Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin: A Story of Espionage During World War I

...from the publisher... 
In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life--a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel's half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel's diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives. thoughts....
This book is quite an escapade for  intrigue. I liked the two main characters, Colin Mabry and Johanna Reyer.  They played nicely against each other since he was fast becoming a wallflower with his war injuries and she with her devil may care attitude for her cause.  As they joined forces to find the missing Jewel Reyer, it was easy to see how their chemistry made them a formidable team.

Kate Breslin's characters come alive and their complexities make this suspenseful novel one that is hard to put down.  I was surprised to learn how much carrier pigeons were used in World War I to convey intricate details for intelligence.  Colin may have had a debilitating injury when he lost his hand but that did nothing to stop him from playing an important role in deciphering the coded messages sent from allies.  Johanna pioneered women when she donned tunics and slacks to drive her motorcycle in and out of danger to deliver messages.  I enjoyed her spirit and her first hand experience handling the pigeons who carried messages across the channel.

The two were joined together on a mission that grew larger than life. Kate kept the story going with several twists and turns to make this one big caper for freedom.  There is a good bit of faith and values in this story that brings together a man who was grounded in his faith and a woman who never before heard the word of God.  The love Colin begins to feel for Johanna is built within his faith and as she grows to love him, she opens her  heart to a new and simmering faith.  I enjoyed this story very much and recommend it to the reader who enjoys mysteries of an espionage nature.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Reviewing: A Faithful Gathering by Leslie Gould thoughts...
 I recently read A Faithful Gathering, book three in the Sisters of Lancaster Series by Leslie Gould. I enjoy Leslie's books not only for the good story but also for the characters, each one unique and complex.  Leisel is no exception.  She courageously left her Amish faith and comforts of home to study nursing, a field she felt God called her to enter.  For an Amish woman with an eighth grade education that is no small fete. When you open this book you will find she has accomplished all that hard work and she is ready to take her board examinations. With her future full of opportunity, her life around her shifts and she suddenly finds herself on new ground and nothing is going to be what she planned.

Her mother does not support her leaving the faith and becoming a nurse. Her sister Marie is on shaky ground with a cancer diagnosis. The farm is at a point where some changes need to be made to keep it productive.  Nick is planning a change in his career that will alter the life they planned together.  The calm in this port of storm is her beloved aunt relating the wonderful story of her grandfather.  His story is like the balm she needs to see things in a new perspective. 

...from the publisher... 
Leisel Bachmann left her Amish roots and beloved sisters to pursue a career in medicine without a second thought. She has an Englisch boyfriend, Nick Jordan, and dreams of a new life--but those dreams come crashing down when her sister Marie is diagnosed with cancer.

Soon nothing is going as she planned--not her state boards, not her first nursing job, and certainly not her relationship with Nick. As she becomes increasingly discouraged, her aunt shares the story of Leisel's grandfather during World War II and the struggle he faced between returning to Lancaster or being with the woman he loved.

Peace and a vision for the future are difficult to find, and when Nick leaves Pennsylvania for a completely new life, Leisel is faced with impossible choices. Will she stay in Lancaster, close to her family and the traditions of her past? Or learn from her grandfather's story and embrace a life of love and service in an uncertain future?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Broken Bone China by Laura Childs

...from the publisher...

It is Sunday afternoon, and Theodosia and Drayton are catering a formal tea at a hot-air balloon rally. The view aloft is not only stunning, they are also surrounded by a dozen other colorful hot-air balloons. But as the sky turns gray and the clouds start to boil up, a strange object zooms out of nowhere. It is a drone, and it appears to be buzzing around the balloons, checking them out.

As Theodosia and Drayton watch, the drone, hovering like some angry, mechanized insect, deliberately crashes into the balloon next to them. An enormous, fiery explosion erupts, and everyone watches in horror as the balloon plummets to the earth, killing all three of its passengers.

Sirens scream, first responders arrive, and Theodosia is interviewed by the police. During the interview she learns that one of the downed occupants was Don Kingsley, the CEO of a local software company, SyncSoft. Not only do the police suspect Kingsley as the primary target, they learn that he possessed a rare Revolutionary War Union Jack flag that several people were rabidly bidding on.

Intrigued, Theodosia begins her own investigation. Was it the CEO's soon-to-be ex-wife, who is restoring an enormous mansion at no expense? The CEO's personal assistant, who also functioned as curator of his prized collection of Americana? Two rival antiques' dealers known for dirty dealing? Or was the killer the fiancΓ©e of one of Theodosia's dear friends, who turns out to be an employee—and whistle-blower—at SyncSoft? thoughts...

