Friday, October 19, 2018

Romancing the Bride by Melissa Jagears #REVIEW

 From the Back Cover:

Marrying a stranger to save a ranch is one thing; losing the land on their wedding day is another.

Desperate to keep the ranch where three of her children and a husband lie buried, Annie Gephart must marry or sell. Which of the few bachelors in town would consider a surprise proposal to wed a plain widow with a rebellious daughter, a spirited boy, and unpaid taxes—without laughing in her face?

Jacob Hendrix has never fully let go of his ranching dreams despite ending up as a small Wyoming town’s marshal. The job wouldn’t be so bad, except he’s more errand boy than lawman. When Annie proposes marriage without a single coquettish bat of an eyelash, can he commit himself to a woman he hardly knows for a choice piece of property he’d be an idiot to pass up?

But taxes aren’t all that threaten Annie and Jacob’s plans. Cattle rustlers, crumbling friendships, and wayward children make this marriage of convenience anything but. When they lose what they’ve sacrificed everything to save, will the love of a stranger be enough?

My Thoughts:

As an enthusiast of the marriage of convenience trope, I do believe this is one of the sweetest renderings I've ever read. I love to ponder unique reasons people might have married without affection in times past and delight to see strangers choose love over self-preservation as they give of themselves to make things work. 

This story takes a realistic look at the struggles of a destitute widow and the kind, practical marshal who marries her to save her ranch. In this partnership, the marshal takes on a needy family he has the means to care for and a choice piece of property which reminds him him of the reason he came west. But when the ranch they married for is suddenly taken away, awkwardness ensues. Cattle rustlers, grieving children, and a sooner-than-expected attraction clutter this new marriage relationship now balancing on a wobbly foundation.

I sympathized with Annie as she struggled to preserve her family dynamic after the loss of a spouse and many buried children and make room in her heart for a new husband as society tells her she's too soon a widow. Jacob (steadfast, wise, sacrificial, distracted-grin-inducing, wish-he-weren't-fiction Jacob) is a fixer. He tries to discern God's leading in his life, tries to do his best in a demeaning, title-only marshal job, tries to fix his crumbling relationship with his best friend, tries to settle into his new role as father and husband, tries to woo his grieving wife, and tries to catch cattle rustlers before he finally learns to trust God's timing in situations he can't seem to change. And Celia...I know Celia. I believe we all have had Celias in our life, and even displayed Celia's flaws in some stage of our character development--desperation to avoid change and fighting to create her own security. Her difficult arc is the novel's concrete foundation, the dark sky from which glows all the celestial, heart-warming moments of this story. Then there is smallest of this make-shift family and possibly my favorite character, Spencer, full of hugs and sunshine, mischief and sticky buns.

Through the years I have read every Melissa Jagears book I could get my hands on, and this is my new favorite. True-to-life characters are the shining glory of this novel and a trademark Melissa Jagears carries beautifully. As I've mentioned in other reviews of her books, her immersive, heart-deep writing style calls to mind the tried-and-trusted work of one of my favorite novelists, Lori Wick.


While all the characters are flawed in their own way, I cheered them along as they faced emotional struggles, family conflict, marital issues, delinquent juveniles, dangerous cattle rustlers, and political corruption.

Themes of loneliness, societal pressures, blended families, grief, and loss were portrayed in touching, relatable ways. Now I'm counting the days until I hear what's next in the Frontier Vows series.

*I received a copy of this book from the author. The opinions expressed are my own.

Let's chat!
This book is set in Wyoming. Have you ever been there or read a book set there that sticks in your memory? It's a beautiful, rugged, sometimes lonely place. What are your thoughts about it?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette #Review and #Interview

