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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Flower Swallow by Alana Terry ~Review~

Flower Swallow by Alana Terry

Flower Swallow

Some of us may relate to a time when we saw the world through a child’s eyes. It has always been a mystery to me how that happens. But when it does, there’s a sense of new appreciation for things that have become ‘ho hum’ to us through time and familiarity. I have discovered this book gives us the same kind of perspective. We see what life might be like in North Korea through the eyes of a lost child, a lost boy, known in that country as a ‘flower swallow.’

Once I started reading this book, I became entranced. Because really, what do we know about life in North Korea? Not really enough for us to develop compassion for people who are trapped within a nation whose despotic leaders want them to think they are gods. So this story is told in the first person by a little boy named Woong. From his viewpoint, we understand the people a little bit more; we understand a land in famine, hit by storms, flash floods, cruel dictators, starvation and hard circumstances. Life was so harsh that many children were cut loose from their families to find their own way. In the Western world, we would think of them as “street urchins” thinking back to the eighteenth century London where children often lived in the streets. If you’ve read or watched the story Oliver, that would give you a glimpse of what that life was about. It wasn’t pretty. So too, this boy Woong had a tough life. He wasn’t an orphan, but he was cut loose from family nevertheless.

Flower Swallow street-children Bogota

Street children in Bogota

The author, Alana Terry, creates a character with tons of personality. Unlike the story of Oliver, which was a serious tome from the onset to its conclusion, Woong is a mischievous little guy who thinks and ponders things through. This story is his reflection on his younger years as a ‘flower swallow’, where his adventures and attitudes remind me more of Tom Sawyer than Oliver. I often chuckled, if not at the circumstances, definitely at the way the adventures were explained by a little boy. (His present life sounds as if he’s about 8 or 9, telling this story to his American teacher.)

Flower Swallow street urchins1

19th century London, street children

What I especially appreciate about this book is the combination of pathos and humor. The humor does not detract from the seriousness of the population’s condition. It is so well written, that when the boy speaks of his every day life, you can laugh but with tears in your eyes. You gain such a sense of sympathy devoid of pity. I could appreciate the strength needed to cope and survive in such a hostile environment. I began to admire Woong, and others who barely survived. In fact, I experienced a wide range of emotions while reading this story, including admiration for the author who made this story come alive.

Flower Swallow street children in India

Street children, India

I highly recommend it for your household. This is the type of book you can read with your children, since there are no graphic scenes in this book, although you should be prepared to share harsh reality with your children if they have not been exposed to it before. Yet this book is one that’s appropriate for a wide range of readers. As a former homeschool mom, I can see many applications in this book for children and young people.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. 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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Paralyzed (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 2) by Alana Terry ~ Review

Paralyzed (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 2) by Alana Terry

ParalyzedParalyzed is the second book of the Kennedy Stern novel series by Alana Terry. This series runs parallel to another series by the same author. That set involves Kennedy’s parents who live in China where they conduct a secret seminary for North Korean refugees. While book 1 and 2 in Kennedy’s series works closely together, you can read each one independently of the other. Of course, I think they are best read back to back, since the events only occur six weeks apart. You can view my review of book 1 here.

Kennedy Stern, after having lived in China ten years, is now attending Harvard University as a pre-med student. It’s only been six weeks since she’d been kidnapped in what turned out to be a high profile case that involved a big political name, underground thugs, and a pregnant girl. Kennedy ended up handcuffed for 24 hours in a filthy darkened basement watching the young teen die from bleeding out. She still had nightmares of the horrors she witnessed. While taking final exams before the Christmas break, she started have coughing fits, and out in the hallway, she thought she saw a familiar ugly face. It frightened her enough that she fled the exam in panic to her dorm room. Then she had to see a doctor for her cough and an excused absence for her professor. The doctor recognized her and asked her several questions. He hinted that she may need counseling, possibly for PTSD. She couldn’t get her mind wrapped around the concept. Could she really have PTSD? She was a Christian. She’d been praying an reading her Bible more often since her traumatic experience. She’d even memorized Bible verses. Didn’t that help?Paralyzed Quote1

From that point on, the author provides non-stop suspense. Kennedy’s friend took her out to see the Nutcracker Suite. She enjoyed it but was once again spooked when they attempted to see some of the players backstage, and she wound up alone in a dark hallway. Then they took a subway to get some pizza, but a power outage created new panic; she felt as if someone was following her in the dark tunnel, especially after a smoke bomb forced everyone out of the car and into the unlit tunnel. Once home her shaken nerves were further rattled when her father called to warn her a second man was discovered to have been involved in the kidnapping case. He sent her with an email with a picture of the man. She immediately recognized him from the subway incident. She needed to flee, but she didn’t know where to go. That’s when Pastor Carl Lindgren, a family friend, entered the fray. He had received the same warnings from Kennedy’s dad. Pastor Carl decided she needed to stay with him for her safety. They were anything but safe. What ensued was a terrifying car chase, a shoot out, a hospital visit, police protection, and an ambush. At that point, I just could not put the book down.

