Inspirational Book Series You Can’t Put Down

Today I’d like to introduce guest blogger, Varina Denman.

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Varina writes stories about the unique struggles women face. Her award-winning Mended Hearts series, which revolves around church hurt, is a compelling blend of women’s fiction and inspirational romance. A native Texan, Varina lives near Fort Worth with her husband and five mostly grown children. Connect with Varina on her website or one of the social media hangouts.

Welcome, Varina!

Katie, thank you for hosting me on your blog today. It’s summertime, and we’ve all got extra time on our hands. My holiday break is swiftly getting filled with events, camps, and projects, but I still have plenty of time by the pool doing what I love best … reading! I’ve put together a list of books to recommend to friends, specifically Christian book series that have been described as “can’t-put-it-down.” That’s what we all LOVE to read, especially during the lazy summer months. I hope your blog readers find a new series on the list, and I hope they pour themselves a tall glass of iced tea, and sit down and relax. Happy reading, girlfriends! (Don’t forget the suntan lotion)


Jan Karon’s Mitford Series.

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A little about At Home In Mitford: It’s easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable.

Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that’s sixty years old.

Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for. And readers get a rich comedy in which mysteries and miracles abound.

Click here for more information about the Mitford series.

Dawn Crandall’s Everstone Chronicles.

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A little about The Hesitant Heiress: After being unjustly expelled from the Boston Conservatory of Music, Amaryllis Brigham sees her dreams of founding a music academy in her hometown of Seattle, Washington, disappearing before her very eyes. Now, the only way to achieve her goal comes with high stakes for someone set on avoiding men as much as possible: Marry within the year to inherit the immense fortune of her estranged grandmother. Amaryllis reluctantly moves in to her aunt’s Boston home and rubs shoulders with fashionable society. Despite her own misgivings, she soon finds herself quickly falling in love with the most unlikely of men–Nathan Everstone, the envy of every eligible female, whose father has haunted her dreams for the decade following her mother’s tragic death. However, Nathan turns out to be much more than he seems…and everything she never knew she wanted. But just as everything Amaryllis has recently hoped for comes to fruition, it all falls apart when she finds that the real culprit who has been managing her life isn’t who she thought at all.

Click here for more information about the Everstone Chronicles.

Katie Ganshert’s The Gifting Series.

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A little about The Gifting: In a world where nothing supernatural exists, Tess Eckhart is positive she’s going crazy. What other explanation is there for the things she sees? After her complete freakout at a high school party, her parents worry she might be right. So much that they pack their bags and move across the country, next to a nationally-renowned facility for the mentally ill.

Despite the whispers and stares, Tess is determined to fit in at her new school. But when it comes to Luka Williams, a reluctantly popular boy in her class, she’s unused to a stare that intense. Then the headaches start, and the seemingly prophetic dreams that haunt her at night. As Tess tries harder to hide them, she becomes increasingly convinced that Luka knows something—that he might somehow be responsible.

But what if she’s wrong? What if Luka Williams is the only thing separating her from a madness too terrifying to fathom?

Click here for more information about The Gifting series. The first book is currently free!

Melanie Dickerson’s Hagenheim Fairy Tale Romance Series.

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A little about The Healer’s Apprentice: Two Hearts. One Hope. Rose has been appointed as a healer’s apprentice at Hagenheim Castle, a rare opportunity for a woodcutter’s daughter like her. While she often feels uneasy at the sight of blood, Rose is determined to prove herself capable. Failure will mean returning home to marry the aging bachelor her mother has chosen for her—a bloated, disgusting merchant who makes Rose feel ill. When Lord Hamlin, the future duke, is injured, it is Rose who must tend to him. As she works to heal his wound, she begins to understand emotions she’s never felt before and wonders if he feels the same. But falling in love is forbidden, as Lord Hamlin is betrothed to a mysterious young woman in hiding. As Rose’s life spins toward confusion, she must take the first steps on a journey to discover her own destiny.

Click here for more information about the Hagenheim Fairy Tale Romance Series.

Varina Denman’s Mended Hearts Series.

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A little about Jaded: As a child, Ruthie was shunned by the local congregation. Now, thirteen years later, Ruthie’s heart begins to stir when an attractive single preacher arrives. But their relationship is bitterly opposed, and a string of secrets are unearthed that threaten to turn the church, the town, and her world upside down.

Jaded is the rare novel that is a love story between both a woman and a man … and God and His church. Plunging deep into the waters of shame, forgiveness, and restoration, this book will resonate with every woman who’s experienced a loss of heart … and a thirst for hope.

