Book Review: The Red Door Inn

In The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson, Marie Carrington has been betrayed in the worst way. She flees to Prince Edward Island because she fell in love with the place when she read Anne of Green Gables. Just when her money is about to run out and she doesn’t know what to do, a chance meeting lands her a job decorating a soon-to-open bed-and-breakfast. Now, if only she can conquer her panic attacks, she can start her new life.

Jack Sloane had come to the island fifteen years ago with his beloved wife, Rose. She loved the area and always dreamed of opening a bed-and-breakfast there. She had passed away, but Jack meant to fulfill her dream. He was woefully inept with colors and decorations and furnishings, so he was glad when Marie came along. Besides, the kid looked like she could use help.

Jack’s nephew, Seth, is helping him get the inn ready. Seth is at a low point since his former fiance conned him and cleaned out his bank account. Because he has so recently been burned, and because Marie is not forthcoming about her background, he doesn’t trust her.

Of course, you can guess that Marie and Seth will be mutually attracted even though wary of each other. But can they work past their mistrust and painful pasts?

It took me a long time to warm up to Seth—he seemed extremely harsh at first, even considering his background. But that and his protectiveness of his uncle are good reasons for him to be suspicious.

A couple of the secondary characters—an antique shop owner and a baker—are quirky and delightful.

One thing Marie has to work through is her concept of God as a father. Her own father had failed her in many ways, and Marie can’t seem to disassociate her idea of God as a father from the characteristics of her own father. But she sees another example of a father in Jack, even though he never had his own children.

Overall, I found this to be a sweet story.

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Hurricane Season

In Hurricane Season by Laura K. Denton, Betsy and Jenna grew up as very different sisters. Their parents were both professionals and distant. Betsy was the responsible one who did all the right things. Jenna was free-spirited, willful, and apt to make a mess of things. But they loved each other fiercely, and Betsy was Jenna’s greatest advocate and protector.

As adults, Betsy married dairy farmer Ty, and they work together to make a go of the business and home that had been passed down through generations in Alabama. Their biggest sorrow is their inability to have children.

Jenna is a single mom to two young girls and a coffee shop manager. An old friend urges Jenna to go to an artist’s retreat in Florida to revive her dormant love of photography. At first it seems impossible. But a scholarship and her sister’s agreement to watch the girls for two weeks enable Jenna to go.

Betsy’s fragile peace with her childlessness is threatened by having two children full time, but she thinks she can hold on for two weeks. But then Jenna calls. She has an opportunity to stay past the initial two weeks, possibly even for the rest of the summer.

Besides the potential storms brewing  internally, a hurricane threatens the Gulf of Mexico.

The point of view shifts back and forth between Betsy, Ty, and Jenna. Their current circumstances and their past histories are shaped by their perspectives and personalities. Probably no one person has the entire perspective of a family. We need each other’s viewpoints and narratives to understand the whole.

I enjoyed each sister’s bumpy journey. My mind raced ahead to different ways the plot might go, but it ended up working our differently than I had thought it would—a good thing!

When I bought this book, I thought it was Christian fiction. Though there are a few mentions of God, prayer, church, etc., I can’t say a faith message was overt. For that reason, I’d label it inspirational fiction.

This is the second of four novels by USA Today best-selling author Denton. Have you read any of her work? What did you think?

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: If We Make It Home

If We Make It HomeChristina Suzann Nelson’s debut novel, If We Make It Home: A Novel of Faith and Survival in the Oregon Wilderness, was named “debut of the month and one of the Best Books of 2017 by Library Journal” according to Amazon. I can see why.

A university building used for student housing is about to be torn down, and those who lived there are invited for a reunion. Four former roommates find their way back to Carrington, Oregon. They used to be close but they haven’t spoken in 25 years.

Hope James stayed in the area, running a coffee shop. She was considered the quiet glue that kept them connected while they were students.

