Review: “Ever Faithful” by Karen Barnett

I have enjoyed all of the novels in Karen Barnett’s “Vintage National Parks” series for their wonderful natural settings and looks at life through varied park inhabitants – rangers, staff, tourists, guides, and artists. This series is more of a collection as each novel has told a unique, standalone story set in a different national park.

About the Book

Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.

A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well. 

Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The setting of Yellowstone comes alive in this “vintage” story of dreaming by Karen Barnett. A well-paced tale of friendship, strength, and a little adventure unfolds in a picturesque setting that makes me want to visit ! I thought it was an insightful and curious look at Depression era events and culture, too, with characters I want to be friends with! 

One small element of this story I really appreciate is the distinction between education as separate from wisdom and leadership abilities. One does not require the other. This is shown through a learning disability of one specific character. The way Karen Barnett presents this situation is considerate while it emphasizes the worth of this individual as a child of God.

I think Ever Faithful is a flowing, easy to read story. Character driven at its heart, it shows the journeys of Elsie and Nate as they experience a season of life with great changes and possibilities. The setting is vivid and wonderfully essential to bringing out the passion in the characters – Elsie’s desire to teach and Nate’s quest to prove himself. When their paths intersect, they develop a friendship that brings out the best in each other and shows them both their worth and God’s plan.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

First Line Fridays #27: “Ever Faithful”

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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Today I’m sharing the first line of a new book by Karen Barnett, Ever Faithful. It is the third in her Vintage National Parks series. If you want to feel like you’ve visited the “old” parks of Mt. Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, this is an adventurous series you might like! I’m excited to read this new one very soon.

April 1933

Elsie closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in the steamy air, imagining she stood beside Great Prismatic Spring instead of the massive laundry booklet in the back of the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge.

Your turn! What’s your first line?

Review: Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge

You know that moment when you FINALLY finish reading a book series and you’re perfectly happy with the way it ended, but you still want MORE??? Yep, that was me after reading Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge, the last book in the “Two Blue Doors” series.

I read it a few weeks ago with two blogger and #BookBestie friends, Cassie and Rissi. We chatted and debated and gushed via Twitter with the hashtag #TogetherAtTheTableRAL (click to see all our tweets, but warning: some are spoilery). And, Rissi created this awesome graphic for our read along.

 

Ok, by now you’re wondering what this book is about, so here’s the plot summary:

Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge.jpgThree months ago, Juliette D’Alisa’s world changed.

In a bittersweet series of events, her mother’s health took a turn for the worse. Juliette and her brother opened their restaurant together to rave reviews, but her romance with Memphis immunologist Neil McLaren ended in anger and tears.

As autumn sweeps into the Pacific Northwest, Juliette feels that she’s finally on the cusp of equilibrium. The restaurant continues to thrive, and her family is closer than ever. She and sous-chef Adrien are seeing each other, both in and out of the kitchen. Just when she thinks her world might stop spinning, a trip to the waterfront lands a familiar face into her path.

Rather than dwell on her personal life, Juliette throws herself into work and research. After reading her grandmother’s letters from war-torn Paris, she still wants to know the full story –  and she’ll travel across countries and oceans to find it.

But even Juliette can’t outrun the man who stole her heart. As she finally uncovers the truth about her family history, what will it mean for her own chances at lasting love?

My thoughts: So many feelings! Bittersweet, happy, hunger, nostalgia, the camaraderie of family and food. If you’ve followed this series from the beginning (please, start at the beginning), you know the emotional journey Juliette has already been on and the unexpected things in her path. Even after the first few chapters, I had no clue where this story would take Juliette or the *ahem* love interest she would end up with.

(Though there was not exactly a love triangle in this series, we do see her life morph and her love life change naturally within seasons of life. I didn’t exactly have a preference myself with whom she would end up with, but I am extremely happy with the end and with him. He shall remain nameless for the review because spoilers.)

Hillary knows how to use a singular POV to its advantages. With it, there was increased dramatic tension because we only knew Juliette’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. And it made us feel very close to her as a character. Most impressive, I thought, was the way the eventual hero of the story was written so well, even through Jules’ eyes, that we saw and read into his thoughts by his behavior around her and the way he treated her. This was carried out through Juliette’s observations of the other characters, as well. We saw their humor, bubbly personalities, or even jealous and pensive moods.

The historical letters and family story we experienced in previous books is carried out in the latter part of this one. This unique sub-storyline is a riveting glimpse into the WWII life in the French countryside. It even has parallels with Jules’ contemporary life with a theme of perseverance and a story of simple joy that can be found in everyday life.

Ultimately, this is a book for the foodie and the romantic. The food quotes and many recipes are a fabulous bonus. The sense of family and belonging Juliette feels when she is sharing the table with loved ones in this story are extended to you, the reader, with a sense of hospitality and invitation. It was a quite satisfactory end to the series — I was happy with where the characters ended up. Though I would happily read many more books about these characters if I could! (hint hint, Hillary 🙂 )

Thank you to WaterBrook Publishers for a complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest review.

See my reviews of book 1, A Table By the Window, and book 2, Reservations for Two.

And this was how we felt when it was over….

 

Review: “A Flight of Arrows” by Lori Benton

Review: “A Flight of Arrows” by Lori Benton

With only a handful of books to her name (thus far), Lori Benton has already established herself as a go-to author in the world of historical fiction (AKA #mustread). Her attention to detail, writing style, and heart-tugging characters combine to create epic stories set during the wild frontier times of America and freshly showcase Native American cultures. Needless to say, any time I have the chance to read one of her stories, I’m going to jump at it!

I’m happily on her book launch team for her new release, A Flight of Arrows. It is the second half and conclusion to her “Pathfinders” duology.

du·ol·o·gy
d(y)o͞oˈäləjē/
noun
definition: a pair of related novels, plays, or movies

 

Note: the books really should be read in order. So, if you haven’t already, please check out The Wood’s Edge first to avoid spoilers and to experience this story fully. You have been warned!

About the Book

A Flight of ArrowsOctober 1776–August 1777

It is said that what a man sows he will reap–and for such a harvest there is no set season. No one connected to Reginald Aubrey is untouched by the crime he committed twenty years ago.

Not William, the Oneida child Reginald stole and raised as his own. Identity shattered, enlisted in the British army, William trains with Loyalist refugees eager to annihilate the rebels who forced them into exile. Coming to terms with who and what he is proves impossible, but if he breaks his Loyalist oath, he’ll be no better than the man who constructed his life of lies.

Not Anna, Reginald’s adopted daughter, nor Two Hawks, William’s twin, both who long for Reginald to accept their love despite the challenges they will face, building a marriage that bridges two cultures.

Not Good Voice and Stone Thrower, freed of bitterness by a courageous act of forgiveness, but still yearning for their firstborn son and fearful for the future of their Oneida people.

As the British prepare to attack frontier New York and Patriot regiments rally to defend it, two families separated by culture, united by love, will do all in their power to reclaim the son marching toward them in the ranks of their enemies.

Purchase on Amazon

Review

“You do not let fly an arrow before you aim it.” -Good Voice, pg 30

This story follows a tangle of characters in the middle of a path toward redemption while a major cultural conflict takes place within the Revolution. It’s quite interesting how their choices and circumstances come between them and have ripple effects.

A Flight of Arrows by Lori Benton (ARC)For instance, Reginald’s choices years ago have caused everyone’s life to be very different. His choices, though, led to opportunities for redemption and healing for everyone involved. Without his hasty deceptive choice, we would never know Anna and Two Hawks’ love story, the deeper-than-friendship unity of Reginald and Stone Thrower, the ever-supportive and patient Lydia and Good Voice, and the power of forgiveness that bonds all of them together. All of their journeys really show the ability of God to redeem a choice, a situation, or a mistake, and use it for our good and His glory.

I already miss these characters! Each one found his or her way into my heart for a different reason, but especially Two Hawks. And Stone Thrower (for reasons. No spoilers here!). Two Hawks’ love and devotion to Anna is topped only by his respect for her father and desire to do things the way God wills. The selflessness of Two Hawks and Stone Thrower, on several occasions, is impressive.

This is an epic story that covers much ground and the rich history of lesser-known events of the Revolutionary War (at least very new to me). Lori has the extraordinary ability to convey the weight of a situation, the pain, danger, or heart-wrenching emotion of a moment or decision through her writing. I was riveted from the beginning! If you have an opportunity to read this series, please do. And come tell me your feelings, after!

A HUGE thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah and Lori for the complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest review.

And, this book has an amazing Pinterest board! Check it out here.

My previous posts:

The Wood’s Edge (interview & review)

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn (review)

Find the first chapter of A Flight of Arrows and all kinds of extras via Lori’s blog, or visit her Facebook author page!

Review: “Reservations for Two” by Hillary Manton Lodge

Today’s review features the latest contemporary novel from author Hillary Manton Lodge, Reservations for Two. This is the second book in her “Two Blue Doors” series about character Juliette D’Alisa’s journey as she opens a new restaurant with her brother, Nico, uncovers secrets of her family heritage, maintains a long-distance romantic relationship, and remains involved in all sorts of family drama.

This book picks up right where the first one (A Table by the Window) left off, in Provence, France. While a person doesn’t have to read the books in order to enjoy the series, I think reading the first would allow a deeper understanding and appreciation for the characters.

Book Summary: A culinary concoction of taking chances and finding love in the most delectable places

Food writer-turned-restaurateur Juliette D’Alisa has more than enough on her plate. While her trip to Provence might have unlocked new answers to her grandmother’s past, it’s also provided new complications in the form of Neil McLaren, the man she can’t give up.

Juliette and Neil find romance simple as they travel through Provence and Tuscany together, but life back home presents a different set of challenges. Juliette has a restaurant to open, a mother combating serious illness, and a family legacy of secrets to untangle – how does Neil, living so far away in Memphis, fit into to her life?

As she confronts an uncertain future, Juliette can’t help but wish that life could be as straightforward as her chocolate chip cookie recipe. Can her French grandmother’s letters from the 1940’s provide wisdom to guide her present? Or will every new insight create a fresh batch of mysteries?Story was fun and flowed nicely. Settings were just fabulous – the story opens in the French countryside (anyone want to visit a lavender farm with me?), then the characters travel to Paris, Italy, and back to the states.

My thoughts: Like the first book in the series, Hillary has included several fun elements that add to the story — I’m talking about several tantalizing recipes sprinkled through the chapters. They made me hungry at 1am. And, fun little quotes about food or cooking at the beginning of each chapter.

I love that the story is told from the first person narrative. It’s like Juliette is telling the reader her story, her thoughts.

I also really like the inclusion of old letters between Juliette’s grandmother, Mirielle, and her sister and love from pre-WWII France. This is a secondary story, really, that unfolds a little at a time with some suspense as to what will become of some of Mirielle’s family. These letters offered a unique addition to the storyline and a clever way to encourage Juliette through her challenges.

There is one small thing I want to point out about this story. While it is categorized as “Christian fiction”, it doesn’t have as strong of a spiritual message or focus unlike many books in this genre. The faith of the characters is present through the book, though not addressed in a super-direct way. I had no problem with it being presented as a background theme, however. It was clearly an important part of the characters’ lives.

Overall, this was an easy and interesting read. It’s not all fun and games, though — it deals with some real relationship issues, like sacrifice and the value of family. Excuse me for a second while I give myself some advice: in the future, wait until full series are published, that way I don’t have to wait a year for the conclusion of the story! Actually, I definitely don’t regret reading this one! But I am anxious to read the conclusion of this “Two Blue Doors” series in 2016!

Visit Hillary’s blog here for more info –  and recipes! (She’s recently posted a tiramisu recipe from this book!!!)

Thank you to the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review! I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group through the Blogging for Books program for this review.

 

The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton: Review + Interview + GIVEAWAY

The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton: Review + Interview + GIVEAWAY

On rare occasions, books come along that have such depth and truth painted in a beautiful manner, they surpass mere literary purposes and become timeless accounts of their characters’ trials and journeys — even if they are fictional.

The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton is one such gem. I’m happy to be reviewing it today and sharing an insightful review with the author. Plus, Lori has graciously offered to give away an autographed copy of The Wood’s Edge to one of my readers!!! You can find instructions for how to enter the giveaway at the end of this post.

Plot Summary: At the wood’s edge cultures collide. Can two families survive the impact?Woods Edge

The 1757 New York frontier is home to the Oneida tribe and to British colonists, yet their feet rarely walk the same paths.

On the day Fort William Henry falls, Major Reginald Aubrey is beside himself with grief. His son, born that day, has died in the arms of his sleeping wife. When Reginald comes across an Oneida mother with newborn twins, one white, one brown, he makes a choice that will haunt the lives of all involved. He steals the white baby and leaves his own child behind. Reginald’s wife and foundling daughter, Anna, never suspect the truth about the boy they call William, but Reginald is wracked by regret that only intensifies with time, as his secret spreads its devastating ripples.

When the long buried truth comes to light, can an unlikely friendship forged at the wood’s edge provide a way forward? For a father tormented by fear of judgment, another by lust for vengeance. For a mother still grieving her lost child. For a brother who feels his twin’s absence, another unaware of his twin’s existence. And for Anna, who loves them both–Two Hawks, the mysterious Oneida boy she meets in secret, and William, her brother. As paths long divided collide, how will God direct the feet of those who follow Him?

My thoughts:

Lori Benton has a way with words that completely immerses the reader in the story – the setting, characters’ hearts, the smell and feel of the woods, the clothing, and the feelings of opposite cultures. You might recall how much I LOVED one of her previous novels, The Pursuit of Tamsen LittlejohnIt still remains one of my all-time favorite books.

I’m sure it is challenging to write a complex story that spans over several years’ time, but Lori makes it seem effortless. Small gaps in time are traversed while maintaining ongoing emotions of the characters and with no lull to the pace of the story. From the beginning, the reader is torn between two worlds (much like the characters themselves are), that of frontier colonial America and generations of established Oneida Indian culture.

Without saying too much, I did love how Lori chose to develop a certain romantic relationship between two of the characters. This relationship was a little unexpected initially (though I was rooting for it!) and seemed, at times, an impossibility due to the characters’ circumstances. But it was sweetly developed in the story in a way only Lori could write!

Within this story, Lori has included the unique perspective of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War from the Oneida tribe’s viewpoint (specifically, the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, to which the Oneidas belonged). The attention to detail and the historical research included in The Wood’s Edge make this a rich and fascinating read.

With themes of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, the characters of The Wood’s Edge face lessons wrought through choices. Choices of love, hatred, following God’s path, or sin. These choices shape who the characters become, whether right or wrong, with consequences that can only be overcome through forgiveness.

I could go on talking about this book for a long time. There is so much I could still say about the characters – the faithful missionary who shared the simple truth of Jesus’ sacrifice, the friend who becomes a mentor to Anna, or the supporting characters who offer words of wisdom in the midst of great loss. Or, I could save us both some time, and you could read it for yourself! Trust me, it will be time well spent.

Alright, next I get to share my interview with author Lori Benton! 

What was the inspiration for The Wood’s Edge?

TWE_2ChSneakPeek_txtIn writing my previous published novels, Burning Sky and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, I recognized my passion for telling stories about people caught in a middle ground—between cultures, identities, social classes, world views, etc. So I was looking for a setting and historical situation through which to weave another story of this kind, something similar to those previous titles but not exactly the same. I began thinking about the back story I hinted at in Burning Sky—the political conflict on the New York frontier, during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, that divided not only colonists but also the Iroquois Confederacy. Then there was that terrible battle called Oriskany in 1777…

Around that time I read an article about twins born to a multiracial couple where one twin was dark skinned, the other fair. They were quite a startling contrast. That snagged my attention. I began asking myself the “what if” questions that authors do. What if a set of twins like these was born in the 18th century? What if one of them was raised never knowing he had a different heritage than his skin proclaimed? What if I set this against that Revolutionary War backdrop and put one twin on one side of the conflict, one on the other?

That’s the short story of how The Wood’s Edge grew into being.

What spiritual message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

The Wood’s Edge is a story of grief and healing, vengeance and forgiveness, and man’s justice verses God’s mercy. I hope the journey these characters take will be one that touches readers hearts in all these areas and more. God’s ways are often counter to the impulses of the human heart and mind. Sometimes it’s in dying that we find life, or in laying down a right that we find the peace we truly need.

What was most challenging about writing a story set in mid-18th century America?

It’s always challenging to force myself to think like a person from the mid-18th century and not with my own 21st century world view. People from that era wouldn’t necessarily react to situations as we would. The only way to absorb something of their mindset is to read widely in primary sources like diaries and journals and letters.

Just for fun: Do you have any hobbies?

LORI_1

When I’m not home writing I love to get out into the mountains, take a hike along a river, enjoy our wonderful forests and mountain vistas. We try to do that on Sundays after church. Heading up to church is an excursion into the mountains too, as that’s where our fellowship is situated. As for hobbies, right now writing doesn’t leave time for them, though I wouldn’t mind getting back to my abandoned love of wildlife painting.

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

I’d just pick the 18th century purely for research purposes—if I could get back. Otherwise I really like living now, with the hope of Christ’s return so near.

What are you currently reading?

Remnants: Season of Fire by Lisa T. Bergren

Grace Intervention by Bill Giovannetti

A book on blacksmithing for research

Connect with Lori at her blog or on her Facebook author page.

Thank you so much, Lori, for taking to time to answer my questions! I look forward to seeing what’s next in this “Pathfinders” series. Also, a huge thank you to Lori and Waterbrook Multnomah for sharing an advance review copy of The Wood’s Edge with me.

Giveaway time!

To enter, leave a comment (with a valid email address) answering this question: What are you currently reading? Giveaway open to US residents only through 5/01/15. Winner will be contacted by email on 5/02. Good luck!

Family, a Film, & a French Apple Cake

Sometimes you have a family or culinary experience that’s just so delightful you wish it would last forever. In my case, it was a combination – an evening watching a movie followed by eating a yummy apple cake. It was so great I decided to blog about it 🙂

Last week, I enjoyed watching one of my absolute favorite movies The Ultimate Gift (2006) PosterThe Ultimate Gift (2006) – with my grandmother, aunt, and uncle. If you haven’t seen it, you MUST watch it immediately. It’s one of my go-to movies, the kind I love to watch or listen to any time. It is the perfect family movie with a message for everyone – one “take-away” is that life is a gift meant to be shared with others. Plus it has a great cast (Abigail Breslin, James Garner [one of my personal faves], and Drew Fuller).

So, back to my great evening. After watching this with my family, we devoured ate most of a DELICIOUS French Apple Cake with Almonds (Yes, I am a little biased because I baked it myself, but when my uncle wants seconds, you know it’s good). The recipe came from Hillary Manton Lodge’s fabulous novel A Table by the Window, which is full of recipes squeezed in between the chapters of the story (like Nutella mousse, pasta carbonara with leeks and lemon, pine nut couscous, and mini focaccia to name a few). The story alone was one I loved, but these recipes are a fantastic bonus. This apple cake was very moist and just sweet enough — and easy to make. It was the perfect end to an evening making memories and enjoying a movie with my family. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book, if only for the recipes.

By the way, Hillary is featured in August’s Book Fun Magazine with an interview and recipe for the Provencal Lavender and Honey Pound Cake from the novel.

French Apple Cake with Almonds (recipe by Hillary Lodge)

Here’s a pic of my cake. Doesn’t it make you want a piece?

 

Note: I did receive a free copy of this book from the publishers to review (Thank you!), but this post is just a “fun” one I wanted to share, not encouraged/required by the publishers.

Have you seen The Ultimate Gift? What did you think? What’s your family’s favorite movie?

I’d love to hear your comments – they don’t even have to stay on topic! 😉