Review and Giveaway: The House at the End of the Moor

Michelle Griep’s novel, The House at the End of the Moor, is set in England in 1861.

A woman known as Mrs. Dossett lives at the title house with only a sheepdog, mute maid, and a manservant. It’s obvious she’s in hiding, but we don’t know from whom at first.

So when she finds a severely wounded unconscious man on her property, she’s torn. It can only mean trouble to bring him home. But she can’t leave him to the elements.

As the man, Oliver, heals and his head becomes clearer he and the woman are wary of each other. He’d like to leave, but he’s too injured.

Just as the two are beginning to trust each other, Oliver opens the door to a room where a beautiful gown is displayed along with a gorgeous red jeweled necklace–the very necklace he was falsely accused of stealing and for which he was thrown in prison.

The mystery of who each of the characters are, where the jewels are from, and what the characters decide to do all make for an interesting read. The faith element is naturally woven into the characters’ makeup and thinking.

A secondary character, Barrow, is the constable seeking Oliver since his escape from prison. Barrow is similar to Javert in Les Miserables but is much more cruel. His motivation is seeking justice for righteousness’s sake. But he has to learn what justice truly is and who is supposed to mete it out.

Somehow I ended up with both a Kindle and paperback version of this book. So I’d love to give away the physical copy to one of you. I can only offer it to someone in the US due to mailing costs. If you’d like to enter the drawing for this book, just leave a comment on this post before Wednesday, June 30. I’ll draw a name then from among the entries. I’ll count all comments on this post as entries unless you mention that you’re not interested in winning the book. Also, I must have a way to contact you to let you know you have won. If I don’t hear back from the winner within a couple of days, I’ll draw another name. Best wishes to each of you!

(Update: I originally scheduled the contest to end Saturday, but decided to extend it to Wed., June 30.)

Two Short Fiction Reviews

In The Sign Painter by Davis Bunn, Amy Dowell has fallen on hard times. Her husband died and she lost her home. Now she travels in a camper with her young daughter. After charges of vagrancy and the threat of having her daughter taken away, she has a lead on a job painting signs for a car dealership. She comes across a church with an extensive ministry to the homeless, including temporary housing.

Just as things are looking up, she faces a dilemma. While working after closing hours one night, she discovers a salesman has left a significant amount of cash on his desk. If she leaves it, someone could steal it. But if she takes it to keep it safe, would she be accused of stealing? Would her record make her seem all the more guilty?

Meanwhile, ex-policeman Paul Travers has been hired to help the church find the best way to deal with a nearby house overtaken by drug dealers. Some of the church folks are already wary of the kinds of people the homeless ministry brings in. Having drug dealers in the neighborhood might push them into closing down the whole ministry.

I’m used to a more exotic locale in Bunn’s books, so it was interesting to read a novel of his set in the US. I appreciated what he said in a interview at the end of the book. The story was inspired by a news item he saw about homelessness in Orlando. He wanted to show the hardships, but not stop there. “I wanted to focus on the rebuilding. To my mind, too much attention is given to the falling down, and not enough to the getting back up again. So The Sign Painter aims toward hope and healing—a new future for homeless families, but also a reminder about the help our communities may be able to offer.”

The story took a little different turn from what I expected. I enjoyed getting to know Amy and Paul. I appreciated the glimpse into the challenges of those who are homeless and those who want to help.

In Saving Alice by David Lewis, Stephen Whittaker had been in love with Alice in high school. When a car accident takes Alice’s life, Stephen and Alice’s best friend, Donna, comfort each other and eventually marry. They have a daughter named after Alice, Alycia, with whom Stephen has a special bond. But all these years later, Stephen still has nightmares about Alice’s accident.

Stephen is a stockbroker who nearly drove his company bankrupt with a bad deal. They avoided bankruptcy and are slowly making their way back.

But when Alycia turns twelve she wants to know more about her parents’ friend, Alice. When her relentless questions finally bring out the truth that her father loved Alice first, Alycia loses respect for him.

Stephen’s bad decisions and cluelessness lead to Donna’s leaving him. But just as things begin to look up in his job and his relationship with Alycia, everything comes crashing down.

I enjoyed the father-daughter banter, and some of the scenes were very well-done and drew out my emotions. However, a plot device in the latter part of the book fell flat to me. I can’t go into it without spoiling the story. But it didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book and seemed too convenient. I liked the rest of David’s writing well enough that I’d try his other books.

David is the husband of Beverly Lewis, one of the first Amish fiction writers.

