Monday, May 31, 2010

Nancy Drew Challenge May Recap

The Nancy Drew Challenge is a reading challenge for 2010 for readers to attempt to read all 56 original yellow hardbacks that were in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. Click here for more information or to sign up for the challenge. At the end of each month, I will put up a post where participants of the challenge can recap how they did during that month.

May was a slow month for me and Nancy. I have the books from the library but due to going to BEA and doing a reading challenge AND finishing up papers and exams for school, Nancy was last on the list. I did read five of them this month and they were all interesting reads. I think I"m started to get into territory where I've either NEVER read these books before or at the least I've only read them two times or less. I hardly remembered any of these plots.

I KNEW there would be a good reason why I was reading all 56 books in order. The Hidden Window Mystery (no. 34) has almost the exact same opening as Nancy's Mysterious Letter (no. 8). In both books there's a mailman that falls down on the Drews' porch and loses almost all his mail (NML - they get stolen, HWM - the wind blows them away), there's a mystery in it for Nancy that comes through the mail, and there's a woman who blames the mailman for losing her mail. I found it interesting that the book took place in Charlottesville but there was not a single mention of UVA at all.

I found it hilarious that the Amish have even seeped their way into Nancy Drew books. Of course The Witch Tree symbol was written WAY before the latest Amish craze but I find it funny that I can't even escape them here. I don't think though the writer of the book had done a lot of research because there were many aspects of the Amish that were incorrect in the book.

Nancy's starting to travel more..as almost all the books I read this month did NOT take place in River Heights. Papa Drew must have a large income to pay for all her expenses.

How was Nancy Drew for you in May?

Book Review: "A Tailor-Made Bride" by Karen Witemeyer


Jericho "J.T." Tucker wants nothing to do with Coventry, Texas's new dressmaker. He's all too familiar with her kind—shallow women more devoted to fashion than true beauty. Yet, except for her well-tailored clothing, this seamstress is not at all what he expected.

Hannah Richards is confounded by the man who runs the livery. The unsmiling fellow riles her with his arrogant assumptions and gruff manner while at the same time stirring her heart with unexpected acts of kindness. Which side of Jericho Tucker reflects the real man?

When Hannah decides to help Jericho's sister catch a beau—leading to uproarious consequences for the whole town—will Jericho and Hannah find a way to bridge the gap between them?

It's always nice when a debut book from a new author becomes a pleasant surprise to read. I actually really enjoyed this read for several reasons. One of them was because I really liked the fashion discussions. Usually most historical fiction that takes place out west in the 1800s barely mention fashion because most of the women are pioneers who can't afford to dress in style or it's just plain impractical. This book however features someone who knows fashion style and is eager to share it with the rest of the women in town. Hannah is like the Carrie Bradshaw of the 1800s (minus the sex and the Cosmos) who is always up to the latest fashions.

JT did get on my nerves several times throughout the book because of his viewpoints but it was never so much that I had to stop reading. I could understand why he felt the way he did especially since it was due to someone who had been close to him. While his opinions did clash with Hannah, luckily he was willing to change and to learn from those who differed from him. Likewise, Hannah also did not act overbearing to those who didn't share her beliefs either. Between the two of them, they were likable characters because even though they both thought they were right, they wanted to learn from the other. I really like the cover of this book because it portrays their relationship exactly.

While there are religious references sprinkled throughout the book, I didn't feel them to be overly thrown in the reader's face. They are more used as a reference guide and to show the characters' way of thinking. I didn't feel it to be preachy at all. Overall the story is written very well and it does a good job about blending historical situations with the storyline. There's subtle humor mixed in the story as well and it fits right in. This is the author's first novel and I am very impressed by it. I will be looking forward to more books from her in the future.

A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer is published by Bethany House (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with FIRST Wild Card Tours

Here is the FIRST chapter:

Prologue

San Antonio, Texas—March 1881
“Red? Have you no shame, Auntie Vic? You can’t be buried in a scarlet gown.”

“It’s cerise, Nan.”

Hannah Richards bit back a laugh as Victoria Ashmont effectively put her nephew’s wife in her place with three little words. Trying hard to appear as if she wasn’t listening to her client’s conversation, Hannah pulled the last pin from between her lips and slid it into the hem of the controversial fabric.

“Must you flout convention to the very end?” Nan’s whine heightened to a near screech as she stomped toward the door. A delicate sniff followed by a tiny hiccup foreshadowed the coming of tears. “Sherman and I will be the ones to pay the price. You’ll make us a laughingstock among our friends. But then, you’ve never cared for anyone except yourself, have you?”

Miss Victoria pivoted with impressive speed, the cane she used for balance nearly clobbering Hannah in the head as she spun.

“You may have my nephew wrapped around your little finger, but don’t think you can manipulate me with your theatrics.” Like an angry goddess from the Greek myths, Victoria Ashmont held her chin at a regal angle and pointed her aged hand toward the woman who dared challenge her. Hannah almost expected a lightning bolt to shoot from her finger to disintegrate Nan where she stood.

“You’ve been circling like a vulture since the day Dr. Bowman declared my heart to be failing, taking over the running of my household and plotting how to spend Sherman’s inheritance. Well, you won’t be controlling me, missy. I’ll wear what I choose, when I choose, whether or not you approve. And if your friends have nothing better to do at a funeral than snicker about your great aunt’s attire, perhaps you’d do well to find some companions with a little more depth of character.”

Nan’s affronted gasp echoed through the room like the crack of a mule skinner’s whip.

“Don’t worry, dear,” Miss Victoria called out as her niece yanked open the bedchamber door. “You’ll have my money to console you. I’m sure you’ll recover from any embarrassment I cause in the blink of an eye.”

The door slammed shut, and the resulting bang appeared to knock the starch right out of Miss Victoria. She wobbled, and Hannah lurched to her feet to steady the elderly lady.

“Here, ma’am. Why don’t you rest for a minute?” Hannah gripped her client’s arm and led her to the fainting couch at the foot of the large four-poster bed that dominated the room. “Would you like me to ring for some tea?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, girl. I’m not so infirm that a verbal skirmish leaves me in want of fortification. I just need to catch my breath.”

Hannah nodded, not about to argue. She gathered her sewing box instead, collecting her shears, pins, and needle case from where they lay upon the thick tapestry carpet.

She had sewn for Miss Victoria for the last eighteen months, and it disturbed her to see the woman reduced to tremors and pallor so easily. The eccentric spinster never shied from a fight and always kept her razor-sharp tongue at the ready.

Hannah had felt the lash of that tongue herself on several occasions, but she’d developed a thick skin over the years. A woman making her own way in the world had to toughen up quickly or get squashed. Perhaps that was why she respected Victoria Ashmont enough to brave her scathing comments time after time. The woman had been living life on her own terms for years and had done well for herself in the process. True, she’d had money and the power of the Ashmont name to lend her support, but from all public reports—and a few overheard conversations—it was clear Victoria Ashmont’s fortune had steadily grown during her tenure as head of the family, not dwindled, which was more than many men could say. Hannah liked to think that, given half a chance, she’d be able to duplicate the woman’s success. At least to a modest degree.

“How long have you worked for Mrs. Granbury, Miss Richards?”

Hannah jumped at the barked question and scurried back to Miss Victoria’s side, her sewing box tucked under her arm. “Nearly two years, ma’am.”

