Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dare To Spend 12 Days at Bleakly Manor

If you enjoy Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie, then 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep is a book you want to savor by the fire.  Great hosts can entice nearly anyone to a fine mansion for the holidays. In true bleak form, however, this is one place you may not want the carriage to stop.  On December 24th, 1850, invitations were delivered to a select few who would spend the holidays at the stately Victorian manor.  
12 Days at Bleakly Manor: Book 1 in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas by [Griep, Michelle]
For Clara Chapman, a young woman reduced to poor circumstances after being left at the altar on her wedding day, the surprising invitation is quite puzzling for it said:

"The Twelve Days of Christmas 
As never's been reveled
Your presence, Miss Chapman, is respectfully herald.
Bleakly Manor's the place 
And after twelve nights
Five hundred pounds
Will be yours by rights."

There would be no question she would go though she hated to leave the aunt she lovingly cared for.  Go she did and what she found would change her life forever.

Benjamin Lane, betrayed and marked with a prison tattoo languished in his cell, angry at the unknown person who stole his life, took his fortune and turned his only love against him. He too received an invitation to the manor but his invitation gave him no choice but to attend.  Attend the twelve days at Bleakly and he may get his freedom.  Escape from Bleakly and he would love his life.

All who gathered at Bleakly were led there for a purpose. All sought the reward offered if they could but stay the twelve nights.  Each day grew bleaker, however and death was not a stranger as mysterious events turned up and the guests numbers dwindled.

As fate would have it, Clara and Benjamin had met before. She was his love, the one he lost through betrayal. He was the man who left her alone at the church humiliated. A humiliation that was heightened by the ruin of her family's business and fortune through embezzlement by the same man she trusted and loved.

Who will remain and win the prize?  If you seek the answer, read the book!  A delicious plot complete with the Dickens flavor of Victorian England.  Charles Dickens, my favorite author of all time, was a champion of the poor and mistreated.  Agatha Christie would have loved the intrigue of the stately manor and absent host.  I enjoyed the opportunity to read this book for review from NetGalley and Barbour Publishing.  I recommend this book as one you will read this season and in seasons to come!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Beloved Christmas Quilt A Tale Lovingly Written by Wanda Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter and Richelle Brunstetter.

Product DetailsThe Beloved Christmas Quilt is a three generational story written, appropriately by three generations of Brunstetter women: Wanda, Jean and Richelle.  Neatly tucked into the story is a beautiful quilt that will bring comfort to three generations of women in the Zook family.  The quilt bears a label lovingly embroidered  by Dena Zook's mother with the words "For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me."  Psalm 31:3    

 Luella's story is written by celebrated author Wanda Brunstetter. Luella is a sweet, unselfish young woman who is the caregiver for Dena, who is dying from  heart disease.  True to her unselfish nature she strives to provide loving care to Dena's son Daryl while keeping up with all the meals and household tasks.  One day, Dena gives Luella a beautiful heirloom quilt, made by her mother.  Dena intended to lovingly pass it along to her own daughter one day.  She sees something special in Luella's heart and gives the quilt to her with the promise that she will continue to dare for Daryl and Atlee after she is gone.

 After Dena passes, Luella continues to care for Daryl as promised. As her love for the child grows, she begins to have feelings for Atlee.  Although she is being pursued by Eugene Lapp, she realizes she is in love with Atlee, Daryl's father who is sixteen years her senior.  The age difference seems insurmountable and Luella's parents are at odds to accept Atlee as a suitable husband for their daughter.  Does a heart recognize age as an obstacle?

Karen's story, written by Jean Brunstetter, is one that could resonate with any young wife and mother who has moved with her husband far from the family farm.  Karen is lost without her parents nearby. She goes through the daily motions of caring for her young family but can't help but feel her life would be so much better if she could convince Seth to move back home to be closer to family.

Seth, working through his own stress on the job feels the added pressure of Karen's unhappiness.  His job provides a better income for his family than he could earn back home. Karen and Seth face what seems to be insurmountable differences.  As she holds the Beloved Christmas Quilt close, she discovers the verse on the label and it provides her with comfort. Can she take heart in the verse as her mother did before her?

