Everyday Tidbits...

It's cold and foggy. I blame the Dementors...

Monday, October 29, 2012

No Holly for Christmas...Review

About the book:
As Brian McAlister struggles to move past being jilted not once, but twice by the only woman he’s ever loved, he’s all but given up on relationships. Then, on special assignment for the DA’s office, he crosses paths with ex-socialite turned social worker, Holly Cavanaugh Winter—and romance blossoms.

Widowed, practically penniless, and reduced to shopping at Walmart, Holly is dreading the approaching holiday season. However, her angst isn’t due to her husband’s untimely death the previous December 25th, but because of a secret that could reveal itself unless she can find a way to avoid the coming Christmas.

Love at first sight quickly turns frigid for Brian and Holly when Holly gets pulled into a manhunt for an accused murderer who now has his sights set on her. His case unraveling, Brian finds himself tasked with keeping Holly and her two daughters safe while bringing an assassin and the powerful man who hired him to justice.

A heart-warming story of suspense, healing, giving and receiving, No Holly for Christmas is the perfect addition to everyone’s holiday reading list.

Holly is just the best name.  Seriously.  It is.  It's not common and it's pretty. Of course, I'm partial to it and a little bit biased and so love stories where the heroine is named Holly.

This is not a typical Christmas story.  It's much grittier, with the murder and suspense.  I never really did connect to any of the characters and found little depth to any of them.  Holly was too much the superficial socialite, even with her moments of compassion. Her "I may be suddenly poor but I'm still better than you" attitude got a bit old and her first experience shopping at Walmart was incredibly stereotypical.  I liked her daughters and her sister Margo though. Brian was a typical rich boy attorney who started out with a big pity party over a past love.  However, he kind of grew on me as I enjoyed his moments with Holly's daughters.  I hate the endearment "Baby" and it was used quite a bit, here.  I realize that is my personal preference and other people use that endearment and don't mind it.  There was very mild profanity and some sexual situations that were unnecessary and after reading Countdown to Love, a bit disappointing.

This is a sequel to The Woman He Married, which I have not read.  When it came to Brian's interactions with Josie, I felt I'd missed a bit not knowing their back story, but the novel seems to stand alone just fine. I had read Julie's first novel, Countdown to Love and enjoyed it.  It was funny and clean.  So, I was surprised to see such a different story here.

The premise kept me hooked and I read the book in two sittings, but unfortunately, it's not going to be one of my favorites.  My review is one of many however and will no doubt be in the minority.

Thanks to the author and Steph and Jules at vbooktours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Julie N. Ford here. You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see links to other reviews here.

Read 10/12

* * *
3/5 Stars

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Promise to Love...Review

About the book:
Ingrid Larsen, a young Swedish immigrant, arrives in Michigan in 1871 to search for her brother who has disappeared into the woods to work the dangerous lumber camps. Destitute and barely hanging on to hope, she encounters a newly-widowed farmer who is struggling to raise five children on his own.

Marriage would solve both of their problems, and so Ingrid proposes to a man she barely knows. She will fight to protect her new family--but the hardest battle of all will be winning the heart of her new husband.

Recently widowed, Joshua is struggling to raise his five children.  When he is threatened with losing custody of them because of suspicions raised over his wife's death, Ingrid steps in a volunteers to marry him.  Desperate to keep his family together and give his children a mother, Joshua marries her.  Ingrid steps into the role of wife and step-mother well, but Joshua is reluctant to give her his heart.

I loved Serena's first novel, The Measure of Katie Calloway and I was excited to read A Promise to Love, which did not disappoint.  I love marriage of convenience stories and Ingrid and Joshua's story is terrific. I loved and hated the supporting cast of characters and the children were wonderful. Serena's exploration of mental illness and the historical uses of herbal medicines was fascinating. This is not a sequel to The Measure of Katie Callowaybut characters from that story make an appearance here, including Katie, Robert and Jigger. I loved seeing them again.

Serena Miller has penned another delightful story and this is one that I will read again.

Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna Hausler of Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Serena Miller here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/12

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Farmer’s Daughter – Recipes from a Mennonite Kitchen...Review

About the book:
Welcome to the warm and inviting kitchen of Dawn Stoltzfus, a young Mennonite wife and mother who was raised on a dairy farm where simple, wholesome food was a key ingredient of the good life. In A Farmer's Daughter, she opens up her recipe box, wipes away the crumbs and wrinkles from the well-loved recipes and shares them with cooks and food-lovers everywhere. She offers us over two hundred delicious recipes that reflect the comfort foods she learned to cook from her mother, the same hearty and creative recipes she made and sold at The Farmer's Wife Market.

