Monday, January 7, 2019

We Hope For Better Things A Strong Debut Novel by Erin Bartels thoughts....

I enjoyed reading We Hope for Better Things,  a compelling time slip novel that easily slips between three very different times in our country, specifically in Detroit.  From the Civil War to racially charged Detroit in the sixties to present day unrest.  Each time centers on a strong female character who is faced with finding her voice in circumstances beyond her control.

Erin Bartels has woven the subject of race discrimination among beautiful descriptions of the big family farm that is almost its own unique character in the story.  We meet Mary Balsam, a young, barely married wife sending her husband off to war, not knowing how she will manage the crops or the big house.  Mary's granddaughter, Nora, married a black man in the sixties after a Martin Luther King Jr. rally in 1963. They found refuge at the abandoned farm after she was disowned by her father.  Forbidden love is all the sweeter when it is requited in the smallest way.  Nora, after seeing the big picture said, "William was the right man, all right. But it was the wrong time, that's all."  Elizabeth Balsam, Nora's great-niece found a reclusive Nora after losing her job as a journalist at the Detroit Free Press. A generation is skipped between each woman's story and each is so tightly woven the reader will keep reading to see what is going on next in each era.

The stories of the Civil War and its aftershocks were still a bit freshly written when I was a child.  While most of the players were long gone, the stories were rich but not always pleasant.  That was a terrible time for our country.  When we think we cannot emerge stronger or better today, we can look back on how bad things were after President Lincoln was killed and the war ended. 

I remember the turmoil of the sixties although I lived far from those hot spots of the time.  We did not have cable news and in a way, I am glad of that.  Today, with news at the ready, it seems we get so many theories and guesses that it still takes a few days to sort things out.  The turmoil in our country today is not new.  We may have thought we were past some of the injustice handed to others based on their race, politics or faith.  We have not, though, I pray some day we will. 

This book is a gentle reminder that we need to tell our stories so that our family history continues to the next generation.  I am grateful for the stories that my mother wrote down and eagerly share stories with my grandchildren. We Hope for Better Things is an engaging family story that was worth telling.  While it is fiction, it could be pieces of many stories.  I recommend this book with 4 stars. 

...from the publisher... 

When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request--that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos--seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Praying with Jane: 31 Days through the Prayers of Jane Austen Is Just Right for Our Fast Paced World thoughts....

We live in such a fast paced world that even our spiritual habits can be fast-tracked. With online bible studies and podcasts from our favorite church sermons we can fit in our spiritual needs on the go.  Or so it would seem.  Are we better off in such a manner? 

Jane Austen is more famous now than she would have considered possible.  Imagine the quiet society the author lived in and compare it with our lives today.  Imagine her sitting at her desk writing in her journal or perhaps outdoors on a blanket reading her bible.  I can imagine her carving time in her day for reading her bible, writing her thoughts or discussing her thoughts on a verse with her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Many today find it difficult to find time to simply sit and reset their minds on their spiritual needs.  I find myself seemingly running out of time when I know I have the same 24 hours every day, just as those who went before me.  Our lives today truly are busy, but we simply use our time differently.

Slowing time down can be done but it takes practice.  It also takes practice to ignore our phones in order to breathe deep and get into quiet times of reflection. We still have sixty minutes to the hour, that will not change.   I find that for myself, reading books like Praying with Jane help me slow down and pause for much needed spiritual boost.  Every care in the world still awaits but I am better equipped to manage them.  Less stress is one of my goals for the new year so relaxing with Jane came at a very good time for me.

If you like Jane Austen and want to give your spiritual side a boost, pick up a copy Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge.  Rachel also has reading guides and discussions on her website.  This book is on my Kindle app so it is easy to access on my phone or tablet.  Just right for those times when I am waiting for an appointment or at the bus stop for my grand-kids. It is time well spent rather than watching the clock.

...from the publisher...

