Monday, December 28, 2015

The Choir Immortal - Katie Schuermann

In The Choir Immortal, a sequel to The House of Living Stones, we return to the town of Bradbury, Illinois, just in time for a wedding, a celebration that the whole congregation of Zion Lutheran Church has been looking forward to.  However, as can be expected, things start to go awry, beginning with the church's air conditioning units failing, and turning more serious as a participant ends up in the Emergency Room.  The book's plot line continues to take a serious turn, but the people of Zion will rise to meet the challenges head-on, and more importantly, together.

In my review of The House of Living Stones, I'd mentioned that I loved the characters of Zion Lutheran Church, and that continues to hold true in this sequel.  The secretary, Mrs. Scheinberg, is still quirky and blunt, but is the glue that holds many of the characters together, even the more prickly ones.  Blaine, the eyeliner-wearing pianist gets more of a place in this story, and we begin to see how he's gotten to where he is, and we get a glimpse of where he's going.  Evan, the formerly grouchy, unknowable organist of Zion, begins to come out of his shell, and falls lovingly into his role of grandfather, and even mentor to the lost Blaine, teaching him what it truly means to forgive and why we must.
Blaine: "Have you forgiven Shirley?"
Evan: "I have."
"I am compelled to forgive her."
"Because I am forgiven by Jesus."
"Forgiven of what?"
"Of hating Shirley."

This book is sprinkled with scriptural truths like this; even amidst the silliness of Robbie mis-naming the plants he's working with ("We're planting a hibiscuit"), we hear about eternal joy tied to mortal sorrow ("Death may hold no sting for the Christian, but it sure did its best to leave a scar."), we learn about our need to lean on God through the tough times ("God will never give us more than we can handle, right?" "I suspect He always gives us more than we can handle, that we might turn to Him again and again and again."), and we learn how to lean into each other for support.

I still wish that some of the characters had more depth to give the reader a more vested interest into the story as a whole, but I did feel that this book was an improvement over the first.  I hope that this series continues, so that we may continue to delve into the lives of these very interesting and quirky characters!

I give this book 3 stars; while I feel that it was an improvement on the first in the series, I'm still hoping for more from these fantastically unique characters!

You can find The Choir Immortal HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Wedding Chapel - Rachel Hauck

Jimmy Westbrook, affectionately known as "Coach" to generations of Heart's Bend football players and fans, has kept a secret from most of the people who think they know him.  Sixty years ago, he built a wedding chapel on his father's land, for the woman he intended to marry.  Sixty years later, he's still single and figures maybe it's time to sell the chapel.  First, however, a magazine wants to photograph the chapel, and sends Taylor Branson, a former Heart's Bend resident, as the photographer.  Taylor's own marriage and family issues are tangled in knots, but she senses something in Jimmy and the chapel that needs to be settled.  Sixty years and 3 generations of secrets might bring more truth than anybody bargained for.

I was looking for a light romantic book to escape into for some easy summer reading, and a book called The Wedding Chapel seemed just the ticket.  However, much like the characters, I got more than I bargained for.  Without giving any spoilers, this book gives the reader a lot to think about regarding marriages and how lightly some folks enter into them, what gives folks the right to be called family, and how to change the family legacy one's been handed.  Even with the knowledge that a character is trying to change the patterns he lives out, he acknowledges that "it was hard to harvest words that were never sown."  The book also highlighted how seeing people you love work through their own difficulties can give you courage for your own.  "[Their] journey had righted a lot of relationships this past year and set a course for new ones.  But not without the tears that come with confession, repentance and forgiveness."  Even with courage to change, change is not easy or without consequences.

There were so many good things about this book, but there were a few that gave me pause and kept me from rating it higher.  Every character seemed to have secrets, and while they were hinted at heavily, not every secret was eventually revealed.  Also, while the author did a great job of taking the spotlighted relationships of her main characters seriously, there were several major issues, life choices, and character traits that were brushed aside lightly and almost winked at, as if not a big deal.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  I liked that relationships weren't perfect, and that there were consequences to misunderstandings and bad choices.  I also can't help but like a character who's "stuck more this place than Lorelai Gilmore is to Stars Hollow." Ahem.
I give this book 4 stars.