Theodosia and Drayton are at it again! I never know where I will find these two. What started out as a pleasant hot air balloon ride ends tragically as the balloon next to them is hit by a rogue drone.  Broken Bone China by Laura Childs is book twenty in the Tea Shop Mystery Series and it is a good one.  There are a lot of things going on this story and it seems like one thing just keeps going on after another to where there are more than one suspects being juggled in the air.  It is a complex plot that took some twists and turns with some bad weather in the mix.

Drayton never fails to disappoint with all his wit and wisdom.  He is a font of historical knowledge and there is good information for people who enjoy American history as I do.  Laura Childs' research is impeccable from her knowledge of tea, to southern culture, fabulous recipes, history, and of course, the sleuthing.  I always look forward to her next book because they are so enjoyable, especially with a cup of tea.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Mending Fences Destined to Be Another Success for Suzanne Woods Fisher

Luke Schrock just got out of rehab for the third time.  He didn't receive the welcome home he expected and he was unsure where he would stay or whether he wanted to be back in Stoney Ridge.  He had long since worn out his welcome and wore down the community.  When Bishop David Stoltzfus talked to Luke about mending fences, it was not meant in the literal way with a hammer and some nails. Rather, it was a painstaking method that Luke found the most difficult challenge of his life.

Handsome, confident Luke got much more than he bargained for this time.  I loved reading this book by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Whenever I read one of her books I tell myself it is her best yet.  However, there is so much inside Mending Fences that I recommend it not just for a good read but also as a book club selection.  The discussions would be lively and all the more so for the questions in the back of the book.

I found myself laughing out loud a few times in this book for the adventures Luke got himself into.  In the midst of all his foibles there is a truly serious side to this story of resilience and faith.  He is persistent in his journey of second ( or sometimes more....) chances and along the way his faith grows, bringing along some surprising new friends. 

Although this is Luke's story, it would be rather dull without Izzy Miller, A young woman, who like Luke, was staying at Windmill Farm with Amos and Fern Lapp. Throughout the story he worked hard to win her friendship.  She trusted very few people, least of all Luke. His reputation had, after all, preceded him. The story of their prickly relationship is heartwarming and full of surprises.  Tears of sadness and joy abound.

Mending Fences is the first book of Suzanne's new series The Deacon's family. After reading an excerpt of the upcoming  Stitches In Time, I am looking forward to hearing more about Luke and Izzy.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Grateful American by Gary Sinise thoughts... 

Grateful American A Journey From Self to Service is Gary Sinise's inspiring story.  He has become one of our country's favorite role model for selfless service to others.  I am inspired by this service and his dedication to our military, and first responders.  Throughout the book I was touched by his honor and respect for those who serve us, often in the most trying situations. I looked forward to reading just one more chapter to keep up the momentum of his tireless ideas and willingness to look for ways to help his fellow Americans when they need us most. 

As a young man he made lifelong friends with fellow actors who started the  Steppenwolf theater together in Chicago.  It was  grand time for creative ideas, yet nobody thought these young men and women had what it takes to build a theater troupe that is still alive and thriving in Chicago today.  In subsequent years he teamed up with his friends and colleagues over and over.  It was at the theater where he was inspired to offer free nights for Veterans at the theater.  It was at the theater that he was prompted to never give up when pursuing the rights to perform plays written by and performed by vets.  It was at this theater that he met his loving wife Moira. 

The theater continued to play a role in his service to the vets after meeting Moira's brothers Mac and James.  Gary was inspired by their service and all the courage and dedication they had to serving our country.  As a woman who was a teenager during the sixties, I remember well how our military were treated when they returned from Vietnam.  Two of my brothers served in Vietnam and one received a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in the war.  I know several young men who were killed or badly wounded in the war.  It was devastating.  Can we ever thank them enough?

Today we fight in another arena and I am grateful for the work Gary Sinise continues to do through the Gary  Sinise Foundation.  I can't imagine the pace he worked through to go to so many U.S.O. shows, whether to shake hands or perform with the Lt. Dan Band and for the time he has spent visiting our severely wounded in the military hospitals at home and abroad on their first stop for treatment. 

In addition to the military, his work with First Responders is tremendous.  As he describes September 11, 2001 in the book, I was taken back to the moment I heard of this horrific attack;  while watching it unfold on live television. Our country pulled together and became stronger.

