Book Review: Newton and Polly

I’m excited to share my review of Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund with you today! I received a complementary copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Newton and Polly... a book review of Jody Hedlund's epic book!

description of the book from the publisher:

Acclaimed novelist Jody Hedlund brings the real story of “Amazing Grace” to page in a thrilling tale of the love story of John Newton and Polly Catlett.

John Newton fell in love with Polly Catlett at first sight. But Polly was unable to return the affections of the rebellious, worldly young man and her father ordered the aimless John away from her. Not long after, John was pressed into serving in the Navy. He saw Polly one last time before leaving England but Polly couldn’t promise any future to him.

After four years away, John is called back to England on family matters. But John was heavily, blindly involved in the slave trade and had no desire to return. John Sr. used his son’s undying love for Polly to lure him home. On that treacherous voyage back to England, in the midst of a terrible storm, John finally experienced salvation and began moving towards, eventually, crusading against slavery. Back at home, John must work hard to convince wise-beyond-her-years Polly Catlett that he is a changed man and worthy of her.

As usual, my five point review:

  • This story–this true love story–is incredible. I couldn’t put it down! As you can tell if you’ve read the description above, this is a love story between John Newton (the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” and his (eventual) wife, Polly. As I’ve said time and time again, Christian fiction is very, very, VERY hit or miss with me. I’m so picky about what I like and what I don’t. This isn’t a love story of the cheesy, “Jesus brought us together” coincidental variety… but rather one that is realistic, involved family/work/religion/faith conflicts, and one that ACTUALLY happened. I know we all think our love stories are pretty cool (and they are) but this one is phenomenal. It is a story that needs to be told, so I’m glad Jody did!
  • What made this story so powerful was the author’s thorough research and commitment to keeping the story true to the historical events of the time, even though it is fiction. This made for some uncomfortable scenes (not inappropriate, but tough to read/think about) relating to the slave trade, male-female interactions, etc. These scenes, as far as I know from my own reading and history background, seem very true to the era. Anyone interested in life in the 1700s, the slave trade, or the crusade against slavery would enjoy this book for just these reasons. The love story would just be a bonus. 🙂
  • I loved all the emotion in this novel. You could feel Polly’s change of heart towards John over time… from their early moments to the tough middle and to the wonderful ending. The author did such a great job with Polly’s character! It’s like she’s your friend (or yourself). Absolutely lovely!
  • At the same time, Jody Hedlund did an amazing job capturing John Newton. At the beginning of the story, he was only seventeen and rather aimless. It was a different time period and his freedoms were different then as opposed to most seventeen year olds now. The author’s portrayal of John in good times and bad–experiencing pain, tragedy, joy, heartache, and more–was so rich! Before reading this novel, I only had a cursory understanding of the background of the man who wrote “Amazing Grace.” But now, the words of his hymn make SO MUCH SENSE.
  • All in all, this book is wonderful. You’ll want to savor it, you’ll want to rush through it to see how it ends (even though some of that is spoiled for you in this review… they do get together! Haha!)… but in this case, the joy is in the journey. And grace is captured so, so well. Read this book! You won’t regret it.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to for the chance to read this great book!



Book Review: A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes

You guys. I am SO in love with Hillary Manton Lodge’s third novel, A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes. I’m being super serious when I say that I probably would have posted about it on my blog even if I had just picked up a copy at the library myself. Instead though, I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books Program.

A Table By The Window by Hillary Manton Lodge // book review by #cooking #romance #mystery Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Heirloom recipes, family secrets…and a chance for love.

The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?

After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story.

Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?

