Courting Cate (review)

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Courting CateCourting Cate by Leslie Gould
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At 23, Cate Miller is considered practically on the shelf by the Amish community of Paradise, Pennsylvania. A serious bookworm of a girl, tall, with dark hair, she lacks everything her small, blonde, happy sister Betsy has at 17, including a boyfriend. That’s something their widower father is determined to change, however, when he announces, one spring day, that Betsy will not be allowed to marry before Cate does.

Cate meets Pete Treger at the bookmobile and there’s instant interest on her part. But the way his eyes sparkle when they first light on Betsy convinces Cate he’s just another of Betsy’s potential conquests.

Lots of plot twists and turns make this an Amish fiction like no other I’ve read. There’s no focus on a Rumschpringe (an Amish teen girl or boy’s running-around time), no hankering after the non-Amish life, no Amish girl falling for an outsider or vice versa. But there are lots of complicated family dynamics in this book about loyalty, sacrifice, and love.

Courting Cate is another book I read just for fun this summer and I found it a great read!

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Sweetened With Honey (review)

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Sweetened with Honey (Farm Fresh Romance 3)Sweetened with Honey by Valerie Comer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sierra Riehl is the last of the threesome that established Green Acres still single. In Sweetened with Honey—the third in Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance Series—Gabe Rubachuk re-enters the picture. Gabe, with his wife Bethany, started Nature’s Pantry, an organic food store in the fictional Galena Landing in Book One (Raspberries and Vinegar).

Pregnant Bethany’s life came to a tragic end when she was killed in a collision with a truck on her way home from work one night. Devastated Gabe has spent the last three years in Rumania, working in an orphanage with his parents.

He appears in Chapter 1 just as Sierra is about to administer to Doreen (Bethany’s mother who has been in charge of Nature’s Pantry) a bee sting to help with her arthritis pain. His over-the-top emotional reaction to what he believes will harm her shows us how emotionally fragile he still is.

However, the weeks of his adjustment back to life in Galena Landing has him spending lots of time with the Green Acres crowd and softens him to the beautiful Sierra. For her part, she is conflicted—attracted to Gabe but also romantically involved with a local commercial beekeeper whose inflated ego and money-oriented business practices rub the Green Acres crowd the wrong way, so lots of delicious conflict there.

Again in Sweetened With Honey we experience the camaraderie of the farm—Jo and Zach (Raspberries and Vinegar), Claire and Noel (Wild Mint Tea), along with Jo and Zach’s toddler, his elderly parents, and Doreen are all around the table for communal meals on more than just special occasions.

Comer continues fleshing out in her characters and story line the principles of ecologically sustainable farming that fuel her stories, as well as the importance of a relationship with God. This book also deals with themes of forgiveness and honesty in relationships.

I found Sweetened With Honey a sweet and satisfying read. I’m delighted to discover it has made the shortlist in the Romance Category of the 2015 Word Awards. Congratulations, Valerie!

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Wild Mint Tea (review)

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Wild Mint Tea (A Farm Fresh Romance, #2)Wild Mint Tea by Valerie Comer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claire Halford would dearly love to get the job cooking for the tree-planting crew of Enterprising Reforestation. It would mean that she could quit her short-order job at the Sizzling Skillet, Galena Landing’s main eatery. But good-looking boss Noel Kenzie doesn’t fall for her farm-to-table, cook-what’s-local-and-in-season ethic, though he can’t help but realize he could fall for this perky city girl-cum-farmer in Wild Mint Tea, Book 2 of Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance Series.

In the story we follow Claire and her Green Acres partners Jo and Sierra through a summer of trying to get their place established as an event destination, while Claire juggles her job and what soon blooms into a romance between her and Noel.

I enjoyed the story with its recognizable, likeable characters and community spirit. Comer never strays from her two favorite themes of living lightly and considerately on the earth and the necessity of orienting one’s life by the true north of a biblically based faith.

