Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review - Summer of Secrets by Charlotte Hubbard

Summer has come to Willow Ridge, but Rachel Lantz is looking forward to a whole new season in her life--marriage to strapping carpenter Micah Brenneman, her childhood sweetheart. When a strange Englischer arrives in the café claiming to be the long-lost sister of Rachel and her twin Rhoda, Rachel feels the sturdy foundation of her future crumbling--including Micah's steadfast love. As the days heat up and tempers flare, Rachel and Micah will learn that even when God's plan isn't clear, it will always lead them back to each other. . .

I finally got to the FIRST book in the Seasons of the Heart series, Summer of Secrets by Charlotte Hubbard! And like the rest, it didn't disappoint.

It was interesting to read the beginnings of the Willow Ridge crew. To see that at one point Hiram Knepp was at least SOMEWHAT respected in the community. Even if not for long. And to see the first meetings between Tiffany (Rebecca) and the family she never knew she had. She definitely was a surprise (and a shock) when she walked in to the cafe with her spikey "witchy" hair and tattoos with her goth style clothing. But Miriam knew her and loved her anyway.

Tiffany was the little girl that Miriam lost when she was only 3 years old. Washed away during a flood and thought dead for 18 years. After her "adoptive" mother dies, Tiffany finds out she's not really Tiffany and storms out in search of answers she doesn't feel her grieving father will truthfully provide. The truth, however, is not what she expected and seems to be more in conflict with what's going on once she's met her Mamm and her sisters than she ever was.

To Rachel's dismay and complete irritation, her honey Micah seems smitten with "Tiffany" and can't stop gawking at her. But, things aren't always what they seem. Yes, Micah was intrigued by the "witchy" girl, but realized that underneath all the hair dye, dark shocking make up, tattoos, and strange clothing, there was someone who was hurting and trying to figure things out. Someone who needed to know her Mamm and sisters, even if she didn't think she wanted to.

And it's a good thing he persisted. If he hadn't, Rebecca never would have come back to the bakery the day she did. Miriam could have lost her shop. And Micah and Rachel may have been forced to transform their home in to a B&B not too long after marriage in order to bring income in to the family. Not that a B&B is a bad thing... but when you're newly married who wants to share a home with strange people you have to wait on and take care of? Not that they would have minded probably... but you know they wanted to be able to enjoy that time together alone...

Loved the book. And meeting Rebecca/Tiffany for the "first" time. Even after reading all the other books and liking her a lot for her character and her part in the stories that she was in, this first meeting rubbed me the wrong way. I think I judged her much like most of the residents of Willow Ridge.

Rachel was prone to tantrums in this one. Something else I wasn't used to seeing in subsequent books. But... I suppose if I was not quite engaged - at least not publicly - to MY childhood sweetheart, I'd probably have been a bit worried TOO if he kept blowing me off to go follow around someone else. Yes, he had his reasons, and they turned out to be honorable... but what young girl is able to see the forest for the trees in a situation like this? She came around, and that was the important part.

I LOVED this first look at Miriam (not MY first look, but this first look in the series). She's strong and steadfast and SASSY. And she's so incredibly smart. Not one to just roll over and let things happen to her that aren't fair simply because someone says she should. She fought for the right to be independent and to run her business, a business that employed and supplied food and work for MANY Willow Ridge residents. She fought to be able to take care of herself and her children without having to ask anyone for handouts, which I'm sure would have been given if they had been needed because the people in the town loved her.

Micah was a little sneaky for my taste in this book. At the beginning at least. I was kind of worried that he'd end up breaking Rachel's heart (even though I knew that wasn't going to be the case). Or put himself in a bad situation as far as Rebecca was concerned. The thing I dislike the most in life is a liar. And unfortunately, he lied a bit. Made promises that he knew he couldn't keep. BUT... in the end, like I said, intentions were honorable and ultimately resulted in the happy ending the story had. Were it not for his mild deception things would not have been so great for the Lantzes. So... I'll forgive him for telling a few fibs.

If you haven't read any of  the other books in the series, start with this one. Or don't. It doesn't really matter what order you read them in. They're just as exciting and fun to read OUT of order as they are IN order. I just highly suggest you read them! They're not without their drama and frustration (Hello, Hiram!) but they're lighthearted and friendly and after a while, familiar. Like friends. You won't be sorry!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review - Autumn Winds by Charlotte Hubbard

Winds of change are blowing through Willow Ridge, and they're bringing a stranger to the Sweet Seasons Cafe. At first, widowed Miriam Lantz has misgivings about Ben Hooley, a handsome but rootless traveling blacksmith. But as she gets to know the kind-hearted newcomer, she wonders if his arrival was providential.

Perhaps she could find love again - if only there weren't so many obstacles in the way. With Bishop Knepp relentlessly pursuing her hand in marriage and the fate of her beloved cafe at stake, Miriam must listen to God and her heart to find the happiness she longs for, and the love she deserves.

I actually meant to read Autumn Winds by Charlotte Hubbard after I read Summer of Secrets, which is what I'm currently reading, but forgot what I was doing and just picked this up and couldn't really put it back down.

Ben Hooley literally blows in to town with a storm and in to Miriam's bakery. There is no doubt about it, the chemistry between the two is immediate and electric. If I may be so bold as to assume, it was love at first sight. Even though neither Ben nor Miriam will actually say as much. Unfortunately, Hiram Knepp is hell bent on squashing any chance Ben has with Miriam by trying to force her to marry himself. Something Miriam is not too keen on doing. At. All.

This book was definitely not without its drama. Hiram trying to discredit Ben with Miriam and the entire town of Willow Ridge by spying and snooping and twisting his past. Not surprisingly, it doesn't work. The entire town seems to be smitten with Ben and can't wait for him to settle down and set up shop for good. Ben decides that's a fantastic idea, to the delight of miss Miriam, and calls on his brothers and his aunts to join him. We find out that Hiram has been keeping secrets. The kind of which end up getting him shunned. Good old Hiram. Can always count on him for some excitement.

Like I said before, I've been reading this series somewhat backwards. So I already knew that he was shunned, but it was kind of suspenseful anyway, in that even though I was well aware, the details and the story were presented in such a way that I felt like it was completely new to me. If that makes sense. Kind of like when you watch a movie you've seen a million times and you know how it ends but you find yourself on the edge of your seat anyway.

Ben Hooley was the epitome of a dashing and protective gentleman. And as always, I love Miriam. She's such a strong and independent woman and I love that Ben respects that and doesn't expect for her to change. After all, she wouldn't really be the woman he loved if she caved and gave up her business and pledged to stay at home and wait on him hand and foot the way Hiram would expect her to do.

I love the way the whole town rallied around Ben and his brothers, making it possible for them to relocate and set their businesses up. Always so friendly and helpful. And the way everyone supported Miriam and looked out for her as far as Hiram was concerned. It was fun, also, to see the introductions of Ben's aunts Jerusalem and Nazareth. I'd read about them in several other books but it was great to see how they kind of charged in and took control of Hiram's household and his children and got them all sorted out. Exposing Hiram and his shenanigans in the process.

Autumn Winds is a wonderful story. Even if you haven't read any of the other books in the series. Just like the others it works as a stand-alone or as a read-out-of-order. I'm looking forward to finishing up Summer of Secrets and then diving in to Harvest of Blessings which I have the pleasure of doing an advanced review of. I can't wait! If you've ever wanted to read Amish Fiction I highly suggest starting with the Seasons of the Heart series by Charlotte Hubbard or the Home at Cedar Creek series and One Big Happy Family series by Naomi King (aka, Charlotte Hubbard!). Fantastic stories!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review - Abby Finds Her Calling by Naomi King

The Lambright family's eldest daughter, Abby, runs her own sewing shop. There, she mends the town's clothes and their torn relationships. But the town maidel has sworn off any suitors of her own because of her unrequited love for James Graber, who is about to marry her younger sister, Zanna...

On the wedding day, Zanna is nowhere to be found, breaking James' heart. Zanna has brought shame to her family, but there's more in store for them when they discover how far she has fallen. Long-buried secrets come to light, and they test the bonds of the Cedar Creek community. Abby is at the center of it all, trying to maintain everyone's happiness. But will she ever find her own?
I absolutely love Naomi King's books. Abby Finds her Calling was no exception. Even though I read the books completely out of order, they were not hard to follow and could even be read as stand alones should you find yourself not in the mood to continue the series.

Abby's little sister Zanna is all set to marry the man of Abby's dreams, James Graber, when she up and disappears on their wedding day. Everyone is panicking and crying and in a fit because she's absolutely nowhere to be found and no one knows if she plans on coming back. James is heartbroken.

When she finally does turn up we find out that she is... in the family way... to put it nicely. Everyone is upset at James until they find out that James is not to blame for the situation that Zanna has found herself in. But she's not spilling the beans immediately. Even though it's a huge slight to James, he offers to raise the baby as his own and marry Zanna anyway. Tempting, but Zanna knows that even though James is an amazing person, she'd be unhappy marrying him because she doesn't love him.

Abby spends the 6 weeks that Zanna has been shunned helping her sister figure out her own place in their little community and finding ways for her to make money to care for herself and the baby she normally would not have been able to raise. While Zanna hopes that the father of her unborn child comes around and becomes the man she's always wished he would be.