You can find A Wedding Chapel HERE.
You can find the Author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 12, 2015

She Makes it Look Easy - Marybeth Whalen

Ariel, her husband David, and their 3 boys are finally "movin' on up," to a nicer neighborhood.  She's sad to be leaving behind her neighbor friend, Kristy, but more excited to be moving into a beautiful house and eager to make new friends.  Justine, her husband Mark, and their two girls live in the house behind Ariel's new house - the house of Justine's best friend Laura, whom she's sad to see go.  Reluctant, at first, to befriend the new family, Justine eventually makes Ariel's acquaintance and takes her under her wing to introduce her to the "right" people in the neighborhood, and to teach her to get her life organized.  Ariel sees Justine as a mentor and friend, the perfect woman with the perfectly clean house and perfectly behaved children, someone she can only aspire to be as her boys burn their energy with dirt and noise.  As such, Ariel finds herself taking Justine's advice on everything, including who she should be friends with, and how she should spend her time.  The more that Ariel puts into the friendship, the more she starts to suspect that the friendship is lopsided, and perhaps Justine isn't interested in Ariel for the same type of friendship that Ariel is looking for.  If she's not spending time with Ariel for the friendship, what is she using Ariel for?  And is "using" Ariel what she's really after?

I'm not sure where to start with this review; the book was definitely well-written, I was sucked into the story of these vastly different women immediately.  However, when a character turns into someone you not only don't like, but who seems to have no hopes of redemption within the story, it takes a bit of life out of the story.  The only good that one could take from this story, then, is the side of the character who realizes that nothing is as it seems, and that even those who look like they're living perfect lives usually have problems beneath their bright smiles and perfect clothes.  With that in mind, it's easier to accept one's own shortcomings and faults as part of life.

While I felt the book was intriguing, it fell short for me on any redeeming story line.  There were a few hints of growth on Ariel's part, but the downfall of Justine was left hanging with no hope.  Even the prologue indicated that there may have been regret, but not remorse.  Also - the book never circled back to the prologue, leaving the reader to wonder what happened in the space between the book's closing and its opening - not leaving any pleasant options.

I give this book 3 stars.  It was a quick read, and I read most of it hoping the characters would realize the paths they were on and change them, but it just left me feeling incomplete.

You can find She Makes it Look Easy HERE.
You can find the author's site HERE.
(This does seem to be an earlier release from this author, and I have enjoyed other, later, publications more than this one)

I received this book from NetGalley, courtesy of the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hidden Places - Erin Healy

The family lodge in the small town of Evergreen, Colorado was built with the purpose of hiding people who needed a safe place of refuge, but over the years has become a place of secrets and discord among the family itself.  11-year-old Kate is good at keeping secrets, but some secrets aren't safe for a child.

The complexity of this story makes it tough to discuss succinctly.  You can talk about the family relationships, or the consequences of a bad decision, or the importance of speaking up when you see something wrong.  You could discuss gang violence and how violence begets violence.  There's the thread of family legacies and what should be passed down through the generations.  Or you could converse about the role of a Good Samaritan.  This book has so many layers and characters that swirl around each other and contribute to a brutal, yet redemptive, tale, that a short review wouldn't do it justice.  And a long review would only spoil the story.

While I can't wholeheartedly recommend this book without reservation, due to its brutality and violence, I can say that there's much to be taken from the narrative of lives gone wrong, and the simplicity of a child's trusting and helpful nature, if you can get past the hard parts.  For without darkness, how would we recognize the light?

i give this book 3.5 stars.

You can find Hiding Places HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
Or connect with her on Facebook HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Irish Meadows - Susan Anne Mason

Set on a horse farm in Long Island, New York, in 1911, Irish Meadows is a story of family loyalty and where those boundaries fall when loyalty's limits are pushed over the line.  Colleen and Brianna O'Leary have always bowed to their father's wishes, but what will they do when he wishes them to marry for profit and alliances rather than love?  Gilbert Whelan was taken in by the O'Leary family and raised as a son when he had nowhere else to go.  What kind of loyalty is owed for that kind of debt?

