, has not stopped not thinking of Audra. After making peace with God and with his difficult past, he’s ready to re-connect with her and reveal his feelings. Edward knows that opening his heart will mean risking pain, but he’s prepared for whatever comes—from a perilous deployment to Audra’s meddling father…

MY REVIEW:  He steps from the plane and there are happy people running to his comrades but no one is waiting for him with a sign to welcome him home.  No one is there to give him a hug with tears of joy.   He always felt alone....and now on his return from a major difficult assignment in Costa Rica, things are no different.  In fact, they may even hurt more.  So his plan is to hide away and be like a hermit until he is scheduled to return to base.   But God has other plans when a pretty, young school teacher has a car accident that just happens to occur near him and she has her young niece along with her.   He has to rescue them as they are out in the middle of nowhere.   Sparks fly between Audra and Edward, and they're not just coming from the fireplace.  
           Who doesn't love to read about a hero?  and it's even better when the hero is an American soldier.  Will Edward and Audra find the love they're both looking for?  the love that they really need to complete them?   or will they continue to be hurt and living a lift without a loving, caring partner?  Lovers of romance novels will be thrilled to curl up with a cup of tea and find out the answers to all these questions and more.   
         I rated this book 4 stars.
         This book is a gift from the publisher and netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

About the Author:

Irene Onorato was born and raised in Bronx, New York. Her father, a first-generation American whose parents were born in Italy, was an Army veteran who had served with the 178th combat engineers during WWII. He told numerous stories of battles, hardships, tragedies and triumphs. The glimpses he gave into the hearts of many American warriors would later become the inspiration for much of Irene’s writings.

In 1972, a few months after graduating high school, Irene met James Onorato, a soldier who had just returned from Vietnam. After dating two weeks, they married, raised three children, and are still happily married today.

Irene and James, both radiation protection technicians, retired from the nuclear power industry in 2014 and now reside in Louisiana.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

5-Star Review of "Christmas Love Letters from God" and Giveaway

Review of Christmas Love Letters from God: Bible Stories

and Giveaway!!!  Leave comment here or on facebook or instagram to enter.  

My instagram is @rhondanashhall
My facebook is rhondagaylenashhall

Written by:  Glenys Nellist             Illustrated by: Rachel Clowes                                 

                                                                         29491916Written for children ages four to eight, Christmas Love Letters from God cleverly combines both prose and poetry as the story of Jesus’ birth unfolds. The book includes seven stories, beginning with Isaiah’s prophecy and ending with the visit of the wise men. Following each story, the child will find his or her own letter from God, folded into a small envelope attached to the page. Each letter begins with a space in which to write the child’s name, so each one can be specially addressed to the child.

Written as if God is speaking, each personalized message gives the young reader a sense of wonder as they discover anew the Christmas holiday and the birth of Jesus. A very special Bible verse, entitled God’s Perfect Promise, also accompanies each story and letter as God’s personal words of love, promise, and hope.

My review:  
          What could make Christmas even better for your 
child? How about if God could speak to your child?  Can you imagine the look on your child's face?  This book has the next best thing!  Each story featured in the book has a love letter from God to your child.  The seven Bible stories, centered around Christmas, begin with Isaiah's prophecy to the visit of the three wise men.  The illustrations are a beautiful accompaniment to the stories.   Children, ages 4-8, will learn so much from the lessons included within the pages.  
         I read it to some four-year-olds and while the story was a bit too long for their shorter attention spans, they were thrilled to open the love letter and listen to God's words for them. It's almost as good as having your little friend whisper a special secret in your ear.  
         I rated this book 5 stars and highly recommend it to inquisitive little ones.  This would also be a wonderful teaching tool for teachers in Christian schools, Sunday School, and Children's Church.   
       This book was a gift and my review was my own decision and all opinions expressed are my own.

About the Author and Illustrator:
Glenys Nellist

from goodreads author bio:

Although I live in Michigan, USA, I was born and raised in a little village in northern England.

I grew up in a big old house, with two wonderful parents and seven siblings. My dad was the one who introduced me to the gospel. My mum was the one who encouraged me to work with children.

