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It Won’t Be Christmas Without You–white Christmas in England

It Won’t Be Christmas Without You

by Beth Reekles

It Won't Be Christmas Without YouCara and Eloise are twins in Beth Reekles’ It Won’t Be Christmas Without You. The author never tells if they are identical twins or not, but they are certainly different in personality. Cara is a workaholic, driven to earn an early promotion. She feels she has always had to work extra hard to achieve grades and jobs. Eloise is a teacher and success in school and in finding her first job comes easier for her. She, however, always feels lacking in the friendship department.

This year Eloise’s world is turned upside down as their parents announce that they will take a beach vacation on what is Eloise’s favorite holiday, Christmas. Cara decides she may opt out of their traditional celebration also in favor of working. The conflict in the book revolves around the tension between the siblings as they move closer to December 25. Both of the twins become involved in romantic relationships with likable young men. 

The chapters move along a timeline which is a countdown to Christmas. It was a quick read, but I never felt fully invested in the characters. I was more of an outsider looking in on the action. I enjoyed learning about some mentioned British foods: roasties, bacon sarnies, and the sweet treats of individual, packaged mince pies, Celebrations, and Roses.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (A), Romance

Notes: Contains a lot of British Vulgarisms

Publication:   August 30, 2019—HarperCollins (One More Chapter)

Memorable Lines:

Wow. She’d actually done it. She’d gone for the blackmail card. Guilting her twin with her own broken heart.

But it did mean she was lacking in experience when it came to relationship problems. Like what to do when you think your boyfriend is lying to you. (Google wasn’t very helpful, when she asked it.)

The burn on the back of her forearm she’d got an hour ago was still red and angry, so she slapped a little Savlon on it. Salon would cure everything that a good cup of tea couldn’t, she was convinced.

Except Christmas.

Nothing could fix this Christmas.

The Empty Nesters–friends pulling together

The Empty Nesters

by Carolyn Brown

BrownCarolineEmptyNesters-27584-CV-FL-v1.inddHaving just finished a nonfiction book about the empty nest season of life, I enjoyed reading a fictional take on it. Carolyn Brown’s The Empty Nesters is a smiling, wipe a few tears kind of book. Four neighboring military families provide support for each other with retired and childless Tootsie and Smokey taking on a grandparenting role. The three other men are part of a team that frequently leaves for extended secret missions so the wives are left behind to raise their daughters.

Life is not always easy. We join their story with each of the four women at a different stage of the empty nest. A road trip in a mobile home to Tootsie’s old family home helps the women sort through various problems. The younger women have all just sent their daughters away to basic training. One mother is divorced and still has trust issues. Tootsie is recently widowed and still grieving, and the other two fear for their own family dynamics. Luke, Tootsie’s nephew, drives on the trip. He is handsome, single, rich but down to earth, and kind. These characters are people you would like to get to know from Diana who has decided love is not in the cards for her to Carmen who takes out her fury over a cheating, scumbag husband by splitting logs for hours.

You’ll enjoy the meetings of the Empty Nesters as they share with each other and support each other. Watching them work through calamities and successes makes you feel like you are a part of the group. We don’t get to know the daughters very well, but they reflect well on their mothers who worked hard to raise them right under difficult circumstances.

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

Rating:  5/5

Category: General Fiction (A), Romance

Notes: Includes some mild swearing

Publication: August 20, 2019—Montlake Romance

Memorable Lines:

It might have seemed strange to someone else, but with all the recent events, his comment was a life preserver in the midst of an ocean—a simple  compliment to hang on to when the stormy waters of life were sweeping over her.

“When we get old, the biggest blessing in the world is simply to be needed”

Tootsie brought out a bottle of wine from her secret stash on the top shelf of her closet and piled sugar cookies high on a platter. Meetings weren’t held in the South, especially Texas, without food and something to drink, so it was only right that the first official meeting of the empty nesters should at least have something.

