©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sewn with Joy

Joy is one of the five daughters of the Millers of Pinecraft in Sarasota, FL. She wants nothing more than to be a wife and mother and to live her simple life. She believes this will happen when Matthew Slagel, the bishop's son, but one night, a truck comes rumbling down her street in the middle of the night and stops in front of her house. She is the only one in her house awake, so she goes downstairs to see if she can help them find what they are looking for. It just so happens that the truck holds set materials and the producer for a new tv show that's being shot about the Amish.

The bishop preaches against getting involved with the television people, but Joy can't let them make fools of themselves, nor can she let them go on without telling them about the freedom they will find in God. She gets pulled into the production by correcting some mistakes in costume, making costumes for the characters, and befriending the lead actress.

I appreciated the way the authors, Tricia Goyer and Sherry Gore, handled the "be in the world, not of the world" conundrum. Even though the bishop really wanted his people to stay away from the show production, Joy felt like she had to show them God as He really is. Her mindset came between her and Matthew, found friends in unlikely places, and strengthened her family. While she made money as a consultant to the show, she gave that money to her parents so that her father could afford some very expensive medical treatments.

I also love that recipes and sewing hints were included throughout the book. It's a treasure trove of hidden gems, and even Lovina's pies and Hope's garden make an appearance in the book. Sewn with Joy will delight Amish fiction readers, and I can't wait to see how things work out for Faith and Grace.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a piece of Lovina's Orange Cream Pie for dessert.

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sarah's Orphans

Sarah has recently lost her father and now her mom has left home, leaving Sarah to take care of her four brothers. Andy and Henry are pretty much grown up, but Luke and Isaac are still in school. Coming home from the general store one day, Sarah nearly runs over a little boy. She goes looking for where he darted into the woods and finds an abandoned barn and a small trailer. Inside the small trailer are the little boy and an even tinier girl. Sarah convinces them to come home with her and begins looking for their mother. When the child protective services gets involved, Sarah finds she has to take classes and training to become a Bridge Parent for these children. Right after gaining custody of the children, Sarah's paternal grandmother comes to stay for as long as she's needed.

Paul Byler buys the farm next to Sarah's and works out how he can help her. He buys some chickens and takes them to Sarah so that they can share the eggs. He buys some goats and gives them to Sarah in exchange for goat's milk cheese. He gives her brothers work to do in exchange for helping them out on their own farm. He wants to help Sarah in a way that doesn't look like charity.

One thought rings clarion clear throughout this book and that is how important it is to listen to God. We can let the chaos of urgency take our minds off what is truly important, or we can take whatever is on our plates to God. When Sarah's foster children disappear, the first thing the community does is gather to pray.

Vannetta Chapman doesn't write the formulaic romance, but she does write thoughtful books that touch her readers deeply. In Sarah's Orphans, she brings out the need for foster parents, parents willing to adopt children who have been removed from their parents for whatever reason, people willing to take these children in for however long, because the one thing every single child needs is love.

This book is five stars, two thumbs up, and love and prayer.

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

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Love Made New

Kathleen Fuller writes Amish fiction full of empathetic characters and situations. She has almost a memoir style of writing, but she's writing about a whole town, not just one or two characters. I adore her Amish Fiction.

A Love Made New finishes out the series on the Schrock sisters. But it also brings to conclusion the history of Bartholomew and Naomi--Irene and Andrew's parents.

Abigail is the only sister not married, and while her sisters have found their loves in Birch Creek, Abigail seems to find snacks. She feels truly bad about herself and her weight and cannot believe that someone would want her in such condition. Kathleen's descriptions of Abigail's struggles are spot on. The sensitivity she has embued in Asa Bontrager is a delight to read, especially as I can relate to Abigail's struggles.

Abigail's story is not the only one being told in this novel. Irene and Sol are finding their way around between friendship, love, and forgiveness. Sol has a past (and who of us doesn't have a past?) that brings him shame, and Irene makes it her job to show Sol that forgiveness is real, forgiveness is forever, and forgiveness brings peace. When Sol bares his soul to Irene, he is sure that she is going to reject him. After he drops her off, his horse takes him back to the abandoned cabin where his father had kept money he had stolen from the community. It was also the place where Sol would go sleep off a drinking binge. Now it was a place where God wanted to talk to him.

