©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

To Win Her Favor

Tamera Alexander is an incredible author and I love reading her books since the first one I found of hers. Her books are intriguing, engaging, and compelling.

Maybe it's because I've read so much, or maybe it's because I know Tamera's writing style, but I found To Win Her Favor to be rather predictable. I liked it, the plot moves at a great pace, and the characters had depth and breadth, but it takes something out of me to be able to tell the ending from the very beginning of the book. This is the worst thing I will say about the book.

The premise is an arranged marriage in order to save the family farm. For Maggie and Cullen both, the marriage is a means to an end--in the beginning, but it doesn't end up that way. Cullen is Irish and not welcome around Nashville, but this is where he's decided he wants to settle. He approaches Gilbert Linden about buying his farm which is about to go up for auction for non-payment of taxes. Gilbert tells Cullen he will sell to him if he will marry his daughter and redeem the farm. Maggie is the owner of Bourbon Belle, a thoroughbred known for her racing speed, and Maggie is known for soaring on the back of Belle--which scares anyone who watches her.

In town, the Tax and Title Officer is known as Steven Drake. (Rabbit Trail here) Years ago, my children and I used to listen quite a bit to Mark Lowry's albums--they loved his humor and I loved his singing. On one album, he was describing seeing the movie "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and in describing the trials of Jesus, he talked about the "serpent, Satan, slimed" his way to encourage the crowd to yell, "Crucify Him!" (Back on the main trail now) Steven Drake hits me as an evil serpent sliming his way around town trying to make things work his way, expecially using his equally slimey henchmen to do the dirty work.

Cullen's brother, Ethan, plays a fairly big part in the book even though he doesn't become part of the group of characters until fairly late in the book. He is a secret that Cullen is keeping from Maggie because of his actions in London--and why Cullen doesn't want Maggie to race Bourbon Belle.

This book takes place soon after the Civil War when racism is high and vigilantism is rampant, where underhanded dealings line the pockets of the unscrupulous, and the innocent get taken for a ride they never signed up for. This is a solid four star book leaning to 4.5 stars. There are factual elements in the book, including Bourbon Belle, Belle Mead Plantation, and some of the characters--all go to show that the book is well-researched and quite enjoyably read.

My thanks to Zondervan for allowing me to read and review this book.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Last Heiress

I have read one other of Mary Ellis's Civil War Heroines series and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now she has a new offering to the series and it's a dandy. The Last Heiress takes a young lady from her comfortable home in Lancashire, England, and moves her to Wilmington, North Carolina. Because of the Civil War, there is no cotton coming in for the Dunn Mills and Amanda's father needs the cotton to keep the mills going, so he sends Amanda as his emissary to talk to the factors who have sold them cotton before and see if the shipments can be restored. The only kink in the works is the Civil War and the blockade of the southern ports by the Union navy. Jefferson Davis has also declared a moratorium on shipping outside the Confederate States. I guess that makes two kinks. The other reason he sends Amanda is to check on her twin sister, Abigail, and see how she is doing in her marriage and in her new land.

After getting to Wilmington, Amanda decides to explore her new environs and stumbles into a mercantile run by Nate Cooper--a man from western North Carolina who moved east because his family's farm has gone under. Meeting Nate was one of the most serendipitous things that happens to Amanda and creates for her a feeling of home. She sees that Nate is like-minded to her and has all the makings of a good friend--or more.

The hardest thing Amanda has to do after she reaches her twin sister's home is fit in to all the society rules and mores that seem to be expected of her. One poignant conversation Abigail has with her husband, Jackson Henthorne, is that he has to leave Amanda alone to find her own way, and if her choice of life partner doesn't exactly fit what he thinks she should look for, he needed to understand that HE wasn't what Abigail's father thought she should look for.

Nate is a solid character with many great attributes, not the least of which is being excessively handsome. He's generous with his time and goods, he's loyal to his family and to his convictions, and, best of all, he's not afraid to dream beyond his little world as it is.

Amanda is a bit naive, but strong in her convictions and sees the world as it should be instead of how it is. She is the exact complement to Nate.

Abigail is not as naive, but loves her creature comforts.

Jackson is not above illicit actions to get what he wants, but he loves Abigail and wants only the best for her.

