“After All” by Deborah Raney

Susan Marlowe is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel after the tragic death of her firefighter husband David nearly two years before.  The fire that took his life took several others, as well, leaving few people in town unscathed.  Busy getting a homeless shelter up and running, Susan sees romantic possibilities and new friendship in Fire Chief Peter Brenneman.  Peter has also caught the eye of Fire Inspector Andrea Morley, who desperately wants to find home, hearth, and children.  With Susan’s adult son back at home still dealing with the loss of his father, new information about her husband’s activities, and clashes with the community, can Susan find a way to move forward?
Susan doesn’t seem like the cheerleader type.  She didn’t have the perfect marriage, she struggled as a parent, and she gets too focused on her work.  Yet despite her tendency to see only the rosy side of people, her situation draws you in like few others could – because she seems real.  As a reader, you can identify with her issues and want to know how she resolves them; you just might have the same things happening in your own home.  With the added stress of the firefighters’ jobs and the mystery man who keeps turning up, you’ll be turning pages as fast as you can to race Susan to the end.

I really liked the way that Raney didn’t spill the plot all in the first chapter.  Really great books have a hook, some information that the author withholds to keep you reading until the end; but Raney kept back more than the usual whodunit.  Without even knowing exactly what the mystery was, she drew you into Susan’s world, which at times looked incredibly bleak, but always gave you a shred of hope and a glimmer of what could be.  

After All is inspiring and encouraging with a sense of reality that is hard to find.  I’ll definitely be reading more Raney in the future.

I received a free copy of After All from Glass Road Publications in exchange for an honest review.

‘A Patch of Heaven’ by Kelly Long

Sarah is a quiet, shy Amish girl who has spent years caring for the family’s garden when she’s suddenly given a new responsibility: managing and manning the family’s roadside produce stand. Thrust into contact with the unfamiliar English world, Sarah meets her new neighbor, Grant Williams, a handsome veterinarian who wants to pursue a romantic relationship. Will Sarah venture further into the English world with Grant or will she remain alone in her familiar Amish one?

Long has created wonderful characters. Lifelike and honest, they are not perfect but reflect the situations in which they find themselves. Her writing is compelling and made it impossible for me to put this book down. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next, and that the characters did not always do the predictable thing made it even better.

With that said, though, for as interesting as the story is, I felt that it was not especially realistic. I grew up in an Amish community, and the biggest decision made by the main characters was one which I’ve never heard of happening, and despite Long’s great writing, there were several gaps not filled in by the end of the book. Yet the strengths of this book far outweighed the weaknesses, and I can’t wait to read the next in the series.

Thomas Nelson provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a review.

“A Most Unsuitable Match” by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Left all alone in the world after her mother’s death, Fannie Rousseau  decides to travel west to find her mysterious aunt.  She finds herself in Montana Territory, in a rough and tumble man’s world with few friends – and no money.  Samuel Beck is searching for his missing sister when he saves Miss Rousseau from a roughneck on a riverboat.  Opposites may attract, but is there any way for this soon-to-be preacher and the faithless orphan to find true love?

Whitson has a smooth and easy writing style that draws the reader into her stories.  In this case Miss Rousseau seemed rather shallow at first, but over the course of her journey she faced her fears and deepened her character, making her much more likeable.  Both characters had mentors of strong morals and faith guiding them along the way, which definitely added to the story.

The mystery of Rousseau’s aunt’s past prevented this story from falling strictly into the romance category and added an interesting angle to it.  I would be quite interested to read her aunt’s story!  The same is true of Samuel’s sister’s story – there was much missing from their stories that would make fascinating novels, especially considering their rocky relationships with men and the times in which they lived.

Whitson’s latest novel is a fun read but did not have the depth that I hoped for.  As a light-hearted beach read, this would be great!

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

“A Bride for All Seasons” Review

 
It All Started with an Ad in a Mail Order Bride Catalogue . . .