Both Sol and Asa are learning to listen when God speaks and to bring their petitions to the God who hears. Asa had to listen to what God was telling him when he moved back to Birch Creek from Shipshewana, Indiana.

As usual, Kathleen has included at least one fantastic cook in her book. It is a five-star, two thumbs up, and a special treat kind of book. Cookies and tea or coffee would go well with this book while you are reading it.

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sea Rose Lane

Irene Hannon has written a romance novel that doesn't entirely fit the formula and it is a breath of fresh ocean air! The setting of Hope Harbor is idyllic and fits the story so well that it couldn't be set anywhere else and be as good.

So for the formula:

Boy Meets Girl: Eric meets BJ when he runs into her bumper while talking on his cell phone. He doesn't make a good first impression for this architect/contractor who is relatively new to his hometown. When he finds that she's remodeling his father's home to make it a B&B, he further instills her poor first impression when he questions her workers.

Boy Gets Girl: This part of the formula doesn't happen the way it does in most romance novels. BJ takes her time to get to know Eric, keeping him at arms length until he takes the time to let her know she can trust him. He's a big city lawyer and wants to go back to the Partner Track lawyering instead of living in a small town doing small town law, however, he wants BJ too. She has been the big city architect and wants nothing to do with the big city.

Here's where the story deviates even further--Boy doesn't lose girl, because he truly doesn't have girl to begin with. They know something is sparking between them, but BJ is reluctant to let it go further. Where Eric gains BJ's trust is in a project she has going with a charity group she volunteers for. What BJ wants to do is start a program where younger people are matched with some of the elders of the town to help them stay in their own homes longer. When she sees where Luis, one of her workers, lives, she sees him as a perfect companion for Eleanor. She needs Eric to do some legal work for the companion partnership to prove to the board of the charity that this is a viable program.

What Eric finds in working with BJ is something he never thought he'd find. One thing, she used his artistic talent to paint backdrops for the fundraising play. When Eric finds that he has missed painting, he begins to paint a canvas and gets wrapped up in it, just like he gets wrapped up in his legal work.

There are many quaint expressions of small town life--Charley's fish taco truck is open when Charley takes a notion to open it. The rest of the time, he's an artist. Most people know one another's business and are friends with everyone else in town. The town bakers do not know how to make anything lo-cal, especially Eleanor and her fudge cake. The town is rich in humanity, humor, and character.

While Irene did let the reader know which boy and which girl were going to pair up, she did it in such a winsome way that it doesn't feel forced. She used her talents well in writing Sea Rose Lane and I hope that she gets rewarded for the fine craftsmanship she put into the book.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a fish taco--if Charley's is open.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

California Gold Rush Romance Collection

Whenever I see that Barbour Publishing has a collection to read, I jump on it like a rabbit on a carrot. These are nice little novellas to read to fill an hour when you don't want to be too involved in the plot of the book. A lot of them do fit the Romance Novel Formula, but they still will have a few surprises. But there is one more aspect to the formula I haven't really hit on, and that is by the time the first chapter or two is over, the reader knows which boy and which girl are going to end up together.

The California Gold Rush Romance Collection is really no different than any other romance collection, but there are a couple of stand-out novellas. The Golden Cross and Gold Haven Heiress are two that don't really fit into the mold and really are intriguing. The Golden Cross tells the story of a man and his niece immigrating from China to find gold, but they find something more they can do that is more valuable than gold. The Gold Haven Heiress tells the story from Thalia's viewpoint, and Thalia is a girl who has lived a long life for her few years. She has settled in the ghost town of Gold Haven because it allows her to be alone. When Jack Taylor moves in, that messes up her plans to live a solitary life.

This is a strong four star book.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sweet as Honey

When I was checking my list to see what to read next on my TBR pile (thankfully it's an e-pile, not a physical pile), I was hoping it was going to be an Amish book. Imagine my thrill to see that Sweet as Honey by Jennifer Beckstrand was next on my list! It was just what the doctor ordered for my reading pleasure.

