Monday, January 28, 2013

Safe in His Arms by Colleen Coble

Thanks to Litfuse, I was able to review book 2 in Colleen Coble's Under Texas Stars series: Safe in His Arms.

Sometimes it takes a stranger to see you as you really are.

Born and raised on sprawling Texas land, Margaret O'Brien prides herself on her competence as a rancher. But her father believes she's made for more than just dawn-to-dusk work. He wants her to have the love of a good man, to raise children, to build a life. But Margaret gave up such dreams years ago. She's convinced no man would have her, that the ranch is her life now.

So when Margaret's father hires Daniel Cutler as a new foreman, she's frustrated and suspicious. Then an overheard conversation links him with a gang of bank robbers, and she's downright worried. Daniel swears he's not involved, but Margaret's not convinced. She knows the man still has secrets. But would a criminal be so kind and talk so convincingly of his faith? As a series of tragic "accidents" threatens all she holds dear, Margaret must decide what to trust: her own ears, her best judgment . . . or what her heart keeps telling her.

I really liked Margaret. I loved that she wasn't the typical female lead...I thought she was normal! Or, at least, I felt she typified the average woman in terms of her self-esteem. Margaret can run her ranch and business as well as any man, but when Daniel shows a romantic interest in her, she just doesn't believe it. Margaret knows she's smart and competent...but she doesn't believe she's beautiful and only looks with suspicion at Daniel's motives.

I think most women are like Margaret -- no matter how many people tell us we're beautiful or smart or talented or important, we're filled with self-doubt. I love that Margaret had to learn that God sees her as beautiful no matter what!

I don't want to spoil the story, but Safe in His Arms surprised me with more than one secret! More than one 'bad guy.'

Once again, Colleen has delivered romance with a twist...or two...or three! A great rainy day read!

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other Litfuse reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Colleen, Litfuse, and Netgalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Ashton Park by Murray Pura

Today, CFBA is introducing Ashton Park by Murray Pura.

Among the green hills and trees of Lancashire, only a few miles from the sea, lies the beautiful and ancient estate of Ashton Park. The year is 1916. The First World War has engulfed Europe and Sir William's and Lady Elizabeth's three sons are all in uniform--and their four daughters are involved in various pursuits of the heart and soul.

As the head of a strong Church of England family for generations, Sir William insists the Danforth estate hold morning devotions that include both family and staff. However, he is also an MP and away at Westminster in London whenever Parliament is sitting. During his long absences, Lady Elizabeth discreetly spends time in the company of the head cook of the manor, Mrs. Longstaff, who is her best friend and confidante. This friendship includes visits to a small Baptist church in Liverpool that exposes Lady Elizabeth to a less formal approach to Christian worship and preaching than she is used to and which she comes to enjoy.

I was looking forward to reading Ashton Park, but I struggled with the rapidly changing scenes between too many characters. I never had a chance to connect with any of them in such short spurts. My favorites were Libby and Michael, but they aren’t even introduced until almost halfway through the book...and like everyone else, only a few paragraphs are written before the focus is moved to someone else, and you hope to catch another quick glimpse of them before moving on again.

Apparently, those who love PBS’ Downton Abbey will love Ashton Park. I can’t confirm that, as I’ve never seen it; but, if Downton Abbey is soap opera-ish with high drama and a million characters to keep track of, then, yes - Ashton Park might be just for you.

For me, though, I’d prefer a longer series, focusing on less characters per book. Unfortunately, Ashton Park just wasn’t my cup of tea.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:
Ashton Park
Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2013)
Murray Pura

Chapter 1
April 1916

“Go, girl, go!”

Victoria Danforth leaned into her horse’s neck as it broke out of the forest and drove toward the sea cliff at full gallop.

“Come on, Robin! The man is gaining!”

A green ribbon flew from Victoria’s head and her long auburn hair burst loose. She struck the sorrel’s flanks with the heels of her black leather boots.

“Give me more, my girl, just a bit more!”

