©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Clip In

Clip In is a rather interesting book to read, because it could change the church culture world-wide if churches could hear what this book is saying. In using bicycle riding as a metaphor, the authors have created an interesting challenge--the challenge for churches to become a place of warmth and refuge. This makes the church atmosphere one of welcome and hospitality.

There have been times in my Christian life where I've shied away from more hospitable churches, I've sought out colder churches because I wanted to be anonymous--I didn't want to be noticed. I was a side-line sitter in my own life. Now I want my church to be one where people feel the warmth of being a welcome guest.

I like the way the authors differentiated between visitors and guests. A visitor is someone who shows up at your door unannounced, a guest is eagerly anticipated. A visitor may have ulterior motives for showing up at your place, something to sell, or a candidate to promote; a guest has been invited, has a place set at your table, and is always met with a smile! The authors hope that churches will expunge the word "visitor" from their vocabularies and replace it with guests. I agree. I'd rather be a welcomed guest than an unanticipated visitor.

One of the primary precepts of Clip In is the 5-10 Link which encourages members to seek out people they do not know and connect them with someone else within the congregation. This not only creates a welcoming atmosphere, but it connects people to more than just one member of the church.

This review only scratches the surface of what's in this book. But Jim Ozier and Fiona Haworth have put together a great program of hospitality that is easy to implement, biblical in content, and like bicycle riding--once learned is never forgotten.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and an honored guest at your table.

Abingdon Press provided this book in exchange for my review.

Hope Crossing, Peace Ahead

I spent most of today washing clothes and reading, not the activities I would have chosen entirely, but it worked. My husband watched football.

I have decided that I have a couple of favorite Amish Romance authors: Cindy Woodsmall and Suzanne Woods Fisher. The book(s) I am reviewing today are by Cindy. The things they have in common are incredible characterizations, well developed plots, and true-to-life conflicts. I have read Amish fiction that puts the Amish people on a pedestal of perfection that is not possible in this life. It was easy for me to choose to read this book to review because Cindy does not do that, and to have the whole series in one cover, that's just bonus. The books read seamlessly from page one of book one to the last page of book three. Having them all together makes it easy to continue the story and keep up with the characters.

Cindy has written a book that encompasses several families, more than three romancing couples, some trouble for almost every character, and a satisfying ending for all of them. The story opens with Cara and Lori, mother and daughter, fighting to make a way in the Bronx, and hiding from a psychopathic stalker who has hounded her since she was a child in the foster care system. When the stalker shows up at her place, she gets out of town fast with nothing but her daughter and the clothes on their backs. She tries to remember a place her mother took her to when she was a just a child. It's fun to read to find out how Cara figures out where the place is she wants to go. Once in Dry Creek, she re-meets Ephraim who steps in to protect her when the bishop and the preachers want to pay Cara to leave.

Among the other characters is Mahlon and Deborah, Ephraim's sister.....Mahlon decides he can't stay in the Amish community or the Amish church. This decision devestates Deborah and Ada, Mahlon's mother; but Deborah decides to be Ruth for Ada, and together they pull themselves out of the grief of losing someone they both dearly loved. In the meantime the bills have to be paid and the way they are handling delivering the pies and baked goods to the bakeries is not working. With Cara's help and the brawn of a few friends, they decide they can do a roadside stand with seasonal Amish experiences for Englisch and other Amish people.

Lennie is Deborah's friend and the teacher at the Amish school in Dry Creek, and one of the best practical jokers in the community. It's hard to get one over on her, but it is possible. She does have one scholar who gives her grief just because he can, and because he trash-talks Lennie at home, his brother takes her on as his own special project to bring her down. In the attempts to harm Lennie, the scholar's brother causes the death of a different lady--in front of the children. The school board gets up tight when Lennie brings an Englisch counselor to the classroom to help the children work through their feelings and trauma.

In the meantime, Lennie's dad, Israel, finds that Ada is the woman who can fill that empty place in his soul for a mate.

Sylvia is one of nine daughters who loves her dairy farm and loves working with the cows. When her little sister takes her boyfriend from her and marries him, Sylvia looks for another dairy farm to work. When she comes to the Blank's farm, she meets up with Aaron Blank, who has just gotten out of rehab for alcohol addiction.

I've just hit the highest points of the three books that chronicles the lives of many Amish in two communities that are fairly close together. I've left out huge chunks of the plot that runs through all three books, the highs and lows of these people's lives, the spiritual growth and trials, and the meeting of the minds. Cindy has woven all this and more into her books without distracting from the story she is telling. She even goes into detail within the story of what it takes to join the Amish faith.

This is a Five Star, Two Thumbs Up, Amish Pastry kind of book.

Waterbrook/Multnomah provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Formula?

I've often remarked about the formula for writing a romance novel, but now there seems to be a new formula. The heroine of the romance novel must be orphaned (preferably by car accident) and raised by her grandmother. The grandmother must now be in ill health for one reason or another, and in a hurry to marry the heroine off. I've read two such novels back to back with the added attraction of having quilts play important parts of both books.

Quilted by Christmas by Jodie Bailey

Taryn has a secret that only her Jemma knows, but when Justin shows up at the craft fair where Jemma sells her quilts, Taryn's secret comes back to haunt her. Justin is the father of Taryn's secret--a little girl named Sarah Faith, almost twelve years old. Jemma wants Taryn to tell Justin, but in the meantime, Taryn's cousin Rachel is getting married and Jemma ends up in the hospital with a broken arm--which seem to be totally unrelated except for the fact that Jemma is making a quilt for Rachel and needs it finished by Christmas so it will be done in time for Rachel's wedding. Taryn is pressed into service to finish the quilt for Rachel and Justin flies in for the rescue to help her sew it.

This is a typical boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back romance. There aren't many surprises to the plot and this is a rather "fluffy" book without deep substance, but it is a quick read and entertaining for what it is. Four stars.

Swept Away by Laura V Hilton

As I was finishing reading this book this morning as I rode my stationary bike, my husband asked me what I was reading. I said it was a rather goofy book. He asked why I was finishing it and I told him I only had a few more minutes to finish it. Kindle is good to tell me how much time I need to finish a book. It's a handy little feature on the device, which makes this seem like a Kindle review, rather than a book review. Maybe it is the constraint of a short novel that makes the plot and characters seem disjointed. There were some loose ends left untied and gave me a feeling of incompleteness. Grandma hires Drew, the broom maker, to do some handy-man chores around her place. Sara Jane's grandmother, Sari, wants to finish her ballad quilt because she knows her memory is slipping and she doesn't know how long she will have lucid times. She ends up in the hospital with a concussion that has changed Grandma's personality too. Again a quilt plays a significant part in the book and AT TIMES, the quilt is the only thing holding the book together. Some of the spiritual aspects of the book are over the top and really not quite believable. Three Stars.

Abingdon Press provided these books in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Every Tear

Joanna served as a switchboard operator with the signal corps in France. Now that the war is over, Joanna really doesn't want to go back home. She feels that there is nothing there for her, but a letter from her brother has caught up with her telling her that their mother has passed away and he needs her help with their younger sister, Lily.

Myra Johnson has undertaken to write about a new (for me) era of historical fiction--World War I. I don't know that I have read any of her works before, but I can guarantee this won't be the only book by her I will read.

Myra has developed a story around multi-dimensional characters who face many of the same problems we face today, and she put them in a most picturesque place--my home town, Hot Springs, Arkansas. The bulk of the story takes place at the Arlington Hotel--the height of luxury for the time. Joanna gladly takes a position as a switchboard operator at the Arlington, where she renews her friendship with Thomas Ballard, the manager of the Arlington. Because Joanna needs to be home during the day for Lily and Jack, their brother, she takes the night shift at the switchboard. Because Thomas wants to know Joanna better, he finds ways to hang around after his working hours are over.

Joanna's biggest problem is how to get through to Lily in a way to keep her out of trouble. She knows that she doesn't want Lily making the same mistakes she made as a teenager. The other issue Joanna has is how to get over the loss of her fiance' in France during the war.

I chose to read this book primarily because of its setting. The places mentioned are familiar to me because I grew up in the town. The Arlington is at the head of the main street of Hot Springs. Turn to the left, and you will pass the St Joseph Hospital where I was born (the building has since been torn town); turn to the right, and you will pass the Majestic--one of the other luxury hotels in town (it burned down last year, sadly). This is in one of the most beautiful areas of town.

The plot moves with an engaging pace, the characters are empathetic, the problems are believable, and the resolution is satisfying for the reader. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a trip down memory lane.

Abingdon Press provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dandelion Field

Dandelions are the bane of every landscaper and lawn-owner, and the pride of every three-year-old wanting to give his mother flowers. It is the wishing flower of the five-year-old who finally has lung capacity to blow the seeds off the head. Those seeds blow everywhere in a good wind, send down roots and grow new plants wherever they land.