Something about the tone, or perhaps the cover itself, gave the impression that this book was to be mainly about Gilbert and Brianna.  Gilbert, returning home from college, to express his gratitude to the O'Leary family, but then hoping to strike out on his own, but finds himself being enslaved by the bonds of that gratitude debt.  And, Brianna - no longer a child, but a young woman, pinning her hopes, and perhaps her heart, on her childhood friend returning with the education she longs for.  And yet, their storyline was not what drew me into this book; instead, it was the sister Colleen, the older sister seen as the flighty flirt, looking for fun wherever she can find it, all the while being the apple of her daddy's eye, it was her character who exhibited the most depth and heartfelt emotional change.

There were other moments and characters that did keep me interested in this book; the aunt, long estranged from her brother, but to whom Brianna ran when she needed space and time; the secrets that everyone was holding onto that, only by their revealing, led to healing and forgiveness.  These things were worth reading the book for.  Brianna's and Gilbert's characters, however, frustrated me.  When things did manage to come together for them, it felt more like an accident than that they'd actually changed or worked through the things they needed to come to terms with.

Either way, I did enjoy the book, and I give it 3 stars.
This was the first in a series, so perhaps we'll see how the O'Leary family continues to cope with the issues in their midst.

You can find Irish Meadows HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

In Good Company - Jen Turano

Millie Longfellow loves children, and desperately wants to be a good nanny.  However, her methods and propensity for disaster see her dismissed from her positions over and over again.  Having run out of options with her temp agency, she is forced to work for Everett Mulberry and his "brats," as he calls them - children who he's been given guardianship of upon their parents' death.  Having been orphaned herself as a child, Millie has a strong affinity for these children and cares for them despite Everett's fiancee's blatant attempts to discredit Millie and have her dismissed.  Can Millie get Everett to see the children as more than an imposition? Can they find out what actually happened to the children's parents?

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, After a Fashion, and Millie was one of my favorite characters from that book.  I love that she carries around a dictionary to improve her vocabulary, and that even her frequent misuse of new terms doesn't deter her from continuing on.  I love her feistiness, and her willingness to stand up for what she thinks is right, for herself, for her charges, and for points of integrity.  I love that she sees the humor in her own penchant for disaster; she even says about herself:
"I don't purposefully become involved with shenanigans, Mrs. Mulberry, but you should know that sometimes they just seem to happen to me."

There is a definite Sound of Music vibe to this book, from the nanny who's been fired over and over, down to making clothes out drapes, so that might not be to everyone's taste, but I happen to love that movie, so it didn't bother me.  Although Harriet and Oliver do not factor into this story, I love that so many characters from the first book are featured again - from Lucetta the actress, to the Reverend who continues to pray over these women and serve as both spiritual counsel and friend.  Even Abigail continues her matchmaking ways and lends an air of kindness and humor to the story.

I give this book 4 stars; I'm a sucker for heroines who make me laugh, and Millie does that well.  I can't wait to read Lucetta's story!

You can find In Good Company HERE.
You can find Jen Turano's website HERE, or you can connect with her on Facebook HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Water from my Heart - Charles Martin

Charlie Finn is self-admittedly not a good person.  He uses people, he has no compassion for those who lose out on business deals, and he doesn't cry over anything.  Well, almost anything.  His amoral life and the legacy he's passed on to his godson have led to tragedy and grave danger for the few people he finds he may actually care about.  On a mission to right what wrongs he can, he finds that letting go of one's pain, anger, and sins may take a different form than he expected.

