Amish Cooking Class: The Celebration by Wanda E. Brunstetter ~ Review

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Amish Cooking Class: The Celebration by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Celebration is the third book in the Amish Cooking Class series. While it is part of a series, I don’t think anyone would have trouble reading this as a stand alone book. There are only a few carry over characters from the other books and their parts are casual and not really needed to make the story line smooth.

Heidi and Lyle Troyer have decided to take in foster children when they discover they may never be able to have children of their own. So now the story picks up from the second book a few months later with two young children whose parents were killed in an automobile accident. For the first six months, the state decided to wait and see if family will come forward to claim responsibility for the two children, Randy and Marsha. In the meantime, Heidi wanted to help her young charges adjust to their new life. She decides to teach another cooking class, but with children this time. A wide variety of families are represented in this class, and little by little we learn a bit of back history for each family.

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Many topics pertaining to children were covered in this book, such as showing kindness to others, teasing, a complaining attitude, adoption as a topic, the value of friendship, reaching out to help someone in dire circumstances, caring for pets and other animals, and so on. And of course, cooking. What I enjoy most about these books is the subtle ways Heidi is able to reach out and help total strangers in their struggles with daily life. Most of us want to make a difference in someone’s life, but we often have no idea how to go about doing this. Ms. Brunstetter’s books demonstrate through fiction good examples of how to touch lives. We don’t have to make a major impact, but even an encouraging word can work wonders for a person on any particular day. The fact that this is a lesson even children can learn, is what makes this such a touching book to read.

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The author does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into the drama with the children and their respective families. There were times when I felt the frustration Heidi must have felt when she couldn’t do much to help a hurting child. At other times, I felt the aggravation when a child is deliberately rude and misbehaving, especially to the younger children. I could relate to the helpless feeling some of the parents felt in their circumstances, to the point where I shed a few tears when things went so wrong. Then again, there were also tears of celebration when finally something came together and worked out well, either for a family or for their children or both. If you enjoy a good Amish story, or a bit of family saga with a little romance, then I highly recommend this book to you.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Barbour Publishing 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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Ties That Bind: The Amish of Summer Grove Book 1 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

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Ties That Bind: The Amish of Summer Grove Book 1 by Cindy Woodsmall

On the surface, Ariana’s Amish family was typical for their small community of Summer Grove. Many siblings, in their teens or older milled about the kitchen in the early mornings getting ready for a full day of activities either with small children in tow or assisting those families with small children. Some like Ariana were preparing breakfast and others were getting ready to do chores. A contentedness pervaded the atmosphere most of the time. They enjoyed each others’ company. But under the many layers of familiarity lay some rumblings of discontent. No one spoke openly about these feelings, but they were there nonetheless. It was a vague awareness that something disruptive could dispel their peace at any moment and change the entire family dynamics. What would be the trigger?

This is the first of three parts in the series. It features an unexpected twist of fortune that seems plausible, and possibly even probable. There are many great and positive things in this family saga, such as relationship building that I absolutely love. However, it seems inevitable that tension builds and two worlds collide with Ariana’s good friend caught up in the middle. Don’t expect a major resolution of the primary tension by the end of this first book, because it builds and leads directly into the next book. You definitely need to prepare to read the second book right away because of the high amount of suspense and heart break. This was so well written, that I was feeling with the Brenneman family when circumstances broke wide open.

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It’s getting to the point where I will read any book by this author because they are that good. Ms. Woodsmall puts her entire heart into what she writes. What she creates is impactful, both heart warming and heart wrenching, view shifting, and absolutely real. She’s a writer that knows how to pull heartstrings with what she writes. In this particular series, she plays on misunderstandings that come between close friends when one party must keep secrets for the sake of confidentiality. The secret he must keep makes Quill look bad in the eyes of the Amish. Such is the misunderstanding that it rocks Ariana’s world because she has lost trust in her good friend. And other circumstances are wearing her trust in others very thin.

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My favorite part of the book centers again around Ariana. She is stubborn and that persistence is what helps her family keep their heads above turbulent waters. She is determined to buy a cafe in downtown Summer Grove so that she can lift her family out of the poverty they have been in for years. She works hard and finally succeeds beyond even her expectations. I couldn’t help but root for her efforts to do something so thoughtful for her family.