The ONLY negative thing I have about this book is that the faith aspect of it is rather weak. God seems to be an afterthought if He is any thought at all in these people's lives. The strongest faith is displayed by Salome, Thomas, and Amos--the slaves.

A very strong four stars.

Thanks to Harvest House for allowing me to read and review this book.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Faith of Her Own

This book was some fine Amish fiction with a twist I didn't anticipate. Kathleen Fuller has a special way of spinning a story that engages the reader and doesn't let go until the engagement is fulfilled.

Anna Mae, Jeremiah, and Amos are best friends and do everything together until Jeremiah leaves Middlefield, OH, to go to veterinarian school. Anna Mae has had questions about the Amish church and where God is leading her, but it really comes to a head when Jeremiah comes back to town to help out the aging Doc Miller. Her mother especially wants her to find a good Amish boy to marry and to join the church, but Anna Mae can't bring herself to do so. After helping Jeremiah all night with his cousin's horses that are suddenly ill, Anna Mae comes home to find her mother fit to be tied. The tension comes to a head while Anna Mae's father is gone on a fishing trip and Anna Mae's mother kicks her out of the house. Jeremiah's father's next-door-neighbor, Judith, takes Anna Mae in until she is able to take her GED test.

In a side-plot, Jeremiah's cousin, Caleb, falls in love with his other cousin's sister-in-law, Bekah, a woman who drives him to the very edge of insanity. It is a sweet addition to the book and does not detract from the primary plot at all.

Kathleen provides characters who deal with real struggles and settings that are easy to imagine. Amos is one of the most endearing characters with a real gift for art--something that is frowned on in Amish circles, but something that gives a young, developmentally delayed man great joy. I've not read any Amish fiction where someone leaves the community because of a crisis of faith. As Anna Mae makes her decisions, the reader will feel all the conflict that she endures. This book cannot come more highly recommended. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a healthy horse to ride.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

I've read something by Miralee Ferrell, but I read so much, I've forgotten what it was. However, last night I finished reading Dreaming on Daisies and was sad when it came to an end. I had come to love the hard-working Leah and appreciate banker Steven. Charlie Pape started out kind of rough, but Frances Cooper rubbed his rough edges off by the end of the book. Tom's immaturity grew up through the book and became a likable young man. Every major character in the book had issues to work through, and part of that comes from one character who is absent by death but plays a large part in the book--Tom and Leah's mother.

Leah doesn't know that her mother has been alive for the last nine years and died shortly before Tom came back to the ranch. Tom has come back thinking the ranch belongs to his and Leah's father and that he will inherit part of it. He has come back to get what's coming to him, or so he thinks. In finding out that Leah's father has lied to her for nine years, Leah has an extra hard time with his drinking and throwing away good money after bad in running the ranch. She wanted to get a loan to hire an extra hand and to increase the stock. Steven's home burns up in a mine explosion and comes to live at the ranch in the bunkhouse and work evenings and weekends for Leah in exchange for room and board. This gives Leah the proximity to Steven and vice versa for them to fall in love, but it's a rough and rocky road.

Miralee has written a book with real-life problems in a fictional world. There is drama, angst, and turmoil throughout the book. There is someone who comes in and sets things right, whether it is Frances Cooper with Charlie, Millie or Buddy (the hired help) for any one of them; but, ultimately all signs point to God for being able to heal the hurts and deal with the drama.

Overall the book is a great read, there is just enough humor to offset some of the angst, and a few daisy chain crowns woven into the plot. Steven is a very empathetic character realizing how Tom and Leah both feel and being able to put himself in their respective shoes. He can see both sides of their coin and inserts a bit of sensibility into the rather heated situations they find themselves in. A solid four stars!

My thanks to David C Cook publishers for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my review.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Titus 2

Titus 2 New International Version (NIV)

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

I was asked to take on the task of reading a book and participating in a blog tour. This is so fun! Heartfelt by Joneal Kirby is the book of choice and I have to say it is a tremendous book. It's a book detailing ministry based on the passage quoted above.

Joneal has included testimonies of participants, details of how the ministry works, and explicit instructions on setting up a similar ministry in your own church. Her writing style is personable and personal, with an intimacy that makes the reader feel included or at least desire to be included.

I would have given my eye teeth to have had something like this when I was growing up. I can see this fitting ministries that include even junior high school girls. Then I see that this could fit in a men's ministry as well.