Though I reviewed these books together mainly because I read them one after the other, they do have similar themes getting back up and rebuilding after crises.

Daughters of Northern Shores

Daughters of Northern Shores is the sequel to Joanne Bischof’s Sons of Blackbird Mountain (linked to my review).

Picking up in 1894, four years after the first book, youngest Norgaard brother Haakon has fled his family and gone to sea after betraying his family’s trust. He wrote just a brief note to them when he left and has not written since. They don’t have an address for him. He has lived far from the morals he was raised with. One particular woman who was only a good friend makes him wonder if life could be different for him, if he could settle down with a family. But first he must go home and face those he wronged.

Back on Blackbird Mountain in Virginia, Thor and Aven had married and are expecting their first child. Business has gone well since Thor decided to quit making hard cider with his apple orchard produce after his grueling battle with alcoholism. Aven and her sister-in-law make apple pie fillings, applesauce, and other items for the local grocer. But Thor has a nagging pain in his side that is growing stronger. He had watched his father succumb to liver disease after years of alcoholism, so he knows the signs. But he has been sober four years—he thought he staved off affecting his liver.

To add to their troubles, their former neighbors, the Sorrels, cruel former Rebel soldiers and Klansmen, are back for revenge after the Norgaard brothers routed them in the last book. The sheriff has searched for them without success, but the Sorrel men know how to hide. Thor and oldest brother, Jorgan, try to attend to business while keeping their families safe and watching out for a Sorrel ambush.

I loved the first book so much, I was eager to continue on with the Norgaard family. I enjoyed this book just as much. Haakon was not my favorite of the brothers due to his personality and wrong choices in both books. But his desire to come back and apologize to his family starts him on the right path, and I warmed up to him as he slowly learned and changed.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

While words were potent, a man’s caring ran through deeper waters. It dwelled right there in what he was willing to do.

She moved as though wood being forced to bend to wind rushing in.

Both the major and minor characters are so well-drawn, and Joanne weaves together the various threads of the plot so well. Parts of the book were touching; other parts were edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. I also enjoyed the author’s afterword about how this book was not planned at first, and then didn’t go the way she expected. Originally she was going to have Haakon die at the end of the first book. I’m glad God led this way instead. I’m sorry to leave the Norgaards behind.

I listened to this via the audiobook nicely read by Amy Rubinate. I kept forgetting, while reading the first book, that Aven was Irish rather than Norwegian. So Amy’s adding an Irish lilt to Aven’s voice was pleasant in itself, plus a reminder of her heritage. Then, since audiobooks don’t usually contain the back matter of a book, I got the library edition to read Joanne’s comments about the story.

. (I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Sons of Blackbird Mountain

In Joanne Bischof’s novel, Sons of Blackbird Mountain, Aven Norgaard is newly widowed in 1890 Norway. She had long corresponded with her husband’s aunt in Virginia, who now invited her to come help keep house for “the boys,” Aven’s husband’s cousins.

But when Aven crosses the sea and arrives on Blackbird Mountain, she finds that Aunt Dorothe has died and “the boys” are grown men.

The three Norgaard brothers invite her to stay. Aven has no other prospects, so she does.

The oldest brother, Jorgan is steady and wise and soon to be married. The youngest, Haakon, is energetic and mischievous. The middle brother, Thor, is deaf. He’s also addicted to the alcohol the brothers produce with their apple orchard. His last attempt to wean himself off the hard cider ended in disaster. But he is kind and considerate.

Thor and Haakon both find themselves attracted to Aven. She had not come thinking about getting married again, she doesn’t want to come between the brothers.

There are so many layers to this story. Thor, Haakon, amd Aven each carry their own private pain. Then there are conflicts with their nearest neighbors, the Sorrels, who head up the local Klan and threaten the Norgaards’ longtime housekeeper and the youths they hire to help at harvest. The fact that the Sorrels own the deed to the Norgaard orchard creates extra pressure.

The author includes a brief preface where she explained a bit about ASL (American Sign Language). I had not realized that the deaf don’t sign every part of a sentence. But it makes sense that they’d streamline their words while signing. So when Thor jots a note (since Aven doesn’t know sign language yet), his sentences are mainly subject and verb with no articles, because that’s how he thinks. The author shared in her afterword how she became interested in sign language and the challenges of having a deaf character who can’t express himself in the usual ways.

All of the characters are nicely drawn, but Thor was the most intriguing. I don’t feel I am doing this book justice, but I enjoyed it very much. I had never read Bischof before, but I am eager to read more from her.