  I am happy I had an opportunity to be a member of the Grateful American Launch Team.  Reading this book has been a memorable experience.  This is a good story of an aimless teen who found his purpose in a life of selfless service to our country.  He is one in a million.  I am grateful for him and also his family who have supported him and his time away from home because they truly understand how important his work is and the impact it makes on the lives of so many.  Throughout the book he is grateful for his life and career as an American.   How refreshing for times such as these. 

...from the publisher...

As a kid in suburban Chicago, Gary Sinise was more interested in sports and rock-n-roll than reading or schoolwork. But when he impulsively auditioned for a school production of "West Side Story," he found his purpose--or so it seemed. Within a few years Gary and a handful of friends created what became one of the most exciting and important new theater companies in America. From its home in a church basement in Highland Park, Illinois, the Steppenwolf Theatre launched a series of groundbreaking productions, igniting Gary's career along with those of John Malkovich, Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf, Dennis Farina, John Mahoney, and others. Television and film came calling soon after, and Gary starred in Of Mice and Men (which he directed) and The Stand  before taking the role that would change his life in unforeseeable ways: Lieutenant Dan in the Academy Award-winning Forrest Gump.

The military community’s embrace of the character of the disabled veteran was matched only by the depth of Gary's realization that America's defenders had not received all the honor, respect, and gratitude their sacrifices deserve. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, this became Gary's mission. While starring in hits like Apollo 13, RansomTruman, George Wallace, CSI: NY, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Gary has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who serve this country, entertaining more than a half million troops around the world playing bass guitar with his Lieutenant Dan Band, raising funds on behalf of veterans, and eventually founding the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.
Grateful American is the moving, entertaining, profoundly gripping story of how one man found his calling: to see that those who defend this country and its freedoms are never forgotten.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Patient One by Shelley Shepard Gray

"Some friends may ruin you, but a real friend will be more loyal than a brother. "—Proverbs 18: 24

Friendships are to treasure, for we never know when those close ties will change forever.  The Patient One begins with friends gathered for the unthinkable: Andy's funeral. They can't work out how it can possibly be that one of their own has died.  Each has their own precious memories of a friend who was the best sort of friend. Loyal, dependable, always with a willing ear.  Each wonders how they could have drifted on to their own busy, separate lives. 

Shelley Shepard Gray has hit the pulse of how it feels when death comes takes someone young from our midst. As those left behind struggle to reason with their loss, nobody has a good answer.  As Andy's friends struggle to understand his death, each grieves in their own way.  I liked this book, as I have others by this author. She tackles  hard topics and this was no exception as I thought of each young person in my life who died too young. It is inexplicable and painful. It is not easy, yet we can emerge with lessons learned, as all of Andy's friends do as they grapple with grief and what their lives hold for them in the future. And there is a future.  A rich future,  that may look differently than what they imagined, yet our faith in God reminds us of this promise.

I appreciate this book for the thoughtful way it was written.  I recommend it with 4 stars as it is a book that will make you think and remain in your heart for a while. It will make you think of absent friends and memories of times spent together making those memories.  Stay tuned for more books in The Walnut Creek Series. 

...notes from the publisher....

When word had gotten out that Andy Warner had committed suicide, everyone in Walnut Creek, Ohio, had been shocked. For seven men and women in their twenties, some Amish, some Mennonite, and some English, each of whom had once counted his or herself as one of Andy’s best friends, it had been extremely painful.

And, maybe, a source of guilt.

Years have passed since they’d all been together last. Some of them got into trouble. A couple got into arguments. Eventually they all drifted apart. But even though none of them really saw each other anymore, there was a steadfast certainty that they’d always have each other’s backs—even when no one else did. Their bond was that strong…until Andy did the unthinkable.

Now the seven remaining friends, still reeling from Andy’s death, have vowed to look after each other again. As far as they’re concerned, it doesn’t matter that they’re now in their twenties and have drifted far apart. They need to connect again…for Andy.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Wanda Brunstetter's The Forgiving Jar is an Inspiration

...from the publisher...  

Sara Murray had never met her mother’s parents and was surprised to learn after her death that they were Amish living in Pennsylvania. When she is finally able to make the trip to meet them, she is shocked to learn someone else has been living with them and pretending to be Sara. Sara can’t understand how quickly her grandparents are willing to forgive the impostor.

Secrets and deceit seem to follow Sara, and she is so tired of it. Though soon she meets Brad Fuller who is visiting her grandparents for during Christmas. She likes him a lot, but even he seems to pull away from her, not being totally honest.

Struggling, Sara finds an old canning jar hidden in the barn that is full of encouraging prayers. Can Sara find a way to forgive the past and move on to building new relationships? thoughts... 

