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Mulberry Hollow–obstacles to love

Mulberry Hollow

by Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter continues her Riverbend Romance Series with the Robinson family at the center of the stories. Mulberry Hollow focuses on Avery, the youngest child of three and the only daughter in the merged family. Avery is high achieving and operates her own medical clinic in the little town of Riverbend Gap that is an oasis of relief and comfort for weary hikers from the Appalachian Trail. Avery’s family handles her with kid gloves because she has a 50% chance of having a fatal, degenerative disease. She has resigned herself to a love life with the clinic and the community and rejects the possibility of having children.

One evening she finds Wes Garrett, dehydrated, with a high fever, on the clinic’s doorstep. He was formerly a worker in Columbia for Emergency Shelter International, but is currently a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in honor of a deceased friend. Wes’ background was tough growing up, and as an adult he is saddled with paying off his father’s debts. Wes is a man of his word and a man of honor. While the handsome guy’s qualities are admirable, they also cause obstacles in any romantic relationship that might develop.

I loved this story and its characters. These are people that fight hard to do the right things putting others above themselves. It’s hard not to keep turning the pages in hopes that good things will happen for Avery and Wes. There are a lot of twists in the plot that will have you groaning at the unfairness of life, but the characters continue to trust in God and pray for others. The religious element is not dominant; instead it reflects the way these characters live out their lives through good times and bad and when the right choices are not the easy ones.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #2 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy. It could be read as a standalone, but the characters continue from the first book, Riverbend Gap, so you would probably enjoy it more if you read them in order.
3. Clean romance.

Publication: April 19, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“He was a hustler?” “He could’ve sold mosquitos to a backpacker—and he would’ve if he hadn’t been so lazy. Such as it was, he made do with home improvement scams.”

She took in the now-familiar angles and planes of his face. He was pretty to look at, no doubt, but he was even more attractive on the inside. A man who put aside his plans to help another was a man who could be counted on. A man who spent months on the trail to honor a friend was a man to be admired.

She considered all he’d been through. His difficult childhood, the loss of a dear friend. And yet he’d somehow flourished as a human being. Emerged from his trials a good and caring man. She was thankful God had brought him to Riverbend just when she’d needed him.

Riverbend Gap–looking for love

Riverbend Gap

by Denise Hunter

I didn’t think a romance could be an actual page-turner for me, but Riverbend Gap surely was. Although there are a few dangerous, dramatic scenes, that was not the cause of my reluctance to put the book down. It was the characters!

All of the main characters are seeking love, stability, and trust. Katie, who spent most of her life in the foster care system, moves to Riverbend Gap in search of her biological mother. After the death of her brother, she needs a new start. She needs the love of a family. When Cooper, a deputy, finds her in a precariously balanced car on a cliff after a near-miss with a deer, they make an emotional connection. Unbeknownst to Cooper, Katie is dating his brother Gavin. The brothers have tried to live above the reputation of their alcoholic father all their lives, but it is not easy in a small town. Gavin has other personal issues that are devastating. No one wants to see him hurt even more. Clearly, there is romantic conflict as Katie and Cooper try to stamp out the sparks in their relationship while Gavin is initially oblivious to their attraction.

The Robinson family was blended when Cooper and Gavin’s mom remarried giving the brothers a sister Avery. Avery is a doctor who is also Katie’s boss in Avery’s medical clinic where Katie works as a nurse. The Robinsons are fiercely loyal to each other and well-respected in the community. Problems pile on as Cooper runs for sheriff, and the rumor mill in Riverbend Gap operates at full speed. The community is challenged when part of the Appalachian Trail is closed for repairs. Many businesses in the area depend on thru-hikers who stop to rest up, enjoy a good meal, and restock their packs.

The plot is well played out. I really wanted good things for Cooper, Gavin, and Katie, but it was like watching a train wreck and being unable to predict anything except a collision. Afterwards, how will they pick up the pieces? Will the Robinson family survive betrayal? Will Katie experience rejection once more by her mother? Can Cooper’s campaign for sheriff be salvaged at the ninth hour? The answers are all delightfully found in Riverbend Gap.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #1 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy.
3. My next review will be on #2, and (sneak peak) I really liked it too!
4. Clean romance.