The Healing Jar–challenges that require patience

The Healing Jar

by Wanda E. Brunstetter 

The Healing JarExamples of difficult situations and decisions abound in Wanda E. Brunstetter’s The Healing Jar along with positive, Godly responses to those circumstances. Frequently the characters pray and then continue with their daily activities as they wait on God to answer their prayers by changing their circumstances or their hearts. Often He acts in surprising ways.

The main characters in these stories are all connected to the Amish Lapp family, and they all independently stumble on prayer jars hidden on the Lapp property. What remains a mystery to the young ladies, until a discovery in this book, is who accumulated Scriptures and heartfelt petitions to God on slips of paper in old canning jars.

The matriarch of the Lapp family is Mary Ruth. The other main character in The Healing Jar is her granddaughter Lenore Lapp who longs to be a wife and mother. The story of Sara, a granddaughter who was not raised Amish, continues in this book as she tries to discover the identity of her biological father. Michelle, who in an earlier book pretends to be Sara, finds happiness in her conversion to the Amish way but faces challenges when her husband wants to move away from her new family and friends.

I enjoyed this gentle book and recommend this trilogy to those who are interested in learning more about Amish life and customs and to readers looking for romance with a Christian focus. I do think this series should be read in its entirety and in sequence as it is very character based. Perhaps because of the way the series builds and the closure this book provides, it is my favorite of the three books.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Literary Fiction

Notes: #3 in the Prayer Jar Trilogy. I recommend it, but not as a standalone.

Publication:  August 1, 2019— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

“We must learn to trust the Lord, even with things we don’t understand. As we go through troubled waters, it should strengthen, not weaken, our faith. And remember, dear one, prayer is not a business transaction. We don’t give something to get something in return.”

It was frustrating how a person could think they had worked through a situation, even felt peace about it, and then out of the blue, the pain of it all came right back to haunt them.

“It just goes to show that even when people make terrible mistakes, God can take a negative situation and turn it into something good.”

If I Built a School–school can be fun!

If I Built a School

written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

If I Built a SchoolJack uses his imagination to create the perfect school in If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen. Written in rhyme, the first verses immediately bring Dr. Seuss to mind: 

Jack, on the playground, said to Miss Jane, 

This school is OK, but it’s pitifully plain. 

The builder who built this I think should be banned. 

It’s nothing at all like the school I have planned. 

Unlike Dr. Suess, Van Dusen sticks to real words and the book is ripe with opportunities for vocabulary study—after a long period of enjoying the story and illustrations.

As Jack takes his teacher on a tour, we see his ideas play out in colorful and fun illustrations. His concept includes puppies and a zoo in the lobby, hover desks, and hologram guests. This is such a fun book; I think it would be a particularly good read in the classroom lending itself to much discussion and creative followup as children illustrate and write about their own notions for a perfect school.  

Warning to school administrators: there is no mention of testing in this book because as Jack concludes:

On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!

And learning is fun in a place that’s fun too.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Dial Press (Penguin) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages: 5-8

Grades: K-3

Publication:  August 13, 2019— Dial Press (Penguin)

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar–romance in Highland, Georgia

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar

by Laura Trentham

A Highlander Walks Into a BarWhen your mom goes to Scotland and brings home a surprise, you don’t expect it to be a handsome Highlander…or that a younger version will follow. These two men, Gareth and Alasdair, along with Rose and Izzy (Isabel) are the main characters in A Highlander Walks Into a Bar by Laura Trentham. The setting is not Cairndow, home of the Blackmoor family, but Highland, Georgia, where Rose and Izzy try to keep their beloved Stonehaven, as well as the entire town of Highland, solvent through a Scottish festival every summer. The secrets the characters keep to themselves, even as their intimacy as couples grows, make for some uncomfortable and humorous situations. They all wonder, as does the reader, how there can ever be a positive outcome for the two couples given their respective responsibilities an ocean away from each other. There is resolution, of course, but the book ends with an epilogue that can obviously segue into another tale involving the same characters and a new one. Lots of potential fun lies in store for readers of this new series. 