 

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My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York: Adele’s Journey by Amanda Barratt ~ Review

My Heart Belongs In Niagara Falls New York pic

My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls New York by Amanda Barratt

Not too many of us are familiar with the term funambulist. It’s an old term, but it is still in use even today. Perhaps we would be more familiar with tight rope walker. And we may even remember a recent figure making news across the world, Nik Wallenda. He has set many records for even his famous family. Like one of the main characters in this book, Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls. Just look at the preparation required for this task to be done safely.

And yet the main character in this book, Drew Dawson, did not make these types of preparations when he walked across the tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls. Why did he do such a risky thing? Why did he put his life on the line, so to speak? Was he trying to imitate the famous Charles Blondin, funambulist extraordinaire of his time? Was he hero worshipping?

One thing I like most about Drew Dawson was his similarity to Nik Wallenda as they walked the line. Listen to Nik as he crossed the Grand Canyon years ago.

There is a striking resemblance between the two. They pray as they walk. I like that similarity. I like how the author created this similarity in her book, My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York. For Drew, it was not for the name or the fame that comes with the deed. It was out of necessity, for his sister’s well being. She was in a wheelchair because of an accident years before. That tells me a lot about the character of this man. It makes him a hero in my eyes.

Adele Louise Linley did not fully appreciate this quality in Drew when she first met him. In fact, she didn’t know what he did for a living until awhile into their friendship. In the meantime, Adele was in the United States to perform an unsavory duty for her mother and brother living in England. She was in the states to marry for money to save her ancestral home. Even though she was drawn to Drew, he did not have the money she needed to save her home. The fact that things didn’t work out for either of them the way they had planned was an opportunity for God to work His will for a better plan in their lives.

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In this lovely romance, Drew and Adele are drawn to each other, but are at cross purposes. They could see no way out of their individual dilemma’s by a close association with each other. So Adele continued to dazzle American men with her delicate allure while Drew continued his path to create a safe haven for his sister using what skills he had available to him–tightrope walking. Yet their paths would cross from time to time.

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The plot in this book was tight, intelligent and fraught with tension. Two very determined people were set in their way to fix what was wrong with their lives regardless of the consequences. It was intriguing how God worked in two opposite worlds, the world of affluence and the world of deprivation, to answer some desperate prayers.

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In spite of this, my favorite part of the entire story is Adele’s wedding. I won’t tell you more, but for me it packed a wallop of a punch to the story line. And with it came a very satisfying ending.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Netgalley on behalf of Barbour Publishing, Inc. 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.”

 

Nik Wallenda Niagara Falls tightwalk

 

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The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson ~ Review

Christmas Dog, The pic

The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson

I have to admit, I got quite a chuckle from reading this story. The story is not meant to be humorous, but to me the silliness of the main character was what set off my funny bone. I suppose it’s because I know a few people just like our main character, Betty Kowalski. You know the type. Betty is a widow, living in her house alone; her grown children have their own children and are busy with their lives and are scattered all over the country. Unlike some people she knows, she does not live in a gated community with security built in, nor does she live in a secured building with buzzers. Her neighborhood is a typical neighborhood with friends she’s lived near about half her life.

The part I find funny is her attitude toward a new neighbor. She knew who used to live in that house when it was in its prime. Now, the house is old and worn and more than a little bit shabby. She’s convinced that the new neighbor must be a squatter. When hammering and sawing sounds came from the house at night and the pink toilet appeared in the back yard, she was even more suspicious. Then when that viewpoint didn’t seem to work, she wondered if he was a criminal. He never answered the door. He didn’t talk to anyone, and no one had ever seen him smile. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d kept her thoughts to herself, but she was not as quiet as she should have been with her opinions to her friends and neighbors. Now the newcomer is ignored and snubbed by most of the neighborhood.

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Betty’s attitude was worth several eye rolls in my opinion, and even one of her daughters felt she was being unfair. But that happens when fear overrules reason and you are alone. The author did a great job writing about this type of fear and isolation so that the reader would feel somewhat irritated while still understanding the woman and her ridiculous assumptions. This is not a typical Christmas story.

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The turning point happens when a little dirty unclaimed dog appears and Betty assumes he belongs to the neighbor. He in turn assumes it is hers, so for a little while we are viewing a ridiculous tug of war. Poor dog. In the end, this dog actually becomes an integral part of transformed attitudes, but you’re going to have to read the book to find out how.

A rebellious granddaughter shows up at Betty’s house after Thanksgiving, and adds to the confusion of conflicts. My favorite part is how the little scruffy dog wins over hearts little by little and brings about quite a transformation of attitudes. But things have to get worse before they get better. As usual my favorite author of Christmas stories has penned another winner.

