©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

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.