Along with the simple, wholesome recipes for starters, main dishes, sides and desserts, readers will find charming stories from Dawn's Mennonite upbringing, tips and tricks for easy meal planning and preparation, and ideas for serving with flair. Anyone who loves to feed their loved ones hearty, wholesome meals will treasure this cookbook.

When I first received this cookbook, I went through it and tagged all the recipes I wanted to try.  One of those was the sauce from Barbecued Meatballs.  I had some pork ribs that I wanted to get used and so I dumped them into my crockpot with a doubled recipe of this sauce.

1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
2 t. yellow mustard
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. liquid smoke
1/8 t. pepper

Now the original recipe states to combine all ingredients, heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.  The sauce also stores well in the refrigerator for 3-4 months.

I didn't cook it, nor did I save any to refrigerate for later.  I mixed up a doubled version, poured it all over the ribs and let them cook in my crockpot for about 8 hours.  They were divine.  My family decreed that this was their new favorite bbq sauce.  Very mild, yet smooth and flavorful.

---------------------------
This is just a great cookbook.  Most, not all, recipes show serving sizes and all require every day ingredients you probably have on hand.  I love the little anecdotes and the "And Another Thing...And Another Thing" notes at the end of many recipes where she shares additional hints or suggestions about a particular recipe.

There is a great section in the back about Do-It-Yourself recipes.

She makes French Toast like I do, with cinnamon and vanilla.  So much better than plain french toast!

Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna Hausler of Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Dawn Stoltzfus here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Amish Family Cookbook...Review

About the book:
From the table of bestselling author Jerry Eicher and his wife, Tina, comes this warm and inviting peek into an Amish kitchen. From the family dinner table to the largest potluck, you'll find comfort in such wholesome and hearty dishes as:

Baked Blueberry and Peach Oatmeal
Mamm's Dinner Rolls
Cheesy Potato Soup
Amish Upside-Down Berry Cake
Pumpkin Cream Cupcakes

Complete with recipes from Jerry's beloved novels, Amish wisdom and humor from the Plain people, you'll be sure to laugh, pray, and eat robustly with The Amish Family Cookbook at your side.

I love that this cookbook has a spiral binding for it to lay open flat.  Yay!  The recipes are all family friendly will ingredients you are likely to have on hand.  Serving sizes are given inconsistently, which is frustrating as many recipes are also meant to serve crowds.  It's nice to know at a glance, if a recipe serves 6, 8, or 24.

I enjoyed the Amish proverbs shared in the margins.  My favorite?  "Listening is fifty percent of our education."

A charming cookbook with good, down-home recipes that are sure to please any family.

Thanks to First Wild Card and Harvest House Publishers for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Jerry and Tina Eicher here. You can purchase your own copy here. You can read the first chapter here.

Read 10/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

The Amish Family Cookbook...Wildcard!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card authors are:


and the book:

Harvest House Publishers; Spi edition (October 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Jerry Eicher’s bestselling Amish fiction (more than 210,000 in combined sales) includes The Adams County Trilogy, the Hannah’s Heart books, and the Little Valley Series. After a traditional Amish childhood, Jerry taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. Since then he’s been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. Jerry lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia.

Tina Eicher was born and married in the Amish faith, surrounded by a mother and sisters who were great Amish cooks. At fellowship meals and family gatherings, Tina’s dishes receive high praise and usually return empty. She and her husband, Jerry Eicher, author of several bestselling Amish fiction titles, are the parents of four children and live in Virginia.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


From bestselling author Jerry Eicher (more than 350,000 books sold) and his wife, Tina, comes this warm and inviting peek into an Amish kitchen, complete with recipes, Amish proverbs, and a dash of Amish humor. Readers will laugh, pray, and eat robustly with The Amish Family Cookbook at their side.


Product Details:
List Price: $ 14.99
Spiral-bound: 272 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers; Spi edition (October 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736943773
ISBN-13: 978-0736943772

AND NOW...A FEW RECIPES FOR YOU TO TRY (CLICK ON PICTURES TO SEE THEM LARGER):







Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Christmas at Holly Hill...Review

About the book:
Can Clayton Barlow prove he has changed his ways in time for Christmas?