The Forgiving Jar, book two in Wanda E Brunstetter's Prayer Jar series is an inspiring story about forgiveness even when all seems hopeless.  Faith and a searching heart can overcome even the worst feelings within an unforgiving heart.  Had anyone ever assumed my identity I am sure it would take an act of God to help me get over those feelings of hurt, frustration and sense of being violated.  Sara was wounded and justly so.  As the story went along, however, I felt she was overtaken by her betrayal and wondered if she could get over it.

Her grandparents loved her and were thrilled to finally have her in their home.  They also came to love Michelle, the imposter, who through an honest case of mistaken identity, became Sara in their eyes and hearts. Michelle, for her part, in The Hope Jar, had never known the love they showered on her and as time went on, didn't want to let go of  her life as Sara.  

Michelle has atoned for her past and tries very hart to be forgiven by Sara, as she has by her new community.  If not for a jar filled with scripture, she may not have found the new, peaceful life she lives now.   

I enjoyed reading The Forgiving Jar by Wanda E Brunstetter, a book filled with complex characters and moments of self reflection.  She knows human nature and the power of prayer.  If there is a third book in this series, I will definitely read it!  This book is for anyone who likes an intriguing cast of characters along with some food for spiritual thought that, although not preachy, hits the mark. I enjoyed both books in this series, please read my review of The Hope Jar as well. I recommend this book with 5 stars!


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Stories From the Past... Ladies of Intrigue by Michelle Griep

3 Page-Turners Under One Cover from Reader Favorite Michelle Griep!
Can truth and love prevail when no one is as they appear?

The Gentleman Smuggler’s Lady
Cornish Coast, 1815
When a prim and proper governess returns to England from abroad, she expects to comfort her dying father—not fall in love with a smuggler. Will Helen Fletcher keep Isaac Seaton’s unusual secret?
The Doctor’s Woman (A Carol Award Winner!)
Dakota Territory, 1862
Emmy Nelson, daughter of a missionary doctor, and Dr. James Clark, city doctor aspiring to teach, find themselves working side by side at Fort Snelling during the Dakota Uprising. That is when the real clash of ideals begins.
  A House of Secrets
St. Paul, Minnesota, 1890
Ladies Aide Chairman, Amanda Carston resolves to clean up St. Paul’s ramshackle housing, starting with the worst of the worst: a “haunted” house that’s secretly owned by her beau—a home that’s his only means of helping brothel girls escape from the hands of the city’s most infamous madam. thoughts...

I had an opportunity to read The Gentleman Smuggler's Lady once before and was pleased to find it among this collection. Helen was to travel aboard ship to help her ailing father but got much more than she bargained for. Pirates....and a handsome one at that, set her heart roiling like the sea itself. Things are not always as they seem so this story takes a surprising turn as Helen earns her niche as an intriguing lady. Sometimes a novella can be too short to capture the heart of the story but not so for The Gentleman Smuggler's Lady. 

The Doctor's Woman, set in Fort Snelling is a testament of Michelle's talent as a writer of historical fiction set in military outposts in middle America. Harsh conditions tested the mettle of the men who served and the courageous women who joined their husbands far from conventions of society. The story of Emmy and James is one such story, but what sets this novella apart from others is how they came to work together.  Their love was not found in  ballrooms nor cotillions but among the caring way they cared for the Dakota women and children encamped at Fort Snelling. This is heartwarming and a worthy read for those who enjoy American Historical fiction.

A House of Secrets is a glimpse into the "Gay Nineties" when lovely young ladies belonged to "well intentioned" organizations based on service projects and planned social events to improve the lot of the less fortunate. By and large the members were protected from the unpleasant side of life and followed the norms of decorum of the day.  Amanda Carston, new chair for the Ladies Aide Society was not so demure as to sip tea when she had goals to achieve for the annual service project. She meant to start school for the poor and was willing to go to great lengths to achieve her goal.
 Her fiancee was involved with his own project and the timing of his plans nearly collide with hers. As City Attorney, his job was on the line and his investigation of shady characters keeps this story going. This story has seemingly complex characters but Amanda was pretty predictable, albeit sweet. She learned a lot while pursuing her service project, and found out the hard way what a dedicated man Joseph was to her. I enjoyed the way Michelle tied up the tangled web of good intentions and misunderstandings.

If you like historical fiction, I recommend Ladies of Intrigue with 4 stars. I found this collection a good traveling companion on a very long flight.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

At Last, The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen

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.