“Hmmph.” The woman’s cane rapped three staccato beats against the leg of the couch before she continued. “I nagged that woman for years to hire some girls with gumption. I was pleased when she finally took my advice. Your predecessors failed to last more than a month or two with me. Either I didn’t approve of their workmanship, or they couldn’t stand up to my plain speaking. It’s a dratted nuisance having to explain my preferences over and over to new girls every time I need something made up. I’ve not missed that chore.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Hannah’s forehead scrunched. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought Victoria Ashmont might have just paid her a compliment.

“Have you ever thought of opening your own shop?”

Hannah’s gaze flew to her client’s face. Miss Victoria’s slate gray eyes assessed her, probing, drilling into her core, as if she meant to rip the truth from her with or without her consent.

Ducking away from the penetrating stare, Hannah fiddled with the sewing box. “Mrs. Granbury has been good to me, and I’ve been fortunate enough to set some of my earnings aside. It will be several years yet, but one day I do hope to set up my own establishment.”

“Good. Now help me get out of this dress.”

Dizzy from the abrupt starts, stops, and turns of the strange conversation, Hannah kept her mouth closed and assisted Miss Victoria. She unfastened the brightly colored silk, careful not to snag the pins on either the delicate material of the gown or on Miss Victoria’s stockings. Once the dress had been safely removed, she set it aside and helped the woman don a loose-fitting wrapper.

“I’m anxious to have these details put in order,” Miss Victoria said as she took a seat at the ladies’ writing desk along the east wall. “I will pay you a bonus if you will stay here and finish the garment for me before you leave. You may use the chair in the corner.” She gestured toward a small upholstered rocker that sat angled toward the desk.

Hannah’s throat constricted. Her mind scrambled for a polite refusal, yet she found no excuse valid enough to withstand Miss Victoria’s scrutiny. Left with no choice, she swallowed her misgivings and forced the appropriate reply past her lips.

“As you wish.”

Masking her disappointment, Hannah set her box of supplies on the floor near the chair Miss Victoria had indicated and turned to fetch the dress.

She disliked sewing in front of clients. Though her tiny boardinghouse room was dim and lacked the comforts afforded in Miss Victoria’s mansion, the solitude saved her from suffering endless questions and suggestions while she worked.

Hannah drew in a deep breath. I might as well make the best of it. No use dwelling on what couldn’t be changed. It was just a hem and few darts to compensate for her client’s recent weight loss. She could finish the task in less than an hour.

Miss Victoria proved gracious. She busied herself with papers of some kind at her desk and didn’t interfere with Hannah’s work. She did keep up a healthy stream of chatter, though.

“You probably think me morbid for finalizing all my funeral details in advance.” Miss Victoria lifted the lid of a small silver case and extracted a pair of eyeglasses. She wedged them onto her nose and began leafing through a stack of documents in a large oak box.

Hannah turned back to her stitching. “Not morbid, ma’am. Just . . . efficient.”

“Hmmph. Truth is, I know I’m dying, and I’d rather go out in a memorable fashion than slip away quietly, never to be thought of again.”

“I’m sure your nephew will remember you.” Hannah glanced up as she twisted the dress to allow her better access to the next section of hem.

“Sherman? Bah! That boy would forget his own name if given half a chance.” Miss Victoria pulled a document out of the box. She set it in front of her, then dragged her inkstand close and unscrewed the cap. “I’ve got half a mind to donate my estate to charity instead of letting it sift through my nephew’s fingers. He and that flighty wife of his will surely do nothing of value with it.” A heavy sigh escaped her. “But they are family, after all, and I suppose I’ll no longer care about how the money is spent after I’m gone.”

Hannah poked her needle up and back through the red silk in rapid succession, focused on making each stitch even and straight. It wasn’t her place to offer advice, but it burned on her tongue nonetheless. Any church or charitable organization in the city could do a great amount of good with even a fraction of the Ashmont estate. Miss Victoria could make several small donations without her nephew ever knowing the difference. Hannah pressed her lips together and continued weaving her needle in and out, keeping her unsolicited opinion to herself.

She was relieved when a soft tapping at the door saved her from having to come up with an appropriate response.

A young maid entered and bobbed a curtsy. “The post has arrived, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Millie.” Miss Victoria accepted the envelope. “You may go.”

The sound of paper ripping echoed in the quiet room as Miss Victoria slid her letter opener through the upper edge of the flap.

“Well, I must give the gentleman credit for persistence,” the older woman murmured. “This is the third letter he’s sent in two months.”

Hannah turned the dress again and bent her head a little closer to her task, hoping to escape Miss Victoria’s notice. It was not to be. The older woman’s voice only grew louder and more pointed as she continued.

“He wants to buy one of my railroad properties.”

Hannah made the mistake of looking up. Miss Victoria’s eyes, magnified by the lenses she wore, demanded a response. Yet how did a working-class seamstress participate in a conversation of a personal nature with one so above her station? She didn’t want to offend by appearing uninterested. However, showing too keen an interest might come across as presumptuous. Hannah floundered to find a suitably innocuous response and finally settled on, “Oh?”

It seemed to be enough, and Miss Victoria turned back to her correspondence as she continued her ramblings.

“When the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway out of Galveston started up construction again last year, I invested in a handful of properties along the proposed route, in towns that were already established. I’ve made a tidy profit on most, but for some reason, I find myself reluctant to part with this one.”

An expectant pause hung in the air. Keeping her eyes on her work, Hannah voiced the first thought that came to mind.

“Does the gentleman not make a fair offer?”

“No, Mr. Tucker proposes a respectable price.” Miss Victoria tapped the handle of the letter opener against the desktop in a rhythmic pattern, then seemed to become aware of what she was doing and set it aside. “Perhaps I am reticent because I do not know the man personally. He is in good standing with the bank in Coventry and by all accounts is respected in the community, yet in the past I’ve made my decision to sell after meeting with the buyer in person. Unfortunately, my health precludes that now.”

“Coventry?” Hannah seized upon the less personal topic. “I’m not familiar with that town.”

“That’s because it’s about two hundred miles north of here—and it is quite small. The surveyors tell me it’s in a pretty little spot along the North Bosque River. I had hoped to visit, but it looks as if I won’t be afforded that opportunity.”

Hannah tied off her thread and snipped the tail. She reached for her spool and unwound another long section, thankful that the discussion had finally moved in a more neutral direction. She clipped the end of the thread and held the needle up to gauge the position of the eye.

“What do you think, Miss Richards? Should I sell it to him?”

The needle slipped out of her hand.

“You’re asking me?”

“Is there another Miss Richards in the room? Of course I’m asking you.” She clicked her tongue in disappointment. “Goodness, girl. I’ve always thought you to be an intelligent sort. Have I been wrong all this time?”

That rankled. Hannah sat a little straighter and lifted her chin. “No, ma’am.”

“Good.” Miss Victoria slapped her palm against the desk. “Now, tell me what you think.”

If the woman was determined to have her speak her mind, Hannah would oblige. This was the last project she’d ever sew for the woman anyway. It couldn’t hurt. The only problem was, she’d worked so hard not to form an opinion during this exchange, that now that she was asked for one, she had none to give. Trying not to let the silence rush her into saying something that would indeed prove her lacking in intellect, she scrambled to gather her thoughts while she searched for the dropped needle.

“It seems to me,” she said, uncovering the needle along with a speck of insight, “you need to decide if you would rather have the property go to a man you know only by reputation or to the nephew you know through experience.” Hannah lifted her gaze to meet Miss Victoria’s and held firm, not allowing the woman’s critical stare to cow her. “Which scenario gives you the greatest likelihood of leaving behind the legacy you desire?”

