Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Whenever You Come Around by Robin Lee Hatcher

Whenever You Come AroundRobin Lee Hatcher is one of the long established authors of Christian fiction.  WHENEVER YOU COME AROUND, her latest novel and a part of the KINGS MEADOW ROMANCE series is perfect summer read.  To her hometown of Kings Meadow, author Charity Anderson is a successful hometown girl who has moved on. Actually, Charity's absence is a self-imposed coping mechanism, a way to deny deep pain.  It is only after Charity returns to Kings Meadow for the summer while her house undergoes a huge renovation, that she realizes that while she might be protecting herself from painful memories, she has also denied herself happiness and a fulfilling life.

This title should be a hit with romance lovers.  The setting is idyllic; at one point in the book, Charity and neighbor Buck Malone comment on Idaho's striking mountain views.  Buck is the ultimate romantic interest -- just enough roughness on the outside, but plenty of tenderness on the inside.  And he is totally genuine.  No hidden twists here, except for Charity's unshared past.  This is a story of people growing up and changing their goals; it is also a story of friendship and simple kindness growing into something more.  I have not read the first KINGS MEADOW romance, and it isn't necessary, but I am intrigued about the novella I HOPE YOU DANCE coming out this month.  According to Hatcher, the novella will feature a KINGS MEADOW wedding.  Plus KEEPER OF THE STARS which comes out later this year or early 2016 will again feature the mountains of Idaho.  If you like clean, contemporary romance then why not give this series a try?   I received a copy of WHENEVER YOU COME AROUND from BOOKLOOK for my honest opinion.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor by Melanie Dobson

Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor

I am not a world traveler, but I have been to Great Britain twice and on the first trip was fortunate to travel to the Cotswolds, small picturesque villages that include Stratford on Avon and Bath,  When I read the first page of Melanie Dobson's new book SHADOWS OF LADENBROOKE MANOR and learned it was set in a Cotswold village, I so wanted the book to capture special essence of those villages.  While the village does not play a crucial role in the story, the huge manor at its edge and the small cottage next to the grounds does.  And so do the gardens, so I was not disappointed.  I am not going to share much of the story; you can read the publisher's blurb for that.  Instead let me tell you that Dobson has created a world of magic amidst a backdrop of secrets and tragedy. At the center is Libby, who is not like other children, but whose connection to butterflies and artistic talent might remind you of a young Beatrix Potter. As I read, I could almost imagine the fantasy butterfly world Libby created for herself and wished there really was a book of her paintings.   There have been many recent novels with a protagonist who returns home years after leaving, only to uncover secrets kept from them when younger.  SHADOWS OF LADENBROOKE fits into that category.  It also fits into the category of returning to find a lost love.  But neither category captures the mystery, pain, and beauty of this book.   I hope that Melanie Dobson continues to write.   And while I am waiting, maybe I will sit among my flowers, watch the butterflies, and imagine what Libby would see.  I received a copy of this title for my honest review.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE BOOK Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor(Howard, June 2015)
When Heather Toulson returns to her parents’ cottage in the English countryside, she uncovers long-hidden secrets about her family history and stumbles onto the truth about a sixty-year-old murder.
Libby, a free spirit who can’t be tamed by her parents, finds solace with her neighbor Oliver, the son of Lord Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor. Libby finds herself pregnant and alone when her father kicks her out and Oliver mysteriously drowns in a nearby river. Though theories spread across the English countryside, no one is ever held responsible for Oliver’s death.
Sixty years later, Heather Toulson, returning to her family’s cottage in the shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, is filled with mixed emotions. She’s mourning her father’s passing but can’t let go of the anger and resentment over their strained relationship. Adding to her confusion, Heather has an uneasy reunion with her first love, all while sorting through her family’s belongings left behind in the cottage. What she uncovers will change everything she thought she knew about her family’s history.
Award-winning author Melanie Dobson seamlessly weaves the past and present together, fluidly unraveling the decades-old mystery and reveals how the characters are connected in shocking ways.
Set in a charming world of thatched cottages, lush gardens, and lovely summer evenings, this romantic and historical mystery brings to light the secrets and heartaches that have divided a family for generations.

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and "Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana" won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. Melanie lives with her husband Jon and two daughters near Portland, Oregon.