Publication: October 19, 2021—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

He stared into blue eyes that were as convincing as any he’d seen. But he also had an alcoholic dad, and he knew they were capable of lying to themselves—not to mention others—quite convincingly.

He sank deeper into the sofa cushions, wishing he could disappear into the crack with the Doritos crumbs.

Feeling like something a cat coughed up, she locked the door and turned off the light. Her chest was heavy with the crushing weight of Gavin’s pain. The hollow ache of guilt.

Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake–literally a cliffhanger

Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake

by Sarah Graves

Most cozy mysteries are fairly tame. They have an interesting plot with a great whodunnit puzzle, a little action, and a sprinkling or two of danger. With Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake, you can take those expectations and turn them upside down. Then double the pace, add lots of adventure, and throw in some creepiness.

The settings are extremely important to the plot. Main character Jacobia (Jake) and her friend Ellie own a chocolate-themed bakery, The Chocolate Moose, in the island village of Eastport, Maine. A lot of the action takes place at a remote cliffside house recently purchased by Ingrid Merryfield, a past-her-prime actress. Formerly glorious but currently decaying, Cliff House sits at the end of a narrow peninsula. With one way in by car, boat access when the tides are right, earthquakes, swamps, and secret tunnels, Sarah Graves has created a setting that is the perfect background for her plot.

Merryfield is hosting a party to ostensibly show off her new house to old friends even before any remodeling has been done. The guests who are staying overnight are plunged into sudden danger as they are trapped when a ginormous tree is uprooted and blocks the egress just as someone starts murdering them one by one. Instead of a locked room mystery, we can call it a sealed island mystery.

Ellie and Jake have been hired and paid well to provide chocolate desserts with the proviso that they stay overnight to serve and clean up. Things go from bad to worse as Jake tries to save Ellie, Jake’s stepmother, and Jake’s daughter-in-law and get them off the island. Graves goes into great detail with the setting helping the reader picture the dangerous cliffs and rising tides.

Sorting through the characters, their motivations, and the numerous plot twists is a full-time job. In the conclusion, everything is spelled out and loose ends are tied up. Jake and Ellie are brave, self-sacrificing, and ingenious ladies, but two of my favorite characters critical to the plot are not main characters. My semi-heroes are Igor the Irish Wolfhound who has a recurrent role and Jake’s elderly father who should not be underestimated. Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake is not the book for a calm afternoon’s read, but a cup of hot tea might go with it well as there are some wet, cold scenes.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #5 in the Death by Chocolate Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be enjoyed better with more character background.
2. Minor swearing (about 5 occasions)

Publication: March 29, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

…there are no dumb housewives in Maine. If there were, they’d get eaten by bears, poisoned by toadstools masquerading as mushrooms, or bled dry by mosquitoes so big they could stand flat-footed and look right over the barn at you.

So the whole line of thought was a vicious circle and for now I set it aside turning instead to thoughts of our imminent journey: Life jacket, check. Iron grip on the rail, check.

On the hearth, flames licked hungrily at the logs, curling their splinters to frizzled wisps.

Bride for a Day–escape to Oklahoma

Bride for a Day

by Carolyn Brown

What a sweet romance! Carolyn Brown’s Bride for a Day is a simple, but pleasing story. Cassie has had a rough life. After her mother died, she lived a dirt poor existence with her mother’s friend. When she passed away too, Cassie was left in the hands of the friend’s husband, and he is not a nice man. Sexual trafficking is the dangerous threat, but nothing graphic is discussed. When Cassie runs away, Ted, a handsome stranger in a café, pretends very convincingly to local law enforcement that she is his fiancé.

Ted’s family embraces Cassie wholeheartedly because that’s just the kind of people they are and because Cassie is gradually bringing Ted back to life again. He had never come to grips with the death of his twin brother when they were in high school.

Because this is a romance, you can imagine that what started out as a rescue mission might well turn into a friendship where sparks fly. I really enjoyed the characters. Although wealthy, Ted’s family is down to earth and supportive of each other. Even though it is clear that the setting is a small town with a quick as lightning rumor mill, the author does not dwell on that aspect. Instead, she uses it as an opportunity to demonstrate that Cassie is a strong young lady. There are some fun and surprising plot twists and a very satisfying ending. It is a quick read with lots of smiles along the way.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Sourcebooks (Casablanca) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication: March 29, 2022—Sourcebooks (Casablanca)

Memorable Lines:

Maria had told her that first day that breakfast was the time to set the mood for the whole day—yellow brightened the table, good food satisfied the appetite, and a loving family made the heart smile.