From the Back Cover: 
The daughter of a pagan high priest, Sofea finds solace from her troubles in the freedom of the ocean. But when marauders attack her village on the island of Sicily, she and her cousin are taken across the sea to the shores of Canaan.
Eitan has lived in Kedesh, a City of Refuge, for the last eleven years, haunted by a tragedy in his childhood and chafing at the boundaries placed on him. He is immediately captivated by Sofea, but revealing his most guarded secret could mean drawing her into the danger of his past.
As threats from outside the walls loom and traitors are uncovered within, Sofea and Eitan are plunged into the midst of a murder plot. Will they break free from the shackles of the past in time to uncover the betrayal and save their lives and the lives of those they love?
My Thoughts:
 I'll try to keep it short and sweet, since we have interview questions to follow. This novel flew by. I couldn't put it down. How sweet to revisit well-loved characters and meet new ones! From exotic ocean-bound villages to sea marauders to the heart-warming inn at Kedesh, the settings and new characters are unique, unpredictable, and gripping. Plot twists, y'all! I was on the edge of my seat wondering how things would turn out, how these characters could possibly heal, and how in the world their romance could settle into happily-together-after? Beautifully described imagery, character emotions, family dynamics, and spiritual questions. On a side note, this book made me want to go swimming! Ocean-lovers will take special delight in this tale, as well as anyone who loves an ancient twist on a good pirate story! I'm looking forward to Until the Mountains Fall!

Check out the Pinterest board for Shelter of the Most High:

Conni has graciously answered some fun interview questions, and I'm so excited to share them here:
1. Is Sofea and Eitan’s story finished, or will we see more of them?
The next book, Until the Mountains Fall, opens about 8 years after Shelter of the Most High, so you will definitely see what Eitan and Sofea are up to. I won’t spoil anything about their appearances but I will say that it made me so happy to revisit them and to “see” their love story through the eyes of a grown-up Malakhi (the hero of UTMF).
2. How did you make these characters come to life?
I fell in love with Eitan as a child so I found it a fun challenge to figure out who he would be as a man and how the events from A Light on the Hill might have effected him over the years. It took me almost half of the draft before I came to understand his motivations and then went back and layered in some more personality detail. It is usually about that point in the process where the character becomes “real” to me in my head and I feel like I am getting into their shoes (or sandals, as it were…) I think it’s a little bit like acting because the goal there is to “become” the character and that’s a little what happens to me as I write, I start to feel as if I am experiencing the story through their eyes. Sofea was fairly simple, from the opening scene I just knew who she was and why she was driven to her goals. My writing partner Nicole kept comparing her to Moana for her love of the sea, so she’s got a little bit Disney princess in her too. The villain of this story (no spoilers) was a little more difficult, but eventually I figured that person out as well, but not until the entire first draft was complete. I don’t like to write villains that have no real reason for being “evil” so it usually takes me a bit longer to figure out why they do the bad things they do!
3. What do you munch on while you’re writing / researching / editing?
Mostly I just drink coffee or Diet Dr. Pepper because when I am focused on writing or editing I am usually too absorbed to snack much and if I do I get carried away and graze mindlessly so that can be dangerous. That being said, I do keep a bag of Werther’s Coffee Caramel Hard Candies in a drawer to pop in my mouth when I get a craving for something sweet. Not that there haven’t been various stashes of chocolate around my office, because where else am I going to hide that stuff from my kids??

