“Beauty for Ashes” by Dorothy Love

Carrie Daly feels alone.  Widowed in the Civil War and with her brother newly married, she finds herself living in a boarding house in town, missing her room on the farm and a place to belong.  Though nearly engaged to Nate Chastain, something is holding her back from setting the date, and when town newcomer Griff Rutledge saves her from a runaway horse, Carrie thinks she’s found the spark she’s been wanting.  Rutledge, though a society man from back east, has been on his own for a long time, and the townspeople aren’t ready to trust him.  Can Carrie find the love she’s been longing for, or has happy already passed her by?


Author Dorothy Love is an expert in the art of dramatic suspense.  While by no means a thriller, she keeps the reader on the edge of her seat through the longings of Carrie’s heart and the twisting, turning plot that plagues Carrie throughout the story.  The perfect pacing and the cries of Carrie’s heart draw the reader completely into the story.


I want to be Carrie Daly’s best friend.  Talented and generous, kind yet headstrong, she’s the kind of person I want to have on my side.  That she’s capable of seeking the truth in any situation and is patient enough to do so means that she has much to teach me.  Daly became so real during the reading of this book that I could see myself inviting her over for a baking marathon, and how often can you say that you’re friends with the characters?


Dorothy Love’s work is new to me, but it won’t be for much longer, for I’m heading off to find more.  If you want more out of your next read than an escape from your own kitchen, pick up a copy of Beauty for Ashes – it won’t disappoint.


Don’t take my word for it, though – if you’d like to read some other opinions of Beauty for Ashes, hop around the blog hop here.


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

“The Betrayal” by Robin Lee Hatcher

The latest historical romance from award-winning author Robin Lee Hatcher and the second book in the Where the Heart Lives series, Betrayal will take readers to the high desert of western Wyoming, through the crags of the Rocky Mountains, and into the hearts of two seekers learning to trust God’s love no matter the circumstances.

It’s the turn of the twentieth century and drifter Hugh Brennan is a man well acquainted with betrayal. Hugh finds himself drawn to the attractive widow, Julia, yet when he looks into her eyes, he recognizes the same hurt that haunts him.
Julia Grace has little reason to trust men, but she’s going to have to trust someone if she’s to keep her ranch from the clutches of her dead husband’s half-brother. Is it possible God had a hand in bringing Hugh to her door?
Robin Lee Hatcher’s latest romance is not just a fluffy read.  Julia Grace has a tough row to hoe, and none of her options look good: should she give in to the threats for her land and sell out, losing everything, or should she trust her new hand Hugh and risk her heart?
Most of us have been heart in some sort of relationship at one time or another, and it’s never easy to take a chance and reach out again.  Hatcher’s realistic look at the struggle to trust again can teach a lesson to all of us.  
Julia Grace isn’t the only honest person in Betrayal’s cast of characters.  Hugh hasn’t had it easy, either, and Julia Grace has some good neighbors.  This team worked together well and added a lighthearted edge to the story.  
Betrayal is a special book because at the root of it all, this story is about overcoming the odds.  Each character is written with kindness, love, and grace, for a seasoned story that’s full of heart.  
I received a free copy of Betrayal in exchange for an honest review.

“Be Still My Soul” by Joanne Bischoff

Be Still My Soul, Cadence of Grace Series #1   -     
        By: Joanne Bischof

 
 
Lonnie Sawyer couldn’t wait to leave home, but she didn’t plan a shotgun wedding to Gideon O’Reilly, either – even if he was handsome.  Following Gideon to the city to look for work, their plans soon change when Lonnie can’t make the journey – and Gideon’s patience turns disappears.  Will Lonnie ever experience the joy of true love?
 
I love the simple narrative of Lonnie’s story.  Bischoff’s word choice and gift of storytelling adds to Lonnie’s mountain environment, creating a simple yet compelling story of faith.  The plot is not action-packed but is heart-full; the drama exists mainly in the heart and soul of Lonnie and Gideon, working to mature their faith and open their hearts to each other.  Yet not for a moment does this story feel slow-moving; instead, Bischoff gives glimpses into each character’s past and their current growth that keeps the reader yearning for more.
 
It is evident that this plot lies in a time and place different from our own; several actions taken by major characters leave you reeling, wanting to reach through the pages to change their course.  Frustrating as these are, they blend the characters’ experiences with the setting and further cement these in the reader’s mind.

I must admit, I did find certain parts of the story easy to predict; I rather liked these pieces, however, as each one made me feel as if the story was turning out exactly as it should.  Many elements caught me by surprise, but the sweetness of the ones I thought I knew added a familiar comfort to the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, both the parts I thought I knew and those I didn’t!

I will definitely be on the watch for Bischoff’s next book.  I don’t want to miss it!

