The Sugarcreek Surprise–trusting again
The Sugarcreek Surprise
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
I was glad I returned to Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Creektown Discoveries series to read the second book, The Sugarcreek Surprise. Part way through the first book in the series, Brunstetter found her pace and upped her style. She maintained and even improved on it in this fictional tale of two young people who have been hurt by life and are afraid of renewed suffering if they give life a second chance—outside of the protective shell each one created.
Paul is betrayed by the woman he has been courting who drops him for his best friend. Lisa has survivor’s guilt when, as a child, her parents and grandparents are in a fatal car crash, but she alone survives. Fortunately, these two are mentored by loving relatives and friends. Life is not easy for either one of them and even more surprises are thrown their way as they cautiously try to open up to others.
I enjoyed this trip to Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek, Ohio. Lisa is a school teacher and I found the differences in her classroom
and the typical Englisch classroom fascinating. School extends only through eighth grade for the Amish. Although the children are typical for their ages in mischievousness and enthusiasm, they arrive with basic manners and parental expectations for good behavior. Paul has an excellent work ethic and is skilled in carpentry. Both are committed Christians and practice their faith through Amish customs. They learn to pray more and trust God more. Witnessing how Amish practices play out in our current world is interesting. This book makes it clear that there are benefits and hardships to contemplate about both Englisch and Amish lifestyles.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: 1. #2 in the Creektown Discoveries Series, but could be read as a standalone because the main characters first appear in this book.
2. The book ends with recipes and discussion questions
Publication: March 1, 2022—Barbour Publishing
Even snippets from the past, which sometimes flitted through her mind, caused Lisa to feel fearful and despondent. She’d convinced herself that the only way she could be happy was to keep her focus on the present and refuse to give in to thoughts of the past.
The Lord knows each of us very well. He also knows what needs to happen for each of us at the proper time.
“Fear doesn’t stop death; it stops life. And worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.”
The Walnut Creek Wish–freedom through forgiveness
The Walnut Creek Wish
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Rhonda and Jeff Davis are a financially successful couple living in a townhouse in Canton, Ohio, where she manages a hotel and he has his own restaurant. They love each other, but they have a fairly testy relationship often exchanging hurtful barbs. Neither wants anything to do with God because each had deep-felt prayers that had not been answered the way that they wanted them to be. Rhonda’s dad had affairs and eventually left his family behind. Jeff’s mom passed away when he was a teenager.
Rhonda and Jeff’s lives intersect with those of Orley and Lois who own an Amish antique store in rural Walnut Creek, Ohio, when the younger couple try to rejuvenate their marriage by purchasing a beautiful house and commuting to their jobs. Orley and Lois take every opportunity to encourage Rhonda and Jeff to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. A lot has to happen in the young couple’s lives before their hearts are opened to their need for God.
The Walnut Creek Wish is a quick and easy read, but it deals with some real issues—satisfaction, childlessness, abandonment, and forgiveness. The writing, especially the dialogue, in the first part of the book is somewhat stilted. Then the author breaks into a pace that is much more comfortable after the character backgrounds have been established and the action in the plot develops. It is a clean read with strong Christian themes involving both Amish and Englisch characters with interesting comparisons and contrasts of their lifestyles and their problems and how they react to them.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: 1. #1 in the Creektown Discoveries series. I will be reading the next book in the series. I am interested to see if there is an overlap or continuation of characters and/or of setting and to see if the sudden improvement in style and pace in this book holds up in the next book.
2. Recipes for a cucumber dip and bacon cheese muffins are included.
3. There are questions for individual thought or book club discussions.
Publication: August 1, 2021—Barbour Publishing
She and Jeff had been married twelve years, and all they had to show for it was a modern townhouse, an expensive sports car, a luxury SUV, and a chasm of disinterest between them.
“I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m sure the Lord directed that young man to our store for a purpose beyond looking at antiques.”
“Any time’s the right time to share God’s love and the redemption He offers because of His Son. Pray for the right words to say, and speak them from the heart with love.”