My first and only critique: Jennifer switches back and forth between Amish and English spellings of certain words. Aendi or Aunt was the one I remember most. I understand an English character using Aunt, but even some of the Amish characters used Aunt.

Lily, her sisters Rose and Poppy, and her Aendi Bitsy own a honeybee farm and sell the honey to the local Amish market for only a dollar a pint. Since she was in the eighth grade, Lily had been friends with Paul Glick who was pushing her to marry him. It was his father's market that bought her honey.

In creating Lily's character, Jennifer has completely and convincingly made a woman who has been beaten down and has had her confidence totally shattered.

In Paul's character, Jennifer took the definition for passive-aggressive controller straight out of the dictionary. There are good Amish folk and there are the occasional bad seeds. Paul falls somewhere in between--he's extremely legalistic in his beliefs, following in his father's footsteps, but he brow-beats Lily at any and every opportunity.

But then there's Dan, the very picture of clueless about his behavior. He doesn't understand how his words have hurt Lily and why she holds him at arms length. When he finally does understand, he wants Lily's forgiveness, and if she's willing, he wants her heart too. He endears himself to Aendi B by learning all he can about keeping bees and drawing the honey. He also learns how the sisters have been cheated by Paul's machinations.

I am going to have a hard time waiting for Poppy's and Rose's stories to come out.

This is a five star book, with two thumbs up, and a pint of Amish honey for your sweets.

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

A Facade, Not So Elegant.

I read the first book in this series by Kristi Ann Hunter and really enjoyed it. It had just enough suspense and romance to keep my mind engaged. When An Elegant Facade showed up on my radar, I jumped at the chance to read and review it. Here's what Amazon.com says about the book:
Lady Georgina Hawthorne has worked tirelessly to seal her place as the Incomparable for her debut season. At her first London ball, she hopes to snag the attention of an earl.

With money and business connections, but without impeccable bloodlines, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere. When he first encounters the fashionable Lady Georgina, he's irritated by his attraction to a woman who concerns herself only with status and appearance.

What Colin doesn't know is that Georgina's desperate social aspirations are driven by the shameful secret she harbors. Association with Colin McCrae is not part of Georgina's plan, but as their paths continue to cross, they both must decide if the realization of their dreams is worth the sacrifices they must make.

The big secret isn't all that big--but to Georgina it may have been the most significant thing in her life. Going to all the Society balls and being on debut for her London season was part of her plan to gain marriage to a titled man with money.

There are so many books like this one--a social climber wants to marry a rich, titled man to secure her place in the ton. Because this book is like so many others, at least that I've read, I had a hard time reading it through. This is a three star book.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Gates Manor Band

Julia is at her father's house after her mother passes away from Alzheimers when she hears the phone ring. When she finally finds the phone, it is the voice of her best middle school friend and the call makes no sense. Her friend was talking about something that happened nearly forty years ago. A day later, she's clearing out her mother's closet and runs across a tape of her last middle school band concert. She decides to look up her old band director and give him the tape because also on the tape was the presentation of a significant award he and the band had earned. On her way to band director's house, she stops by her high school. What she sees when she gets there are the friends she had in high school--ones who died way too soon and she wanted to talk to them and tell them that there were things in life that were worth their taking care of themselves. But they couldn't see her.

Insert Twilight Zone theme here. After talking to her former director, she understands (by his direction) that God is trying to speak to her and she needs to listen. From here on out, she becomes Sister Mary Sunshine with an over-the-top perky personality: she rescues her best childhood friend--Margaret--from suicide, she takes in her friend and gives her a safe haven, she begins to volunteer at the local nursing home where the man who abused her friend is now living--but through all of this, she's got a perky attitude and helps her friend see how God is speaking to her.

While I was in the beginning chapters of the book, I was a bit disturbed by the "time travel" aspects early on in the book. I went to Amazon to see what other reviewers said about The Gates Manor Band. All of the reviews I read talked about how this book was so hard to put down. So I decided to continue on. I finished the book only because it didn't take very long to read it. I've not read any other books by Jan Hemby, and I will have to wait and see if I will read others by her in the future.

The most believable character is the son of the abuser--Joseph. He wants to buy the Manor house from Margaret and her brother, Preston, to make it a rehab center for all kinds of addictions. I can only give this book two stars.

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Close to Home

Bree is the widow of Tim Whitman, daughter-in-law of Grant and Audrey--who own Chicory Inn B & B. It's been five years since Tim was killed in Afghanistan and Bree is wondering if it is time to start allowing another man into her life. She still loves Tim, she still hurts because of his absence, and she wonders if her in-laws would be offended if she started dating. Just two cubicles away from her at work is a man who would love to be her true love, but he's rather impatient with her. At the regular Tuesday dinners at the Chicory Inn is Drew, her brother-in-law, Dallas', brother.

Deborah Raney has done such a wonderful job with this series, I'd like to read the whole thing over again, start to finish. Close to Home is the fourth book in the series, and there is only one more Whitman child to marry off, which necessitates one more book in the series.

Some of the side issues revolve around Grant's mother CeeCee or Cecelia, who seems to be losing ground with her health and mental well-being. Grant wants to build a cottage for her on the Chicory Inn grounds and seems to get her permission to do that. But CeeCee makes things hard on the family, not wanting to move from her home of over fifty years. When Grant finds her on the ground in front of her house, things seem to be working out for Grant and Audrey to look after CeeCee.

Definitely a Five Star, Two Thumbs Up, and a noisy family dinner.

I truly appreciate Abingdon Press for allowing me to read and review this book.

The Daniel Prayer

I will never forget the opportunity I had to go see Anne Graham Lotz deliver her "Just Give Me Jesus" address in the Key Arena in Seattle a number of years ago. She is a compelling speaker with an engaging personality and an extremely biblical focus. So when her newest book came up as a reviewable book on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to "hear" her teachings again. The Daniel Prayer is EVERYTHING it's cracked up to be and more.

Anne takes an intensive look at the way one prophet prayed and how he was answered. Then she took that prayer and applied it to living in today's world.

In Daniel 9, Daniel is praying for his country:

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Anne shows us how to take this prayer apart, piece by piece and then make it our own prayer through worship, through confession, through understanding the way our world works, through intercession, and through warfare. She quoted a list of sins we commit that was written by Charles Finney in one of his treatises on revival, and she helps us understand that revival can only come about when we are clean before God. She goes through the Armor of God and explains how each piece is to be worn, what each piece does, and how it is effective in our lives because of prayer, and because of recognizing our enemy.

This is a five star book I cannot recommend enough. EVERYONE should read it.

My thanks to Zondervan Publishing for allowing me to read and review this book. My only obligation is to give my honest opinion about the book.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Room with the Second Best View

Al and Millie Richardson are working to refurbish an old Victorian home into a Bed and Breakfast Inn in Goose Creek, Kentucky. Justin has been doing the labor in exchange for his room and board until he marries Susan. Everything is going just fine until Aunt Lorna comes to town and tries to take over the wedding plans for Justin and Susan, and actually she tries to take over the B & B. Virginia Smith has given us another installment in the Tales from Goose Creek B and B series.

Aunt Lorna feels that Justin and Susan are planning to fail by not making plans that suit her. She wants them to have a "big" wedding, with flowers, guests, cake, and the works. To say that Aunt Lorna is overbearing is a gross understatement. She tries to tell Millie how to run the B & B (even though it's not open yet, but she arrived three weeks early to take up residence), she tries to tell Susan how to plan her wedding, and she brought her other nephew, Ross, with her to help out.

On the flip side of things, Millie is on the Main Street Program committee to celebrate Goose Creek's sesquicentennial. But before one important meeting, Millie falls and sprains her wrist and bruises her tail bone, therefore Al has to attend the meeting in Millie's stead. One issue in front of the committee is who is going to be in charge of finding the money to do all that needs to be done to spruce up the town. The only one willing to take over as the manager for the Main Street Program is Lulu Thackery--a most obnoxius woman who doesn't understand tact, discretion, or quietness. Millie believes in Lulu and takes the time to help her out, and actually becomes friends with Lulu. Lulu returns the favor by bringing Millie a Parsnip Cake, that surprisingly tastes good.

This is a fascinating book with another look at the people who populate Goose Creek and it is a strong four-star book. There are times that the plot is a bit slow, but overall, it's a good book.

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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Together at the Table

I can only hope that Hillary Manton Lodge will publish a cookbook. The recipes and techniques that she writes about in her books are not to be missed. I've made a few of her recipes and want to make more. While I read her latest offering in the Two Blue Doors series, I was fascinated by the homemade pasta recipe and now I want a pasta maker attachment for my KitchenAid™ Mixer.

But this tells nothing of the book or its quality. First, I want to get the rating out of the way--Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and some homemade ravioli for dinner.

Hillary Manton Lodge has taken the D'Alisa family through some tough times. Julietta has had a couple of bad romances, the family lost Gabriella--mother and wife, Nico has had a failed restaurant, and now Julietta and Nico are starting up another new restaurant in their grandmother's patisserie while Julietta lives upstairs in the apartment. Julietta is having a hard time getting past her mother's death and her now boyfriend Adrian just doesn't understand. When Julietta tells Adrian she wants a quiet birthday, he plans a huge blow-out party. While on a date in the Park with Adrian, Julietta runs into Neil again, and a confusion of old feelings and new feelings just stir the pot just as Julietta is getting her sea-legs underneath her. Things just aren't working out for Julietta.

There are things that are looking up--Two Blue Doors is more of a success than she and Nico ever dreamed, Julietta takes some time to go visit Catarina in Chicago, and then after Christmas, the whole family goes to visit the cousins in France and the Italian family comes to France to visit everyone as well. Julietta has a key that she found in her grandmother's prep table and she takes that key with her to France to search Sandrine's house. With Sandrine's permission, Julietta tries to find the door that the key fits and then finds her grandmother's diary.

There is so much to say about this book that would spoil it for anyone reading my review. BUT, Hillary has developed her characters over three books to the point they have become friends. The reader becomes so enmeshed in their lives that they become friends with the characters. The settings create the perfect environment for the tale to move through the characters' lives. The plot has just enough action to keep the reader involved, but the recipes and the food will make the reader gain a few pounds in the reading. It just happens.

Waterbrook Multnomah provided the galley I read. The only obligation was that I read and review the book with my honest opinion.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fetching Sweetness

What do you get when you combine a wanna-be literary agent, a runaway dog, and a self-proclaimed curmudgeon? Fetching Sweetness fits this bill and then some. Dana Mentink has told this tale in the third person and centered the story around Stephanie Pink, a woman who wants to be a literary agent, and Rhett Hastings, a former CEO with a ruthless business reputation. Playing a major part in the novel is a possible Great Pyrenese dog with a penchant for finding wounded animals and bringing them home, and for chewing up spatulas.

What will you get out of this book if you read it? A whole lot of entertainment with a side order of understanding for what God wants to do with your life and where your dreams actually come from.

Rhett feels like he irrevocably ruined his sister's life when he had her boyfriend deported for working when his Visa didn't allow it. He now wants to make amends and has taken steps in that direction. At the opening of the book, he is moving a trailer from California to Washington for his sister to live in at their grandparents orchard. The Dappled Apple Orchard was a place of peace when they were growing up and he wants to give it to his sister to be able to live and do whatever kind of work she wants.

Stephanie has come from New York to get the new manuscript by Agnes Wharton. In the midst of making the exchange, Agnes' dog gets out and runs off. While Stephanie looks for the dog (which is the condition for which Stephanie will get the manuscript), she runs into Rhett. After they think they find the dog, Rhett allows Stephanie to take a shower in his trailer and to change into clothes that are a bit more comfortable. This is where the fun and the comedy of errors begin.

As they travel together, they discuss life goals, ideas about God, and how life has dealt with them so far. Stephanie is rather bitter toward God because her brother died when he was sixteen. Her life goal is to be a literary agent and she will allow nothing to interfere. Rhett has left a Fortune 500 company to set up the orchard and make amends to his sister. When everything goes wrong (at least in Rhett's eyes), he wonders whether God was in his dreams or if he was not hearing God at all.

The conflict Stephanie and Rhett each encounter will make readers think hard about their own dreams and whether they are actually listening to God at all.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a chewed up spatula for your pancakes.

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