Wow.  This book was nothing like I expected.  It was so, so, so much more.  The author weaves Charlie's past and present together in alternating chapters until they converge, until the reader can separate the man Charlie has always been to the man who's recognizing that that isn't who he wants to be.  There is no excusing Charlie's past.  There is no excusing or whitewashing the choices he's made and the people he has hurt.  This is not a pretty book about someone who made an honest mistake with good intentions.  Charlie's intentions were definitely not good.  But Charlie knows that, and in that honesty, there is a chance for redemption.  When Charlie starts to get it, while hanging almost 300 feet deep into a well, he says, "Call me simple, but it was tough to miss the lesson.  It it's dark, and if you want light, you either need a source outside yourself, or you need to get to one - because nothing resident in me lit that hole."

This book was about Charlie's journey to awareness and redemption, but the journey would not have been complete without the other characters.  Not just ones who showed him the light, but even the ones in the darkness which serve to show how desperately he needed the light.  The author's notes at the end of the book indicate that several of the characters were based on actual people, and they are well-woven into the story to make it whole.

This is a book that will stick with me.  That will make me think twice about where my coffee comes from and how the person growing it makes far less than it takes me to buy it.  I give this book 5 stars; this is going to be a book that's hard to move on from.

You can find Water from my Heart HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Love Arrives in Pieces - Betsy St. Amant

Stella Varland has not ended up where she expected; divorced at 25, depending on her parents for assistance and job leads, she suffers debilitating panic attacks over her memories of being left.  Now, she has a chance at a fantastic job to boost her interior designer resume, only it comes at the cost of working with the man who broke both her and her sister's heart and caused years of rift between them.  Chase Taylor has returned to Bayou Bend, also damaged but with a renewed faith and a determination to not waste any more time.  Can these two broken people find healing, or will they get in each other's way of finding the true Healer?

When I started this book, I hadn't realized it was a sequel to All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes. If I had realized they went together, I would have tried to read them closer together, because it was hard for me to remember the backstories of the characters who carried over.  It would have been helpful to remember afresh the hurt and heartache between Kat and Stella, and to know how Chase and Lucas were connected.  Even so, this book functioned fairly well as a stand alone.  On the surface, it was just another light romance, but there was a lot of deep stuff there to uncover about our brokenness and how the healing can seem just as hard as staying broken.  The author uses some unusual characters to get her main characters to think - the "homeless" woman, Dixie, and the fire department chaplain serve as catalysts for changing how Stella and Chase see not only each other but themselves as well.

The only hard part of this book for me was to believe that Stella could reconnect with Chase so quickly.  If he really had caused a years-long rift between Stella and Kat, it seems natural that there would have been more distrust or conversations, or that he would have had to prove that he'd really changed.  There just weren't enough details on why he'd run; there were a lot of allusions to Kat having reinterpreted the story of what happened, but her version versus what really happened were never fleshed out.  I think a flashback to what had happened and what each of the three of them had felt at the time would have served to make the story fuller and more cohesive.

I enjoyed this book, and give it 3 stars.  The themes of brokenness and beauty added depth to the story that made it more thought provoking than a typical romance.

You can find Love Arrives in Pieces HERE.
You can find the Author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

After a Fashion - Jen Turano

Harriet Peabody is working in a hat shop, dreaming of the day she can run her own business, when her boss sends her on an errand that catapults her into a crazy string of events that she never could have imagined.  Finding herself without a job, and accepting a position as a companion to a man trying to close a business deal, Harriet wonders where the good thing is that she asked God for this year on her birthday?  As she tries to learn to pretend she belongs in this fancy life, she also has to deal with issues from her past that she's tried to leave behind.  Can Harriet find who she really is in the midst of all this pretending?

As with all of Jen Turano's books, this one did not fail to make me laugh.  Harriet is such a well-done character that you can't help but root for her.  She has certainly not lived a perfect life, but she is upfront about where she's been and she has tried to make the best choices she could in the circumstances she's been given.  She works hard, and she's determined to do things the right way.  Her roommates bring additional joviality and depth to the story; Lucetta, the famous actress who dresses for comfort and freedom of thought when not on the stage, and Millie, the sometimes nanny/cookstaff/servant who loves children and is studying the dictionary to improve herself, but with frequently hilarious results.  Their friendship and their loyalty add much to this book, and I'm excited that they will each get their own story.