Victoria Ashmont considered her for several moments, her eyes piercing Hannah and bringing to mind the staring contests the school boys used to challenge her to when she was still in braids. The memory triggered her competitive nature, and a stubborn determination to win rose within her.

At last, Miss Victoria nodded and turned away. “Thank you, Miss Richards. I think I have my answer.”

Exultation flashed through her for a brief second at her victory, but self-recrimination soon followed. This wasn’t a schoolyard game. It was an aging woman’s search to create meaning in her death.

“Forgive my boldness, ma’am.”

Her client turned back and wagged a bony finger at Hannah. “Boldness is exactly what you need to run your own business, girl. Boldness, skill, and a lot of hard work. When you get that shop of yours, hardships are sure to find their way to your doorstep. Confidence is the only way to combat them—confidence in yourself and in the God who equips you to overcome. Never forget that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Feeling chastised and oddly encouraged at the same time, Hannah threaded her needle and returned to work. The scratching of pen against paper replaced the chatter of Miss Victoria’s voice as the woman gave her full attention to the documents spread across her desk. Time passed swiftly, and soon the alterations were complete.

After trying the gown on a second time to assure a proper fit and examining every seam for quality and durability, as was her custom, Victoria Ashmont ushered Hannah down to the front hall.

“My man will see you home, Miss Richards.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Hannah collected her bonnet from the butler and tied the ribbons beneath her chin.

“I will settle my account with Mrs. Granbury by the end of the week, but here is the bonus I promised you.” She held out a plain white envelope.

Hannah accepted it and placed it carefully in her reticule. She dipped her head and made a quick curtsy. “Thank you. I have enjoyed the privilege of working for you, ma’am, and I pray that your health improves so that I might do so again.”

A strange light came into Miss Victoria’s eyes, a secretive gleam, as if she could see into the future. “You have better things to do than make outlandish red dresses for old women, Miss Richards. Don’t waste your energy worrying over my health. I’ll go when it’s my time and not a moment before.”

Hannah smiled as she stepped out the door, sure that not even the angels could drag Miss Victoria away until she was ready to go. Yet underneath the woman’s tough exterior beat a kind heart. Although Hannah didn’t fully understand how kind until she arrived home and opened her bonus envelope.

Instead of the two or three greenbacks she had assumed were tucked inside, she found a gift that stole her breath and her balance. She slumped against the boardinghouse wall and slid down its blue-papered length into a trembling heap on the floor. She blinked several times, but the writing on the paper didn’t change, only blurred as tears welled and distorted her vision.

She held in her hand the deed to her new dress shop in Coventry, Texas.




Chapter One

Coventry, Texas—September 1881
“J.T.! J.T.! I got a customer for ya.” Tom Packard lumbered down the street with his distinctive uneven gait, waving his arm in the air.

Jericho “J.T.” Tucker stepped out of the livery’s office with a sigh and waited for his right-hand man to jog past the blacksmith and bootmaker shops. He’d lost count of how many times he’d reminded Tom not to yell out his business for everyone to hear, but social niceties tended to slip the boy’s notice when he got excited.

It wasn’t his fault, though. At eighteen, Tom had the body of a man, but his mind hadn’t developed quite as far. He couldn’t read a lick and could barely pen his own name, but he had a gentle way with horses, so J.T. let him hang around the stable and paid him to help out with the chores. In gratitude, the boy did everything in his power to prove himself worthy, including trying to drum up clientele from among the railroad passengers who unloaded at the station a mile south of town. After weeks without so much as a nibble, it seemed the kid had finally managed to hook himself a fish.

J.T. leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and slid a toothpick out of his shirt pocket. He clamped the wooden sliver between his teeth and kept his face void of expression save for a single raised brow as Tom stumbled to a halt in front of him. The kid grasped his knees and gulped air for a moment, then unfolded to his full height, which was nearly as tall as his employer. His cheeks, flushed from his exertions, darkened further when he met J.T.’s eye.

“I done forgot about the yelling again, huh? Sorry.” Tom slumped, his chin bending toward his chest.

J.T. gripped the kid’s shoulder, straightened him up, and slapped him on the back. “You’ll remember next time. Now, what’s this about a customer?”

Tom brightened in an instant. “I gots us a good one. She’s right purty and has more boxes and gewgaws than I ever did see. I ’spect there’s enough to fill up the General.”

“The General, huh?” J.T. rubbed his jaw and used the motion to cover his grin.

Tom had names for all the wagons. Fancy Pants was the fringed surrey J.T. kept on hand for family outings or courting couples; the buggy’s name was Doc after the man who rented it out most frequently; the buckboard was just plain Buck; and his freight wagon was affectionately dubbed The General. The kid’s monikers inspired a heap of good-natured ribbing amongst the men who gathered at the livery to swap stories and escape their womenfolk, but over time the names stuck. Just last week, Alistair Smythe plopped down a silver dollar and demanded he be allowed to take Fancy Pants out for a drive. Hearing the pretentious bank clerk use Tom’s nickname for the surrey left the fellas guffawing for days.

J.T. thrust the memory from his mind and crossed his arms over his chest, using his tongue to shift the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “The buckboard is easier to get to. I reckon it’d do the job just as well.”

“I dunno.” Tom mimicked J.T.’s posture, crossing his own arms and leaning against the livery wall. “She said her stuff was mighty heavy and she’d pay extra to have it unloaded at her shop.”

“Shop?” J.T.’s good humor shriveled. His arms fell to his sides as his gaze slid past Tom to the vacant building across the street. The only unoccupied shop in Coventry stood adjacent to Louisa James’s laundry—the shop he’d tried, and failed, to purchase. J.T.’s jaw clenched so tight the toothpick started to splinter. Forcing himself to relax, he straightened away from the doorpost.

“I think she’s a dressmaker,” Tom said. “There were a bunch of them dummies with no heads or arms with her on the platform. Looked right peculiar, them all standin’ around her like they’s gonna start a quiltin’ bee or something.” The kid chuckled at his own joke, but J.T. didn’t join in his amusement.

A dressmaker? A woman who made her living by exploiting the vanity of her customers? That’s who was moving into his shop?

A sick sensation oozed like molasses through his gut as memories clawed over the wall he’d erected to keep them contained.

“So we gonna get the General, J.T.?”

Tom’s question jerked him back to the present and allowed him to stuff the unpleasant thoughts back down where they belonged. He loosened his fingers from the fist he didn’t remember making and adjusted his hat to sit lower on his forehead, covering his eyes. It wouldn’t do for the kid to see the anger that surely lurked there. He’d probably go and make some fool assumption that he’d done something wrong. Or worse, he’d ask questions J.T. didn’t want to answer.

He cleared his throat and clasped the kid’s shoulder. “If you think we need the freight wagon, then we’ll get the freight wagon. Why don’t you harness up the grays then come help me wrangle the General?”

“Yes, sir!” Tom bounded off to the corral to gather the horses, his chest so inflated with pride J.T. was amazed he could see where he was going.

Ducking back inside the livery, J.T. closed up his office and strode past the stalls to the oversized double doors that opened his wagon shed up to the street. He grasped the handle of the first and rolled it backward, using his body weight as leverage. As his muscles strained against the heavy wooden door, his mind struggled to control his rising frustration.

He’d finally accepted the fact that the owner of the shop across the street refused to sell to him. J.T. believed in Providence, that the Lord would direct his steps. He didn’t like it, but he’d worked his way to peace with the decision. Until a few minutes ago. The idea that God would allow it to go to a dressmaker really stuck in his craw.