Ireland Jayne used to be the one that called them to prayer. But she has walked away from her faith and turned her concerns towards environmentalism and activism. She is a professor, but her job is presently hanging by a thread. She has not seen her son in years.

Jenna Savage has been a stay-at-home mom, but her triplets just fled the nest. She had cried and prayed and tried so long to become pregnant, and then loved her three so much, that she doesn’t know what to do with herself now that they’re gone. She has a penchant for food and not for exercise.

Vickie Cambridge has a worldwide ministry and TV show for women, but she has neglected her own family.

Somehow the latter three end up on a survival trip in the Cascades with an older woman named Glenda, described by one as a “mountain woman.” Jenna wants the challenge. Ireland and Vicky want the escape.

None of them has any experience, and the trip is rougher than expected. (When Glenda vetoes Vicky’s butane curling iron, Vicky quips, “This must be what persecuted missionary wives feel like.”)

But then a series of disasters tests them beyond their limits and brings out the best and worst in each one.

The chapters alternate between the different women’s points of view, giving us a window into their inner struggles and their differing views of their situations and each other.

One thing this book taught me: I do not ever want to go on a survivalist trip into any wilderness or forest of any kind. Even without the disasters.

But besides that, I thought the women’s stories and journeys were so well told. I ached with each of them in their troubles and rooted for them in their triumphs.

I loved Christina’s phrasing:

The sun beats down on us and makes me feel like a loaf of over-kneaded bread in the oven.

Vicky snivels on the other side of me. I’m in an emotional sandwich. And it’s making me swirl with unease. The lightning looks like a safer companion.

Saving nature and surviving it are two very different things. We are not saviors in the wilderness. We are intruders.

The next thing she says is a muffle of grunts. Great, we’ve lost the perky one. We’re doomed.

“How do you think the pioneers got their soap?” “They bought it before they left.”

Maybe this is God’s provision. It never looks like I imagine.

I also like that the story doesn’t end with their getting out of the woods, but continues on with the aftermath of everything that happened.

All in all, a great book. I look forward to reading more by Christina.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Grace and Truth, Global Blogging, Senior Salon,
Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Waves of Mercy

In Lynn Austin’s novel, Waves of Mercy, 67-year-old Geesje de Jonge is asked to write some of her experiences immigrating from the Netherlands for Holland, Michigan’s 50th anniversary celebration. She’s reluctant to delve back into the hardships and struggles of faith that accompanied her journey, but her son and neighbor finally persuade her to.

Meanwhile, young socialite Anna Nicholson had accidentally stumbled into a Chicago church that was unlike any she had known before, which stirred up questions about faith and God. But her fiance had not approved of this new church and forbid her to go back to it. Their disagreement was so severe that they broke up. Anna gets away to a hotel on Lake Michigan with her mother to think and recover. A storm on the way causes a recurring nightmare to resurface in which she and her mother fall into the sea during a storm.

On her long walks on the beach, Anna meets a young seminary student who tries to answer her questions. Her mother is no help at all, since she doesn’t think polite people talk about such things as religion. Her fiance wants to get back together, and her parents encourage their reunion. But Anna feels she needs to get some things settled in her heart first.

As the Amazon description says, “Neither Geesje nor Anna, who are different in every possible way, can foresee the life-altering surprises awaiting them before the summer ends.”

I enjoyed this book a lot. The Netherlanders had left their home to escape religious persecution arising from their wanting to pull away from the state church. America was a land of freedom and opportunity. They knew it would be hard to build a community from scratch, but they were willing to work for their and each other’s freedom.

However, they had no idea the difficulties and heartbreak that would be involved. Anna often struggled with despair, even rage. While I agree that we can be honest with God about our feelings, doubts, and questions, I disagree with Geesje telling someone who had suffered a loss, ““You have every right to be angry with God right now.” However, she does go on to tell this person, “No matter what, don’t ever stop trusting Him. I believe that God is as grieved . . . as we are.”

