My Heart Belongs in San Francisco, California: Abby’s Prospects by Janice Thompson ~ Review

My heart belongs in San Francisco pic

My Heart Belongs in San Francisco, California: Abby’s Prospects by Janice Thompson

My Heart Belongs in San Francisco, California joins the collection of Barbour Publishing’s series that celebrates historical beginnings in America. This book explores the era of the California Gold Rush, the ’49ers, and the roots of San Francisco, the boiling pot of the West. This book places you right there in the middle of all the action from the viewpoint of a young woman from England.

Abigail Effingham was not a typical person traveling out West in the 1850’s. For one, while she was not traveling alone by train, wagon train and coach, she was accompanied by her household’s butler. Her objective was to meet up with her mother in the Oregon Territories where her mother was visiting her sister. Abigail missed her and wanted her to return home to Philadelphia, a city they were well settled after their immigration from England. This trip gave Abby a close-up look at all the frontier had to offer, including the flooding that diverted their path away from Oregon. With a new found determination, Abby decided against Neville’s advice to return to Philadelphia, but to visit San Francisco to wait until the flooding receded in the Spring and her mother could come to her. She couldn’t realize how much this side trip would change her life’s course.

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The people in the hayday of San Francisco were uncivilized, thrill-seeking and out to find their fortunes. Some of them were optimistic, starry-eyed with hope of striking it rich. But if they stayed too long, they often became jaded, swindled, crushed, and hard-drinking gamblers. They were not what Abby was used to. But soon, she inevitably discovered ways to influence a few of them, and being a young person herself, began to improve what was around her. Eventually a young man, Sam (good old reliable Sam), became her protector in more ways than she understood. They developed a strong friendship while she and Neville stayed at the Inn owned by his father. Sam’s family housekeeper, who traveled to California with them years before, became the cook at the Inn. Her food was legendary and she was popular all throughout the city.

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What I enjoyed so much was the complete makeover of the young lady we know as Abigail, to the self-sufficient woman that emerged as Abby. Her world was turned upside down. We get to watch the sometimes comical change-up as she learned to pluck chickens, make cherry pies, wash dishes and wait tables for the first time in her pampered life.

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Another valuable part of Abby’s life was her integrity and strong will. That included her spiritual life. She knew what she believed and why she believed that way, yet she never viewed herself as better than anyone else. She made friends with those who were like minded and they encouraged each other in their faith. She was always willing to consider a different viewpoint and learn new things, especially learning about God’s character. That part of one of my favorite sections of the book and the best part of the character development that is done so well. If you like historical fiction from a woman’s point of view, then you are sure to enjoy this book.

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

Ties That Bind pic

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.

My Heart Belogs in Niagara Falls quote1

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 Harvest of Grace: Book 3 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall

Harvest of Grace pic

 The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall is the third book of a three book series: Ada’s House. This trilogy reminded me how much I enjoy books by this author. Ms. Woodsmall creates tales with emotional dynamics that pulls me in, keeps me reading intently without wanting to put down the book, and connect with the well-developed characters so that I feel I have a vested interest in the outcomes.

The author begins this book with a new character, Sylvia. She is an Amish woman from a community further away from the communities this series focuses on. In her household, there are all daughters, with Sylvia being the oldest. She alone loves the dairy farming, and with the knowledge she gained from her grandfather, has built up her father’s herds over the many years. She has been engaged to be married for awhile, but suddenly her fiance declares his love for her sister and marries her. Living in the same household has become unbearable both because of her heartbreak and the deception of her closest friend and sister. She insists on moving to another community. She begins working for Michael Blank and his wife in Dry Lake.

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There, she meets Aaron Blank after he has come home from rehab. Aaron’s purpose is to help his aging parents sell their dairy farm and move to his new community and work with him at a hardware store he is buying. He wants to take care of them. Sylvia’s at cross purposes with Aaron, because she wants to make the Blank dairy farm profitable again and build up the herd as she had done at home. This conflict is the core of the book.

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But as the third book in the series, other storylines that had begun in books one and two continue as well. So we find Deborah and Jonathan in a relationship, Cara and Ephraim continue their courtship and Cara makes progress toward joining the Amish faith, while Lena recovers from her emotional and physical injuries from the events of the previous book.

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Again, like all the other books in this series, this is not a stand alone book. It is integral to the entire storyline and you need to read the first two books in order to understand the direction and scope. Saying this, I found this book hard to put down. It very effectively wraps up all the loose ends of all the relationship dynamics covered in the three books. There are even new dynamics for Cara when her birth father shows up and the Amish leaders decide she must develop a relationship with him in spite of her feelings about him. This struggle so touched my heart. How can Cara overcome a lifetime of neglect and abandonment?

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If you enjoy living, breathing characters, especially relationship struggles and their resolutions, then you’ll love this story. This author does not do pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by type story telling. Her characters deal with real issues you and I can relate to. I was left feeling like I was part of the community, knowing the hearts of people I care about. The author writes this development so well, that I am compelled to read other books by her. I want more of this type of dynamic writing. And you can be sure I will be reading this trilogy over and over again, without feeling as if it were growing old. I highly recommend this series, and this author.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House (a division of Baker Publishing). 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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Cinderella Texas by Molly Noble Bull ~ Review

Cinderella Texas pic

Cinderella Texas by Molly Noble Bull

Cinderella Texas by Molly Noble Bull is one of the newest published books by this author (2017). Both main characters love the Lord and are Christians, but have chosen vastly different lifestyles for themselves. The disparity makes this a unique type of story. The issues are not a matter of right and wrong; rather their choices are what places a wall between the two. The conflict/resolution issue in this story is still emotional, a matter of finding a place, a middle road, in which to meet. How they do this is what drives this story forward.

