Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason ~ Review~

Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason

Irish Meadows

The author, Susan Anne Mason, has skillfully created a world into which we can feel comfortable. The two main characters, Brianna and Colleen, could be our sisters, realistically endearing and frustrating simultaneously. Brianna feels she has grown up in Colleen’s shadow, her father’s favored daughter. Nothing she did seemed to gain his respect. Colleen is the sister we love to hate. She is bold, brash, flirtatious, the apple of her father’s eye, and always on the prowl for rich, handsome bachelors. She played with them and even pit them against each other. Brianna, on the other hand, wanted to attend a university in the fall. She had no use for men at the moment, although her daddy wanted her to get married to a suitable (prosperous) gentleman as soon as possible.

But then Gilbert Whelan returned to Irish Meadows after three years at college. Gil grew up on the farm, the son of the O’Leary’s housekeeper. When she died, James O’Leary took in Gil and treated him like a son. He was big brother to all the rest of the five O’Leary children. Adam, the eldest son, resented Gil for that. Brianna wanted to enlist Gil’s aid in convincing her father to allow her to further her education. But it became a more complicated situation when she discovered her feelings for him were no longer brotherly. Gil himself has felt the stirrings of love for Brianna. When he finally gained the courage to approach James, his mentor and father figure, he was flatly refused. The reason shook him to the core.Irish Meadows quote1

One day a distant relative of mother 0’Leary’s came to stay with the family for awhile. Rylan Montgomery needed a place to stay for a few months while he worked on his internship. His goal was to become a priest. It was Colleen’s duty to ferry him around until he became familiar with the area. When her father caught her in a compromising position one evening, he “sentenced” her to working with Rylan at the orphanage. This was truly punitive for Colleen since she hated all things religious, including priests, church and orphanages. However, working with Rylan day after day brought about subtle changes to her heart. She began to enjoy working with the children. In introspection, she questioned her previous dubious behavior. And…she fell in love with Rylan. Colleen’s world was turned upside down. Family dynamics, secrets, disastrous emotional upheavals and more make this book an intriguing read.Irish Meadows quote2

There’s a lot to like in this book. First, the Point of View (POV) is key to how the author develops tension and suspense. There are four Points of View: Colleen’s, Brianna’s, Rylan’s, and Gilbert’s. This author manages to blend them so well that she avoids the disjointed feeling so common in books with so many POV’s. I feel these points of view are what keeps this storyline moving along without stalling for lack of physical action. That’s excellent characterization.Irish Meadows quote3

Second, the four main characters all have a crisis of heart to meet, deal with, and resolve. Even the secondary characters, Kathleen and James O’Leary, the parents, had to face issues themselves such as what really mattered in life, and how to handle secrets within a family unit. Each issue felt real, urgent, and relevant for today even if the source is a historical novel. I found each of the conflicts plausible and could relate to many of them myself. The author manages to create believable people we can become akin to and care for.Irish Meadows quote4

Third, this is a faith-based book. I love how each voice dealing with an issue was facing something that included a crisis of faith, as well as heart and home. When a faith issue has to be dealt with, even though it may be an entirely private matter between you and God, it does affect those around us because what we believe leads to how we live our lives. That is how this author presents each character’s conflicts. When we are privvy to their thoughts, feelings and the process of resolution within, we appreciate them more for their struggles, even if they are still a flawed individual. I enjoyed the process as I read along, because what they struggled with was thought-provoking and insightful. And since most of this was internal, none of it sounded even remotely like preaching or finger wagging. Rather, I felt blessed to gain a glimpse through the window of their souls. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series which will give us Adam’s story.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy (ARC) of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

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Beyond All Dreams: A Novel by Elizabeth Camden ~Review~

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Beyond All Dreams

A peek into the history of the Library of Congress, a mysteriously inaccurate naval document that no one would discuss, a particularly persistent librarian, timid but with fire in her blood, an annoyingly arrogant congressman from Maine, and the circumstances that precipitated the Spanish American War are all ingredients that make this book a fascinating read. Add a generous amount of romance and the book becomes irresistible.

Anna O’Brian was one of only a handful of female librarians allowed to work at the Washington D.C. location of the Library of Congress in the late nineteenth century. For her, it was a dream come true. Anna’s responsibilities were to care for the library’s maps and to conduct research for congressmen. Occasionally librarians even provided expert advice and testimony for congressional committees as well as for individuals. It was her attention to detail and her persistence that made her an excellent researcher. It also got her into trouble with the US Navy when she noticed an error in the reports of an incident that occurred 15 years ago. It also happened to be the same incident in which her father, a cartographer, disappeared with the ship he was sailing on. There was a definite mystery and she wanted it solved.

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Anna’s retiring yet understated fire also caught the eye of Lucas Callahan, a fairly new congressman from Maine. His youth, energy and brashness were all the talk of the town. His rivalry with the Speaker of the House got him removed from the US Budget Committee and reassigned to the committee on Fisheries. Their former war of words had hiked up a notch. But under all his fuss and blunder was a man with principles, who understood the hard-working laborers, the every day man, because his own roots were from the lumber industry. His family’s newly gained wealth was only a thin veneer that barely covered a darkness he wanted very much to escape. When he met Anna, he discovered her naturally placid nature brought a peace and calm to his turbulent one. But getting Anna to accept his suit was a challenge. It was not until he became entangled in her mystery document and the affairs of the Navy that she realized how serious he was. The truth behind the mystery had the potential to either drive them apart forever or weld them together.

