It’s Okay Not to be Okay


This book hit me kind of hard.  There were many, many nuggets of wisdom throughout.  Written by Sheila Walsh, this is an author who can drive very important points home in a way that sinks in, but does so without alienating the reader and making you feel judged or condemned.

Taglined “Moving forward one day at a time” this book was full of wisdom and tips to lean into our hard parts in life and really embrace who we are in God.

We’ve all experienced that moment where we wish we could start all over again. Failed marriages, lost friends, addictions, lost jobs. This is not the life we imagined. Yesterday can sometimes leave us stuck, sad, shamed, scared, and searching. Sheila Walsh encourages readers to face the pain head on and then start again, from right where they are. She shares that when she discovered “I’m not good enough and I’m good with that,” everything started to change.

In It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, Walsh helps women overcome the same old rut of struggles and pain by changing the way they think about God, themselves, and their everyday lives. She shares practical, doable, daily strategies that will help women move forward one step at a time knowing God will never let them down.

There are many quotable parts of this book, and I wish I could share them all with you, but that wouldn’t be fair to Sheila Walsh because she’d have written a book that no one who read my review will buy, haha.

 

But here are a few:

“Think about it for a moment. How many times do you feel like you’re not enough?  It makes me wonder were we got the idea of what “enough” is.” (p. 22)

“It’s okay not to be okay because we’re not home yet.
It’s okay not to be enough because God doesn’t ask us to be.” (p. 24 — whoa…. this is a point that was hammered home throughout the book and it has the potential to be SO freeing!)

“It might feel more ‘Christian’ not to bring our anger, pain, or disappointment to God, but I believe it’s actually the antithesis of a real relationship with Christ.  We become a little less authentic with every experience we bury.” (p. 40)

“We’re not perfect, but we are redeemed, so give yourself a break.” (p. 70)

 

I won’t quote any more, because most of the profound wisdom I have underlined and have drawn arrows to in the book are more powerful when kept in context of the stories Walsh uses to illustrate her points.

Filled with scriptures, this book will settle into your hurt places, and, if you let it, it might convince you to open yourself up to the idea that it’s ok not to be ok, and we were never meant to be enough.

I encourage you to check this book out.  It wiggled its way right into the core of me and whispered soft, comforting words to a heart that needed to hear them.

(As an aside, I read this book a little differently than I’ve read others.  I have a long commute and a subscription to unlimited audio books, so I listened to it while driving, but then to really sink in the points, every day when I got home I read through the chapters I’d listened to that day and underlined everything that stuck out.  So essentially, I read the book twice.  I actually really enjoyed doing it this way because listening to Sheila read this book was like having a deep conversation with a good friend.  Plus, her Scottish accent is great fun to listen to!)

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Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

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The Lady of Tarpon Springs


Judith Miller is an excellent writer.  This is my first of her books, but I’ll be glad to read another in the future if this was any indication.

Set in 1905 Florida, Zanna Krykos works as a lawyer — almost unheard of for a woman at such a time, but even more so for a woman in a traditional Greek family (who naturally pressures her to find a husband).  A friend of hers inherits a sponging business, and Zanna agrees to run it for her, despite not feeling entirely qualified to do so.

In doing so, she meets Nico Kalos, a Greek Diver given the opportunity to lead a sponging crew in the US.  Imagine his surprise when he arrives in Florida only to find a woman running the business — at a time when men still believed a woman’s mere presence on a ship would doom them and would likely get them killed.

This book showcases a strong female personality, which I love (especially in historical fiction when it wouldn’t have been popular), and a playful, charming male character who you can’t help but love.

Filled with not only witty banter between the two main characters, but also some suspense and fear for the lives on the crew at a couple points, this story weaves together to keep you coming back for more.