I enjoyed Anna’s story as well. She’s often tempted to give up her questions and go along with the pressure of her parents’ and fiance’s expectations. But something keeps propelling her forward.

The sequel to this book, Legacy of Mercy, continues Anna and Geesje’s stories. I’m putting it on my birthday wish list!

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday.
Links do not imply 100% agreement)

Book Review: Rain Song

In Alice J. Wisler’s debut novel, Rain Song, Nicole Michelin was born in Japan to missionary parents. Her mother died in a fire when Nicole was two. Her father brought her back to America, where she was cared for largely by her maternal grandmother in Mount Olive. NC. He was a broken man forever after, and would not answer any of her questions about her mother’s death or their time in Japan.

Now Nicole is in her early thirties and teaches high school English in Mount Olive. She has a slew of quirky Southern relatives and regularly makes pineapple chutney with her grandmother. She keeps saltwater fish in her aquarium and writes columns for a fish web site. And she battles anxiety and bites her fingernails. She has three resolves. She will never ride a motorcycle. She will never fly in an airplane. And she will never go back to Japan.

An email question about koi from her fish column leads to a correspondence with a man who seems nice. He even sends her a poem that she can’t get out of her mind.

There’s only one problem. He lives in Japan.

And then—he reveals that he knew her when she was a child in Japan.

My thoughts:

I loved this book. I can’t believe I’ve had it in my Kindle app for years and just now got to it.

I loved the Southern flavor. I loved Nicole’s grandmother’s Southern Truths. I loved Nicole’s faith journey. And I loved Alice’s writing. Here are some samples:

I threw my head back and laughed like Uncle Jarvis. Swing your head back, open your mouth, and let laughter flow like a rushing waterfall in the North Carolina mountains. It sounds like sunshine in your ears.

We’d like to think we are brave, capable, and strong. But the minute we lose our luggage or are delayed, we’ve been known to break into pieces.

You are a gutless one, Nicole. You have never watered your gift of faith. It is so small; it’s still a seed in the ground.

I thought the author must have actually lived in Japan by the way she wrote about it. She did: she was also the child of missionary parents there.

This book is the first in her Heart of Carolina series. I don’t think the characters carry over from book to book: at least, it doesn’t seem like it from their descriptions. But it looks like they all take place in NC.

I found this book both funny and touching. Have you ever read any of Alice J. Wisler’s books?

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Book Review: A Season to Dance

When I saw Susan’s review of A Season to Dance by Patrica Beal, I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in the story. But I was touched by the author’s testimony of how she became a Christian during the course of writing the book. So when I saw the ebook on sale for the Kindle app, I decided to give it a try.

In this novel, Ana Brassfield is a ballerina with dreams of dancing at the Met one day. She’s happy in her relationship with landscape architect Peter. But her old boyfriend, Claus,  is in town to dance Romeo to her Juliet. Ana is conflicted because she never knew why Claus left ten years ago. And though she doesn’t want to be, she finds herself still attracted to Claus.

But a betrayal ends her relationship with Peter and sends her traveling to Germany. New challenges and relationships rise and fall. A chance meeting with another American and a tract lead to Ana reading the Bible, but she doesn’t understand most of it.

Many people live like Ana, pursuing dreams and relationships only to find that nothing satisfies. One of the things Ana pursues are men. In this book she is torn between two, but a side comment reveals “for years and years, I’d kept looking for that first-love magic. Forever looking—from bed to bed—but never finding it.” Since a lot of people do live this way, I didn’t have a problem with that part of Ana’s journey being mentioned. If someone’s main problem was theft, we’d see them stealing. Like the woman at the well in John 4, Ana’s main temptation was men. Still, I could have used less mention of it. Thankfully there were no explicit scenes. I don’t read many romances, so statements about how someone’s kisses taste and phrases like “nibbling my wet lips with a sigh” kind of make me cringe.