Gin is like a dandelion in some ways, she blows wherever the wind takes her, but she doesn't like to set down roots or stay in one place too long. When she landed in Bannister Falls, she promised her daughter, Raine, that she would stay until Raine graduated from high school. Gin found a job at My Place diner, the place to eat on the wrong side of the tracks; and a place to live on the wrong side of the tracks--both of which put Raine at a disadvantage when she started school.

Evie and her son, Cody, have lived in Bannister Falls all their lives, but their lives are on a collision course with Gin's and Raine's lives in an inseperable way. Cody and Raine become friends through several classes together, especially the family life class where they became partners in one of the lab projects.

Kathryn Springer has written a coming of age novel that brings young love and a mid-life love together in a way that satisfies the reader. As I read the book (and it is incredibly hard to put down), I was reminded of a book I read and re-read over and over again when I was in junior high school--Mr and Mrs Bo Jo Jones. Both stories are honest looks at teen pregnancy and its trials, but the Dandelion Field also brings in how God works in our lives regardless of the circumstances we place ourselves in. God doesn't overlook our sin, but He does forgive and cleanse, and, if we allow it, He will use it to draw ourselves closer to Him. From the very beginning of the world, God wanted and wants nothing more than our fellowship, unencumbered by sin. He will use whatever means necessary to get our attention and to bring us to Him.

One of the key elements of the book that plays a significant part is the death of Cody's father in a fire, when Cody was six years old. His influence on Cody through his best friend, Dan, is unmistakable. It is Dan's constant support and his enduring friendship that pave a way for Gin and Raine to find their way into God's family. It is Dan's reaching out that keeps Gin's sanity in tact when Raine decides she needs some time alone.

This book is so hard to put down, I devoured it in two sittings. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Dandelion Bouquet

Zondervan allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter Brides

Three stories of romance resulting in three winter weddings, stories written by three authors giving three points of view. The best of the lot is A January Bride by Deborah Raney.

In A December Bride, Layla needs a date to her cousin's wedding. Her usual date is sick and can't make it, so Seth Murphy steps up to volunteer. At the wedding, he can't stand it that her cousin is maligning her and tells her that he and Layla are getting married in four weeks. Layla's cousin is not one to be upstaged, so she makes the announcement of Layla and Seth's engagement to her guests.

In A January Bride, Maddie needs a place to write her novel--a deadline is looming and she must get it finished, BUT, the house where she is staying happens to be under remodel construction. Her neighbor Ginny suggests that she use the Bed and Breakfast Inn that is currently not in significant use, the owner being widowed. This sets up a situation for Maddie to be able to write in peace and quiet, but she can't stand being able to use the Inn without compensating the owner. She does a little cleaning and dusting each day, and leaves a note for the owner. He comes home and sees what she's done and he writes a note to thank her. Through these notes a friendship develops, but a case of mistaken identity also develops.

In A February Bride, Allie runs out on her wedding day, leaving Marcus at the altar. Four months later, Marcus' sister, Hannah, asks Allie to be her maid of honor. Allie is willing to do the job, but her reservations run deep. She's never really stopped loving Marcus, but really can't explain why she ran out on him--oh, she knows the reason and knows it is a good reason, but she just can't bring herself to tell Marcus. It's just too hard to reconcile it all together.

These stories are cute on the surface, but on the whole, not all that good. The plots in the December Bride and the February Bride were a bit far-fetched. On the whole I'd give the book a Four Star rating.

Zondervan provided the book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Imagine, with me, standing beside a quiet pond with wave lapping almost imperceptibly. Imagine again seeing a pebble at your feet, just right for plopping into the water. As you drop the pebble into the water, you notice the ripples, small at first, then growing and fading. Then a flat rock catches your eye, and the urge to skip it across the water overwhelms you. The ripples grow, then intersect, overtaking each other until they lap on the shores of the pond.

As I read Christa Parrish's new novel, Still Life, this image came to my mind over and over again. There is never an action we take, a word we say, a choice we make, or a thought we think that does not create a ripple somewhere. Those ripples inevitably reach someone else and have effects on their lives. Nothing we do is isolated, ever.

Katherine is in Cleveland with her lover, Julian is trying to get home for his wife's birthday, the airplane is overbooked, and one simple act sets of a chain of ripples that can't be called back. Because Katherine gives her seat to Julian, she lives, but her life comes at a price far beyond her anticipation.

Katherine is a realtor, married to Will and involved in an affair with Thomas. Her younger son, Evan, is especially going to bear the brunt of the fallout from this relationship. Christa doesn't go into the whys or wherefores of the affair, she just drops the reader into the middle of it.

Julian is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who sees more than the just pictures he takes. His lens magnifies the world around him and allows those who view his photographs to see more than just the people in the prints. He's been married for just a few months, having rescued his wife from a spiritually abusive cult. She has never celebrated her birthday before and he wanted to show her his love in a new and special way.

Evan is Katherine and Will's younger son, born with a defective heart. Many of his early years were spent in hospitals and having surgeries. He loves Julian's work and has a couple of his prints in his bedroom. Julian is his inspiration and Julian's death is a huge blow to Evan.

Ada, Julian's wife, has no idea how to live without her husband. His sister comes in and takes over the funeral arrangements, her friends surround her almost to smothering, and she feels she has to find her feet. Her first thought is to go back to her home, but finds that totally unwelcoming. She begins looking up where the people are from her husband's pictures, finding the ripples that have intersected into her life.

Christa Parrish writes with a depth I've not encountered before. This is my first novel by her that I've read and I found it thought provoking, insightful, and with spiritual implications that every believer should heed. Her characters are well-developed with empathetic traits that make it easy to step into their shoes. Her settings reside in the background, but have enough detail to make them easy to imagine and only add to the color of the story.

I certainly would buy this book for a friend, and I have a friend to whom I recommend many books. This one will go on her list, and she tends to pass on my recommendations. I found this book appealing on many levels, especially the photography (I like to dabble in photography) and it will stay with me for a long, long time. There are many reminders throughout the book of the spiritual implications of our actions and reactions, reminders that should help us give second thoughts to the paths we are traveling. I'd love to see this book made into a movie, but I think it would lose some in translation. Christa did leave the ending of the book in such a way that allows her to write another to follow it, and I will look forward to it with abated breath.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph for your collection

Thomas Nelson has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Not So Beautiful

I've read several books by Lisa Samson and thoroughly enjoyed them. The BEST thing I can say about A Thing of Beauty is that it did not take long to read. Fiona (Fia) Hume has been a child star who divorced her parents because they were mishandling her money. Now she lives in Baltimore, pretty much in seclusion. She's been through a typical child star life, including rehab, and now just wants to be herself without all the paparazzi, without notice. She is now a professional escort with a few exclusive clients who respect her boundaries. Basically, she allows herself to be arm-candy for men who need dates for important functions. Her parents are definitely disfunctional, but she does make peace with her father, and in the process makes peace with herself.

Nowhere in this book does faith come into play, the plot is rather disjointed, the characters have some depth but not enough. I think I am getting snarky here. I didn't like the book, and I don't think this is up to Lisa's usual quality. This won't keep me from reading her other books, but this one is a miss. Two Stars.

Thomas Nelson provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lizzy and Jane

I've not had the opportunity to read any of Katherine Reay's works, until I was allowed to read Lizzy and Jane. Let me tell you, this book is hard to put down. It creates a train of thought that rarely comes to mind--how to minister to a person's whole being.

Lizzy and Jane are sisters, not close in age or relationship, but now Lizzy has found out that Jane has breast cancer, and she is expected to go to Seattle and help her. Lizzy does not feel that she can take time away from her restaurant where she is a chef, until her boss feels she needs some time away to get her passion back. Once Lizzy hits Seattle, she makes it her job to find something her sister can eat.

Throughout this book, Katherine seeks to find the soul of each of her characters and reveal the souls to her readers. I found her technique quite intriguing as well as compelling. There is a bit of romance intertwined into the story, but it doesn't take center stage--in fact, it is a minor part. The most profound element to the plot is how Lizzy finds what her sister can eat, what she can tolerate, what brings her the most comfort; and then Lizzy translates that to use for another patient who gets chemotherapy at the same time. Her first trial is a bust for the other patient, until Lizzy figures out how to reach the other patient and prepares meals he can eat.

I related to this book in an unexpected way. I have cancer, and while I do not take chemotherapy, I do have food restrictions--restrictions that even though my friends have asked me about, they never seem to remember what they are. The thought that someone would care enough to find the things that would taste good, that wouldn't hurt sensitive mouths, that would nourish the soul as well as the body--that thought amazes me. I haven't seen that kind of caring, even within my church family. It a gift for someone with culinary training and a desire to help the deepest needs to delve deep into someone's soul to find what would touch that person in a way no one had ever tried before.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Five Star Meal that touches your soul.