My only quibble with the book is in its portrayal of romance, where Claire and Noel’s emotional intimacy—seen in shared values and friendship—pales compared to the physical electricity between them. I wished she had shown, in their relationship, more of the glue that keeps people together over the long haul. However, Comer is no slouch at writing romance, so the book certainly delivers in that department.

As a whole the writing is lively, with a taut plot that only gets stronger as we get to the ending. It’s a great continuation of life at Green Acres.

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Secrets and Lies (review)

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Secrets and Lies - Janet SketchleySecrets and Lies: A Redemption’s Edge Novel by Janet Sketchley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carol Daniels has moved with her 16-year-old son Paul from Calgary to Toronto at the beginning of Secrets and Lies, Janet Sketchley’s second book in the Redemption Edge Series. It wasn’t a move of choice but of necessity, to get away from the terrifying lowlife associates that had begun threatening her in her western home—characters that were seemingly connected to her brother (the convicted killer Harry Silver from Heaven’s Prey – Redemption’s Edge 1).

Her hopes of hiding from the thugs are dashed when disturbing anonymous phone calls start again. Not only is the voice in the calls creepy but the threats are terrifying and the character behind them far too aware of her whereabouts and movements for comfort. His demand is for money that her brother has apparently salted away. The detective on the case suggests Carol will eventually have to get in touch with the brother she despises and has disowned.

Those calls aren’t her only worry. There’s Paul too—a good kid but too much like Skip, his egotistical musician father. At least Paul’s not into drugs—the most loathsome of substances that killed her other son, Keith. And she’s determined to keep him safe from the present danger and from following in the footsteps of his musical father.

When nightmares awaken her or worries about her son or the spooky calls keep her from sleep, she makes mint tea and phones the oldies station to talk to the DJ, Joey. He always has a sympathetic ear and a repertoire of Billy Joel tunes to serenade her out of any mood. It turns out that Joey, in person, is just as nice as on-air—and then she discovers he too is hiding secrets.

Sketchley’s skill at merging the believeable and homey details of a modern single mom’s life with criminal threats and shadowy danger makes her main character relatable and in a situation that seems real and plausible. More than once I found myself gripping my e-reader muttering: Don’t answer the stupid phone … don’t trust him … don’t go with him!

But the story is more than a well-plotted tale of romantic suspense. For in it Sketchley wades through all kinds of waters: a mother’s attempts to control her son, a son’s attempts to find his own way while not hurting his mom, trust: how we earn it and find courage to place it, forgiveness: God’s for us and ours for each other, and more.

In the faith department I appreciated the way Sketchley’s Christian characters don’t have all the answers but wrestle with their beliefs like we all do. Several characters have a strong faith and through them we hear good reasons why God is worth putting our faith in even if it seems He’s let us down in the past.

This second book in the Redemption ‘s Edge series is gentler than Heaven’s Prey but with moments just as nailbitingly tense. Sketchley’s sense of timing and ability to lull us with sweet ordinariness, only to fling us in the next page into the arms of cold, unscrupulous evil, makes this a must-read for lovers of Christian suspense. Believable, complex characters and a keen eye for telling details make Sketchley’s writing a pleasure to read for anyone. And there are bonus treats. For the music savvy, this book is a sentimental stroll down memory lane. For the reader with the munchies, all those good smells coming from the Sticky Fingers café and Carol’s own kitchen are enough to drive a person to brownies—with mint tea, of course.

A set of discussion questions at the end of the book makes this a perfect choice for book clubs.

Readers who can’t get enough fiction delivered with doses of tension and danger will want to keep an eye on Sketchley’s lengthening list of books. No Safe Place, Redemption’s Edge 3 is due out in 2015.

This excellent read launches TODAY, November 5th, 2014. Check it out.

Spend a sentimental afternoon with this Secrets and Lies oldies playlist.

