My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah: Leanna’s Choice by Angie Dicken ~ Review

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My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah: Leanna’s Choice by Angie Dicken

I have to say that I have read several of this series, “My Heart Belongs in…” by now and I love all the ones I’ve read. My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah is another great book. It is a historical fiction book covering a time period about 100 years ago when immigrants coming into America were the Greeks suffering from a drought. Their presence was filled with conflict because they often filled in wherever they were needed, even when that gap was caused by workers on strike protesting poor working conditions. As a result, there were demonstrations and riots protesting these interim workers, and Greeks were looked down upon in disdain.

Leanna McKee was a recent newlywed whose husband was killed in a coal mining accident. She had been raised in Boston as a debutante, but rebelled against her upbringing because she was incensed about the treatment of immigrants and their poor working conditions. As a result she broke away from her family, who gained their wealth from such factories, eloped with an workingman and became a teacher of immigrant children in Utah. Her husband’s death left her in a town filled with male mine workers and few other women. She was determined to leave the area and began looking for employment somewhere else.

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Alex Pappas was a friend of Leanna’s husband, working with him in the mines. He befriended Leanna and employed her to watch his niece and nephew before and after school while their family was busy with work. An attraction began to grow between the two, one a widower and the other a widow. But circumstances and prejudices seem to work against them all the time. The Pappas family enjoyed their friendship with Leanna, but would not approve of anything more because she was not Greek.

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The first part of the book begins slowly. We get acquainted with the history of each of the principle characters and their personalities first before the situation changes. I really enjoyed learning something of the Greek culture. Both Alex and Brianna are haunted by their past failings. Alex has turned his back on God after the death of his wife, to his family’s distress, but remains stalwart in supporting his family’s move to America to begin their lives again. He fights against his attraction to Leanna because prejudice against them being together is very strong and could lead to danger for his family.

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Toward the end of the book circumstances looked bleak, and I began to feel the despair of the characters as they fought against unfair treatment and snobbery. There were some interesting twists in the plot and the tension was well built. The author had me rushing to the very end in suspense to see how it was going to work out.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Barbour Publishing as part of the Barbour Review Crew program on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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A Miser, A Manger, A Miracle: The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan ~ Review

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A Miser, A Manager, A Miracle: The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan

What a marvelous adaptation of the Christmas Carol by Dickens! I’ve never heard of anyone taking the Christmas story and adapting it this way. Better yet, this book came about as a result of a play written by the author for her church production. What the author has done is to flesh out the story for the readers. She has done this so well that at times I was walking with Ebenezer in his soul searching journey led by three different angels.

Ebenezer was the Inn keeper in the tiny town of Bethlehem. He was delighted at the opportunity to earn a great deal of money when the Romans decreed that the descendants of David register in their home town to be counted and taxed. Ebenezer loved making money. He didn’t care how he accomplished that or who he hurt on the way. He considered himself above the rabble anyway. As people crowded into the small spaces of the Inn, Ebenezer had one room left and he was holding onto it to save it for a rich customer who could afford his lavish rates. One couple he turned away was a man and his pregnant wife.

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Then that night the angel Gabriel appeared to him in his home. He would be visited that night by three more angels, in an effort to redeem his corrupted soul. First he visited his past. Then the present. But nothing touched his heart until he started to get to know a man called Jesus. Even the man’s teaching didn’t touch his heart until he witnessed the scourging and the crucifixion of this innocent one. Finally he was a broken and repentant man. For the first time in his life, he wanted to save this man’s agony by offering his life for Jesus’ life. Then he was told this was Jesus’ choice, to die for him, the wretched, greedy Ebenezer.

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Don’t let the familiarity of the story scheme distract you. The author has done a marvelous job of allowing us to see life from Ebenezer’s eyes. There are many other elements of the Christmas Carol you’ll find familiar when you read this book.

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All of this enhances the experience Ebenezer lived in his one night of revelation. Since we already know the outcome of the story, and even the way it is being told, the joy is in the details. And the author did a wonderful job of telling this story with realistic detail and heart. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I hope you do too.

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After: Book 1 by Joy Ohagwu ~ Review

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After: Book 1 by Joy Ohagwu

What happens when your world falls apart all of a sudden? That is the theme of this book. Candace Rodriguez is a top ranking singer associated with a record label. Six months ago, she accepted Christ as her Savior. Slowly, her perspectives changed and she changed her behavior accordingly. It didn’t take long before she saw that her music future would have to change as well. Then one day she fell off a stage. She realized at that moment she had to take her future in hand both physically and spiritually.

God takes control and provides a way for Candace to get away to a farm in Maryland owned by a doctor couple where she can get rest and begin to regroup. While there, her faith grows as she waits for the Lord’s leading for her future as a singer. She’s under pressure to create a whole new line up of songs that are fitting with her new found faith in Christ. So she begins to undertake the task of writing enough songs to fill a new album. But her muse has fled. In the meantime, she meets JB Patrickson, who is also pulling up roots to begin life again after a brief stint on Wall Street as a trader. When the housing bubble crashed, so did he.