It wasn’t as if he wanted the shop for selfish reasons. He saw it as a chance to help out a widow and her orphans. Isn’t that what the Bible defined as “pure religion”? What could be nobler than that? Louisa James supported three kids with her laundry business and barely eked out an existence. The building she worked in was crumbling around her ears even though the majority of her income went to pay the rent. He’d planned to buy the adjacent shop and rent it to her at half the price she was currently paying in exchange for storing some of his tack in the large back room.

J.T. squinted against the afternoon sunlight that streamed into the dim stable and strode to the opposite side of the entrance, his indignation growing with every step. Ignoring the handle, he slammed his shoulder into the second door and ground his teeth as he dug his boots into the packed dirt floor, forcing the wood to yield to his will.

How could a bunch of fripperies and ruffles do more to serve the community than a new roof for a family in need? Most of the women in and around Coventry sewed their own clothes, and those that didn’t bought ready-made duds through the dry-goods store or mail order. Sensible clothes, durable clothes, not fashion-plate items that stroked their vanity or elicited covetous desires in their hearts for things they couldn’t afford. A dressmaker had no place in Coventry.

This can’t be God’s will. The world and its schemers had brought her to town, not God.

Horse hooves thudded and harness jangled as Tom led the grays toward the front of the livery.

J.T. blew out a breath and rubbed a hand along his jaw. No matter what had brought her to Coventry, the dressmaker was still a woman, and his father had drummed into him the truth that all women were to be treated with courtesy and respect. So he’d smile and doff his hat and make polite conversation. Shoot, he’d even lug her heavy junk around for her and unload all her falderal. But once she was out of his wagon, he’d have nothing more to do with her.

———

Hannah sat atop one of her five trunks, waiting for young Tom to return. Most of the other passengers had left the depot already, making their way on foot or in wagons with family members who'd come to meet them. Hannah wasn’t about to let her belongings out of her sight, though—or trust them to a porter she didn’t know. So she waited.

Thanks to Victoria Ashmont’s generosity, she’d been able to use the money she’d saved for a shop to buy fabric and supplies. Not knowing what would be available in the small town of Coventry, she brought everything she needed with her. Including her prized possession—a Singer Improved Family Model 15 treadle machine with five-drawer walnut cabinet and extension leaf. The monster weighed nearly as much as the locomotive that brought her here, but it was a thing of beauty, and she intended to make certain it arrived at the shop without incident.

Her toes tapped against the wooden platform. Only a mile of dusty road stood between her and her dream. Yet the final minutes of waiting felt longer than the hours, even years, that preceded them. Could she really run her own business, or would Miss Ashmont’s belief in her prove misplaced? A tingle of apprehension tiptoed over Hannah’s spine. What if the women of Coventry had no need of a dressmaker? What if they didn’t like her designs? What if . . .

Hannah surged to her feet and began to pace. Miss Ashmont had directed her to be bold. Bold and self-confident. Oh, and confident in God. Hannah paused. Her gaze slid to the bushy hills rising around her like ocean swells. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” The psalm seeped into her soul, bringing a measure of assurance with it. God had led her here. He would provide.

She resumed her pacing, anticipation building as fear receded. On her sixth lap around her mound of luggage, the creak of wagon wheels brought her to a halt.

A conveyance drew near, and Hannah’s pulse vaulted into a new pace. Young Tom wasn’t driving. Another man with a worn brown felt hat pulled low over his eyes sat on the bench. It must be that J.T. person Tom had rambled on about. Well, it didn’t matter who was driving, as long as he had the strength to maneuver her sewing machine without dropping it.

A figure in the back of the wagon waved a cheerful greeting, and the movement caught Hannah’s eye. She waved back, glad to see Tom had returned as well. Two men working together would have a much easier time of it.

The liveryman pulled the horses to a halt and set the brake. Masculine grace exuded from him as he climbed down and made his way to the platform. His long stride projected confidence, a vivid contrast to Tom’s childish gamboling behind him. Judging by the breadth of his shoulders and the way the blue cotton of his shirt stretched across the expanse of his chest and arms, this man would have no trouble moving her sewing cabinet.

Tom dashed ahead of the newcomer and swiped the gray slouch hat from his head. Tufts of his dark blond hair stuck out at odd angles, but his eyes sparkled with warmth. “I got the General, ma’am. We’ll get you fixed up in a jiffy.” Not wasting a minute, he slapped his hat back on and moved past her.

Hannah’s gaze roamed to the man waiting a few steps away. He didn’t look much like a general. No military uniform. Instead he sported scuffed boots and denims that were wearing thin at the knees. The tip of a toothpick protruded from his lips, wiggling a little as he gnawed on it. Perhaps General was a nickname of sorts. He hadn’t spoken a word, yet there was something about his carriage and posture that gave him an air of authority.

She straightened her shoulders in response and closed the distance between them. Still giddy about starting up her shop, she couldn’t resist the urge to tease the stoic man who held himself apart.

“Thank you for assisting me today, General.” She smiled up at him as she drew near, finally able to see more than just his jaw. He had lovely amber eyes, although they were a bit cold. “Should I salute or something?”

His right brow arced upward. Then a tiny twitch at the corner of his mouth told her he’d caught on.

“I’m afraid I’m a civilian through and through, ma’am.” He tilted his head in the direction of the wagon. “That’s the General. Tom likes to name things.”

Hannah gave a little laugh. “I see. Well, I’m glad to have you both lending me a hand. I’m Hannah Richards.”

The man tweaked the brim of his hat. “J.T. Tucker.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Tucker.”

He dipped his chin in a small nod. Not a very demonstrative fellow. Nor very talkative.

“Lay those things down, Tom,” he called out as he stepped away. “We don’t want them to tip over the side if we hit a rut.”

“Oh. Wait just a minute, please.” There was no telling what foul things had been carted around in that wagon bed before today. It didn’t matter so much for her trunks and sewing cabinet, but the linen covering her mannequins would be easily soiled.

“I have an old quilt that I wrapped around them in the railroad freight car. Let me fetch it.”

Hannah sensed more than heard Mr. Tucker’s sigh as she hurried to collect the quilt from the trunk she had been sitting on. Well, he could sigh all he liked. Her display dummies were going to be covered. She had one chance to make a first impression on the ladies of Coventry, and she vowed it would be a pristine one.

Making a point not to look at the liveryman as she scurried by, Hannah clutched the quilt to her chest and headed for the wagon. She draped it over the side, then climbed the spokes and hopped into the back, just as she had done as a child. Then she laid out the quilt along the back wall and gently piled the six dummies horizontally atop it, alternating the placement of the tripod pedestals to allow them to fit together in a more compact fashion. As she flipped the remaining fabric of the quilt over the pile, a loud thud sounded from behind, and the wagon jostled her. She gasped and teetered to the side. Glancing over her shoulder, she caught sight of Mr. Tucker as he shoved the first of her trunks into the wagon bed, its iron bottom scraping against the wooden floor.

The man could have warned her of his presence instead of scaring the wits out of her like that. But taking him to task would only make her look like a shrew, so she ignored him. When Tom arrived with the second trunk, she was ready. After he set it down, she moved to the end of the wagon.

“Would you help me down, please?”

He grinned up at her. “Sure thing.”

Hannah set her hands on his shoulders as he clasped her waist and lifted her down. A tiny voice of regret chided her for not asking the favor of the rugged Mr. Tucker, but she squelched it. Tom was a safer choice. Besides, his affable manner put her at ease—unlike his companion, who from one minute to the next alternated between sparking her interest and her ire.