Seeing Beautiful Again–encouragement
Seeing Beautiful Again
by Lysa TerKeurst
Are you going through a hard time, something that is devastating and you have no control over? Do you wonder if you’ll ever “see beautiful” again? Lysa TerKeurst experienced three of those, two physical and one relational, in a short period of time. She has written several books that describe her journey. In Seeing Beautiful Again, she has drawn from her experiences and writings to compose a devotional book to guide readers through fifty days of their struggle. The goal is to give hope and demonstrate that by clinging to God’s promises, readers can stay the course and trust God.
Seeing Beautiful Again is divided into sections and each section begins with a letter to the reader from author Lysa TerKeurst. Each devotional begins with Scripture and ends with a prayer. In between Lysa shares her thoughts on the topic. These passages sometimes include parts of her personal story and always draw the reader to God’s truth which can be applied to a personal situation.
TerKeurst’s other books like Forgiving What You Can’t Forget examine in depth our response to hurts. This devotional is a daily dose of encouragement to fight the good fight and to remember God’s love and His promises in the middle of the trauma.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Religion, Christian Life, Women’s Issues
Publication: March 30, 2021—Harper Collins Christian Publishers
Their victory never hinged on their ability or any of their well-thought-out plans. It was solely dependent on their unwavering obedience offered to a loving and mighty God.
My job is to be obedient to God. God’s job is everything else.
Father God, thank You for reminding me I can trust You in the waiting. I know I can entrust every season of my life into Your hands. Thank You for being present in every moment, strengthening me in the places that I feel inadequate to keep going. When I feel uncertain about what’s ahead, remind me of who You are. I know it will get me through. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Bookshop by the Sea–second chance romance
Bookshop by the Sea
by Denise Hunter
Sophie Lawson knows about abandonment and the pain it leaves in its trail. Her father left her family to fend for itself in the midst of her mother’s fatal illness on the very same day her boyfriend Aiden Maddox pulled up stakes and moved five hours away to start a new life. Aiden knows abandonment too. His mother left him sitting on the porch steps as a little boy and never looked back.
Sophie and Aiden loved each other or thought they did. Seven years later, just as Sophie’s dream to open her own bookshop is about to come true, Sophie and Aiden are thrown together once more—by a wedding and a hurricane. Can love revitalize and conquer bitterness, hurt, confusion, family obligations, and distance?
In Bookshop by the Sea, Denise Hunter paints an emotional in-depth picture of Sophie and Aiden, their pasts and the possibilities for their futures. Disaster keeps striking for Sophie who really deserves a break, but it’s hard to see how she’ll get one in time for her grand opening and book signing event. Those stressors are the backdrop for their relationship drama as the threads weave together, breaking in places only to be retied to push the characters towards growth and healing.
Bookshop by the Sea is a clean book with Christian undertones as the characters mention praying over situations. I enjoyed reading it, not really knowing if it would have a happily ever after ending, but hoping so. The characters definitely have baggage to work through—even the more minor characters as found in Sophie’s family. There is a lot of realism as no one’s life is presented as a fairy tale. There is also a lot of hope, kindness, and community spirit.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Publication: April 13, 2021—Thomas Nelson
He’d forgotten how easily words of affirmation rolled off her tongue. She’d always made him feel like he could do anything. Be anything. He let the admiration in her eyes wash over him like a cool wave on a hot summer day.
“Don’t borrow trouble. ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?’ ’’ She gave him a wry look. “Did you just quote Scripture at me?” “Hey, there’s a reason I have it memorized. If I’ve learned anything it’s that worrying does nothing but stress you out.”
I guess somewhere along the line I started believing that when the going gets tough…people leave.” Sophie’s heart went soft and squishy at his words, his vulnerability. At the little boy who watched his mother drive away from him and never return.
Code Girls–The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II
by Liza Mundy
Nonfiction has the potential to be deadly boring or magnificently interesting. Liza Mundy’s Code Girls without a doubt falls into the latter category. It is not an easy read, but it is fascinating. Code Girls tells the tale of the essential role the code breakers, who were mostly women, played in the eventual Allied defeat of the Axis nations in World War II. If you are envisaging a handful of young women holed up in a room in D.C., think again. The Army’s code breakers numbered 10,500 with 70% of them women and most working out of the Arlington Hall campus in Virginia. The Navy’s group numbered 10,000 with half of those stationed in D.C. of which 80% were female. Both groups rose to those numbers from a mere 200 code breakers each in a short amount of time. These women came from all walks of life and backgrounds. Among the first recruited were college educated, low paid, school teachers at a time when a low priority was placed on education for women. Many of these women had a background in math and science, and all had a good memory. They were analytical and could approach problems in novel ways.