Ted had been dreaming of taking Cassie dancing after his boot came off and the cast on his arm, but right now he couldn’t two-step any faster than an armadillo could fly.

Evidently, she was in one of her Jesus moods, as her granny used to call them. Granny said that Cassie didn’t know what she wanted, wouldn’t want it if she got it, and Jesus himself couldn’t live with her.

The Valet’s Secret–class barriers to love

The Valet’s Secret

by Josi S. Kilpack

When I started reading The Valet’s Secret, I realized it is a historical romance, not of the Jane Austen satirical variety, but one of romantic attraction thwarted by class differences. This is not my typical reading genre, and so it took a few chapters for me to get involved with the characters and their dilemmas. At that point I began to really care about the main characters.

Kenneth Winterton, while raised as a gentleman, had no expectations or training to be the future Earl of Brenton. When his cousin Edward dies suddenly, Kenneth is expected to prepare himself for his new role, including marrying someone from the local gentry. Thus begins round after round of entertainments to introduce him to suitable ladies. His heart has already been stolen by a chance encounter with Rebecca Parker, a widow living with an abusive, alcoholic father, helping him with his craft of silhouettes. Prior to her marriage, she had been “in service” as a maid. Kenneth and Rebecca are by status incompatible.

As the story moves towards its conclusion, the reader must certainly wonder how the couple could possibly marry. There are several dramatic twists; the actions of a few characters reveal their true motivations and scheming, and some even have a change of heart. The cover reflects the importance of silhouettes in the story, and the title reflects an early, light-hearted deception in the tale with serious consequences. By the end of The Valet’s Secret, I was convinced by this quick read that this genre and author deserve some more attention from me as I make future selections.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Shadow Mountain Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication: March 8, 2022—Shadow Mountain Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“The title precedes you into every room, every relationship, every decision. You do not think what is best for any individual—not even yourself—but what is best for the community affected by your status. Nothing comes above that responsibility. Nothing at all.”

…the thought that he would remain here, learning to live a life that was uncomfortable with a woman whom he did not know while waiting for an old man he loved to die, made him extremely sad.

How he hated this marriage mart he was hung within. So very much. The only viable solution to get out of it was, in fact, to marry.

Mission Possible–living a life that counts

Mission Possible

by Tim Tebow
with A. J. Gregory

Have you ever thought about the purpose of your life? Tim Tebow, athlete, speaker, and TV sports analyst, shares his ideas on the subject in his latest book Mission Possible. He says that our “big-picture purpose is to bring glory to God wherever you are” and that “Living a mission-possible life means executing the good works that God has already prepared for you to do.”

Tebow lays out in plain language and through Scriptures and anecdotes how each one of us can live out a mission possible life, a life of significance. As head of the Tim Tebow Foundation, Tebow tries to transparently live out his beliefs as he spearheads projects to honor the disabled where they are each crowned king or queen of the prom at Night to Shine events all over the world. He does this to show them how much God loves them and how special they are in God’s eyes. His foundation is also involved in orphanages and health care clinics as well as fighting sexual trafficking. While we can’t all do the things he does or have the influence he has, Tebow says that we can all live out our purpose and make a difference in the lives of others.

In this powerful and inspirational book, Tebow addresses some of the hard problems we face as we try to discover our purpose and make our lives count. Sometimes we encounter obstacles that could keep us from completing our mission, but God can do the impossible if we are willing to be used by Him. God can use us wherever we are, even if we think what we are doing is insignificant. As Tebow notes about Jesus: “He lived fully with purpose in every moment.” That is hard to do but Jesus is the ultimate example for living a life full of purpose.

Our mission possible life will aim for excellence with integrity and gratitude. Tebow also encourages you to pursue your mission with passion. He shares how to find your edge and use it well. He gives guidance for dealing with uncertainties, imperfections, and even failure. He encourages you to take that first step, however small it may be: you don’t have to map out the whole journey before you begin in faith.

There is so much Godly, practical wisdom in Mission Possible. The style is easy to read and well organized, the content is important, and the message is clear. The book concludes with a prayer for those who don’t yet have a personal relationship with Jesus and want to pray to accept Him into their lives. There is another prayer for those ready to make their lives count. This book will make an impact on your life. Read it. Share it. Act on it. You will be glad you did.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to WaterBrook for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: Tebow has created 3 companion products that support this book as well as a children’s picture book on the same topic.

