Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#TBT Book Highlight: A Mother's Secret


A Mother's Secret
By Amy Clipston
Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel #2
Zondervan, 2014


Being a member of Amy Clipston’s Bakery Bunch is so much fun, and this month we had a challenge that I especially enjoyed … to re-read one of Amy’s books and post a review. I chose A Mother’s Secret, book #2 in the Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel, because this was the first of Amy’s books that I read and it will always be special to me for that reason. Here is a description of A Mother’s Secret, followed by my thoughts.


Summary

Carolyn Lapp dreams of marrying for love. But will the errors of her past destroy this dream forever?

Carolyn Lapp longs to have a traditional Amish family. But she lives on her brother's farm with her parents and her 15-year old son, Benjamin. Carolyn has never revealed the identity of Benjamin's father and lives daily with the guilt and shame of her youthful indiscretion. Her brother simply will not forgive her.

His answer is to arrange a practical marriage for Carolyn to Saul, a widower with a little girl. But Carolyn isn't convinced that Saul really loves her and believes he is simply looking for someone to help raise his daughter.

When Benjamin causes trouble at a local horse auction, horse breeder Joshua Glick decides that he must be taught a lesson. Carolyn and Joshua are unmistakably drawn to each other, but Joshua mistakenly assumes that Benjamin is Carolyn's brother. Carolyn fears that if he discovers the truth, her past will destroy their budding romance.

After years of shame and loneliness, Carolyn suddenly has two men vying for her attention. But which of them will give her the family-and the unconditional love-she's longed for?


My thoughts

A Mother's Secret is a fairly light and quick read, but I don't mean that as a criticism; in fact, that's often what I'm in the mood for. And in contrast to a lot of lighter reads, Amy deals with some difficult social issues. There's also good character depth and spiritual elements that made me stop and reflect.

The characters and their struggles are easy to relate to, and Amy shows that Amish people have the same struggles and deal with the same mistakes or sins that we do. 31-year-old Carolyn lives with the guilt of past sin - mainly because people won't let her forget - and feels unworthy of a marriage based on love. Her brother, Amos, wants her to marry in order to be "respectable." Benjamin, Carolyn's son, is bullied by his cousins.

It was an unlikely character that I found it so easy to relate to, and that was Barbie, Joshua's mother. Barbie is manipulative, pushy, and controlling, yet I was drawn to her – because, as a mother, I felt she was acting out of fear due to the heartbreaking losses in her life. What must it be like to have a son die so young and unexpectedly, and then to have two grandchildren leave the Amish community? She wanted a daughter-in-law that she could mold into a good, dutiful wife and mother, one who would give her more grandchildren and stay close by.

As I said in the beginning, for an "easy" read, this story carries some strong spiritual messages and personal challenges. We see themes of a judgmental spirit vs. a forgiving spirit, legalism vs. unconditional love. We are all eager to receive God's forgiveness, but is it easier to accept God's forgiveness than to grant it to others? And are we ever capable of truly "forgetting"?

I am so glad I picked this book up because Amy did a great job at creating families and characters that I care about - and there is obviously much more to tell. Recommended to fans of Amish fiction.


Bonus Feature

Amy is also collecting Amish recipes for a recipe e-book that will be included in her May newsletter. This cinnamon bread recipe sounded delicious, but more important, something that I could easily make! If you have any favorite Amish recipes, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.



CINNAMON BREAD
(2 loaves)

Batter:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk + 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice)
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

Cinnamon/sugar mixture:
2/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

        Cream together butter, 2 cups of sugar, and eggs.  Add milk, flour, and baking soda.  Put 1/2 of batter (or a little less) into greased loaf pans (1/4 in each pan).
        Mix in separate bowl the 2/3 c sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle 3/4 of cinnamon mixture on top of the 1/2 batter in each pan.  Add remaining batter to pans; sprinkle with last of cinnamon topping.  Swirl with a knife.
        Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick tester come clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

NOTE:  This bread can also be made in muffin tins, which make it easier to freeze and take out as needed.

Recipe source:  redflycreations.com

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder


The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder
By Rachel McMillan
Herringford & Watts Mysteries, #1
Harvest House, 2016


Summary

In 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.

Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city's underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.

While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto's premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever---if they can stay alive long enough to do so.


My thoughts

From its ingenious cover to the charm, wit, and wonderful historical detail that fill its pages, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder is a fascinating and highly entertaining read. This story is different – quite different from anything I’ve ever come across, in fact – and in this case, different is very good.

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder is the first full-length novel in the Herringford and Watts series – mysteries set during 1910 in Edwardian-era Toronto that revolve around longtime friends, Merinda and Jem. Huge fans of Sherlock Holmes, they set up their own detective agency, using his methods and inspiration as means of detection. The result is so very funny as they delve into their trunk of costumes, often masquerading as men, yet they manage great success.

I thought the historical detail was fantastic, for not only is Rachel extremely knowledgeable, but the narrative exudes her love and passion for Toronto during this era. Rachel has an ability to not only pull you into the scenes, but make you feel them as well – a world where political corruption abounded, immigrants struggled to get their new start, and women’s rights were nonexistent. In the midst of all this is a wonderful romance between Jem and an Italian immigrant reporter named Ray DeLuca. There are some humorous and delightfully romantic scenes between them, a few especially memorable. Most touching is their openness and honesty with each other, especially toward the conclusion.

_________________________

“I can’t speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. I am
just a woman. But you…You can tell the world. You can use those
words of yours like a knife that cuts through everything that is
unjust and horrible and you can make it right.”
- Jem to Ray
_________________________

This is a story where spiritual elements run beneath the surface, yet are cleverly woven throughout. To Merinda, “God was a mystery she didn’t particularly care to solve, and while Jem might be interested in seeing through a glass darkly, she preferred to grapple with facts.” I suspect we’ll see some spiritual awareness in Merinda as the series progresses. And then there’s the way the main characters apply godly principles by advocating for the less fortunate, those who need someone to give them voice.

This story brings one thought to mind, the same thought that is suggested by the title of this blog:  the power of words used wisely or thoughtlessly, to build up or tear down. I’d like to end with these thoughts from Ray’s journal where he reflects on a visit to St. James shortly after coming to America because I think it captures the overall message of this story . . .

One afternoon the minister, Ethan Talbot, came and spoke to me. He told me that the door will never be locked for me. Then he offered to teach me to read and write English. And I promised, in that moment, I would do something with that gift. Someday.

I look forward to more adventures with Merinda, Jem, and a delightful supporting cast of characters. And be sure to check out Rachel’s Pinterest board for she has assembled some great historical pictures that will give an authentic feel for the times.

Recommended to all readers.

_________________________


Rachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.


Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Litfuse landing page:



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Review: The Reluctant Duchess




The Reluctant Duchess
By Roseanna M. White
Ladies of the Manor, #2
Bethany House, 2016


Summary

Lady Rowena Kinnaird may be the heiress to a Highland earldom, but she’s never felt good enough–not for her father, not for the man she thought she’d marry, not for God. But after a shocking attack, she’s willing to be forever an outcast if it means escaping those threatening her life.

Brice Myerston, the Duke of Nottingham, has never been one to shy away from manor-born ladies, yet the last thing he needs is the distraction of the newly introduced Lady Rowena. He has enough on his plate having recently come into possession of a rare treasure for which many would kill, yet those around him seem intent on pairing him with this desperate but beguiling girl.

Rowena is reluctant to marry this notorious flirt. And when she learns that Brice is mixed up in some kind of questionable business with a stolen treasure, she fears she’ll end up in more danger than she fled.


My thoughts

When it comes to historical fiction, Roseanna M. White is one author I would never want to miss. Sweeping in its grandeur, The Reluctant Duchess combines many essential elements into one fascinating and compelling read – vivid settings, rich characterization, and a storyline that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages. Reading book #1 in this series, The Lost Heiress, would provide important background and familiarity with some of the characters, but enough information is provided to make The Reluctant Duchess stand alone.

Danger and suspense steadily drive the plot, yet it was the character-driven aspect that I enjoyed most. Rowena – “a lost child, hurt by those who should have loved her” – has suffered a tragedy at the hands of someone she trusted, a tragedy that no woman should ever experience, leaving her feeling abandoned by God. The scars she carries can’t help but affect her relationship with Brice, and the theme of suffering is one to which all can relate. Rowena is a sympathetic and appealing character and I loved her Scottish dialect.