Another grand success by Jen Turano, a book that makes me laugh, but that also explores whether God hears us when we're stuck in circumstances beyond our control and whether it's worth making the right choices in such a situation.  I give this book 4 stars, and I look forward to the rest of the series!

You can find After a Fashion HERE.
You can find Jen Turano's website HERE, although she states she does most of her interacting on Facebook, where she can be found HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Taken - Dee Henderson

Shannon Bliss has been missing for 11 years, having disappeared at the age of 16.  She has managed to free herself from an incredibly complicated and violent family associated with a shockingly vast array of crimes, and she has chosen Matthew Dane to help her sort through the ramifications of her life in captivity and her escape.  Matthew is a retired cop, current private investigator, whose own daughter had been kidnapped and recovered, and Shannon needs his sensitivity and skills to return to a normal life.

Taken is loosely connected with several of Dee Henderson's previous books, including Full Disclosure, Undetected, and Unspoken.  Characters from each of these previous books assist in Shannon's reappearance - some through law enforcement assistance, and some through personal experience and relationships.  My opinions of this string of books has been all over the place; I loved Undetected and Unspoken, and was not thrilled with Full Disclosure.  Unfortunately, Taken fell on the side of Full Disclosure for me.  Shannon was not a very lovable character; she survived what appeared to be a horrible ordeal, but she played it so close to the vest and had such an in-depth collection of knowledge on this complicated crime family that she came across pretty cold and calculating.  Matthew fell into a weird place of being a father figure to her as he related her to his daughter who'd been kidnapped, but then there was clearly a bend towards bringing them together romantically, which seemed messy.  He was a compassionate and safe relationship for her, but he had none of the strong characteristics that Henderson's main characters usually have.  Even the story of the kidnapping and the thieves and criminals involved got too complicated and drawn out to keep me invested as a reader.

Overall, I felt that this story dragged a bit.  There were no great characters for me to latch onto and love, and there was no romance to root for.  I just couldn't love this book.  I give it 2 stars.  I'm STILL hoping for the 3rd brother from the military novels to get his own book!

You can find Taken HERE.
You can find Dee Henderson's site HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

A Love Like Ours - Becky Wade

A Love Like Ours is the third novel in the Porter Family series.  Jake, the third child in the Porter family, returned from the war injured both inside and out.  Unable to process and deal with the losses he suffered in Iraq, losses he holds himself responsible for, Jake has kept everyone at a distance and thrown himself into his work as a horse trainer on Whispering Creek Farms.  Even Lyndie, his best friend from childhood, he tries to keep at arms' length.  Lyndie, however, is determined to find a way in, and she thinks that her chances of helping Jake are tied to helping his horse Silver Leaf, who's been given one more chance to prove himself a winner before being retired.  Can Lyndie help both of them? Can Jake allow Lyndie to take such chances?

I love that this family story continues to be explored through this series; I've read Bo's story, and Ty's story, and even through those was looking forward to finding out more about Jake.  What happened to him in Iraq? Who did he used to be? Could anyone reach him?  This book did a good job of covering his back story - both who he was before the war, what happened to him while he was there, and how he'd been dealing, or not dealing, with the aftermath since he'd been back with his family.  I really enjoyed that the brothers' characters were still part of this story - Ty's wife is still calling him showboat, Meg and Bo are continuing the work they began in their book, and I really enjoyed the side characters as well.  Zoe, in particular, with her "need" for a tall guy and her penchant for dropping sentences mid-thought, really livened up several scenes.  I can't wait to read about Dru, the lone sister in this bunch, and find out more about her story.

There were several story threads that managed to go deep in this romantic novel, dealing with PTSD and the survivor's guilt of watching other men die - it wasn't glossed over.  Jake had a lot of things to work through, and it took a lot of different people showing love in his life in different ways to get him through it.  There was also the story of Lyndie's sister Mollie, who was dealing with cerebral palsy, and what that had meant to Lyndie's family in terms of dedicating time and energy to Mollie while Lyndie was growing up.