Aside from that aspect, though, I was touched by Ana’s journey. Patrica writes how she came to know the Lord while writing this book here. I appreciated that Ana’s spiritual experience was a gradual one, with understanding coming in bits, and willingness coming a little later. I think it’s that way for most people rather than one sudden flash. And I really liked that the author was clear about salvation. I know every Christian book doesn’t have to contain the plan of salvation, and there are times a more subtle message is appropriate. But sometimes when authors try hard not to spell out what salvation and conversion involve, they make it unclear and confusing.

Like Ana, the author danced ballet and lived in both Georgia and Germany, so her writing is enhanced by those experiences. I don’t know much about ballet, and I enjoyed a peek into that world. One aspect I particularly liked was that Ana’s fiance worked at Calloway Gardens in GA, one of my favorite places from the few short years we lived near Atlanta.

One of the characters contracts Huntington’s disease, and the author described the heartbreak of that illness and its effects in a realistic way.

If it weren’t for the heavy sexual aspect of this book, I’d have no problem recommending it. As I said, it’s not explicit, but it’s mentioned quite a bit. I think that part of Ana’s life could have been conveyed with a lot less information. But I loved Ana’s gradual transformation and growth.

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

Book Review: Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron Castle on the Rise is the sequel to The Lost Castle novel by Kristy Cambron. I think they could be read as standalones. But I’d recommend reading both.

Laine Forrester travels to France to be the matron of honor at her best friend’s wedding. The castle setting and the events leading up to the wedding make it seem like something out of a fairy tale.

But a couple of events bring the fairy tale crashing into real life problems. For one, the groom’s estranged brother from Ireland, Cormac, shows up just before the wedding to ask him to come back to the Foley home for an urgent need.

Laine’s friend asks her to come along. Laine hasn’t told her of her own crisis and crossroads. Now doesn’t seem like the time. But the invitation is a perfect excuse to get away for a while with her adopted daughter, Cassie.

The Foleys have been bequeathed a castle from a customer’s will. They didn’t know her well and can’t figure out why she willed them a castle. Cormac’s father, Jack, just wants to call an auction house and sell everything. But Cormac feels he needs to find out what’s behind the gift. Laine’s father was an antique dealer, so she helps Cormac evaluate which items are of value.

This novel weaves together stories from three timelines, all revolving around the castle. One takes place in the 1790s during an uprising between the Irish and English. Maeve’s family owns the castle, but her father is immobilized in grief over the loss of his wife and son. So she has to take the reins. One of her first tasks is to deal with a wounded enemy.

Another strand of the story takes place during the 1916 Easter Rising. Issy’s family now lives in the manor house, but her brother goes against her father’s wishes to join the rebels. Issy feels compelled to join him, and her budding interest in photography helps document events.

As Laine and Cormac investigate, they discover more of the castle’s surprising past. They each take steps to overcome their own past wounds to be open to new possibilities.

I knew, of course, that the Irish had fought against English control at intervals. But I didn’t know many of the details. I enjoyed learning some Irish history through this book. But I also enjoyed the stories in each timeline and the obstacles each character had to overcome.

And often, whenever I cam to a stopping place, music from the Irish Tenors sprang to mind for the next little bit. 🙂

A few quotes:

[Sean] was of a sort to look far down a path—he always said, to see the good that could come of something God was crafting behind the scenes, one had to keep an eye out for it. And Issy needed that view at present because she failed to see it (p. 50).

The talk of luxuries went far deeper than a gift of fruit. Maeve knew that. Theirs were the longstanding divides between the rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, Anglo and Irish, even oppressed and free—for hundreds of years. They’d bled into the very earth beneath their boots, and it was tasked to her to either uphold or endeavor to change attitudes around them (p. 162).

Writers are the caretakers o’ history, Byrne. We document the livin’ and dyin’ of the human cause. But our pen, however noble, however well-intended, will always bleed the color of our convictions (p. 181).

I also enjoyed Kristy’s notes at the end concerning what led to her writing the novel, her research trip to Ireland, and the true historical details she included.