4. What does "a day in the life of Connilyn Cossette" look like?
Well, I am a night owl. So my day doesn’t usually get rolling until about 9am and my brain doesn’t truly kick in until around 10am and the coffee has hit my bloodstream. So yes, coffee first and then I usually spend a while getting my kids settled into their school day. We homeschool, but now that they are older they are a little more independent so I organize their weekly/daily schedule on Google Sheets so we can all keep track in real time and they are responsible to complete those lists each day. My daughter is pretty self-motivated so she usually whips through fairly quickly, but my son is more like me, a day-dreamer and a procrastinator, so much of my day is reminding him to hurry up and get done or suffer the wrath of extra household chores… During this time I am also dealing with social media stuff, marketing plans, emails, blogs, editing, plotting etc. Then in the early afternoon I try to get some writing done but am most productive at night when everyone is asleep and I can have silence. I usually grab a power-nap around 4:30 or so, I’ve trained my brain to fall asleep to podcasts in my headphones so I can usually snooze for about 30 minutes and then I’m set to go until 1 or 2 am. Evening consists of getting dinner ready for hubby to come home (although I am not a great cook, I’m much too impatient and day-dreamy and I have a weird aversion to measuring precisely—so pray for my family). Once things settle down in the evening and the kids are tucked into beds reading their own books, I enter my story world and have a great time talking with my imaginary friends. Most nights I text back and forth with Nicole Deese, my writing partner, into the wee hours as we work on scenes and talk about our imaginary friends with each other. So, there you have it—my glamorous and exciting life as an author in a nutshell!
5. On top of being a writer you are also a homeschooling mom, what prompted you to want to home educate your children and how do you balance both?
There were a few factors that went into our decision. I didn’t set out to homeschool, and in fact went to college to be a public school teacher but God just had other plans. By the time my son started kindergarten we’d already done a lot of learning at home and he was academically way beyond Kindergarten but nowhere near mature enough to head into first grade so it just made better sense at the time. And then I just fell in love with teaching my kids and watching them have lightbulb moments as they learned to read and write. We have a great time learning history together in particular. We’ve had lots of struggles over the years (usually with math…because, well, I’m a writer not a math-er) but it is so rewarding and I can’t even imagine not doing it now. Thankfully we have great resources to help with the balance and now that they are older they are much more independent. And this year both kids attend classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays so I have two uninterrupted days of productivity, which has been awesome for all three of us. One of the best things about homeschooling is that I don’t have to get up early and sit in a car line so we start school later in the day and I can write late and sleep in. Yay for school in jammies! I am so grateful we live in a country that gives us all the freedom to do what is best for our own families and situations.
6. How do you know you've chosen the right story-length goal for your characters and setting? Does it come from research or character development? And does it ever morph into something else as you write, or do you have a pretty firm outline from the get-go?
I would say that their story goals mostly come from developing the characters and understanding what makes them react the way they do in each situation and why. The trick for me is to really understand each person’s wounds, be they hero or villain or secondary character. If a writer can dig into past hurts and what lies a character is telling themselves, then getting them to a place of healing and/or truth becomes that much easier. I even wrote a blog post a couple of years ago about how to use wounds as you write—not only the character’s wounds but also the author’s and the reader’s as well. Here is a link to that article: As for changes along the way, my storylines and characters tend to be fairly fluid during the first draft. I am a blend between a pantser and a plotter. I do a general outline and sketch out scenes but I allow for lots of movement as I write and many times characters surprise the heck out me and do things I did not expect at all!
7. At what point in the writing process do you decide which character you are going to use in the next book?
I think that comes at different points along the way. Usually it’s when I get a flash of “story idea” from a certain character’s perspective. For some reason I could just envision Eitan as a man from the beginning so I knew I had to explore his story more. Now with Moriyah I did not decide to use her as a heroine until after Wings of the Wind was finished, so I actually had to go back in an tweak some things in editing (including the scar!) to make it all work together. And boy did I struggle over giving poor Moriyah that awful, painful brand! Since the Cities of Refuge Series had now stretched into a family saga, I’ve just chosen a new child of Moriyah and Darek each time and just love watching the family grow and change over the years.

Connilyn Cossette is the Christy Award Nominated and CBA-Bestselling author of the Out from Egypt Series from Bethany House Publishers. There's not much she enjoys more than digging into the rich, ancient world of the Bible, discovering new gems of grace that point to Jesus, and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience. Connect with her at
The first book in the Cities of Refuge series, A Light On the Hill (Pictured Right), is $2.99 on Kindle and Nook and other ebook sites. Sale current as of 10.4.18.

Comment fodder:
Have you ever read any books by Connilyn Cossette?
What are some of your favorite Bible stories?
Have you ever heard much about the Biblical Cities of Refuge?

Monday, October 1, 2018

October 2018 Fiction Releases #ACFW

October 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

A Christmas to Remember by Julie Arduini, Valerie Comer, Janet W. Ferguson, Kimberly Rose Johnson, Deb Kastner, Elizabeth Maddrey, Lindi Peterson, and Ginger Solomon -- Eight authors from the popular blog Inspy Romance each share a Christmas-themed novella to put you in the mood for the season. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Their Family Legacy by Lorraine Beatty -- Annie’s inheritance will provide a home for her twins and all she had to do is keep a man paying for his mistake forever. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The Return by Marianne Evans -- A prodigal who never wanted to return home must repair his family farm and rush back to the big city before an old love convinces him to stay. (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