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JB has a history which makes him a bit gun shy around Candace. He is working hard to make the farm he is managing for his grandmother more prosperous. Their relationship starts out slow, but eventually they become good friends. Candace is trying to become physically healthy as well as spiritually healthy. She works hard to lose weight and JB has become her supporter along with the good doctors.

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What I like best about this book is the great way the author allows spiritual growth to show up in the characters’ lives without being overly talkative about it. Instead of talking it out, the author shows us how Candace grows. I understand Candace’s issue with weight loss too, as I struggle with the same problem. Her hard work was inspiring to me. I felt this was all good writing.

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In spite of working the book out in first person, the different voices were done very well. I usually find the first person use irritating and sometimes immature, but I think I was about half way through the book before I realized that I hadn’t even paid attention to the voice. I found that surprising. For once, the reader is privy to the thought process of a person whose heart is being turned to God and maintaining a mature attitude about it. I found that refreshing. I also like the moderate amount of tension built into the story. It wasn’t extreme, but it kept the story moving forward nicely. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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True Love at Christmas by Juliette Duncan ~ Review

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True Love at Christmas by Juliette Duncan

This is one of those books that are tucked between books in a series. In this case, it fits into “The True Love Series” between books two and three. All of these are Christian romances. Even though this is an in-between book, it was written so that it could stand alone, although I certainly think it would be more meaningful if read with the series. I have not read any of the other books in the series, felt that it was a good read, but would have loved knowing more the context than I did. In any case, this is such a short story you can read it in a couple of hours.

The focus is on Margaret and Harold, parents of twin sisters who are grown, married and have children. Their single son Harrison lives nearby. Past Christmas’s have been stressful because of tension in the family. This year there is the potential for more problems because Harold is too ill to travel, as they had planned, to visit their twin daughters and new grandchildren whom they haven’t seen yet.

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A solution is needed and Harrison is the man to help coordinate it. There is a pleasant ending to this story, but not enough development to really get to know any of the main characters well. My guess is that it is accomplished in the series books. So the intention of this book is a pleasant side track to get to know known characters just a little bit better. If it’s read like this, then it’s a pleasant sidebar and nice read for getting into the Christmas spirit.

 

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Hang Your Heart on Christmas: A Western Romance Novella by Heather Blanton ~ Review

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Hang your Heart on Christmas: A Historical Western Christian Romance (The Brides of Evergreen Bk. 1) by Heather Blanton

You can enjoy this short, historical novella in just a few short hours. This is a story that only involves Christmas incidentally. Instead, it is a book about struggling within ourselves with our short-comings. Two people are hurting badly. One comes from innocence imposed upon. The other from a thirst for vengeance until life contains no meaning at all. Both are trying to escape their realities. Both hurting parties meet in the most peaceful town in the old West. Will they help each other heal their wounds? Or will those wounds drive the other away?

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Robert “Dent” Hernandez was the son of a US Marshall gunned down by a bad guy. Dent determines he will find his father’s killer and get vengeance for his loss. That sets him on the trail for 8 years, becoming a US Marshall himself, hunting down criminals and bringing them to justice while he searched. In the last leg of his journey, he ended up in his home town of Evergreen, Wyoming when tragedy strikes. The man who had become a substitute father to him, Sheriff Ben Hayes, was shot to death by a low life in Dent’s charge. During the investigation of the sheriff’s death, the judge placed Dent as interim sheriff. He doesn’t want to stay, but he has no choice.

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Amy Tate had come from the East, sent by her doctor to Evergreen. He assured her that she was heading to the West’s most peaceful town where there were more churches than saloons. She was put in old Doc Woodruff’s care for awhile because she was recovering from what we would call PTSD today. And she was to become the town’s new schoolteacher. Unfortunately, the first moment she stepped off the train, she was grabbed by the man who shot the sheriff and fainted dead away. That was not a reassuring beginning to her new life in this small town. And at the center of the trouble was the man called “Dent”.

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This is a fairly quick paced story of the old wild west. It begins with the death of the main character’s old friend in his home town. Dent was beginning to unravel. His story includes a mystery, lots of self searching, a light romance, some old friends, and a ranch Dent didn’t want to settle on. Amy too was going through a transition in her life as she recovers from an attack back East. Both are encouraged and aided by an older couple, the Doctor and Mrs. Woodruff.

Amy has faith in God that He will help her heal. In the meantime, she feels drawn to also help the interim sheriff in his quest for meaning in life. She believes God could help him heal his wounded spirit if only he would let Him. Their romance is the light touch in the book. It pretty much takes a back seat to the main issue of inner healing that Dent needs to move on with life. Overall, this is a great short story with enough action to move it along nicely. The romance is not overpowering, while the spiritual applications are light but significant to the story line. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a short, powerful holiday read.