The reasons I see these things working out this way is that my husband and I have been involved in a one-to-one relationship with a young couple with this kind of mentoring. We felt way over our heads and without tools to handle the situations that were before us. We were willing to be used, but in some ways, scared that we might mess things up far more than they were already messed. But thankfully, we didn't and we continue our relationship with this couple and now the wife wants a more Titus 2 relationship, that I am thrilled to give! Because of her involvement with the junior high youth group, she is wanting to see this kind of thing happen with the girls in the group, and I see this working out to be a key piece of speaking into their young lives and perhaps save them from some devastating mistakes that I made without the knowledge that can be lifesaving.

This is a Five Star, Two Thumbs Up, and a young mother's night out. Worthy publishing provided the book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Harvest of Blessings

Charlotte Hubbard writes Amish fiction with characters who engage and excite, or infuriate--like a snake oil salesman that I'm waiting for him to get his come-uppance. In her latest offering, Harvest of Blessing, Nora has decided to return to her hometown of Willow Ridge after a broken marriage in the English world. She wants to be reconciled to her family and to acknowledge the daughter she gave up sixteen years ago. The only problem is Nora's Dat--Gabe Glick refuses to accept her apology or even acknowledge her--to her mother's dismay.

Nora bought Hiram Knepp's farm and opened a can of worms for herself. Hiram is the excommunicated bishop of the area, but now is a rather sleazy snake oil salesman who lives just this side of the law--he's bad enough to shake people up, but not so bad as to be convicted. I guess that now and then a book has to have a person in it the reader loves to hate, just for the contrast to the other characters.

When Nora goes to Miriam's Sweet Season's Bakery to see her father and ask his forgiveness, he calls her Satan and yells at her to leave. The more the reader goes into the book, the more Gabe stiffens his neck against her until the current bishop, Tom, calls a meeting for the family to hear what Nora has to say. Gabe believes that Nora played fast and loose with her morals and when Nora tells the real story, it comes out that she was molested by a former bishop. She had been sent to live with her aunt who turned her out after her daughter was born. She gave her daughter to her newly married brother who raised Millie as his own, but with the same strictness his own father had demonstrated. Now, sixteen years later she's back and her father's actions have given the whole community something to talk about.

The only thing I didn't like about the book is the way Luke Hooley tries to ingratiate himself into Nora's life and succeeds. He seems rather slimey in the beginning but as his character develops he is a real friend to Nora, and even begins falling in love with her. Luke's character development in the book is the weakest part of the book, but it doesn't stop the reader from enjoying the whole book.

One thing that Nora wants to do is to open a store with gifts that the Amish and Mennonite crafters make for tourists to come and buy. With the help of Miriam's daughter, Rebecca, and her ability to set up websites, Nora works hard to get her business off the ground. In the meantime, Hiram does his level best to thwart her efforts by either creating discord or insinuating himself into her life, both efforts Nora rebuffs.

A real bonus is the recipes included at the back of the book and also on Charlotte's website. I am diabetic, but I have been learning to adjust recipes so that I can still have treats. These recipes are great and easily adjustable for me.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and one of Miriam's Cinnamon Rolls to get you through the day.

Zebra Books has kindly allowed me to read and review this book. My thanks to them.

Homestead Brides

This is a collection of nine stories about homesteading--the act of settling a section of land and proving it up (improving it by cultivating it and building a home on the property). In the midst of these homesteading stories are sweet romances happening among these intrepid homesteaders. One thing about this collection is that each successive story is better than the one before and one of these stories is by a new author!

There are veteran authors like Mary Coneally, DiAnn Hunt, Kathleen Y'Barbo, Darlene Franklin, and more. The newbie is Becca Whithum. The last book I reviewed by Kathleen Y'Barbo I didn't care for as much as others I'd read by her. She asked me to allow her to redeem herself, and with her offering in this anthology has certainly been her redemption. In fact, it is my favorite story in the book.

Cara wants to reclaim her father's land that he lost in a poker game. She arrives when the "owner" is away, but the housekeeper is there and sees the potential for Cara and Iz. Cara is expecting after a brief marriage to a con man who was already married. Rosie sees what Cara needs is a home and helps her all she can. Kathleen has written a fully developed story in a few pages that grabs the reader and doesn't let go until the story is finished. Her characters have depth and are empathetic, her descriptions of the area only add to the story and do not detract in any way.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's a great way to while away a blah afternoon and get a pick-me-up as well.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a place to Homestead.

