Thursday, March 28, 2013

Swept Away - a Litfuse Review

I really enjoy Mary Connealy's novels. (I reviewed another one of her novels, Over the Edge, last summer.) I've always loved historical fiction, and this one is no exception. Swept Away is the first novel in the Trouble in Texas series.

Ruthy MacNeil is literally swept away when her wagon train's attempt at fording a river didn't go over so well. When she is separated from her abusive adoptive parents and adoptive brother (aka fiance) in the fray, Ruthy is discovered and rescued by Regulator (and Civil War soldier) Luke Stone, who is on his way to Broken Wheel to take over his father's stolen property and, as a result, to settle a nasty score.

When Luke finds that Ruthy is mostly unconscious and not able to fend for herself, he has no choice but to take her along with him. Looking forward to getting farther away from her family in case some of them managed to survive, Ruthy went willingly.

When Luke arrives at Broken Wheel and forms his posse of friends from the Civil War to help him win back his dead father's ranch, Ruthy finds herself wanting to take part, too.

This story went from interesting to intriguing to chair-gripping excitement. Love that! This is a novel that, once you began reading, doesn't stop! Constant flowing plot, constantly building. Mary is great at plotting an exciting story that leaves you not wanting to put it down. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the characters in this story. There were a lot of them, and Mary introduced them all in a logical way and in a manner that wasn't confusing. Each new addition was timely and well-described so there was no confusion about who was whom.

Mary Connealy is celebrating the release of Swept Away by giving away a $250 "Swept Away" Vacation Package and hosting a Facebook Author Chat Party! 


One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A $250 Visa Cash Card (Get away for the weekend or use it to buy an eReader for a relaxing ‘Staycation’!)
  • A copy of Swept Away (For you AND a friend!)
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 27th. Winner will be announced at the "Swept Away" Author Chat Party on March 28th. Connect with Mary, get a sneak peek of the next book in the series, try your hand at the trivia contest, and chat with readers just like you. There will also be many fun giveaways -- gift certificates, books, and more!

So grab your copy of Swept Away and join Mary on the evening of the March 28th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 28th!


I received Swept Away as a complimentary gift in exchange for review from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to give a favorable review; my opinions are my own.

Courting Cate - a Bethany House Review

It isn't too often that I want to bang my head against a wall from the stubbornness and unmoving character qualities of a heroine. But that's what I desperately wanted to do while I read Courting Cate by Leslie Gould.

Cate Miller, a self-proclaimed spinster at age twenty-three, has tried her best to be happy with her life as her father's store secretary. Her father was considered wealthy, and any time that Cate thought a man might make a move on her, she and her fiery attitude cut him down. He was only after her father's money, right? Cate believed that she wanted to stay unmarried--let her younger sister Betsy have the husband and kids!

But when her father Bob decides that Cate has to get married before Betsy can, things get ugly. Cate, in her stubbornness, attempts to refuse. Betsy, flirty and friendly (unlike Cate), is already being courted. Knowing that her father has made this declaration, Betsy is driven to grief and hatches a plot to get Cate hitched.

When drifter Pete Treger comes to town looking for a job and a wife, Cate's family gets some bright ideas. (Or not so bright.) But Pete arrives in town with his own issues to deal with, and, like Cate, is about as stubborn as they come. When he gets a job working for Bob Miller in his store, he soon proves his worth to Bob. And Bob's decision for Cate to marry first is just all the more solid in his mind.

I found a few things in this novel that irritated me, and it's all about the character development. SPOILER ALERT!!

First was the feeling that the author was trying too hard to make these two butt heads. Their behaviors were very annoying to me. Second, Cate had no homemaking skills. This didn't add up for someone who had decided to be a spinster--she'd still need to take care of herself, right? Third, Cate raised her sister Betsy after their mother died, and Betsy ended up being a bit spoiled and conniving. Although I will say at the beginning of the story, Betsy didn't seem that way. The fact that Cate made a decision that would benefit Betsy so much seemed a bit too unreal to me. Fourth, Pete started out as this nice, friendly guy who doted on Cate, and then in the middle of the book he became this hard, uncaring person who paid her no attention. Shoot, he even made her hitch-hike to another state in the pouring rain!! For a guy who seemed to really really like her at first, this just felt unbalanced. Fifth, at the end of the story, Cate comes to an epiphany about Pete's family that was too rushed. When I read it, I turned back a page to see if I'd missed something--it was that shocking to me. Sixth, it was devoid of feeling between the two main characters until the very end, and even then it wasn't a "Wow, they are SO in LOVE!" moment for me.