Roseanna's story is written by newcomer Richelle Brunstetter, Jean's daughter and Wanda's granddaughter. Roseanna's story is that of a young woman who is left standing alone at her wedding by her beloved John. Her mother, Karen, wants to pass along the quilt to Roseanna, believing that it could provide a special comfort to her.  Roseanna, knowing the history of the quilt, doesn't feel worthy of the quilt since John didn't marry her.

After weeks of staying home, she finally goes to town and runs into Mark, who recently moved back to town.  The attention he gives her is a welcome change after John's rejection.  After staying with his aunt and uncle to think through his actions, John returned. He tried to explain what prompted him to leave but Roseanna refused to hear him out.  But when a tragedy strikes her family will the dashing suitor or the man who truly knows her heart truly be there at her side?  Once more the quilt provides comfort that so long ago was stitched into each layer.

Like constant character in the story, a quilt that was a labor of love touched the lives of all who owned. I wonder how many of us have a treasured gift that was passed down through generation. The Beloved Christmas Quilt is a heartwarming book that will make a wonderful addition for your Christmas reading list!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reviewing: Any Dream Will Do by Debbie Macomber

Any Dream Will Do: A Novel by [Macomber, Debbie]Shay Benson stepped off the bus in downtown Seattle and realized that she was on her own.  She had a little money but nowhere to go. No family, no home.  Just released from Purdy Corrections Center, the real world was staring her in the face and it was overwhelming. And cold! Without thinking she walked into a church near the bus stop.  Of all the unlikely places to go she found herself in a church and found herself asking God, "You got anything for me?"

As in answer, a man looked over his shoulder and Shay realized she was not so alone after all.  Pastor Drew Douglas was deep in his own prayer as one who felt he was at his wits end.  His wife died from cancer, his church attendance was down and he could use some help with his two children.  Even after three years he couldn't seem to get on with things without her.

This quiet meeting between Shay and Drew sets the tone for a wonderful story of faith, courage, second chances and love.

Any Dream Will Do is the latest novel from beloved author Debbie Macomber. Written with well developed characters, the book is full of hope for those who seem to have lost their hope.  Shay has faced trouble since the death of her mother.  Her father was bitter and abusive and she was responsible for her younger brother Caden.  When she is seduced by the promise of love and escape from her father by her boyfriend Shooter, she finds instead an uglier world with a dangerous gang leader. Her brother is also drawn into this lifestyle and her story begins to spiral out of control.  The love she has for her brother leads her to embezzle money to ward off gang members greedy for him to repay a loan.  Off to prison she went without another word from Caden.

Drew was startled from his prayers by Shay and immediately rose to help her.  With his help she was able to enter Hope Center, a program that was designed for women who needed a second chance. The program had strict guidelines but she worked hard, graduated from the program and was ready for her new life with a new job and a new home.

Shay was grateful to Drew for seeing her as she could be, not as the woman who served time in a prison.  Her life was not easy yet it was better than she could remember. She found her faith and it stood her in good stead when troubles came her way. Life doesn't always prepare you for those times when your past encroaches like an unwelcome guest.  With Drew's help she finds her way.

Drew had faith in Shay and when things threatened to hurt her he was at her side.  As her past came to light to more members of the congregation, doubt reared its head.  Shay's resilience was admirable.  This is a well written story for anyone who has ever doubted their own courage to dream for a better situation in life.  It is uplifting and enjoyable.  When asked what her dreams were, Shay couldn't answer. She was told, "Any dream will do."  These four words were used more than once and were such an encouraging theme.  Many thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine books for the opportunity to review this book.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reviewing: Heart On The Line By Karen Witemeyer

It's late autumn and Grace Mallory has been in hiding for nearly a year.  She holds the secret her father carried before he was gunned down before her eyes on the streets of Denver.  Greed is at the heart of the  matter when a mine owner learns his fortune is at stake. Heart On The Line by Karen Witemeyer is set in 1894 in the old west, making it a good book to sit back and enjoy with a nice cup of tea.

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper's Station Book #2) by [Witemeyer, Karen]Our heroine is a telegraph operator who has been "on the line" after hours with one Amos Bledsoe forming an innocent, yet warm friendship.  One night as they were "chatting", their discussion is interrupted by an urgent telegraph message that Grace's whereabouts have been discovered. She enlists help from the local lawman but help comes from another surprising source. Amos "overheard" the coded message and swiftly moved everything to catch a train then rent a stubborn mule to come to her aid.  What followed is a tale that has the flavor of the late 19th century, colorful for its innovations.