Publication: March 8, 2022—WaterBrook

Memorable Lines:

See, my mission was never to put on Night to Shine. Now, I love it and it’s absolutely my favorite night of the year, but my mission was, and continues to be, loving and celebrating and caring for those whom God loves and celebrates and cares for.

God has given us His best, His Son, and has proved that He can be trusted. I may not understand why certain roads have started or ended but I can count on His faithfulness.
We may not be blessed with Tom Cruise’s stunt skills. I can’t sing, and maybe you can’t play football. But there’s one thing we can all do: because of the work Jesus did for us on the cross and through the Resurrection, we can each make our lives count.

Saddled Up 4 Murder–horse thieves in AZ

Saddled Up 4 Murder

by J.C. Eaton

Sophie (Phee) Kimball is an accountant for Williams Investigations in Glendale, Arizona. She often finds herself unofficially in the middle of murder investigations at the urging (make that insistence) of her mother and her mother’s friends who all live in the popular retirement area of Sun City West. As usual, Phee’s trying to work around the seniors, and their involvement in her investigation is always a source of humor.

In Saddled Up 4 Murder, there are dual mystery threads. Billie, a very unpleasant deli worker, is murdered. Sophie needs to find the perpetrator before one of the elderly ladies who was in the area at the time of the murder is attacked to silence her. Also, and very importantly, the Bye, Bye Birdie Festival is coming up soon when the full-time residents say farewell to the snowbirds. They have a deadline for purchasing balloons for the event and Phee’s mother wants it to be such a success that she gets interviewed on TV. None of this can happen if the crime scene remains cordoned off with yellow tape. The other thread is a string of horses being stolen. Nate, the owner of the detective agency and Marshall, Phee’s fiancé, are hired to track down the horse thieves. It is a hard job given the large area of rugged land they need to cover. In addition, there is no clear motive as these are not expensive race or breeding horses; they come from ranches all over Arizona.

At first I was a little irritated by the amount of time spent in the book on the lack of cellular connectivity and the trouble it causes. Upon further thought, having lived in the West for over 30 years (i.e. since before there were cell phones), I realized that their connection problems were actually very realistic and, in this case, pertinent to the plot. So often I see shows where the main characters are out in the middle of nowhere and have cell phone service. Even in 2022, that is not a realistic scenario.

As always with a J.C. Eaton cozy, the mystery is solid, the descriptions are on target, the characters come alive, and both the situations and dialogue are funny. No Sophie Kimball mystery would be complete without Phee’s mother’s dog, Streetman. The little Chiweenie plays a major role in this book! So, put on your cowboy hat and boots and saddle up for a fun, western cozy mystery.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Beyond the Page Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #9 in the Sophie Kimball Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. Only found in this book in the series, there is a large gathering of several Wiccan covens which is depicted as a fun, family festival. I was uncomfortable with the involvement of the occult. In the book their role and actions are only positive, but I found that to be a deceptive and naive viewpoint. I hope this is an isolated inclusion of a Wiccan event, and I don’t expect this theme to appear in future books in the series.

Publication: March 15, 2022—Beyond the Page Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“What about the field rep from the Department of Agriculture?” “About as useful as a toad on an iceberg.”

“Did you say finagling? Don’t you mean breaking and entering? Good grief! That’s the most preposterous thing you’ve come up with. Compared to that, the other two plans look like masterpieces.”

…people who hide important items sometimes stick them in their freezers. The exception being my mother. There was a no room under those layers of frozen dinners, cookies that had passed their expiration dates, boxes of matzo that had crossed the Red Sea with Moses, and ice cream that had crystalized.

Edgewater Road–second chance for ex-cons

Edgewater Road

by Shelley Shepard Gray

Jennifer inherits her grandmother Ginny’s old farmhouse with acreage in Ohio and soon discovers that her neighbor is John Lincoln Bennett, an ex-con who has a business managing properties. He also helps other ex-cons reintegrate into society when they are released. Jennifer works in her home as a medical transcriber but wants to reach outside the shield she has established to avoid trusting others. Lincoln is immediately drawn to her and feels very protective of her.