She bit back her admonishments to take care as the men hefted her sewing machine. Thankfully, they managed to accomplish the task without her guidance. With the large cabinet secured in the wagon bed, it didn’t take long for them to load the rest of her belongings. Once they finished, Tom handed her up to the bench seat, then scrambled into the back, leaving her alone with Mr. Tucker.

A cool autumn breeze caressed her cheeks and tugged lightly on her bonnet as the wagon rolled forward. She smoothed her skirts, not sure what to say to the reticent man beside her. However, he surprised her by starting the conversation on his own.

“What made you choose Coventry, Miss Richards?”

She twisted on the seat to look at him, but his eyes remained focused on the road.

“I guess you could say it chose me.”

“How so?”

“It was really a most extraordinary sequence of events. I do not doubt that the Lord’s Providence brought me here.”

That got a reaction. His chin swiveled toward her, and beneath his hat, his intense gaze speared her for a handful of seconds before he blinked and turned away.

She swallowed the moisture that had accumulated under her tongue as he stared at her, then continued.

“Two years ago, I was hired by Mrs. Granbury of San Antonio to sew for her most particular clientele. One of these clients was an elderly spinster with a reputation for being impossible to work with. Well, I needed the job too badly to allow her to scare me away and was too stubborn to let her get the best of me, so I stuck it out and eventually the two of us found a way to coexist and even respect each other.

“Before she died, she called me in to make a final gown for her, and we fell to talking about her legacy. She had invested in several railroad properties, and had only one left that had not sold. In an act of generosity that I still find hard to believe, she gave me the deed as a gift, knowing that I had always dreamed of opening my own shop.”

“What kept her from selling it before then?” His deep voice rumbled with something more pointed than simple curiosity.

A prickle of unease wiggled down Hannah’s neck, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint the cause.

“She told me that she preferred to meet the buyers in person, to assess their character before selling off her properties. Unfortunately, her health had begun to decline, and she was unable to travel. There had been a gentleman of good reputation from this area who made an offer several times. A Mr. Tuck…”

A hard lump of dread formed in the back of Hannah’s throat.

“Oh dear. Don’t tell me you’re that Mr. Tucker?”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Matter of Character by Robin Lee Hatcher

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

A Matter Of Character

Zondervan (May 25, 2010)

by

Robin Lee Hatcher



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robin Lee Hatcher discovered her vocation as a novelist after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. The winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction (Whispers from Yesterday), the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance (Patterns of Love and The Shepherd's Voice), two RT Career Achievement Awards (Americana Romance and Inspirational Fiction), and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin is the author of over 50 novels, including Catching Katie, named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal.

Robin enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. She is passionate about the theater, and several nights every summer, she can be found at the outdoor amphitheater of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, enjoying Shakespeare under the stars. She makes her home outside of Boise, sharing it with Poppet the high-maintenance Papillon

ABOUT THE BOOK

It's 1918, and Daphne McKinley, heiress to a small fortune, has found contentment in the town of Bethlehem Springs, Idaho. But Daphne has a secret.

A series of dime novels loosely based on local lore and featuring a nefarious villain known as Rawhide Rick has enjoyed modest popularity among readers. Nobody in Bethlehem Springs knows the man behind the stories ... except Daphne.

When newspaperman Joshua Crawford comes to town searching for the man who sullied the good name of his grandfather, Daphne finds herself at a crossroads, reassessing the power of her words, re-thinking how best to honor her gifts, and reconsidering what she wants out of life.

Robin is conducting a contest for the new book. Join in the fun HERE.

If you would like to read the Prologue and first Chapter of A Matter Of Character, go HERE.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: "Amber Morn" by Brandilyn Collins

In book four of the Kanner Lake Series, a Saturday morning celebration at Java Joint coffee shop for the "Scenes and Beans" bloggers turns into terror when three gunmen burst into the coffee shop, shoot one person, and hold the rest hostage. Their demand: world attention. The stakes: the lives of over a dozen Kanner Lake citizens.

This was my favorite book of the series. I felt that it had all the right elements of a suspense novel. There was just enough suspense and action with the right amount of scare factor without being over dramatic or unbelievable. I really liked the inclusion of the blog in this book. It was very unique to bring it into the story because the gunmen didn't really know how it worked. Therefore even in times of great suspense there was humor because of general bafflement on both sides.

The strength of the novel for me was the inclusion of all the characters that have been featured throughout the series. To some, this might be overwhelming but if you can keep track, it's wonderful to see everyone included. No one gets left out as each character gets their point of view shown. The situation with the gunmen and hostages is something that's taken right from the headlines. Therefore I felt that it was the most realistic situation out of all the other books in the series. I felt really drawn into the story and could connect with everyone. I found myself getting frustrated with the gunmen but only because I didn't have all the details. It was very nerve wracking reading the book!

This is a Christian suspense novel but I didn't feel this book, as the same with the other books in the series, to be preachy at all. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I personally thought it was the best book of the series. I really liked seeing the entire Kanner Lake gang together. Everyone is really close and seeing them having to depend on each other in a time of great need was very moving. As this is the fourth book, I would recommend reading the other three books in the series first. This is because this book is about the townspeople and to fully understand them you need to read the other books to get a feel of their characters. I'm sad that this is the last book but I felt that Collins gave the town and the characters a fitting end. Hopefully one day a return will happen in the near future.

Amber Morn by Brandilyn Collins is published by Zondervan (2008)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: "Almost Forever" by Deborah Raney

Bryn Hennesey, a volunteer at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter, was there the night the shelter burned to the ground and five heroic firefighters died at the scene. Among them was her husband, Adam. Like the rest of the surviving spouses, Bryn must find a way to begin again. But Bryn must do so living with a horrible secret.…

Garrett Edmonds’s wife, Molly, was the only female firefighter to perish in the blaze. As her husband, it was his job to protect the woman he loved.… How can he go on in the face of such unbearable loss and guilt?

And what started the fire that destroyed the dreams and futures of so many? Investigators are stumped. But someone knows the answer….

What would you do if you found out that you were the reason why something bad happened? Would you be able to own up to it, knowing that forever your life was going to change possibly negative for the rest of your life? Or would you hide it and hope that you could get away with it? That is the dilemma Bryn faces in this book as she goes through the hardest decision that will affect her life.

The beginning of this book is heart wrenching as the reader is introduced to Bryn and her life as a volunteer in a homeless shelter. Her peaceful night is abruptly interrupted when the building catches on fire, a fire so deadly that it takes the lives of five firefighters who came to put it out. This includes Bryn's own husband and the wife of elementary school teacher Garrett. Due to their unique circumstances, the two find themselves drawn together as they cope and mourn at the same time.

The lives of firefighters and their families were shown in great detail in this book. Firefighters are really close and it doesn't matter what their gender is, they are one unit. I really liked how Garrett's wife was not portrayed any different from the other firefighters just because she was a woman. I also enjoyed learning about the shelter. It was really amazing how she did this strictly as a volunteer and not getting funding for all her work.

While I enjoyed the book, there was also some things I didn't like about it. I just never really got the chemistry between Bryn and Garrett. I understand why they felt a closeness with each other but honestly I thought it was just too soon for them to be getting together. Also I got a little bit annoyed with Bryn's refusal to get a lawyer or even listen to one. I understand why she felt she had to do what she needed to do but it was just annoying to read her constant refusal. Overall, though I did enjoy the book. Raney has always done an excellent job with telling stories and this one is no exception. I'll be looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Almost Forever by Deborah Raney is published by Howard (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with Glass Road Public Relations

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: "Lumby's Bounty" by Gail Fraser

Tucked into the foothills of the Rockies lies the charming village of Lumby, where quirky but tolerant townsfolk usually make the best of any situation. Not a week goes by without some humorous mayhem occurring under the watchful eyes of the mayor, sheriff, and, of course, the town mascot, Hank, a pink flamingo who thinks he's a bald eagle...