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town's trust.

Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him.

As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton's relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

When Clayton Barlow returns to Prairie Grove, Kansas after serving time in prison, he's not sure what kind of welcome he'll receive.  While his parents welcome him back with open arms, other townspeople aren't as nice.  Merry Warner has always had a crush on Clay and is thrilled when he returns.  Protective of her reputation as the town school teacher and thinking people won't approve of her dating a former criminal, Clay is reluctant to let himself fall for Merry.  But, an orphaned boy, an abused girl and the Christmas season have a unique way of softening Clay's heart.

I loved these characters and found the story sweetly compelling and while it was a bit predictable, I was anxious to find out what happened with Lily and whether Jonathan's wish came true.  Light Christian, it's a delightful Christmas read.  I've enjoyed Martha Rogers' Winds of the Prairie series.  The story stands alone well and this was a terrific Christmas addition to the series.

Thanks to First Wildcard and Charisma Media for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Martha Rogers here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can read the first chapter here.

Read 10/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Christmas at Holly Hill...Wildcard!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Realms (September 4, 2012)

***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Martha Rogers’s novel Not on the Menu debuted on May 1, 2007, as a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Her series Winds Across the Prairie debuted in 2010 with Becoming Lucy, Morning for Dove, Finding Becky, and Caroline’s Choice. Her other credits include stories in anthologies with Wayne Holmes, Karen Holmes, and Debra White Smith; several articles in Christian magazines; devotionals in six books of devotions; and eight Bible studies. Martha served as editor of a monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state president. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom she writes a weekly devotional. Martha and her husband are active members of First Baptist Church.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


Can Clayton Barlow prove he has changed his ways in time for Christmas?

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town’s trust.

Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him.

As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton’s relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (September 4, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616388374
ISBN-13: 978-1616388379


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prairie Grove, Kansas, October 1898 

Home for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Clay’s heart pumped blood through his veins at a

frantic pace. After serving five years for his part in a bank robbery, he’d be home for his two favorite holidays. The question looming in his soul was whether he’d be welcomed by anyone other than his parents.

The train hissed and steamed its way into the station with a blast of the whistle as Clay peered through the window. When the cars came to a screeching stop, he remained in his seat, fear gripping his heart. The conductor stopped in the aisle.

“Son, this is your stop. Time to get off.”

Clay willed himself to stand and make his way down the aisle. No one would be here to greet him since no one knew he’d be on the train. He’d planned it all as a surprise, espe- cially for his mother. He stepped to the platform, gripping the handle of the small bag containing all his worldly possessions. Around him the trees wore their best fall colors in welcome, and as Clay made his way to the street in front of the depot, he drank in the sight he’d seen only in his dreams for the past five years.

The good citizens of Prairie Grove moved about on their way to one place or another, oblivious to his presence. The livery still stood close to the station with the post office nearby, and right next to it a new addition announced itself in gold letters. The telegraph office was now the Prairie Grove Telephone and Telegraph center. His hometown had grown more than he realized.

He spotted the hotel and the Red Garter Saloon a few blocks away, then he breathed deeply of the fresh smell of baking bread drifting from the bakery next to his father’s store. The green and yellow letters on the sign hanging in front welcomed customers to Barlow’s General Store, still the only mercantile in town. A slight breeze

sent the sign swinging with a creak he heard from his position near the depot. Dust whirls danced across the street where he’d once played with other boys his age.

By Christmas those streets would most likely be filled with snow, and snowball fights would be the game of the day at the school. His days at the red clapboard schoolhouse had been some of the happiest of life. He viewed the bell tower of the school at the end of the street and could almost hear the sound of it clanging in his memory.

Doubt lodged in Clay’s throat, but he kept walking to the store. When he stepped through the door, it could well have

been ten years ago when he helped Pa. He inhaled the familiar smells of coal oil, fresh ground coffee, fabric dye, and pepper- mint candy. Nothing had changed.

Then he spotted his ma. He observed her for a minute or two, savoring the sight of her graying hair and slight frame. She didn’t move as fast as she once had, and she stopped to catch her breath after placing some items on a shelf.

From the corner of his eye he saw his father coming from the storeroom. A good five inches shorter than Clay, Pa’s sturdy frame handled the box in his arms with ease. He turned to set the box on the counter, and Clay cringed the moment his father recognized him. The meeting he both dreaded and anticipated had come.