I liked this story, though, because I think that Leslie genuinely had a nice story line. The plot was very much more developed than the characters were. Her description was very good, and the writing was very nice. There were bits of unpredictability thrown in that was refreshing. The story is written in First Person POV, and it read smoothly.

All in all, I liked this book and look forward to the next book in the series.

I received Courting Cate as a complimentary gift in exchange for review from Bethany House Publishers. My comments and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wishing on Willows - GIVEAWAY!

Congratulations to Kristin Y. for winning Wishing on Willows! An email has been sent to you letting you know of your win!

For those of you who like winning books, come back this weekend for another giveaway. I'm giving away two of Robin Lee Hatcher's books!! 

I'm thrilled to be giving away a free copy of Wishing on Willows by Katie Ganshert!

The release date is on March 19, but I have been given by the author and publisher an advanced reader's copy to give away to my readers! (An advanced reader's copy is not the final copy, so they usually contain a few errors. It cannot be sold.)

If you would like to win an Advanced Reader's Copy, please fill out the form below. You can enter once a day. Good luck!!

This giveaway is only open to residents in the U.S.  Winners will be randomly chosen by and will have 48 hours to respond from the time I send the alerting email. Failure to respond within 48 hours will result in a new winner being selected.

About the book
Does a second chance at life and love always involve surrender?

A three-year old son, a struggling café, and fading memories are all Robin Price has left of her late husband. As the proud owner of Willow Tree Café in small town Peaks, Iowa,  she pours her heart into every muffin she bakes and espresso she pulls, thankful for the sense of purpose and community the work provides.
So when developer Ian McKay shows up in Peaks with plans to build condos where her café and a vital town ministry are located, she isn’t about to let go without a fight.

As stubborn as he is handsome, Ian won’t give up easily. His family’s business depends on his success in Peaks. But as Ian pushes to seal the deal, he wonders if he has met his match. Robin’s gracious spirit threatens to undo his resolve, especially when he discovers the beautiful widow harbors a grief that resonates with his own.

With polarized opinions forming all over town, business becomes unavoidably personal and Robin and Ian must decide whether to cling to the familiar or surrender their plans to the God of Second Chances.

Release date: March 19th, 2013

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 4, 2013

Living Debt Free on Under $50K a Year

Whoa. That title sounds ominous, doesn't it? Absolutely. Sounds impossible, doesn't it? Absolutely. But we're doing it and have for a while now. What's the secret? Well, let me first explain what we've done, and I'll tell you how YOU can do it, too. With a little sacrifice, a little sweat, and a little grunting. If you're interested in saving money, there are ways to do it. It may be difficult, but with a little time and research, you can do it.

We homeschool.
I have a degree in education, and when I decided to stay home the first year of my second child's life, I ended up deciding to stay home permanently and chose to homeschool. That said, we don't have private school money leaving our pockets, but we DO pay for textbooks and other supplies needed to accomplish our school year. For example, we bought a nice microscope with LCD screen and camera. It cost nearly $200, but it was a necessary purchase, because there were no options for  us to borrow a microscope from our library or local university. On average, it costs us about $600 a year to homeschool. That's including textbooks, supplies for the year, etc. We have a university nearby where we occasionally check out manipulatives or other items from the education section. We also utilize our local library, use some online freebies (including free typing programs). Below, you'll see a list of my favorite online websites that we use regularly during our homeschool year.

We drive old vehicles.
My husband's truck is fourteen years old. My SUV is thirteen years old. We bought them used several years ago, paid them off after a few years, and now we have no vehicle payments. Sure, we have random repairs that have to be made, and some costly (my vehicle currently needs a wheel bearing replaced--I think we've had the other three already replaced). But it still is cheaper for us than having a monthly $250-$300 payment. I don't need a pretty vehicle with all the bells and whistles--if it gets us around and can get me through snow and ice, I'm good.