Barbour Books provided this book in exchange for my honest review. My many thanks to them.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I Am So Nourished

I have loved Becky Johnson's writings since I read Worms in My Tea when my children were little. Now she writes with her daughter and brings some important facets of life that every woman needs to pay attention to. Becky and Rachel bring two perspectives to the same topics and yet stand in unity on them.

Nourished is not a book that can be read lightly or quickly. It must be read chapter by chapter, digested, ruminated, cogitated, and meditated before moving on.

From setting a personal environment to taking time for yourself, Becky and Rachel share how they are nourished through their friendships, their spiritual lives, their mates, their families, and ultimately themselves--while making the book something every woman can use. In every chapter I found action points I want to take, but I think I am going to have to reread the book in order to take those steps.

Their writing styles are complementary and humorous while still addressing some serious things that make the reader think. I really don't want to go into what Becky and Rachel have said in the book, but I really need to recommend this book as highly as possible.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a place of peace in your world.

My Heart Stood Still

Lori Copeland writes engaging, humorous novels with heroines who have a penchant for getting in trouble or creating trouble. Anne-Marie is all of that and a bit more. She and her sisters support a mission orphanage the best way they know how, by pulling cons. The latest con had them dressed as nuns, and the latest predicament had them in a jail wagon being chased by Comanches. When the wagon turns over and the girls fall out, three men come along to rescue the sisters, each one taking one of the sisters and riding off in a different direction. Anne-Marie is carried off by Creed Walker, a Crow warrior, who was more annoyed by Anne-Marie than enamored of her, but that all changes over time.

I think I am going to need to read these books again in one sitting to get the whole picture that Lori is painting. I felt this one wasn't nearly as good as the first one in the series. Usually I can remember more about the book a few days after I finish it, but I had to look it up to see which book I was supposed to be reviewing. It's pretty harsh to think I could forget so quickly, but this one just didn't have the staying power for me.

I found myself getting more and more annoyed with Anne-Marie as the book went on, and then when she meets up with Berry Woman, the Comanche girl Creed is supposed to marry, she becomes even more annoying in that she tries to run away and ends up making Creed rescue her again. There are bad guys who are chasing Anne-Marie and she has to think fast to evade them at every turn. The action keeps the story moving and keeps the reader engaged.

Three and a half stars.

My thanks to Harvest House Publishing for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my review.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Secrets Secrets

It's not often that two Amish stories come up back to back in my TBR pile. It was serendipity that it did happen, and one thing I noticed about Amish fiction is that there is no standardization of Pennsylvania Deutsch spelling in these books. But if that's the worst I can say about it, then it's not so bad.

Jerry Eicher is new to my reading list, but I am glad I picked up his newest offering: Miriam's Secret. Miriam is a sweet Amish girl who helps out her large family any way she can. When she is hired to be a care-giver/companion to an elderly English gentleman, she is surprised at how generous a paycheck he writes for her. It comes in very handy for stretching the family budget, especially since there are soon to be eleven children. When he passes away, Miriam is surprised again by his overt generosity. She is at a loss as to what to do with the riches she's been afforded through her charge's will.

Then there's Shirley, Miriam's sister, who is taken in by a former Amish man with plenty of money to go around. She sneaks around to see him against her parents' better judgment and against their will.

Of course, we can't forget Ivan, the boy Miriam was sweet on who decided to go out with a newcomer to the community. When he finds out that Miriam has inherited a farm, free and clear of debt, he decides that maybe he chose the wrong woman, so he comes nosing around Miriam again.

Miriam chooses to go to her Aunt Fannie's in Oklahoma to avoid dealing with people coming around her just for her money. Aunt Fannie is expecting her first child and is over the moon with happiness, and Miriam believes she can be of help to Fannie and she also believes that removing Shirley from their community will also remove her from temptation.

I have to appreciate the way Jerry set up the plot for Miriam to be able to find the love she desired without divulging the amount of money she had received in addition to the farm. I also like the way he was able to move Miriam from her community in Indiana to Oklahoma, and yet keep her grounded in her home community.

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

My thanks to Harvest House Publishers for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my review.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Blessed Are the Meek

I've read several of Olivia Newport's books and truly enjoyed every one. Meek and Mild is no different, with a cast of characters that range from overly self-righteous to kind, caring people, to everything in between.