All in all, this is another great book by Kristy with three stories in one.

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

Book Review: A Portrait of Marguerite

In A Portrait of Marguerite by Kate Lloyd, Marguerite Carr’s only son is about to leave for college, and she feels lost. Her best friend drags her to an art class, just to get out of the house and do something fun. Marguerite had been an art major in college but had set art aside when she married and then had her son. She’s reluctant to let art back into her life, but she lets her friend talk her into the art class.

There she meets two people who will have an impact on her future: the instructor, Henry, and an older fellow student, Emily. Unfortunately, Henry is a friend of Marguerite’s ex-husband, Phil, which doesn’t raise him in her estimation.

We learn later in the book that Marguerite is weighed down by a secret from her past. As the story progresses, everyone that she holds in high regard is found to have faults and failures, even her beloved father. And her ex-husband, wonder of wonders, seems to have changed for the better.

I’m usually not one to infer symbolism where it’s not intended, but I do think Marguerite’s painting journey, from reluctance to dabbling to freedom, parallels her inner journey as she learns to forgive and accept herself and others.

The spiritual undercurrent, mainly from Emily, is subtle but realistic.

While this wasn’t the most riveting read, I enjoyed it. I’d give it a 4 out of 5.

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

Book Review: The Words Between Us

In Erin Bartels’ novel, The Words Between Us, Robin Dickinson is a loner who runs a used book shop in Michigan. Only her party-girl friend, Sarah, knows Robin’s real last name is Windsor and her father was a U. S. Senator tried and found guilty for murder and treason. Robin’s mother was implicated as well, and both parents have been in prison for eighteen years. Robin hasn’t seen either of them in all that time.

The book opens on the day Robin’s father is scheduled for execution. Robin just tries to get through the day and avoid the news when she gets a surprise package in the mail: a book from the only other person who knew her secret and betrayed her: Peter.

Robin had met Peter when she first moved to the area after her parents’ arrest to stay with her grandmother. He found out she liked to read. His mother had died a year ago and his father had boxed up all her books. Peter was reading them one by one in her honor. He offered to loan them to Robin, and she repaid him with a poem. They were heading toward a high school romance until a crisis resulted in Peter’s betrayal. Now, after having no contact in eighteen years, he sent her a copy of the first book he had loaned to her. Why? How did he know she was here?

The chapters alternate back and forth between “Then” and “Now” as Robin’s story unfolds.

In some ways, this is a story of how people survive excruciating pain. In others ways, it’s a story of judgments and misconceptions. Even when we think we have a “right” to our opinions about others, sometimes we’re wrong. It has elements of mystery and suspense. Ultimately, it’s a story about words and their effect, as the title says.

As the gorgeous cover indicates, there are a multitude of literary references.

Robin spends a lot of time thinking of the meaning of death, that indefinable something that’s missing life. Pondering a dissected frog and dead goldfish, Robin muses: “Always a body, but with something missing, something twisted out of order. It was that off bit that made me wonder. What was really missing other than breath? Because it wasn’t just that.” She notices that same absence in an old house. And later, she realizes even some books do not live:

Most of these books are not alive. They have not stood the passage of time.

They do not still burn in the hearts of those who have read them. It’s unlikely any of those readers could pull the names of the protagonists from memory. They are merely inert paper and ink, and I doubt very much they could live again.

I know why some books live on forever while others struggle for breath, forgotten on shelves and in basements. the authors . . . hadn’t bled. They hadn’t cut themselves open and given up a part of themselves that they would dearly miss. They hadn’t lost anything in the writing. That’s the difference between the books that I could never aptly explain to Dawt Pi and the ones I let The Professor [a parrot] shred. That’s the difference between the dead and the living.

Was that also what made a person or a bird or a frog alive? Was there a part of God’s heart that animated each otherwise insignificant part of the world? Had he given something up in creating me?

A couple of other quotes from the book:

Sometimes we’re handed adversity for our own good, so we’ll grow. Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for.