6/12/2015 || Seattle: Every family has secrets they’d prefer to stay hidden, but where is the line between protecting the ones you love and simple self-preservation? The theme of Melanie Dobson’s sweeping new novel, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor (Howard Books/May 5, 2015/ISBN: 9781476746142/$14.99) is how the choices of a few can impact generations.
In Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor we meet young Libby Doyle, a free spirit who spends much of her time dancing with the butterflies in Ladenbrooke’s gardens. Even though she struggles socially, Libby is enchanted by the beauty of the butterflies.
Libby has captivated the heart of Oliver Croft, the young heir of Ladenbrooke Manor. When Oliver’s body is found drowned in the River Coln, authorities search for answers but find none. Soon after, Libby vanishes, and her parents, Walter and Maggie Doyle, wonder what happened between their daughter and the boy who lived next door.
If Libby were born today rather than in the 1950s, she would fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Dobson’s reasons for including this element were personal. “My oldest daughter has sensory processing issues, and we have friends with children on the spectrum. These children often struggle with relationships but can also be incredibly bright people, such as Libby, who excel at art or science or whatever talents God has given them. In this story I wanted to celebrate these kids and encourage moms who might feel hopeless and alone.”
Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor slips back and forth between the 1950s and a contemporary story where we meet Heather, the Doyles’ daughter. She returns to her family’s cottage to sort through her parents’ belongings, where she uncovers a string of shocking secrets that leave her wondering if anything her mother said about her childhood was true. “Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated,” Dobson concedes. “I love when women of different generations are honest with one another about their weaknesses and offer each other grace, just as Christ gave freely to each of us.”
As Heather sorts through the belongings left behind in the cottage, trying to separate truth from deceit, she has an uncomfortable reunion with her first love. Together, they unravel a mystery that will change everything she thought she knew about herself and her family. 
Award-winning author Dobson seamlessly weaves the past and present together, fluidly unraveling the decades-old mystery to reveal how the Doyle and Croft families are entwined. Set in a charming world of thatched cottages and lush English gardens, this mystery highlights how God’s light cuts through the shadows of life, bringing transformation and restoration and creating beauty from the ashes of our lives.


Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of 14 historical romance, suspense and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010.
Dobson received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master’s degree in communication from Regent University. She worked in publicity and journalism for more than 15 years, including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel. Prior to launching her own public relations company in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family.
Dobson and her husband, Jon, enjoy living in the Pacific Northwest with their two daughters. When she isn’t writing or playing with her family, Dobson enjoys exploring ghost towns, line dancing and reading historical fiction.

visit,become a fan on Facebook (Melanie-Dobson) or follow her onTwitter (@MelBDobson)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hearts Made Whole by Jody Hedlund

  The Beacon of Hope series of books is Jody Hedlund's second historical series set in early Michigan territory/state.  While primarily romances, each story has an underlying historical vein.  I first became a Jody Hedlund follower after reading UNENDING DEVOTION (which featured the early logging days of Michigan) from The Michigan Brides Collection .  That really connected with me since I have visited several museums both in Wisconsin and the UP that preserve logging history and impact.  That led me to reading A NOBLE GROOM the second in the Brides series, and I immediately felt the authenticity of the subsistence farm story.  Women alone weren't expected to handle a farm, and often marriages were made for convenience not love.

HEARTS MADE WHOLE is the second in the Beacon of Light series (lighthouse stories) and again we have a "woman can not survive alone" story.  While other books have featured logging, farming, and the Great Lakes, the historical vein is this story is the aftermath of the Civil War and early suffrage.  Caroline Taylor has taken over the Windmill Point Lighthouse after her father's drowning; and she needs the job to provide for her siblings.  Of course, the Lighthouse Board will not allow her to continue because she is female and unmarried.  When her replacement, Ryan Chambers, arrives, it is clear to Caroline that he is ill prepared to handle this huge responsibility.  Still recovering from a war wound to his hand, Chamber's body is racked by pain and insomnia.  What Caroline cannot see are the destructive dreams and memories that haunt the young man.  Alcohol and opium dull his senses, but never completely chase the tormenting away. Knowing that he is not ready to handle the lighthouse alone, Ryan asks Caroline to stay.  Meanwhile she is considering a marriage of convenience to someone else.  Then strange things begin to happen at Windmill Point, and Caroline begins to think that someone wishes to harm her family.