Click here for more information about the Mended Hearts series.

Me Before You: One Reader’s Opinion

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It’s 5:30 in the morning right now. On a Saturday. And thanks to the little dude in the next room who woke me up to inform me that he’d gotten sick all over his bed, I’m awake.

I’m awake and I can’t fall back to sleep.

I can’t fall back to sleep because I keep thinking about this book I finished listening to last night.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

I didn’t like it.

I know. I know. I’m in the total minority. People LOVE this book. I mean, as I sit here right now there are 10,400+ reviews on Amazon and the average rating is 4.6 out of 5. I’m not super great at math or anything, but that’s a darn good score.

I get it.

Jojo Moyes is a brilliant writer.

And the audio. Well, listening to a British accent for 13+ hours is definitely NOT torture. I love British accents. I’m slightly obsessed with British accents. I think I drove my meme-obsessed husband mad because while listening to this audio, I developed my own British accent, evidenced by this meme he texted me the other day.


It’s going to take me some time for my inner dialogue to stop sounding like a plucky girl from London.

I feel like I also must say that I read this book because I saw the movie trailer.

After having watched Love, Rosie, I became a giant fan of Sam Claflin. He was absolutely charming in his role as Alex, and not too shabby as Finnick Odair, either.

Anyway, I saw the preview and I thought, “Oh, this movie looks heartbreakingly wonderful!”

I’m weird like that. I actually like sad stories.

I’m okay with people dying at the end.

This seemed right up my alley.

I downloaded my copy from audible and stuck in my ear buds and began to listen to what I thought was going to be a romantic love story.

And at first, I fell in love. I fell in love with taciturn, distant Will Trainer. I fell in love with the aimless but spirited Louisa Clark.

I listened raptly as their relationship changed from antagonistic to agreeable.

I smiled and cheered when Louisa began to break through Will’s barriers.

And then it happened.

The thing.

The BIG BAD AWFUL THING, I’ll call it. (BBAT for short.)

We learn why Louisa was hired.

We learn that Will Trainer–who lives life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic thanks to a motor accident–has plans to take his life via physician-assisted suicide (PAS) after having already tried and failed to take his life in a less dignified manner.

We get a heart-wrenching glimpse into his mother’s perspective, who desperately doesn’t want her son to do it, but is at a loss for options.

Louisa Clark is her last hope.

This was the point where I started to get squirmy. This was the point where I started voxing two of my friends who had already read the book intensely passionate, angsty messages that basically went like this …

“He’s not going to do it, is he?”

“Surely, he’s not going to do that.”

“Please tell me Will Trainer is NOT GOING TO DO THAT.”

“Oh my gosh, if they fall in love and Will actually goes through with it, I will NOT BE ABLE TO DEAL.”

Louisa Clark (or just plain Clark, as Will calls her) finds out about this plan and after a strong initial reaction, decides she’d going to stop him from doing the BBAT. Thus begins a string of adventures (some painful, some beautiful), all meant to convince Will that his life is worth living.

Spoiler alert. Just in case you didn’t notice the blaring red one up above.

It doesn’t work.

Louisa and Will do fall in love. Louisa tells Will it was the best six months of her life. And Will, oddly enough, returns the sentiment. It was the best six months of his life, too. He admits that he could live a good life with her.

But it’s not enough.

And so, off he goes to Dignitas (a facility in Switzerland) and ends his life.

Okay. Look.

I get it.

I get that this is beautifully written and makes a reader feel all the feels. I admit that the only reason I didn’t cry is because I’d purposely gone into shut-down mode for the sake of self-preservation and all that. I get that Jojo Moyes takes the reader deep into the mind of a man who goes through with a decision many of us don’t agree with, and she has this way of getting you to understand it. To sympathize with it. To break over it. To really see it.

I get that in life, love isn’t always enough.

But you guys.

I still don’t like it.

I really. Don’t. Like it.

In fact, as soon as I reached the epilogue and Lou opens the letter Will wrote before the BBAT, I texted one of my friends, “I hate this book!”

And I’m trying to figure out why.

Why this intense visceral reaction of dislike?

At first, I started thinking it was this agenda. Jojo was trying to romanticize euthanasia and I wasn’t going to swallow that pill. No, ma’am. Not me. I don’t like books with agendas.

But I *think* (this particular opinion is still formulating) that was just my anger talking.