 

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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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Snow Belle: Madison Creek Bed & Breakfast Romance series: Book 1 by Jackie Castle ~ Review

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Snow Belle: Book One of Madison Creek Bed & Breakfast by Jackie Castle

This is a charming contemporary romance where Haley Madison and Ethan Winters find themselves at cross purposes, but warm up to possibilities after reluctantly spending some time together in a tiny town called Madison Creek, Michigan.

Haley arrived at her grandfather’s side just in time to spend a few days before he was off to his eternal reward. Now, she had to figure out how to make a living from his farm, located in a small town on Lake Michigan, so that she could get her sister out of the foster care system. She’s under a time limit, strapped with few financial options, and facing opposition of the sale of her grandparents’ fine old Victorian home from the local historical society. Not that she wants to sell it, but how else can she prove to the courts she has a stable home and an income to welcome her sister to?

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When violinist Ethan Winters is literally blown off the road by a runaway snowblower, manned by one of the most beautiful angels he’s ever seen, what else can he do but accept her hospitality while his car gets repaired? When he discovers her name is Haley Belle, he quickly nicknames her Snowbelle, in memory of their flurried and snowy introduction. As he and Haley get to know each other, Ethan is beginning to wonder if God hadn’t somehow orchestrated (pun intended) this little side adventure to show him that life is not all violin playing and fame.

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I had so much fun reading this light-hearted Christmas story. Even though Haley was born in Michigan, she was raised in Texas, making her southern ways and accent stand out in the small town of Madison Creek. She was gamely trying to arrive at ideas to make a living for herself in Michigan, but getting no encouragement from the town folk who could see that her ideas were limited in the colder nothern weather and more suited to her Texas background. Ethan finds himself standing between the town historical society and his snowbelle in an effort to come up with an idea that would make everyone satisfied.

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It’s a great short story. The romance is sweet and clean. Faith is a part of their lives, and very natural. I understood the dilemma Haley faced and rooted Ethan on in his efforts to win his snowbelle over to his point of view as well as her heart. I loved the conclusion. It was immensely satisfying. For a short, simple, and clean holiday read, this is spot on.

 

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Better All the Time: Book 2 by Carre Armstrong Gardner ~ Review

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Better All the Time: Book 2 by Carre Armstrong Gardner

You know how Debbie Macomber takes a community of people and tells their individual stories which stretch over several books and time? I know many authors who have done this; and some of those stories, like Ms. Macomber’s, have even become a television series. Well, Carre Armstrong Gardner has done something similar, although the focus remains on one family, the Darlings. This book is the second of a series, all focusing on the members of the Darling family and their friends.

Book 1, which I have reviewed here, introduced us to the family by way of Ivy Darling, already married to Nick Mason. As their story unfolds, we get introduced to the many other members of the sprawling family that lives in Maine and other parts of the US.

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Jane and Leander Darling are the proud parents of mostly daughters, now adults who are moving on with their lives, and sometimes to other states. Seraphina is the resident college student/grad who has taken on a nursing job nearby. Ivy and Nick live close with their adopted youngsters, Hammer, DeShaun, and Jada. Laura has moved as far away from the family as she could manage, to Arizona. Amy has taken on the position of a local arts director to create a brand new program with theater, concerts and classes. David is dating Sephy’s best friend, Libby. The focus in this book is on the personal issues faced by Laura, Amy, Sephy and a few peripheral friends such as Mitch and Libby.

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All the daughters had experiences which tugged at my sympathies and my heart. But I think of all their stories, it was Sephy’s that resonated most with me. She and I have parallel histories, mostly revolving around emotional eating and being a people pleaser. Her journey sounded so much like mine. I remember those feelings and experiences that were so close to her feelings and experiences, especially when it came time for her to visit her Aunt Sharon. Oh my! It was both hilarious and tragic at the same time; I couldn’t help but laugh in commiseration!

I also loved Amy’s subplot. She could have been me when I was in my 20’s. While reading about her non-relationship with Mitch, I kept yelling at her in my mind, ‘Don’t make the same mistakes I did, Amy!’ Of course, when you are twenty-something and you have the tiger by the tail, who has time to think of long-term consequences. Right? ‘Nuff said.

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So if this type of storytelling is one you enjoy, go out and get the first book and this one, then go on and read the next book in the series. They really are more enjoyable to read this way. The title of the book is appropriate. Tangled stories do begin to unravel and straighten out, little by little. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing book three.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers 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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