Thomas Nelson has provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Daisies Are Forever

If you look at the cover of the book, the title doesn't fit. When you read the book, the title barely fits. This is the absolute worst thing I can think of to say about this book.

Daisies Are Forever is one of those books that will leave you haunted if you don't finish it. I had to flip to the back of the book and read the ending when I was about halfway through it. (Yeah, I am one of those people). I've watched Band of Brothers more times than I care to count, which is a pretty good picture of the war for the soldiers. This book gives a pretty good idea of what the war was like for civilians going through it--the lack of food, the dearth of safety, the brutality of the Soviet soldiers as they took over parts of Germany, the constant bombing raids by British and American Air Forces, and the nightmares of the aftermath.

Gisela knows she has to leave Heiligenbeil, and her cousin, Ella, wants Gisela to take her two young daughters--Annelies and Renate--with her to Berlin. Along the way, she meets up with Mitch, an escaped POW; Kurt, a wounded soldier; Audra, a young lady who wants to go to America; and she also escorts her neighbors Bettina and Katya--two rather senile, old ladies. With this entourage, she has to avoid Soviet soldiers, keep her group together AND fed, and get any kind of transportation she can to get to Berlin where her mother lives. Once she reaches her mother's place in Berlin, the worry becomes keeping her group sheltered and safe as well as fed.

Liz Tolzma has written an incredibly intriguing book with more details about the war than I have ever thought about. Her research for her plot is well done, her characters have depth and interest, and the subplots only add more color to the story. The conflict of the war, the conflicts among the characters, and the personal conflicts all add together to produce a gripping story that is hard to put down.

Where do the daisies come in? Gisela wears a scarf with daisies printed on it, and her grandfather gives her a daisy to keep in her Bible at Isaiah 43 to give her strength. He knew this journey would be impossible to complete without knowing that God is with her regardless of the trials she would go through.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a daisy in your Bible.

Thomas Nelson provided this book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No Life Is an Accident

I've not read anything by Pamela Binnings Ewen, but An Accidental Life is quite an introduction to her writings. Pamela has taken a really tough subject and brought it to life through her fictional characters--the subject of live birth late-term abortions. When a young pregnant lady hears her baby cry during the late-term abortion, she changes her mind about the baby, but the doctor attending the abortion does nothing to take care of the baby and refuses to allow his nurses to do anything either. The young woman filed a complaint with the police and starts an investigation that covers several states, and several years.

In an intersecting plot, Pamela writes about Rebecca and Peter Jacobs, both lawyers, with careers and plans that don't include children, until . . . Rebecca has just been named partner in the law firm where she works, she's brought in a new client that will add many billable hours to the firm's coffers, and Peter is a deputy prosecuting attorney in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Peter plans a trip for Rebecca and him to go to Italy and have a few days on their own without law firms or police detectives bothering them. Rebecca has just found out she's pregnant, and now has to break the news to Peter. At the same time, this case with the live birth abortion has landed in his lap. Life is about to get very interesting for the Jacobs family.

Most of this book encompasses the court trial, the investigation of the doctor charged in the infant's death, and ultimately the coming to terms with the coming baby in the Jacobs household. I have to say that I have never read such a thought-provoking book, and while it didn't change my stand on abortion, I saw a side of that particular industry I've never seen before. I will not go into the politics of abortion or what I feel about it, but this book will not let you slide through it without changing your thinking in some way or another. I never expected it to be this kind of book when I asked to be able to review it, and I was thoroughly blown away.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a precious baby to cuddle.

B&H Publishing Group has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Forever. . .

Sally Bingham is the fiancee of Donald--a self-important man with a horrible temper, the daughter of Honest Ed--a used car salesman, and a breeder/shower of Welsh Corgis, but her life is about to spiral out of control. She's been getting emails from Lizzie Zook, an Amish girl in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the emails have piqued her interest. After an argument with Donald, she decided to go see Lizzie and find out what these emails are all about. This is where her life gets interesting. I can't really divulge much more of the plot without giving away the whole book. On the surface, Lizzie's emails seem to be about Sally's Welsh Corgis, but underneath, Lizzie is wanting so much more from Sally, and this leads to Sally finding out so much more about herself that she never knew, but it also leads to Sally finding a place that her heart has longed for--a place to belong.

Kate Lloyd is an author of Amish fiction and other Christian novels. I've read one of her previous novels and absolutely, positively, no question about it, LOVED it.

Kate writes with a depth of soul that is hard to find in many novels. Her characters are as real as real life, and their issues are things we all face in our day to day lives, so they are relatable and sympathetic. Woven into Forever Amish is the story of a prodigal returning home; the story of never fitting in, but finally finding home; the story of a family tiff that is reconciled; the story of a narrow escape from a destructive relationship; and the story of a heart finding its true home in God. That sounds like a lot to put into a book, but Kate has done this with finesse and grace. In some Amish fiction novels, the bishop of the community is sometimes seen as a hard man, but Bishop Troyer is a man who seeks God fully and yet is very gracious, even tender-hearted when dealing with his flock. I am obviously not Amish, and, to a degree, I have an "Englisch" view of the Amish being a legalistic sect, but there are so many aspects of Amish life I can admire. They are a hard-working lot, with an ability to play and have fun. They are a loving lot--there is no length to which they will not go in order to show the love of Christ.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Welsh Corgi puppy for a companion.

David C Cook has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lock, Stock, and Over a Barrel

Dear Daphne,

I just read your book and thought it was a really funny book. Can you tell me how you met Melody Carlson and got her involved in telling your story?

I love the way you have decorated your Aunt Dee's house and the changes you've made in your life--from job to house to clothing. It's like you've had a makeover from the inside out. Let me tell you, darlin', that kicking Ryan to the curb was one of the best things you've ever done. And that Grab and Go you had for dispersing Aunt Dee's things that didn't fit your lifestyle? Your dad was the BOMB in telling the relatives where they can get off and nipping their bitterness in the bud! I've already read Dating, Dining, and Desperation, so going back to catch the first part of this story was really enlightening. If I knew who you actually are, I'd send you flowers to wish you well in your new endeavors, but Melody didn't tell what state you live in, only that you live in a small town named Appleton. Good luck with your quest in fulfilling Aunt Dee's will.

Addicted to Books in Washington.

Dear Addicted,

I am so glad you liked the books. My adventures are truly just beginning, but it will be a little bit before that situation is truly resolved. Keep reading.


Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a flower arrangement that totally suits your decor.

B&H Books allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Katie's Choice and Gabriel's Bride

I love two-for-one deals. I read these two books back to back and found myself surprised. Yep, surprised. They both fit the romance novel formula, but not in any of the expected ways.

Amy Lillard writes Amish romances and I don't choose these kinds of romances by default, but I will choose them to read for something a bit different. There are certain authors I will choose automatically. We all have our favorites, and I am no different.

In Katie's Choice, Zane Carson has come to live in the Amish community of Clover Ridge to write an expose' on Amish life. He was recovering from a gunshot wound and wanted to prove that he was ready to go back into the thick of things as a war correspondent. Abram and Ruth Fisher have opened their home to him to allow him the full flavor of living as an Amish. Abram and Ruth's daughter, Katie Rose, is living with Gabriel since his wife died in childbirth, and taking care of Gabriel's six children. Because Gabriel is Abram and Ruth's son, Katie Rose is bound to run into Zane. One thing about the Amish, their families, though large, are very close; and the community takes care of everyone there. Part of the plot was Ruth's struggle with cancer and the family's struggle to pay all the bills. The family was selling pickles to help pay the bills and replenish the community health fund coffers. John Paul, the Fisher's youngest son, was in his rumspringe and was working in a factory to put his wages in the health fund as well. Zane watched and worked with the Amish, who were fun-loving, and not opposed to a harmless practical joke or two. He learned of a faith that brought peace to the soul, a faith that withstood anything the world could throw at it, and a faith that was sustaining in any situation. He learned to pray, to care, to love as he had never loved before. The centerpoint of the book was the growing attraction between Katie Rose and Zane, an attraction that was growing into love. It took a while for the book to grab my heart, and really hook me in, but once it did, I laughed, I cried (more than once), and I rejoiced with the characters and their emotions. The pranks and practical jokes will have the reader laughing till tears come. The road through romance isn't a smooth one for Zane and Katie Rose, especially when a former beau shows up wanting Katie to take him back. Katie has a tough choice to make and no one makes it any easier for her.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a jar of Amish pickles.