Overall, this was a great summer read and I give it 4 stars.  I can't wait for Porter Family #4 to come out, so I can stay connected to this family!

You can find A Love Like Ours HERE.
You can find Becky Wade's site HERE.

I received a digital copy of A Love Like Ours from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Until the Harvest - Sarah Loudin Thomas

Until the Harvest is the second book in the Appalachian Blessings series.  Perla and Casewell Phillips' son, Henry, has been attending college but returns home to help with the family after tragedy strikes.  While he's home, he seems to lose his way and finds himself becoming someone his family wouldn't recognize.  As he struggles with how to balance who he was, who he's becoming, and who he wants to be, he finds himself drawn to Margaret and her sister Mayfair, as they take root on his grandmother's farm and in his family's lives.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Miracle in a Dry Season, and I was excited to reconnect with the town and its characters.  This book focused in more tightly on its main characters, and I didn't feel as if I was connecting with the town as a whole as much.  The time jump from Casewell and Perla's wedding to their having a college-aged son also took some adjusting to.  However, once I was able to connect to the characters and feel Henry's loss and Margaret's despair, the side characters began to shine more clearly.  Once again, using characters that many would consider unreachable, or unworthy to bring change, the author weaves in stories of forgiveness, second chances, and how love can change even the toughest of hearts.  It was also a delight to see Angie and Frank happy in their long-awaited marriage!  And, as a reader, it was satisfying to see Perla's story come full-circle and serve to help others with the lessons she'd learned.  She even says "We're all bad girls. Just some of us are forgiven."

I give this book 3 stars; I still enjoyed following this story, but the characters in the first book were a little more dynamic and kept me more invested in their lives.

The publisher is doing a giveaway right now that sounds amazing! You can enter HERE.
You can find Until the Harvest HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Reservations for Two - Hillary Manton Lodge

Reservations for Two is the second book in the Two Blue Doors series.  Juliette and Nico continue to work on getting their dream restaurant open; Juliette and Neal continue their long-distance relationship, and Juliette pursues the story of whether her grandfather is someone different than she'd been raised to believe.

When I read Book 1, A Table by the Window, I wrote that I couldn't wait to read book 2, because I "wasn't ready for the story to end."  I also listed Reservations for Two on my list of books I couldn't wait to read in 2015.  I was sad to be less excited while actually reading the book than I was in anticipation of reading it.

I did not realize that this was to be the 2nd book of a trilogy, but when I saw "Look for the Conclusion to the Two Doors Series" in May 2016 at the end of the book, I realized that summed up how I felt about this book.  It has Middle Book Syndrome.  There were elements added to the overall plot to leave the reader wishing for the conclusion in the third book, the characters from the first book were all in place, just kind of sat there.  It's hard to write about the parts of the book that bothered me without spoilers, but I felt like nothing surprising happened.  You could tell from the beginning where the relationships were headed, and it felt like it took too long for them to get there.  Since they were already in place from Book 1, there wasn't a lot of romance or mystery to any of them.  Perhaps if there'd been more details given to the Clementine-Nico relationship that was clearly developing in the background, it would have perked up the romance aspect of the book.

Additionally, in the first book, Juliette seemed so driven to find herself, follow her own dreams, become someone, yet in this book, she just seemed lost again.  At one point, she even admits that she doesn't know what she wants to do when she grows up.  And, instead of trying to figure that out, or find a new dream, she just seems to drift along with what's already happening.  There's not even any exciting cooking in this book!

On the plus side, while it took me awhile to get invested in Juliette's grandmother's letters, by the end, I was as eager to find out what happened to change the history of what actually happened to the history that Juliette had known all her life.

While I didn't love this book as much as I did the first one, I am not ready to give up on this series and the family.  I am eager to see what the conclusion of the letters brings and hopefully, it will provide the answers the family needs.  I hope that Juliette finds her passion again, whether it's with the new restaurant, or something different.  Although, if I have to wait a whole year for the conclusion, I may have to re-read the first two books to stay on top of the details!