The code breakers’ stories went untold for most, if not all, of their lives because they were sworn to secrecy. They considered the work they did a duty of honor to their country and to the men in their lives. They understood that their work could literally save lives, perhaps even of their own loved ones, by intercepting and decoding enemy messages. It is a testament to their trustworthiness that Germany and Japan never knew that their transmissions had been intercepted. Even roommates and spouses could not speak of their work outside of their assigned workplace.
The author, Liza Mundy, had two hurdles to jump, both of which she accomplished with finesse. The first was her thorough research which is documented through 39 pages of notes and bibliography. Then she wove the hard facts into a narrative with a very personal touch derived from many interviews. She doesn’t just write that Washington, D.C. was inundated with uninitiated girls pouring in from all over the country needing housing, food, transportation, and training. She presents the scenario through the eyes and voices of the “girls” who lived it. Not everyone, of course, had the same experiences, and those experiences varied according to many factors including whether they were working for the Army or the Navy. They arrived with no assignments, just the promise that they would be helping their country.
The war period (1939-1945) was a time of great social upheaval. For most people, a woman’s place was in the home. Suddenly men were going overseas and their jobs needed to be filled along with positions created by the manufacturing needs of the war machine. There were many stereotypes that were broken down, and others that were not put to rest so willingly or easily.
Code Girls is masterfully written and a wonderful tribute to those women whose secrets can now be told. It should be “required reading” for all Americans who don’t want history to repeat itself, for readers who want to understand what previous generations endured to stand against tyranny, and for men and women interested in the societal changes that occurred as a result of World War II.
Category: History, Nonfiction
Notes: The author sets the stage for the reader through her own notes as to how the book was written, information on the initial recruitment of women, and an introduction that discusses society in the U.S. at that tine and the military’s “bold” decision to recruit women. My copy of the book has an “Afterword for the Paperback Edition” in which the author shares the overwhelming response her book received from the code breakers and their families. The book also includes photographs of some of the women interviewed and more generic photographs of the code breakers at work. There is also a “Glossary of Code-Breaking Terms,” a very valuable “World War II Timeline,” and a “Reading Group Guide” of discussion questions.
Publication: October 20, 2017—Hachette Books
Successful code breaking often comes down to diagnostics—the ability to see the whole rather than just the parts, to discern the underlying system the enemy has devised to disguise its communications. The Japanese, Agnes diagnosed, were encoding their messages and then using something called columnar transposition, which involves writing the code groups out horizontally but transmitting them vertically, aided by a grid with certain spaces blacked out, whose design changed often.
It was the first time many of the women had spent time in a bona fide workplace—apart from a classroom—and they discovered what workplaces are and have been since the dawn of time: places where one is annoyed and thwarted and underpaid and interrupted and underappreciated.
She and the other women knew that ship sinkings were the logical and desired consequence of their concerted efforts. They did not feel remorse. America was at war with Japan; Japan had started the war; the lives of American men were at stake, not to mention America itself. It really was that simple.
Lemon Drop Dead–love for a child
Lemon Drop Dead
by Amanda Flower
Although she still films her TV series “Bailey’s Amish Sweets” in New York City, Bailey is currently back in Harvest, Ohio, where she helps her grandmother operate the local candy shop, Swissmen Sweets. One of the shop assistants, Emily Keim, was taken under Bailey’s wing when her hateful sister and brother kicked her out of their pretzel shop business and home. Now Emily is married to a wonderful Amish man who knows that when she was young she had a baby out of wedlock and gave it up for adoption.
When an Amish woman, a stranger, shows up at the town’s baby shower for Emily and then is found dead in the pretzel shop, the little tourist town of Harvest is turned upside down. Everyone knows Bailey will investigate. The search for the killer turns personal as Bailey has a sweet, deaf, six year old girl, Hannah, thrust on her. Jethro the polka-dotted, pot-bellied pig saves the day as he comforts and amuses the child in the midst of the chaotic situation. Bailey is horrified by the insensitive, rude comments made about the child as if she is somehow “less than” because she can’t hear. The Amish do not like government interactions, but the social worker must get involved because of various laws to ensure the welfare of the child. Thankfully, she does try to be sensitive to the Amish culture and to not disrupt the child’s life any more than it already has been.