Gabriel is in a fix after Katie Rose and Zane become engaged. His daughter left home suddenly for her rumspringe, and he has no one to help him take care of his home and his boys. Rachel's aunt Katherine has passed away and now the bank owns the home where Rachel has lived for the last ten or so years. Rachel has nowhere to go, and nowhere to take her goats. Rachel is not very adept at homemaking, but she is quite good at making cheese from her goats' milk. Gabriel offers her a job taking care of his home and boys, and offers to allow her to keep her goats. The wrench in the works comes when the bishop tells Gabriel it is not right for Rachel to live under his roof. The only choice they have to keep their arrangement is for Rachel to become Gabriel's bride. Amy Lillard continues the story of Clover Ridge with another of the Fisher children finding true love, but in the most unexpected way. Gabriel gets married first and then falls in love later, and the same order happens for Rachel. Rachel has one significant obstacle to overcome--Gabriel's middle sons don't want her taking their mother's place, and so sabotage her often: turning up the stove to burn what she's cooking, bringing in dirt to mess up the house after she's cleaned it, taking advantage of her fears, staining the clothes after she's laundered them. The worst act of sabotage sets the stage for Rachel to leave Gabriel and move to Ohio to live with her relatives. It takes the meddling of Rachel's cousin to get Gabriel to come get her and bring her home.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a loaf of goat cheese.

B&H publishing provided both of these books for me to read in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dating Dining and Desperation

Daphne's Aunt Dee has passed away and for the time being, she's living in Aunt Dee's house, writing Aunt Dee's advice column, and taking care of life in general. Across the street, Sabrina moves in--Sabrina, a lovely gal from Atlanta with a yappy chihuahua named Tootsie Roll; Sabrina, a woman who doesn't stop talking, who gets her way in a most persuasive manner, and who never leaves the house dressed less than her best. Next to Sabrina, Daphne finds Mr Renwald--her favorite teacher from high school and her inspiration to write. The only hitch in Daphne's life is that she must marry before her birthday the following May in order to keep her inheritance.

Melody Carlson has written a series of novels about Daphne, and I got to read them out of order. I will be reading Lock, Stock, and Over a Barrel soon and review it. But this review is about Dating, Dining, and Desperation. I really enjoy reading Melody's writings; she writes with humor and enough realism to make her novels quite an entertaining read. Daphne is a mid-thirties woman who spends a lot of time in front of her computer, writing. As a result, she's sort of let herself go. Sabrina enters the picture and begins her one-woman campaign to make Daphne over.

Men come and go throughout this novel like ants at a picnic--Jake, the attorney; Mick, the landscaper; Collin, Mick's friend; Harrison, the architect; Tony, the doctor; Spencer, the writer; Ricardo, the chef; and on it goes. Sabrina even takes Daphne to a speed dating event. Parts of the story had me laughing and other parts tore at my heart. Little Mabel and her grandmother, Vera, will break the reader's heart, but Daphne's love for Mabel will warm the heart.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a session of Speed Dating.

B&H Books provided the novel for me to read in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Woodland Miracle

I am at a loss for how to review the latest book I've read. The first half was so slow to move that I had a hard time reading to the end. At about the halfway point, the plot picked up the pace, I felt like I was running against Secretariat to the finish line, but at the eighty percent mark, it started dragging again. The epilogue, which normally tells the 'happily ever after' part of the story, was the denouement. This was my introduction to the writings of Ruth Reid, and after such an introduction, I don't think I'll read anything else she's written.

The characters are, for me, hard to like. Grace is a bit hard, Ben is quite immature, Ben's father is stiff and stern, Toby is a sober-sides, LeAnn is a flibberty-gibbet, and Mattie is the most empathetic character in the book.

Parts of the book are truly enjoyable--when Grace is kidnapped by Jack and Gordon, Ben goes to look for her and prays for a miracle from God--remembering that Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still, asks for the same thing and the Northern Lights give him enough light to find where Jack and Gordon have taken her and to rescue her. When the men return from their logging expedition, the Bishop of the community has a service to celebrate their return. During his sermon, the Bishop references 1 John 1:9 -- If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Ben took that to heart and talked at length with the Bishop to understand what that passage is saying, and then accepting the forgiveness that God offers.

Ruth's understanding of scripture and how it applies to our daily lives is spot on. That part I really enjoyed. One thing I wish for in ALL Amish fiction is more personal interactions with the Word of God portrayed in the story.

Three stars.

Thomas Nelson allowed me to read this book in exchange for my personal opinion.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Love at Mistletoe Inn

Last things first on this review. Three stars, but now that I see that it is a novella, I guess I can squeeze it up to four stars. Love at Mistletoe Inn is not exactly what I would call a Christian novella, but through it, Cindy Kirk shows in a very real way the foibles of human beings. Hope and John eloped on their prom night ten years ago, but Hope returned John's ring after the vows were said, calling the idea a mistake. Hope lost her parents young and her Aunt Verna raised her. John was a foster child Aunt Verna also took in. The close company made a convenient atmosphere for falling in love. When John comes back to town and moves into Aunt Verna's carriage house, Hope is in a dither. That morning she found out she might still be married to him, even though the paperwork was never filed after the wedding. Hard news to digest, but she knew she had to tell him and fast. It wasn't going to be easy. Aunt Verna, in the meantime, has decided to turn her home into a wedding venue and she has just the couple to "break it in," so to speak. Naming the couple "Luke" and "Laura," she convinces Hope and John to go with her to pick out the wedding paraphrenalia--dresses, tux, flowers, cake, all the things that make a wedding beautiful.

My biggest problem with the book is that when Hope is telling John that they are, in fact, still married, he tries to comfort her by sleeping with her, and thereby complicates the matter because now the marriage has been consummated. That part really fell flat with me. The other thing that kind of turns me off this book is that I wish it were a full novel that could be more fully developed than it is. I want more to the story than what is there. But still, a good four stars.

Zondervan allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Beekeeper's Son

I go in spurts of reading Amish fiction--sometimes I like it and sometimes it just gets too syrupy, but this one is different.

The Lantz family has moved from Tennessee to south Texas, because Abigail's brother lives there, and her old beau, Stephen, lives there too. The Amish community there is not doing well, and the Lantz family is a welcome addition.

Kelly Irvin has written a different sort of Amish story--two romances happening at the same time, two women falling in love with two beekeepers--mother and daughter falling in love with father and son. For Abigail, the mother, she finds her peace with Mordecai instead of Stephen--the man she is expected to marry. Deborah, the daughter, finds herself falling in love with Phineas, Mordecai's son. Abigail has to overcome her grief for her husband, dead for only two years. Deborah has to get Phineas to overcome his self-absorption, especially with the scars left from a car accident that also took his mother.

I found the Beekeeper's Son to be a different kind of Amish romance, but I didn't find it as engaging as others I've read. The story seemed to drag in places--not because there was nothing going on, there was plenty of activity. Events in the book included a hurricane, a prison escape, a trip to Mexico for dental work, a fire that takes a house, and a little girl who falls and hurts her mouth. For MY tastes, there is not enough interaction between Deborah and Phineas, or Abigail and Mordecai. It is readable and quite nice, I give this four stars.

Zondervan has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Most Inconvenient Marriage

Regina Jennings writes historical romance with a humorous vein running through the whole book. This book is the mother-load for an entertaining read.

Abigail Stuart is a nurse in the Gallicot prison hospital. Her favorite patient is a man with a gangrenous wound on his arm stump and who won't give his name. He speaks often of his fiancee living in the Ozarks and his horse farm, his mother, and his sister. He calls himself Romeo and his fiancee Juliet. When he realizes that he is going to die and soon, he gives Abigail a proposition: to marry him and go home to take care of his family and his horse farm. He tells her his name is Jeremiah Calhoun and his sister, Rachel, has rheumatic heart failure. His mother needs the help. Abigail complies with the soldier's wishes and is soon on her way to the Calhoun farm. Rachel's acerbic tongue goads Abigail to prove her worth and to prove herself trustworthy. What Abigail doesn't expect is that the REAL Jeremiah Calhoun shows up and is not at all pleased to see Abigail there.

Abigail and Jeremiah butt heads at every turn and yet Jeremiah sees that Abigail knows horse flesh and knows her way around a barn. He just wants to reconnect with Laurel, his "true" fiancee and Abigail is in the way. Well, Abigail isn't the only thing in the way of his relationship with Laurel, the local doctor--Newton Hopkins--has been courting Laurel too.

Two minor players in this game of love are Josiah and Betty, two very mischievous neighbor children.

The tension holding the story together is composed of horse thieves who are stealing from all the locals.

Regina has proven, once again, that the road to true love is rocky at best, and at times impassable, but she also proves that love will win out.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and the finest piece of horseflesh you've ever ridden.

Bethany House provided this book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinionated review.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Love Unexpected

Jody Hedlund has written some books that have captured my attention from the very first sentence, and I am never disappointed when I pick up one of her books. So I'll begin as I usually end: Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Lighthouse to light your way.

Most of this book takes place on Presque Isle, Michigan, on Lake Huron, and is based on real people, only the names were changed for poetic license.