The research that must have gone into this book blew my mind a little bit.  I knew very little about sea sponges.  In fact, I only really knew that they existed.  I had no idea what it takes to harvest them, nor how much more intense that process would have been a century ago.  So not only was I entertained by a great story, but I also learned a lot and it prompted me to hit up Google and learn some more.  What a crazy experience it would have been to work on a sponging boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you’d like to purchase this book on Amazon.ca you can do so here, or head over to wherever you tend to find books to check it out.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

River to Redemption


Ann H. Gabhart is a masterful writer.  I knew this about her, but I didn’t expect this book.  It was wonderful.

Orphaned in the cholera epidemic of 1833, Adria Starr was cared for by a slave named Louis, a man who stayed in Springfield, Kentucky, when anyone with means had fled. A man who passed up the opportunity to escape his bondage and instead tended to the sick and buried the dead. A man who, twelve years later, is being sold by his owners despite his heroic actions. Now nineteen, Adria has never forgotten what Louis did for her. She’s determined to find a way to buy Louis’s freedom. But in 1840s Kentucky, she’ll face an uphill battle.

Based partly on a true story, Ann H. Gabhart’s latest historical novel is a tour de force. The vividly rendered town of Springfield and its citizens immerse readers in a story of courage, betrayal, and honor that will stick with them long after they turn the last page.

I’ve always loved American Civil War era stories, and so to find out that not only was this book set in the years leading up to the war, but that it was based on a true story, I was even more in love.

In some ways it made me a little bit furious, as it always does, to read stories of a time when people could be bought.  It just baffles me that this was acceptable practice at any time, and then it hits me that it still happens, but that’s a post for another day and time.

This story about young Adria Starr growing into a strong, fiercely independent woman who will fight for what she knows to be right deep down in her soul is refreshing.  Along with historical fiction, I also love stories about strong women, especially in time periods where being strong, outspoken, and an advocate was not only not encouraged but actually discouraged, frowned upon, and called out.  Adria Starr did indeed have an uphill battle in her quest to set Louis free, but she had to try to do what she knew to be the right thing.

This story will warm your heart.  It’s a wonderful read from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it.  I’ve known Ann H. Gabhart to be skilled at character development, and this story is certainly no exception.  You’ll fall in love with these characters (where you should) and be apprehensive about the others instantly.

To grab a copy of this book on Amazon.ca, click here!  Or head to your favourite book retailer to check this out.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

The Best of Intentions


Canadian Crossings.  Ahh, finally, a book about Canada!  There’ve been a few that I’ve come across, but most stories are set in the US.  It was really neat to read a story about Toronto, even if it was a different Toronto than what I’m used to, being set post-WW1.

But I digress.

This story took unexpected twists and turns at every corner.  Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I’d predict what would happen next, and that wasn’t the case.  I like that in a book.  I also liked this book more than I expected I’d like a straight romance story.  I think there was enough else in it that it was a delight.

Grace Abernathy crosses the Atlantic on a journey the description of which makes me incredibly thankful for commercial air travel.  She goes to convince her widowed sister to come home with her, but when she gets there she finds her nephew is living with his paternal family — the Easton family — and trouble ensues.  Grace becomes Christian’s nanny and moves into the Easton home using a different name.  She needs to know if they can be good providers, not just financially, but relationally, for her nephew.  Of course she starts to fall hard for her nephew’s guardian, Andrew Easton, but he’s not available to her.  Whatever will Grace do?

This is a well-crafted story about overcoming in the face of tragedy, and about doing all we can for our families.  I enjoyed it very much.  Susan Anne Mason has a wonderful writing style, and I very much appreciated that I couldn’t necessarily see every plot point coming.  I enjoyed that while this is listed as historical fiction, the romance aspect wasn’t the only focus and that there was a beautiful story line woven in as the focus of the story.  I will definitely be back for more of Susan Anne Mason’s books!