Pa didn’t move from behind the counter. He simply stared for what seemed an eternity but in reality amounted to only seconds. His words barely reached Clay’s ears. “Son, you’ve come home.”

At Clay’s nod his father stepped around the counter and called to Ma. “Cora, our boy is home.”

A can clattered to the floor, and his mother turned with hands to her mouth. She hurried toward him and hugged him. “Thank You, Lord, for bringing him home safe.” Tears glis- tened in her eyes. “I’ve waited and waited for this moment to come.” She reached up and placed her hands on each side of his face then kissed his cheeks.

Heat rose in his face, but Ma’s arms and kisses were the welcome he’d hoped for in the past few days of travel. His arms went around her thin frame. She’d lost a good deal of weight since the last time he’d seen her, and that bothered him more than his earlier observations.

He glanced up at his father. His graying hair had thinned some, and his eyes held both a welcome and uncertainty. Gaining Pa’s trust would take time.

His parents stood in front of him and shook their heads. Pa wrapped his arm around Ma. “We’ve waited a long time for this day. Thank God you made it home.”

Clay didn’t know what God had to do with anything, since it had been Pa who had turned Clay over to the authorities five years ago. The road back would be long and hard, but then that’s no more than he’d expected.

Ma grabbed his hands. “Are you planning on staying here in Prairie Grove with us? You’re not going to get mixed up with those . . . those . . . thieves again, are you?”

Before Clay could answer, Pa added his own sentiments. “If you do decide to stay, I expect you to stay away from them. If you don’t, you won’t be welcome here.”

Clay stiffened but kept his voice neutral. “I understand, Pa, but I’m not going to get mixed up with Karl’s gang again. I would like to stay as long as you’ll have me.”

Or until the townspeople ran him off. Two older women in the corner eyed him and whispered between themselves. The prodigal had returned, but not everyone welcomed him. He nodded to the ladies, who immediately turned their backs. So much for the town’s greeting.

“Of course we want you to live here with us,” Ma said, not even seeming to notice the ladies. “Now let’s go upstairs and get you settled in. I know you’re hungry. You always were, and I have supper almost ready.” She held onto his arm and led him to the stairway up to the living quarters above the store.

A voice calling his name stopped him at the bottom. He odded for his mother to go on up and turned to find an old riend, Jimmy Shanks, grinning from ear to ear. “It is you, Clay Barlow.” The blond-headed young man reached out to grasp Clay’s hand.

“Yeah, it’s me. I decided to come home, Jimmy.” He grasped the outstretched hand and blinked at the strength in the grasp.

“It’s James now, and I’m married to Grace Ann Higgins.” Clay had to chuckle at that revelation. Grace Ann had run

away from Jimmy every time he’d tried to get close.

“So, you finally got Grace Ann’s attention. I’m glad since you always liked her.”

“You’ll have to come out to the house for dinner some night so we can catch up on old times.”

“I’ll think on that, Jimmy . . . James.” Not much to catch up on from his side since he’d been behind prison bars for five years. “And you’d better check with Grace Ann. She might not cotton to having an ex-con at her dinner table.”

James blinked. “Don’t you worry none about that; we’ll always be friends.” He stepped back and picked up his pur- chase. “Had to pick up some coal oil. With the days getting shorter, we need more of it.”

Clay walked with him to the door and stepped outside with James, who shook Clay’s hand once again. “I’m so glad you’re home. This is one Christmas your parents will be glad to celebrate.” With a grin and a salute he stepped down to the street and mounted his horse. “See you around, Clay.”

If he’d stayed good friends with Jimmy instead of getting mixed up with Karl, things would have been much different. Still, the warm welcome from his old friend and the greeting from his parents lightened the load in Clay’s heart.

If Pa would have him, Clay wanted to work again in the tore. Being locked up with bad food, hard cots, little sunshine, and no privacy motivated him to stay out of trouble. He’d had a lot of time to think in prison, and one thing remained sure and steadfast. Clayton Barlow would not end up behind bars ever again.

Merry Warner stepped onto the boardwalk up the street from the school where she taught. The wonderful aroma of cin- namon stopped her in front of the bakery. Cinnamon buns for breakfast in the morning would make up for her being late this afternoon. She hurried up to the counter where Mr. Brooks placed fresh pies into the case. On second thought, two pecan pies for supper tonight would be even better.