Emma and her brother, Ryan, are on a steamer heading toward Detroit when they were boarded by pirates and lost their possessions. After the pirates set the steamer on fire, Ryan and Emma jumped ship and were rescued and pulled ashore on Presque Isle. Emma believes all hope is lost until an unusual opportunity offers itself to her--marry the Presque Isle lightkeeper and have a place of refuge. Patrick Garraty needs help at the lighthouse--mostly with his son, a two-year-old redheaded boy with more life and energy than he can keep up with. Emma immediately falls in love with Patrick's son, Josiah, and accepts the proposition of marrying Patrick.

What they have to overcome is the wagging tongue of Patrick's first wife's cousin, Bertie Burnham. She likes to sow venom, bitterness, and mistrust wherever she goes and nearly separates Emma and Patrick permanently. She was a force to be reckoned with and not very trustworthy herself. Emma wants a friend so badly that Bertie is the best opportunity to show itself in the first months of her marriage.

While Emma has many things to learn about being a wife, like cooking, and about being a mother; but she also has many things to learn about her husband--where he goes periodically that has him coming back smelling of women's perfume, what his life was like before he came to Christ, what his first marriage was like, and how his first wife truly met her death. He wants to tell her, but he's not sure how she'll take the information and whether she'll stay with him once she knows.

This book has everything: joy, sorrow, happiness, angst, laughter, tears, and a precocious two year old boy with a strong will and a temper to match (at times). The setting is well-described without taking away from the story, the characters live in the reader's imagination with a reality that works for the book, and the plots and sub-plots are well-defined and yet seamless. I recommend this book highly. You won't be disappointed.

Bethany House has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I have loved Julie Klassen since I read Lady of Milkweed Manor several years ago. She writes with well-planned plots, just enough mystery, and empathetic characters. I was excited to see that The Secret of Pembrooke Place was up for reviewing. As it came up in my review list, I was having a hard time waiting until its turn for my kindle.

Julie writes fairly long books and I like that because it gives her the opportunity to fully develop the characters, the plots, and the subplots. Abigail Foster is a young woman in London, and a member of a family in financial straits because her father invested in a banking venture with her mother's brother. Because the family had to sell their house, they were looking for a place to live quickly so that Abigail's sister, Louisa, could still have her debut and season. Through their solicitor, an anonymous benefactor offered Pembrooke Park to them with a staff as long as they oversaw the upkeep and repairs to the mansion. After Abigail moved in, mysterious letters, unsigned, began arriving, with pages from a journal that was kept about the mansion.

Pembrooke Place has a history that is somewhat checkered--two brothers fought over it, a treasure was rumored to be hidden in it, and the Pembrooke name had its own miseries. Soon after moving in, Abigail meets the local parson, William Chapman, and the rest of his family. William's father had been caretaker for Pembrooke Park until the family moved out. The mysteries surrounding Pembrooke Park are woven through the book and the plots and subplots with the warp and woof of the life lived out in Easton, where Pembrooke Park is located.

I liked this book quite well, but for me, the book dragged in places, and it was predictable in places. I can give this book a solid four stars.

Bethany House allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review. No compensation was offered or received.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Before Amen

Max Lucado is a well loved author on living the Christian life, especially in my family. Now he has tackled the prayer aspect of the Christian life and has done it in such a gentle way as to give even the most uninitiated Christian a good guide for prayer. After reading the individual chapters, Max's daughter, Jenna, has included a study guide to help put the principles into practice. Even after that, there is included a link to a website quiz so that the reader can find his or her strengths in prayer, and then find the biblical prayer partner that most fits the found strength.

Max uses a gentle approach to his writing, with many illustrations from real people. Finding that someone else has struggled in the same kinds of things that I struggle with is a true comfort and encouragement. His concepts are easily understood and readily put into practice. While I read this for review purposes primarily, I plan to go back through the book and follow the study, along with adding the principles to my prayer life. The first thing I did when I booted up my computer was to take the prayer style quiz and found out that my strength is compassion. I am quick to offer prayers to friends in need, and even offering my services to friends in need, so I feel that the quiz does measure accurately. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a prayer for your health.

I was allowed to read this book in exchange for my honest review. No compensation was offered or received.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Daughter of Highland Hall

I've read several of Carrie Turansky's books and I find she would have to go a loooooooooooooooooooooooooong way to disappoint me. She has researched her books well, she knows the period of history she writes, she develops her characters with depth, and she provides just enough suspense to keep the reader engaged. Her denouement is satisfying and pleasing. In other words, she writes a good book. I will admit that I got a bit confused about a couple of the characters, but it was my own confusion, not in her writing. I forgot for a bit who was who.

As we left the Governess of Highland Hall, Julia Foster is engaged to William Ramsey and is becoming, with William, the guardian of Katherine and Penelope Ramsey. They are in London now, getting ready for Katherine (Kate)'s debutante season. Aunt Louisa has joined the group to make sure that Kate makes a good impression in all the right circles and makes the right match for a husband. Louisa is the character in every book that the reader loves to hate, she's vituperative, condescending, critical, and thunderous about all of her opinions. She doesn't mind whom she brings down unless it will put her in a bad light in society. What she wants for Kate is for her to make a connection that will put her in the upper echelons of society. Louisa doesn't care a whit about love and believes that Kate shouldn't either.

As the novel progresses, we see Kate maturing and becoming more compassionate. Her values take a huge shift in what she wants out of marriage as well as how she wants to live her life. When she meets Julia's brother, Jon, she sees a man who wants nothing more than to help people. In deciding to help her ladies' maid, Lydia, she sees a world she never knew existed--beginning with three waifs--Jack, Ruth, and Susan--who've lost their parents and live on the street. In spite of Louisa's machinations, Kate falls in love with Jon, instead of the "more suitable" Edward.

There are many tender moments in this book, including Kate's awakening to the needs of the world. The Daughter of Highland Hall is a great book. Five Stars and two thumbs up!

Multnomah Books provided this novel in exchange for my honest opinion and review. No other compensation was offered or received.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Liver Aerobics

It is said that laughter is the only aerobic exercise your liver gets. My liver got a work-out today. Katie Schuermann has written a Mitford-esque laugh-out-loud novel that kept me in stitches. She doesn't just set out to write a funny book, other emotions enter into the plot as well: surprise, pain, friendship, and a tiny bit of romance. House of Living Stones had several deep biblical truths woven into the story as well.

Protagonists Pastor Michael Fletcher and Dr. Emily Duke have quite a year ahead of them from the very first moment you open the book. When Emily wants to use Latin anthems in the service, the accompanist up and quits. When Arlene Scheinberg makes one too many typos in the bulletin, Geraldine wants to take over. When Candice Bradbury gets it into her mind that Emily is living a lie, she stops at nothing to reveal Emily's duplicity. When that backfires and Candice ends up with egg on her face, she decides Emily needs a suitor. Blind dates, forged love letters, and a myriad of underhanded tricks are just a few of the items in Candice's repertoire; and those tricks blaze a trail for Emily that just may lead her out of town.

This is more than a small town tome, like Mitford... This is a family with all kinds of warts and blemishes that makes the readers feel good about their own families. Some of the more hysterical parts are the bulletin bloopers, definitely, but what had me holding my side, laughing out loud, was when Lois's husband, Don, came to choir practice and passed a bit of flatulence. The choir is immediately dismissed, but the choir members who stay behind start quipping with puns that leave the members howling with laughter: "Who sounded his pipes?" "His number 2 stop is stuck." And those are only two that come off the top of my head.

I wish I could give this more than five stars, but that is all they allow. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a bulletin blooper to make you chuckle out loud.

This book was provided for my reading pleasure by Concordia Publishing. No compensation was offered or received in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Advent Bride

Mary Connealy writes with humor at the center of her books, but with The Advent Bride, Mary has kept the story light, but not as much humor. But that's okay. There isn't much space for humor in a story this short. The Advent Bride is readable in less than an hour and quite sweet. This story revolves around a teacher, Melanie Douglas, and a small boy, Simon O'Keeffe. Obviously since Melanie becomes a bride at the end of the story, Simon's father figures into the story too. Simon is very bright, but he's a hurting boy who misses his mother. Because of his hurt, he acts out--taking his desk apart, taking other desks apart, tormenting the other children in the classroom, and generally disrupting class as much as he could. Melanie finds a box in her room at the boarding house that her landlady gave her. The box has secret compartments and many ways to get into it. Since Simon likes working with his hands, she plans for him to open one compartment at a time each day until Christmas after his school work is done. Simon's father gets involved in helping him open the box and at the same time falling in love with Melanie.

This short book/story is a delightful read, and I especially loved how Melanie sought to figure out a way to get Simon to cooperate and to solve his behavior with something positive. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Secret Compartment to find.