 

Melvin Hitchcock of the Hitching Post Mail Order Bride Catalog isn’t dishonest—not exactly. If he tweaks his clients’ applications a bit, it’s because he’s looking out for their best interests.
This charming bouquet of novellas introduces four Hitching Post prospects in the year 1870, each one eager for second chances . . . and hungry for happiness. Year in, year out, they’ll learn that love often comes in unexpected packages.
And Then Came Spring by Margaret Brownley
Mary-Jo has been unlucky all her life. But who would guess she’d travel halfway across the country to meet her match . . . only to find him dead!
An Ever-After Summer by Debra Clopton
Ellie had no idea she’s not what Matthew ordered. And what’s wrong with being a “Bible thumper” anyway? She’s determined to show him she’s tougher than she looks—and just the girl he needs.
Autumn’s Angel by Robin Lee Hatcher
Luvena would be perfect for Clay if she didn’t come with kids. But kids are a deal breaker, especially in a rough-and-trouble mining town. The trouble is, there’s no money to send them back. . .
Winter Wedding Bells by Mary Connealy
David’s convinced he’s not long for the world. He needs someone to mother his boys when he’s gone—nothing more. Can plucky Irish Megan convince him to work at living instead of dying?
 
A Bride for All Seasons has something for everybody.  With faithful characters and not, some interested in love and others running from it, from robust cowboys to opera singers and those just shy of dying, there’s a character for everyone in this anthology.  
 
My favorites, of course, were Mary-Jo and Ellie.  I love their pluckiness in the face of diversity, and Megan comes in hard on their heels for just the same reason.  Their sheer determination and grit reminds me of just how easy many of us find basic life now – and how blessed we are if we have made our own love match.
 
The premise of the story was pure hilarity –  or, it would be, if it had not left so many people in such dire straits.  Can you not picture a skinny little bean-pole of a man seeing himself as Cupid and trying to ‘improve upon’ the ads that were sent to his mail-order-bride catalogue?  
 
The only issue I had with this book is that the stories are short – which, by definition to fit inside an anthology, they must be.  Most of the characters had the depth built into their backgrounds to be much more than a short story, and so I kept expecting more twists and turns than the author had time to build in.  I think that’s a good thing, that I wasn’t ready to turn the last page on these characters, so I’m definitely looking forward to the next adventure penned by these four.
 
You  can read other reviews on this bloggy hop here; or, click over here to purchase your own copy now.
 
Margaret Brownley is a NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author and has penned more than twenty-five historical and contemporary novels. @margaretbrownley 
 
Robin Lee Hatcher is a Christy and RITA award-winning author. Her books often appear on bestseller lists. @robinleehatcher 
 
Mary Connealy is a Carol Award winner, an a RITA, Christy and Inspirational Reader’s Choice finalist. @MaryConnealy 
 
Debra Clopton is an award winning author of sweet, heartfelt, western romance that face life with a smile. With over 2 million books in print, Debra has her first book coming as a movie starring LeAnn Rimes. @debraclopton
 
I received a free copy of A Bride for All Seasons from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“Annie’s Truth” by Beth Shriver

Annie's Truth, Touch of Grace Series #1

Annie Beiler had what appeared to be the perfect life.  With wonderful parents, a secure place in her Amish community, and the hope of a lifelong love just down the lane, her future seemed wrapped in promise – until the day that she learned of her adoption.  Suddenly life seemed topsy-turvy, and Annie feels that she must find her birth mother.  Leaving the community for this type of information isn’t well received, however, and Annie begins to question every aspect of her life up to this point.  When trouble rocks the boat, will Annie remain in the Englisch world, or will she return to her Amish roots?

Annie’s Truth is full of drama.  The questions she asks upon finding out that she’s adopted feel normal to me, although I can’t truly know, and it makes sense to wonder about them, at least; however, her Amish elders feel differently and do not allow it.  This causes big problems for Annie, and so much of the drama was difficult for me to relate to.  I did find the entire issue quite interesting, and it was so well written that I flew through these issues, wanting to read and understand more.

Because the church elders do not allow questions of this type, this is a great book for those of us who want to know more about Amish ways.  Most Englischers have a more self-centered world view than do the Amish, who seek to suppress all thoughts of self in the interest of better serving their community, and this book makes this belief quite evident.