If you’d like to pick the book up, head on over to Amazon.ca or your favourite book retailer to grab a copy.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond


I was not ready for how this book sucked me in.  It pulled me in right from the very start.  This was my first Jaime Jo Wright book, though I was informed when I started to read this one that I’d NEED to read The House on Foster Hill when I finished it.  Well, all those who said it, you weren’t wrong.  I’ll need more Jaime Jo Wright in my life for as long as she keeps writing books if they’re anywhere close to being as captivating as this one was!

Set in both 1907 and a century later, Wright masterfully blends historical and contemporary fiction to weave the tale of the town of Gossamer Grove and all its secrets.  You’ll be desperate to keep reading to learn more pieces of the puzzle.  Just as you get another piece, you’ll need more answers and you’ll flip centuries again to learn some more.  I was captivated right from the start, and I don’t think I could’ve stopped even if I’d had to.  I’d have found a way to get to the end of this book.

Annalise Forsythe and Libby Sheffield, along with other people in the town of Gossamer Grove, both presently and a century earlier, are connected in ways they never could have imagined.  But even though they can’t talk to each other because of the years between them (and because presumably, everyone from a century earlier was no longer around…), they must work to put the pieces of the puzzle of Gossamer Grove together.  It’s fascinating.

I haven’t read many Time Slip books, where the author jumps back and forth between characters set in different time periods.  This was by far the best one I have read though, and I highly recommend it.  I was worried I’d get lost in the flips, as has happened before, but that was not the case at all.  Jaime Jo Wright is an incredible writer.

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Check out the book here on Amazon.ca.

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Battle Ready


Train your mind to conquer challenges, defeat doubt, and live victoriously.

That’s the tagline for this book by Kelly Balarie.

I loved reading this book.  It’s so practical and gives a wonderful toolbox to help when your mind gets crowded with doubt and fear.

Too often we fail to prepare for our battles. So when challenges, troubles, or opportunities arise, we rapidly become burdened with limiting thoughts of self-doubt, fear, impossibility, and lack. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can train our minds to conquer uncertainty, beat insecurity, and step past the tragedies of yesterday.

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

You can live victoriously.

And when a couple of authors that I’ll read again and again have good things to say about a book printed right on the back cover, you know it’s one you need to pick up.

“The most difficult fights we will face in this life will be within our own hearts and minds. Battle Ready will help encourage, empower, and equip you to live in true victory.”–Holley Gerth, bestselling author of Fiercehearted

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!”–Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

What I loved most about this book was its practicality.  It’s not just a bunch of words aimed at you, telling you what to do.  It’s a guide that walks you through questions, plans, and reflections to help you decide how you’re going to reorient your mind.  Balarie compares our minds to a Smart Phone, talking about how we can use it to its full potential or we can let it use us, essentially.  What’s surprising about this book, though, is that although it’s powerful and deep, it’s a well-written and accessible approach to becoming battle ready.  Usually, books that tackle these heavy topics are as equally heavy as their topic, but that is not so with this book.  Kelly Balarie manages to pack powerful, practical, important advice and learning into a light, easy read, and I really appreciate that.

I highly encourage this book.  And I highly encourage you to take the time to really reflect on what you’re learning and to fill in the various places Kelly gives you to write, or think, or stop to pray.  Doing the work will help solidify the principles you’ll learn as you read.  There are also questions for group discussion at the end of each chapter so that if you’re like me, and you’re tempted to gather a few friends to read through this together and really dig in, the work is done for you without having to buy a separate study guide.  I really appreciate that, as well.

Another thing I loved was the idea of sowing and reaping.  I’ve never thought of this concept in quite such a way as the way Kelly lays it out in this book.  The thoughts we sow reap varying outcomes.  We can train our thoughts, and therefore we can impact the outcomes of our thoughts.  Isn’t this a cool idea?  We can be freer from our inner critics and our comparisons and judgments of ourselves and others.

I particularly enjoyed the way this was framed.  This isn’t a “must-do” step-by-step process, but rather we’re offered 12 “Warrior Mindsets” to help shift the way we think so that we’re ready for anything.  I love the idea of being a warrior in the fight against the enemy that can and does wiggle into my brain.  I’m very thankful for this book.