I thought the historical elements of this story were not as compelling as other Hedlund books I've read.  That may be because I connected more strongly to the setting of previous books and inserted my own knowledge.  Although I love lighthouses, I never really felt the lighthouse in this story was so important; from the beginning, I felt this book was much more about Caroline's attraction to Ryan.  Don't get me wrong.  Hedlund has written a successful romance, and romance readers should be delighted with it.  I just prefer books that add a little something more, and this one offered a good story, but not quite enough history for me.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

Have A Little Faith (2009)Mitch Albom has touched many people hearts with his books: THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, FOR ONE MORE DAY and then HAVE A LITTLE FAITH.  Quite an accomplishment for someone who still considers himself a sports journalist.  I knew I wanted to read HAVE A LITTLE FAITH when it first came out in 2009, but waiting lists at the library were extremely long, and even getting on the WPLC hold list for an e-book meant months and months of waiting.  And somewhere along the way, I think my opportunity to check out the ebook came through when I had absolutely NO time to read, so I let my check out pass, and put my name back on the holds list.  Finally, I got a second chance to check out a copy for my nook and actually read Albom's book.

Raised Jewish, Albom has never abandoned his faith and heritage, but he did stray from weekly worship and observances.  As he confesses, he never joined a synagogue in Detroit or anywhere he's lived since leaving home.  When Rabbi Albert Lewis (the Reb) from his childhood synagogue asks if Albom will deliver his eulogy, Mitch decides he needs to become re-acquainted with the 82 year old man who was his first (and really his only) spiritual leader.  Over the next 8 years, the two men become close and Mitch finds himself in another relationship that has him examining his place in the world.  Readers will come to see God's presence in the quiet, steady life Albert Lewis has lived and perhaps will see the same in their own pastors and rabbis.  Although Lewis's age causes him to relinquish the major role of temple rabbi to another, both Albom and readers see that once a "pastor" always a "pastor."  Also of great importance in this simple book is the strength of community.  Very soon into the book, the conversations with Rabbi Lewis begin to be interspersed with brief vignettes into the life of someone named Henry.  As the book progresses, we learn that Henry is Henry Covington, the pastor of an inner-city Detroit congregation. As Albom weaves a story of similarities and differences, it becomes apparent just what a difference a little faith can have.  I did not realize that Albom has used his successful writing career and fame to launch several needed charities in Detroit and around the globe.  Truly he understands his place in communities, both far and near.

I like Albom's contemplative, yet easy style in his nonfiction.  I see that he has a new fiction title coming out in November centered about music (THE MAGIC STRINGS OF FRANKIE PRESTO) plus somehow I've never read THE FIRST PHONE CALL FROM HEAVEN, another fiction title.
Life is like that; I scratch one book off my to be read list, and two more appear!!  It appears that authors are writing faster than I can read!

Friday, July 17, 2015

On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys: 40 Years of Untold Stories & Adventures by Joseph S. Bonsall

On the Road with The Oak Ridge BoysJust finished reading ON THE ROAD WITH THE OAK RIDGE BOYS:40 Years of Untold Stories and Adventures by Joseph S. Bonsall, tenor singer for the group and now I am listening to the "Boys" on Pandora as I write this review.  What can I say?  It was like a long, comfortable conversation (one-sided) with a friend.  I know one thing for sure; hubby and I are taking in THE OAK RIDGE BOYS CHRISTMAS CONCERT that comes to Wisconsin Dell's Crystal Palace each season.  It's been on my bucket list for a while, and after reading this book, I won't put it off any longer.

Bonsall tells us how he came to the group, shares what life is like on the bus, and reveals what "old friends" in the music business truly influenced their careers.  One chapter I especially liked was about how the group has interacted with the fans over the years, actually developing long lasting friendships with several fans, including one fan in her nineties.   I also enjoyed the chapter about their relationship with President George H. W. Bush (41); coincidentally I read those pages as I listened to the television report of his recent fall and hospitalization.  Bonsall talks about his upbringing and his parents a little, and it was enough that I now need to get his earlier book G.I. JOE AND LILLIE, a tribute to his parents.  While searching for that title, I've discovered that Bonsall is quite a prolific author, having written both children's books and other nonfiction titles.  Prevalent throughout ON THE ROAD is Bonsall's genuine faith which shows in what he says and how he has treated others.  Of course, Bonsall HAS to write about ELVIRA, the song that everyone recognizes. Today we say that it went "viral"; Bonsall says it better when he says it went Elviral!! The book ends with a upbeat chapter which again stresses the importance faith has played in Bonsall's life and the group's success.  As he says, the group always wants to entertain, but more important is their hope that they touch our lives. To longtime Oak Ridge Boys fans, I suggest you read this book.  You will enjoy a visit with someone you know well.  For those, who, like me, know the group, but haven't fully followed their career, the book may lead you to wanting to hear more.