With smooth-flowing chapters and dramatic scenes throughout, this is both an informative and fascinating read.  If you enjoy reading Amish fiction, you won’t want to miss Annie’s Truth.

I received a free copy of Annie’s Truth from Charisma House in exchange for an honest review.

“All Things Hidden” by Tracie Peterson & Kimberly Woodhouse

All Things Hidden
 Gwyn Hillerman loves being a nurse at her father’s clinic on the beautiful Alaskan frontier. But family life has been rough ever since her mother left them, disdaining the uncivilized country and taking Gwyn’s younger sister with her.

In Chicago, Dr. Jeremiah Vaughan finds his life suddenly turned upside down when his medical license is stripped away after an affluent patient dies. In a snowball effect, his fiance breaks their engagement. In an attempt to bury the past, Jeremiah accepts Dr. Hillerman’s invitation to join his growing practice in the isolated Alaska Territory.

Gwyn and Jeremiah soon recognize a growing attraction to each other. But when rumors of Jeremiah’s past begin to surface, they’ll need more than love to face the threat of an uncertain future.

All Things Hidden is a most unusual Depression-era story with a very unique twist:  the settlement of Alaska.  I didn’t know that the poor national economy spawned a huge government movement to shift people to the territory of Alaska, so the very premise was exciting.  Since the reality of Alaska as our final national frontier is of a rustic, dangerous place, the setting screamed ‘new’ and ‘different.’ 

I really liked as a leading lady.  She was both humble and hardworking but human, too.  She wanted to fall in love and have a family, all the while struggling with the one that she was born into.  She’s pulled in too many directions, like far too many of us, and she could be the girl next door.

The action sped up throughout the story.  In the beginning you learn primarily about what will happen, at least according to government agents, but as time progresses the plan’s problems begin to arise.  With Gwyn and her father being the primary troubleshooters in the new Alaskan settlement, they’re on the front lines of action – and that continues as stalkers, murder, and general mayhem ensue.  This makes for a dramatic and page-turning read, and after a chapter or two, I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve never read a Peterson novel that I didn’t like, and All Things Hidden didn’t disappoint.  If you’re a Peterson fan, this is a must-read.

I received a free copy of All Things Hidden from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

“A Road Unknown” by Barbara Cameron

Elizabeth is at a crossroad. She’s been given the chance to experience life outside of her community, away from the responsibility to care for her eight younger siblings, but Elizabeth Bontrager can’t decide which road to take. Goshen has its charms and pressures, but Paradise, Pennsylvania, sounds . . . well, like paradise. And it’s also home to her Englisch friend, Paula. Decision made. Elizabeth is Paradise bound.
But will the small town live up to its name? When Elizabeth meets Paula’s friend, Bruce, she quickly learns he wants more than a friendship. And the same might be true of Saul Miller, her new boss at the country story that sells Amish products to the Englisch community. As the two compete for her attention, Elizabeth is surprised to realize she misses her family and becomes even more uncertain about where she belongs. She has a choice to make: return home or embrace this new life and possibly a new love?
 
Elizabeth doesn’t just take an unknown road in this book, but a most unique one, as well!    Forget trying to decide if she’s going to be Amish or English – she’s going to live Amish but in an English house and work in an Amish business and date both Amish and English!  While it might sound confusing, it really wasn’t – but the reader definitely hops between both worlds.
 
Yet it was really a fun read.  Elizabeth doesn’t spend as much time mentally trying to figure out her life spiritually or philosophically as she does just taking the next logical step.  Because these steps have put her in a rather unusual predicament, watching her navigate the sideways current makes for a great story.
 
Elizabeth was definitely someone I’d like to get to know, but Saul Miller, on the other hand, is a bit different.  At first he sounds like a ‘player,’ the kind of guy whom you’d really want to see put in his place.  As time passes, however, he comes across as a guy who has his head on straight but has just now figured out what he wants – and is going after it.
 
I flew through this book.  It’s an easy read, pretty light-hearted and smoothly written.  With such likeable characters and a flickering romance, you can’t help but want to see a happily-ever-after at the end of the book, and Cameron won’t disappoint you.
 