(Sharing with Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: The Invitation

In Nancy Moser’s The Invitation, four ordinary people in different areas of the country receive a mysterious, hand-delivered invitation to come to Haven, Nebraska, on August 1. The invitations didn’t list a host or organization name or any other information except a Bible verse about faith as a mustard seed and a drawing of a mustard plant.

One of the invitees was an ex-governor. The others were a TV news producer, and wife and mother in an unhappy marriage, and a single young aspiring writer. Some are curious, but most are dismissive of the invitation at first. There’s not enough information and it all seems too weird.

But one by one, events occur that convince them to go. And even though some arrive without an invitation—a homeless stowaway, a disgruntled husband, and a thief—they are all expected and planned for.

Some are confronted with issues in their lives—some more than others. Some are nudged to use their gifts and talents in new ways. The faith of all is tested. Lives are changed.

I can’t say much more than that without giving away too much of the story. It doesn’t take long to figure out who the ultimate host is and who the mentors in Haven are. Because the visitors to Haven are confronted to varying degrees,at times the mentors come across as more didactic than we usually see in fiction. But it works because of the nature of the story.

I don’t know if I have ever read a story quite like this. Nancy Moser says in her afterword that she’s never written a story quite like this. But this story was on her heart.

It would be nice in some ways if there was such a place to go (or send people . . . ) where someone could put their finger exactly on what was wrong in your life, tell you what to do about it, and tell you what your next step should be. It doesn’t usually work like that, though. God uses His Word and prayer and the ministry of the church to guide us in less direct ways. But, still, the premise makes for an interesting imaginative tale.

And I love Nancy’s main two takeaways: that God has invited each of us to participate in His work, and He uses people with faith as small as a mustard seed.

(Sharing with Carol’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: In Between

In Jenny B. Jones YA novel, In Between, 16-year-old Katie Parker finds herself a ward of the state when her mother goes to prison. Her father is out of the picture. Just about the time she gets adjusted to a group home, she’s sent to new foster parents in the small town of In Between, Texas.

But Katie doesn’t want a foster home with strangers. Her foster dad is a pastor, of all things. Katie knows next to nothing about churchy ways. Her first plan of action is to make herself as unappealing as possible so James and Millie Scott will send her back to the group home.

Meanwhile, she has multiple misadventures navigating a new school, avoiding friendship with the near-perfect Frances, who has been assigned to help her, making sense of church, and getting into trouble with her foster grandmother, “Mad Maxine.” She suspects her foster parents are hiding some secret sorrow and determines to find out what it is.

Though light and humorous in tone, the book brings out several deep truths without being preachy or didactic. I enjoyed Katie’s outside-looking-in perspective.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

My own mother thought variety in your diet meant eating a different Hot Pocket than you did the night before.

I was gonna read my Bible. I’m sure it’s a great book, but I decided I’d just wait for the movie.

Sometimes Christians are like Shakespeare. It’s English, but a totally different version.

I winced at Katie’s reference to God as “the Big G-man,” but she doesn’t know any better.

I don’t normally read YA (Young Adult) books. But the plot attracted me, it was on a Kindle sale, and I had enjoyed a book or two by Jenny B. Jones before. I enjoyed getting to know Katie and thought Jones did a great job telling her story.

This is the first of five books in the Katie Parker Production series.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Carol’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Two Dickensian Christmas Stories

In A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep, Mina Scott is an innkeeper’s daughter in 1853 London. She enjoys Dickens novels when she can borrow them and dreams of a better life. She wouldn’t mind if William Barlow, a regular customer in her father’s tap room, was part of those dreams.

And then the unthinkable happens: William asks her to pose as his wife for a dinner with his uncle. The uncle is trying to determine which nephew will be his heir, and William thinks that appearing married will give him a better chance, especially considering his unstable earlier years.

Mina reluctantly agrees. She enjoys the visit to the restaurant and then the uncle’s townhouse, where she feels like a real lady. But she finds she really likes William’s uncle and feels bad for deceiving him. William does as well. Then they discover a scheme by the other nephew in line for the inheritance, and their focus turns to protecting the uncle. But how will they be believed without sounding like they are just angling for a better position themselves?

In The Old Lace Shop, also by Griep, Bella White is recently widowed, but not in mourning. Her husband was abusive, and she had only married him due to her father’s machinations. While selling off her husband’s property, she decides to keep one industry: a small lace manufacturer. She doesn’t need the income, but she needs to prove she can function on her own.

