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Book & Cover Review of "Waiting for Spring" by Amanda Cabot

Back Cover of Waiting for Spring by Amanda CabotFront Cover of Waiting for Spring by Amanda Cabot

Book Review

Amanda Cabot’s second book in the Westward Winds series, “Waiting for Spring”, can be read as a wonderfully engaging stand-alone novel. I have not read the first book of this series and felt neither lost, nor unsatisfied.

Both the male and female leads are well-developed and unique characters I was both rooting for, and frustrated with for much of the book. (Will these two ever figure out they are meant for each other?)

Amanda has also brilliantly developed a bad guy you slowly love to hate. He starts off seeming only slightly untrustworthy … and eventually his true nature leaves you squirming with displeasure — earnestly turning pages to learn how his bad intentions will affect the hero and heroine.

A wonderful story — based in the early years of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It definitely makes it onto my favorites list for the year.

Book Cover Review

May I say that the dress steals the show on this cover? But … since the story is about a dress maker it totally works! The vibrant blue color draws attention, and the style of the dress establishes it is a historical set in the late 19th century. This cover will appeal more to women, but since that is the same target as the story, it is a great match.

One small factoid that I thought was fun about this cover design, is the fact that the title grouping is actually partially hidden behind the cover model’s shoulder. The designer was obviously aware the model and the dress ‘steal the show’ — they are purposely letting it, by giving the title grouping a secondary status in this design (though they did add a touch of gloss to balance it a little).

* This book was provided by the publisher with no guarantee of a positive review. Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Waiting for Spring By Amanda Cabot

Amanda Cabot explores themes of love, courage and sacrifice in the second book of the Westward Winds series.   With an authentic backdrop of 1880s Wyoming, Cabot creates characters whose struggle to forge a life in the old West ultimately win your heart.

After the loss of her husband and the birth of her baby, Charlotte has had a long, hard year. But when a notorious robber believes she knows the location of a long-lost treasure, she flees to Cheyenne and opens a dressmaker’s shop to lie low and make a living. When wealthy cattle baron and political hopeful Barrett Landry enters the shop to visit her best customer Miriam, Charlotte feels drawn to him.

If Barrett is to be a senator of the soon-to-be state of Wyoming, he must make a sensible match, and Miriam has all the right connections. Yet he can’t shake the feeling that Charlotte holds the key to his heart and his future.

Soon the past comes to call, and Barrett’s plans crumble around him. Will Charlotte and Barrett find the courage to look love in the face? Or will their fears blot out any chance for happiness?

Amanda Cabot is an accomplished author under various pen names and a popular speaker. The author of Paper Roses, Scattered Petals, Tomorrow’s Garden, and Summer of Promise, she is also a charter member of Romance Writers of America, the cofounder of its New Jersey chapter, a member of the ACFW, and an avid traveler. She lives in Wyoming.

Endorsements for Amanda Cabot and Waiting for Spring:

“One thing I know to expect when I open an Amanda Cabot novel is heart. She creates characters that tug at my heartstrings, storylines that make my heart smile, and a spiritual lesson that does my heart good. Her stories are like the first sweet scents of spring—pure pleasure.”—Kim Vogel Sawyer, bestselling author of My Heart Remembers

“From the first page I found myself rooting for the young widow, Charlotte, who’s trying to forge a life for herself in Cheyenne while also caring for a disabled son. My heart beat with worry as trouble from the past found her. And it pattered with hope as sweet Charlotte caught the eye of handsome Barrett. Amanda Cabot offers a delightful read, and as I turned the pages I was swept away with a story of love, courage, and sacrifice. Recommended!”—Tricia Goyer, bestselling author of 32 books, including Beyond Hope’s Valley

Christian fiction

Book & Cover Review of "Cooking the Books" by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Book Review

Although I was a little surprised that this story is not about the embezzlement of funds … (that’s what is usually meant by ‘cooking the books’ in the mafia movies, right?) the title still fits, as there is definitely cooking, and more than one book directly involved in this mystery. Full of unique characters, and plenty of drama, this book sucked me in by chapter two. There are so many options on who it is that might be harassing (and possibly plotting to harm) the main character that it keeps you reading to the very last page. One after another the potential villains’ plots unravel, but along the way the crazy antics of her relatives and friends remind me a little of the over-the-top craziness of characters from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.  Though Bonnie’s female character, Sloane Templeton, may perhaps be even worse than Stephanie at handling a gun … at least in the beginning.