Along the way, Bailey encounters both Englisch and Amish who are breaking laws and hurting others. There are lots of threads and themes: Amish harness racing in carts, gambling, unwed mothers, adoption, deafness, generosity, paternal responsibility, and love of all types. There are developments in the relationship of Deputy Little and Bailey’s cousin Charlotte as she wrestles with whether to remain Amish or not. Bailey’s boyfriend Aiden has to decide whether to remain in a frustrating job in Harvest’s sheriff’s office or accept a position that is an advancement but would take him away from Harvest…and Bailey.
Lemon Drop Dead is a good story. Both the plot and characters pull the reader in. The reveal of the murderer is surprising. I am looking forward to my next visit to Harvest. Lois, who is a hoot in the Amish Matchmaker series which is also set in Harvest, surprises everyone in this book with her knowledge of sign language. She is sweet and supportive. I learned more about Amish customs, but the biggest surprise for me was finding Amish young men competing at the race track in special carts designed for that purpose and utilizing bicycle tires. Who knew?
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #6 in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. It can be enjoyed as a standalone, but the whole series is good. Some of the books have more humor, but this one does deal with some serious issues so is a little less lighthearted.
2. Clean and wholesome read.
3. Recipe for Lemon Drops included.
Publication: April 27, 2021—Kensington
“Gott gives each and every one of us gifts. Each is different. Each is special. It is up to you what you do with them.”
For her and my grandfather to be proud of me was all I’d ever wanted. I’d thought for a very long time that I had to earn that pride by becoming the top chocolatier in New York City. I had since learned my grandparents were prouder of me when I cared for others.
I winced. Hollywood was harsh if it was even asking pigs to lose weight.
All You Need is Love–teddy bear shop setting
All You Need is Love
by Jessica Redland
Boy meets girl, but everything after that is a complication in All You Need is Love. Some of the characters you’ll love, and some you’ll want to send packing. Jemma lives in London with three flatmates; the four are devoted friends. Due to her mom’s health problems, Jemma feels compelled to return to her hometown of Whitsborough Bay. Scott, who travels a lot for his job, and Jemma have a chance encounter and are immediately drawn into a relationship. Sam, a neurologist, has recently moved to London to escape memories of his much beloved Nikki.
The plot is much more interesting than it sounds in a skeletal summary, but almost anything above the basics would give away too much and ruin the reading experience. There are huge issues of secrets and trust. Grief and how to deal with it is another major theme. There are certainly happy moments in the book, but it deals with a number of hard challenges too. Often characters in this book respond to these difficulties by blunting the pain with alcohol which, not surprisingly, makes situations worse rather than better. The characters have moral decisions to make. One, in particular, involves adultery which one character proclaims she would never knowingly do to another woman and her family. Yet, she did take the offender back for a second chance. Either the author or the character is inconsistent in this one instance. Although I did not like the way the author jumped around in time and between characters prior to uniting the two plot lines, in general, it was an interesting read. As a bonus, if you like teddy bears, you’ll get warm fuzzies from the setting.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Boldwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: There are a lot of casual vulgarisms—both British and American—in this standalone novel.
Publication: March 11, 2021—Boldwood Books
She seemed to move from anger and frustration to listless disinterest in the space of a day, and back again. It was like having a hormonal teenager in the house, lashing out at anyone and everything.
Time seemed to slow down. The chatter, laughter and clinks of glasses faded into the background and it felt like there were just the two of us in a bubble on our own as he waited for my reaction, an expression of hope tinged with fear in his eyes.
How funny that we were from the same small seaside town yet we’d found each other in the third largest city in Europe.
Picture Perfect Frame–art with a twist
Picture Perfect Frame
by Lynn Cahoon
Spring has arrived in South Cove, a small coastal town in California. Tourists are showing up, and businesses are gearing up for the St. Patrick’s Day Street Fair and the many festivals that will follow. Jill, avid reader and owner of Coffee, Books, and More, stays busy juggling her personal life centered around Emma her Pomeranian and Greg her boyfriend who heads up the police department. Her staff, including a new member Evie, work well together sharing responsibilities and functioning as a family. Jill’s best friend Amy is a bit of a bridezilla as she sets ups a second attempt at the perfect wedding; her fiancée’s family cancelled on the first scheduled ceremony.