Edgewater Road contains romance, but the real focus is on the characters as their backgrounds are revealed and relationships are developed. There is also some gripping action and danger along with moments of humor as the characters interact in some awkward situations. Lincoln is a natural leader who instills respect, and Jennifer is almost too nice and trusting for her own good. Both are characters that you want to be successful individually and together. The ex-cons in general turn out to be helpful and respectful, especially Bo, Lincoln’s right hand man and Seth, formerly Amish and very polite and trustworthy. Wayne, a young Amish boy, needs to earn money, and his role in the story adds interest as does that of Chad, a semi-feral cat that Wayne finds in Jennifer’s barn.

Author Shelley Shepard Gray excels with plot action. The book is a page turner for me with Gray alternating telling the story from Jennifer’s perspective and from Lincoln’s. Without sugar coating a life of crime, Gray presents the difficulties that might lead one down a bad path, what prison is like, and the reactions of people to ex-cons. They are often viewed with suspicion and distrust and many end up back in prison for various reasons.

I highly recommend Edgewater Road and look forward to the next book in this series.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Blackstone Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: 1. #1 in a new series, The Rumors in Ross County.
2. Although the books deals with some rough ex-cons, there is nothing graphic or offensive in the book, and it is clean in all aspects.

Publication: March 1, 2022—Blackstone Publishing

Memorable Lines:

There was a part of him that was drawn to her like a prisoner to a decent meal.

“That woman’s got more work that needs to be done than an old lady at the plastic surgeon.”

Back when he’d started this, his goals had been almost noble. He’d wanted to give men like him, men who’d made mistakes but were still decent, a second chance… Now, nearly eight years later, his aspirations weren’t quite so lofty. Oh, his heart still searched for the good in people, and he often shared some of the teachings he’d learned from the Bible. However, he’d also learned that not everyone could be rehabilitated.

The Bluebonnet Battle–feuding families

The Bluebonnet Battle

by Carolyn Brown

I expected a romance with conflict between two feuding families. What I got in The Bluebonnet Battle was a very mean-spirited tale. There were clearly two sides. Matilda is an angry woman who excels in manipulating others to get what she wants. The other side is headed up by Liddy who has certainly been wronged but is vindictive and unforgiving. In fact, one of her friends suggests to Liddy that she pray for Matilda explaining that it might not change Matilda but it might take the anger out of Liddy’s heart. Liddy responds with a venomous, disgusting, unkind prayer that causes her adult niece Ruth Ann who acts like a Greek chorus in this book to giggle. It is hard to like any of these characters.

Fortunately, Nick, Matilda’s son, and Amelia, Ruth Ann’s daughter, slowly overcome family hurdles to form a relationship. By the time you get to this point in the story, you will be so tired of how the feud plays out through vegan versus Southern cooking featuring lemon meringue and lemon chess pies, along with who controls the local funeral dinners, that you will be glad for romance in any form. There is actually some motivation revealed for why Matilda is the way she is, but the explanation is too little and too late. The townspeople are closed to outsiders and small-minded. Nick and Amelia develop into nice people, but my favorite of the bunch is Uncle Harry, Matilda’s much older brother; he is the only character I would like to know. If a romance’s plot is character driven, it shouldn’t be replete with bitter characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Montlake for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: 1. Includes recipes.
2. Contains profanity, even in church where the characters immediately, but rather insincerely, ask God’s forgiveness.
3. Several older and presumably wiser characters suggest to Nick and Amelia that the only way to know a person (with the goal of having a good marriage) is to live together first. That is advice that may be popular in some circles, but is one with which I take issue.
4. Perhaps a minor detail to some, but the flowers on the cover are not bluebonnets.

Publication: March 8, 2022—Mountlake

Memorable Lines:

When I heard Matilda was coming back to town, I figured we’d have to weather some storms. I just didn’t think we would have a class-five tornado two days after she arrived.

Compared to this thing between her aunt and Nick’s mother, the Hatfield and McCoy feud looked like a kindergarten playground fight.

Matilda’s whisper went right along with the look in her eyes—so toxic that a hazmat team wouldn’t have come near her.

The Enchanted April–looking for happiness

The Enchanted April

by Elizabeth Von Arnim

In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.

The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Originally published in 1922.

Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg

Memorable Lines:

She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?

“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”

In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.

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