I would like to extend my thanks to Carla (https://carlalovestoread.wordpress.com) and to St. Martin’s Paperbacks for gifting me with this book. I won this book in an online raffle after reading Carla’s review which you can enjoy yourself on her blog.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: A Highlander Walks Into a Bar is a good, fun romance. If you don’t want the details of a hot and heavy passionate union, skip chapter 11. Omitting these details will not in any way hinder your enjoyment or understanding of this book.

Publication:   July 30, 2019—St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Memorable Lines:

More bagpipes joined in, and the march they played made her heart ache with an emotion she couldn’t categorize. Sometimes it was better to feel than to understand.

“Are you and Gareth in love?” The question popped out, and not for the first time Izzy wished she had a speedbump between her brain and her mouth.

“It is easier to tally who is right and wrong and hang onto your resentment and turn your back, because forgiveness and understanding are difficult. What you should tally are laughs and kisses and how many times you are made a better person because of your connection.”

Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place!

Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place!

written by Naomi Shulman

illustrated by Hsinping Pan

Be KindLooking for a good way to make children more aware of how to be kind and demonstrate it every day? Then Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place!  by Naomi Shulman is the perfect book for you. With over 100 ideas of kind things to do, Be Kind can be read at one sitting or broken up into a suggestion per day. I would suggest doing  both! Not all suggestions are appropriate for all children or settings. For example, setting up a neighborhood lost and found could be problematic in some neighborhoods or for a child who needs boundary guidelines. I really think this is a good book for an adult to share with a child so that discussion can occur about safety issues and materials, and assistance and supervision can be provided as needed. Most of the examples, however, are just uncomplicated, courteous actions such as smiling at people or sharing room on bleachers. Just thinking of kind things and implementing them can help you think of more kind things to do. Children could even write and illustrate a book of their own ideas or a log of their acts of kindness.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: The illustrations are simple, colorful shape drawings.

Publication:  June 25, 2019— Storey Publishing 

The Printed Letter Bookshop–books as a pathway to healing

The Printed Letter Bookshop

by Katherine Reay

The Printed Letter BookshopThis fictional work opens with the rather stark and extremely well attended funeral of Maddie and shares the perspectives of her estranged, but much loved, niece Madeline and of Janet and Claire, two ladies who are employees and friends of Maddie. What follows takes us into the lives and families of all of these ladies. They struggle with work and relationships, but Maddie leaves each an encouraging letter listing books that will help them in their life journeys. Maddie has a reputation for matching up readers with just the right book. Life is a battle for each of these ladies, and there is some characteristic in one or more of them that readers can identify with.

Part of The Printed Letter Bookshop draws attention to Proverbs 31 in the Bible which describes a wise woman and provides a model for the characters in forming their aspirations. I followed the ups and downs of the characters with hopes for successful resolutions to their problems. Will Madeline continue on her intended path to become a successful law partner? Will the town’s beloved bookshop survive during an online economy and after some bad business decisions? Can Janet find restoration with her husband and children? Is there a way for Claire to be a good mom while meeting her own needs? The story builds at an adequate pace as we are introduced to the characters and storyline, but accelerates towards the end as things come to a head for each of the characters in solving their personal dilemmas. Although there is closure for each of the ladies, it is not a puffy pink, cotton candy kind of resolution. There are surprises, heartbreaks, and difficult situations along the way as they learn what is important, how to forgive, and the need to avoid jumping to conclusions based on appearances.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Notes: I would LOVE to visit this bookstore!

Publication:  May 14 , 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

You can miss your family so much you have to look down to see your chest rise and fall, to confirm that it hasn’t been cut open and you’re not bleeding out and you’re still breathing. Friends can’t hurt you like that, nor can they fill that fissure.

“I remember Aunt Maddie saying you could lose yourself in a book and, paradoxically, find yourself as well.”

I do remember that his resignation ignited my anger. Anger always comes first for me. Anger keeps embarrassment, humiliation, shame, all manner of painful emotions at bay—for a time. But it requires so much fuel. And while it burned hot that night, and for a couple weeks after, it soon flickered out. Shame replaced it, and shame doesn’t need much fuel to thrive. It can live on tiny nibbles for years, possibly a lifetime.

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