©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three by Dawn Crandall

I love it when authors ask me to review their books, and when Dawn Crandall's assistant asked me to review The Captive Imposter (Dawn's book three in her Everstone Chronicles series), I went to the links in the email to see what the book was about. With a title like Everstone Chronicles, I thought the books were going to be a fantasy series, not a romantic series. Then the deal was sweetened, in exchange for my review, I'd get the first two books in the series. I was in with both feet. Next I was given two dates for a blog tour. One was to be an interview with Dawn (that's to come), and the other was to be a triple-play review of the three books. Today's post is the triple play.

The Hesitant Heiress is Amaryllis' story. All she wants is to open a music conservatory where any girl, regardless of social class, can take music lessons. After she is expelled from the Boston Conservatory of Music (under false pretenses, as it turns out), she is told of her inheritance and the conditions she must meet in order to acquire it. She doesn't care about the money, except for how it would help her achieve her dreams.

Lawry and his friend Nathan Everstone come from Washington state to stay with Amaryllis' Aunt Claudine, where Amaryllis was also living. Nathan immediately is attracted to Amaryllis, but she can't believe he truly wants anything to do with her. She has a hard time believing he's grown up and become more than just a playboy.

The Bound Heart finds Lawry seeking the company of Meredyth Summercourt because he has loved her since they were children. Meredyth feels that her childhood crush on Vance Everstone must be played out to its logical conclusion even though she is falling in love with Lawry. Lawry has patience to wait for her and tries to get her to see her freedom in Christ, even though she won't believe in it.

The Captive Imposter finds Estella Everstone living as Ella Stoneburner, a lady's companion staying in an Everstone family hotel in Maine. When the dowager lady's granddaughter makes false accusations against Ella and she is fired from her position, she seeks refuge with the new hotel owner, Dexter Blakely. She feels betrayed when she finds out that her father sold this hotel to Dexter, but she can't help herself in noting his more than commendable qualities. The more she gets to know him, the more she starts falling in love with him. When her brother Vance's sins come home to roost, she has to reveal who she is to Dexter and his anger is more than she can deal with.

I think my favorite of these books is the first. It's not often that a debut novel can capture and engage the reader with such a relentlessness. Dawn creates a lyrical narrative that shows how true love can thrive and grow in the midst of hard circumstances, even in the midst of insanity. I finished the books in a few short days, completely captivated by the heroines and their dilemmas. I loved how all three stories built on one another, how the characters' lives overlapped, how the scenery in the books is indispensible to the pace of the plots, and how a mystery that rolls through all three books is resolved.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a cup of tea to go with your book.

My thanks to Dawn Crandall for allowing me to read and review her books, and to participate in her blog tour!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ebb and Flow

It's always a thrill to read books in a series all at once and in this case I was able to read two of the books in the series back to back. I will be posting later this week about a series I was allowed to read all in a row. Stay Tuned. But I digress.

Again, I'm reviewing a book from the MacDonald family trilogy by Carla Laureano. London Tides is what one of my friends would call a weeper, because there are definite times when tears are the most appropriate reaction to the happenings in the book.

Ian MacDonald is the eldest sibling in the family and the one who holds the most hurt inside his heart. He was engaged once and during the middle of the night ten years earlier, she packed up all of her stuff except the ring and walked out while he was asleep. He kept up with her through her photography in war torn areas of the world. Grace, the woman of his dreams and memories, is an award winning photographer who is able to get the nitty-gritty details of life into her photographs. When he spots Grace on the banks of the Thames while rowing with his crew, his world is turned upside down and sideways.

Grace Brennan would be the poster child for PTSD if there were such a thing. She's seen more in her young life than any woman or any person, for that matter, should, but Grace has seen it through the telephoto lens on her camera. Even more, she's seen her assistant killed by a blast and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. She still has flashbacks, panic attacks, and even loses time when these things happen to her.

I've spoken before about the formula for writing romances--boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. This fit the formula in a way, but not in a conventional way--and the way Carla weaves it together keeps the reader involved and engaged in the plot of the book. It is very hard to put down. I cannot wait for the third book in the series to come out. During James and Andrea's wedding, Carla introduces Malcolm as the manager of the family hotel. I am hoping he is the man for Serena--he takes his responsibilities seriously and loves each and every family member.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph.

