You just can’t end the year without a cute cat picture.

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“You mean I still can’t eat the bows and wrapping paper? But…but…Christmas is over!” – Caesar

I just wanted to pop on the blog to say a belated Merry Christmas. I hope you all have a safe New Years Eve and a blessed year to come. I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the couch and reading a bunch of fabulous Christian, contemporary, and historical romance fiction this past year. It’s been nice having my blog as an excuse to read more books rather than cook and clean. ūüėČ I hope you have found the posts, especially the book review ones, to be helpful and entertaining. I know I have enjoyed writing them, even though it was sometimes challenging getting the wording just right. Before 2014 ends, I just wanted to say thank you so much for visiting and supporting my blog. I hope you will continue to do so in 2015!

Love,
Sara Beth

Happy New Years banner credit goes here.

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Romance, danger, & secrets in Pemberley–I mean Pembrooke Park

the secret of pembrooke parkOkay, so I read The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen about a month ago on a trip and it KILLS me that I didn’t write this blog post sooner because the story was that good. The book was so¬†different from most¬†Christian/inspirational romance books that I’ve read. In fact, I’d say that if it wasn’t for having a curate¬†in the story and the characters occasionally going to church, the book would not scream “Christian romance” at all. Instead, it was more of a mystery book, which the last I checked, there really are not a lot of inspirational/mystery/romance type books out there (if I’m wrong, I’d love it if you’d share some titles with me!).

The book opens up with Abigail Foster’s family on the brink of financial ruin after having made bad bank investments. After selling their home, a distant, mysterious family member offers the Foster family the use of Pembrooke Park for one year. Upon arrival at the Park, Abigail receives a less than warm welcome as the curate’s father holds her at gunpoint, assuming she is one of the many vandals that has come to look for secret treasure. After assuring the man that she has the right to be on the property, Abigail ventures inside¬†the house, only to be immediately stunned. The home looks like the Pembrooke family just stepped out of the house for a moment only to never return. Tea cups and food lay abandoned on tables. A dusty dollhouse looks like it is waiting for the little girl to come back and resume playing. As mysterious and creepy as the house is, it is just as frightening that no one in the neighborhood will tell Abigail what happened to the family. Abigail is determined to solve the property’s mysterious past and hopefully¬†stumble upon the missing treasure so that she can right her family’s lack of¬†fortune. What Abigail didn’t expect is possibly falling in love with Will, the handsome, young curate. However, Abigail’s determination to figure things out may expose secrets within Will’s family that they prefer to be kept hidden. Will romance between the pair blossom or shrivel up as Abigail is determined to solve the Park’s creepy and dangerous past?

If you’re looking for a riveting read, this one definitely fits the bill. I imagine it isn’t coincidental that this book reminds me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, except with a gothic flair and a more laid-back writing style. After all, Pembrooke Park sounds an awful lot like Pemberley! After reading so many romances, it is pretty expected that the heroine will end up falling in love and getting married. That’s a given. However, Klassen’s plot in every other way was unpredictable. When one mystery would get solved, another would pop up. As a reader, I never knew what to expect, which I greatly appreciate. I’ve read where some readers complained about the characters’ behavior not conforming to that which is expected of people in the regency period (ex. men and women never being left alone in the same room). However, do we really know if people in the gentry were always so particular about following these social rules? Perhaps they really did, but I found Abigail’s independence refreshing, even if the author took a little liberty with creating a character that would not have existed during the regency period.

I’d like to thank Bethany House¬†for sending me this novel in exchange for an honest review. I’d love to hear your opinions on the novel if you take my recommendation to read it!

Banner credit: http://planetpooks.files.wordpress.com/

Thanks USMilitary.com for the photo!

This Hot Military Romance May Make Your Heart Skip a Beat!

Eyes Turned SkywardIf you found out that you have a life-threatening heart condition, would you get a pacemaker if it meant you’d live a longer life? What if you felt like the pacemaker would limit you to living just a shadow of a normal life? Would it be worth it to sacrifice some of your happiness if it would mean you’d¬†make your loved ones happier by living longer?

That is the main question that Paisley Donovan ponders in Rebecca Yarros’s new release, Eyes Turned Skyward. I can’t say I have read many stories where I wonder if the main character will die on me (ahem, The Fault in Our Stars), but I was genuinely concerned about the sweet character Paisley. Yarros created an excellent character that was both strong and weak, brave and scared all at the same time. As the daughter of an Air Force General, it is no surprise that Paisley has some backbone, but what is surprising is that the bucket list she risks her life over is not filled with goals of her own. I won’t tell you whose goals¬†she is trying to check off since that is would be a plot spoiler! However, I will say that while fulfilling an¬†item on the¬†list, Paisley nearly drowns after a drunk idiot tosses her in the ocean, ignoring Paisley’s protests that she can’t swim.¬†Thankfully, Jagger Bateman, a¬†tattooed “tough” guy, is able to rescue her before she dies. Jagger and Paisley have some serious chemistry, but Paisley is engaged to someone else so they part ways shortly after her rescue. A few months later though, Jagger and Paisley unexpectedly come face-to-face when Jagger becomes a flight school student on General Donovan’s base. Sparks fly again, but Paisley is still with her fiance who sees her as a delicate woman in need of cossetting due to her heart condition. The question is, will Paisley break up with her fiance and begin dating Jagger since he makes her feel alive? Will she ever tell Jagger about her heart condition? You’ll have to pick up this book to find out!