We buy cheap.
We always buy things frugally. We buy school supplies, toiletries, etc. in bulk and store things in cabinets, closets, under our beds, in the building, etc. We look for sales, use coupons when we can, go to yard sales and visit stores like Goodwill. We can't always find something on sale, but we try. Expensive stores are not on my radar unless they have massive discounts.

Discount Books
I make great use of swapping sites like PaperbackSwap. I'm able to trade books with individuals who have something I need. And since new textbooks are fairly expensive, I get a lot of the boys' textbooks used on Amazon.

There are a lot of books I'd like to have right now, but I wait to see if I can get a great discount before I buy. Gone are the days of pre-orders!

I also check out the freebies section at Amazon, I get emails from my favorite authors so I don't miss out on great deals, and I check Facebook for great deals on books as well. A lot of times, my favorite authors will let their fans know about great deals and freebies. And naturally, I check out books at the library fairly frequently.

I also am able to get a lot of books for free by reviewing them. You can read my reviews to find out how to get involved in that, too.

College debt.
We have no college debt. We both went to a work-study college and never took out loans. That's incredible, I know. If you can attend a work-study college, I highly recommend it. If you can't, many universities have work-study options to help you better afford tuition costs. If you have to take out college loans, and I know most people do, make sure your loans don't go into default--if you must, have them deferred. Pay them regularly, and make sacrifices in order to make that happen. If you go into default, you may have to kiss your immediate financial future goodbye, because you will have a hard time building up your credit, may have a hard time getting an apartment, etc. And then of course, there's the collections agencies that will drive you nuts, and the possibility of having your tax returns kept by the government, because they WILL get their money from you somehow.

Buy with cash.
The joy of buying with cash means no monthly payments. And we have found that many times if we buy with cash (especially at a gas station here in town that we frequent), we get a discount. Look for these stores, and don't be afraid to ask if they will knock off a little of your bill if you pay them the full amount right now. You can also ask your doctor's or hospital's billing if they can knock a little off your bill if you pay in full. We have saved some money on medical bills this way.

We also buy our groceries with cash. We pull out what we need from the bank. Any leftover grocery money is saved for family activities or for something we really want. Sticking with using cash only at the grocery store means that you don't buy what you don't need. It's harder to go over your budget this way.

Credit Cards - emergency or online use only!
The use of major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, etc.) shows credit agencies that you can juggle your finances. I've heard some folks recommend that an individual have three credit cards--one in a safety deposit box for safety reasons, one in your home (in a firebox, preferably), and one or two in your wallet. The idea is to use at least one credit card on a fairly regular basis to keep your credit score up. When I need to make a significant purchase, which happens a couple of times a year (usually online purchases for curriculum and Christmas gifts), I make sure I can pay it off right away because I don't like to carry a balance and pay unnecessary interest (if I can help it). Retail store credit cards are a waste for me, so we only have one major credit card. (More about retail store credit cards in the next paragraph.) We use the credit card for emergency purchases or for online use.

The problem with retail credit cards is that while they may save you 10-15% on your purchase, the interest rates are usually insane. So if you absolutely have to have one, make sure it's a store you frequent a lot and only use it when you know you're going to pay off the balance right away or at least be able to pay off a large portion of it. Also, be wary of applying for multiple retail cards: for every retail store credit card you apply for, your credit score goes down a little because you're making a credit inquiry every time you apply.

Basic electronics
Cell phones
My husband and I have "dumbphones". There's nothing smart about them. Ha! We pay about $80 a month for our cell phone service, and our 13 year old has a ten dollar Tracfone for which I tri-monthly purchase about 200 minutes (and with the double minute benefit, we get +240 minutes for a total of 440 minutes) for $40. So, roughly his phone costs us $10 a month for a total of $90 a month for all three cell phones.

We have cable internet and cable. It's expensive, or at least it is to me. We pay $130 a month for cable and internet, which is insane, and this is another area where we are going to tackle. Our plan is to eliminate cable, get local channels only through a flat antenna, and subscribe to Hulu and/or Netflix. We will still have to pay for internet of course, but we should be able to cut that $130 bill in half.