“Cooking the Books” does tackle a little bit of faith – in regards to learning  to depend and trust on God and not on yourself alone – but its done in a manner that I feel even non-Christians would enjoy this book.  Note: there is a bit of blood, guns etc. in this novel, as well as flashbacks regarding abusive relationships that might not be for everyone. However, if you are a fan of Law and Order or the like, it’s not any worse than that level.

Book Cover Review

This is a very modern book cover design, which fits since this is a story set in modern times. The city skyline and modern font help to ground the book as an urban mystery … and the bits of tech font, and computer code allude to the elements of the mystery that appear to come from a skilled hacker. (Luckily, the main female character has skills and connections of her own!) I worry that some of the text may be a little too close in color to the background behind it and might not be readable on some screens. Also, I would like to have seen the skillet with the book in it at a slightly larger size, just enough so that the handle would have appeared to go off the page to the left and we could assume someone was holding it instead of it appearing to float in mid-air as it does now. Overall, I believe it is an effective cover. Just a few easy tweaks and it would be even better.

Note: I received a digital copy for review so I have not seen the back cover design and therefore can’t comment on it. This title will be available from Abingdon in April of 2012. 

The following interview was conducted by me for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).

Interview with Bonnie Calhoun

Bonnie Calhoun is indeed one very busy lady. As she phrases it on her amazon.com author bio,“… sleep is sorely over-rated.” As a member of her blog alliance, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, I can testify personally that she has responded (unexpectedly) to an email from me to request a book for review in the wee hours of the morning – so I know she isn’t just saying that! Bonnie also publishes the Christian Fiction Online magazine, is the director of ACFW’s Northeast zone, teaches workshops on blogging and website construction at more than one writing conference, runs her own clothing design store, and still manages to teach a bible study and a weekly Sunday school class for teens.

Bonnie, I confess that I get a headache even trying to imagine juggling the many roles mentioned in your bio. How do you stay organized enough to tackle so many things?
Spreadsheets! I love Excel spreadsheets! And I think part of the penchant for organization comes from the fact that I am an “ENTJ” on the Myer-Briggs Personality test. I love it when a good plan comes together!

You have been supporting other writers for some time, in many different ways, was this always with the intent of building a platform to support your own writing, or is that a happy bonus?
It’s a happy bonus! Sometimes I find such easy ways to help people, and I can’t just waste those opportunities. The Lord gave me a great gift of organization and design, and that translates into being able to see the big picture. So anything that is furthering the Lord’s Kingdom is right on my work list.

What’s your secret to staying up late (chocolate, coffee …)?
ROFLOL…that one’s easy…work. I have a certain amount that I need to get done every day, or risk falling behind. So I stay up till I’m satisfied with the day’s progress. For example…I’m writing this interview at 2:30 AM…

Your characters in “Cooking the Books” are so zany and full of unique quirks. Are they based on real people, or what gave you the inspiration for some of their unique traits?
They are a conglomeration of relatives and people I know. We all have zany characters in our lives. All you need to do is meld a few of them together to create a really fun personality. And if you have a single person that is uber-zany, so much the better…*snort-giggle*…just don’t name the character after them.

One of the topics woven into your story revolves around the idea of tendencies for women of different generations in the same family to be drawn to the same type of man. What drew you to this topic?
All of my stories will have the “bones” of an issue that many women deal with. I know many dysfunctional families that if you look back at their generations…their mom made the same mistakes, and so did their grandmas, in choosing unwisely. This is the time where we need to pray to break these cycles. And I am going to try and portray women who learn to overcome.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career (so far)?
That is a totally easy question! Holding my first novel in my hands. (The box of author copies came this week. Holding them makes it all real in a tangible way that I can’t describe…but other published authors understand.

Who is your writing support system?
My agent, Terry Burns and his Client group, my crit group, the Penwrights, My ACFW Northeast Loop, my editor, Ramona Richards, and several other people as they have time…but most all of us are writers, and we’re all…writing. ☺

What writers do you feel have influenced your own writing style the most?
Jerry Jenkins, Brandilyn Collins, Robert Liparulo, and Janet Evanovich…in that order.

Any parting words?
Yes…a great quote from my agent Terry Burns that I love to share on a regular basis, “Publishing isn’t a selection process. It’s a survival process.”

Thanks for sharing with us, Bonnie, and congratulations on making it on the cover of Publisher’s Weekly with your upcoming book!

Christian fiction

Book & Cover Review of "the Thorn" by Beverly Lewis

The Thorn (The Rose Trilogy, Book 1)
Book Review
The Thorn by Beverly Lewis, is book one of a much anticipated new Amish fiction trilogy, entitled the Rose Trilogy. Releasing today, September 7th, The Thorn is expected to rise quickly into the best seller list due to the author’s reputation is the top name in Amish fiction. And, after reading an advanced reader copy sent to me for review by Bethany House, I can see why!  Beverly Lewis continues to keep the Amish fiction genre fresh by interweaving complex character problems into a seemingly simple/plain cultural background.

What I found most intriguing about book one is that, unlike ‘the Shunning‘, her first Amish fiction novel – which has sold over one million copies – ‘the Thorn‘ actually tackles the issue of what would happen if someone who has left the Amish order for the life of the English wants to return to it?  Especially if they are married to an Englisher and have a child?

In previous Amish fiction I had read, it was always assumed that the person who left to be English would be shunned by even their closest family members, and therefore there was no opportunity to return.  This book certainly handles that in a different light, and is worth reading for that aspect alone.

However, one of the other main plots in this book deals with an Amish girl who is torn between caring for two very different men. The choice between living English or living Amish is there for her … but Rose has seen what that choice did to her sister Hen’s life, and she knows that her sister is struggling to live in the gap in between the two lifestyles.

Is that even possible? This book is the first book of a trilogy that seems to tackle that topic head on. If you love Amish fiction, this book is a ‘must read’.  There are enough twists to keep you reading, but overall it is a peaceful read, full of details about living Amish and the peaceful simplicity of a faith filled with tradition and the importance of family.

Book Cover Review
It’s a little harder to give a review on the cover this time.  The advanced reader copy only gives me a glimpse of the front cover, however, it appears to be a very typical cover for a piece of Amish fiction.  The large image of the young woman, sporting Amish dress and head coverings will certainly draw any readers who are already Amish fiction readers, or anyone who has always been curious about the Amish.  Beverly Lewis is perhaps the best known Amish fiction writer there is – so the choice to show her name even larger than the title of the book itself is no surprise. Very little of the background is showing, but it appears to be an open field of either tall grasses or wheat beneath a cloudy blue sky.  An antique treatment has been applied to the background – helping to give the novel the look of an instant classic.

The only negative I will state about this cover is the fact that it is instantly forgettable – there is nothing about it that will stand out in a reader’s memory.  If you were unable to remember the title of the book there is nothing on the cover that will make it stand out from any other piece of Amish fiction. If there had been a way to work a thorn photo, or a thorn-like embellishment into the cover … I think that would have made the cover more customized, and possibly more memorable, even if handled in a subtle way.

* Advanced Reader Copy received for review from Bethany House Publishers.

Christian fiction

Book & Cover Review of "This Fine Life" by Eva Marie Everson

This Fine Life: A Novel

Book Review

Author Eva Marie Everson has found her niche’ in the Christian southern fiction genre.  Although in every respect a story of it’s own, the southern flair present in her earlier book Things Left Unspoken has been further polished and refined in This Fine Life. This Fine Life is a charming accounting of how one encounter with a young man named Thayne Scott, an employee at her father’s manufacturing company, forever alters the life of a young woman named Mariette Puttnam. 

Mariette is at a cross-roads.  Mama and others in her life believe that now that her boarding school days are behind her she should settle in and concentrate on finding a husband.  On the other hand, there is the lure of college and doing more with her life; her father’s wish.  Faced with the option of making one parent happy while disappointing the other – in steps Thayne … The attraction to Thayne proves stronger than the opposition of her family – so she neither marries well, nor attends college – equally disappointing both parents.

There are two things I loved about this book, one being that Mariette’s parents could have done the over-the-top drama of disowning their daughter for not only seeing a boy they didn’t approve of, but marrying him with no support from them.  Instead her parents buck up and support their daughter and her husband in every way they can that is not a complete hand out.  This depiction of parental love is more accurate than most novels I have read recently and I found it very endearing.  The second thing I loved was that this is eventually a story about a young couple who are not only mismatched economically, but mismatched in their spiritual walk.  Mariette’s faith is not very deep, but her husband’s is and he decides to join the ministry.