The charm of Jane Austen and her novels has been enjoyed for over 200 years by readers around the world. Much has been written about her fascinating life, yet little is known about Jane's spiritual side. In this lovely 31-day devotional, you will get an in-depth look at Miss Austen's vibrant, steadfast prayer and faith life. Her intimate relationship with the Father comes to life through her exquisite prayers, touching biographical anecdotes, intimate excerpts from family letters and memoirs, and illuminating scenes from her novels.

Spiritual insights and Scripture references shed light on the profound meaning behind Miss Austen's prayers and the enduring truths they contain. Each day ends with a key Bible verse and invitation to "pray with Jane," helping to ignite and deepen your own vibrant relationship with the Father.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Reviewing: Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer

 ...publisher's notes....

Raised among the Amish of Indiana, 18-year-old Marianna Sommer plans to get baptized into the church, marry Aaron Zook, and set up life in the only community she has ever known. But when her older brother chooses the world’s path following his rumschpringe, and a younger sibling begins showing interest in Englisch ways, Marianna’s parents move the family to Montana.
Although she is also in her rumschpringe years and not obligated to move, Marianna makes the journey to dutifully help her mother who is expecting another child. Surprisingly, from strangers on the cross-country train ride to the less rigid stance of the new Montana community, many Englisch influences awaken within Marianna—and even her father—the desire to pursue a deeper kind of joy and love for God.
After an accident, Marianna tells her friend Ben a defining story about the Sommer family, and his response further illumines the active relationship God seeks with His followers. In due time, she learns the move from Indiana was not about losing anything, but finding out who God really is. Despite all the shake-ups, Marianna feels a sweet peace, like still waters, in her soul. thoughts....

What a wonderful story!  Sometimes you find that one book that just captures your heart and Beside Still Waters is just such a book.  The characters are well developed and seem to come alive. I wasn't sure what to think when the story began with an unthinkable tragedy.  The story really begins when the family moves to Montana and leaves their stifling Amish community behind.  Our heroine Marianna longs to return and marry her childhood sweetheart.  Once she opens her heart to see God's plan for her she has some new decisions to make.  Tricia Goyer has a gift in helping things sort out nicely.  I can't wait to see what happens in Along Wooded Paths, next up in the Big Sky Series.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Searching For You By Jody Hedlund Is the Final Stop in The Orphan Train Series

 All Aboard for the Final Stop On the Orphan Train! 

 ...from the publisher....
 Despite years on the run, Sophie Neumann is determined to care for two young children. She won't abandon them the way she thinks her older sisters abandoned her. But times are growing desperate, and when she falls in with the wrong crowd and witnesses a crime, she realizes fleeing 1850s New York is her only option.

Disappearing with her two young charges into a group of orphans heading west by train, Sophie hopes to find safety and a happy life. When the train stops in Illinois for the first placement of orphans, Sophie faces the most difficult choice of her life.

Reinhold Weiss has finally purchased his own small farm. With mounting debts, a harvest to bring in, and past scars that haunt him, he's in no position to give his heart away . . . but can he say no when his long-lost friend shows up on a nearby train pleading for his help? thoughts....

I couldn't wait to read this book!  This series is wonderful and while I didn't want it to end I wanted to know what happened to Sophie Neumann after she was separated from her sisters.  Like so many children in New York in the late 1850's, Sophie and her two sisters became orphans.  Times were desperate and many lived and worked in squalor.  Jody Hedlund introduced the series with her novella An Awakened Heart and I was  immediately hooked.  Each sister has her own story on the train and along the way the lives of many are changed.  Searching For You is Sophie's own story.

Sophie is the youngest of three sisters but has every ounce of sheer determination as her older sisters to survive in the cruel world that surrounded her.  She was charged with the care of little Olivia and Nicholas who were left in her family's care after the death of their mother.  When her sisters found work she cared for them. When she was separated from her sisters she took full responsibility for them.  After that, they became her world.