The shop has a partner, though Bella is the majority owner. When she moves to Nottingham to visit the shop, she’s stunned to find that the partner is the man she loved who left without a word to her several years before. After their awkward getting to know each other again and overcoming his resistance to her partnership, they try to find a good working relationship. But they clash on several points. And then they discover a plot that endangers both of them and the people they love.

These books were the second and third of Griep’s Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series. The first was 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, which I read a couple of years ago (linked to my review). The first two books were released separately in two subsequent years, but now they are combined in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas with the third.

As far as I could tell, the stories didn’t seem to be a retelling of a particular Dickens book. But they were from the same era and in similar style. Dickens himself shows up in the last two (I can’t remember if he did in the first).

Another common thread was a “second chance” coin—not a token of luck, but just a wish or acknowledgement for the recipient.

A few quotes:

Real joy is not found in the best moments of life, but in trusting that God is making the best of every moment.

My mother–God rest her– always told me to think of eternity, then live backward from that. Such a view has a way o’ whittlin’ down our current troubles to a size we can crumple up into a ball and toss aside.

His face was a road map of years.

Maybe, perhaps, true meaning in life had nothing to do with outward trappings but with inward genuineness.

Funny, is it not, that one doesn’t know how bad one really is until trying hard to be good.

One quote was overstated a bit. . . . “The heat of a thousand suns burned along every nerve, and settled low in his belly.”

I got a little frustrated with the characters and their choices sometimes. But these books weren’t bad companions for the last weeks of the year.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Mistletoe and Murder

Mistletoe and Murder: A Christmas Suspense Collection contains ten novellas by different authors. Some are cozy mysteries: some are a bit darker. For some, Christmas just happens to be the time of year the story occurs and doesn’t really figure into the plot. Others depend on the Christmas setting more heavily. Most have Christian characters and undertones, some more than others.

Here’s just a brief description of the types of stories in the book:

Dead of Winter by Mary Alford: A deputy receives a mysterious text from her brother and then finds his cabin empty, his rifle missing, and blood on the door frame.

Death the Halls by Adam Blumer: A woman plans to introduce her boyfriend to the family at their cabin over Christmas. But someone has ransacked the cabin and takes the woman hostage.

Revenge Ignited by Liz Bradford: A Christmas thief is hitting houses in Knoxville. But the person who robs the home of an FBI agent on bereavement leave, taking care of her dead sister’s children, seems different from the rest.

The Marked Witness by Vicki Hinze: A security consultant hears from a woman and her daughter who had previously been placed in witness protection. They have reason to believe they’ve been discovered and are in danger.

Ghost of Christmas Past by Shaen Layle: An unstable man stalks his ex-wife and lures their deaf son away from her.

The Confession of John Doe by Loree Lough: An Amish Good Samaritan comes to the aid of a man thrown from his car and badly injured. When he returns to the hospital to visit the man, he is asked an even bigger favor: to hide the man from the criminals seeking his life.

Killing Christmas by Nancy Mehl: A long-dormant serial killer resurfaces and wants a pastor who writes a weekly column for the newspaper to write his story.

Deadly Drive by Cara Putnam: A woman’s twin brother has been shot, and she’s called to make a positive identification. When her plane arrives, she’s met in the airport by her brother’s roommate . . . only her brother didn’t have a roommate.

Dangerous Christmas by Lynn Shannon: A social worker narrowly escapes an attacker. When a policeman takes her home, her apartment has been broken into and someone has painted an ominous message on her wall. But why?

Yuletide Protector by Virginia Vaughan: A woman had told the police that her ex-boyfriend was stalking and threatening her. But he’s also a policeman, and the officers protected him instead of her. She changed her name and took precautions. But now someone with her same name is killed in a car bomb. Had that bomb been meant for her?

Most of these are stand-alone stories, but a few tie in to an author’s previous series. But enough was explained that I wasn’t left hanging.

I had only read Adam Blumer and Cara Putnam before. I’d heard of Loree Lough and Nancy Mehl. The other authors were completed new to me.

The stories were definitely suspenseful! I enjoyed some more than others. Since they were all set at Christmas, they all turned out well in the end.

In some cases, a novella doesn’t really provide enough time for two people to fall in love, especially if they were strangers beforehand. So some of the romances seemed a little rushed.

There was one spot where the theology was a little wonky, but most of the time the faith element was a clear and vital thread in the story.