Paralyzed Quote2

Alana Terry writes excellent suspenseful scenes that are fast-paced. That alone has me recommending this book to you. But Kennedy’s inner battles are just as interesting to me. Yes, growing up in a missionary family ensured her head was filled with knowledge that made her appear to be a Christian. She prayed, read her Bible, lived by a set of moral codes in spite of her environment, and even memorizing Scripture. But something was missing. She seemed a little two dimensional to me. I kept asking myself, “Where’s the joy? Where’s the relationship, the inner peace, the intimacy between her Heavenly Father and a daughter?” Kennedy’s spiritual life is often too formulaic in my opinion. A true dynamic Christian life is much more than saying prayers, doing good deeds, going to church, and even reading the Bible. It’s vital and alive–an active relationship between a loving Father and His child. there should be dialogue and exchange. I believe this lack of depth has been carefully crafted by the author as an underlying subplot that began in the first book and grows gradually throughout the series. It is not yet resolved in the second book in spite of the satisfactory resolution of the more active portions of the story line. I suspect the quieter theme will continue into the next book or books in the series. I look forward to further development of this character thread because it is an ever pressing issue in today’s world.

Paralyzed Quote3

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. 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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Winter’s End (Seasons of Faith, Book 2) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Winter’s End (Seasons of Faith, Book 2) by Rebekah Lyn

Winter's End

Winter’s End is the second book in Rebekah Lyn’s Seasons of Faith series. In book 1 we meet Elizabeth Reynolds, Ian Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Robbins, Stephen Longbottom, and Michelle Burton. The first book’s emphasis was on Elizabeth and those involved in her circumstances. By the conclusion of that book, Elizabeth and Ian had begun a new romantic relationship. Their story continues in this second book as a subplot where the author explores their growth individually and as a couple, while LIzzie and Ian are in Vermont on a ski trip with his parents and her adopted parents.Click here to see my review on book One

In the meantime, the main plot is split between Stephen and Michelle. While Lizzie is away on vacation, Stephen is in charge of their concierge team at Hotel Lago. He is professionally tested when he spends the weekend overseeing a particularly fussy group of executives on a business retreat. Michelle, on the other hand, had just experienced an exhilarating night with her rock band, only to arrive at her office job the next morning to discover a co-worker had been brutally murdered and left in one of the office’s bathrooms. The three storylines, plus a subplot where the murder investigation moves forward in its own suspenseful timeline, weave and intertwine with each other in a similar manner to Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series.

Winter's End quote1

Then there’s Jeffrey. He noticed Michelle was on the news because she was the one who discovered the body and called 911. Although their last time together was a disaster, he decided to call her to check on how she was dealing with the shock. They got together and she immediately noticed how he had changed. Eventually she discovered he had become a Christian. His presence helped her cope with her new fears. Their relationship is yet another subplot that will apparently continue in one of the future books in this series.

Winter's End quote2

Winter’s End gives readers a little bit of everything. Suspense quickens the pace when Detective Mike Emerson and his assistant try to hunt down the murderer while the evidence is fresh and before he strikes again. Good character work is evident as we learn how Lizzie and Ian’s relationship is developing. Spiritual topics crop up naturally when Michelle’s experience shakes her to the core. Jeffrey plays an important role in answering some of life’s toughest questions. Continuity flows throughout the tale, connecting the books closely, allowing resolution in some relationships while anticipating how some other events will need to be resolved in the future.

Winter's End quote3

I have noticed that the best way to read these books is to read them back to back to enjoy the story’s flow. The first three books are already out. Another book will be coming out soon, in late 2015 or early 2016. I am looking forward to reading the next two books. If you enjoy Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove books and other author’s works with a similar style of writing, then I highly recommend this book and the series to you.

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The Dance: A Novel (The Restoration series Bk 1) by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley ~Review

Dance, The

The Dance: A Novel by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

The Dance is the first book of Gary Smalley’s and Dan Walsh’s Restoration series. There are four books in the series. I have discovered that all the books can be read independently, but are easier understood and experienced if you read this first book before the others. I read this book after reading book four. Reading it filled in the gaps for me and helped me understand the underlying premise of the series. Book 1, at the time I have written this review, was/is a free ebook. You may want to check now to see if it is still free, before reading books two, three, and four.