When circumstances became too dangerous, she left New York on the Orphan Train with the children and her friend Anna.  They were determined to stick together no matter what happened.  Sophie promised she would do the right thing for the children she loved.  Just older than a child herself, she had given of herself fully to Olivia and Nicholas.

Reinhold Weiss, a former close friend of Sophie's family in New York plays a prominent role in our final story.  He had been in love with her sister Elise before she left New York when she found a job in Illinois.  When Marianne was in Illinois searching for  Sophie the year before he offered her his protection with a marriage proposal.  Now, little Sophie was before him, but she was not so little anymore.  I am not sure if Sophie or Reinhold was more surprised to see the other!  It was a very long way from the tenements of New York to a growing farm in Illinois.

Jody Hedlund's writing ties this book up neatly and leaves no questions unanswered for the series.  The characters are well developed and it is easy to get hooked on their situations  immediately.  Jody's careful research and attention to detail gives a telling glimpse into the lives of how it must have been living as an orphan riding the orphan train to places unknown.  I recommend this book with 5 stars. 

 About the Author....
Jody Hedlund is the author of over twenty historicals for both adults and teens and is the winner of numerous awards including the Christy, Carol, and Christian Book Award.

Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she's learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).

When she's not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Tradtion Began in The Christmas Heirloom A Special Collection of four Holiday Novellas

Four Holiday Novellas of Love Through The Generations each have a voice as different as each woman whose story is told. The Christmas Heirloom written by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas and Becky Wade will capture your imagination as you follow its history. At once it is a rich treasure and in another moment it may be lost forever.  As I get older and am reminded of my heritage, stories such as this warm my memories like a cup of fine tea shared among friends.  I hope this collection will find its way into your hands as this wonderful season rich with holidays begins. 

....from the publisher...

In Kristi Ann Hunter's "Legacy of Love," Sarah Gooding never suspected returning a brooch to an elderly woman would lead to a job . . . and introduce her to the woman's grandson, a man far above her station.

A beautiful amethyst brooch is a treasure for  ... and  an heirloom passed through generations from mother to daughter.  Sarah was a blessing to an old and largely ignored woman. From the moment they met they connected, mostly because Sarah saw her as the person she always was,not as the old woman nearing the end of her life. 

....from the publisher...
In Karen Witemeyer's "Gift of the Heart," widow Ruth Albright uses the family brooch as collateral for a loan from the local banker. But the more she comes to know the man behind the stern businessman, the more she hopes for a second chance at love.

Ruth treasured the brooch she received from her mother and was holding it in trust for her daughter.  What a wonderful story of love and devotion.  Coming with nothing but her strength and courage she touched the lives of many.  I particularly enjoyed this story for the generous spirit Ruth  had for all she met. If there is a story to be told about a hard working woman, Karen Witemeyer is the one to write it. In the west, when a woman was all alone, she either rolled up her sleeves and found a way to support her family or floundered. 

....from the publisher...
  In Sarah Loudin Thomas's "A Shot at Love," Fleeta Brady's rough-and-tumble childhood means she prefers hunting to more feminine activities. She never expected her family's brooch might be how a fellow hunter turns her attention from competition to romance.

I enjoy reading Sarah Loudin Thomas's books and it was good to get a second glace at some characters from the sound of rain. Fleeta is such an unusual young woman the way she can out shoot most men at the turkey shoot.  She is following her dreams and doesn't want anything like a brooch send romance her way.  Her innocence is both delightful and bittersweet.  I liked this novella for people that came alive in true Sarah Loudin Thomas style. Rich with the poignancy of West Virginia in the 1950's where people were doing their best with what they had.  Yet still, that brooch was treasured. 

....from the publisher...
In Becky Wade's "Because of You," Maddie Winslow has spent years in love with a man whose heart was already spoken for. When a church Christmas project brings them together and she stumbles upon an old family brooch, might it finally be her turn for love?