My thanks to David C Cook for allowing me to read and review this book.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Five Days

It certainly didn't take me five days to read Carla Laureano's first MacDonald Family book, but Five Days in Skye was all it took for Andrea Sullivan to fall in love with Scotland, and with James MacDonald--the famous chef/restauranteur. From looking over Carla's website, I get the idea that Carla usually writes inspirational fantasy, but this contemporary romance certainly has its own charm and inspiration.

Carla has given Andrea strength and talents that endear her to James, but Carla also wove in quite a bit of vulnerability and fragility. With James, he's got a reputation he doesn't really deserve, and his own baggage, but he really wants to help Andrea find hope and healing from the slings and arrows life throws. In the end, both of them find the healing they desperately need.

Andrea is a hospitality consultant for a company that helps make hotels and motels successful. She's good at what she does, she does her research well, and she takes no guff from anyone--evidenced by decking a client who assumed she provided services she just wasn't willing to provide. Instead of allowing her to take her Tahitian vacation, her bosses sent her to Scotland to acquire a contract with James MacDonald for the family hotel he wants to reopen.

After James meets Andrea, he makes it his goal to get her to fall in love with his beloved Scotland. He acts as tour guide and teacher about all things Scottish. A side benefit is that he's making Andrea fall in love with him--because he's falling in love with her. Something that is a bit bothersome is that everywhere he takes Andrea, there is someone there he's known or dated before, and that reinforces Andrea's idea of him as a playboy.

Here's what Carla has done right: The settings are an integral part of the story and Carla has done well in giving the details that make the settings stand out without detracting from the story. The characters are empathetic with honest feelings, easily relatable, and true to life conflicts. She also integrates spiritual ideas and tenets that are honest to the characters and make them more believable. The only criticism I have is that there aren't any recipes for some of the things James cooks for Andrea.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a gourmet meal made by a professional chef.

Many thanks to David C Cook for allowing me to read and review this book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Harvesting Hope

Lauraine Snelling's newest offering is the continuing story of Blessing, North Dakota, and all of its residents. This is the second book of the fifth series about Blessing, ND, and there are many of the same characters, as well as a few newer ones. A Harvest of Hope reads more like a day to day sampling of events and people rather than a telling of the story of one couple falling in love.

Most of the time, I prefer that the novel I read center on the relationship of the couple featured in the romance, but Lauraine has made her method work and work well. The characters have been developed all through the series of series and their personalities are easy to like. I feel like there is a modicum of truth to these stories, that Lauraine is telling her family history through her novels. Maybe that is her goal, to bring the reader into the story and to make that reader feel part of the family's history she is telling. I was a bit upset about Lauraine's previous book because it was touted to be a telling of the romance between Miriam Hastings and Trygve Knutsen, but this book tells that story fully and still chronicles the ups and downs of daily life in Blessing, ND. There are hints of the next book in this one, the dentist and one of Miriam's nursing friends, also that Miriam's family will be moving to Blessing as soon as Miriam finishes nursing school.

The people who populate these Blessings novels are friends from the first meeting all the way through to the each novel Lauraine writes in the series. I feel that I can't really tell much of the story in my review, just suffice it to say that I feel this book is well worth the time to read it. The reader will feel that he/she has been with her best friends talking over tea and cookies. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and tea and cookies with a friend.

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

Saturday, March 14, 2015

All's Fair

Last night, I got in bed to read for a bit, and my Kindle is set so that it tells me how much time remains in my book--and I had a bit over two hours, so I thought I'd read down to an hour and then call it a night. That didn't happen. I finished the book--I just couldn't put it down. Sorry, Betsy, but you kept me up late last night.

Betsy St Amant has taken a world of misunderstandings, a few episodes of sabotage, a cupcake baking contest, and two people very much in love but very much unable to say so; and she made those elements into a fast-paced, rollicking novel that grabs readers and won't let them loose.

To begin with, the major characters, Kat and Lucas, are both in love with each other, but they have the awkward dance down to a science. Kat is a cupcake baker working in her aunt's bakery with a desire to do more than plain chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry cupcakes. Lucas is a football coach who gets the benefit of trying out all of Kat's experiments. He enters Kat into the Cupcake Combat competition on the food station on television. When Kat gets tapped to participate, she makes Lucas go with her as her assistant. He wanted her to see how much he believed in her, how much he loved her; but the stress of the week's competitions kept Kat from seeing his love for her.