What I enjoyed most about this charming historical fiction was the author’s use of wit and humor. Because of her nature, Anna just could not refrain from delivering a not-so-gentle reprimand to the presumptuous congressman who attempted to summon her services and expertise by snapping his fingers. Later, when he began to pursue her with the idea of courtship, she couldn’t imagine why. She described herself as a “short, ordinary girl who had a voice like sandpaper and the habits of a hermit crab.” Luke himself described her as his opposite. “She never did anything impulsively and liked the safety of her map room in the attic of the Capitol. She hid up in that room like a princess in a castle tower, surrounded by a fortress of books and maps.”

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Some of the historical events in the book are based on actual occurrences. The author created a personal link to the tragic loss of life in the event that eventually helped to fuel the flame of American sentiment against Spain–the link that lead to the Spanish American War. Anna’s father lost his life in that tragic event, creating an inner conflict between her desires to avoid war and the loss of more lives and revenge for such a loss in her young life. I was touched by the author’s empathetic writing. Many readers today will be able to relate to such a conflict.

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The author wasn’t heavy-handed with spiritual lessons learned during a character’s development, but it was there, nevertheless. One doesn’t have to talk about God’s work to know His Presence is evident through their thoughts and actions. Each of the people we grow to love in this book had to face basic personal challenges. Not only did God meet them in their growing pains, He used other characters to assist in bringing them to maturity faster, much like a jeweler chips away the dross to find the diamond inside. I enjoyed how the author made this happen with every interaction between Luke and Anna.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Miracle in a Dry Season: A Novel (Appalachian Blessings Book #1) by Sarah Loudin Thomas ~Review~

Miracle in a Dry Season: A Novel by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Miracle in a Dry Season

Miracle in a Dry Season is all about community, family and the body of believers we call Church. This novel’s setting is West Virginia in the 1950’s. Sometimes the standards we cling to become more of a habit than a conviction; we forget the human element and the very reason why we have family, church, and community at all–the failings and frailty of humanity, the need to protect each other and share with each other, offering our friends, family and neighbors forbearance, tolerance and forgiveness.

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Casewell Phillips lived in the small town of Wise, West Virginia. He was a man who loved working with his hands–woodworking and playing music. He lived in a house he built on his own within walking distance of his folk’s farm. Being single and 35, he was ready to settle down, but so far no one had really caught his eye. He loved God, was an elder in his church, and folks generally described him as a pillar of their community. He often helped his father on his farm, his neighbors and friends on theirs. He had always had a good relationship with his parents, although his father was not one to talk much or express his feelings out loud. Even though his dad never said it to him in words, he knew his father loved him.

One day in church Casewell was introduced to a fair young woman by friends of the family–the Thorntons. Robert and Delilah’s niece was visiting them for an indefinite period of time. Perla Long and her daughter Sadie needed to leave their home town and Perla’s parents because of malicious gossip and the unkind treatment she received from those with judgmental attitudes. It was true, she’d had a child out of wedlock. But she hoped living in a new community where no one knew her would give her a fresh start. But she wasn’t in Wise very long before rumors were flying again.

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Casewell had heard the gossip although he tried not to listen. Still, when he felt attraction for Perla and Sadie, at first he didn’t act on it. He might have never done anything more about that first bit of spark if tragedy hadn’t struck the small community in the form of a severe drought. Perla had a special ability that served the community well, but which also stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble, perpetuated by peoples’ superstitious beliefs and superficial attitudes of self-righteousness. Casewell was right in the thick of it all, working side by side with the Thorntons and Perla to save their town in spite of peoples’ stubbornness. As if Casewell wasn’t put through the wringer in that first bout of trials, he faced another catastrophe when doctors discovered his father had lung cancer. Right before his eyes, his father lay aside the veneer of civility to become an angry, cynical man. For a second time, a miracle arrived from the unlikeliest of places, reaching out to the suffering man, bringing peace.

The author’s storytelling skills help us become immediately immersed in the feeling of down-home cozy, where the reader gets to know all the good, the bad, and the ugly of life in the town of Wise. We care when people turn on each other in bad times, and we rejoice when someone rises above it all and demonstrates selflessness. When an author can get their readers invested in the outcome of a story in this way, you know it’s good writing.

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Ms. Thomas also makes good use of metaphors in this book. As I got involved with the plot, I could easily see that there was more than one type of “dry season” being lived out in the story. The more literal dry season brought out the worst in some peoples’ personalities, while the spiritual dry season brought out the worst and the best in others’. It was so typical of reactions I’ve seen in tough times that I knew the author is a true student of human nature and behavior. In addition, if you look carefully, you find more than a couple miracles in this book.

Another thing I enjoyed in this story is the delightful way the romance is developed. I could see it happening step by step as I read, in spite of the ugliness of the circumstances around them. I couldn’t help but want to root for the couple to overcome the many obstacles in their way.

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For me, the best part of the tale involved the spiritual awakening of many of the ailing congregation, especially of those who had treated Perla the worst. The Biblical tenets many of the characters learned are as relevant and important for us today as they were for the townsfolk in their time period. These are truths that emphasize the importance of faith in Christ, human inter-relationships, family, community and church fellowship.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publisher’s Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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