Jim Anderson is the owner of Anderson Development, a commercial real estate company. He has built this company up from the ground himself. He is understandably proud of his accomplishments. His business has been successful for a long time, although recently it has reflected the slump in the American economy. In my opinion, Jim is a typical alpha male, in that the world must revolve around him, including his family. This has only created pain in his household, though he doesn’t see that. Suddenly and unexpectedly for Jim, his wife of 27 years left him. She quietly moved out, leaving most of her belongings behind.

Dance, The quote1

Marilyn Anderson love how she’s been protected and cared for by Jim. She loved her new home in the planned community. She took pleasure in choosing all the furniture and decorating the house right down to the smallest details. She could appreciate how Jim has worked hard to maintain they way of life. He provided well for their three children. He gave them nearly anything they wanted. But it wasn’t enough. He gave them everything but his heart. Marilyn had felt this lack the moment they were married until one day she couldn’t stand it anymore. Overwhelmed with sadness, she went out in search of a job, found an older person to board with, and left. The driving question in this book–what would it take for Jim and Marilyn to reconcile? This is their story and the beginning of the series.

Dance, The quote2

This book has so many elements I could relate to as I was reading it. First, both authors have been counselors and involved with Christian ministry and with marriage relationships for many years. Gary Smalley’s book on marriage helped my own marriage when my husband and I were a young couple. Dan Walsh admitted that Smalley’s books on communication aided his own young marriage as well. Through the expertise of both these men, this book is filled with nuggets of gold. The character development is heart gripping and real. The book is written just the way I enjoy reading character-based literature.

Dance, The quote3

Second, the turn around doesn’t occur overnight. It actually takes Jim about half the book length before he even began to look within himself to discover if he has done something to run off his wife and alienate his children. It easily provides us readers a character we “love to hate”. He is both despicable and a person we want to see turn his life around. I truly wanted to get my hands on his neck and choke the guy at the beginning of the story. I certainly yelled at him, in my mind, from time to time.

Dance, The quote4

Third, there’s a vivid analogy written into the storyline–that of a dance. The analogy which is responsible for the title, has multiple layers which we come to understand better as the story progresses. It is so well written and incorporated that it helps keep the storyline moving along at a good clip. Finally, I related very well with Marilyn’s plight. The break in their marriage wasn’t all Jim’s doing. Marilyn had much to learn before she could reconcile with her husband. In the series, the first step they take at the conclusion of this story is continued in the remaining three books. The three books each feature one of Jim and Marilyn’s children as they fit into the theme of the series. Jim and Marilyn’s story continues as a subplot, while the major plots are dedicated to each adult child in turn. That is why I not only recommend this book to you, but the series as well.

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In Good Company by Jen Turano ~Review~

In Good Company by Jen Turano

In Good Company

Some of you may have had the pleasure of reading books to your children when they were young. A family favorite of ours were Amelia Bedelia books. She was a scatter-brained individual who took verbal and written instructions way too literally. The results were often hilarious. When I began reading “In Good Company” by Jen Turano, the main character, Millie Longfellow, reminded me of Amelia Bedelia. Not that she understood situations too literally, but her capacity to talk them to death is what brings levity and humor to the story. If you enjoy a light-hearted historical romance, you will enjoy this book.

Millie Longfellow is an orphan who’s had to earn her living from the age of 12. You may call her life dreary and tedious, but she would disagree with you. Though tough times could have made her bitter, she is surprisingly optimistic and upbeat. She has carved out a satisfying life for herself, with a big heart and a great love for children. It wouldn’t surprise you to discover she has become a nanny. Unfortunately, her verbosity has lead to a dismal employment history; instead of talking her way out of misunderstandings, she seems to talk her way into them while high society patrons lose patience with her without listening to her lengthy explanations. Her last rabbit trail ended in unemployment as the story opens. The owner of the agency Millie worked with has nearly given up on her until Mr. Everett Mulberry at the agency office in search of a nanny.

In Good Company quote1

Mr. Mulberry, a product of society’s snobbish elite, is a proper bachelor living in New York. A few months prior, a close friend of his died in a tragic accident. Everett was appointed guardian of the three young children: Thaddeus and Rosetta–5-year-old twins, and their older sister Elizabeth. He promptly brought them home to his country estate. Grieving, angry and lost, the three youngsters have run off every nanny Everett has hired in the past three months. The employment agency owner is frustrated with him and nearly ready to give up on him when Millie returns to the agency’s office. Everett has met Millie before and refused to hire her, but the owner closed the deal so quickly he had no time to decline again. He was stuck with the infamous nanny.