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The Daughter of Highland Hall (review)

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The Daughter of Highland Hall: A Novel (Edwardian Brides)The Daughter of Highland Hall: A Novel by Carrie Turansky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is April of 1912 and Katherine Ramsey has come to London to do the “season.” Under the sponsorship of her aunt, Lady Louisa Gatewood—her own parents have both died—it is her goal to come out as a debutante, enjoy a flurry of balls, teas, parties, and other social events, in the process find a sufficiently well-heeled man and arrange, to the satisfaction of all, a suitable marriage.

Of course things don’t turn out quite that cut-and-dried in Carrie Turansky’s The Daughter of Highland Hall. Kate’s own guardian, second-cousin Lord William Ramsey is betrothed to a commoner (Julia Fowler) the governess of his children by a previous marriage. Soon Jon Fowler, Julia’s brother and a medical student, complicates things by proving an attractive distraction for Kate. William’s own careless-living brother David gets in the papers, causing society’s tongues to wag.

In the shadow of the scandal, the ever-critical and nagging Aunt Louisa and her young charge find themselves ignored and on the outs. This gives Kate more time to spend with Jon, who gets her involved in volunteering at a London East End hospital and attending lectures sponsored by the Salvation Army. Thus Kate’s eyes are opened to issues far bigger than whether her calendar is full, what dress she should wear, and how to style her hair.

Turansky is good at delving into the minutiae of the English social season, describing the clothes, food, etiquette, and small talk.

I never felt a heart connection to any of the characters, though. They were likeable enough but felt a little wooden and stock to me—the good ones too good and the bad thoroughly bad.

The writing was adequate though did seem to bog down in parts with excessive author description and explanation versus telling action.

However, I felt Turansky did a good job of exploring issues of social class and custom, showing how the rich were preoccupied with superficial concerns while the poor suffered in need and squalor. By bringing the Salvation Army and the London Missionary Society into the plot, she showed how Christian organizations were beginning to tackle social justice issues at home and abroad. She also did a good job of connecting such movements to the wellspring of a personal faith.

This Edwardian tale reminded me of a Jane Austen story of English manners meeting the upstairs / downstairs life of Downton Abbey, but delivered from an outspokenly Christian point of view.

I received The Daughter of Highland Hall as a gift from the publisher Multnomah Books through Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing a review.

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Star rating based on the Goodreads scale:

***** – It was amazing

**** – I really liked it

*** – I liked it

** – It was okay

* – I did not like it

 

Appalachian Serenade (review)

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Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When 33-year-old widow Delilah Morrissey comes back home to Wise, West Virginia to live with her sister Charlotte, husband Ed and daughter Perla, she’s not the happiest person. Her husband of 14 years has recently died but his disastrous handling of their money has left her penniless. She had a good job in Chicago but it’s 1945, the war has recently ended, and her job has been given to a returning soldier. When she overhears Ed grousing to Charlotte about her being an imposition, she determines to help out in any way she can.

Robert Thornton, upper-30s bachelor, owns the general store in Wise. He loves chatting with his customers but his garrulous manner doesn’t make for efficiency when it comes to serving people quickly and he can’t seem to keep good help. Pretty Delilah catches his eye when she makes her first trip into town. She aids a fellow female customer and her intuitive advice has Robert daydreaming about how great her presence would be for business.

A donkey-drawn pony cart, lots of misunderstandings between these middle-aged singles, plus the reappearance of Robert’s old flame, newly separated but now with four kids in tow, add spice and humor to this historical romance novella.

Delilah and Bob’s decisions are molded by their faith and their romance is thoroughly chaste (in other words, no hot-and-heavy love scenes).

Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas is a prequel to her first full-length book, Miracle in a Dry Season, which picks up the story of Delilah’s niece Perla in 1954. As of this writing, Appalachian Serenade is a free Kindle download at Amazon.com. (It also contains the first few chapters of Miracle in a Dry Land, Book 1 in the Appalachian Blessings series, which I actually enjoyed more than Appalachian Serenade. Miracle in a Dry Season is scheduled to release in early August 2014.)

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