I liked the book for the sense of adventure; a young woman in hiding, rescued by an unlikely hero.  Amos was a mild mannered, bespectacled man who lived with his mother. A telegrapher by trade his preferred method of transportation was a velocipede. Amos made no secret he would rather ride a bicycle than a horse and this caused enough curiosity among the town that added fun to the story.

For every wonderful young man with a good heart there is a handsome rake that can turn women to putty in his hands.  This man was wearing the badge of a Pinkerton; one who seemingly searched long and hard for Grace.  Under the guise of protection, he assured her he was sent to personally carry out what her father intended to do before he was shot.  Justice would be served.

The man who killed her father is not one to letting sleeping dogs lie.  Although he didn't personally pull the trigger, Chaucer Haversham had men on his payroll who would do anything to keep the man's fortune from slipping to a long thought dead sister. Deception and relentless determination tested Grace's resolve.

In the end, I think one should pick up a copy of Heart On The Line to solve the mystery and see who wins the heart of Grace Mallory. From the bicycles to the parallel of chatting on the wire to online chatting I think the author brought 1894 up to speed with 2017.

Many thanks to Bethany House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Reviewing: Amish Cooking Class - The Blessing

Amish Cooking Class - The Blessing by [Brunstetter, Wanda E.]
What better way for a woman to share her love of cooking than by teaching others.  Heidi Troyer was a wonderful cook who decided to invite people into her home for cooking lessons. Her Aunt Emma was a master quilter and to help conquer her loneliness as a widow she started teaching others to quilt.  Heidi knew that Emma got much more in return from her students than just seeing their completed projects.  So, Heidi, in turn, prayed that by giving simple cooking lessons she could bless others while adding purpose to her own life.  Her first classes were successful so she planned to teach another series of lessons.

She and her husband Lyle have been married nearly nine years yet remain childless.  After years of longing for a child, they are looking forward to adopting a baby.  As things happen in life, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition. Disappointed and hurt, Heidi buoyed herself with her deep faith and strength of character to overcome the sadness after learning the adoption fell through.  With Lyle’s encouragement, she went ahead with her plans teach another series of classes.  The first day of class brought an unexpected mix of eager students.  From the lonely wife of a policeman to a teen struggling to fill the shoes of the mother who walked out on the family, Heidi welcomes them all to her home.  Even her mailman smelled the delightful aromas and wanted to join in. Women and a few men who wanted to prepare tasty meals unwittingly found so much more in the Troyer's kitchen.  
Each week as Heidi wrote out the weekly recipe for the class she tucked a verse of scripture on the back of t.  Devout in her faith, she prayed that someone among the group would read and need that verse before the next class.  Oftentimes, the students would gather and share how uncannily a verse resonated and hit home.  

In her simple yet faithful way, Heidi made an impact on those who took her class.  I read the first book in the series, Amish Cooking Class - where it all began when one woman decided to step out in a leap of faith to make a difference.  I enjoyed the quiet way she listened, taught and prayed for her students.  So much more was going on than mixing, baking and preparing food.  A ragtag group of unlikely people came together as strangers and came away as friends.  Each one with their own story.

I invite you to see your yourself by picking up this wonderful book.  I was pleased to read the Amish Cooking Class - The Blessing,  by Wanda Brunstetter for review for an unbiased review.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sunday Review: Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason

Chasing Secrets (Elite Guardians Book #4) by [Eason, Lynette]
Have you ever felt like you were right there in the midst of the story? Award winning author Lynette Eason is one of those writers who can draw the reader into the pages.  Chasing Secrets, fourth book of the Elite Guardian series is one of those books that will take you on a suspenseful ride page after page. 

Haley Callaghan, an Elite Guardian bodyguard finds herself in the middle of  a cold case tracing back to her roots in Ireland.  Bits and pieces of her childhood unfold as she finds herself in the middle of a deadly plot and she is the target. Drawing on all her resources, she intends to find whoever is at the center of this intrigue and why.

Detective Steven Rothwell is not going to sit idly by and let her take this on her own. Even though Haley is a force to be reckoned with on her own, there is a deadly force encroaching on her. There are too many close calls in this case, endangering her life and the lives of people she swore to protect.