The shining sea drew closer and closer. A wind that carried the bite of salt water stung Victoria’s nostrils. Face flushed by the wild ride, eyes glittering like a cat’s, she cried out a final time.

“All you’ve got, my beauty!”

And then she hauled back on the reins, turned the mare’s head to the left, sprang from the saddle, and hit the ground boots-first with a shout. The horse dug in all its hooves and tossed up mud and stone and grass. The cliff edge was only a few yards away when she stopped.

“Good, girl, that was lovely, that was grand!” Victoria stroked the animal’s neck and mane. Both horse and rider were panting. “What a gorgeous view! I’ll never tire of it.”

The brisk ocean breeze pushed back the auburn hair from Victoria’s face, bringing its deep red color out to the light, then turning it over and bringing back its rich browns. It plucked at her forest green riding coat, her white blouse, and the green silk scarf at her throat. The scarf brought out the emerald fire in her eyes.

“Miss Victoria,” came a man’s voice.

She had closed her eyes to better dream of sailing on a ship across the Atlantic to America or Canada. There is land no white man has ever seen, her brother Edward the naval officer had told her once. Mountains where no man or woman has ever placed a foot. Animals that are the stuff of dreams.

“Miss Victoria.” The voice was more insistent.


“If ye want to be there to greet your father, we must head back. Even though he’s using the coach he’ll still be at the manor house inside a quarter hour. The train would have arrived at Lime Street Station in Liverpool well over an hour ago.”

Victoria shook her head and laughed. “Old Todd Turpin, my highway-man, you are so particular about clocks and minutes. Is that because your great-great-grandfather’s blood runs in your veins and you know where every coach is on any road at any given minute?”

Todd, a short and slender man of sixty with a flat tweed cap who sat astride a black gelding, flushed. “I’m not related to Dick Turpin. I told ye that before.”

“Just as your mate Brendan Cook is not related to the famous sea cap- tain who also met an untimely end. Though Captain Cook was eaten, while Dick Turpin was merely hanged.”

“Sure, your mother Lady Elizabeth shouldn’t like to hear ye talking like this.”

“Well, she’s not here, is she? Or are you her spy as well as my guardian?”

Todd’s face flushed a deeper red. “I’m no spy neither.”

Victoria gave him a sudden savage glare. “Let us hope not, Old Todd Turpin, or I should have to challenge you to a duel. And you know how quick I am with a blade.” Seeing the startled look that sprang onto his face she laughed again, tossing her hair. “Oh, Todd, when will you ever get to know who I am? I wouldn’t hurt a finger on your hand. You’ve served our family since I was eleven, after all.”

“Well, but ye are not eleven anymore, are ye, Miss?”

Victoria swept up into her saddle, her long hair falling about her shoulders as she adjusted her black riding skirt and leather boots. “I may be eighteen but the eleven-year-old is still in there. Race you to Ashton Park.”

She leaned forward and whistled softly in her mare’s ear. The horse bolted forward, away from the sea cliff and down the path leading back into the forest of tall ash trees. Todd rolled his eyes and muttered, “Ah, dear Lord,” and dug his heels into his gelding’s sides, urging it after the mare. He knew he would never catch Victoria but at least he could keep her in sight.

The soaring ash trees, some two hundred feet high and hundreds of years old, flashed past on either side of Victoria as she and Robin hurtled along the track. She meant to get altogether out of sight of Todd Turpin, who, she was certain, reported to her mother all her goings-on, despite his protests to the contrary. Bending over the mare’s neck, she took a different path and galloped full out over a trail she could have ridden with her eyes closed. It was a shortcut she was certain Todd had never used.

Sure enough, she erupted from the ash trees five minutes before a wor- ried Todd emerged flustered from the main road through the grove. He saw her riding her mare slowly over the large green lawn that surrounded the manor house and called out to her.

“Ye little devil! Ye ought not to do that, Miss Victoria!”

Victoria smiled. “Do what, Old Todd Turpin? Outrace you?”