Some of the minor players in this dance of awkwardness are Piper and Amber who don't care how they win, just so that they do. To that end, Piper has decided that Kat is her major competition and does everything she can to sabotage Kat's cupcakes.

Thad is one of the judges who thinks Kat is hot, makes passes, and acts suggestively toward her.

Stella is Kat's sister who wins pageants and is the apple of her parents' eyes. Kat feels as though she has lived in Stella's shadow, and, in fact, even lost a fiance to Stella. Stella just seems to take these events as her right.

Maggie is the owner of Sweetie Pie's bakery and is Kat's boss. She's been quite ill lately and Kat has been keeping the bakery going. Kat's not quite sure how Maggie is going to keep the shop going while she's in Los Angeles on the show.

All of the characters and the action have added up to make a wonderfully enjoyable book. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a guilt-free cupcake.

Many Thanks to Zondervan for allowing me to read and review this book.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Charity has a house under reconstruction and needs a quiet place to write. Charity's parents are in Europe for the summer, so her childhood home has become her refuge. When she pulls into their driveway, she finds the home next door owned by her high school classmate, Buck Malone. With a trip to the grocery store, Charity runs into Buck--literally. Charity's dog, Cocoa, takes Buck out in a slick move breaking both his right wrist and his right ankle. Feeling guilty, Charity offers to help out on Buck's horse ranch until he is back on his feet. The problem is that Charity is hiding a secret--a secret that is ten years old and still holds her captive, and she doesn't want any entanglements.

Robin Lee Hatcher has written a sweet novel about working through some issues, finding peace, and falling in love. The characters are believable, relatable, and likable. The plot moves at a fairly good clip and keeps the reader engaged in the story. I love reading Robin Lee Hatcher's books, especially when I want light, easy reads. Whenever You Come Around fits this bill quite nicely. To see how Robin worked out the conflict in Charity's life was a real treat--Robin shows in a real way that we can allow events in our lives to hold us captive when God wants a real freedom for us.

My one criticism is that there was no real resolution to Charity's secret, no fairness in what happened to her. I wanted to see something that would bring the perpetrator to justice. Four strong stars.

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

Shaken. Not Stirred

Every now and again a book comes along that shakes you to your core. I just read one--that by the title should have been a light read, but was anything but. The most important quote from the book is this: When the Holy Spirit leaves, all you have left is religion. Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water is a memoir of sorts, a book of first person research to find the pulse of the church in the world. Amanda Hudson decided to see first-hand how worship is accomplished in various parts of the world, and where the gospel is reaching to the most hungry.

Her trip begins in Brazil, moves to Wales, Tanzania, China, and finally Honduras. The Latin American countries were the most fertile soil for hearing the gospel, receiving it, and growing. While touring these areas with local missionaries, Amanda gets a view of how people live and how much they need by American Standards. The thing is, American standards are not the standards by which the people live. In China, the people are told where to live, what job they will do, whom they will marry, how many children they will have, and where and how long they will go to school. They don't see their lives as captive to the government, it's just the way things are.

In Brazil, spiritism is still very prominent and sometimes gets mixed in with their worship of God. Because it has been a part of their whole lives, it's hard to give up.

In Africa, native people are devoted enough to their worship that nothing disturbs them--not even a dust storm blowing through the church. The problem here is that when well-meaning people throw money at an issue without considering the ramifications--with a bit of startup money, a man can start a mosquito net factory that employs several native people and funnels money back into the local economy. When a celebrity donates $100,000 for mosquito nets, the factory closes down, people lose their employment and when the mosquito nets wear out, there are none to replace them because the factory is no longer in operation. Money is not always the answer to the issue at hand.

In Honduras, the biggest need is clean drinking water. In each of the locations, Amber aided the local missionaries with health clinics, but the saddest part is the number of children with parasites because of the lack of pure water. My daughter went to Honduras last year as part of a medical missions trip (her organization facilitates trips for medical students in order to encourage more cross-cultural medicine as a choice for the students). She met a family who had a child in the hospital with a mass on her brain stem. The parents wanted the girl to have surgery to remove the mass, but the neuro-surgeon wasn't sure he could safely operate. The parents prevailed in their request and when the surgeon got in, they found that the mass on the girl's brain stem was a parasite that if not removed would kill the girl. They got it without any damage to the girl's brain and a prognosis for a full, happy life--at least as full and happy as the girl could have.