In true Eason style, she wraps this puzzle into a neat package of suspense, mystery and romance. If you enjoy suspenseful novels this is a book you'll want to add to your collection. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Reviewing: Home All Along

Home All Along (An Amish Secrets Novel) by [Wiseman, Beth]
Home All Along ,Book 3 in the Amish Secret Series  by Beth Wiseman is not your typical novel about an Englisher living among the Amish. Charlotte has made a home for herself in her late brother Ethan's house.  It is quite a change from her first visit, posing as an Amish woman searching for answers about Ethan's death.

Life has had far too many ups and downs for such a young woman.
As a child she and Ethan lived in foster homes with time off to be returned home now and then when their parents were released from rehab or jail.  And now, she just wants to live quietly, join the church and marry Daniel.   The past, however, has a way of stirring things up. For Charlotte, the past included a sister she hadn't thought of for a very long time.  As a baby, Charlotte's sister Andrea was also placed in foster care but never saw her family again. Until, that is, when she tracked Charlotte down at their mother's funeral. It didn't take long for her to get herself moved in with Charlotte, along with her baby.  For Charlotte, having her family near was a blessing and she was determined to make them a home together.

In the beginning, it seems the book is about Charlotte and Daniel's love for each other.  It is more than that, however, as three families grapple with love, death, illness and how difficult it is to understand God's will under the modern marvels of medicine.  The questions Beth Wiseman raises in this novel are complex. I liked how the decisions were made. Sometimes we need someone to nearly hit us with a two by four to wake us up about putting others needs before our desires.

Daniel family struggles with major family decisions.  He loves Charlotte but is pulling away from her. Charlotte's beloved friend and motherly mentor Lena faces yet another bout of breast cancer. Andrea is slowly learning from Charlotte's love that life can be different.  So many trials are faced in this book yet through it all. Is there enough faith and love for Charlotte and her Daniel to marry?  This book is for readers who are looking for characters who are resilient and not willing to give up when life gets hard.  Once again, Beth Wiseman has delivered!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reviewing: A Letter from Lancaster County

Second chances don't come along often and if we miss them, regret can linger like moss on the roof. Always lurking above as a reminder.  A letter written
A Letter from Lancaster County (Lancaster Discoveries Book 1) by [Lloyd, Kate]with hope to repair the past brings two sisters to Lancaster County to visit their mother's sister. Their memories of Aunt Sylvia are barely visible yet something stirs Angela's heart to make the journey with her sister Rose.  Memories of their mother linger within the walls of  Sylvia's home. This is the home where their  grandparents lived and raised their family.  

Within the coves of A Letter from Lancaster County, Kate Lloyd skillfully writes of the journey begun with duty and spite. Angela and Rose grew up in the same house yet are worlds apart. Angela is married to a successful attorney and her two children are of a certain age where they no longer need their doting mother managing their busy schedules.  Rose is single, owns her own business and pinches pennies.  

The simplicity of Sylvia's life seems to be at the center of the story, yet the author wrote the story from the perspective of Rose and Angela. Chapter by chapter, the events of this short trip to Lancaster County unfold through the eyes of each woman.  Their lives seem to parallel the lives of their aunt and their mother. 

Sylvia's health is failing and the letter she wrote to her nieces was written with fervent hope to repair past tensions she had with her own sister. She is a delightful woman and it is through her quiet wisdom that she lets her nieces alone to discover what she had lost with her own sister.  The past is a good teacher and regret can lead to bitterness.  

Finding a photograph with their mother and Sylvia triggers a change that opens their hearts stirring a change within Angela and Rose.  It is as though they were awakened to how they could change their lives to what was meant to be. We are rarely granted a glimpse into the lives of our mothers as young women.  We think of them as mother, not a young woman who had dreams.  Angela and Rose came to visit their aunt out of duty.  They would choose a memento from the family home and go back to their lives in Seattle.  Or would they?  

As I read this book I thought of how life can be so different for people who were raised the same within the walls of the same home.  One daughter does exactly what is expected and the other is bent on carving her niche in her own way.  One can't help but wonder what causes this and yet for my own part, I had five brothers and five sisters growing up.  It amazes me how we can each remember an event so differently.