“Do some kind of witchcraft or spell or whatever it is ye did to vanish from the road and get here ahead of me!”

“Oh, I assure you I am still a good Christian girl, Todd, and all four of Robin’s hooves were planted firmly on the ground. We may have taken flight but we were never in the clouds. You just don’t know the ash grove like I do. Perhaps you don’t have a highwayman’s blood in your veins after all.”

She rode Robin toward the great house with its stone walls and tower- ing brick chimneys and hundreds of windows. Ivy grew green and lush over the entire back of the manor, the oldest part, completed in 1688. The newer wings, dating from the mid-1700s, were clear of growth and the stone shone, in some parts, a soft gray like pigeons, in other parts, a warm honey color, and in still other places, a ruby red that made her think of strawberries. She urged her mare onto the scores of flagstones that rimmed the house, and the horse’s hooves clicked and clacked as Victoria guided her to the front of the ancient and sturdy manor. There were a hundred and sixteen rooms and Victoria had been into most of them at least twice, including the ones her mother had locked up tight.

A cluster of starlings burst from the trees and darted over her head, making the horse rear, nearly throwing her off. “Shhh, my lovely,” she said, quieting the mare, tugging slightly on the reins. “It’s all right.” She stared after the birds as they raced for the far corner of the manor.

“Now what was that all about? Do you suppose they’ve seen hawks?” She glanced at the scores of windows. “Perhaps they saw a ghost. Old Todd Turpin always frightened me half to death with his stories of headless phantoms and Viking raiders swinging swords running with blood. The worst was the woman who burned to death when a candle set her gown on fire.” The horse nickered and Victoria patted her neck. “That really happened. That’s the trouble. A bride going up like a torch and no one could get her gown or corset off. The groom tried so hard and his hands were scarred forever from the flames. He never married again. She was a Danforth.” Victoria shuddered. “Why did I have to start thinking about that gruesome event? Servants say they’ve seen her burning and screaming in the room where it happened. One butler quit over it.” Robin nickered again.

“Miss Victoria!”

“What is it, Old Todd Turpin?” she asked in a tease. “Do you wish to have another race?”

“I’m looking at my watch. Your father will be along in another few min- utes. I’m sure of it.”

“Well, then, I bow to the wisdom of your hoary head, and Robin and I shall proceed to the drive. Thank you.”

The sun had been in and out of the clouds all afternoon. Now a light shower fell softly on Ashton Park and its stone and ivy and grass. It glistened on Victoria’s green sleeves and beaded on Robin’s mane. The oak trees that grew around the old castle that was hundreds of yards away, its turrets just peeking above the treetops, glistened in the fall of the drops.

Victoria rode the mare over the front lawn to the drive and then toward the broad avenue through the gnarled and sweeping oaks, where she knew her father’s coach would soon come. As Victoria watched, the sun slipped back out and the oak forest and castle and avenue caught fire. The beauty of the moment overwhelmed her. Then into the flame of leaves and bending tree trunks, like a moving photograph, a black coach suddenly appeared pulled by two nut-brown horses in harness. Robin threw up her head and gave a short whinny.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s greet them.”

She rode up to the coach as it slowed, its driver cloaked in black with a top hat and scarf. He lifted the hat to her.

“Miss Victoria.”

“Mr. Whitecross. How was the traffic in Liverpool?”

Thank you to Murray and Harvest House through CFBA for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Pinned, I Made: Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

There aren't many things better than the classic combo of chocolate and peanut butter. I mean, really! They are perfect for each other!

Does the picture tempt you?!

It's shameful, I I'm supposed to be getting rid of the sweets leftover from the holidays, but I wanted to try two different things I found on Pinterest.

The first was doctoring up a cake mix to taste like a bakery cake. Well, I've got to admit, I haven't eaten many (or any?) bakery cakes...but, it made it sound like my cake mix would be elevated to much better standards.

So, I tried it. Add 1 more egg than the box calls for, substitute (and double) the oil called for with melted butter, and instead of water, use milk.