There are many types of quiet. The quiet when you first open a book and prepare yourself to enter a story. The quiet of the seed underground, waiting for spring. The quiet that follows the moment the past rips through time to invade the present.

I couldn’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I had thought it was Christian fiction. Yet I didn’t see much of anything connected to faith at first besides a couple of references, so I thought I was mistaken:

“God loves you, Robin. I pray for you—every day.” I can’t answer her without releasing the tears that are swiftly building up behind my eyes like a river behind a dam. I wish I was so sure that God looked at me with anything but fathomless disappointment.

Because of all the people I know, she’s the only one who has ever made me wonder if perhaps God must be real despite everything.

But by the end, Robin opens up to the possibility of faith in a God who loves her. So there’s a faith element, but it’s not heavy-handed.

I enjoyed Robin’s story and journey.

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

 

Book Review and Giveaway: The Shop Keepers

The Shop Keepers by Nancy Moser is the third book in her Pattern Artist series. The first two books, The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer, tell the story of Annie Wood, who came from a difficult family background to become a maid to the Summerfield family of Nancy’s Manor House series. (Annie’s backstory in included in Christmas Stitches.) In the first two books, Annie had a knack for sewing and designing, but the other women in charge of that work took credit for hers. On a trip to America, Annie left her position and found a job first at Macy’s Department Store, then at the Butterick Pattern Company, then in her own dress shop. She met, fell in love, and married Sean Culver.

This third book takes place in New York in 1919, just after the first World War. Annie has two young daughters by now, but her husband has not returned from the war. He’s missing. Her shop, Unruffled, is not doing well. People had to buckle down during the war, and no one felt like buying fashionable yet practical clothes. The country is still in recovery mode. Most of the shop is decked out in black mourning dresses. One of Annie’s partners suggests they go into wedding dresses to help those who had been waiting for sweethearts to return. The prospect raises hope not only for new business but for a brighter shop and outlook.

At just the right time, a salesman from a local fabric shop offers them beautiful fabrics just right for weddings at deep discounts. Full of charm, he tempts the customers in Annie’s shop with his samples. This boon helps set the shop on a new, welcome trajectory. But something about this man bothers Annie, especially when he turns his charm her direction.

Henrietta, Annie’s bookkeeper and long-time friend. feel fortunate that her husband has returned home from the war. But he doesn’t seem totally back. He spends most of the day sitting in a chair looking out the window at the sky. She can’t seem to interest him in herself, their sons, or life in general.

Maude, who had been with Annie since her Butterick days, had married widower Antonio Ricci in the last book. Maude could not have children of her own, but welcomed Antonio’s two children. Now the oldest, Gela, is an independent-minded teenager who finds an unexpected talent. Maude is concerned where Gela’s gifts will take her in her naivete, especially when an unsavory character from Maude’s past comes on the scene.

It took me just a little bit to remember who the characters were and their backgrounds. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but I think it would be a much richer experience for those who have read the first two books.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. I’ve often read books set during the world wars, but the time of adjustment after after WWI is a fascinating era that few focus on. There were threads of intrigue with the salesman, the man from Maude’s past, and a seeming presence in the shop workroom. Henrietta’s husband’s condition, Annie’s missing husband, and Maude’s concerns lent strands of pathos. Those were woven together with needs for forgiveness, patience, hope. I always enjoy Nancy’s afterwords with details that went her story, historical elements that were true, etc. And I love the book cover.

Once again, I found myself with both a paperback and Kindle copy of this book. I read the Kindle version, and I’d like to give the paper copy away to one of you. Just leave a comment on this post if you are interested in being part of the drawing for this book. (I’ll take all comments on this post as entries unless you let me know you’re not interested.) I’ll draw a name a week from today. I’m sorry, due to shipping costs I can only send the book to US addresses.

Have you read much from the post-WWI era?

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

The giveaway is closed: the winner is Linda!