As I read the book I was taken in by both Rose and Angela. I felt I was with them on this journey, a reminder of trips I have taken with my own sisters.  This is a book worth adding to your collection. The simplicity of Sylvia's life and how she quietly accepts her nieces, each for who she is is wonderful!  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reviewing: Gladden the Heart by Olivia Newport

Gladden the Heart (Amish Turns of Time Book 5) by [Newport, Olivia]Gladden the Heart  by Olivia Newport, gives us a glimpse of the revivalism movement in America in 1847.  When our story begins, Susanna Hooley is gathering roots and wildflowers to create dyes for fabric.  In the clearing is a large tent for one of Reverend Braxton's revival meetings.  The hot July afternoon brought a large crowd to hear her friend Patsy's father preaching a powerful message. Susanna's Amish community was not immune to the impassioned messages that poured from the good reverend's tongue. Such things were not heard in the long three hour meetings she experienced every other Sunday. Intrigued by what she heard, coupled with seeing so many Amish from her district, she steeled herself away.

Not long after this, however, her life is turned upside down by her cousin Noah. During a normal conversation on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, he fell under a spell.  The normally quiet man began to preach from the book of John.  His message was so powerful and strong, many gathered to hear, including the bishop.  The bishop fully believes that Noah is wakeful and willful with his preaching and orders him to stop. Noah was unaware that he gave such stirring sermons straight from the bible. When he woke from his trances he was exhausted and slept for hours.

It isn't long before Susanna discovers Noah's unpredictable behavior has happened before.   She is determined to help Noah's wife Phoebe keep him safe, disregarding opinions from her mother, the bishop and even Adam Yotter, her intended.  The situation becomes a controversy as many in the community begin congregating at Noah's house daily to hear him preach.  It is only when a near tragedy occurs that Susanna, Adam, his uncle and the bishop come together to help Noah and find common ground. 

I enjoyed this book.  Many people were yearning for meaningful spiritual experiences they didn't find in their usual long, dry services.  A powerful message such as those delivered under the big tent seemed to offer more.  While traditional clergy may have argued that nobody could gauge a true enlightened experience, I disagree. How can anyone know what another truly experiences.  The human experience is amazing and sometimes the true picture cannot be told by looking at someone.  The sleeping preacher phenomenon was real, something I was unaware of.  In the midst of this time in America, great changes were taking place. It is ironic that even the Amish, who lived separate from others would experience such things. Enlightening.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Under A Summer Sky (Follow Your Heart Book 3) by Melody Carlson

Under a Summer Sky (Follow Your Heart): A Savannah Romance by [Carlson, Melody]Melody Carlson is a writer for all seasons.  Under A Summer Sky is a wonderful addition for summer reading.  Travel first class to Savanna this Summer!  Vicariously, of course with Nicole Anderson, who leaves her Seattle home to manage an art gallery for an old family friend.  The gallery is owned by Vivian Graham, her mother's best friend through school.  While growing up, summer vacations were often spent with the Graham family. Nicole and her sister Kate spent a lot of time with the sons Alex and Ryan.

Arriving in Savanna, Nicole finds she is one step ahead of her old life as a high school art teacher. Staying in the Graham home for the summer home is a dream and when she steps into the gallery she feels like she has stepped into her true calling.  Except, of course, for her snarky coworker, Amyra, an unhappy woman who seems willing to go the extra mile to make things unpleasant.  Determined to make things work, Nicole maintains a positive attitude under pressure and begins to find her niche in the gallery business. It doesn't take long for her to put her own successful stamp on the business.

Nicole presents a positive impact on a situation that could be tough. I found her character admirable.  About the second night of her stay she heard unmistakable noises from the attic.  She called on Ryan to help her investigate only to find Alex's daughter Bernie camping out in protest to her parents pending divorce.  With great aplomb, our heroine embraces the girl in a positive way by allowing her to stay in the home and mentoring her at the gallery.   The way the author characterized Nicole makes her such a good role model for the other young women in the story.

As a single woman, of course there is romance for Nicole and I went back and forth on who I wanted her to choose in the end.  The handsome Alex, who she secretly had a crush on as a teen or younger brother Ryan, the former nerd, who may be more than meets the eye.  Melody Carlson once again played this well and I liked the ending very much.

Savanna in the summer, romance, patience and finding your true calling are woven together in this wonderful summer novel.  I recommend it as an addition to any beach bag or perhaps in that carry on bag you'll stow under your seat as you fly away for your summer vacation!