Basic technology
I don't purchase expensive computers. I don't see the need--they become obsolete right after you buy them. lol When I need a new desktop, I save my money, and buy a new machine only (no monitor). My current PC was  purchased in February 2007 and has needed to be replaced for a year now, but I'm working right now on a $360 laptop (which, unlike the model linked, has only 1GB RAM).

I have no ipads, ipods, or other fancy gadgets. I do have a black and white Kindle that I bought two years ago that gets a lot of use. My boys bought Kindle Fires after Christmas of 2011 after having saved their birthday and Christmas money.

Have cash saved.
As you read above, I'm a big supporter of paying with cash. I'm also a big supporter of saving. It's hard to do that if you have several big repairs (replacing carpet, appliances, furniture, car repairs, etc.) at once, but you can do it. Putting back $20 a month adds up. We also put almost all of our spare change into savings. We make sure we have some money in savings for emergencies. Tornadoes and floods don't happen around here too often, but if one did occur, we'd have some money to put ourselves in a hotel and buy the clothes and toiletries we'd need.

We try to keep a good bit of money in savings so that we can pay with cash. We were able to pay for our son's braces by writing a one-lump sum check. It quickly depleted our savings for which we were hoping to use to buy new living room furniture, so now we're trying to build that back up. But that's what we do. We may have furniture that is greatly in need of replacing, but we don't live in debt. We live within our means and practice patience. Sure, having to wait results in grumbling on my part (lol!), but knowing that we aren't carrying debt helps me sleep better at night.

Eat at home.
Cook at home
This is a big issue for some people. The more you eat out, the more you tend to get used to doing that.  I'm a Wendy's nut. I like Wendy's chicken nuggets, but they're not exactly good for me. When I cook, I know what I'm buying, and I know exactly what's going into my food. My cooking is always cheaper than buying something at a restaurant or from a grocery store's ready-made food section. If you don't know how to cook, utilize youtube. There's a wealth of cooking lessons, tips for cooking, etc. And of course, the internet is a never-ending source for recipes. Granted, not all of them are great (I've found out the hard way a time or two--lol), but it's a good place to start if you're looking for something.

If you are very busy and on the go, consider freezer cooking. That's a once (or twice) a month cooking spree where you cook several meals and pop them into the freezer. You can make on-the-go breakfast biscuits, single-serve soups, or even whole meals. Google "freezer cooking", and you'll find a lot of great recipes and instructions for how to do this. You'll love yourself for it!!

Grow your own food
If you can have a little garden (or have room for a big garden), I highly recommend it. We're living in a country where pesticides are used on a regular basis, and obviously there's the concern over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our food.

Gardening is time-consuming but such a blessing. When all is said and done, and you're eating great tasting food that you've had the joy of watching grow, you'll be so glad that you took the time to do it. And if you can can your food, that's even better. Learning to can is not difficult, but it does require some time to make sure you can properly. We've never bought a pressure canner (last year we borrowed one), but this year we're thinking of investing in one. Having your own home-canned foods is cheaper and healthier for you.

Live in a reasonable home.
When we first moved here, we had to move fast. We had two months to get here, and with our very very small budget, we knew it would take us forever to find a home within our budget (less than $70k at that time--can't find too many homes around here in that range!!) that would allow us all to fit inside. We struck out quickly and realized that paying $600 a month on a very small two-bedroom house wasn't going to work either. Our best option was to quickly purchase a single-wide 16x80 trailer (much more spacious than the homes we'd viewed) and plop it down in a nice trailer park. That was exactly what we did. Our home cost us $33k at the time, we paid $100 a month for our lot it was set on. The result now is that we have no mortgage, only lot rent. Sure, living in a trailer isn't glamorous. We've heard comments about "trailer trash" on occasion, but we're not worried about someone else's opinion on our living arrangements.

If you're having a hard time with your finances, consider down-grading. I don't mean move into a trailer--just down-grade if you can. Obviously, if you've got several children and your bedrooms are filled, that may not be an option. But if you can do it, consider it. It may save you thousands of dollars a year.

My husband makes under fifty thousand a year, and we're still able to afford to support our local homeless shelter bi-monthly and two other missions monthly. This is part of our budget that we plan for. If you have a charity in mind, don't discount it. Plan for it. Sit down with your bills, figure out how much you need to spend on groceries, and find out what's left over. Take a percentage of what's left (hopefully, you're not in the red), and if it's enough to monthly give that amount, then go for it! Most charities prefer monthly giving than one yearly amount because they need a monthly amount that they can count on. It's much easier for charities (especially for those struggling to make ends meet) to plan monthly costs with a monthly donation than it is to take a year's donation and divide it into monthly costs.

A Difficult Task at Times
Living on one income is certainly not easy, but it is definitely something that can be done. It means living on a budget, planning, and being patient. If you're used to "living high off the hog", choosing to drop one income to stay at home can be a sucker punch to the gut. However, you reap the benefits when you see that your kids are happy and thriving. You reap the benefits when you're not coming home at 6pm to hurry and cook, clean up, and help the kids with homework without passing out from exhaustion. Having time to do what needs to be done has been a great source of stress-relief for me. It's a sacrifice financially, but it's been one of the greatest decisions I've ever made. And my husband loves coming home to dinner, an eager greeting from his wife, and hearing his youngest son's feet pounding the floor as he runs to greet him.

The cost of staying at home is a salary. But if that salary is costing you MORE (grief, frustration, unhappy family, or very little family time) than staying at home, consider an alternative if you can. Not every family can afford for one member to be at home, but if it's possible, consider giving it a try. It's not necessarily an impossible feat!

- Getting out of Debt - Dave Ramsey's tools and books also check out your local library for his books
- Clark Howard - Advice on Saving, Bargains, and Economics!
- Homeschool links:
  • Paperbackswap - an excellent way to get rid of your gently used books in return for new gently used books!
  • Typing Tutor - a great freebie for those new to typing!
  • KISS Grammar - awesome grammar lessons and activities
  • Intellicast - for kids (and adults!) who love weather and want to see global weather maps live!
  • - addition, subtraction, and multiplication games
- About Credit Inquiries
- About Retail store cards
- Savingslist - a Great list of things you can save on!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wishing on Willows Review

I recently read a novel written by Katie Ganshert called Wildflowers from Winter. It was one of those books that you really enjoy reading and when you're done, you wish you could wiggle your nose and make more of the story appear.

When I saw an opportunity to become a member of the launch team for Katie's newest book Wishing on Willows, I was elated! Knowing what a winner Wildflowers from Winter was, I was anxious for the newest novel in the series to arrive. The copy that I received is an Advanced Reader Copy (signed! yeep!), because the book hasn't been released yet. Wishing on Willows will be released on March 19. You can pre-order your copy now, and if you do, a bonus devotional pack will be included with all pre-orders. All you need is your order number.

Wishing on Willows is the story of a young widow named Robin Price whose life has revolved around her young son Caleb who was born several months after the death of her husband and her cafe in town. When Robin's beloved cafe is at risk for loss because of a condominium development project hatched by the townsfolk, she fights tooth and nail to keep her and Micah's dream alive. It's one of two things she has left of her beloved Micah.

When developer Ian McKay arrives in Peaks to do his job by buying up three local businesses and lay the plans for a condominium, he finds resistance by one of the business owners--Robin. Knowing that she's stubborn, he--stubborn himself--goes on a mission to find out why. Talking to her employees, her family members, and to her, he discovers that Robin's stance isn't just about being stubborn. She shakes his world quite a bit, and as a result, he worries about his family's business. The future of the family business revolves around how the Peaks project shakes out. So not only is Ian's project important for his own future, but the business' future is dependent on the project's completion.

With both of them having their own personal reasons for wanting their plans to work, they both face the possibility of stalemate.

Wishing on Willows was a fantastic read. Katie did a great job of weaving several emotions into the story effectively, without overkill (which I greatly appreciate!). Point of view was magnificent. The characters were realistic and well-developed. Another winner by Katie, and I look forward to reading more!!

If you want to know more about Katie, please visit her website. You can find free chapters of Wishing on Willows, go on a virtual trip to Robin's Willow Tree Cafe, read about the inspiration for the novel and learn about fun facts, or get to know Katie the author.

Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she’s not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels. She and her husband are in the process of adopting from the Congo. You can find her online at her blog and on Facebook.

I was thrilled to receive a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion!