Mini Review: I’ll Be There by Susan May Warren

Ok, you all who know my love for everything Susan May Warren won’t be surprised to see this little review! I could’t pass up sharing my brief thoughts on her latest indie novella, I’ll Be There, that brings together some of my favorite characters from different series. (Conner and Liza from the Montana Fire series + familiar faces from Deep Haven, including some of the Christiansens!)

I'll Be ThereAbout the book: From a USA Today bestselling and RITA-award winning author, a novel uniting two beloved series:

Smokejumper Conner Young can’t wait to marry the woman who’s stood by him for three years as he fought fires in the forests of the northwest. The only wound in the weekend is the lack of his best man–a brother whose murder is still unsolved. It’s unfinished business that haunts him, keeping him from truly moving on.

Liza Beaumont, long time Deep Haven artist is a survivor of a brutal grizzly attack. Struggling with nightmares, she’s not sure she’s ready to join Conner’s world. He’s a hero, yes, but his life is rife with danger and stress and frankly she’s not sure she has the courage to be the wife of a man who may not come home again.

When Liza’s wedding invitation unearths a witness in his brother’s murder, Conner’s hope of solving the case is reignited. Suddenly, it’s a choice between showing up to help Liza knit together their perfect day–or tracking down his brother’s killer. But when his investigation finds its way to Deep Haven, and Liza’s life is threatened, there may not be a wedding at all.

What happens when the smokejumpers from Montana Fire come to Deep Haven? Sparks, fire and hopefully…a happy ending.

This novella holds everything I love about a Susan May Warren story:

  • complex and emotionally dynamic characters
  • a fast-moving storyline
    • this time, lots of adrenaline-fueled action! I was pleasant surprised to find it such a page-turner.
  • deep faith threads and a message of grace
    • Susan’s not afraid to tackle big subjects in a short amount of time — in this case, fear and the subsequent peace that comes with trusting God
  • and last, but not least……. romance (with plenty of tasteful spark)
    • You might need a fire extinguisher for the kisses (fire puns, ha!)

Conner and Liza were my fave couple from the Montana Fire series. I’m so happy their journey was continued with sweet moments of coming home, new depths, and lessons in faith.

Book Review: The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Finishing a wonderful book series always has its pluses and minuses. The great thing? A wrapped-up storyline and a picture of what happily-ever-after looks like for the characters. The sad thing? Saying goodbye with these two words: “The End”. The ending of The White Feather Murders (book 3 in series) by Rachel McMillan had all the right elements to be satisfactory while leaving room to dream and wonder about the future of the characters of the Herringford and Watts Mysteries. (and, with recent bookish news from Rachel, I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about this troupe.)

*note: I think these books should be read in order for the best possible literary experience. If you haven’t yet, go check out books 1 & 2 first!*

About the Book

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Uncommon Heroes…or Unsuspecting Victims?

Toronto, 1914. Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts never could have imagined their crime-solving skills would set them up as emblems of female empowerment in a city preparing to enter World War I at the behest of Great Britain. Yet, despite their popularity, the lady detectives can’t avoid the unrest infiltrating every level of society.

A war measure adopted by Mayor Montague puts a target on Jem and her Italian husband, Ray DeLuca. Meanwhile, deep-rooted corruption in the police force causes their friend, Constable Jasper Forth, to wonder if his thirst for upholding the law would be best quenched elsewhere.

In spite of these distractions, Merinda, Ray, and Jasper join with other honorable and courageous city leaders in the Cartier Club, which exists to provide newly arrived residents of Toronto with a seamless integration in the city.

When a club member turns up dead, bearing a slanderous white feather, will Merinda, Jem, and those they hold dear be able to solve the high-stakes mystery before they’re all picked off, one by one?

Review

One important tidbit you won’t glean from reading the synopsis is the presence of a 5th lead character: the city of Toronto. Toronto is much more than a setting — it’s shown as a living, breathing, and ever-changing entity through author Rachel McMillan’s pen and Jem and Merinda’s eyes. It establishes the tone for the series, exposing a “slice of life” in the 1910s that was as tumultuous as it was vibrant. The city, in a way, is essential in shaping each of the (other) four main characters as much as it influences their lives and propels them into another mystery. The conflict of the looming Great War, along with its political struggles, adds complexity in introducing immigration and patriotism as new story layers and challenges.

It’s not all seriousness and mystery, though! This story is witty twists and turns, lady detectives, bowler hats, Sherlockian reasoning, suspect political leaders, a flamboyant peacock, the frenzied start of WWI, and plenty of Italian mumblings from Ray and “Cracker Jacks!” exclamations from Merinda. It’s fun and just light enough to be a cozy mystery while delving a little deeper into themes of friendship and purpose.

Speaking of friendship, my FAVORITE part of this book (and this series, really), is the way friendship is portrayed. With four main characters and their unique roles, the relationship dynamics have ample time to evolve and grow to a remarkable maturity. The complexity of it all is more than just a camaraderie or temporary commitment among the four. No, it’s a lifelong purpose, the intermingling of a complimentary partnership for Jem and Merinda, a romance for Ray and Jem (and just how that affects the aforementioned partnership), a reliance and trust for them all depending on the honorable Jasper, and a bit of unrequited love where Jasper and Merinda are concerned. It’s beautiful and messy and truth-filled.

Bravo to Rachel for ending this series the way it does! Some might say a few details are handled unconventionally for the genre, but I think those little conclusions are what make this story shine on the shelf. This book is everything I wanted it to be — and everything I didn’t realize I needed it to be. It’s like craving Oreo cookies with an ice cold glass of milk and getting a hot chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream instead. It’s still that combination of chocolate and creamy goodness, but a thousand times better (yet distinctly different). I will still want Oreos at some point, but I’m much happier with the surprising brownies. This story might be better suited, though, to a comparison involving lemons or Turkish coffee :)!

Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

See what I thought of the previous books/novellas in the series~

#0.5 A Singular & Whimsical Problem | #1 The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder

#1.5 Of Dubious and Questionable Memory | #2 A Lesson in Love and Murder 

#2.5 Conductor of Light

About the Author
Rachel McMillanRachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.

Rachel’s Bookish ramblings are housed at A Fair Substitute For Heaven

Twitter: @rachkmc

Instagram: @rachkmc

Facebook: rachkmc1

Pinterest: @rachkmc

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Memorable Moms in Literature

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

The official topic is ~ Mother’s Day related Freebie: favorite moms in literature, books about motherhood, best mother/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your mom, worst moms in literature, etc. etc.

First off, shout-out to the best mom in the world! She inspired my love of books by reading me countless children’s books until I was old enough to read them to her. And the rest is history.

This topic was so open-ended I wanted to go in 3 different directions at once. I settled on highlighting 10 memorable moms in literature, whether noted for their sage advice or annoying presence. A few of these are non-traditional “moms”, being mother figures (sometimes reluctantly) to motherless or orphaned children for a large part of the story. Like in real life, these women who choose to love are just as important to recognize as key leaders in these little ones’ lives.

10 Memorable Moms in Literature

1. Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

She was the first notable mother that came to mind, mostly because of her obsessive and nervous tendencies. On the surface, she just wants to marry off all of her children ASAP. But, I think beneath her actions is a mother’s heart that wants to see her girls cared for in the long term.

A Flight of Arrows2. Good Voice (Two Hawks’ mom) in The Pathfinders series (The Wood’s Edge and A Flight of Arrowsby Lori Benton

Good Voice is of exceptional character. Through her eyes, especially as book 2 progresses, readers see the sacrifice she had to make as a mother and the continued sacrifices she was willing to make in order for her adult children to be at peace.

3. Mrs. Hale in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Obviously, Mrs. Hale is memorable for her annoyance and frailty. At least that’s how I remember her. She did not have the strongest of mindsets through the ups and downs her family faced, but she was loved and cared for by Margaret just the same.

Evergreen4. Ingrid Christiansen in the Christiansen Family series by Susan May Warren

She’s an encourager, always showing her adult kids grace in a different way. Her heart is really revealed at the beginning of each book in the series, where readers are treated to a letter from her perspective, told like a journal entry to her children.

5. Caroline Ingalls (“Ma”) in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books hold a special memory for me and my mom. This is the first series I remember us reading together when I was little. I recall Caroline as a resilient and resourceful mother, always working for her children’s happiness. She was always ready to share encouragement or wisdom with them, teaching them important lessons of friendship and faith.

a-portrait-of-emily-price6. Donata Vassallo (Ben’s mom) in A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Though she has minor page time, she commands what scenes she’s in with an unmistakable passion and demeanor. She loves her children fiercely and serves as an example of changing family dynamics as she adjusts to her new role as Emily’s mother-in-law.

just-the-way-you-are-by-pepper-basham7. Eisley Barret in Just the Way You Are by Pepper Basham

Eisley is a single mom successfully juggling her career and 3 spunky kids. She’s realistically portrayed as a loving mother in all the chaos and humor of everyday life. She is memorable for her flexibility and selflessness that spills over into other areas of her life.

Non-traditional mother figures:

the-mark-of-the-king-by-jocelyn-green8. Julianne Chevalier in The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green

Without giving too much away, Julianne finds herself in a new world during this story (French New Orleans). Toward the latter half of the book, she becomes the mother figure to a precious half French, half Mobile Indian little girl, showing her such tender care in an unsettling world.

9. Sophie Menzies in The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz

What starts out as a friendship between Sophie and her neighbor’s daughter, Lily Cate, becomes a deeper relationship as the story goes on. Sophie is a natural mother!

727431810. Elle Drake in More Than a Promise by Ruth Logan Herne

This book is a contemporary marriage-of-convenience story, so Elle becomes an instant mother to 3 hilarious and rambunctious boys. It’s been a long-time dream of hers to be a mother, so to see it realized in an unexpected (albeit challenging) way is quite fun.

That’s it for my list. Have you read any of these books? What is a memorable “mom” in book you’ve read?

Review: Right Where We Belong ~ Novella Collection

If you’re looking for something lighthearted, fun, and sweet to fill your reading time, look no further than the Right Where We Belong novella collection from authors Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, and Courtney Walsh. (Yay for another indie-published book!)

Right Where We BelongAbout the collection:

Whether in a quaint home bakery in Langhorne, Missouri, a cozy boho coffee shop in Maple Valley, Iowa, or a charming lakeside cottage in Sweethaven, Michigan,
love grows best in small towns just like this!

Dubbed as “3 small town contemporary novellas”, each of these standalone stories takes place in a fictional town you might recognize from an existing series by each author. While I haven’t read the main series from Deborah or Courtney, I was still enthralled with their respective communities. Melissa Tagg’s, though, I was over the moon to get through because Megan from the Walker Family series FINALLY gets some story time! *happy dance*

Each of these stories were distinct in plot and themes, but all were set in quaint little small towns where happiness is found in daily routine. I loved that. The romances in all of them were sweet and believable.

To start with, Deborah Raney’s novella features a heroine who bakes daily for a living. And she has a cat. I was all over that (because food is life). The meet-cute setup of that story turns out to be one of the funniest I’ve read in a while. And, the subsequent challenge of a long distance relationship is faced head-on by the characters while they weigh the costs of their dreams with the reality in front of them.

Melissa Tagg’s novella was, as expected, adorable, funny, and deep all at once. She always manages to speak to your emotional side until you are wrapped up in whatever conflict the characters’ hearts are in. In this case, a train ride, superglue, and a plethora of houseplants were involved. Oh, and a lesson of acceptance, purpose, and forgiveness.

I expected Courtney’s novella to be humorous and quaint. It was, and more. Leave it to her to spin the feuding “Hatfields and McCoys” into a modern “secret” love story of rivalry, heritage, and redemption. This concept allowed the story to introduce serious questions of reputation and prejudices, and just how much one is willing to believe — or forgive — concerning your neighbors. It wasn’t all seriousness, though, because there was a swoony romance (of the long-time acquaintance variety), a cute little coffee shop, meddling old ladies, and a town time capsule unveiled.

Find the collection on Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

April Happenings

I can’t believe it’s already time for the April monthly wrap-up!

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on the bookshelf

Two of the MOST EXCITING titles added to my collection this month included an ARC of Sara Ella’s second novel, Unraveling, and the lovely novella collection Right Where We Belong with small-town stories from authors Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, and Courtney Walsh. Both of these should be reviewed on the blog this May.

on the blog

Most popular posts:

  1. Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Novels with the Most Unique Settings
  2. Top Ten Tuesday: 10 things that will make me instantly want to read a book
  3. How-To: Solar Dyed Yarn Project (With Kool-Aid)

just-the-way-you-are-by-pepper-bashamMost popular book reviews:

  1. Just the Way You Are by Pepper Basham (plus author interview)
  2. I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones
  3. Reclaimed by Jennifer Rodewald (plus book snippet)

in the kitchen

20170415_120919-1The most notable “new” recipe I made this month was this version of dairy free Hot Cross Buns for Easter weekend. They turned out great! I used a combination of dried currants and raisins because I like both.

on the screen

The Zookeeper's WifeI had the privilege of seeing The Zookeeper’s Wife on the big screen…. And let me just say it was a fabulous production! It tells the fascinating inspired-by-a-true-account story of a zookeeper’s family sheltering Jews in occupied Poland during WWII. It appropriately portrayed the harshness of life for the Jews and the sacrifices of people who risked everything to help them. The quality of this film is very prominent, with the acting top-notch (especially Jessica Chastain!) and everything from the zoo animals to the furniture/clothing period-appropriate. This is one to see if you’re a fan of historical dramas or WWII.

around the web

Pepper Basham featured one of my favorite book heroes (ahem, book boyfriends) on one of her “Swoony Saturday” posts. It is Dr. DAVID ROSS. Enough said.

I ’m not planning a wedding ANY time in the near future. You kinda have to plan a groom first. But, if I were, I’d be all over this wedding entertainment option recently in the news: ALPACAS and LLAMAS!!!! This little animal therapy place in the OR/WA area offers options to book llamas and/or alpacas to be a part of a ceremony or to entertain guests. I’m thinking it needs to be extended to any social or family event. Wouldn’t it be fun to show up to a family reunion or birthday part to find alpacas to play with?! 🙂

Review: “With Love, Wherever You Are” by Dandi Daley Mackall

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Bonus trivia: That’s a photo of the real-life Helen and Frank on the cover!

This book review features a book that is as interesting as it is riveting because much of the story is based on the true-life events of a couple who met, married, and served in Europe during WWII. The book, With Love, Wherever You Are, by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a recent release from Tyndale House.

About the BookEveryone knows that war romances never last . . .
After a whirlwind romance and wedding, Helen Eberhart Daley, an army nurse, and Lieutenant Frank Daley, M.D. are sent to the front lines of Europe with only letters to connect them for months at a time.

Surrounded by danger and desperately wounded patients, they soon find that only the war seems real—and their marriage more and more like a distant dream. If they make it through the war, will their marriage survive?

Based on the incredible true love story, With Love, Wherever You Are is an adult novel from beloved children’s author Dandi Daley Mackall.Review

“Based on a true story”, “WWII era”, and “letters” were all I needed to know I really wanted to read this novel. With flowing style, intriguing settings around the US and the war theater of Europe, and a love story that transcends all kinds of obstacles, this book kept me hooked late into the night.

For starters, this book is based on the real life love story of the author’s parents. While some elements and characters were understandably fictionalized for heightened story tension, the personalities of Frank and Helen clearly shine through as observed by Dandi, their daughter. Fast forwarding to the end and the author’s note section, readers learn what parts of the story are identical to the real-life situation– and those were the most incredibly interesting elements of the story!

I was impressed with the contrasting humor and wit of the relationship between Frank and Helen compared to the dramatic responsibilities, convictions, and events depicted in the book. To quote an author friend, I felt like I was reading the script of a Cary Grant movie sometimes! These personalities really come out in the real-life letters, notes, telegrams, etc. included all throughout the novel—they were a treat!

The pain and destruction of World War II was not shied away from, yet a lens of eternal hope was applied to the gravity of loss experienced by the world. In the middle of it all, this beautiful romance and subsequent relationship was formed, tested by fire, and proved a lasting legacy for Dandi and a story of inspiration to me. It reminded me of the individual sacrifice many men and women have made for their countries. It made me all the more thankful for the generations, past and present, who have held strong to liberty and freedom. Veterans, I thank you.

If you are a fan of history, WWII/military fiction, (slightly) epistolary novels, or romance, I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

What is your favorite book with letters or your favorite WWII novel?

 

GIVEAWAY, Review, & Author Interview: “Just the Way You Are” by Pepper Basham

Today’s the day I get to tell you all about a recent independent-release contemporary novel: Just the Way You Are by Pepper Basham. The best news? Pepper is here for an interview AND an ebook giveaway! This story is equally hilarious and romantic, with a depth that draws you into the lives of the characters in the very first chapter. See my gushing review below. Pepper has been gracious to answer a few of my interview questions and provide the ebook giveaway, so many thanks to her for that treat!

About the Book

just-the-way-you-are-by-pepper-bashamJust the Way You Are by Pepper Basham

Book 1 in the Pleasant Gap Romance series

Single mom, Eisley Barrett, prefers to keep romance safely housed within a centuries-old mystery, but when she travels to England to unearth the secret, an actor with a sordid past offers her reluctant heart a very different type of discovery.

Wes Harrison has a past he’s ashamed to confess. Suspicious and cynical, he’s managed to avoid romantic entanglements since a tragedy upended his career and life, that is until American Eisley Barrett comes along. Her authenticity and kindness upend his bitter assumptions and send his heart into unscripted territory.

When his past threatens to ruin a second chance at love, can some Appalachian matchmaking and letters from the grave salvage their unexpected romance?