The brooch made it to present day Christmas season.  Becky Wade's approach is in tune with the younger generation. The brooch makes its way into Maddie's hands in an almost irreverent manner.  Maddie's mother seemed a bit sheepish when she admitted she had forgotten it in with some of her old things.  Fortunately, Maddie loved the brooch and found it just in time...or are all the stories of this brooch just coincidence? To find out for sure, pick up a copy in time for your Christmas reading season. 

I received a copy of this book with no obligation to write a review but as with all books I enjoy, I just can't keep a good thing to myself!   

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Good Historical Fiction in The Light Before Day by Suzanne Woods Fisher

...from the publisher....
After three years on a whaling voyage, Henry Macy returns to Nantucket to news that his grandmother has passed, bequeathing her vast fortune to him and his sister, Hitty. And it was truly vast. But Lillian Coffin was no fool. The inheritance comes with a steep cost,
including when they should marry and whom--a Quaker in good standing, of course. But if they relinquish the inheritance, it all goes to Tristram Macy, their father's thieving business partner.

As Hitty and Henry seek a way to satisfy the will's conditions, they'll be faced with obstacles on every side--and it may be that Lillian Coffin will have the last word after all.

Bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher surprises and delights with this story of hope and renewal, love and redemption, arriving just when most needed. review...

I was intrigued by this book.  Maybe it was the condition of Lillian Swain Coffin's will or maybe it was the development of the characters.  Benjamin Foulger was a handsome young law clerk who was tasked to make sure all conditions of Henry and Hitty's grandmother's will were met.  He was so accommodating to Henry's ideas, showed up when least expected and seemed to always be at the Grand House when dinner was served.  Grandfather Jeremiah never took to Benjamin.  Nobody knew why for sure and he didn't share.  Both men were complex although many thought Jeremiah to be simpler than he was. You can't be sure what any man is thinking.

Jeremiah Macy was as seasoned cooper and knew plenty about whaling.  He had great advice seasoned with the lore of his sea life.  "If there's no wind, then row." This simple statement showed up many times between the pages of this story and each time it was used it seemed apt.  Had this advice been heeded each time, many troubling events could have been avoided. 

Good historical fiction is mingled with facts and people who made a difference in that era. Our country was about to face a tumultuous era as the Abolitionist Movement was just beginning.  Anna Gardner was a well known Abolitionist Speaker and held conferences on segregationist issues.  Including her within the story was well done and fitting for the time and events. Frederick Douglas made his first appearance at one of her conferences.  While it took some time for slavery to be abolished, this movement had a an impact on the people of Nantucket who seemed to be a bit separate from the mainland.  The Quakers, who are noted for friendship and peace were just as caught up in the issues of the day.  I recommend this book for the story but also for the good writing by Suzanne Woods Fisher and her impeccable research.   There is a little bit of mystery involved with this story and it will keep you guessing until the story comes to fruition.   There is much to read and learn in this book!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Studying the Gospel of John Day by Day

...from the publisher....

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Great Britain was home to some of the greatest preachers, biblical scholars, and Christian writers in all of church history. Legendary names such as Charles Spurgeon, George MΓΌller, Hudson Taylor, Catherine Booth, and George MacDonald stand out as giants of the church. Their predecessors, such as John Wesley and Matthew Henry, left them a rich tradition of biblical and evangelical excellence to follow. Americans R. A. Torrey and Charles Finney and South African Andrew Murray were cut from the same cloth.

From the classic writings of these revered saints, Lance Wubbels has edited and compiled the best of the best of their inspirational insights into this 365-day devotional. Verse by verse through the Gospel of John, readers will gain an unforgettable understanding of the life, words, and ministry of Jesus Christ. Here is a one-year devotional that is packed with profound biblical commentary, brilliant wisdom, and practical application that will enrich readers and be read for a lifetime. thoughts....