So what do I bring away from Amanda's book? Americans have put God in a box and thrown away the key not realizing that God refuses to live there, but He does allow US to live there. We have expelled the Holy Spirit from our worship and all we have left is religion. We have ceased to be hungry for the Word of God to take root in us and grow us into usable vessels. We need to be shaken up, not stirred.

My thanks to Abingdon Press for allowing me to read and review this book. I pray that everyone who reads this book becomes shaken to his/her very foundation.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Robin Hood - ish

Melanie Dickerson has a penchant for taking well-known fairy tales and making them something new and different. The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is her newest offering with a Robin Hood like theme. Odette Menkels spends her nights finding food for the orphans who live in her village and her days teaching them to read and write. The only problem is that the nights are spent poaching venizen from the Margrave's forest. Jorgen is the new forester who is entrusted with the task of finding the person who is poaching the deer from the Margrave's forest, but Jorgen seems to be falling in love with the beautiful Odette, which will make his job all the harder.

There are a cast of characters who flesh out this novel with all kinds of drama--
Mathis--the burgomeister's son who wants Odette for his own because of the prestige she will bring.
Rutger--Odette's uncle who has raised her since her parents died. He is a wealthy merchant and well respected in the town.
Ulrich--the Margrave's chancellor and not a very nice man.
Anna and Peter--Odette's best friends.

The setting and the people populating this book make it a delightful read. The intended audience is young adult and it will fit that bill perfectly. I really don't want to go into more of the plot because I don't want to give away the whole story. Just suffice it to say, Melanie Dickerson knows her stuff and plies her craft well.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a deer in your forest.

My Thanks to Thomas Nelson for allowing me to read and review this book.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Simple Prayer

Amy Clipston writes delightful Amish fiction and her newest novel parallels a parable of Jesus. Aaron burned down the bishop's barn seventeen years ago. His family was shamed and he was responsible, so he ran away--for seventeen years. He wrote home every week for a while, then every other week, then once a month, but he never got an answer, so he felt he wouldn't be welcome back home. Saul Beiler calls Aaron to tell him that his mother has had a stroke and is asking for him. Her condition is pretty serious and she's not making any significant progress with her therapy. When Aaron comes home, he's not sure his family will accept him, but his dad and his mom accept him with open hearts and open arms. The only fly in the ointment is his brother--who refuses to forgive, who wishes Aaron had never come home and kept Aaron's letters from their parents.

When Aaron first comes to town, he stays at the bed and breakfast where Linda Zook works. She is a girl from Aaron's school days and her beauty knocks him for a loop. Aaron and Linda both have issues to work out with their own families but in the meantime, they are falling in love. Aaron still has to decide what the future holds as far as the church and his family.

Amy Clipston develops her characters with compassion and empathy. Her conflicts carry the reality of everyday families, her plots carry the readers along as if they are in the story too. The characters become the readers' friends and as the story ends, the readers are sorry that they aren't invited to the wedding.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a trip back home.

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium

First: I am Baptist, by birth, by belief, and by practice. But I want to say that I am interested in any writing that will lead me closer to God. Every day, I ride my stationary bicycle, read my Bible, read some Christian literature, and read some fiction. I do this for fitness and for a daily quiet time. I've been watching the Pope because of friends I have who are Catholic and I wanted to know what he had to say about the condition of today's church. With the exception of parts of the last chapter, I had to agree with almost everything the Pope had to say in The Joy of the Gospel.

Some of the things that have stuck with me in reading the book are:

1. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but it is to be a place where penitents experience the grace of God.

2. The church needs to get down to the level of the people they want to reach and bring them up. We need to reach their needs and then touch their souls.

3. The church needs to reach out, to stop insulating themselves from the rest of the world. Jesus told us to be IN the world, just not OF the world and there is a great difference between them.
I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a church . . . ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.

4. The ultimulte goal of the church is to introduce to the people the salvation that only Christ can give. My brother told me once that the church exists to point people to Christ--that is its only raison d'etre--either to point people to Christ's salvation or to point people to Christ as the only model for which we pattern our lives after.

I will not give this book my usual ratings, it seems too trite. But I will say this book is worth every star of the five stars I will post on Amazon.