Also check out www.iambattleready.com for even more resources to accompany this book!

Check it out here, on Amazon.ca.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Fake Or Follower: Refusing to Settle for a Shallow Faith


I was asked to be a part of the Canadian Launch Team for this book, Fake or Follower, by Andi Andrew.  The description of the book sounded like exactly what’s been on my heart for my own walk with Jesus in the last little while.  Discipleship.  My church has been placing a pretty big focus on it as well — how do we walk with Jesus?  And so it’s been settling into some long-ignored places, and I like it.  Naturally then, when the chance to help get this book off its feet came into my inbox, I jumped at it.

There was a lot that I really liked about this book.  And I think it’s safe to say that anything I didn’t like was a reaction to my being deeply convicted about the words that Andi Andrew laid out on the pages.

Through this book you’ll walk through thoughts on being consumer Christians, on church hopping, on living as part of the culture around us in a way that no one would recognize that we’re different except for the occasional Sunday morning appearance inside a church.  You’ll read about community — how essential it is to a healthy Christian life, what that looks like, and what it doesn’t.  Learn and dig into where your identity is based.  Do you reflect Jesus?  This section was very challenging for me.

We love because we were loved first.  And love is more than a feeling.  I’m sure we’ve all heard this before, but it sunk in for me in a bit of a different way this time around.  What I really liked about this chapter though was the reminder that love raises the standard by which we live our lives.  Being loved doesn’t mean I have license to sin because I have grace.  This is by far the biggest argument against grace I hear from people struggling to wrap their heads and hearts and minds around the grace and goodness of God and Jesus.  “But doesn’t that mean you can just do what you want?”  No, because I’m loved in a way that makes that makes me not want to go back to what I’ve been saved from.  Andi Andrew has just given me words for an age-old question.

I was both challenged and encouraged by this book, often at exactly the same time.  Andrew uses humour and straight to the punch truth to get her point across in a way that I could really appreciate.  I highly recommend this book.  I also recommend that you take the time to dig into the reflection questions at the end of each chapter.  I’m often of the mindset that I want to “finish the book as quickly as I can,” usually because I’m pushing a review deadline, but you’ll learn about yourself as you dig into the questions.

I’m glad to know who Andi Andrew is now, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of this launch team.  The book came out October 2nd, so you can now buy it in lots of places that books are sold!  My preference is, of course, Amazon, but check your favourite book retailer to get your own copy.

 

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Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

Grace Like Scarlett


Hi, friends:

For this particular book review I’ve invited a dear friend into the process.  When the title and description for Grace Like Scarlett popped into my email inbox, I knew exactly who this book was meant to end up with.  My friend Rachel has experienced miscarriage, and as a result has a great deal of empathy as well as a passion for supporting grieving families by partnering with an organization called Hope Boxes.

I trust that Rachel’s words will mean far more than mine ever could, so I invite you to read a guest post by Rachel.

Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

The statistics are staggering… 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime.

This is my story:

April 1, 2013 – A day of complete and utter joy with the phone call that we were indeed pregnant after 5.5 years. I can remember pinching myself just to be sure it was real. He is Elohim, the Lord our creator!

May 1, 2013 – Another day that I will never forget. ..that moment when, at 8 weeks, you hear your baby’s first heartbeat. Without a doubt, THE most precious sound…a sound I was beginning to think I would never hear. He is El Hanne’eman, the Lord is faithful!

May 29, 2013 – 12 week ultrasound day. The day anyone in our shoes would look forward to but yet a day that is etched in our minds forever, one where we saw our tiny precious baby….lifeless in my womb. He is El Elyon, the Lord who is sovereign over all things!

June 6, 2013 – The day our baby’s tiny, tiny body was surgically removed from my womb and discarded, yet a day that serves as such a reminder that Jaiden is with Jesus – heart beating strong, completely healed and whole. He is Jehovah-rapha, the Lord who heals!