Shiloh Run Studios has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinionated review.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Amish Christmas Quilt

Three short novels in one collection made for a fun afternoon of reading for this reviewer. To be honest I started them last night, but finished them off today. A couple of the novellas were like spending time with an old friend as I had met some of the characters in earlier books.

First off: A Willow Ridge Christmas Pageant by Charlotte Hubbard. Mary Kauffman is on her way to Willow Ridge with her two step-children after their father died in a saw-mill fire. Her timing was unfortunate as she arrives in labor and the pain knocks her out. As she stops the buggy on the side of the road, their dog jumps out and runs to the nearest homestead to find Seth Brenneman and brings him back to the buggy to find Mary and the children in their dilemma. He gets Mary to the clinic, the children to his aunt's cafe, and then things get real interesting. After Mary recovers from the birth of her son, Emmanuel, she works with the ladies in the sewing circle. While there, the topic of conversation turns to the Christmas pageant and how few students there are to fill the roles.

Second: A Christmas on Ice Mountain by Kelly Long: Luke and John were friends all their childhoods. John had been saving his money to buy a specific shot gun, but Luke bought it out from under him and they haven't spoken since. Laurel is Luke's daughter and Matthew is John's son, and, of course, they are in love with each other. They have been courting on the sly with only their younger siblings knowing about it. The sewing circle makes a quilt for Granny May, and they decide that the next person to walk in the door is the one to deliver it. Laurel had quietly left the sewing circle to meet with the bishop and Matthew about getting married, so when she returns to the sewing circle, she is the one who is chosen to deliver the quilt. Matthew shows up at Granny May's as a blizzard comes up and he's underdressed for the storm. Grandma May keeps him in her cabin to get him warmed up and to wait out the storm. Granny takes down her bundling board for Laurel and Matthew, knowing she's stirring up trouble.

Third: A Perfect Amish Christmas by Jennifer Beckstrand: This is a second visit to Huckleberry Hills for me and Anna is still up to her old tricks to play match-maker, this time with her grandson, Gideon, and her granddaughter Ada's cousin, Dottie. Dottie has been making a quilt for her mother at Anna's house--as a special surprise. Dottie's mother was sick last Christmas and Dottie wanted to make this one perfect. But, Dottie gets lost in a snowstorm on her way home.

Three short novels, three short visits with friends, and three beautiful quilts. Doesn't get much better than this, unless you have your own beautiful quilt to snuggle under while you read. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a beautiful quilt to keep you warm at night.

Kensington Books provided this collection for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion. No compensation was offered or received for this review.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beyond I Do

I've not encountered Jennifer Slattery's writings before, but she writes with a realism that is sometimes scary. She knows her subjects and writes them well. Beyond I Do is a book that takes a young woman, Ainsley Meadows, and puts her into many situations that are common to her real life contemporaries. It is also a book that takes a young man, Chris Langley, and does the same things with him as with Ainsley.

Ainsley has been dating Richard for five years, and engaged to him for several months when she begins to have doubts about herself, about Richard's controling nature, and whether Richard is even a Christian or not. Eventually, through her Bible Study and her own convictions, she broke up with Richard. He refused to let go and lets it take control of his life while he is trying to promote a book he'd written.

Chris Langley has moved back to town after buying a coffee shop/cafe so that he could take care of his aging mother. He doesn't like the nursing home she's in, nor does he like the care (or lack thereof) that she's receiving. The staff seems harsh with the residents, and unduly rough--almost abusive.

Chris and Ainsley on the same cul-de-sac and become friends, then volunteers at a women's shelter, then boss and employee, and then finally, . . .

As I read the book and got involved in the plot, I admired Jennifer's writing, but toward the end, all the loose ends needed to be tied up. It seemed to me that Jennifer ran out of enough words to make a satisfying ending. It felt abrupt. This book is worth reading since Jennifer does teach us all some very important lessons through it. Four Stars.

The publisher allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was offered or received.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Love's Fortune

Love's Fortune continues the story of the Ballentynes in Pittsburg, by picking up with Ansel Ballentyne and his daughter, Wren, twenty-five years later. Ansel has become a luthier and has taught Wren not only to build violins but to play them too. After living in Cane Run, Kentucky, for a good long time, Ansel gets a letter that calls him back to Pittsburg. Wren feels like this is going to be just a visit until her father is sent away on the family business and she finds out he sold their home in Kentucky.

Laura Frantz has filled this book with a plethora of characters and characters they are! I loved the way she had Ellie describe Andra as having a vinegary personality. Bennett is such an underhanded dealer and abusive hack with nothing but power and money on his mind. James Stackley is the Ballentyne patriarch's right hand man, Malachi Cameron is the owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad and James' friend. Between James and Malachi, Wren is constantly confused and feels herself spinning out of control. One good part of moving to Pittsburg for Wren is Izannah Turlock, her cousin, and now her best friend.

In the decade before the Civil War, tensions are riding high for the Ballentynes because of their participation in helping people escape slavery. James' participation has painted a target on his back, and as Wren's escort for the "Season" of balls and soirees, James' life is even in more danger.

With a grain of humor, a bit of mystery, a touch of elegance, incredible music, and more than just a couple of overpowering women, Love's Fortune is one of those books that brings the reader in from the very first page and keeps the reader captivated all the way through to the Notes from the Author. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a beautiful reel on the violin.

Revell provided this book for me to read and give my honest opinion. No compensation was offered or received.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Love's Awakening

I love when I look up a book on Amazon and the website tells me when I bought it. Okay, so I've had this book for a year, I've been busy! We've been taking out the carpeting and replacing it with hardwood flooring; we totally gutted the kitchen and replaced the cabinets, flooring, and appliances; and my husband has had one major accident, two surgeries, and another on the schedule. In my spare time, I've been sewing curtains and reading.

When I sign up to review books, I read them in the order they have been approved. When I saw the third book in the Ballentyne series was next up on my list, I had to read the second book. Had to. I was compelled. Love's Awakening has been on my TBR pile for a year. That's right, a full year (and a month, but we'll let that part slide).

Laura Frantz has been one of my favorite authors since I read her first book, The Frontiersman's Daughter. Her historical detail is one of the most engaging parts of her books. Her characters fit seamlessly into the settings she provides for them, and their stories are sweet without being cloying. In fact, her characters have a such a realness that they are completely believable while being sympathetic--at least most of them are sympathetic. She weaves redemption and spiritual strength into the warp and woof of her books in such a way that the story does not preach, but instead offers a depth to the story.

Ellie (or Elinor, if you want her birth certificate name), the youngest Ballentyne, has returned home from finishing school, tired of being in the Marriage Market and desiring to be with her family and to do something useful. With that in mind, she starts a day school for girls.

Andra is the elder sister, who would like to send Ellie back.

Peyton is the oldest brother, a bit of a wastrel.

Ansel is the younger brother, involved in most of the family's enterprises: boat building and hiding runaway slaves.

Silas is the patriarch of this family and a more loving father cannot be found.

Eden is the mother of this group, and well-loved by all of her family.

Jack is the younger son of Henry Turlock, of the Turlock Whiskey Distillers

Wade is the older Turlock son, a lover of the family product.

Chloe is the youngest child of Henry and Isabelle Turlock and loves Jack best of all. She plots and plans to get Ellie and Jack together, using the ruse of Ellie's day school as one of her tools.

I give this book Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a boat named after you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Love Undone

Once in a while you pick up a book, and find you are in the company of friends from the very first word. It's comfortable, it's familiar, it just fits--like your favorite pair of jeans. I'm going to start with my ending first: Five Stars, Two Thumbs UP, and a favorite bakery pastry.

Jolene Keim was a week away from getting married when her parents drown in a freak accident. In the midst of her grief, she decides to keep her brothers and sisters together and to become their guardian. Her fiance cannot fathom taking care of that many children already and they break up.

Now most of her siblings are grown, she has managed to hold the family together and only has her brother, Ray, and her sister, Hope, still at home. Her landlord, Lester, has helped her pay her rent by allowing her to cook and clean for him occasionally. When Lester's nephew takes on thirty plus feral horses to tame and train for the Humane Society, Lester allows him to bring the horses to his place, which was once a functioning horse farm. Andy, the nephew, and his son Tobias hire a driver to help him bring the horses to Lester's place and Jolene is hired to feed the people who are coming to help Andy.

Andy and Jolene both have their secrets: Andy is a grass-widower and Jolene likes to paint pictures. Cindy Woodsmall does an excellent job explaining what a grass-widower is, but this is not the first time I had encountered the term. Years ago, my dad was talking about my mom's oldest sister who had been abandoned by her husband when her son was two years old. He said, "She was a grass-widow," and whomever he was talking to asked what he meant. Daddy explained it this way, to lose your spouse to death makes you a sod-widow(er), and to put your spouse "out to pasture" makes you a grass-widow(er). Cindy was a bit more diplomatic than my dad in explaining the concept. Andy and Tobias had been abandoned by Andy's wife Eva, who was mentally ill. Andy was not free to marry, and Jolene was just feeling ready to engage in a relationship again.