Meh. It was good, but it wasn't fabulous by any means. Not worth wasting butter on. If you want your butter to go to good use, make THIS. Nom, nom, nom!!!

And, I'd recommend THIS chocolate cake if you want to have happy cupcakes!

Anyway, on to the second pin: the peanut butter frosting.


To be honest, I don't think I've met a peanut butter frosting I haven't liked. ;-)

But, I did keep this version after a few of my own additions. It was smooth, creamy, not overly sweet, and how can you go wrong with the addition of cream cheese?

If you need just the right PB buttercream for your next cake, pick this one!

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frostin'

1 block (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (half a stick) softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2/3 cup of creamy peanut butter (do not use 'natural,' the kind you need to stir)
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream

Be sure the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature before beginning. With an electric mixer, cream together cream cheese and butter. Add vanilla and 2 cups of confectioners' sugar. Blend until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, and milk. Combine until smooth.

Frost or fill decorator's bag and pipe onto cake (or fill a plastic gallon storage bag and snip a corner off! That's how I decorated mine - not fancy, but still just as tasty)!

Scarf 'em down or decorate with Reese's Pieces. :-)


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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I Pinned, I Made: Vinegar and Dawn Tub Scrubber!

I've pinned and tried many things since joining Pinterest, but I think this is my favorite by far!

A simple solution of equal parts white vinegar and dishsoap = clean tub.

EASY clean tub!

Some of the 'Dawn' recipes floating around specify the original blue kind. This recipe didn't, so I used a flavor I like the smell of better, Thai Dragon Fruit (Hawaiian Pineapple is my next fav):

So, I think you can use your own favorite dishsoap. Just mix equal parts of white vinegar and dishsoap (I used a cup to make it easier to pour), then pour into the handle of a dishwand sponge thingy - like these.

Then, while you're in the shower, take those few minutes before cleaning yourself to clean the tub! Just rub the wand all over the walls, floor, edges, etc. No need to rinse, the water and steam from your shower will do it for you. It's quick and easy to do every day, but if you miss a day or two, it seems to be ok.

If you've started with a clean tub, you will notice that this solution maintains your clean walls and shiny chrome! No water spots! No hard water buildup.

And, no, your tub doesn't smell like vinegar. It doesn't actually smell much like the dishsoap, either. It's just clean.

It's so awesome and EASY, I just had to share it!

Now, if only I can find something to make laundry effortless... ;-)

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**DISCLOSURE: Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Flight of the Earls by Michael K. Reynolds

Today, CFBA is introducing Flight of the Earls by Michael K. Reynolds.

It’s 1846 in Ireland. When her family’s small farm is struck by famine, Clare Hanley and her younger brother, Seamus, set out across the ocean to the Promised Land of America. Five years prior, Clare’s older sister Margaret and her Uncle Tomas emigrated in similar fashion and were not to be heard from again. But Clare must face her fears as she lands in the coming-of-age city of New York. There she discovers love, adventure, tragedy, and a terrible secret which threatens to destroy her family and all she believes. Flight of the Earls is the first book in a historical novel trilogy based on Irish immigration in the 1840s.

I was pleasantly surprised with Flight of the Earls. I expected a deeply historical tale, but instead discovered a remarkable immigrant tale full of memorable characters and surprising twists.

I didn’t feel a strong background development to Clare’s romance, but that could be a male-authorship thing. Although, I guess a man enduring a deep, debilitating fear (several times) for a woman shows love, if not romance! ;-)

I enjoyed learning about the San Patricios (Mexico’s Fighting Irish) - something I’d never known about. Although I didn’t care for the abrupt subject change to war during the book, it kept Seamus’ character alive for book 2 in this new trilogy.

Reynolds is a great storyteller with an easy-to-read style. I enjoyed and recommend Flight of the Earls and am looking forward to the release of book 2 this summer, In Golden Splendor.

Thank you to Michael and B&H Books through CFBA for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**
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