And as usual, my five point review:

  • I’m hard pressed to think of something that I didn’t like about this book. It was lovely… so well written and with such engaging characters! If you like food and romance and mystery and culture and comedy, you’ll find something to love about this book. Don’t be too concerned that it is Christian fiction. God and faith are discussed, but without lots of fluff, and the characters are real. Their problems don’t get solved in an instant just because they prayed. That’s not how it happens most of the time in real life, and that’s not how this book goes either. It is very genuine and down to earth.
  • I loved Juliette. She’s friendly and likeable, but also very smart and cultured. She’s well read, witty, brave, and energetic. She’s driven and family oriented, traits that serve her well [while also causing internal conflict as plot events shake out]. As much as I love the single Juliette, I adore how her character grows as she gets to know Neil. Good, healthy relationships are like that, and though theirs isn’t easy or normal Neil really helps her become more herself in many ways.
  • The author’s writing is just amazing. She’s so poetic and does a fabulous job balancing modern, cultural references [read: internet dating] with charming French or Italian words/phrases. She references literature too, which I love. Everything isn’t explained to the precise detail either [a common occurrence in some Christian writing that drives me nuts]. And for once, this isn’t a predictable novel!! 🙂 YES! In fact, it ends on a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next installment to come out!
  • Another reason I loved this novel was that Juliette includes some of her [errr Hillary’s] recipes. The hot chocolate sounds wonderful! I want to make it this winter. 🙂 I think they all sound really good, actually.
  • All in all, this was a great book. It has so many elements that I love–a character I adore and wish I could hang out with in real life, faith, cooking, travel… it was just perfect! Though I might not have family I can go visit in Europe, it’s fun to live through someone else, and you can certainly do that through Juliette! Thanks, Hillary, for such a great novel. I can’t wait to read part two!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book! 


Book Review: Spoken For

Hello! Today I have a new book to share with you: Spoken For by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke. I received a free advance reading copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books Program. This book will be released on April 15, 2014 and is available for preorder now.

P.S. Be sure to check out my giveaway for a free canvas from Printcopia, now through 3/15/14!!

Spoken For | a book review on

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Say Yes to the Love Story of Your Life

A great romance was set in motion before you were born. A relentless Lover is pursuing you, and He has made His intentions clear. He wants you to be His forever. How will you respond to the One who longs for you to be His with your whole heart?

In Spoken For, Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke speak to your heart about what it means for you to belong to Christ, who you are because of His love, and how that affects the way you live. Drawing on biblical promises and their personal experiences,   these two friends share what it’s like to live out God’s unfolding love story.

You are not up for grabs. You are spoken for.

And as usual, my five point review:

  • First of all, I will fully admit that despite knowing this book was written for young women [even teen girls], I wanted to read it because Robin Jones Gunn wrote it. She’s the author of of my favorite preteen/teen reads of all time: the Christy Miller series. So, I was just curious what she had to say in this setting… and I was just a bit curious if the ‘love lessons’ I learned from Christy would translate to this book. And let me tell you… they DO! Yay! So, even though I’m a little beyond the intended age range for this book, it spoke so much truth to me. So good. Robin Jones Gunn knows her stuff, as does Alyssa Joy Bethke.
  • The authors’ love stories with their husbands–and with God–are interspersed throughout their reflections on truths related to our lives, truths about how God sees us. Unlike Altared, this alternating love story with Biblically based truth is not annoying and is done very tastefully. Each chapter is devoted to one truth and covers the following topics: You are… wanted, pursued, loved, called, of great value, a peculiar treasure, set free, covered, promised, and spoken for. Out of that list, I related to the first few chapters the most, but truly found life, hope, and encouragement on every page of the book, from reading scripture to reading these women’s personal love stories with the Lord and their husbands.
  • I think Spoken For would be a great book for a high school or college girls’ small group to read and discuss together. Each chapter includes questions that can be discussed in a group or considered individually. The emphasis of the discussion questions isn’t just on relationships so it really is applicable to a wide range of life experiences–a plus in my book.
  • My favorite thing about this book was that it is written in such a conversational style that I walked away from every page feeling known and loved. The authors did a great job with this. I know this style of writing is popular now because of blogs, but to me, it came across as genuine and not cheesy… and I didn’t think that the authors had everything “figured out” either, which as a young person I know can be quite annoying! Life and faith, for all of us, is a constant path of learning and growth and I felt this book emphasized that so well.
  • Though this book is written for young women [maybe ages 13 and up, approximately?] I think any woman, no matter her age, can relate to the need to feel loved, or wanted, or called. The easy-to-read, more simplistic format of this book is a welcome change to some books in the Christian living genre, without downgrading the Biblical validity of the book. I highly suggest you check it out when it is released on April 15th! I highly recommend this book to youth leaders and parents of teens as well. Good stuff!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book! 