Roseanna has created one of my favorite male leads in Brice – a kind, charming, and witty gentleman, a man of strong faith who seeks the Lord’s guidance and is obedient to spiritual promptings. His love, gentleness, patience and protectiveness toward Rowena seemed to reflect the selfless agape love that we strive for in relationships. The chemistry between Brice and Rowena is great, and their slowly growing friendship, trust and love is a delight to behold.

The Reluctant Duchess is filled with atmospheric mood, historical detail, and legends. We see the devastation wrought by greed and lust, and most moving to me is the triumph of good over evil, light over dark. Roseanna’s novels always have a clear spiritual message woven seamlessly into her stories. I loved Brice’s words to Rowena as he reminded her that God “is always directing us toward our better good. Sometimes that means trials, but they will lead us to the place where He knows we need to be. And He will always be there beside us, if we but let Him in.”

Highly recommended.

_________________________



        Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself.
        The Reluctant Duchess is Roseanna’s eleventh published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia.


Thank you to Celebrate Lit and Bethany Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

____________________

GIVEAWAY




To celebrate the release of her book,
Roseanna is giving away a few of Roseanna’s favorite things.
Click on picture above or this link to enter.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review + GIVEAWAY: Sit, Stay, Love


Sit, Stay, Love
By Dana Mentink
Love Unleashed, #1
Harvest House, 2016


Summary

Take one abrasive professional athlete, a quirky out-of-work schoolteacher, and an overweight geriatric dog, and you're ready for a lesson in love . . . Tippy style.

Pro baseball pitcher Cal Crawford is not a dog guy. When he inherits his deceased mother's elderly dog, Tippy, he's quick to call on a pet-sitting service.

Gina isn't thrilled to be a dog sitter when her aspirations lie in the classroom. Furthermore, she can't abide the unfriendly Cal, a man with all the charm of a wet towel. But with no other prospects and a deep love for all things canine, she takes the job caring for Tippy.

As Gina travels through Cal's world with Tippy in tow, she begins to see Cal in a different light. Gina longs to show Cal the God-given blessings in his life that have nothing to do with baseball or fame. When her longing blooms into attraction, Gina does her best to suppress it. But Cal is falling in love with her too . . .

Discover the charming story of Tippy, the dog who brought a family together.


My thoughts

Refreshingly different, funny, touching, romantic, heartwarming . . . Sit, Stay, Love resulted in one of the most pleasant reading experiences I’ve ever had, contrary to what I might have feared when choosing to review it. For one thing, I love dogs – other people’s dogs, that is. And I’m not particularly fond of baseball. But none of that mattered because I was entranced with characters and storyline from the first page – and Tippy, of course, for “There’s just something about Tippy.”

Cal and Gina are so easy to relate to, and I was drawn to them from the beginning. Cal’s emotional and spiritual growth from one chapter to another make this story especially enjoyable. I loved the slowly-growing relationship and sweet chemistry between these two. And strong secondary characters in Cal’s uncle, aunt and dad – Oscar, Sweets, and Mitch – add so much richness.

_________________________

        Cal was adrift at what Pete seemed to be asking him to do.“I don’t like dogs that don’t work for their keep.”
        “You make a seven-figure salary. Hire someone to like her for you.”
_________________________

Enter Gina, pet sitter extraordinaire. Sometimes I come across characters that I wish were real so I could actually meet them, and one of those would be Gina. She radiates a faith in God, humor, genuineness, and is a natural with people. To Cal, “It was like she had the sun inside her, energy which pulled him closer and warmed him.”

Gina’s faith is real and I loved the influence she had on Cal, helping him to realize that pitching was just his job, and that family was his world. Themes of forgiveness and second chances are also explored through the relationship between Cal and his dad.

I love Dana’s passion for senior pets and how she brings awareness to all they have to offer. Please note that part of the proceeds from this book will be donated to the Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.

I give Sit, Stay, Love 5 stars based on my personal enjoyment factor and highly recommend it – for, after all . . .

There’s just something about Tippy.

My review on Amazon (Helpful marks are always appreciated!)