A Harvest of Blessings by June Foster -- When Nadia accidentally sits on a stranger's lap in the graveyard where her late husband is buried, she's horrified to learn the good-looking guy with salt and pepper hair is her new boss. Jared is intrigued by this beautiful woman who puts God first in her life, but his daughter isn’t ready for him to move on after his wife’s death. As Nadia and Jared try to cultivate a relationship, will they reap a Harvest of Blessings, or a season of drought? (Contemporary Romance from Forget Me Not Romance [Winged Publication])

A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson -- Ninety years ago, Millie Sullivan's great-grandmother was a guest at banker Howard Dawkins' palatial estate on the shore of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Now, Millie plays a 1920s-era guest during tours of the same manor. But when her grandmother suggests that there is a lost diary containing the location of a hidden treasure on the estate, along with the true identity of Millie's great-grandfather, Millie sets out to find the truth of her heritage--and the fortune that might be hers. When security guard Ben Thornton discovers her snooping in the estate's private library, he threatens to have her fired. But her story seems almost too ludicrous to be fiction, and her offer to split the treasure is too tempting to pass up . . . (Contemporary Romance from Revell - A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Reason to Breathe by Deborah Raney -- At twenty-nine, Phylicia Chandler put her life on hold to care for her dying mother with her sisters, Joanna and Britt. Now Mom is gone and their father has run off with a woman young enough to be their sister. Phylicia feels stuck--until her father's protégé, Quinn Mitchell, presents her and her two sisters with an intriguing business opportunity to purchase a trio of cottages just outside of Langhorne, Missouri. But Phylicia is skeptical. Quinn soon finds himself falling hard for Phylicia. But how can he pursue this beautiful, talented woman twelve years his junior when she's still reeling over her father's hasty engagement to a younger woman? Quinn is determined to give Phylicia her happily-ever-after. But first, he must help her come to terms with her discovery of long-held family secrets and persuade her that true love can transcend their differences. (Contemporary Romance from Gilead Publishing)

General/Women’s Fiction

An Amish Homecoming by Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller , Shelley Shepard Gray, and Beth Wiseman -- A collection of four new Amish stories of coming home. (General from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Miles from Where We Started by Cynthia Ruchti -- These no-longer-newlyweds want out of this road trip--and their marriage. Too bad they can't find the off-ramp. (General Contemporary from Gilead Publishing)


When the Heart Sings by Liz Tolsma -- In 1943 Poland, the Nazis have forced Natia and Teodor from their peaceful farm to the harsh confines of a labor camp. When the couple is separated, Natia risks everything to send him messages through song as she passes Teodor’s dormitory. The stakes get higher when Natia finds a Jewish orphan on the doorstep where she works. She is determined to protect the boy and raise him as the child she and her husband were unable to bear—but if her German captors discover how much she’s hiding, both she and Teodor may pay the ultimate price. (Historical from Gilead Publishing)

Historical Romance:

This Courageous Journey by Misty M. Beller -- When Noelle Grant sets off to visit her brother in the Canadian Rockies, the prospect of making a name for herself as a news correspondent finally seems within reach. But when the dangers become more than she bargained for, she finds herself—and the mountain man she’s come to love—in a situation more hazardous than any story her imagination could conjure. (Historical Romance, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

The Reluctant Warrior by Mary Connealy -- Union army officer Cameron Scott is used to being obeyed, but nothing about this journey to Lake Tahoe has gone as expected. He’s come to Lake Tahoe to fetch his daughter and nephew, and seek revenge on the people who killed his brother. Instead he finds himself trapped by a blizzard with two children who are terrified of him and stubborn but beautiful Gwen Harkness, who he worries may be trying to keep the children. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

Enchanting Nicholette by Dawn Crandall -- As she acclimates to life in Back Bay again, Nicholette Everstone meets someone she can't help but fall for. But when she learns of the danger and sacrifices Cal Hawthorne takes on for the safety of others, will her heart be strong enough to keep her fears of "what if" at bay? (Historical Romance from Whitaker House)

The Christmas Heirloom by Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, Becky Wade, and Karen Witemeyer -- A family heirloom brings true love to its bearers through the generations as it is handed down from mother to daughter. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