Book Review: Altared

The book I have to review for you today deviates from my usual read. Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We by Claire & Eli is an interesting read that I received courtesy of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books Program. A book about love is appropriate for Valentine’s week, huh?

Altared by Claire & Eli | a book review on

Here is a description of the book from the publishers:

Mar•riage-hap•py \mar´-ij-hap´e¯\ adj 1: Having an inordinate preoccupation with marital pursuits, sometimes at the cost of other Christian priorities, commonly seen in evangelicals. 2: A giddiness stemming from all things related to marriage.
In the frenzied pursuit of romance, Christians sometimes lose sight of the greatest commandments: to love God and to love others. Distracted by wedding bells and exuberant hopes for a happily-ever-after, Christians often forget the greater vision of Christ’s call to love.

What if God is less worked up about marriage than we are?

With honesty and insight, Claire and Eli ask us to shift our thinking away from marriage or singleness and toward love and discipleship.

Drawing from luminaries like Augustine, the Desert Fathers, and Bonhoeffer, they invite you to join their real-life exploration of love as they convincingly demonstrate why a love for God and for one’s neighbor are to be our top priorities, whether we are single or married.

As usual, my five point review:

  • Overall, this book is based on an interesting premise for the Christian evangelical/church community: marriage, singleness, relationships and their stances on love are not as important as love and discipleship, as following Jesus is. Most Christians would say that following Jesus DOES supercede pursuing relationships, but in practice, things aren’t always that simple. So in one way, this book is a refreshing look at a topic of interest for many young adults, and a challenging one at that.
  • On the other hand, Claire and Eli write this book as a couple–but not a married couple. The details of that are best left to the book [the format of which alternates the story of their relationship with their exploration of the question: “should I get married?”]. Though Ben and I have been married for almost five years now [wow!], I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage… but would I recommend it? Absolutely. I just feel that their position in life doesn’t exactly give them authority to write such an opinionated piece on marriage. If you aren’t married, you can’t understand it–period.
  • The two biggest beefs I have with their exploration of the topic is that a) they generalize on the Christian experience with marriage A LOT, and b) their explorations of Biblical passages on marriage [i.e. 1 Corinthians 7, Matthew 22] are kind of weak. The generalizations stem from the fact that they assume all Christian leaders encourage marriage above anything else, and therefore that young single Christians [or single Christians of any age] idolize marriage. I think that can be true, but isn’t necessarily true, and their critique of the church in that respect seems a bit unfounded. Secondly, I just feel their use of scripture [while they do bring up good points] is somewhat weak and excludes the context in which it was written, as well as the backgrounds of the authors.
  • I thought the book was written in a very beautiful way. Parts of the book [their story] read like a novel. You feel like a friend is talking to you, and letting you into their fun romance. Props to a writing team succeeding at this!
  • Generally speaking, I think this book has its place and I would recommend it to believers who are struggling with prioritizing marriage over any other relationship. I think it is a good call to discipleship: to serve God wherever you are, to seek God, and to build relationships in a variety of contexts. I think the book just has to be read in a discerning way, and the novel-like, familiar way parts of it are written can easily bring your guard down.

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book! 


Book Review: Fearless

I received a e-book copy of Eric Blehm’s Fearless from the Blogging for Books program offered by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. First things first–this book was amazing! So inspiring. I read it in about two days.


Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Fearless takes you deep into SEAL Team SIX, straight to the heart of one of its most legendary operators.