Like I said, this book is like sitting down with a favorite friend and having a heart to heart conversation. Cindy's character development is so full and complete without detracting from the storyline that sitting down with this book is like sitting down at your favorite kaffee klatsch.

WaterBrook Press supplied this book for my reading pleasure in exchange for my honest review. These opinions are mine alone and no compensation was offered or received.

Monday, October 13, 2014

To Everything a Season

Lauraine Snelling was one of my favorite authors, but this book has changed my mind. There was once a tv show with a Christian feel to it, called Seventh Heaven. It was basically a soap opera, revolving around one family and the daily dramas. Lauraine has written a number of series of books that all revolve around the Bjorkland family. The Red River of the North Series, Red River Valley Series, and Home to Blessing series. I've read a number of Lauraine's books and thoroughly enjoyed them, and that's not to say I didn't like this one, but I feel mislead.

Here is the back cover blurb:

Trygve Knutson is devoted to his family and his community. With his job on the construction crew, he is helping to build a future for the North Dakota town of Blessing. Though he loves his home, he sometimes dreams of other horizons--especially since meeting Miriam Hastings.

Miriam is in Blessing to get practical training to become an accredited nurse. She's been promised a position in the Chicago women's hospital that will enable her to support her siblings and her ailing mother. Although eager to return to her family, Miriam is surprised to find how much she enjoys the small town of Blessing. And her growing attachment to Trygve soon has her questioning a future she always considered set in stone.

When a family emergency calls Miriam home sooner than planned, will she find a way to return? If not, will it mean losing Trygve--and her chance at love--for good?

"Snelling writes with her trademark richness, and her upright characters, intriguing stories, and vivid settings create a blissfully immersive reading experience. . . . This symphony of
immigrant farm-town life in upper Midwest is so masterfully directed by Snelling, readers will be eager for the next novel about the good people of Blessing." -Booklist

While Trygve figures into the story fairly early on, Miriam doesn't make an appearance until more than halfway through and doesn't come to Blessing until three-quarters through, and her "growing attachment" doesn't play a part until over 80% of the way through. Her family calling her home appears almost at the end of the book. I wanted to read more about Miriam and Trygve, but this blurb really belongs on the next book in the series.

Because of my disillusionment, I can only give To Everything a Season three stars.

Bethany House provided this book for me to read and give my honest review. The opinions stated in my blog are my own and there was no remuneration for them.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride

I have loved Judith Miller's writings ever since I read her book The Carousel Painter. Her books just work for me. I've read many of them and jumped at the chance to read The Brickmaker's Bride, simply because Judith wrote it. I was not disappointed, except for one thing--Laura's secret--while at first it is mentioned in passing, it becomes a bigger deal than it should have been, however this is not a deal-breaker for the book.

The personalities in the book are strong people: Laura -- a young woman who lives with her mother
Mrs. Woodfield -- Laura's mother and owner of the brickyard
Winston -- the attorney who is officially courting Laura
Ewan -- the nephew of the man who wishes to buy the brickyard, and a bit more level headed than his uncle
Hugh -- the buyer of the brickyard and consummate gambler. He's very impulsive in his business dealings.
Maggie -- sharp-tongued wife of Hugh, a social climber
Kathleen -- Maggie's sister and Maggie's choice for Ewan's wife

Some of the lesser characters are Ewan's sisters, the children of the orphanage, Mr Lofton, the banker, and the workers at the brickyard.

For most of the book, Maggie sounds more like a fishwife than the genteel woman she wants people to believe she is. She spews venom at anyone who dares to thwart her desires or stands in her way. When Kathleen becomes pregnant, she casts her sister out of her house and refuses to speak to her. When Ewan and Hugh are invited to the Woodfields' home for dinner and she's not included in the invitation, she throws a temper tantrum worthy of a two-year-old. Her desires to be accepted in genteel society reminds me too much of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "Boo Kay") from Keeping Up Appearances.

Laura's gentle nature, her love for children and family, and her ability to see the best in people are two of the traits that draw the reader in and that draw Ewan to her. Even though she'd be a beautiful trinket on Winston's arm for his political ambitions, she knows she doesn't love Winston and she quickly comes to the conclusion that Winston's ideas and ideals are not what she stands for and to marry him would be the biggest mistake of her life.

Winston and Hugh are very much alike in that they are willing to take advantage of others, especially if it will line their own pockets in the process. The dealings that both men engage in are just barely legal and quite shady, but neither man cares.

Judith Miller knows how to engage the reader early and not let go until the book is done. She's done this many times and each time she writes a book, her craft is perfected even more. This should be a ten star book, but I can only give it Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and the best-made brick you've ever seen.

Bethany House provided the book through NetGalley for me to read and give my honest review. These opinions are my own and no compensation was offered or accepted in exchange for my review.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Becoming Bea

When I reviewed Minding Molly at the first of this year, I didn't like Molly all that much. Molly reappears in Becoming Bea and still has not become an enjoyable character until significantly later in the book, but for Bea's sake, the book isn't about Molly. Bea is twenty-one years old and still trying to figure out what she really wants in life. Molly has plans to go to Montana to meet her husband's family, and her plans include taking Bea with her. Bea is so tired of Molly's machinations that she goes out to find a job and have a reason not to go. The job was easy enough to find. Bob and Nan Miller have just had premature triplets and need a couple of mother's helpers to allow Nan to have the rest she needs to be able to take care of the babies. Also working for Bob Miller in his cabinet shop is Ben, the bane of Bea's existence. But Don Eichler shows up and desires to court Bea as well. For Bea, it's a matter of the dark and mysterious Don versus the known aggravation of Ben.

Bea is a much more likable character but very competitive, and before the end of the book, Molly becomes someone who is approachable and a softer side comes out. Bea finds out she is a capable care-giver and that she is also very organized. Her best traits come out as she takes on more responsibilities in caring for Nan and the babies, and those traits draw Ben to her like moths are drawn to a flame.

Leslie Gould has written a humdinger of a book with a bit of mystery, underhanded dealings, competitiveness, and not just a small amount of competition for Bea's attentions.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a clean baby diaper.

Bethany House provided this book for me in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was offered or received.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hidden Blessings

Kim Cash Tate has written a book that kept me in tears most of the afternoon. As I read Kendra's story--finding her disease, going through treatments, watching her upcoming wedding break off, and then seeing her past come back for resolution--I couldn't help compare Kendra's struggles with my own. Kendra found that she had Inflammatory Breast Cancer a week before she was supposed to marry Derek. Derek, being the man that he is, chooses to dump her and "move on with his life," so she can move on with hers. Kendra has a talk with her supervisor who sends her home from Washington, DC, to St Louis, MO. When she arrives home, she finds that her brother has turned her parents' home into a frat-party house, some strange man has moved in downstairs, her father is living in Africa, and she can't bring herself to tell her family she's ill.

The title of the book, Hidden Blessings, is one that hints at the blessings that are hidden within the pages of this book. There are many spiritual nuggets to be gleaned in stories of the characters in the book. Lance's day to day faithfulness to the God who loves him is inspirational. Trey's coming to terms with who he is and how he will live is one that creates a great example for many who struggle with their own sexuality. Molly's learning about God's love in a wholesome and completely freeing way is a lesson we all need to learn. Timmy's overcoming his drugs gives hope to many addicts. Those are just a few of the blessings that Kim has hidden in her book. Ellen, Marlon, Brooklyn, Kendra, and Pamela all have lessons to teach us.

Lance teaches Kendra photography and through the outlet of photography Kendra takes a daily picture of God's goodness in her life. Some days it's harder than others because of the side effects of her chemo, but it's something she truly enjoys learning and it truly brings joy to her life. I love photography myself and found some things that encouraged me. One of the most encouraging lines for me in the book is something Lance's mother Pamela said to Kendra when they first met:
"I can focus on my [situation] and stay depressed, or I can focus on God's goodness and know that I'll have an eternity to enjoy with Him."

One of the funniest moments is after Kendra and Lance get married and Derek calls her complaining that he was put in such a poor light because of his treatment of her. Lance asks Kendra if he can go "old Lance" on Derek for a couple of minutes. (I've really been trying awfully hard to work in my favorite Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls) quote and I guess here is as good a place as any:
“Why do blessings wear disguises? If I were a blessing, I’d run around naked.”

I love, love, love this book, and I appreciated Kim's research into Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and into a number of social maladies and conundrums to bring an honest portrayal of God's love in such a moving way.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a naked blessing.