And at primary school, my teacher was the one who urged me to write. One day a week, I was one of the lucky few withdrawn from the classroom to sit in big, comfy armchairs in the teachers' lounge. There, in front of a roaring log fire, with pencil and paper at the ready, I would write.

I never would have imagined that four decades later, I would be blessed enough to be an author of children's books, or be married to a wonderful husband, or be mum to four sons, and a grandma too. But of course, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Illustrator Rachel Clowes:

About Me
Bio from illustrator's blog:

I'm a Children's Book Illustrator, trained at Cambridge School of Art, now living in Yorkshire with my husband Ben, an Illustrator too, three sons and two cats.

Monday, November 21, 2016

5-Star Review of "Desire's Promise"

Review of Desire's Promise

(The Desire Series, book 1)

by Karen Jurgens


Carlie Livingston is steering into her last year of college in Oxford, Ohio, confident that she and Lance Holloway are headed to the altar after graduation. Those plans are wrecked, however, by her dad’s infidelity, causing her parents to walk through a messy divorce. Will she have the same fate if she marries her college sweetheart who comes from a secular family? Her mother insists she will. 
She tests God’s Word by letting Him take the wheel of her life. But if God is in control, why are all her close relationships crumbling? Nothing makes sense. 
Just when it appears hopeless, Clay McKinney two-steps into Carlie's life, promising to provide everything she’s looking for. But if he’s God’s answer, why can’t her heart release Lance? Where will her final destination be on this journey of trust? 

MY REVIEW:  I am delighted to read a fresh, unique perspective in a Christian romance.   Basing the plot of the novella on the Bible verse,  2 Corinthians 6: 14  "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? 
Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?",  Carlie's mother encourages her to think very hard about the fact that her boyfriend, Lance, is not a Christian.  Her mother and father are going through a divorce and her mom does not want Carlie to experience the same fate.  Carlie is truly in love with Lance though.  Plus it further complicates the situation because Lance's twin, Meredith, is her best friend and college roommate.  Carlie wants to trust God and she wants to positively influence Lance and her other friends to follow Christ.  Can she do that or it God's job and not hers at all?  Can she trust God to resolve the situation without her help?  
          I don't think I've ever read a Christian romance written from this perspective and presented in the same fashion.  I find this very refreshing.  This novella will hold the appeal of adults as well as young people.  This novella could really be helpful to high school and college age readers.  Adults will definitely enjoy it as well.  This will certainly be a wonderful book to curl up by the fireplace with as you are wrapped in your favorite blanket with a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea.  
          I rate this novella 5 stars.
          This novella was a gift and all words are my own opinion.   

About the Author:
Karen Jurgens

Karen Jurgens--Living in Texas for more than 30 years has been an adventure, but Karen still proudly claims her Cincinnati roots. She spent her career as a high school English and French teacher and will always be a lifelong learner. She loves everything French, especially creating gourmet cuisine for birthdays and holidays, and you will likely find French culture and language in whatever she writes. 
She began a new ministry, Touched by Him, where she blogs monthly. Her passion is to share answers from God's Word about life's trials, and to incorporate those answers into her fiction stories. Additionally, she also is a writer and assistant editor on two other blogs.
As a single mom, her best accomplishment has been raising two lovely daughters. Along with her mother who is now 94, the four of them enjoy fun times together shopping, dining out, and traveling.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

5-Star Review of "Fatal Frost"

Review of Fatal Frost

Defenders of Justice #1

by Nancy Mehl


Mehl Ramps Up the Suspense in This Brand-New U.S. Marshals Series 

Mercy Brennan followed in her father's footsteps in a law enforcement career, but she has no interest in any other connection to him. A U.S. Marshal in St. Louis, Missouri, she's assigned to a joint task force with the St. Louis PD that puts her back into contact with her father and in the sights of St. Louis's most powerful gang. 
When the gang has reason to believe Mercy has possession of some highly sensitive and incriminating information, her boss assigns Mark St. Laurent--a Deputy U.S. Marshal and Mercy's ex-boyfriend--to get her out of town until they can guarantee her safety. 
Initiallyrc unaware of the danger she's in and uncomfortable working with Mark, Mercy's frustration escalates when she discovers the extent her boss and Mark have been keeping her in the dark. It isn't until a freak ice storm hits, stranding them at a remote location and out of contact with the district office, that the full severity of their situation becomes clear. As the storm worsens, the forces of nature combine with a deadly enemy closing in to put their lives at imminent risk. Can they survive long enough for help to arrive--if help is even coming at all?