When Navy SEAL Adam Brown woke up on March 17, 2010, he didn’t know he would die that night in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan—but he was ready: In a letter to his children, not meant to be seen unless the worst happened, he wrote, “I’m not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this earth, because I know no matter what, nothing can take my spirit from me.”

Long before Adam Brown became a member of the elite SEAL Team SIX—the counterterrorism unit that took down Osama bin Laden—he was a fun-loving country boy from Hot Springs, Arkansas, whose greatest goal had been to wear his high school’s football jersey. An undersized daredevil, prone to jumping off roofs into trees and off bridges into lakes, Adam was a kid who broke his own bones but would never break a promise to his parents.

But after high school, Adam fell in with the wrong crowd, and his family watched as his appetite for risk dragged him into a downward spiral that eventually landed him in jail. Battling his inner demons on a last-chance road to redemption, Adam had one goal: to become the best of the best—a U.S. Navy SEAL.

An absorbing chronicle of heroism and humanity, Fearless presents an indelible portrait of a highly trained warrior who would enter a village with weapons in hand to hunt terrorists, only to come back the next day with an armload of shoes and meals for local children. It is a deeply personal, revealing glimpse inside the SEAL Team SIX brotherhood that also shows how these elite operators live out the rest of their lives, away from danger, as husbands, fathers, and friends.
Fearless is the story of a man of extremes, whose courage and determination was fueled by faith, family, and the love of a woman. It’s about a man who waged a war against his own worst impulses and persevered to reach the top tier of the U.S. military. Always the first to volunteer for the most dangerous assignments, Adam’s final act of bravery led to the ultimate sacrifice.
Adam Brown was a devoted man who was an unlikely hero but a true warrior, described by all who knew him as fearless.

I know that’s kind of long, but the last two paragraphs are the most important, in my opinion. As usual, here’s my five point review.

  • First, don’t dismiss this book if you’re not into military stories or don’t consider yourself super patriotic, or anything like that. Adam Brown’s story and his life does contain aspects of military life and patriotism, HOWEVER that is not the focus of this story. This story–and I hesitate to even use the word “story” because that almost trivializes this man’s life–is about how God transforms a life and then allows that life to impact many other people around him.
  • Fearless is highly motivational–motivation to get through your tough problems, like writing a thesis that is just hard or getting through a tough time at work or whatever monotony you deal with on a daily basis. Reading how Adam Brown worked through hardship, injuries, and tough times with a straight-up, deeply rooted belief that he could do this and this and this, no matter what “this” is because he had the strength of the Lord was just awesome. His ability to persevere is just amazing.
  • The gospel message and encouragement to keep on keeping on was so present in this book–but not in an annoying way. Some Christian memoirs can be annoying and fluffy in that way, but not Fearless. This story was real–swear words, sweat, and all. The coolest part was at the end where the author revealed he wasn’t a Christian but was more intrigued by faith and spiritual things after writing Brown’s story, getting to know his family, and immersing himself in Adam’s life just for a little bit. These are the kind of faith stories that need to be told. The well written, real faith stories that can have a gospel impact on people’s lives–even if they are coming from hard situations. [Go back and read the book description. Drugs, people! Extremes! Risk! This is real life.]
  • This book is a great reminder that life is short and life is precious and you should tell your family and friends that you love them, often. Because you never know what’s going to happen. So husband, and family, and friends, I love you.
  • Last, but not least, the inspiration of Adam Brown as a heroic member of the military who gave his life for this country was incredible. As I first pointed out, this isn’t just a book about the military or being patriotic–but those aspects of Adam Brown’s story are hard to miss. I personally do not know many people who are in the military. I know a handful who were or who are married to military professionals, but I don’t have day to day interaction with anyone in the military. I think that’s something needed in this country [a good dose of perspective], but that’s another subject for another day. This book is a good reminder of those who have given their lives [or even just their days or time with their families] for our freedom. Bottom line: this is a book worth reading. I wish I had a non-e-book copy to loan out… but in the meantime, be sure to check it out! I highly recommend it!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book!