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

Where Trust Lies

I've long loved Janette Oke's books since I heard one of her books read on National Public Radio many years ago. When I found her newest book in the list of books I could request for review, I jumped at the chance. I have enough books in my TBR (to be read or, in this case, to be reviewed) list that I've taken to reading them in requested order. Otherwise my e-reader would be in chaos. So my excitement rose again when it came to the top of my list to read.

While Where Trust Lies is the second book of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone without confusion. There are references to other characters in the first book, but they do not detract from the plot of this book.

Beth is coming home from teaching in Coal Valley hoping to spend a quiet summer at home with her family. When she gets to her family home, the news is sprung on her that her mother, her sisters, and she will be taking a cruise down the St Lawrence Seaway and then the eastern seaboard of the US. Her father is going on a business trip to South America while this trip is happening, so if Beth doesn't go, she will be alone. This isn't how she envisioned her summer unfolding, but as time goes on, she begins to enjoy herself on the trip. Every now and then, she receives a letter from Jarrick, a man she met in Coal Valley and developed an affection for.

Among the other passengers on the ship were friends of Beth's family--the Montclairs--high maintenance to the nth degree, or at least Mrs Montclair is. She refuses to abide by the schedule that has been provided by the companion Beth's father provided for the ladies on the trip and is consistently late for events, and if that's not enough, she's overbearing and micromanages her daughter. Beth's little sister, Julie, finds a couple of girls her own age and begins hanging around with them in spite of their lack of minimal social graces. A few odd happenings onboard lead Beth to not trust the girls, with good cause, as it turns out.

This time with her family, brings Beth to a more secure belief in what she's feeling for Jarrick, and she misses him more and more each day. When unforeseen events bring her back together with Jarrick, he wisely tells her that she has to walk this path with God. He can't walk it for her.

Without further ado, I shall get down to brass tacks. To tell more of the story is to give the whole thing away. Janette has thirty plus years of writing under her belt. Now co-writing with her daughter, both of their talents shine through. This is a quietly sweet novel with enough suspense and enough drama to keep the reader turning pages, but there is enough humor to keep the reader from losing heart. This is a five star novel, two thumbs up, and a cruise to your favorite destination.

My thanks to Bethany House for allowing me to read and review Where Trust Lies.

Monday, March 2, 2015

After a Fashion

Every now and again, I need to read a book that is light, humor-filled, and compelling. Jen Turano writes such novels and does it with aplomb. After a Fashion is a rollicking, entertaining read, and was just what the doctor ordered for me at the time. I love her books, her heroines know what they want and how to get it. Her heroes are the proverbial knights in shining armor riding in on a white steed to save the day. At the end of the book, Jen gives a slight hint about the next book in the series. =)

Harriet Peabody works for a hatmaker, Mrs Fienman, who caters to the rich and hides her workers so that they do not outshine her customers. On one fateful day, Mrs Fienman dispatches Harriet to the home of Mr Addleshaw to deliver a carriage load of hats to a Miss Birmingham--purported to be Mr Addleshaw's fiancee. Miss Birmingham is a young woman of volatile and incendiary temper. When Mr Addleshaw's dog, Buford (of questioned parentage and breed) approaches Miss Birmingham, she (in today's parlance) freaks out and in the ensuing melee, attacks Harriet. By the time the whole episode is done, Harriet is without a job, and Mr Addleshaw is stuck with the bill for the plethora of hats Miss Birmingham ordered (sounds like a nice racket to me).

Now Mr Addleshaw is in need of a comely, young woman to squire around while he entertains the Duke of Westmoore in his pursuit of a business deal with the Duke. He offers Harriet a sum of $3000 plus expenses to be his companion, and Harriet, being jobless, feels obligated to take his offer. Harriet is hiding something from Mr Addleshaw--the fact that she was raised by a con-artist, Aunt Jane, who wants Harriet to join in the "family" business and get Jane introduced into society so that Jane has a new group of people to fleece.

Jen's writing style reminds me of Lorna Seilstad's writings. Her characters are fun ladies with a penchant for trouble and men who love trouble with a capital T. Her plot develops with a predictable unpredictability, and the twists she includes keep the reader guessing for a good, long while--until the denouement.

This is definitely a Five Star, Two Thumbs Up, and a new hat for your wardrobe!

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