How Lumby has come to host a hot air balloon festival is a long story, but the town's residents are jumping right into preparations. But in the Lumby tradition, it won't all be blue skies and smooth sailing...

Oh Lumby, how I wish you really existed. If you did, I would be booking my next vacation over there. I would love to have been part of the balloon competition and watch the festival come to life in the town. These books bring a sense of peace, calm and tranquility that help you to escape the troubles and business of life around you.

The characters, as always, are the key to the success to the novel. Regulars Mark and Pam are still working on the perfection of their inn. This includes a hilarious bit involving a tractor that they did not intend on owning. Two new characters are introduced as Indonesian visitors who have come to study with the monks. I was very pleased that they were portrayed with no stereotypes whatsoever. One character I found very intriguing was the mayor's wife Hannah. She had felt that her husband still did not know her even after all their years of marriage. Their story pops up every now and then in the story but I felt really connected to her. I would have liked a bit more from them as I felt very sorry for her not being able to express herself properly and her husband being rather clueless.

The only small qualm I had was that I didn't feel that Brian and his friend got enough punishment for what they did to the town. Sure everything ended up alright in the end but I think the boys just got lucky on that. Personally I felt that they need stricter punishment as they seem to get into trouble in every book and in this one he does some serious things like forge signatures and pretend to be government officials. He also lies a lot. Hopefully by the next few books Brian will have grown up and mature enough to know not to do things like this again.

The book contains all the small town charm from the previous books such as the hilarious sheriff reports and the Lumby Reader at the end of the book. More delish recipes are included as well as heirloom information and an interview with the author's husband who is the cover artist of all the books in the series. As I've said before, I have really enjoyed this series and this book is another wonderful addition to it. I'm looking forward to my next visit to Lumby.

Lumby's Bounty by Gail Fraser is published by NAL Trade (2008)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: "Brilliant" by Rachel Vail

Quinn Avery can handle change. It's just paint, right? Bright, blinding white paint covering her once dazzling red bedroom walls. Quinn knows she shouldn't be angry at her mom—she's doing what she must to sell the house—but still, Quinn is beyond mad, and she doesn't know what to do about it. Until now, Quinn was doing a pretty good job at pretending to be her old self—calm and brilliant Avery daughter, responsible big sister to Allison and Phoebe, piano virtuoso, girl who makes everyone proud—but without the sanctuary of her room, a new, wild Quinn is emerging. Lying, sneaking out, partying, Quinn is practically asking to get caught. When Quinn adds kissing the wrong boys—including her sister's boyfriend and her own piano teacher—to her list of crimes, has she gone too far to save herself?

Due to being part of a three girl family, I always look forward to reading books that focus on families involving three sisters. I have been especially looking to this story as it focuses on the eldest daughter, which being one myself I always can relate too. This book was a nice step back into realism as the second book in the series, which focused on Allison, involved some situations that could be as fantasy.


While I enjoyed the book, I was a bit disappointed at how Quinn was portray
ed in this book. I guess after reading the first two books in the series that were from the younger sisters' POVs, I just assumed that Quinn was more mature and older than what she really was. I'm not sure if it's because that's how her sisters viewed her and that's just how she came across because it was through their eyes. It wasn't anything that was traumatic but I just thought that she would have handled things differently.
I was glad to finally find out what exactly the girls' mother had done to the company. The other books kept giving hints but we never knew what it was until now. I can't say that I agreed with everything that the family did but it was obvious that they do love each other and a close family.

I really have loved the covers of the books of this series and Brilliant is another beautiful one. I don't even like the shoes but they look absolutely lovely on the cover. The colors just pop out at you and the simplicity of the cover really makes a statement. As I stated, this is the third book in the series about the Avery sisters. While this book could be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading the first two books in the series to get a better understanding of the entire Avery family. Knowing what happened before is crucial to understanding why Quinn acts the way she does in this book. Overall, I enjoyed her story and I'm sad that the series is ending. This isn't fluffy teen chick lit yet it's not hard core intense stuff. It's a great blend that YA readers will enjoy.

Brilliant by Rachel Vail is published by HarperTeen (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Frenzy by Robert Liparulo

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Frenzy

Thomas Nelson (May 18, 2010)

by

Robert Liparulo



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His first novel, Comes a Horseman, released to critical acclaim. Each of his subsequent thrillers—Germ, Deadfall, and Deadlock—secured his place as one of today’s most popular and daring thriller writers.

He is known for investing deep research and chillingly accurate predictions of near-future scenarios into his stories. In fact, his thorough, journalistic approach to research has resulted in his becoming an expert on the various topics he explores in his fiction, and he has appeared on such media outlets as CNN and ABC Radio.

Liparulo’s visual style of writing has caught the eye of Hollywood producers. Currently, three of his novels for adults are in various stages of development for the big screen: the film rights to Comes A Horseman. were purchased by the producer of Tom Clancy’s movies; and Liparulo is penning the screenplays for GERM and Deadfall for two top producers. He is also working with the director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Holes) on a political thriller. Novelist Michael Palmer calls Deadfall “a brilliantly crafted thriller.” March 31st marked the publication of Deadfall’s follow-up, Deadlock, which novelist Gayle Lynds calls, “best of high-octane suspense.”

Liparulo’s bestselling young adult series, Dreamhouse Kings, debuted in 2008 with House of Dark Shadows and Watcher in the Woods. Book three, Gatekeepers, released in January 2009, and number four, Timescape, in July 2009, and number five, Whirlwind in December 2009. The series has garnered praise from readers, both young and old, as well as attracting famous fans who themselves know the genre inside and out. Of the series, Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine says, “I loved wandering around in these books. With a house of so many great, haunting stories, why would you ever want to go outside?”

With the next two Dreamhouse books “in the can,” he is currently working on his next thriller, which for the first time injects supernatural elements into his brand of gun-blazing storytelling. The story is so compelling, two Hollywood studios are already in talks to acquire it—despite its publication date being more than a year away. After that comes a trilogy of novels, based on his acclaimed short story, which appeared in James Patterson’s Thriller anthology. New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry calls Liparulo’s writing “Inventive, suspenseful, and highly entertaining . . . Robert Liparulo is a storyteller, pure and simple.” He lives with his family in Colorado.

Visit Robert Liparulo's Facebook Fan page: http://www.facebook.com/LiparuloFans



ABOUT THE BOOK

Their destiny is to fix history. Their dream is to get home.

When you live in a house that's really a gateway between past and present, you have to be ready for anything. It's a painful fact the Kings have faced since moving to Pinedale eight days ago. Desperately trying to rescue their mother from an unknown time and place, brothers Xander and David have lunged headlong into the chaos of history's greatest--and most volatile--events. But their goal has continually escaped their grasp.

And worse: Finding Mom is only a small part of what they must do, thanks to the barbaric Taksidian. His ruthless quest to sieze their house and its power from them has put not only the family, but all of mankind, in grave danger.

Somehow, the key to it all hinges on Uncle Jesse's words to the boys: "Fixing time is what our family was made to do." But how can they fix a world that has been turned updisde down--much less ever find their way home?

At long last, the secrets of the house and the King family are revealed in the stunning conclusion to this epic series.