The only criticism I have for this book is that I wish it was available as an audiobook with Joe Bonsall himself reading. Please Joe, can you fit some time into your tour schedule to record a version?  I can just imagine countless fans, couples even, listening to you share these warm collection of reminiscences.  Perhaps you could even intersperse a song or two.   I received an ecopy of this book from NETGALLEY for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Laugh Out Loud Pocket Doodles for Girls by Rob Elliott and Laugh Out Pocket Doodles for Boys by Rob Elliot

Laugh-Out-Loud Pocket Doodles for BoysWe hear all the time that today's youngsters are getting too much screen time; add up all the time spent watching tv, playing games on their devices, and searching the web, and it becomes hours daily.  Just what the effect of all that electronic time has on their minds and bodies is not totally known, but I believe kids needs lots more physical activity and creative play.  Now I sometimes appreciate that a tablet, smart phone, or a portable dvd player can be a life saver, especially when kids are on long car rides, at dr. appointments or other places where movement is restricted.  My older granddaughters are quite crafty, but sometimes you just can't pack up all those artsy supplies and take them with you.  When I was given an opportunity to review Rob Elliott's LAUGH OUT LOUD POCKET DOODLES FOR GIRLS and the male version LAUGH OUT LOUD POCKET DOODLES FOR BOYS, I was intrigued.  How would the two books differ? And how do jokes and doodles go together.  I had previously reviewed one of his joke books and then gifted it to my grandson, then 9.  If  you don't know, there is a short time period when jokes and riddles are really popular with boys that age.  From the jokes, my grandson was telling us on Sunday, they have stayed popular with him.  Our granddaughter, a year younger than this grandson, is really into drawing, so I figured the doodling part of these titles would appeal to her.  So how did Rob Elliott and illustrator Jonny Hawkins do?  I think both books are a success.  Like the title says, the books are little -- just a little larger than a note card.  On each page is a joke, a partial drawing which relates to the joke, and directions about what the child should draw to finish the doodle.

In the boy's book, for example, I like the joke,"What kind of bugs like to sneak up on you?"  Answer: Spy-ders.  On the page is a spider in dark glasses and the instructions tell the child to draw an object that the "spy-der" is hiding behind.  A partially drawn oven with the door open accompanies this joke in the girl's book. "How do you know if there is a bear in your oven?" Answer:The oven door won't close.  The child is instructed to finish the scene with the bear in the oven.  I think that these books could creatively entertain kids from 7-12.  Whether kids younger than 7 will get the riddles and jokes really depends on the kid.  That the books are small has advantages and disadvantages.  I could easily toss both of these in my purse, and so could moms.  They would not take much room in backpacks or could be slipped into a cubby/pocket in the car or van.  The main disadvantage is that the pages are small, so the drawings must be small.  As I looked through both books, there is a definite difference in the jokes  and drawing tasks-- ones that seems to be more "male" and ones that are more "female." While I am not in favor of always gender slotting toys and games, I've worked with enough grade school girls and boys when I was their librarian to know that the jokes they find funny and the things they just naturally doodle are different.  I received both books from Revell Reads for my honest review.        

Cover Art

Friday, July 10, 2015

Beyond the Ashes: The Golden Gate Chronicles Book Two by Karen Barnett

Beyond The Ashes CoverRuby Marshall, a young widow, tired of hiding her personal pain when attending the frequent weddings of friends and family, decides she will leave Sacramento and travel to San Francisco to help her brother Robert, a doctor.  San Francisco, still reeling from the aftermath of the earthquake, is the perfect backdrop for Ruby's story.  It only takes Ruby a few hours in the city to realize the severity of the devastation and she puts aside her self-pity to help both at the hospital and at shelters for those who are homeless.  Her daily work brings her closer to Gerald Larkspur, her brother's medical partner, but also to Patrick Allison, the engaging Irishman who serves the refugees of the earthquake.  Few realize that the smiling, boisterous Patrick is really Reverend Allison.

What I liked best about the book are the variety of historical details.  First, the early 1900s are the early days of the automobile; and the early auto has a major place in this story.  Ruby's husband had been killed in an auto/horse accident, and Ruby, fearful of all autos, convinces herself that she must learn to drive to overcome her fear.  Also fascinating is Robert and Gerald's cancer research which includes early use of x-ray (radiation) treatment.  And of course, San Francisco's story of the poor and the wealthy alike struggling to rise from the ashes is a great one.  I also like how Barnett has created a story of strong people, at the same time she shows that personal strength is not enough, especially seen through Ruby's eyes.  Barnett does an exceptional job in blending history, a solid story line, intriguing characters, and a faith message.  I look forward to reading more novels by this author.  BEYOND THE ASHES is the second book in The Golden Gate Chronicles.  Although you do not need to read the first book OUT OF THE RUINS, if you are interested in the San Francisco earthquake as I am, you will probably want to read the first book also.

I received a copy of this book from Litfuse and Abingdon Press for my honest review.

If you are interested in winning a copy of this book, head over to this Litfuse page before July 19th.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig

 Part of a trilogy of Christian Historical fiction with Irish immigrant characters, No Safe Harbor tells the story of Cara Hamilton who travels to the US alone in 1898 after receiving a scribbled letter from a brother who she has believed was dead for several years.  Arriving in New York City, she is unsuccessful at locating him, but is able to find a safe place to live and a job at a clock shop as she continues to search for him.  Little does she know that Rourke, the handsome Irishman she met the day she arrived, is actually a member of a family seeking revenge against her brother who they believe killed the family's patriarch.

I'm not an expert on Irish history, but do know that the divisions between those who accepted British rule (Protestant) and those who wanted separation (Catholic) carried over into the new world.  Add in that the Irish workers were on the lowest rungs of society's ladder here in the US during the 1800s, and the Irish story presents an interesting back drop for Ludwig's romantic novel.  No Safe Harbor will be an enjoyable, quick read, a nice mixture of history, dangerous intrigue, and romance.  I actually listened to the audio version of this title, downloading it from WPLC, our state library system's site for ebooks and audio books.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Two Roads Home by Deborah Raney and a Five book giveaway

TWO ROADS HOME is the second Chicory Inn novel by Deb Raney.  I confess that I have not read the first, but this easily succeeds as a stand-alone book.  I grew interested enough in the multi-generational Whitman family, their three married daughters, and the struggling Chicory Inn that I may read the first and succeeding books.  This story focuses on daughter Corinne and her husband Jesse and the difficult decisions they need to make when Jesse is unfairly accused of sexual harassment at work.  Author Raney has used the turmoil of this accusation to shed a light on that too common worldly battle between having having too much --- too much stuff, too many obligations, too many worries and having too little --- too little time with one's family, too little peace, too little satisfaction from one's job.

I totally understand the heartache Corinne feels when she believes she will need to give up the dream home and the stay-at-home lifestyle she's enjoyed.  Their decisions and her acceptance reminds me of some of the young mom lifestyle blogs I occasionally read.  I love those real women's enthusiasm and their determination to make their lives joyful and beautiful without overloading on possessions and debt.  I am sure those young moms would find plenty to connect with in this story.

As I said, I did enjoy Corinne's story, I found myself extremely interested in the parts of the book that focused on Audrey and Grant, Corinne's parents.  Being a grandparent with adult children and grandkiddos nearby, I totally related to Audrey's love for the grandchildren at the same time she was anxious about the messes they might leave, especially when the inn was busy with guests.  One of the most humorous scenes of the book revolves around Audrey's reaction to a middle-of-the night fiasco when Corinne's family is staying at the inn.

Being part of a series, TWO ROADS HOME does leave readers with a clear idea of where the next story will pick up, but even with that, I felt the major conflict of this novel ended a bit abruptly and not totally resolved.  But then real life is like that!  I received a copy of this novel from Litfuse for my honest opinion.

Need a new book to read on vacation this summer? Enter to win 1 of 5 copies of @AuthorDebRaney's new release! 

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?: True Stories and ConfessionsI've read a few of Lisa Scottoline's fiction books, both the crime novels and the realistic fiction, and I've always enjoyed her writing style.  When I saw that she and her daughter were publishing another
collection of short nonfiction essays, I requested an advance reader's copy.  Truthfully, it was the title DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? that caught my attention.  Witty and unusual I thought, and that certainly describes the entire book.

From Francesca's escapade with a rogue mouse in her apartment and her more fearful escapade into dating after ending a long term relationship to Lisa's musing over the benefits of being a strong minded, independent 59, rather than an approval seeking younger woman, the book offered both plenty of knowing smiles and sighs.  Both women write about Lisa's mother's last days and how that affected them.  Clearly, Lisa and her daughter can trace their independent streaks right back to Mother Mary (what Lisa calls her mom).

When you think about it, I don't really have much in common with either of these two authors.  I don't make my living sitting at the computer spinning fictional tales or examining even the most minuscule moments of my real life for other's amusement.  I don't live in New York City or anywhere on the East Coast.  In fact I can go for whole years without going to anywhere considered metropolitan. Yet on some level, I connected with Scottoline and Serritella, and I look forward to reading what the two collaborate on in the future.

I received an ecopy of DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT from Netgalley for my honest review.