This situation is complicated by Millie’s unorthodox ways of handling the mischievous children, Everett’s unofficial fiance who is determined to gain a position of social prominence and wealth by marrying Mr. Mulberry, the plotting of a Mrs. Abigail Hart, a society matron who has decided to sponsor a few disadvantaged young girls, including Millie and her friend Lucetta Plum, Everett’s interfering mother, a number of disapproving and judgmental socialites, and the mystery surrounding the death of the children’s parents. The story is fast-paced, full of surprises and humor. It’s a delightful read.

My favorite part of the tale occurs when Millie bests the children at their own pranking, with the assistance of the household staff. The situation is funny enough on its own, but becomes interesting with the addition of an irritated flock of peacocks, the unexpected arrival of Everett’s parents traveling abroad, and unfortunately Caroline Dixon, the enraged and jealous fiance. How Millie settles the turmoil, the children and the complications is what makes this book such an enjoyable experience.

In Good Company quote2

There are other factors I loved about this book. For example, there is the running undercurrent of a brewing romance which has a happy conclusion. There are the comic ways Millie uses to win over the children’s hearts. I enjoyed the bumbling, scheming efforts of Abigail Hart to help along the growing romance. Millie’s friendship with Lucetta is an excellent break in the hilarity, used by the author to ground the story when it needed some moments of quiet. Even Everett undergoes some much needed character growth, especially in his relationship with his wards. I highly recommend this book for a quick light read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of 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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Where Trust Lies (Return to the Canadian West Bk 2) by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan ~Review~

Where Trust Lies (Return to the Canadian West Bk 2) by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

Where Trust Lies

Where Trust Lies is the second book in the Return to the Canadian West series. Book 1 is entitled Where Courage Calls. The protagonist of both books is Beth Thatcher who had rejected a life of ease to attend college and then choose to teach in the Canadian West where life was more about a roof over your head and food in your belly than shopping excursions in an upscale store and the latest fashions. That was in book 1. In book 2, Beth has returned home for summer vacation after completing her first year of teaching.

There had always been a gulf between Beth and her mother and youngest sister, Julie. She had hopes she could somehow close that gap over the summer. When she arrived home, she found her family preparing to go on a 6-week cruise from Toronto to the St. Laurence River and on to the east coast, finally moving into the United States before returning. At first she was reluctant to go on the trip, but her father challenged her to get to know her mother as adult to adult, rather than as a daughter to a mother. But Beth had another reason to hesitate. In her year away from home Beth had attracted a suitor–Jarrick “Jack” Thornton, an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was stationed out west and Coal Valley, where Beth taught, was part of his jurisdiction. He requested they keep in touch over the summer to become more acquainted with each other. She agreed to write.

Where Trust Lies quote1

When Jarrick learned of this opportunity to travel with her family, he urged Beth to go. They could keep in contact with each other through letters, phone calls and telegrams. So it was decided that Beth would go, albeit a little reluctantly. Not only was Beth’s mother and two sisters going, but so were little JW and his nanny, her mother’s best friend, Mrs. Montclair, her daughter and their maid, and their own tour guide Emile Laurant. Close quarters, differing interests, the rapid pace of events, and personality conflicts kept the pot bubbling with tension and interest. At the apex of the story, Julie was abducted, throwing the small circle of family and friends into turmoil and onto their knees in prayer. None of them were ever the same again.

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It was so good to read another of Janette Oke’s books again. I have already read nearly all the books she’s written. Like the first book in this series, her voice is distinct and heart felt. Where the focus is usually historical fiction of the Canadian west, this book explores the historical east. Building community is one of Oke’s writing talents; in this book that legacy continues but within the tight circle of friends and family on the cruise. Writing in tandem with her daughter allows for the sense of contemporary issues as well. The new voice brings with it freshness that nevertheless blends well with the familiar Oke memes. Mother and daughter make a fine writing team.

Another reason I enjoy reading this author’s books is that faith in God is nearly always faith in action. It is the driving force for many of her characters’ actions, yet not portrayed as if these men and women who loved God could do no wrong. It is their inner struggles that brings life to every individual and makes them real to us. The reader can’t help but empathize with people whose faith is neither great nor less than their own. We falter where they falter, and gain courage from the same God these characters draw courage. There’s no preaching here, only life lessons and hope.

Where Trust Lies quote3

Finally, the authors write with humor, keen observation of various personalities amidst the conflicts and employ some fairly intense suspense. There is an undercurrent of romance, especially when Jarrick rushes to Beth’s side at the height of the frightening events of Julie’s abduction, and a strong sense of more to come at the book’s end. Events do resolve, so there is not a cliff-hanger, although not all threads in this book are settled. It seems that there must be at least one more book in this series to come. The issue of trust, dealt with all throughout the book, is not yet completely finalized. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House for their blogging 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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