She grinned at the baker, who reminded her of the pictures she’d seen of Santa Claus, right down to the white beard and rosy cheeks. “I’ll have two of those pecan pies. I’m sure Mama will appreciate them for supper tonight.”

“Good choice, Miss Warner. We had a good crop of pecans this year, so Mrs. Brooks is busy with recipes using the nuts.” Mr. Brooks placed each pie in a paper bag then tied the top closed with string. “There, that should make them easier to carry.”

She plunked several coins onto the counter and picked up her purchase. “I hope she makes some of that pumpkin bread for the holidays.”

Mr. Brooks laughed. “Oh, she will. I’m sure of that. You have a nice evening now, and tell your ma I said hello.”

Merry nodded and hurried out to be on her way. She

stopped short when she spotted a man standing in front of the eneral store next door. A gasp escaped her lips, and her heart skipped a beat. He looked just like Clay Barlow, but Clay was in prison. Surely she would have heard if he had come home.

He turned, and his gaze locked with hers. Recognition shot through her with streaks of delight that dissipated almost as soon as they began. No one but Clay had eyes so dark a brown that they penetrated to her very soul.

How could Clay be out of prison already? Then she counted and realized five years had indeed passed since he’d gone away. When Grandma Collins had said she needed Mama and Papa to come back and take care of the orphanage at Holly Hill, Merry’s heart had been torn apart. She loved Barton Creek and wanted to stay there, but the memory of her years in Prairie Grove beckoned for her to return. One of those memories included Clay Barlow and the schoolgirl crush she’d had on him before he got involved with Karl Laramie’s gang.

Shoving aside her misgivings, she gave in to her delight and ran up to hug Clay. “Clay Barlow, it’s been too many years.” Heat filled her face, and she jumped back. She was no longer a sixteen-year-old girl but a young woman who should practice better manners befitting her age.

Clay’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Merry?”

“Yes. We moved  back to Holly Hill last summer after Grandpa died. I’m so glad you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be here too.” He stepped back. “It . . . it’s nice to see you. I . . . I . . . ” His voice trailed off, and he glanced over her shoulder. Without another word he bolted through the door to the store.

Merry stood with her mouth agape. How rude. Then she urned and saw three women staring at her with disapproval written all over them. Mrs. Pennyfeather, wife of the school superintendent, shook her head and frowned.

Heat rose in Merry’s face again. They’d seen her greeting Clay. No sense in trying to apologize. Mrs. Pennyfeather wouldn’t listen anyway. Merry gathered up her pies and fled up the hill toward Holly Hill Home for Children. Along the way her thoughts whirled. She had never expected to see Clay again, figuring that he’d be too ashamed to come back to his hometown. What could his return mean?

She burst through the door then closed it and braced her- self against the smooth wood. Her heart pounded not only from the long walk but also from seeing Clay again.

Imogene and Eileen raced over to grab her around the waist. The blonde-haired ten-year-old-twins wore matching blue-and-white striped dresses with white pinafores over them.

Eileen eyed the bags in Merry’s hands. “You went by the bakery. What did you bring?” She reached for one of the bags.

Merry held it high. “Not until after supper. Then we’ll have pecan pie.”

Imogene jumped up and down, her pigtails bouncing on her shoulders. “That’s my favorite. Oh, I love you, Merry.” The young girl wrapped her arms about Merry’s waist again.

Emmaline appeared with a stack of silverware in  her hands. “It’s about time you got here. Mama Warner could use your help.”

Merry set the pie bags on a table near the door and unwound Imogene’s arms. “I’m sorry I’m late. I stayed at the school to prepare the lessons for tomorrow. Did you know we have ten different varieties of trees around our school building?”

Emmaline shook her head. “No, and I don’t care right now. Are you going to help me or not?”

“Yes, I’m on my way.” Merry removed her shawl and bonnet then hung them on a hook by the door in the entry hall. She picked up the pies and made her way to the kitchen. Emmaline plunked the silverware onto the table behind Merry. At thir- teen Emmaline had begun to rebel against doing so many chores around the home, but Mama could usually get her to cooperate.

Merry sighed and pushed open the swinging door into the kitchen. She kissed her mother’s plump cheek. “Sorry I’m late. I got detained at school.”