If you would like to read the Prologue and first Chapter of Frenzy, go HERE.

Sign up for the Frenzy Newsletter HERE.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review: "When Good Wishes Go Bad" by Mindy Klasky

Things that have disappeared: her boyfriend; her life savings; three-and-a-half million dollars from the theater company that pays both their salaries. (Coincidence? Um, no.) Also, the groundbreaking play she's been slaving over has vanished in a puff of copyright-colored smoke.

Other, weirder things that have appeared: a magic lamp complete with genie wishes. A fully furnished (and paid-for) Manhattan condo and fabulous designer wardrobe. (The last two courtesy of the first one, obvs.)

So Becca's putting that last wish on hold. What with discovering a mesmerizing new play, getting it onstage and falling hard for the adorably awkward guy who wrote it, Becca is swamped. And that's without factoring in the guerrilla gardener, popcorn magnate and the gender-bending genie with an agenda of his/her own.

Now Becca's hoping that her good wishes don't go oh, so wrong….

Be honest, if you came across your own personal genie who granted you wishes, would you honestly know what you would wish for? I don't think it would be as easy as you think. I would probably ponder my choices for a long time to make sure that I would get the most out of each each. If I had a genie like Teel, they would probably be very annoyed with me for taking such a long time to make a decision. I don't normally read paranormal books and other than Harry Potter, I usually don't even really like books about magic. But Mindy Klasky writes about those subjects with a chick lit twist so being a chick lit fan, I fell in love with her writing. This series have been fun to read because you can help but wish you were in the same situation as the main characters.

Becca works at a theater as the person who reviews all the scripts that have potential to be put in production. She's just found out that her boyfriend has embezzled the theater of millions of dollars and has run abroad with all the money. Plus the show she had just commissioned now has to be put on the back burner. Just when she's hit her lowest point, a miracle in the form of a gender bending genie comes into her life with the power of granting four wishes. I don't want to spoil the story but there were lots of surprises that I didn't see coming that were a lot of fun. There's great humor in the story as well, I found myself giggling while reading several times.

Even though this is the second book in the series, it can be read as a standalone. Kira, the main character from the first book, makes some appearances but her story is not continued. Reading the first book might help you to understand Teel a bit more and his/her desire to want to get into the garden. I will admit that I liked Kira's story more so than Becca's. There were times when Becca seemed to be a bit selfish. In fact almost all her wishes were solely just for herself. I can understand the first wish being just for yourself but she didn't seem to want help out others even though she had the opportunity.

Overall, this was a really fun read. I really enjoyed learning about what goes on in the background scenes of running a theater. There were so many things that I didn't know before that this book taught me and it gave me a whole new respect for those who have that career. I think everyone would like to share the scenario of having a genie like Becca. It's a wish that everyone wants. This is a light read, great for a day at the beach. I'll be looking forward to the third book in the series to see if Teel finally gets to go to the garden.

When Good Wishes Go Bad by Mindy Klasky is published by Mira (2010)

This review copy was provided by the Amazon Vine program

Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: "Stealing Lumby" by Gail Fraser

Just a dot on the map of the northwest, Lumby looms big in the hearts of its residents. The townsfolk consider each other family as well as friends. And though the annual cow race can bring out the competitiveness in people, when times get tough, there is no better person to turn to than your nearest neighbor.

Lumby is thrown into the spotlight when one of the most important paintings of the twentieth century, The Barns of Lumby, is stolen. Town matriarch Charlotte Ross has a very personal connection to the painting-and to the artist, Dana Porter. And as a media frenzy descends on the little town, one of the actual barns disappears overnight from the rural landscape-and pieces of it begin showing up in the strangest places.

After reading the first book in this series, I could not wait to return to Lumby again. I had such a wonderful visit that I wish that this town actually existed. Right now I am in need of a place to rest and relax and Lumby is the perfect town for me to achieve both. Since I can't actually go there in real life, reading about the town in a book is the next best thing.

The book starts off a little slow but that was mainly because I was trying to remember who everyone was again. Once you get into the story however, it's easy to get sucked into the plot as you mingle with the characters. They are what makes the story. I loved visiting with Pam and Mark as they are in full swing with their inn. They are really putting their heart and soul into making this second start in life work for them. From ordering unique trees to attract bees to getting animals to attract business, the couple have tons of adventures. Also of interest are the monks at the monastery who have found a new business in making rum sauces. I loved reading about all the different products they were making.

The story also has a bittersweet touch to it as the reader finds out about the history of how The Barns of Lumby got painted. I really liked how the story between Dana and Charlotte played out throughout the book. It's wonderfully romantic but doesn't bring up a past that will hurt anyone. The entire plot involving the missing barns was very intriguing as I couldn't picture how in in the world an entire barn could disappear overnight. It was a good mystery mixed in with the rest of the story.

This is the second book in the series, and while it can be read as a standalone, I really recommend reading the first book to get a full understanding of the characters and the town itself. As in the first book of the series, there is another version of the Lumby Reader at the end of the book with more recipes, garden tips and another humorous and informative interview with Fraser and the Lumby gang. Again if you are a Mitford fan and are looking for a new series to tide you over, these books will be perfect for you. I can't wait to go back and visit again.

Stealing Lumby by Gail Fraser is published by NAL Trade (2007)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: "This Fine Life" by Eva Marie Everson

It is the summer of 1959 and Mariette Puttnam has just graduated from boarding school. When she returns to her privileged life at home, she isn't sure where life will take her. More schooling? A job? Marriage? Nothing feels right. How could she know that the answer is waiting for her within the narrow stairwell of her father's apparel factory, exactly between the third and fourth floors?

Normally I don't read a book because of it's cover. It's more because of the description of the book, the author or even the publisher. But when I first saw the cover of this book, I immediately thought of Betty Draper from Mad Men. I totally love the design of the cover as it immediately brings to mind a time in history where every one was trying to proper in a time when change was inevitable. Lucky for me I have been a big fan of The Potluck Club series which Eva Marie Everson has co-written. While this is her second solo novel, it is the first one that I've read and I knew I was going to be in for a good read.

I really felt that this book was set perfectly during the time period. I really felt as if I had been magically transported back to the late 50s and early 60s. Everson does a wonderful job with details that make the story come alive. Things like fashion, news bits and pop culture helped to fully create Mariette's world. The book also had a wonderful Southern charm to it without drawing into stereotypes. The only thing that surprised me a bit was that as far as I can recall, there didn't seem to be anything in the book about the civil rights movement which was strange since the story was set in the South.

I felt that I could understand the viewpoints from all sides. First and foremost, Mariette's story showed how she went from being a high school graduate to a woman capable of being a wife and longing to be a mother. I saw her wanting to prove to everyone that she was able to be on her own and not have to depend on everyone. However at the same time, she had to depend on her parents who were not always happy with her decisions. They did love her and even though they disagreed with the choices she and her husband made, they were willing to help her out.

I was worried that the book would focus on how Thayne would focus so much on his new career as a minister and how he would ignore Mariette. I have read other books that use that storyline and make the wife be absolutely miserable throughout the entire book. I really hate how she's supposed to then just forgive her husband and accept him for who he was because he was a good Christian man. I really hate that because I feel that one cannot be a good minister to others if their own family is suffering. Luckily this book did NOT go that route. While Thayne and Mariette do have their share of problems (and there are a lot of them), for the most part they do things together and not have to suffer through them alone. Neither did the book focus on the townsfolk condemning the pastor's wife for not living up to their expectations. That's another overused story line that I really get tired of reading.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. The story draws you in straight from the beginning as you are enveloped in Mariette's world. It's not just a story about marriage or young people growing up in the 60s. It's a story that will touch you and if you have a heart, you cannot help but be moved by it. HIGHLY recommended.