I received this book as an advanced reader from Entangled Publishing. As a whole, my eyes were glued to the page, but I must admit I was a little unsure if I would like it when I first started it.¬†In my opinion, Jagger should have joined the navy because in the beginning of the novel, he swears more impressively than any sailor I’ve heard. His language almost took away my enjoyment¬†of the unique, contemporary story line¬†but his language improves as his character softens and falls in love with Paisley. Perhaps his character changed a bit too much to be 100% believable but you will have to read it to decide that for yourself!

P.S. Can I say how much I love the title? I love how skyward can be interpreted both as Paisley looking up in the sky as perhaps Jagger flies by or how it could reference her looking up to the heavens as she ponders her own mortality. Props to coming up with such an awesome book title!

Watch Out for Aunt Bev’s Discerning Eye… and Cane!

Okay, before getting into the book review, I have a question for you: Would you tell a lie to a dying relative if it would mean they’d die happier?

Me, I’m not so sure it is worth the guilt that would plague my conscience in case my loved one would realize I told them an untruth from Heaven.

Can we say sizzle, sizzle?

Can we say sizzle, sizzle?

In The Surrogate Husband by Wynter Daniels, the contemporary romance novel opens up with a distraught Mama who told her dying Aunt Bev that her daughter, Lucy, had eloped. Lucy, who swore off serious relationships after getting hurt by her father and ex-fiance, suddenly finds herself trapped in a situation not of her own making. She loves her great Aunt Bev who helped finance her lingerie store, yet she isn’t comfortable lying to her great aunt. When her aunt decides to come to town for a family wedding, Lucy decides that it is better to play along with her mama’s lie rather than risk her aunt’s health. The problem–where do you find a husband in a few days?

Well, if you’re Lucy, you happen to have this hottie accountant, Dex, walk in your store at the most opportune time. Lucy had talked to Dex on the phone and had practically melted at his sexy voice, yet this straight-laced accountant reminded her too much of the men who had hurt her in the past. Dex is already attracted to the black and pink-haired, punk beauty but dating a client is a serious no-no–especially when you’re trying to merge your company with another one.old lady with cane

Of course, everything blows up in Lucy’s face when Dex reveals the fabrication. The question is, will Lucy forgive Dex and will Aunt Bev forgive the entire family for lying to her?

If you’ve read a lot of romance novels, like I have, you know that they practically always have a happy ending. It was clear that Dex and Lucy would end up together, just as it was equally clear that Aunt Bev would learn of the deception at some point. It was fun just reading to see how the author would bring the looming disaster to a head. This book was made even more interesting by¬†having a punky but “wounded” heroine. Lucy is definitely a one-of-a-kind character that dresses up in sexy clothing as her personal way of making people think she is much stronger person that she really is. Any reader that has been hurt by previous relationships will definitely feel a kinship with Lucy as she struggles with opening her heart to Dex in order to have a chance at a happy forever after. I received this book as an advanced reader from Entangled Publishing but I would definitely have picked it up off the shelf if I had seen the book¬†on my own. For $.99, you can’t beat this kind of entertainment!

Now, I’m off to read another romance. Being a sick woman is a lot of hard work! ūüėČ

I hope the pirate’s daughter won’t come for me because of this review…

How to Beguile a Duke by Ally Broadfield

hmm…this dress may not be the best cover choice! It’s a beautiful cover, but where are the stays to keep it nice and tight? She could definitely keep her cutlass under her skirt in this loose dress!

The spirited Catherine Malboeuf has just arrived in England to reclaim her ancestral home, Walsley Manor, and a valuable missing heirloom. Nicholas Adair, the attractive and frustratingly inflexible Duke of Boulstridge, however, is quite unwilling to sell the estate back to Catherine. Unless, of course, she accepts a small wager…
Nick will sell Walsley Manor if‚ÄĒand only if‚ÄĒCatherine secures an offer of marriage from an eligible member of the ton before the end of the London season.

You know when you’ve finished a good romance book, but you can’t quite figure out a way to distinguish it from all of the others you’ve read?