I received a free copy of Be Still My Soul from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

“An Amish Love” by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, and Kelly Long

An Amish Love is actually three novellas in on book – and since all take place in one town with overlapping characters, it’s easy to transition from one to the next.  Each story is about someone who has left and how they find their way home again.  Each story includes faith, love, and forgiveness as themes.  Naaman Lapp left his wife at home while he went to visit relatives, only to return nearly one year later, facing distrust and confusion from his family.  Abby Kauffman wants a way out of her father’s silent household so badly that she tricks a newcomer into marriage – realizing too late what she’s done.  Ellie Chupp was jilted after an accident left her blind – can she forgive those involved and learn to love again?

The writing styles of each author make the stories flow smoothly.  Set within the same Amish community, with the same peripheral characters and locations mentioned, this set feels more like one work.

I enjoyed the writing style of these authors and the questions that each story raised in my mind.  If blinded, could I easily forgive?  If my husband left, could I welcome him home with open arms?  Am I careful and thoughtful in my dealings with others?

I definitely enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an impartial review.

“The Bargain” by Stephanie Reed


It’s 1971, and Betsie Troyer’s peaceful and predictable life is about to become anything but.

When their parents flee the Amish, nineteen-year-old Betsie and her seventeen-year-old sister Sadie are distraught. Under the dubious guidance of a doting aunt, the girls struggle to keep the secret, praying their parents will return before anyone learns the truth-a truth that may end all hopes of Betsie’s marriage to Charley Yoder.


This is, hands-down, the most unique Amish book I have ever met.  I’ve heard of historical-fiction Amish books, but this one certainly takes the cake.  Author Stephanie Reed paints the 70s era with a vivid brush while portraying the uncertainty and confusion of Betsie Troyer clearly.  

Each Amish sect is different, but Reed describes Betsie’s family as ultra-conservative – even more so than the White Top Amish I grew up near.  This makes the contrast between the radical English during this rebellious time stand out even more.  The drama creates lots of tension between Betsie and her Amish friends and family, but even more within herself.  There’s not a single dull moment in this story!

At times this story felt almost outlandish, but having not grown up during the 70s, I thought maybe I was exaggerating a bit.  Once I even thought that it was so crazy that it could be true – so I wasn’t a bit surprised when I turned the final page to learn that it is based on the experiences of a real woman!  They say that life is crazier than fiction and all of that …..

I thoroughly enjoyed The Bargain.  I’m more certain than ever that this is not a time period in which I’d belong, but it makes a fascinating setting.
Read other reviews on this bloggy hop here or purchase a copy here.

 
Stephanie Reed lives on the outskirts of Plain City, Ohio, site of a once-thriving Amish community. She gleans ideas for her novels from signs glimpsed along the byways of Ohio, as she did for her previous books, “Across the Wide River” and “The Light Across the River.”

Learn more at Stephanie’s website:http://www.stephanielreed.com/
 
I received a free copy of The Bargain from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“The Anniversary Waltz” by Darrel Nelson

The Anniversary Waltz

Just home from fighting the Nazis, Adam meets Elizabeth Baxter, the town beauty, and is instantly drawn to her.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth is going steady with Nathan Roberts, Adam’s high school rival, and the man who holds the mortgage on his family farm.  Adam expected the war’s end and his homecoming to signal a return to peace, but will anything work out the way he hopes – or will he lose the girl and the farm?

Sweet.  That’s the most fitting word I can think of for this story.  Nelson’s layering of love story over national turmoil draws you back to a time when farm boys and young marriages weren’t just possible, but common.  To a time when you didn’t need stuff or guarantees, just love and determination.  The sweet sacrifice and determination of Adam’s love makes for a fairy tale kind of romance – almost.

Just as fairy tales aren’t real, Adam’s romance with Elizabeth isn’t problem-free, and this adds a veneer of truthfulness to the story.  While the ending of Nelson’s book may be predictable, there are many twists and turns that add drama, interest, and reality to the story.  Rarely does our first idea of anything ever turn out as we hope, and neither does Adam’s dream of Elizabeth.

In fact, I really liked this ‘troublesome’ element to the story.  At first, as Adam and Elizabeth were sharing glances, it felt as if their hearts were becoming more involved than should be after only a few chance meetings.  How believable is that, really?  I couldn’t help but wonder, and yet as these opportunities layered and then issues were thrown in, what began as a sweet love story had leapt off the page and danced with a beautiful reality right in front of me.

A book like this one can either leave you longing for that kind of fairy tale romance or make you determined to live it out.  Many people in our culture today are choosing the former and walking away from reality in search of it.  For many of us, The Anniversary Waltz reminds us that we’ve already got our fairy tale within reach – we just have to grab hold and dance it out.

I received a free copy of The Anniversary Waltz by Darrel Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

“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.