This Fine Life by Eva Marie Everson is published by Revell (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book Review: "Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon" by Miralee Ferrell

Amidst a backdrop of thievery and murder in historic Bridal Veil, Oregon, a schoolteacher is torn between the memories of a distant love and the man who could be her future. Margaret Garvey had given her heart to Nathaniel, but he left town six years before. Now she's giving love another chance, but her decision to build a new life with Andrew is shaken when Nathaniel steams back into Bridal Veil on a riverboat to work at the nearby sawmill. When disaster strikes the town and threatens the welfare of its citizens, Margaret will be faced with the most important choice of her life.

What I have loved best about the Love Finds You series is how these books are introducing me to cities and towns that I have never heard of. I never knew that there was a town called Bridal Veil before and was delighted to read about how there's a small post office that receives wedding invitations just to have the Bridal Veil postmark on them. It's really nice to read about places that have small town charm like that. That's just how this book was to read. It was nice to read a historical romance that focuses on the story and is just a pleasant book to read.

I was really glad to see that the story didn't fall in the predictable route that other stories with the same plot seem to fall victim to. As soon as the story began, I feared that the recycled plot line would make an entrance and I would end up getting angry because the nice guy would lose out again. Luckily this didn't happen and things ended up as they should. Also the characters changed throughout the story which was good because they weren't one dimensional and helped out with that plot line so the reader could see who really deserved to end up with Margaret.

This book had a more historical feel that Ferrell's other book in the Love Finds You series had. I found her previous book to be one of those that is pretty much a modern story just set in a historical setting. This one used historical events and actually showed how the town lived in the late 19th century. It's not a hard core historical fiction novel but it is still nice to at least see some historical research had taken place to write the story.

If there was any qualm I had with the book, it was the story line with the children. I honestly found them a bit annoying and really preferred when the story focused more on Margaret, Andrew and Nathaniel. The ending with them was also a bit too soap opera-ish for me. Other than that, I did enjoy the book. This is the second historical from Ferrell and I must say that she seems to have really found her niche writing historical romances. I've enjoyed her books and I will be looking forward to reading more from her.

Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon by Miralee Ferrell is published by Summerside Press (2010)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

300 Books in 2010

I finished my 300th book of 2010 today.

Seeing as how it's still only May, and not even half the year has gone by yet, predictions are looking good for lots more books to be read. Now back to more reading.

Book Review: "The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love" by Beth Pattillo

Reading, knitting, and laughter abound in Sweetgum, Tennessee! In this charming sequel to The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, the ladies tackle another book list while Eugenie's newlywed bliss falters; young Hannah begins dating; and restless Camille resists a romance that would tie her to the small town forever. Will friendship keep them from coming unraveled?

It's time to return to Sweetgum and it turns out that the ladies we met previously are still not done with their secrets and relationships. This time the focus of their book choice and knitting is romance. And what better way than to look back on the great romance classics that literature has to offer? Once again, the book is split into different stories of all the women in the group. It might be a little too much for the reader as there are several members but once you are able to keep track of everyone, it becomes much easier.

One topic that gets brought up is the role of the pastor's wife in a church. I totally felt for Eugenie. I hate reading about church members who think they have the right to dictate what role the pastor and his wife should play because they feel that they are the ones who are paying their paycheck. It really makes me angry because they are such hypocrites and honestly they are the very stereotype of Christians that I hate because they think they are better than everyone else. I totally agreed with Eugenie's view of them all the way.

While all the stories of the women are interesting the other one that stuck out most to me was Camille's. She's moved past the unhealthy relationship of the first book (which I didn't feel ever got fully resolved) and is eager to leave the town and further her education. But just when her plans begin to get underway, a blast from the past returns which hinder her plans. I really liked the the relationship Camille had with Dante. First off, this is one of the VERY FEW interracial relationships portrayed in Christian fiction. Second, I don't want to spoil the story but the way their relationship took a turn went in a way I appreciated. I feel sorry for Camille because she has such a jaded view of love due to her past.

My only qualm is that while I liked the selection of books chosen, I feel like these are same romance stories that are always used in books. While there's nothing wrong at all about Pride and Prejudice (and I can totally understand why Pattillo chose that particular Austen book), it might have been nice to stir up the pot and use a different Austen selection. I love Darcy and everything but I don't feel as if the other Austen heroes get enough credit. Also the other choices, while classics that I understand that not everyone might have read, are the typical ones always used. I just would have liked to have seen other books being used. Also Maria's story was EXACTLY P&P so it seemed a bit repetitive.

Still though, I really enjoyed the book as I had the first one. It's a comfort read and I enjoyed the knitting talk mixed with the book talk. I would enjoy being an honorary member of the club (provided someone will help me knit). I really hope there will be another book in the series as I feel that the stories of the characters are not done yet. I also hope for a return of Ruth or at least some news from her. Again a great read and hoping for more.

The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love by Beth Pattillo is published by Waterbrook (2009)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: "Very Valentine" by Adriana Trigiani

In this luscious, contemporary family saga, the Angelini Shoe Company, makers of exquisite wedding shoes since 1903, is one of the last family-owned businesses in Greenwich Village. The company is on the verge of financial collapse. It falls to thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli, the talented and determined apprentice to her grandmother, the master artisan Teodora Angelini, to bring the family's old-world craftsmanship into the twenty-first century and save the company from ruin.

While juggling a budding romance with dashing chef Roman Falconi, her duty to her family, and a design challenge presented by a prestigious department store, Valentine returns to Italy with her grandmother to learn new techniques and seek one-of-a-kind materials for building a pair of glorious shoes to beat their rivals. There, in Tuscany, Naples, and on the Isle of Capri, a family secret is revealed as Valentine discovers her artistic voice and much more, turning her life and the family business upside down in ways she never expected.

This was my first Adriana Trigiani book and after reading it I have no idea why I hadn't read a book of hers until now. I absolutely adore her style of writing and I fell in love with the characters and the story line. This book has the big Italian family (minus Mafia ties) that I always love reading about in books. They are so close knit and it's easy to tell that the Roncalli family love each other very much. Well, maybe not so much "Clickety-Clack" but other than that, they are close family.

I really loved learning about shoes in this book. Even though I probably couldn't afford it, I think I would be thrilled to be able to own a pair of shoes from the Angelini Shoe Company. I love the fact that they are one of a kind and handmade. The descriptions of the hard work and detail that go into making the shoes really shows the love and care that the shoe maker puts into their work. I really liked Valentine's character. She's very independent and is more focused on saving her family's company than she is about finding a husband. She doesn't allow the relationships that she does have to come between her goals for the shop. Even when they don't turn out the way she intended, Valentine allows time to grieve but then puts her energy into helping out her grandmother.

The book has a chick lit feel but doesn't give into the cliches of the genre. There's lots of humor in the book as well. I found myself laughing several times. Also present is serious issues and relationship talk but it's mixed well and flows smoothly throughout the story. I loved the recipes that were included in this edition. They look easy to make and sound oh so delicious. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It was great fun to read but still packs a punch with the stellar writing. I am definitely now a Trigiani fan and am glad to join the bandwagon. I will be looking forward to reading the next book in this series as well as reading all her other books. HIGHLY recommended.

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani is published by Harper (2009)

This review copy was provided by the publisher