I had never before thought of the struggles of a pastor in his first year’s of ministry – let alone that of his wife.  And if I had thought about it, I still would have assumed that the wife would share similar spiritual goals with her husband.  It would be too hard not to …

Mariette indeed struggles to find her place in the new life her husband has created for them, slowly building a strong faith of her own – and a deep love for the people of the small community they have become a part of.  The hard-nosed, close-knit characters in this small community were not easily won over, but the winning was worth the effort.

This book provides a great glimpse into the life of a mismatched pair during their first years as husband and wife, and as a ministry team.  Worth reading, and at times entertainingly funny.

Book Cover Review
I think this cover is beautifully done.  A young Mariette stands poised and pondering over her future, while attired as though ready for a southern garden party or other semi-formal event (complete with white gloves and pearls.)  The satiny dress material and upswept hair exude refinement and good breading.  The wallpaper, flowers and furniture that are also in the photo help to define the setting and also enhance the feeling of femininity and class.  The only negative I had with the cover, and this is being a bit picky, is in regards to the color choices used in the title text.  Mainly, I feel the F in Fine should have been white along with the rest of the word to give it unity.  At first glance the letters INE stand out the most because they are starkly white and all of the other letters are a light lemon-yellow hue.  A small detail to be sure, but the only thing I would have changed.  I believe this book’s audience to be largely women and feel this cover would draw them in quite well.  Well done!

Available May 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. A copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher.

Christian fiction, Contemporary fiction

Book & Cover Review of "It Had to Be You" by Janice Thompson

It Had to Be You (Weddings by Bella, Book 3)
Book Review

If the title of this novel has your inner singer sounding like an Italian crooner than you’ve already got a head start on the setting of this novel.  It Had to Be You, by Janice Thompson is book three in her series entitled Weddings by Bella.  It features Bella Rossi, a young woman surrounded by a very vivacious and loving Italian family who happens to run the family wedding planning business, and her husband-to-be, D.J. Neeley, a true Texan cowboy who found his way onto their family home of Galveston Island via the construction business and never left after Bella captured his heart.

If you love theme weddings and wedding chaos humor this book is full of it. I additionally found myself craving big band music and Italian cuisine after reading this. The entire Rossi clan is full of unique and wonderful characters.  Bella’s main character flaw is that she is too in love with her family to say ‘no’ to them.  Her own wedding is fast approaching and other family members keep encroaching on her big day with wedding plans of their own.  I found myself as a reader wanting to encourage Bella to say something to her loved ones about how much stress they were piling on her! Which is exactly what the author wanted.

Bella is the classic ‘giver’.  She can’t say no – even when her sister decides at Christmas to have her wedding only 3-4 weeks after Bella’s own – Bella doesn’t have the guts to tell her sister to delay her wedding a little so that Bella can get a grip on her own wedding plans and the major changes that will be happening in her life.  Bella seems tossed about by well meaning family members that assume she is super human and can handle untold amounts of wedding creativity and stress on short notice because she plans weddings all the time, right?  How many of us have had a hard time learning that lesson?  It feels so good to help others, but at some point you just don’t have the time or energy to do anything for yourself anymore if you don’t learn to say no, or to assert the time you need for yourself into the equation.

Amidst all the wedding chaos, themes of forgiveness, not judging people by first impressions, and the power of living by example and that of prayer are woven beautifully into this at times humorous, but always loving, story.  I think this book will mostly appeal to female readers, particularly those who have already lived through their own wedding chaos, or the chaos of planning weddings for other family members.  Those of Italian decent (or who hail from towns who celebrate Italian heritage like I am) will also be amused by the Rossi clan and the variety of Italian stereotypes that abound in this novel. 

Book Cover Review

Although I loved the book, I feel the cover design is not as strong as the writing.  I’d have to say that the posture of the young man on the cover is what set it off. He seems to be not just looking over his shoulder but to be leaning backwards against the young woman in such a way that if she moves an inch he’ll be falling over.  It just seems unnaturally awkward?  The dress of the couple does place them in a contemporary time period, and the river walkway in the background is rather romantic (though vague and I have no idea of its location), but after reading the story I’m left wondering where the chaotic wedding/Italian family theme fits into this cover?  Could they have captured those elements to draw in readers who love big family chaos and swing music … the current cover alone wouldn’t do it.  That being said, this cover is attractive will capture the attention of the contemporary romance reader – but I just feel it could also have tapped into so much more.

* Available May 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via their blog tour program.