 

Barbara Cameron is a best-selling author who has a heart for writing about the spiritual values and simple joys of the Amish. She is the author of more than 38 fiction and nonfiction books, three nationally televised movies, and the winner of the first Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Barbara is a former newspaper reporter. Some of her non-fiction titles include the Everything Weddings on a Budget Book and Her Restless Heart: A Woman’s Longing for Love and Acceptance. Cameron currently resides in Edgewater, Florida.

 
Learn more about Barbara at: http://barbaracameron.com
 
I received a free copy of A Road Unknown from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“A Promise Kept” by Robin Lee Hatcher

 

 God was going to save her marriage, Allison was sure of it. But neither her husband nor her marriage had been saved.

What had become of His promise?

Tony Kavanagh had been Allison’s dream-come-true. They were in love within days, engaged within weeks, married and pregnant within a year. Her cup bubbled over with joy . . . but years later, that joy had been extinguished by unexpected trials.

The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum, she thought it might save him. She never expected he would actually leave. She was certain God had promised to heal; it was clear that she’d misunderstood.

Now, living in the quiet mountain cabin she inherited from her single, self-reliant Great Aunt Emma, Allison must come to terms with her grief and figure out how to adapt to small town life. But when she finds a wedding dress and a collection of journals in Emma’s attic, a portrait of her aunt emerges that takes Allison completely by surprise: a portrait of a heartbroken woman surprisingly like herself.

As Allison reads the incredible story of Emma’s life in the 1920s and 1930s, she is forced to ask a difficult question: Does she really surrender every piece of her life to the Lord?

Drawing from her own heart-wrenching story of redemption,A Promise Kept is Robin Lee Hatcher’s emotionally charged thanksgiving to a God who answers prayers—in His own time and His own ways.

A Promise Kept is a powerful story of redemption on many levels.  Although neither Allison nor her daughter wanted to walk away from Tony, they each had to – and then, although neither was ready, God brought him back into both lives again.  American culture dictates that we finish with things and dispose of them, that if they don’t suit us or are difficult, we set them aside and move on; but that is not what God asks us to do, and Allison was obedient to God’s calling.

This story follows Allison’s journey of grief, independence, obedience, and forgiveness.    None of the life changes she made were easy, and A Promise Kept makes that very evident.  I enjoyed watching as she transitioned from one state of mind into another, healing all the way.

With that said, although I could see her softening attitudes towards Tony, her return and complete forgiveness of his previous actions still felt sudden.  It felt as if the journey ended too abruptly, and I would have preferred for the storyline to keep moving at a slower, less dramatic pace; but, having read a bit of the author’s story, that would not have been realistic.  While it definitely shakes up the reader’s comfort level, the ending that Hatcher chose is one that only God, and not we imperfect humans, would choose, which makes it the perfect ending.

For me, the far and away best part of the story was Emma’s parallel one.  I loved the notion that another member of Allison’s family had similar struggles, faced them, and won.  The journals made a great tool for traveling back and forth between eras, and for history nuts like me, it made the faith lessons even stronger and more interesting.

A Promise Kept is definitely a departure from the faithful but romantic novels that Hatcher usually writes.  While it is still faithful and romantic, it is deeper and … edgier … somehow than her other works.  That just might make it the best one.

Read other reviews in this bloggy hop here or purchase your own copy now. 

 
 
Robin is the author of 65+ novels and novellas. Her home is in Idaho, where she spends her time writing stories of faith, courage, and love; pondering the things of God; and loving her family and friends.

Learn more about Robin at: http://www.robinleehatcher.com 
 

I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review. 

“A Little Irish Love Story” by Amy Fleming

A Little Irish Love Story  -     By: Amy Fleming
 

 What do you get when you mix a couple craving love, Nazi concentration camps, rich Irish landowners, and crazy chemists?  You get a book called A Little Irish Love Story, but it’s a most unusual story.

The scene opens with Anna, camp survivor, following her mother-in-law Sarah to her Irish hometown Adare.  At this point I figured it was going to be a historical-fiction version of the Ruth and Naomi story and settled in to watch out for Boaz – but while the wealthy relative soon came on the scene, he was no confident kinsman-redeemer.