Clara Kuhn lost her mother when her little sister was still-born. When she was eleven, her father remarried and Clara loved her step-mother, Rhoda, and the children her step-mother bore. In fact, Clara loves her cousin's daughter, Sadie, and loves to tell her stories from the Bible. She's just scared spitless about having her own children, afraid that what happened to her mother will happen to her, as well.

Andrew Raber is sweet on Clara and would marry her in a heartbeat if only she'd say yes. He's not sure that every rule in the Ordnung is biblical, and he's drawn to the Model T Ford that he found on the side of the road. He has his own place and he works hard. This car, though, takes every spare thought and every spare moment he has, even to learning how to repair it under the tutelage of a nearby mechanic.

Yonnie Yoder is Andrew's best friend, but he holds a tighter rein on what he thinks is right and wields his opinions with a bit of superiority. He feels that he needs to tell the bishop about the transgressions he sees in others without considering his own sins.

Moses Yoder is a relative of Yonnie and is the bishop of the meeting. He uses his position to hold sway over the meeting and anyone who disagrees should come under the shunning.

Mose Beachy is the new bishop who takes over after Moses Yoder becomes too ill to keep up with the duties of the office. Mose Beachy is expected to enact the changes that would reverse some of the decisions Moses Yoder pushed through the congregation. Eventually this caused a split in the group and a more lenient form of the Amish was formed.

Fannie is Clara's cousin and she is wishing for another boppli to fill her arms. She has Sadie, but she has more love to give. When her mother becomes pregnant, she can hardly stand it.

Every character in the pages of this book have a need only God can fill and Olivia skillfully and seamlessly weaves these needs into her novel to make a tapestry that is rich in color and texture. Her plot tells a history of how the Beachy Amish sect came into being and why. It is very easy to insert one's self into the story of the book and see how the events could have played themselves out.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a ride in a Model T.

My thanks to Barbour Publishing for allowing me to read this novel in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Heaven Help Heidi

I've loved almost everything Sally John has written, her faith weaves into her plots seamlessly, her characters have depth and are empathetic, her settings are ideal and I just love the way she pulls the whole thing together without making the romance smarmy or overly sweet. Heaven Help Heidi is one of those kinds of stories.

The characters (or at least some of them):

Heidi Hathaway--driven real estate broker who drives herself into the hospital via a one car accident. During her recovery, she leases her condo because she cannot negotiate the stairs in it. Heidi has to learn to release her fears since her accident--fear of driving, fear of even being in a car, fear of going by the accident site.

Val--Heidi's partner in the real estate business, a bitter woman with some issues from her childhood

Piper Keyes--the once-fiancee of an airman killed in Afghanistan, now a personal shopper at a high end department store. Every year around the anniversary of her fiance's death, she tends to go off the deep end.

Hudson Hathaway--Heidi's author-brother-twin: a hermit who lives in Baja California

Adam--Val's brother and Heidi's college friend

Liv--Heidi's widowed landlady, also Val and Adam's step-mother, a praying woman

Jasmyn, Keagan, et al--the residents of Casa de Vida in Seaside Village. They seem to all live here for a reason, and they all have a special place in Liv's heart.

This book is about wounds, some that show, most that don't, and how these wounds are healed. This book is about community, about learning to depend on someone besides yourself, about giving more of yourself than you take, about learning to release bitterness for your own health, and learning to live life as it is given to you, making the most of what you have. This is also a book about love and romance, but that is a side note to the rest of the plot.

Casa de Vida is a complex of small bungalows and one thing that happens nightly is that Liv makes her rounds and prays for the residents of each bungalow. Somehow she knows exactly how to pray for each one. I want to be able to pray like that. She finds a way to welcome each resident so that they feel as if they've come home from a long time away. I want to be that hospitable. She even finds a way to help her stepson love his father, and keep memories of his father alive. I want to love like that.

The only criticism I have for this book is that Sally didn't include Liv's recipe for macaroni and cheese. It is not a fast read, but it is hard to put down. It is compelling, engaging, and it makes you feel like you are part of this large family. It pulls you in and doesn't let you go. Five stars, two thumbs up, and a casserole dish full of homemade mac-n-cheese.

My thanks to Harvest House Publishers for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my review.