I always learn so much reading these books. And I always have such a good time too. I love Abby and James and Sam and Emma and Zanna... they're all wonderful. So kind and loving and completely supportive of Zanna, even though James is the one who was jilted.

These stories are also fantastic reads because, while they definitely show all the love and compassion and kinship, they also make sure that you know that no one is perfect. Even the Amish. And everyone has secrets. And problems they can't handle on their own. They show that it's how you deal with a situation that makes or breaks you.

Abby is always so steadfast. Even though it would have broken her heart to see her little sister marry the man she's always loved, she wouldn't let that come between, what she thought was true love. She puts her heart and soul in to trying to repair relationships that don't seem repairable and is always supportive of the people that she loves. Even if it's not the kind of support they think they want.

James... now, I know what happens with James because, like I said, I read the books out of order. But it didn't stop me from being mad at him for being TOTALLY CLUELESS when it came to Abby's feelings for him. BUT it also made me love him as a character all the more the way he stood by Zanna even when she didn't feel like she deserved it. Proved he was DEFINITELY the kind of man that Abby deserved in the end.

The end of this book meshes with the beginning-ish of Rosemary Opens Her Heart, so it was great to see how the stories tied together. It's been a while since I read that book so I'd forgotten who's wedding Rosemary and her father-in-law had gone to when she met Abby and the gang. Goes to show you, even though they're separate books and could be read on their own, everyone is connected in some way.

This was the last book in the series for the Cedar Creek gang. And it makes me sad that there won't be anymore. Like saying goodbye to friends you know you won't ever see again. But if you love lighthearted romances or are just looking for a fun uplifting read, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review - Eve in the Beginning by H.B. Moore

The first love story on earth . . . Haunting . . . Lyrical . . . Unforgettable . . .

In a world where everything is perfect, yet the same day after day, Eve must decide if she wants to live forever in the garden with Adam and never know what lies beyond the walls. When she makes a choice with terrible consequences, the pain of mortality is swift. As she and Adam explore their new world, and her body changes, Eve discovers the sweetness of first love with the man who has always been at her side.

I jumped at the opportunity to review Eve in the Beginning by H.B. Moore because, while most of us know the story of Adam and Eve as is told in the Bible... who knows what they went through before they were booted out of the Garden? Or what happened to them after they had to leave?

Long and short of it... Adam and Eve are created by Elohim and are given the entire Garden of Eden to tend and to live in. Their days are endless and infinite. Until Lucifer tempts Eve with the knowledge she's been longing for and begging Adam to ask Elohim for. She gives in to the temptation and eats the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge and Adam, not wanting to live in the Garden without his wife, does as well. Boom, out they go. But with new knowledge, or rather... knowledge that they had once but had forgotten when they were created in the Garden. Now they're forced to fend for themselves against a world that they'd once been in harmony with but now have to fight against to survive. Animal and environment are their obstacles. And Lucifer has not disappeared.

I really enjoyed this story. I'm Christian and I know my Bible... but I've always wondered what happened to Adam and Eve when they were told they would have to leave the Garden. I've always wondered what it was like to live IN the Garden. And how it felt to be the only two human beings on the face of the earth.

I know Eve in the Beginning is a work of fiction, but it was incredibly fun to read through. Genesis says almost next to nothing of their actual time in the Garden or how they spent their time after (although we know they definitely were fruitful and multiplied). So I loved reading and imagining the picturesque perfection that was their home. I loved hearing how inquisitive Eve was and seeing how much Adam loved her.

She was a little accident prone, I'll give her that. But she was also strong, despite how she felt about herself. And Adam would have probably literally given his life if it meant protecting Eve. He very nearly did a few times. And Lucifer... ugh. I can imagine being tempted with something you've wanted for such a very long time... and finding hard not to give in to that temptation. But the whole time he was in the Garden with them I was yelling "No!" at Eve in my head. Despite knowing that... inevitably their time in the Garden would end.

They go through a lot when they leave. Knowing absolutely nothing about how to take care of themselves in a wild world they're not familiar with, they have to figure out how to feed themselves and keep themselves warm because winter is approaching. But... imagine (i'm using that word a lot, sorry) taking care of animals, living at peace and in complete and total harmony with every kind of animal you could think of... and then being in a place totally foreign to you where those same animals want you for dinner. Where you have to kill them to avoid dying. How heartbreaking.

It was just incredible to read through the hurdles they had to jump over at every turn. The hardships they faced and the dangers that seemed to wait for them around every corner and behind every tree and in every bush...

If you've ever wondered what became of Adam and Eve, outside of knowing their descendants, I suggest reading this book. I'm the type of person where, if I know a story and you re-tell it and get some of it wrong, it bothers me FOREVER. But this... not the case. It's the first I've read about the parents of all humankind and I absolutely would recommend it. Fantastic read.


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