Mama ladled stew into bowls and set them on a tray. “I figured as much. Check the cornbread for me. Supper’s about ready.”

Grandma Collins opened up the bakery sacks. “Pecan pie—now that’s going to make for a good dessert. Thank you, Merry.”

“I figured since I was so late coming home, I might as well contribute something to the meal.” Merry opened the oven door and removed two pans of cornbread. She set them on the counter and reached up to the shelf to grab a plate for serving it. She turned one pan onto the counter then cut it into squares and arranged them on the plate.

“Mama, did you know Clay Barlow came home?”

The ladle stopped, dripping stew back into the pot. Mama stood still for a few seconds, as did Grandma. “No, I didn’t. Has it been five years already?” She shook her head. “Such promise that boy had before he got into so much trouble. Where did you see him?”

“Outside the store. I’m . . . I’m afraid I made a spectacle of myself. I ran up and hugged him because I was so glad to see him back. The problem is, Mrs. Pennyfeather and her friends saw the whole thing. They weren’t too happy about it either.”

Mama laid the spoon aside and reached over to pat Merry’s shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll get over it. How did he seem?”

“I don’t know. Embarrassed to see me, I guess. He didn’t say much.”

Mama nodded sagely. “It’s been seven years since we moved away from Holly Hill and went to Barton Creek. You were only sixteen when you thought you were so in love with him. Being in prison changes a man, so he won’t be that same boy you liked so much back then.”

“I know, Mama. It just seems strange that he would be released and come home not long after we moved back home.” Grandma shook her head. “I don’t know what

happened to that boy. I always liked him. Maybe he’s learned his lesson and will make something of himself yet.”

Papa chose that minute to swing open the back door and enter the kitchen with Henry and Kenny. The boys’ arms were filled with logs for the fire. Papa planted a kiss on Mama’s fore- head then motioned to the boys, who had unloaded their wood into the bin near the stove. “Let’s get washed up and have some of Mama’s stew.”

Merry finished piling the cornbread onto a plate and headed to the dining room with it. More talk with Mama and Grandma about Clay would have to wait until they were alone.

She settled in for dinner with her family. Although none of the children were actually her brothers or sisters, every one of them held that place in her heart after the few months she’d been back here with them. Emmaline and Henry had lived at the orphanage the longest, with Kenny and Robert next, but those two had been babies when her family had left. The rest were new to her, but she’d grown to love them quickly. Each one had their own tale of tragedy and loss.

Papa stood behind his chair and bowed his head to ask the blessing on the meal. Papa never varied his blessing, using the one his pa had taught him growing up. Merry only half listened to the familiar words until Papa took a new turn. “And Father, we ask thy blessings on young Clay Barlow. Guide him on the right path now that he’s served his time and come home. May we act and think kindly toward him. Amen.”

Merry swallowed hard and blinked her eyes. She lifted her gaze to her father’s and saw understanding in their blue depths. Around her the others clamored to know who Clay was and why Papa prayed for him. She bit her lip and bowed her head. No man or boy had claimed her heart like Clay. From the encounter this afternoon, she realized he still pos- sessed a piece of it, and she had no idea what to do with that revelation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Season for Tending...Review

About the book:
In a community where conformity flourishes, seeds of Rhoda’s odd behavior were planted long ago. Can she cultivate her relationships with the same care and tenderness that she gives her beloved garden?

Old Order Amish Rhoda Byler’s unusual gift and her remarkable abilities to grow herbs and berries have caused many to think her odd. As rumors mount that Rhoda’s “gift” is a detriment to the community, she chooses isolation, spending her time in her fruit garden and on her thriving canning business.

Miles away in Harvest Mills, Samuel King struggles to keep his family’s apple orchard profitable. As the eldest son, Samuel farms with his brothers, the irrepressible Jacob and brash Eli, while his longtime girlfriend Catherine remains hopeful that Samuel will marry her when he feels financially stable.

Meanwhile, Samuel’s younger sister Leah is testing all the boundaries during her rumschpringe, and finds herself far from home in Rhoda’s garden after a night of partying gone badly. But Leah’s poor choices serve as a bridge between Rhoda and the King family when a tragic mistake in the orchard leaves Samuel searching for solutions. Rhoda’s expertise in canning could be the answer, but she struggles with guilt over the tragic death of her sister and doesn’t trust herself outside her garden walls. As the lines between business, love, and family begin to blur, can Rhoda finally open up to a new life? And what effect will this odd, amazing woman have on the entire King family?