Despite Jill’s acclaimed lack of creativity, she and Greg attend a painting event at the new Drunken Art Studio. Jill is unable to follow the directions that should result in a seascape, but her strengths as a nosey informal investigator are in full display when one of the guests shows up dead at the studio the next day.
Esmeralda, who handles administrative tasks for Greg, is a self-proclaimed psychic and also Jill’s neighbor; she is accused of the murder. Jill is convinced that the laid back Esmeralda, who catches flies and drives them to the mountains to release them, is innocent. Jill devotes herself to finding the real killer. In the process she discovers that some of her suspects have pasts they want to keep hidden as well as motives for killing the victim. Clearly, one of them is a murderer, and the identity is a surprise. There is also a happy personal twist at the end of Picture Perfect Frame that both provides closure and segues into the next book in the series.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #12 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series. Lynn Cahoon is good at providing background so it could be read as a standalone, but there are a lot of references to characters in previous books. My advice: Go back and read some of the earlier books in the series first. It is worth the time and effort.
2. Includes a delicious sounding recipe for “Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake.”
Publication: March 16, 2021—Kensington
“As a lawyer, a lot of times the decisions the courts made weren’t about the truth. I don’t want someone to die and have the wrong person in jail for it. Or worse, for no one to be brought to justice. It doesn’t seem right.”
“I’ve always heard you can’t run from your problems because everywhere you go, you’re still there.”
“Of course we’ll schedule that lunch.” And then she opened the book and started reading. As a reader, I knew a dismissal when I saw it. I’d done it to others before too.
The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea–the power of secrets and gossip
The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea
by Liz Eeles
The third book in the Heaven’s Cove series is quite powerful and touching. Freya’s life seems full and satisfying. She has a husband and a job as a caregiver—until her life falls apart and she loses both. Struggling to get her feet on the ground again, she accepts an offer from her half-sister Belinda to come to Heaven’s Cove to interview for a position as the full-time carer for the eighty-three year old Kathleen, a proud and independent woman who is harboring a powerful secret. Freya has secrets from her own past as does Belinda who is known as the town fixer and gossip. Despite their biological relationship, the sisters hardly know each other.
Kathleen’s son Ryan, a widower, has a guilty secret of his own that makes him suspicious of Freya. He locks himself away from most society focusing on the task of caring for his mother and his daughter Chloe. Chloe is struggling with the death of her mom, their move to a new town, fitting in with new friends, and the hormones of a typical twelve-year old girl.
Freya is a talented listener and people open up to her and tell her their secrets. Unfortunately, along with sharing their pasts, people often insist that Freya not speak of their disclosures with anyone. That request is not usually an issue as Freya is not a gossip. In The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea, however, things spoken in confidence can conflict with well-meaning promises Freya makes to various family members. She is honoring their wishes and motivations, but the secrets can still hurt if and when they are revealed.
Freya finds that Kathleen has lied about never having been to Driftwood Cottage on the cliff; the little cottage, now a B&B, holds both an attraction and a revulsion for Kathleen. What could have happened in Heaven’s Cove to draw Kathleen to move there after the death of her husband? Freya wants to help, but the request needs to come from Kathleen herself.
I loved this book. Its plot includes a part of history that affected many families painfully but is now thankfully in the past. The plight of the various characters is moving. The sadness and agony Kathleen suffers is heart-wrenching, but there is also hope in the book as secrets are laid open and the air is cleared. The final upset in the book comes from a surprise source, and the denouement is particularly satisfying.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (A), Romance
Notes: #3 in the Heaven’s Cove series, but could be read as a standalone. Although there are a few minor characters who overlap from the first two books, the plot is self-contained.
Publication: February 28, 2022—Bookouture
But today, a sea view was just what she needed, because the endless movement of the water was calming. Life might disintegrate into an unholy mess but the waves would roll on.
Freya spent some time inspecting the photos, which were of the village from decades ago and people long gone. The pictures were fascinating and made her realize that her current problems were merely a blip along the way of life.
Secrets held power—the power to surprise or delight, to hurt or harm—because they were so often bound up with primal emotions.