MY REVIEW:  A terrible storm with snow, ice, and freezing temperatures are awful enough to deal with but Mercy and Mark have drug cartel members after them.   Mercy has something they want and they'll do anything to retrieve it.  Mercy and Mark have had a previous relationship together but it's over so that creates further complications to the entire ordeal. What will they do to remain alive and they have another agent with them and they have never met him before. Can they trust him? 
       I love suspense novels and this is one of Nancy Mehl's best works.  I can't wait for the next book in the series!  Hurry up and get to writing, Nancy.  After more fans read this, they're going to be anxiously awaiting it too.  Thank you for writing something I could really enjoy in my spare time.   It's a winner!
        I rate this book 5 stars!
        This book was a gift and my review was my own decision and all thoughts expressed are my own.

About the Author:

Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband, Norman, and her very active puggle, Watson. First published in 2001, she has now authored nine books, including an omnibus mystery collection, Cozy in Kansas, which contains three of her previously published Ivy Towers mysteries. Book three in the series, For Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls, won the American Christian Fiction Writers Mystery Book of the Year award. Nancys main writing interests lie in mystery although her new Harmony Series leans more toward the romantic suspense genre. Nancy runs a HUD program for the city of Wichita and is president of a volunteer organization, Wichita Homebound Outreach. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Kansas Authors Club. You can find out more about Nancy by visiting her Web site at:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review & Giveaway: "Where Jesus Slept"

Review & Giveaway of Where Jesus Slept

Children's book!  Giveaway!!!  to enter, leave like & comment on facebook or instagram for chance to win or follow my blog and tell me that you are following in a comment. 
Giveaway to end on Nov. 15, 2016 at noon. 

Written by:  Norma Lewis 
Illustrated by:  Katy Hudson


“This is the bed where Jesus slept. This is the straw that lined the bed where Jesus slept.” From here, the story builds with each spread, adding a new element and explaining the relationships among the participants and witnesses to the first Christmas. From Jesus sleeping sweetly to the wise men bringing gifts, this charming book reminds readers young and not-so-young of the joyous event we celebrate at Christmastime. Children will love the delightful illustrations and the engaging repetition in this cumulative tale.

My Review: This is the cutest Christmas story book I've seen in a long time! The repetition of the rhyme and building of it is so appealing to little ones. They can easily and quickly memorize the repetitive verses and say them along with whoever is reading it to them. I shared this with several little ones, from babies to older preschoolers. The youngest ones enjoyed listen to the verses: "This is the bed where Jesus slept. This is the straw that lined the bed where Jesus slept. This is the stable that sheltered the cow that shared the straw that lined the bed where Jesus slept......" The youngest ones had a fun time looking at the pictures while I made the sounds of the animals in illustrations and pointed out certain things illustrated while repeating the verse to them which made them laugh! Older ones were able to engage in the story while pointing to and naming parts of illustrations and asking questions. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. They could be framed paintings in an art museum. They did not include too many things so that the children were overwhelmed. 

 This book was a gift and a review was welcomed but not required.  

About the Author:

Norma Lewis is the author of ten books, including Connecting the Coasts:  The Race to Build the Transcontinental Railroad and Kasey's River Song.  She lives in Grand Haven, Michigan, with a marmalade cat named Scalawag.  When Scalawag isn't busy living up to his name, they both love spending time with her six grandchildren.

Katy Hudson was raised in Middlesbrough, United Kingdom, and started her career as a small child drawing on freshly painted walls?  Her parents quickly encouraged drawing with pencil and paper instead.  The idea stuck, and after earning a degree in Illustration, Katy embarked on a career illustrating books, including All Things Bright and Beautiful, The many Carrots, and Bear and Duck.  Katy works at a deck in a studio in an old library and likes to tap dance in her spare time.