I give this book 3 stars; as a stand-alone book, it would probably fall a little lower.  But, as a middle book, it serves its purpose to make me want to read book 3!

You can find Reservations for Two HERE.
You can find Hillary Manton Lodge's website HERE, and her blog seems lovely - I hope to find time to hop through and catch up a bit!
You can also find more about the books and author HERE from the publisher.

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Dandelion Field - Kathryn Springer

Ginevieve Lightly and her daughter Raine have landed in the town of Banister Falls, Wisconsin.  After bouncing from town to town, Raine asks her mother to stay put until she graduates.  Gin agrees reluctantly, but keeps her suitcase packed in her closet.  With such tentative roots put down, Raine finds herself drawn to the popular Cody Bennett, a senior that the whole town looks after since his dad, Max, died in a fire when Cody was six.  Gin is equally drawn to Dan, a fellow fireman, Max's best friend, Cody's confidante, and who has a tangled relationship with Cody's mom, Evie.  Will Dan's loyalty be tested between the family he's cared for all of these years, and the single mom and daughter who have come to town?  Will Gin and Raine run at the first sign of trouble, or can they weather it together, and strengthen these fragile relationships?

There were so many complex relationships in this book, and they were handled well.  The single mom and her daughter, the teenage romance, the lifelong friendship with romantic undertones that hadn't been explored, the widowed mom and her son, the mentor relationship between Dan and Cody, and Dan's extended family.  The lives of the characters were well-woven together and the complexities served to deepen the book beyond a romance or teenage trouble story.  I especially liked Dan's family; while they served as minor roles in the book, they anchored who Dan was and were there to serve as mentors and shoulders to lean on.

I don't want to spoil the "scandal" in the book, but I will say that I felt like it was dealt with well.  It wasn't condoned, but was handled with compassion and grace, and all outcomes felt realistic and honest.

I give this book 4 stars; it handled a tough topic well, and the characters were realistic and likeable.  The minor plot lines were woven in well-enough to serve the main story, but developed just enough to enrich it.

You can find A Dandelion Field HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Secret of Pembrooke Park - Julie Klassen

Abigail Foster and her family have been accustomed to a certain quality of life, a lifestyle that may now be in danger due to a failed investment that Abigail herself recommended to her father.  With her younger sister's debut on the horizon, and their dowries in danger, Abigail makes some tough decisions for her family.  One of which includes moving to an abandoned house that belonged to some distant relatives, but that has a mysterious past.  What made the occupant of the house leave so quickly? Why has it sat abandoned for 18 years? Why do the townspeople look at them so suspiciously? And how much stock should Abigail put in the rumors that there's a secret treasure hidden within the house?

I have read several Julie Klassen books at this point, and they never disappoint.  Her settings are so fleshed out that I feel myself in the abandoned house, with tea still on the table, and hearing the noises in the hallways.  I can envision the walk to the groundkeeper's house, and the small church with its graves of relatives gone too soon. The author's setting of the scenes really serves to enhance her stories.

In the end, I did enjoy this book.  I am an impatient reader, however, and there was a large portion of the book where I was going, "alright, already, just answer the secrets!!"  There was an abundance of foreshadowing, and hinting at the past, and a lot of wondering whether the main character was actually listening to anything the other people were telling her.  I was satisfied by the conclusion that most of the questions had been answered and loose ends were neatly tied up.  It was a complicated story, but I think that it was done well.

I give this book 4 stars.  I can appreciate a story that takes awhile to bring everything together, even if it makes me antsy while I'm waiting for answers.  I also enjoyed the friendships that built over the course of the book, and the fact that the female characters weren't instant best friends, but that they kept trying.

You can find The Secrets of Pembrooke Park HERE.
You can find Julie Klassen's site HERE.
You can find an excerpt from the book HERE.

I am excited to have been invited to be part of a Pembrooke Park Blogger Bonus team, so look forward to some fun things regarding this book forthcoming!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing, in exchange for my honest review.