Cautious and excited summed up how I felt about diving into this book. My cautiousness came from understanding that grief is deep and not linear. Even though five years have passed, there are elements of my grief journey that come up in unexpected ways. I knew this book would be one I couldn’t put down but needed to in order to digest the content and to let the author’s words soak deep down into my soul. I didn’t expect just how healing it would be. This book is a gift! I cannot recommend it enough.

Adriel shares a moving, personal narrative of how her family suffered pregnancy loss and how they walked their grief journey with hope.

The excited part (for me) came in how this book resource could be used as an encouragement to other women who have experienced loss. God has graciously allowed a friend of mine and I to start a ministry that reaches out to families who are walking through pregnancy and infant loss. We make Hope Boxes** that are full of book resources and personal care items to help women know they are seen during a most difficult time in their life. Though Grace Like Scarlett is primarily geared toward the grieving mother herself, Adriel has included a wonderfully written letter from her husband to grieving dads, along with ways to remember your baby, how to talk about loss to other children in the family, pregnancy after loss, and caring for a friend after a miscarriage. Each part has been written beautifully and with much grace navigating such a “taboo” grief that many women suffer with in silence.

Each chapter is so raw and real, and yet so full of the Hope of Jesus Christ and His presence during our darkest moments. She shares her faith in way that is so healing, constantly reminding the reader that God is so very grieved by their loss, and that not for a moment does He forsake us.

You don’t need to be facing loss to read this book. There’s a good chance you have walked, will walk, or are currently walking with a friend or family member through the loss of a child. That’s reason enough to take time to read through this book. One of the things Adriel shares about relationship after loss:

“Relationships after loss can feel a bit like Thistle Cove: ugly and beautiful. They hurt and they help. Sometimes you feel deserted, while other times you are spontaneously healed in their embrace.”

She shares things that were said that were hurtful to her and even includes a variety of other short paragraphs of hurt other women experienced after the loss of a child. Her challenge to the grieving mom toward those who cause hurt is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Most often people don’t know how to respond or act around anyone who is grieving, and while that can sometimes cause us to keep grief to ourselves, Adriel reminds the reader that, “Community can hurt, but it can heal even deeper.”

Speaking from my own experience, the ministry of presence is a powerful thing for a family whose world has just turned upside down. Continuing to keep that contact and realizing that you won’t be able to take away the pain they are feeling, but to just keep close with your “I’m thinking of you”, or “You’re on my heart today” texts or call means everything. I promise.

At the end of each chapter there is a journal prompt that is designed to take the reader into working through some aspects of their own journey and truly putting words where there may be none. I didn’t take the time to do this as I read to review, but plan to go back and look at them more in-depth with my next read through.

There’s so much more I want to say about this book, because it exposed the Light of Christ again to some spaces that are still dark for me, but I shall stop writing and just wholeheartedly encourage you to get a copy for yourself (or give one to a friend who is grieving)! I finished the book almost a month ago but have found it hard to sit down and write because I feel as though I’ve felt much of what Adril shared but literally didn’t have the eloquent and raw writing ability to put it all together as beautifully as Adriel has.

This book is one that I know I will read over and over, because there’s just that much soul food to digest!

Thank you to my friend Laura (and Baker Books) for connecting me with a copy of Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker in exchange for a guest review on her blog.  Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

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https://www.gracelikescarlett.com/

**To learn more about Oxford Brant Hope Box or to request a Hope Box, please connect with me here: http://www.facebook.com/oxfordbranthopebox

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

The Accidental Guardian


Oh, I loved this book.

The irony of my love for historical fiction is not lost on me as I sit reflecting on some of the dramatic moments in this book.  There were chases through the Sierra Nevadas, all on horseback of course, that took days.  Those same chases would now take fractions of the time.  That irony isn’t lost because I’m sitting in an airport terminal waiting to board a flight to go 3400 km in 4 hours.

In particular, when it comes to historical fiction, I love a good Western.  Maybe it’s the rugged terrain and the way everyone has to band together to fend for themselves to be able to survive without the things I’ve come to depend on (ahem, airplanes, wifi…).  I don’t really know.  But I love them very much.

When Trace Riley finds the smoldering ruins of a small wagon train, he recognizes the hand behind the attack as the same group who left him as sole survivor years ago. Living off the wilderness since then, he’d finally carved out a home and started a herd–while serving as a self-appointed guardian of the trail, driving off dangerous men. He’d
hoped those days were over, but the latest attack shows he was wrong.

Deborah Harkness saved her younger sister and two toddlers during the attack, and now finds herself at the mercy of her rescuer. Trace offers the only shelter for miles around, and agrees to take them in until she can safely continue. His simple bachelor existence never anticipated kids and women in the picture and their arrival is unsettling–yet enticing.

Working to survive the winter and finally bring justice to the trail, Trace and Deborah find themselves drawn together–yet every day approaches the moment she’ll leave forever.

This was a beautiful story with more action and adventure than romance, I thought, though there was a good mixture of both.  I loved it very much and I highly recommend it.  This was my first book by Mary Connealy and it will certainly not be my last!  I will be on the lookout for more, for sure!

If you like crime chasing, action, adventure, and a good old-fashioned Western love story, give this Mary Connealy gem a read.  I’m sure you won’t regret it!

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

All My Tomorrows


If you’ve been following any of my reviews for any length of time, you know I swoon for historical fiction.  It doesn’t even have to be historical romance fiction, though it tends to end up as such, but just something with a historical flair.

So you can imagine my delight when I was offered the opportunity to review a collection of historical novellas including short novels (the very definition of a novella) by Karen Witemeyer, Elizabeth Camden (two of my absolute favourite authors), and Jody Hedlund.  Jody Hedlund was new to me, but I can happily add her to a list of favourites as well.

I love novella collections, but I also don’t love them.  I’m torn.  I love them because the stories are short and quick, and they are often great introductions to a story line or set of characters that an author will use throughout a series.  But for very similar reasons, I also don’t love them.  I don’t love them because they leave you desperate for more information and, in my case, the next book.  I don’t love them because you JUST start to get attached to characters, and then the stories seem to end very abruptly.  I think of them like a trailer for the larger book series.

This was especially true of Jody Hedlund’s “An Awakened Heart.”  It follows a young woman into the shadows of New York’s tenements where she and a newly appointed minister spar over the best way to care for the poor and orphaned.  This story was beautifully done, but it definitely left me aching for more of these characters.  Once you read this, you’ll need to snag “With You Always,” which continues from where “An Awakened Heart” left off.  It was my next book.  I regret nothing.  I’ve not yet read Together Forever or Searching for You (Orphan Train series books 2 and 3), but I will.

Karen Witemeyer’s “Worth the Wait” takes readers to the Harper’s Station women’s colony where a young mother must overcome pains and fears of the past in order to trust again.  I’ve read others in this series, and I likely read them out of order.  But it was great to revisit Harper’s Station under the keen historical style of Karen Witemeyer.  I’ll read anything she writes, and my only complaint about this was that it ended too soon.  But it was like 100 pages, so novellas will usually be guilty of that if you’re used to 300 page novels.

Elizabeth Camden’s “Toward the Sunrise” finds a young female medical student trying to overcome the ramifications of a decision that leave her at the mercy of a stubborn but handsome attorney.  In typical Camden fashion, this story was expertly crafted.  The characters were relatable, and I felt great about how it wrapped itself up. I haven’t looked into whether there are more that continue on from this book or not, but I will.

In short, I highly recommend this collection of novellas if for no other reason than that you will need to add more from these authors to your collections.

Buy the book here on Amazon.ca

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.