Christmastime seems to lend itself to anthologies. But I’ve never read a collection of Christmas novellas with as many as ten stories. That added up to 938 pages—a little long, in my opinion, for a book that’s primarily going to be read in one month. I would have enjoyed it more if it had broken broken up into two books read on subsequent Christmases.

But I did enjoy it, for the most part. And I think anyone who likes mystery, suspense, crime drama, detective stories, and the like would love it.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

 

 

Book Review: A Portrait of Loyalty

A Portrait of Loyalty is the third in Roseanna M. White’s Codebreakers series which takes place during WWI.

Lily Blackwell inherited her mother’s artistic eye, but her medium is photography rather than paint. Skilled in retouching as well as taking pictures, Lily’s father recruits her into the government’s propaganda department. But they keep her involvement a secret from Lily’s mother, who doesn’t approve of art being used that way.

Zivon Marin’s outspokenness against Lenin led to his fiance’s murder and his having to flee Russia. He had been second in command in Russia’s cryptography department and now offers his services to England. Though England accepts his offer, not everyone in the department is sure they can trust him—especially when compromising pictures begin mysteriously showing up.

When Zivon and Lily meet, neither can be completely forthcoming. So how can they ever truly know and trust each other?

And as WWI seems to be winding to a close, another threat looms: the Spanish flu, known at first as the three-day fever.

A few favorite quotes:

The world may still look dark, but if photography had taught her anything, it was that there was always more light to be found. Sometimes you just needed to change your lens. And sometimes you need a flash. Neither ever changed what was really there… but it showed it in a new way.

We must be still – not our hands and feet, but our minds. And know that He is God. That He has not changed. That the same Lord who loved us when all is well loves us still when all is lost. His promises are as true today as they were yesterday. He has been enough to see people through the worst since the dawn of time. We must trust that His love is enough to see us through now.

She had a feeling he was like a matryoshka doll too–a placid exterior that hid layers of secrets and mysteries. And she couldn’t help but wonder what lay beneath this carefully crafted shell.

Once again, Roseanna has woven together an intriguing story with a lot of depth and layers. The only problem with listening to the audiobook raher than reading is that the audiobook doesn’t include the author’s end notes explaining where she got her inspiration and what parts of the story were based on true happenings.

Although I think any of the books in the series could be read alone, I really enjoyed reading/listening to them straight through. The Codebreakers series continues the timeline and some of the characters of the Shadows Over England series.

Shadows Over England:

Book 1: A Name Unknown
Book 2: A Song Unheard
Book 3: An Hour Unspent

Codebreakers series:

Book 1: The Number of Love
Book 2: On the Wings of Devotion
Book 3: A Portrait of Loyalty

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: On the Wings of Devotion

In Roseanna M. White’s novel, On Wings of Devotion, Phillip Camden’s nickname is “Black Heart.” He earned it when his squadron went down in flames and he was thought to be the cause due to a loud argument and threat to one of his men. A friend pulled some strings to get Phillip out of prison and into Room 40, where the codebreakers worked during WWI. But his surliness and bitterness keep everyone at bay.

Arabelle Denler is a nurse and an heiress. She’s warm and kind, but not considered attractive. Since her father had been absent most of her childhood, all she ever wanted was a family. When a lifelong friend suggested a marriage of convenience so her money could help preserve his family home, she readily agreed. But then her fiance fell in love with someone else.

Phillip puts himself forth as Arabelle’s protector from the stream of men seeking her hand—and her money—now that she’s free. As they come to know each other, Arabelle sees beyond the surface of Phillip’s brusque exterior. He sees the goodness and kindness of her heart.

But an old acquaintance seeks Phillip out. He knows she’s up to no good. But he doesn’t realize that she’s setting him up as part of a larger target.

This book is the second of the Codebreaker series, which is a continuation of the Shadows over England series. I enjoyed seeing a few characters from the previous books pop up. But I enjoyed Phillip’s and Arabelle’s stories even more. All the threads of the story—the characters, the spiritual and mental journeys, the intrigue—kept me listening to the audiobook every chance I got, especially the last fourth or so of the book.

A couple of quotes:

This war was destroying her entire generation. Those it hadn’t wiped out entirely it was trying to take apart piece by piece. And what could she do?

We can be sure it will be painful. Cutting out what stands between us and God always is. But we can also trust that in the giving, we’ll gain something far more precious.

The audiobook was wonderfully read by Susan Lyons. The only negative about the audiobook is that it doesn’t include the author’s notes at the end, where she tells how she came to write the story, what historical details she drew on, etc.

Each book I read from Roseanna is my favorite. Until I read the next.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)