I don't know how many times in my life have I heard these words on a Sunday: "A reading from the Gospel of John..."  So many times! What a blessing to have an in-depth study into the Gospel of John through this day by day devotional edited by Lance Wubbels.  This book with words from Charles Spurgeon, Catherine Booth and John Wesley to name but a few is a resource for anyone seeking further study into God's powerful word.  This book is not one to be read quickly but to be savored and studied and read yet again.  We grow up with these words of wisdom read from a pulpit yet often it is a quiet moment of an evening when we take notice and hear it anew as though for the first time. I recommend this book with 5 stars. I received this book from the publisher with no obligation to review.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Romancing the Bride.... Another Good Read by Melissa Jagears

....from the publisher.....
Marrying a stranger to save a ranch is one thing; losing the land on their wedding day is another.

Desperate to keep the ranch where three of her children and a husband lie buried, Annie Gephart must marry or sell. Which of the few bachelors in town would consider a surprise proposal to wed a plain widow with a rebellious daughter, a spirited boy, and unpaid taxes—without laughing in her face?
Jacob Hendrix has never fully let go of his ranching dreams despite ending up as a small Wyoming town’s marshal. The job wouldn’t be so bad, except he’s more errand boy than lawman. When Annie proposes marriage without a single coquettish bat of an eyelash, can he commit himself to a woman he hardly knows for a choice piece of property he’d be an idiot to pass up?

But taxes aren’t all that threaten Annie and Jacob’s plans. Cattle rustlers, crumbling friendships, and wayward children make this marriage of convenience anything but. When they lose what they’ve sacrificed everything to save, will the love of a stranger be enough?

Romancing the Bride is the first book in the Frontier Vows Series by award-winning Christian romance author Melissa Jagears. If you like heartwarming marriage-of-convenience stories, you’ll love this sweet romance filled with endearing characters. thoughts...

Romancing the Bride is such a compelling story. I can't imagine facing the hardships women like Annie faced.  Life in the old west was hard and on any given day a man or woman could lose their spouse.  Like many who sunk their money into land and cattle, there wasn't much money left over.  Under most circumstances for a woman to lose her husband meant losing her livelihood.

I could almost feel Annie's desperation when she decided to ask Jacob to marry her.  I could almost feel how she felt moving to town and seeming to live as his wife to a town that wasn't sure what to make of her.  Melissa Jagears has made the characters of this book come alive.  Between the pages of this book you can see the tension in the air when church services are over and everyone prepares for the wedding.  It cracks in such a way you aren't sure what is going to hit this couple next. Take a surly teenage girl, unsupportive friends and a flirty young beauty and even the best bride or groom might want to turn around and leave the altar.

So many things backfire and it takes a great deal of faith sprinkled with patience. I found myself thinking about Cassie, Annie's daughter.  She is so full of anger and disappointment over her father's death that she does her best to make everyone in the family unhappy. Yet, through it all, Jacob, as her stepfather deeply cared about her.  He would do whatever he could to make her see he wasn't trying to replace her father.  Jacob's prayer for his marriage and his new family are an inspiration.  He was a strong man who was humbled by his faith, and that faith is what made him strong.

I received an advance reader copy of this book but was under no obligation to review it.  However, I can't help but share when I read such a good book.  I recommend this book with 5 stars: great story, wonderful characters who are superbly developed and lovely description for a glimpse back into historical times in Wyoming.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Holly Quinn's New Series Debuts with A Crafter Knits A Clue

A Crafter Knits a Clue: A Handcrafted MysteryA Crafter Knits a Clue by Holly Quinn is set in a small town full of caring folks.   Sammy's craft store seems like the center of town with crafters selling their wares and clubs meeting to work on special projects.  When a murder occurs in the local yarn shop it seems like so many clues are placed in front of Sammy she can't help but get involved.  The cast of characters in this cozy mystery is about as long as there are residents of little Heartsford WI.
The author weaves a lot of clues within this story and just when one suspect appears another one seems more likely to have committed the crime.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of mystery mixed with crafting and a touch of romance.  Sammy just can't let a clue get by her and when she has a brush of danger there is a certain Lieutenant Liam Nash who is close on her heels.  This book is the first in a new series by Holly Quinn and likely to develop a following.