Thomas Nelson provided this book for me to read and give my honest review. The opinions are mine alone and I was not in any way compensated for them.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Miracle at Higher Grounds Cafe

At first glance, this book is about Chelsea Chambers, a soon-to-be single mother of two who has just inherited her mother's cafe and the $86,000 IRS bill. At second glance, this book is about Manny, a clumsy, fashion-challenged man and Chelsea's newest employee to help her with the cafe. But the more you read, the more clear it is that this book is about God. While Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe is a novel, there is so much truth here it cannot be ignored.

Manny is an angel on assignment and his assignment is Chelsea. The Bible tells us that we should not be lax about giving hospitality, because we could be entertaining angels without knowing about it (Hebrews 13:2). Manny is directed by God through the Arch-Angel Gabriel and he is protected by the Arch-Angel Michael. Max Lucado has used Manny's perspective to show us how truly well we are protected by God. Looking through Manny's eyes, we can see the battles that are waged about us that we have no knowledge of.

In the Higher Grounds Cafe, Manny finds a room that whispers to him--years and years of whispers--the prayers of the two women who used that room, prayers for Chelsea, prayers for customers, prayers for Chelsea's children--Manny is hearing what God has heard. (Personal aside, now) My mother was crippled by arthritis in her later years, and it was hard for her to move around. She couldn't do much but read and pray, so she kept a prayer list by everywhere she sat. There was one by her bed, one by her chair in the living, and one by the chair where she cooked. Every time she sat, she prayed, and after she passed away, we found out how much her prayers had covered us. Many things happened because no one had picked up her legacy of prayer. Now that I have begun to pray (by no means as well or as deeply as my mother did), I am beginning to see how very important it is. To be able to hear her whispers for me, as Manny heard the whispers of Chelsea's mother and grandmother, would be a blessing beyond anything I could ask or imagine. (Now back to the regularly scheduled review)

One of the significant elements of the book is the "God Blog" where customers could come and ask questions and God would answer them. Not only would God answer the questions, but He would reach deep into their souls and meet a need the questioner had no idea was there. There is one episode of the God Blog that will remind readers of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well. Another episode will remind of the four friends who broke a hole in the roof to have Jesus heal their friend. While this book may not be based on fact, it is based on truth, especially the truth that God loves us so much, He wants to meet our every need.

Chelsea has to sort through all kinds of emotions--from her father's desertion of the family to her husband's infidelity to her son's need for his dad in his life to her cafe burning down--all these things roil through her and if she were to ask a question, it would be, "Do I have to walk this life alone?" Manny shows her through his eyes, she has never been alone in the first place. In seeing things through Manny's eyes, she can see enough of the background to be able to forgive her father and her husband, and allow them a place in her life.

I have chosen to use primarily Manny's perspective for this review, because stepping outside the earthly bounds of our lives to see the depth of God's love for us is one of the most important aspects of the book, in my opinion. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a cup of coffee with your guardian angel.

Thomas Nelson provided this book for me to read and review. All I have done is provide my own honest opinions and I have not been compensated for them.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Light in the Wilderness

Jane Kirkpatrick writes novels based on historical fact, and A Light in the Wilderness is her latest offering in this genre. Jane does her research and writes a truthful, yet imaginative account in this biographical novel.

Letiticia is a pre-war freed slave and midwife. When the family she works for gets to the point they want a slave rather than a paid worker, she joins up with Davey Carson as partner. A couple of years later, they take off on the Oregon trail with her cow, Charity, and an agreement that Davey will pay her as an employee because they could not be married.

Jane has accurately described the hardships of the Oregon Trail, settling in a new place and carving out a home for themselves, and Letiticia's struggles after Davey dies. I have not liked this book as much as others of Jane's that I have read, and this is why: in some places she does a fine job with moving the story along, and in others, she glides past great amounts of time and it makes the story seem a bit disjointed. There are some relationships that I would have liked to have seen developed a bit more. It is a good, entertaining novel, worth four stars.

This novel was provided to me by Revell in exchange for my honest review. No compensation was given and my opinions are my own. l

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Dream of Home

Madeleine has inherited her grandparents' home and moves into it for a change of scenery and for the quietness it promises. She has lost her fiance' in the worst way possible. Because of her training as a nurse and her military experiences, she has many nightmares about her fiance' and needs the changes her grandparents' home will bring her.

Saul and Emma live behind Madeleine, but Saul wants Emma to stay away from Madeleine. He doesn't want his daughter influenced by Madeleine's English ways. The only problem is that Emma wants to be Madeleine's friend, and Madeleine wants Saul to build her some new cabinets for her kitchen. Their paths can't help but entertwine, in spite of Saul's desire to keep his little family separate.

Amy Clipston has written a novel that will resonate with any romance reader. Madeleine's military experiences, especially seeing her fiance' with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, give rise to the PTSD that so many of our veterans suffer from. The conflicts that Saul and Madeleine go through are common for people who have been through traumatic events. This is what makes Amy's novel so readable and very un-put-down-able. Amy has not concentrated her descriptions on physical traits, but more on the souls of her characters. All Madeleine dreams of is a place to call home, to feel that peace home brings, and that safety of being "at home." Even the less important characters all mesh together with their own faults and foibles and bring a sense of community to the novel.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a home worth dreaming about.

This book was provided for my reading pleasure by Zondervan in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own, and I was not compensated in any way for them.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Love Without End

I've long loved Robin Lee Hatcher's writing and will continue to read her new novels as they come out. While her romances are generally considered light reading, I found Love Without End quite insprirational, with a surprising depth to it. When I was nearing the end of the book, I decided to email Robin and send her a few interview questions. She was most gracious in answering them and I include her answers here. My questions are in italics and Robin's answers are Bold.

I am familiar with your books from working fifteen years in a used book store. I read some of your secular books before and after you edited them for the Christian market. What caused your change from writing for the secular market to the Christian market?

The short answer would be that God caused it. During much of my general market career, I wasn’t walking closely with God. But as He drew me back into right relationship with Him, I found I no longer wanted to tell stories where faith wasn’t a core part of the novel. And so I made the move to the Christian market.

Do you still write for the secular market?

No, my last book for the ABA (secular) market was published in 1999.

How did the idea of including Anna's backstory come to you?

This is an impossible question for me to answer. Much of the writing process is a mystery to me, even after 70+ books. Ideas come to me in dreams, out of character voices, out of nowhere. I believe that much of the writing of a novel happens in the subconscious. My job as a writer is to pay attention as those ideas bubble up into the conscious mind.

I enjoy writing dual story lines, one in the present and one in the past, but I’m not sure where Anna came from. She simply led her horse into my imagination.

Did you grow up around horses and did you have a favorite horse?

After riding all over the neighborhood on my neighbor’s horse as a young kid, I managed to save enough money to buy my first horse when I was 14. Had at least one horse most of the time until I was in my thirties when circumstances forced me to sell them. But I passed the love onto my daughters and oldest granddaughter who all have their own horses today.

My favorite horse was a sorrel mare named Tempest. She was part Arabian and part Quarter Horse.

What is your favorite wild flower?

Hmm. That is a hard question. I don’t always know the names of the wildflowers. I guess I’ll go with Bachelor Buttons.

Anna makes a promise to live her life abundantly. What does abundant life mean to you?

A life lived with God at the very center. Abundance isn’t about the things we acquire. It’s about the relationship we have with the Lord. Other things pale in comparison.

Usually when people interview Christian authors, the one question they most frequently ask is for your favorite Bible verse. Mine is different. If you could choose anyone from the Bible (exlcuding Jesus--who always lives to intercede for us) to be your prayer partner, who would you choose and why?

Peter, because he was passionate about Jesus and passionate about serving Him, but he was so very human and his passion sometimes led him astray. But his heartbreak over betraying his Lord was the starting point to becoming the man Jesus knew he could be. I relate to Peter.

I think it only fair to tell you mine and why--the Israelites were fighting the Amalekites with Joshua leading the charge. Moses was up on top of the hill overlooking the battle and as long as his hands were raised, the Israelites would prevail. If his arms grew tired, the Amalekites prevailed. Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill, rolled up a rock for Moses to sit on, then one stood on each side and held up Moses' arms until the Israelites prevailed. I want prayer partners like Aaron and Hur who will stand beside me until the spiritual battles I am fighting are won.

Thank you in advance.


Love Without End tells a story of second beginnings and and finding love in the most unexpected places. It tells the story of a young, orphaned Anna McKenna, now known as Nana Anna, coming to the ranch of Abe and Violet Leonard, leading her quarter horse, Shiloh's Star. It also relates the stories of Chet Leonard and Kimberly Welch, of Chet's sons Sam and Peter, and of Kimberly's daughter Tara, and it entertains the reader with a gentle love finding a true home in spite of what we think otherwise.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a quarterhorse to take you on any adventure you choose.

This book was provided by Thomas Nelson for my honest review. No compensation for my comments was given or received.