That is how I feel about How to Beguile a Duke by Ally Broadfield. It was a good story but it lacked that spark for me in books that are generally published by Entangled Publishing. I was so excited to read this story based on the enticing book summary, but that exciting tension of two people (Catherine and Nick) both fighting to win a wager while struggling to fight their growing attraction..well, that just fell flat for me. It was quite obvious early on in the story how the plot would progress. I also believe the author tried to make the story different from other regency romances by having the two main characters hunt for a missing tiara by reading a journal, yet they never actually did any serious hunting in the manor house in which it was supposedly located. I felt like the sole purpose of the journal was really to make Catherine blush in front of the duke (Nick) for reading salacious entries rather than to honestly offer clues that would allow the missing diamond tiara to be discovered.

Compared to some other Entangled Select novels I’ve read as an advanced reader, I feel like there wasn’t quite as much character development that would have helped me connect to the characters as strongly as I would have liked. At one point, Nick actually ticked me off when he called Catherine “my little impatient one” right when they were about to make love for the first time. That line just struck me wrong–like the two characters weren’t two equal adults consummating their relationship. I know that unmarried women were shielded from knowing about sexual relationships as much as possible in that time period, but I just couldn’t buy that Catherine was THAT innocent when she was reading out loud some juicy sexual exploits written by her great-grandmother. True, she blushed some, but still..

Basically, I’m being tough on this novel, but I would still recommend this novel if you want a quick read, say at the beach or when traveling. It won’t knock your socks off, but it will still help you pass the time in an enjoyable way. For $.99, it is an affordable source of entertainment for a few hours!

Finding the Christmas Spirit in a Darkening World

Union Square Christmas Market

Overlooking the Union Square Christmas Market from Burlington Coat Factory on a drizzly evening.

There’s is just something about this time of year that fills your soul with warmth even when¬†the¬†days are gray and chilly. A few days ago, as I was passing¬†by¬†bare-branched trees, I remarked to myself that it somehow just feels like Christmas is almost here. It truly is in the air! Last week, I was really excited to visit the Union Square Christmas market for the first time. I felt like a little kid going from twinkling stall to twinkling stall as the normally fetid NYC air smelled sweet with the scent¬†of hot chocolate and baked goods. Unfortunately, the drizzle and Ferguson protests put a slight damper on the evening. I believe there is a time and a place to protest, but I don’t think¬†a Christmas holiday market where families and friends are celebrating the season is the appropriate time or place.

Anyways, I digress since this post isn’t about the protests. It is about¬†love, magic, warmth: Christmas.

One of the first things I love to do around Christmas is find good Christmas books that help remind me of what the season is truly about–love, family, and Christ. Unfortunately, this time of year is also about staying healthy when everyone else gets sick–something I failed to do this year. After picking up a couple of¬†prescriptions yesterday after my doctor’s¬†visit, I went to my local library and stocked up on some good Christmas stories as a way to celebrate the season from the comfort of my couch.¬†Yesterday, I hunkered down under a blanket and thoroughly enjoyed a new November release from¬†Harlequin Love Inspired¬†entitled¬†An Amish Christmas Journey by Patricia Davids. Little did I know that it was related to some other books I’ve read, so it was a sweet surprise¬†to recognize some old friends as I made some new ones in this Christmas novel.

An Amish Christmas JourneyAn Amish Christmas Journey is a touching story about a young man and woman who meet after tragedy has befallen their families. Toby Yoder is caring for his little sister who is healing from a fire– a fire that took the lives of both of their parents. Greta Barkman is the lucky sister chosen to retrieve her abusive, dying uncle from the hospital–the same uncle¬†that she and her sisters¬†just fled from when they went to live with their estranged grandfather. Through a twist of fate, Toby and Greta share the same car driving service¬†to take them and their family members from the hospital back¬†to their respective Amish communities¬†for Christmas. Along the way, the band of travelers discover a special stray cat named Christmas that has the unique ability to bring smiles to Toby’s little sister and can somehow predict when Greta’s Uncle Morris is about to have a heart attack. When a car accident leaves this band of travelers stranded together at Greta’s home, the magic of Christmas¬†truly begins as old hurts are forgiven¬†and hearts begin to fall¬†in love in the midst of Christmas preparations.

One of the reasons why I love Amish stories is¬†because the characters’¬†lives seem so much simpler, even though they have their own troubled times and their faith often gets tested. This particular Amish book discusses the darker topic of abuse, which Greta and her sisters suffered from while growing up with their uncle. The readers see the struggle that Greta has with forgiving her uncle, which is what the Amish are raised to do. As the story progresses, we realize that the uncle was abused as a child¬†so he did not know how to show his love in a healthy way–not that being abused is a free card to abuse others.¬†Although abuse is a dark topic frequently overlooked in the Amish communities, it is nice that this book addresses it in a way that does not put a damper on the Christmas cheer. In fact, this book inspired me to toss off my blanket, hang up my Christmas wreath, and light my favorite Yankee Candle scent, Sparkling Snow. Maybe one day I will feel well enough to put up my Christmas tree–before Christmas arrives. ūüôā

Until then, I will continue reading my stack of Christmas stories–and doing my best to keep the books germ-free!

What activities or books are you enjoying to celebrate the Christmas season? Share below!