Add to Goodreads

Review

At the heart of any great story lies characters who are likable, relatable, and dynamic. Author Pepper Basham always succeeds in penning her characters as such, with a healthy dose of family and joy. Wes and Eisley are what propel this story from a light and humorous start to an ending with surprising transformation, romance, and depth. Add in the fairy tale-like England trip, family mystery, and pop culture references and you have the perfect witty romance.

Country meets England between to covers of this book, in a “Britallachian” style as Pepper coined, using immersive descriptions and words not familiar to the southern vocabulary. I enjoyed seeing the prevalent clash of cultures in the verbiage alone with thoroughly English words like “nick” contrasted to southern expressions.

Wes is the definition of swoon-worthy. With a haunting past and bright career ahead of him, he’s a walking picture of a changed man that’s been redeemed by grace, trying to please his Heavenly Father and juggle his newfound faith within a challenging world. Eisley is someone you want as your best friend, especially with her crazy family and innate clumsiness. Her independence and spunky personality are a contrast to her own emotional insecurities, which she has to learn to surmount.

jtwyaheart

This is my FAV quote from the book. It’s so swoony but has even more meaning in context.

Let’s talk about the ROMANCE! (where’s my fan?) Fellow blogger Robin called Pepper the “Queen of Swoony”, and it’s a title well-earned and proven with this story. Wes’s tender pursuit and desire for true friendship, plus the fact that he has no clue how attractive he is to Eisley, combine to make this one of Pepper’s best romances yet. (It’s tied for me with The Thorn Keeper for my fav.) It’s not all chocolate and kisses in centuries-old towers, though, in Just the Way You Are. The romance has a certain maturity to it, a perspective of second chances, that makes it more meaningful. Wes and Eisley are at a point in their lives where they understand of the importance of a deeper friendship, a “gracious heart”-attitude, and this makes the love story all the sweeter.

The way the storyline and characters deal with potential obstacles is a fresh take. It has the requisite insurmountable problems for a modern fairy-tale type story, but the reactions of Wes and Eisley make you cheer them on and step back and think “Yes. This is how to handle it in the real world.” A lesson of “being enough” just as you are because you’re a redeemed, new creation in Christ is a prominent faith thread in this story. I especially liked the family support and encouragement both of them have as they make some important decisions or need advice.

I could go on about more aspects of this story I loved, like the history (and mystery!) threads with long lost letters that tie into the modern story and offer encouragement, the adorableness of Eisley’s kids and how they are so “normal”, or the humor and pop culture references that made me smile (from Pollyanna to Superman to Lucille Ball). Fans of romance, modern-day fairy tales, stories of culture clashes, or humor and faith intertwined will love this start to a new series.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

Pepper D. Basham

Pepper Basham

Eisley has a big Appalachian family. You have a big Appalachian family, Pepper. Do any members of your real family have similar personalities or share specific characteristics with this fictional one?

Hee hee, well, there are a few who have characteristics like my characters in Just the Way You Are. I think Sophie is a delightful combination of my cousin, Ashley, and my dear, sweet friend writing buddy, Ashley. My parents certainly influenced the Jenkins’ parents – anyone who knows my dad can see him on the page 😉 I think there are fun parts to Greg which remind me of my brother sometimes, but my bro isn’t a flirt – he’s just funny.  Eisley’s three kids were inspired by my oldest three when they were about the ages of Nathan, Pete, and Emily, so lots of the personality traits and…quirks…aren’t fictional 🙂

Please tell us 1″must-see” destination in both England and the Appalachians?

Oh my! That’s SUPER hard! Let me think…I loved LOVED the Peak District in Derbyshire and among the beautiful parts of it is Haddon Hall, the manor house Lornegrave was fashioned after in the novel. I’d LOVE to go back there.

As far as Appalachia? Blue Ridge Mountains? You HAVE to go somewhere with a view! Just getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway will give you loads of opportunities for vistas that just take your breath away. Pisgah National Forest, Roan Mountain, New River Valley…too many to name, but just drive on the Parkway. That’s what I’d suggest (and if you’re ever close to Asheville, you should visit the Biltmore!!)

I agree, the Blue Ridge Parkway itself is beautiful! As is Roan Mountain. The Biltmore is on my travel list, for sure!

Where do you get character name inspiration?

Some just pop into my head but others are chosen for specific reasons. You can get an idea of it here in the video linked below. In The Thorn Bearer I picked Ashleigh’s name very specifically. Her sister Catherine’s name means ‘pure’ and that was on purpose too – as a deeper meaning in the story about how God makes us pure, even when our sin corrupts our hearts and lives. 

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