A Heart for Freedom by Janet Grunst -- Life was better than she dreamed, now the conflict between the British and the colonists threatened the loss of everything dear, even her husband. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Romancing the Bride by Melissa Jagears -- Marrying a stranger to save a ranch is one thing; losing the land on their wedding day is another. Desperate to keep the ranch where three of her children and a husband lie buried, Annie Gephart must marry or sell. Which of the few bachelors in town would consider a surprise proposal to wed a plain widow with a rebellious daughter, a spirited boy, and unpaid taxes—without laughing in her face? (Historical Romance, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

The Cumberland Bride by Shannon McNear -- Thomas Bledsoe and Kate Gruener are traveling the Wilderness Road when conflicts between natives and settlers reach a peak that will require each of them to tap into a well of courage. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Mist O’er the Voyageur by Naomi Musch -- Desperate to flee a cruel suitor, Metis woman Brigitte Marchal flees into the wilderness to find her long-lost, fur-trader father, but who will save her from the dangers of being a woman among a voyageurs’ brigade? (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Romantic Suspense:

Five Years In Yemen by Luana Ehrlich -- When the President issues a memorandum to bring home a military scientist who went missing in Iraq, CIA operative Titus Ray has been given the assignment. However, when the mission takes an unexpected turn after his contact is murdered in Riyadh, Titus is forced to make changes in the mission’s protocols, changes that endanger his operational team and have lasting consequences for his future. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

Hidden Peril by Irene Hannon -- A woman who owns a fair trade shop and a police detective find themselves plunged into international intrigue—and danger—when people connected with her shop begin dying. (Romantic Suspense from Revell - A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills -- A hostage negotiator is thrust into danger and betrayal when a frazzled young woman shoves a crying baby into her arms, then disappears. (Romantic Suspense from Tyndale House)

Supernatural Thriller:

Surrounded by Darkness by Rachel Dylan -- When attorney Olivia Murray opens a legal clinic for victims of domestic violence in Windy Ridge, she knows she will face legal and spiritual opposition. The New Age presence has grown stronger as alliances form between groups hoping to spread their destructive way of life and gain a stronghold in the community. While the forces of evil target Olivia’s new clinic, her legal partner Grant Baxter, and her relationships, she refuses to let them stop her quest for justice. Will Olivia’s and Grant’s faith be strong enough—in God and each other—to prevail in the battle that threatens to bring darkness to the entire town? (Supernatural Thriller, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])


A Dance of Shadows by Erica Marie Hogan -- Ten days have passed since Sundragon blood was shed for a sacrifice by Raphaela Kael. Ten days since Lathan and Maxx Jandry fled the city in search of Princess Damari Kael and their niece, Noelle. Brecken Jandry, Brae’s loyal husband, remains a tortured prisoner in the Kael dungeons and no one in Sunkai is safe from Roderick and Raphaela’s wrath. Damari Kael flees Sunkai with little Noelle Jandry, determined to deliver the child to the safety of the Shadow Lands, even as her own power emerges within her. The Eventide Sisters embark on a mission to join the Winter Queen. Across the land, Clea Jandry arrives in her birthplace of Molderëin where she is met with a savagery she thought long dead. Afra Malaki seeks the Creator’s will and the Queen of the Woodlands prepares for battle. In the peaceful city of Quintaria, the Winter Queen grieves. But the shadows are coming for her. They carry a message for Adlae Sundragon, and they will not rest until all is revealed. (Fantasy from Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.)

Body By Blood by Dr. Patrick Johnston -- In the not-too-distant future, where cloned bodies are marketable commodities among the super-rich, leaving graveyards of trampled dehumanized classes in science's wake, the richest man in the world who pioneered the breakthrough technologies learns the meaning of true love from a disabled granddaughter. (Speculative Action Adventure from Ambassador International)

Mercury Rising by Tim and Gail Sattler -- Four ordinary people are thrown into an extraordinary situation when they are thrown into a diabolical plot hidden under the guise of global warming. (Contemporary Fantasy from Mantle Rock Publishing)

The Awakened by Richard Spillman -- If Lazarus didn't die a second time what would he be up to today? (Speculative from Mountain Brook Ink)

*All authors whose books are included on the ACFW New Releases list attest that their book meets CBA standards for clean, Christian content. The posting of this list on the Sweet South Blog is not a review or an endorsement of any book on the list.