Henry is rich and lonely.  His shyness appears to be his biggest issue, but you soon find out that there’s more.

As Anna and Henry start to dance around each other, interested but unsure of how to proceed, unreality reared its ugly head – at least for me.  After all that Anna had survived, she was so quick to move on?  After decades of being afraid of approaching a woman, Henry was jumped at the chance to date Anna?  Then, as their situation changes, they seem to run hot and cold alternately.  This certainly adds to the drama of the story, but when the crazy chemist pops up, the storyline got plain creepy.  

At this point I wanted to put the book down.  It felt almost as if I were reading a fantasy book at that point, and one that was rather unbelievable, as well.  If not for having promised this review, I might have put the book down, when suddenly things started looking up.  Still strange, but much more interesting and possible, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

By the end of the story I felt as if those strange parts were worth it.  The author was surely going to make an amazing point about real, true, Biblical love after all, right?

Well, she did – but not with whom I expected.  The final resolution of the love angle fell rather flat with me, between all of the hots and colds and running away and letting go.  I wanted the ending that happened – but I wanted it built up more.  More resolved.  More details figured out.  More ends tied up and wounds healed.

Instead it ended rather suddenly, just as most of the action happened.  Is the story well planned?  Detailed?  Well written?  Theologically sound?  Yes to all.  Is it suspenseful? Could I easily put the book down?  Yes and no – I couldn’t wait to find out what happened – until I did.  

The premise is actually quite fascinating.  I enjoyed the parallels and the ideas behind the characters – but they weren’t fleshed out enough for me to feel as if they were real, and while I felt quite a part of their stories, it needed more.  More detail.  More interaction.  A different pace to the interpersonal resolutions.

I think it really boiled down to Anna’s reaction to her time in the camps.  Because her reactions to that part of her story didn’t make sense to me, I had trouble relating to the rest.  Maybe you’ll have a different perspective.

I received a free copy of A Little Irish Love Story in exchange for an honest review.

“The Machine” by Bill Myers

The Machine: A Truth Seekers Novel

Book Summary:  When their mother dies, twin siblings Jake and Jennifer are forced to move to Israel with their seldom seen archaeologist dad. When their father creates a machine that points to the truth, the twins are in for the adventure of a lifetime. They soon discover how all things will work together for good to all those who love God.

I absolutely LOVE the premise of this story.    The idea that the very rocks will call out and praise God is Biblical – but if they could share what they have ‘seen,’ can you imagine the stories that they could tell?  I’m only a so-so sci fi fan, but this was really well done.  The tech details were explained enough to be intriguing but were not bogged down in technicalities.  I can completely see how this book would be interesting for the 10-14 year-olds it’s geared towards.

The life lessons learned were quite valuable, too.  Jennifer had only a face-value faith at the beginning of the story, and her brother had his own set of issues, but through time, friends, and circumstances, they began to make their faith their own.  Just as importantly, they saw the value of it – and were willing to put themselves on the line to protect it.  By the end of the story Jennifer is showing the reader just how important it is not to compromise on one’s values.  We need more of these examples in our culture today!

The plot was full of adventure, with those life lessons mingled in.  I think that this unique combination would be action-packed enough for a tween boy but touchy-feely enough for a girl of the same age, and that brings us to another important point.  

The Machine comes with valuable information for families tucked in at the end.  This is a great feature – just because our kids can read on their own doesn’t mean that they have to.  This would make a fun read-aloud for the whole family or as a starting place for a wonderful family discussion.

The only aspect of this story that I was not thrilled about was the crush that one character has on another.  While nothing is discussed beyond whether ‘to-date-or-not-to-date’ and flirtatious looks, I just don’t think that the story had to go there.  Do we really need to have our ten-year-olds debating the merits of dating?  Or is this the perfect way to talk about it in a safe, fun way?  I don’t know – my kids aren’t that old yet, and so for now, we just don’t go there.

All in all, The Machine is a zany, comical, adventurous novel that teaches great lessons at the same time.  It’s a keeper.

I received a free copy of The Machine in exchange for an honest review.