Book #2, Fetching Sweetness, releases August 1, 2016.

_________________________


        Dana Mentink lives in California, where the weather is golden and the cheese is divine. Dana is an American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year finalist for romantic suspense and an award winner in the Pacific Northwest Writers Literary Contest. Her suspense novel, Betrayal in the Badlands, earned a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award.
        Besides writing, she busies herself teaching third and fourth grade. Mostly, she loves to be home with her husband, two daughters, a dog with social anxiety problems, a chubby box turtle, and a feisty parakeet.


Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, as well as a giveaway copy.

Litfuse landing page:

____________________

GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing, please click on this link and share my Facebook post, then leave a comment sharing about a favorite pet in your life, past or present. If you've never had a pet, just leave a comment.

I promote on social media, but the best way to keep up with my reviews and giveaways is to subscribe by e-mail in the top right corner (no pressure intended).

BE SURE to leave your name and your email address in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing. E-mail required for entry. Contest ends at midnight PST on Thursday, April 28­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­. Winner will be chosen by random.org and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Learn a Lesson in Love—Tippy Style— in Dana Mentink’s New Book (Plus a Prize Pack Giveaway)


NOTE:  I loved this book and will post my review shortly.

_________________________


What do you get when you add one abrasive professional athlete, a quirky out-of-work schoolteacher, and an overweight geriatric dog? A lesson in love—Tippy style—in Dana Mentink's new book, Sit, Stay, Love. As Gina travels through Cal’s world with Tippy in tow, she begins to see Cal in a different light. Gina longs to show Cal the God-given blessings in his life that have nothing to do with baseball or fame. When her longing blooms into attraction, Gina does her best to suppress it. But Cal is falling in love with her too. . . .

Join Dana in celebrating the release of Sit, Stay, Love with a blog tour and a Travels with Tippy prize pack giveaway!


sit stay love-400


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of Sit, Stay, Love
  • A $75 Visa cash card
  • A basket filled with Tippy-themed goodies
    • Travel-themed decorator box
    • Reading dog statue
    • Dog journal
    • Poems for Dog Lovers
    • Snuggle Paws fleece blanket from Animal Rescue Site
    • Pawprint scarf
    • Doxie desk pen
    • Pupmobile auto magnet

tippybasket


Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on April 25th. The winner will be announced April 26th on Dana's blog.


sit stay love-enterbanner

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Win Change of Heart by Courtney Walsh & $50 GIFT CARD


Courtney Walsh is a gifted storyteller – one who just happens to write the kind of stories that I enjoy. Check out her newest release, Change of Heart – and don’t miss her exciting giveaway!

To enter, simply click on this link and leave a comment mentioning someone you love on the Tyndale House Crazy4Fiction post. The grand prize includes a copy of Change of Heart and a $50 bookstore gift card. Winner announced on #Crazy4Fiction Facebook page Monday, May 9!

Courtney also does the best videos, so be sure to watch this trailer!







A Colorado senator’s wife, Evelyn Brandt seems to have it all. But her carefully constructed life comes toppling down when the FBI crashes her society brunch with news that her husband has been arrested for embezzlement, and he’s far from repentant. It turns out this was only the start of his indiscretions—for which he has little regret.

As the weeks following the scandal turn into months, Evelyn withdraws, even shirking her duties with the philanthropic Valentine Volunteers. The inquisitive women of the group are determined not to let Evelyn’s divorce destroy her. They have big plans for her to use her long-forgotten artistic talent to reimagine the city’s iconic lamppost hearts. But doing so will force Evelyn to work closely with Trevor Whitney, her ex-husband’s former best friend. Though she and Trevor used to be close—and he’s been letting her hide in his guesthouse—his gruffness conveys his unease with the situation.

Amid the beauty of Trevor’s farm and the comfort of a paintbrush, Evelyn starts to reclaim the dreams she sacrificed to become the perfect politician’s wife. And as creativity inspires them both, Whit begins to see the girl he fell in love with before his friend—and his own mistakes—stole his chance. Possibilities for a new beginning emerge, but long-kept secrets threaten to ruin everything. After so much time, is a change of heart too much to hope for?