Alyson Spencer was a city girl, through and through. She was born, reared and educated in Dallas, TX and preferred living there. She never expected to get work anywhere else. When nothing else she wanted turned up, she took a job teaching a rancher’s children at his home. But she was not prepared for the desolation of the location in southern Texas and the distinct lifestyle of the family there. There were no modern conveniences at all. She’d signed a contract for a year of teaching without knowing this ahead of time, so how would she be able to endure the deprivation?

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Quatro Greene, Alyson’s employer and widowed father of her two new students, looked too young to have children. What was unsettling was his wealth. Yet he didnt live like a wealthy man. Neither did his family. They chose this nearly Amish-like lifestyle as a means of practicing their faith. Alyson respected that. It even intrigued her. Yet she just wasn’t certain it was a lifestyle she could adapt to within a year. The only thing she and Quatro had in common were a love for his children and a love for God. Quatro on the other hand, was a confusing person. His feet were planted in two different worlds: his personal life and his business life. How did he live with that?

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The author’s writing style mixes well the serious issues with humor at the quandry Alyson finds herself in. If you like Amish fiction reads, then some aspects of this genre may be familiar to you. However, the mixing of two worlds is the main issue, making this book more unique. That’s the feature I like the best.

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Alyson’s character is well developed in this story. I wish, however, we could see a little more inside Quatro’s head. It would flesh out the development of characters more thoroughly than was there. I wanted to know more about his struggles and how he balanced his worlds. The resolution put forth in this book could make an interesting part two. I can also see how you could develop a sequel to this book by amplifying any resolution with more details. I hope the author will consider this idea.

 

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12 Saturdays by F.P. Lione ~ Review

12 Saturdays pic

12 Saturdays by F.P. Lione

Twelve Saturdays is like an “everything” bagel; it has a little bit of everything in it. The setting is New York City: Staten Island and Manhattan. It has a little bit of suspense and tension with a few bad guys thrown in. There’s fun humor and a few giggles. Some romance, some psychology, some tragedy, some adventure, and lots of relationship dynamics. All this is blended very well into an unforgettable storyline.

The premise is about family relationships. Jenna had been out on a date when she learned that her father was in the hospital. By the time she got there, it was too late, and she was overcome by so many regrets. She had not known he had a brain tumor. Then she learned that her father had some rather odd requests for her after his death. And that’s the beginning of an unforgettable series of 12 Saturdays.

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I enjoyed reading this book so much. There were moments of levity which balanced out the revelatory nature of the story. The one driving character, Jenna, was a real, living, breathing person to me. I found myself relating to her on so many levels. The more her background was revealed, the more her life spoke to me.

One element of the book I really enjoyed was the “girl power” feel of Jenna’s friendships. The best of the humor as well as the best of her strength came from these close ties. There were also a few twists and turns as the book progressed that kept me turning the pages.

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Finally, this is a faith-based story. Jenna wasn’t exactly the picture perfect Christian; she was a work in progress, just as we are. I took comfort in the growth in her character shown to us through her trials and triumphs. At a crucial point in the story, she knows where she belongs. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in this conclusion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from CKN Christian Publishing on behalf of 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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Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing by Wanda E. Brunstetter ~ Review

Amish Cooking Class book 2: The Blessing by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Amish Cooking Class The Blessing

The Blessing is the second book in the Amish Cooking Class series. I read this book without knowing about the first one, and didn’t have any feeling of missing something vital. So I would say this book can stand alone on its own. But I am intrigued now that I have read this one; I want to go back and read the first book. That is how well written this book is.

The story’s premise is about an Amish couple, Heidi and Lyle Troyer, living in Walnut Creek, Ohio. They have been married about 9 years and do not have children. Lyle is an auctioneer while Heidi teaches cooking classes in her kitchen. At the opening of the story, Heidi is anticipating the birth of her friend’s baby, which she and Lyle were going to adopt. Kendra had been living with them for several months now. Kendra really wanted to keep her baby, but she was a single young person and it wouldn’t be the best thing for the little one if she couldn’t support it.

Just as Heidi had decided not to teach another class, in preparation of the babe’s arrival, Kendra’s parents reversed their decision not to help her rear the child, and suddenly Heidi finds herself bereft of the baby she wanted to adopt. She decided to go ahead and teach another cooking class to help her stay mentally occupied while she grieved her loss.

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We eventually become acquainted with the six members of this new cooking class, and they are as diversified as they come! There’s an overburdened high school student, a custodian, a food critic, a mother in a shaky marriage, a widower, and a caterer. It’s the clashing and meshing of these lives that makes this an intriguing read.

What I appreciate most about this book is that regardless of Heidi’s background, she is centered on honoring God with her life. She is genuine and caring, someone that her class of students need in their lives. Without being preachy or overly Amish in her behavior with her students, she quietly relayed to them what each person needed at this point in their life journey, even for the one who cared nothing for God. I loved how all these individual stories wrapped up neatly at the conclusion of the book. If at first you feel the story moves along slowly while we become acquainted with all the characters, be patient. The character development is worth the wait.

God heals broken hearts

The second thing I enjoyed about the book are the cooking tips and recipes included in the back. I am always open to learning something new, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you enjoy cozy character-driven stories that warm your heart, then this is the book for you. I enthusiastically recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Barbour Publishing. 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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