 

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Gathering the Threads: The Amish of Summer Grove Bk 3 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

Gathering the Threads

Gathering the Threads: The Amish of Summer Grove Bk 3 by Cindy Woodsmall

The series begins with Ties that Bind followed by Fraying at the Edge before concluding with this book. I have already read quite a few of Cindy Woodsmall’s series and each time I have believed that that one was the best one I have read, that is, until I would read the next series. This time I jumped in on the last book first. I don’t recommend doing that with this author, because when she writes a series, they are usually books that are closely linked to each other. Fortunately, before the first chapter, this book had a running summary of the previous two books that I haven’t read. It was so well summarized that I had no trouble reading this book by itself. But again, I really don’t recommended that. Cindy Woodsmall’s outstanding talent is to connect us deeply with her characters so that the reader forms an emotional bond and experiences the turmoil written about with the character. This is such a rare gift for a writer, so that when I find one I like to search for all their books and read them through.

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That’s how I feel about this series. When I read the summary, I had to chuckle. It read like a soap opera. I say that in the kindest manner possible. This series is intense, if all the books are like this one. There are several well-planned out plots, complex characters, schemes, turmoil, twists and turns, and just plain anguish laid out in the first two books that continue in this one. It was quite an amazing task to see how it all resolved. But it was definitely and happily resolved, in a way only this author can accomplish.

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There are so many characters that are important to the series. Ariana is the one that stands out the most. Skylar is also another but not as much the focus as Ariana. Book three resolves a long standing issue between Ariana and Quill, a neighbor she had known since her childhood who had left the Amish years ago for reasons no one in the small community of Summer Grove really knew about and thus was a forbidden friend. Nevertheless, he plays a prominent role all throughout the series.

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Among the complexity of details there arises a theme that may surprise the reader as it becomes clear. Ariana learned about bullying while she was “out in the world” with her birth father. Interestingly, bullying takes on a whole different shape and color when she encounters it in the Amish community after she returns. Had it always been there and she had never noticed before? The running questions then became how would she deal with it living at home with her parents while preparing for her upcoming marriage? This was not a cut at the Amish community by the author, but rather a commentary of society, that it can happen anywhere, even in places we don’t expect to find it.

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Finally, just like other books by this author, the spiritual elements of the story are authentic, realistic, respectful while helping us to gain some fresh perspectives on the character of human nature in general. Cindy Woodsmall’s series are some of the best faith-based books I have ever read. They are not filled with platitudes or pat answers. Real issues are realistically dealt with that touched my heart deeply. Even though I haven’t read the first two books, I know I will soon. So I can heartily recommend this series for you. If you like intense, complex characters who are not stereotypical Amish or non-Amish or former Amish, you’ll love this series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Somehow, Christmas Will Come by Peggy Blann Phifer ~ Review

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Somehow, Christmas Will Come by Peggy Blann Phifer

The Christmas seasons is often a time of reflection and traveling down memory lane. It can be a time of hurt and pain, but also a time of healing. This story is a tasteful combination of tough issues dealt with humor and heart. A little 6-year-old girl’s heart is at stake when she has to deal not only with the recent loss of her mother to a boating accident, but then her father’s death through a motorcycle accident. How does Bethany survive?

Bethany’s Aunt Molly moved from Minnesota to Las Vegas to live with her brother Pat and his daughter Bethany. She had originally come to help Pat while he was still grieving over the loss of his wife in a boating accident. But it became painfully clear to her that Pat had an additional problem: alcoholism. He had gone from completely leaving the stuff alone for as long as she could remember to drowning his sorrows in the bottle every evening. Molly struggled in her changing role from little sister to friend and confidante. How could she help her brother? But before she could even get started, he was suddenly killed in an accident. Now, she had to deal with this loss and with her niece’s shock. The household was hurting.

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None of the coping would have been possible if it weren’t for Pat’s fire fighter partner, Trace. Trace had been close to Pat’s family since Bethany was born. During the difficult period of loss of his partner and best friend, Trace began to spend time with Pat’s family. Bethany came alive when he was there. He knew what she liked and it was through his gentle care that Bethany began to deal with her aching grief. Bethany’s grandmother became a stable factor in the group. She only lived a few blocks away, but moved into the house to help. Between the four of them, the family slowly recovered from their great loss.

This is a difficult book to describe. The situation was serious and heartbreaking. Yet the author created a family from the four grieving parties, and transformed them into a loving, caring unit that supported one another. She used humor, surprisingly, to bring them all closer. And I found it appropriate and well balanced in spite of what you would expect. In fact, you can’t help but laugh your way through the silliness that is Molly and Trace and even the grandmother. Together, their antics and love helped a little girl recover from a serious loss. Kudos to the author for a well written, sensitive, and yet light-hearted book about what makes a family. I consider this a memorable book.

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Another thing I like about the book is that while being a faith based story, it doesn’t tend to lecture or talk the topic of loss to death. Instead, it is a book of action. It demonstrates how the characters loved each other even in the worst of circumstances. It wasn’t easy. But they toughed it out together. If anything, the book performed as a great object lesson for the readers.

Somehow Christmas Will Come

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. 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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