_________________________



Courtney Walsh is the author of Paper Hearts and the Sweethaven series. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, was a New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller and a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. In addition, she has written two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives with her husband and three children in Illinois, where she is also an artist, theater director, and playwright.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review: More Than a Promise




More Than a Promise
By Ruth Logan Herne
Franciscan Media, 2016
Genre: Christian, Contemporary, Romance
292 pages


Summary

"My Three Sons"... Naughty sons, at that!... meets "Sarah, Plain and Tall" in this delightful marriage of convenience story that shows how amazingly inconvenient love... and life... can be!

Widower Matt Wilmot is in trouble. His boys are causing chaos and wreaking havoc, his former mother-in-law is threatening to sue for custody, his father just had heart surgery and their family company is liable for a huge balloon payment on a loan his father took out to expand the business the previous year. But rain and illness took their toll, and Matt is having a rough time spinning multiple plates in the air.

But when he discovers Elle Drake next door, a woman with a wonderful hand at managing errant boys, cranky relatives, and frustrated men... Matt's world suddenly tips back into a more normal orbit. And when drastic measures are required, it's the girl next door who's there to save the day.

Elle Drake wanted nothing more than to create beautiful pottery and have a family, but when her millionaire husband publicly dumped the renowned artist for another woman, Elle moves back to Cedar Mills to start anew, the spinster artist with her big potting shed. But when her to-die-for good-looking neighbor thinks marriage is a good idea, Elle figures he's either crazy, desperate or right.

But a marriage of convenience can become its own conundrum, and when life takes sudden turns, can this marriage become all that they bargained for? And maybe more than a promise?


My thoughts

Ruth Logan Herne writes the kind of stories that I like to read – stories with a tender poignancy that will resonate with any reader. I’ve read two of her books this week, completely different on the surface, but with the same heartfelt emotion and rich, complex characterization. I’m not sure how to describe it, but there’s that special “something” that elevates Ruth’s writing in my opinion. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, instead of standing on the outside watching the action, Ruth draws you right into their lives.

More Than a Promise is a heartwarming love story with great chemistry and conflicting emotions between Matt and Elle, but it’s so much more. One of my reviewer friends, Kav, described it as “rollicking fun, achingly sweet and peppered with large doses of love and laughter” … and I’d have to agree. There are several laugh-out-loud moments, coupled with themes of forgiveness, overcoming the grip of fear caused by past events, and acceptance.

_________________________

If the Wilmots were a hashtag,
they’d rock the “trending now” list daily.
_________________________

Matt and Elle are sympathetic, appealing characters. Matt works too hard and long, carries the burden of financial responsibilities in the family business, is often clueless as a dad, but loves his boys with all that’s in him. Elle is the no nonsense type, willing to meet things head on, felt that she’d been “born the ugly duckling in a family of swans,” and brought laughter back into the lives of Matt and his boys. Elle is a most memorable character. I loved her wisdom, courage to confront, and her giving heart.

And then there’s Matt’s boys.  Todd, Randy and Amos just leap off the printed page and straight into your heart, making me want to wrap my arms around each of them. Todd, the oldest, is a lost soul and in need of a friend. Little Amos is gentle, kind and giving. But Randy “carried his anger like a coat of armor, still and unyielding” – and the way he defended a classmate was amazing. All three boys are heart stealers, and Elle’s gift for connecting with them is precious.

I particularly loved how a good bit of this story takes place after Matt and Elle marry, for I enjoy going beyond the “I do” and seeing couples grow closer as they deal with conflict and draw nearer to God at the same time. The Catholic faith of this family is a very real and natural part of this story.

More Than a Promise is an uplifting, true-to-life story that pulls at the heartstrings – an exquisite read. 5+ stars, best of the best. Highly recommended.


________________________



Multi-published, bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne loves God, her family, her country, dogs, chocolate and coffee! A country gal with a heart for the big city, Ruthy likes nothing more than to write the kind of books she loves to read, and she's even more happy that now she gets paid to do it! She's been married for a Very Long Time and she and her husband Dave live on a small farm in upstate New York where lake effect snow buries them on a regular basis in winter. But that's all right... it gives her more time to write!



Thank you to Singing Librarian Tours for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.