First in a new series by Cindy Woodsmall, this took me awhile to get into, but ultimately I liked it.  Rhoda was a strong woman who had a remarkable gift for healing and I didn't quite understand why so many in the community took exception to Rhoda and her insights.  I liked Rhoda's strength and her success in business.  The King and Byler families are terrific, well developed characters and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Cindy Woodsmall here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/12

* * *
3/5 Stars

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When a Heart Stops...Review

About the book:
A killer's deadly game needs new players . . . but someone's about to change the rules.

As a medical examiner, Serena Hopkins is used to dealing with death. But that doesn't make it any easier when she's called to the eerie scene of a murder--especially when Serena realizes that she knows the victim. Nearly as unnerving is the presence of FBI agent Dominic Allen, her childhood crush.

As evidence mounts and points to a serial killer with disturbingly familiar methods, Serena and Dominic must work to find a pattern and stop the killings before the murderer strikes again. And when Serena's own life seems at stake, she must decide if the secret she has been keeping has put her next on the killer's hit list. Can she trust Dominic with the truth before it's too late?

Serena Hopkins deals with death daily in her job as a medical examiner.  But when a familiar serial killer begins targeting Serena's former classmates, she must find out why she might be next on the list. Second in the Deadly Reunions series, the book can stand alone but, as with any series, the stories are richer for having been read in order and the back history is somewhat necessary for understanding. Suspense and thrillers are not my normal genre, but I really liked the first book in this series, When the Smoke Clears and When a Heart Stops is just as thrilling and exciting as the first one.  The characters are terrific and the tension is just right.  I'm looking forward to the next book and finding out how everything ties together and who the senator is and why he wants Jillian.

Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna Hausler from Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Lynette Eason here.  You can purchase your own copy here .

Read 9/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Trouble with Cowboys...Review

About the book:
Only one pair of boots—and the cowboy wearing them—can get Annie out of the mess she’s in.

Annie Wilkerson is Moose Creek’s premiere horse trainer and equine columnist for Montana Living. Money is tight as she tries to put her kid-sister through college and provide for her young nephew. When Annie’s column is cancelled, she’s given first shot at a new lovelorn column—and she can’t afford to turn it down. Only problem is . . . Annie’s never been in love.

Always resourceful, she reluctantly strikes a deal with the town’s smooth-talking ladies’ man Dylan Taylor: She’ll work with his ailing horse, Braveheart, if he’ll help her answer the reader letters.

Working closely with Dylan is harder than Annie imagined, and she quickly realizes she may have misjudged him. But her unwavering conviction that cowboys are nothing but trouble has kept her heart safe for years. And she can’t risk getting hurt now. The more Annie tries to control things, the more they fall apart. Her feelings are spinning out of control, and her sister’s antics are making life increasingly more difficult. Annie knows she needs to turn the reins over to God, but surrender has never come easily.

When Dylan reveals his feelings for her, Annie doesn't know what to trust—her head or her heart. The trouble with this cowboy is that he might just be exactly what she needs.

A light, clean Christian story about faith, family, romance and cowboys.  My reaction through most of this book though was, "seriously?".  I get fluffy romances and that women love cowboys, but this one was just too implausible for me.  Dylan and Annie were likeable enough characters, but the idea that she couldn't write a lovelorn column on her own and needed the help of a man she doesn't like was far-fetched. And, Annie's sister Sierra was seriously annoying.  Honestly, she ruined any enjoyment of this book for me with her selfish antics.

Third in the Big Sky Romance trilogy, you can read my reviews of A Cowboy's Touch and The Accidental Bride.  The books stand alone well but, like with most series, reading all the books helps with character development and history. This one was my least favorite of the series and I enjoyed The Accidental Bride the most. Fans of Denise Hunter will love it and most reviews I've seen are much more positive than mine.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Denise Hunter here.  You can purchase your own copy here .  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 9/12

* *
2/5 Stars

Friday, October 5, 2012

Where the Trail Ends...Review

About the book:
A young woman traveling the Oregon Trail in 1842 must rely on a stranger to bring her to safety. But whom can she trust with her heart?

For two thousand miles along the trail to Oregon Country, Samantha Waldron and her family must overcome tremendous challenges to reach the Willamette Valley before winter. Together they weather autumn storms, hunger and thirst, and the dangers of a wild and unfamiliar country. But when their canoe capsizes on the Columbia River, they must rely on handsome British exporter Alexander Clarke to rescue them from the icy water.