I don’t think Jojo wrote the book to advocate for PAS anymore than my Gifting Series is an attempt to indoctrinate young minds with right-wing or left-wing ideology (it’s been accused of both). My political opinions pretty much start and stop with “Trump is repulsive”. At this point in time, I don’t have much else to say.

I really think Moyes was just exploring the life of someone who chooses PAS.

And really, if my beef is with the suicide, how then can I like Romeo and Juliet? I don’t mean to spoil anything here, but um, they both kill themselves.

And here we come to it.

The thing that really gets to me.

Romeo kills himself because he cannot live without Juliet.

He can’t live without her and she can’t live without him.

They can’t bear to live without love.

Will Trainer can’t bear to live, period. Even with love. He has it, but this love isn’t enough to keep him alive. Lou isn’t enough to keep him alive. Love isn’t enough.

Look. I get it.

That’s life.

And in life, love doesn’t conquer all. Sometimes it just isn’t enough.

I get it. I really do.

But this isn’t life.

This is story. And story is supposed to be BIGGER than life.

I want story to be bigger than life.

I especially want love stories to be bigger than life.

I want love to win.

I want love to conquer all.

I want love to beat all the odds and change a stubborn man like Will Trainer. I want love to not just be enough, I want it to be MORE than enough. I want it to convince him that life is worth living.

Color me romantic, it’s what I want.

But it’s not what I got.

Me Before You wasn’t bigger than life. It was just … life.

Real, raw, broken life.

Which is why I think so many people love it.

And why, ultimately, I don’t.

Because it was only part of what’s real.

I think behind every great story is a deeper, bigger truth.

Stories are never just stories.

Jesus knew this. It’s why he used them to teach. He used them all the time. Being as He’s God and all, I think he’s got pretty good insight into the human psyche. Story speaks to a larger truth.

There’s this giant narrative unfolding all around us. One that is true.

And stories–the kind that I apparently prefer–reflect that deeper, bigger truth.

The whole thing.

Why does my heart long for LOVE to win?

Because love ultimately did win.

On a cross 2000+ years ago. Love won. Despite what everything popular in our world might say, love CAN and DOES change a person. Love CAN and DOES change lives. At least, the right kind of love. The perfect kind of love. Please hear me on this, lest I start spreading dangerous ideology. I’m not talking about the kind of love we can give at all. I’m talking about the life-giving love of a God-man who died a brutal death all for love.

Why did my heart recoil at the ending of this book?

Because that’s part of the big narrative, too. We’re a broken lot, walking around in a broken world. And sometimes we’re dealt crappy hands and we just .. we don’t know how to deal. We don’t want to deal. That’s life.

But see.

It’s only PART.

There is so so SO much more.

Something infinitely better than that particular end. Where a bloke decides to stop living because he doesn’t like the hand he’s been given.

I guess I want the books I read to point to the more. And this one didn’t. At least, it didn’t for me.

Tell me, what did YOU think?

Let it be known, I love talking books. I love that we all come to stories with our own thoughts, beliefs, opinions, preferences, life experiences. So even though the story has the same words to everyone who reads it, it’s a totally unique experience to everyone who reads it. So please, chime in!

Bucket Lists

An October Bride

The first time I ever heard the phrase “bucket list” was when that movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out in 2007. I have no idea if that phrase was a thing before that movie or not, but I do know since time immemorial, people have been making them.

Maybe we don’t write them down. Maybe the list is simply something we’ve considered in our minds. But I think we all have at least one or two things we’d like to do before we “kick the bucket”.

It could be a place you want to travel or a relationship you want to mend or a big goal you want to achieve or a milestone you want to reach or any number of random or not-s0-random things.

I know I have them.

And so does one of the character’s in my very first novella, An October Bride.

In fact, this bucket list–which is accidentally discovered by main character, Emma Tate–instigates the entire story.

So I thought, since said story releases tomorrow (cue major excitement and nerves!), that it would be fun to talk about our bucket lists today.

What would be one or two things on YOUR bucket list?

An October Bride releases tomorrow, September 23, on e-book and audio book wherever e-books and audio books are sold. It will release in paperback format in conglomeration with A September Bride by Kathryn Springer and A November Bride by Beth Vogt in an omnibus titled Fall Brides. If you want to learn more about the story, please visit the An October Bride page on my website. I’d love to introduce you to Jake Sawyer, Emma Tate, and the quirky town of Mayfair, Wisconsin. I had such a fun time writing their story!