Alex escorts Samantha and her young brother, Micah, to Fort Vancouver. There Samantha is overwhelmed with men vying for her affections, but the only one who intrigues her-Alex-is the one she cannot have. When his betrothed arrives unexpectedly from England to escort him home, Samantha becomes determined to create a home for herself and Micah in the fertile valley far away from the fort. But how will an unmarried woman support herself and her brother in the wilderness alone? Then Micah disappears into the wilderness one rainy night, and Samantha must rely on the man she loves-the man she’s trying desperately to forget-to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

The Oregon Trail was beyond rugged and many a pioneer life was lost along the way.  For a young woman to survive it alone, is almost unthinkable.  Samantha Waldron is a remarkable, driven young woman who is devoted to her family and a promise she made to care for her younger brother.  As they make their way along the Oregon Trail, they weather storms and tragedy, but always together.

Melanie Dobson has created a terrific story set against a familiar backdrop.  The story is realistic and thrilling and the characters are likeable.  Although billed as a romance, we don't see the hero and heroine together until nearer the end of the story, which actually worked.  The story became, instead of a sappy romance, a tribute to the strong men and women who braved the Oregon Trail.  Completely enjoyable and easily recommended.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Melanie Dobson here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 10/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Queen of the Waves...Review

About the book: 
When pampered Jacqueline Abington makes secret plans to elope with the family gardener, she asks another woman to take her place on the much anticipated maiden voyage of the Titanic. Tessa Bowen hails from a poor corner of London but has been granted the opportunity of a lifetime—a ticket to sail to America aboard a famed vessel. But there’s a catch: she must assume Jacqueline’s identity. For the first time in her life, Tessa stays in luxurious quarters, dresses in elegant gowns, and dines with prestigious people. Then a wealthy American man takes an interest in her, and Tessa struggles to keep up the ruse as she begins falling for him. When tragedy strikes, the game is up, and two women’s lives are forever changed.

When Jacqueline Abingdon asks Tessa Bowen to take her place on the Titanic's maiden voyage, neither woman can anticipate how their lives will change.  Tessa enjoys the luxurious wealthy life aboard the Titanic, never dreaming that she'll fall in love.  Iris, Jacqueline's maid, never imagines she'll find the opportunity to pursue her dreams and Jacqueline never imagines the fate that awaits her.

I've enjoyed Janice Thompson's other books and Queen of the Waves did not disappoint.  It was a terrific new take on the Titanic story.  Queen of the Waves captures the essence of the Titanic experience and doesn't in any way diminish the significance of the tragedy.  The story alternates between Tessa and Iris on the ship and Jacqueline in England.  The characters are likeable and realistic, the historical aspects are accurate and the Christian elements believable.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Janice Thompson here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 10/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Love Surrendered...Review

About the book:
Orphaned in Iowa, Annie Kennedy moves to Boston to stay with her spinster aunt. She longs for romance to fill the void left by her parents' death. But when she falls hard for Steven O'Connor, the man who broke an engagement to her sister, Annie is worried. Will he break her heart too when he discovers who she really is?

A hardened prohibition officer nursing a broken heart, the last thing Steven O'Connor wants to do is fall in love with a young spitfire who has a tendency to get herself into trouble.  Orphaned and living with her spinster Aunt, Annie has secrets and doesn't plan on falling in love with Steven O'Connor, even as he rescues her from yet another misadventure.

While not my most favorite book about the O'Connor family, I loved reading Steven's story.  I thought he didn't treat Annie well at first, but as the two of them make their way through muddled family secrets and history, they discover the importance of love, honesty, faith and God.

All of the O'Connors make an appearance here and it's fun seeing how Faith, Charity and Lizzie's families have grown since the Daughters of Boston series.  Katie's still a spitfire keeping Luke on his toes and Emma and Sean are strong. Patrick and Marcy oversee their brood with love and understanding. Gabriella's story also receives some closure which is lovely.

Third in the Winds of Change series, this is also the last book about the O'Connor family of Boston. While this is my least favorite of the series, I have loved all six books about this wonderful family.  My recommendation is to read all six books, in chronological order, to gain the fullest understanding of the O'Connors and their history.

Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna at Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Julie Lessman here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars