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Marshmallow Malice–wedding complications

Marshmallow Malice

by Amanda Flower

From a chunk of burnt hair to drunken accusations to murder on the doorstep of the church, disasters just keep happening on Juliet Brody’s wedding day, and she is depending on her “possible” future daughter-in-law, Bailey, to help her out. Bailey is a chocolatier who is working in her grandmother’s candy shop in the Amish/Englisch town of Harvest. She is also dating Juliet’s son, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Brody.

Amanda Flower’s Marshmallow Malice is a fun cozy mystery with new problems arising from all directions as Bailey is encouraged by locals to help solve the murder case and act as a go-between for the Amish with the Englisch law enforcement. The humor comes into play with Jethro, Juliet’s adored and adorable polka-dotted pig that gets into lots of mischief. There is also light-hearted teasing between Bailey and her visiting New York friend Cass. At times the plot turns to danger as Bailey advances on moonshiners in Harvest Woods. Serious themes take the forefront with alcoholism, secrets from the past, and hints of domestic violence.

Marshmallow Malice is filled with likable characters. Bailey’s grandmother Clara whom she calls Maami is Amish to her roots and in her everyday living. Although she follows her bishop’s rulings precisely, she is practical and accepting of Bailey’s activities as an Englischer. Cousin Charlotte works with Bailey in the shop, and her life gives the reader insight into the dilemma of the young Amish as they decide whether to join the church or not. Shunning is also explored as the method the Amish use to try to get a member to abandon sin. Flower’s depiction of characters from both cultures is fair in that criminals and those with personal problems are drawn from both Amish and Englisch societies. This is a cozy mystery series with an Englisch main character; it is not an Amish romance. As such, it adds both humor and complications to what might be the basis for a typical Amish story. Don’t label this story as a sweet Amish tale. It is not dark, but it does have depth. It is well-written and leaves me eager for more in the series.

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 Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. The author throws you right into the storyline, so it would probably be best (and also a delight) to read the first books in sequence.

2. Recipe included for Charlotte’s Easy Marshmallow Sticks

Publication:   May 26, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“She looks like a cotton candy machine exploded, doesn’t she?”…”Well…” Aiden trailed off as if he was dumbstruck by my appearance. Then he said, “It’s the kind of outfit that makes you believe there just might be unicorns out there.”

“The celebration will be a hit,” I said. “I know it will be,” Margot said. “I won’t allow anything less.” With that, she patted her curls and bustled out the door.

“The Amish look down on pride, but at the heart of it, we are a very proud culture. Our pride doesn’t come from material things. We take pride in how gut we are.”

The Crow’s Call–the taming of a crow

The Crow’s Call

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Crow's CallI like Wanda E. Brunstetter’s foray into mystery with The Crow’s Call  which begins the Amish Greenhouse Mystery Series. It is a spinoff from The Prayer Jars trilogy, but that association does not impact the reader’s enjoyment of this new series. Having read the trilogy, I did enjoy the  pleasant surprise of encountering a few familiar characters.

The Crow’s Call begins with a family tragedy that will forever affect the King family. Woven into that background are mysterious occurrences which damage the Kings’ greenhouse and livelihoods. Amy, frequently the focus of the narration, tries to bear the burdens of maintaining her family both emotionally and financially, but the job is really too big for one young lady.

With interesting Amish characters who work at their relationship with God and others, this book includes the characters’ thoughts and prayers and the Bible verses they rely on as they deal with issues in their lives. The mystery of vandalism is not resolved nor are the issues of the depression of a young widow and the rebellion of her brother. I assume these problems will be carried into the next book in the series. A new Englisch couple moves in across the road from the greenhouse. The wife in the family suffers from a physical disability, but also from an unreasonable dislike of the Amish. She is rather mean spirited, but I have the feeling there must be a story behind her attitude. Other plot threads are an unexpected suitor from the past for the matron of the family and the opening of a rival greenhouse.

It was refreshing to read a mystery with no murders. I enjoyed learning more about Amish customs and beliefs. Reading The Crow’s Call is a good antidote to current social upheaval as this book emphasizes treating others with kindness and trusting in God.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley 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, Women’s Fiction, Mystery

Notes: This is most definitely part of a series, meaning if you want total closure on all threads, then this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the book, want to learn more about the characters, and anticipate further interesting plot developments, so I am “all in” to experience the rest of the series as it is published.

Publication:   March 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines: 

Things she used to take for granted that had once seemed like simple chores now felt like heavy burdens she could hardly bear.

“It’s best not to worry—especially about things that are beyond our control. We need to pray every day and put our faith in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask Him to put a hedge of protection around us.”

She couldn’t let her discouragement tear down her faith. The best remedy was reading God’s Holy Word.

Matchmaking Can Be Murder–Amish and Englisch worlds collide

Matchmaking Can Be Murder

by Amanda Flower

Matchmaking Can Be MurderAlready familiar with the little town of Harvest through Amanda Flower’s Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series, I was a a little confused when I found myself in a familiar town, but with a new main character, Millie. Then I remembered that Matchmaking Can Be Murder is the first in a new series. Many of the characters in the first series, which focuses on Bailey, an Englisch candy maker are back in this series. The new series features a sixty-seven year old Amish woman with a knack for knowing if two people are compatible. She returns home after years of caring for Amish kin in various communities.

Harvest is a mixed community with its Amish and Englisch citizens getting along fairly well. It is interesting to learn more about the Amish while watching their interactions with their non-Amish friends and neighbors. Especially fun is the reunion of Millie with her childhood friend Lois, a gregarious lady who has had a lot of husbands and is quite outspoken. Her clothing and jewelry are as eye-catching as Millie’s style of dress is plain. Lois makes many references to contemporary technologies and cultural icons that go right past Millie. More humor is found in the trained goat duo of Phillip and Peter who are Millie’s pets, guard goats, and lawn keepers.

Although Millie is the main character, the mystery centers around her niece Edy, a young widow with three children, whose fiancée is discovered dead in her greenhouse shortly after she breaks off the engagement. Millie and Lois attempt to discover who murdered Zeke, but they uncover more crime and convoluted personal relationships than they could ever have predicted.

It is interesting watching Millie in action as she tries to find out the truth while staying within the limits of what is right. She and Lois have to work at keeping each other in check and out of trouble. A nice touch is the author’s inclusion of Amish proverbs as they come to Millie throughout her day. I enjoy the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries, but this spinoff series is even better!

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com 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: The first book in the Amish Matchmaking Mystery Series, it is a spinoff but it is not necessary to read the series it came from.

Publication:   December 31, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Sometimes it worked to a person’s advantage to be friends with the biggest gossip in the district. I just had to feed Raellen the right information, and she would take care of the rest.

…”they can only fully commit to the Amish life when they know what the Englisch one is like. If they see the way the rest of the world lives and then commit to our ways, they are more likely to stay here.”

There was no way to rebuild what was shattered, but what we could make was something brand-new, something that was different but stronger than before. That’s what I hoped for the very most.

Amish Front Porch Stories–fruits of the Spirit

Amish Front Porch Stories

by Wanda E. Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter, and Richelle Brunstetter

Amish Front Porch StoriesWhat are the fruits of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22-23 in the New Testament of the Bible states that they are love, joy, peace, longsuffering (a willingness to stick with things), gentleness (kindness), goodness, faith, meekness (not needing to force our way in life), and temperance (self-control). These are certainly admirable qualities for anyone, but do you ever ponder how these play out in the life of a Christian?

Amish Front Porch Stories is a collection of tales by Wanda E. Brunstetter and two other writers from her family. These stories demonstrate the challenges for those trying to live in such a way that the fruits of the Spirit are evident in their lives to the people around them. It is not always easy to submit your will to God to try to be like Jesus. In each story, the main character faces a dilemma, and she learns to recognize a problem in her life like pride or resentment, often with the help of a friend, mentor, or family member. She confesses to God and asks for the Holy Spirit’s power in overcoming the problem.

None of the short stories have overly complicated plots, but they address real issues people face, whether they are Amish or not. I enjoyed reading this as I prepared to go to sleep in the evenings. It was relaxing and helped me focus on positive things rather than worries. Each story ended with a Bible verse that relates to the specific focus of the story.

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: 4/5

Category: Christian, General Fiction (Adult)

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

Memorable Lines:

“But the most important thing you can do to bring joy back into your life is to think about and quote some Bible verses out loud.”

If your day is hemmed with prayer, it is less likely to unravel.

“Kindness is a good thing. It can heal ourselves and others too.”   “I agree with you. It’s not always easy, but it is worth doing.”

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.”

Toxic Toffee–Jethro and Puff add humor

Toxic Toffee

by Amanda Flower

Toxic ToffeeAs I read Amanda Flower’s latest cozy mystery, Toxic Toffee, I was delighted to see familiar characters, like Jethro the polka dotted pig. I was amused by the introduction of a huge fluffy pet bunny named Puff and intrigued by the mysterious death of a rabbit farmer whom everyone loves. Reading about the construction of a ten foot toffee rabbit and other Easter treats was appealing to this chocoholic as well.

All of this sweetness is wrapped up in an intriguing mystery that starts in New York City where Bailey, chocolatier extraordinaire, and her naive Amish relative Charlotte have been filming candy making for a TV show. They soon leave the fascinating Big Apple where Charlotte’s Amish is frequently “showing” as she encounters a very unfamiliar world. They return to Holmes County, Ohio, where they help Bailey’s grandmother in their Amish candy shop. Bailey is approached by the son of a murdered man with a request that she help solve the mystery of his death. She agrees because of her community ties. Although “Englisch,” her ancestry is Amish and her grandmother is very respected in the community.

Threatening notes and a late night attack ramp up the danger level for Bailey and the concern level for her boyfriend, Deputy Aiden Brody. There are plot twists, turns, and surprises all the way to the end. Suspense, humor, and interesting characters make Toxic Toffee a must read for cozy mystery lovers.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com 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. #4 in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery series. 

             2. I believe this could be read without reading the previous books in the series, but I think this is one of the best so far in the series.

Publication:   June 25, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Not lucky. Blessed. Luck is an Englisch idea, not an Amish one.”

…I couldn’t live in fear. I would be afraid enough to be careful, but I would not allow myself to be stifled by fear.

“In my opinion, it’s better for a young person to leave the faith and be Englisch than force themselves to be Amish and make everyone around then miserable.”

The Brides of the Big Valley: Three Romances from a Unique Pennsylvania Amish Community

The Brides of the Big Valley: Three Romances from a Unique Pennsylvania Amish Community

by Wanda E. Brunstetter, Jean B. Brunstetter and Richelle B. Brunstetter

The Brides of the Big ValleyThree different Brunstetter authors have combined to create three equally good short Amish romances all set in Big Valley located in Mifflin County. The Amish situation that is unique in this area is that in the 1840’s the congregation broke into three groups based on beliefs, customs, and later the colors on the tops of their horse drawn buggies.

Deanna’s Determination by Wanda E. Brunstetter tells the story of Deanna Speicher, a young Amish widow with a sweet little boy who has Down syndrome. She lives with her father and contributes to their support by creating quilted goods to sell at the local flea market. Her deceased husband’s best friend, Elmer, is the romantic interest in this story until tragedy strikes again. Will Deanna and Elmer’s love survive the new crisis?

In Rose Mary’s Resolve, by Jean B. Brunstetter, we are introduced to a family that was mentioned in the first story, the Rennos, who own a furniture company. With older sister Linda getting married, Rose Mary is learning the ins and outs of the show room so she can help in the family business. Romance is in the air as Tom Yoder courts Rose Mary, but problems arise as Tom thinks of going Englisch and pressures Rose Mary on all of their decisions. Meanwhile Kevin literally drops out of the sky as he crash lands in the Renno field and develops an interest in Rose Mary and the Amish way. Will Rose Mary stay true to God and her family customs?

Leila’s Longing by Richelle Brunstetter is the story of Leila Fisher, a shy young lady who was bullied at school when she was younger and now carries the emotional scars of those experiences. She is a gifted artist, creating sketches and making greeting cards and selling them. Will her new friends Aden and his sister Sue and her new employee Mollie be able to help her emerge from her reclusiveness? Will anyone ever want to court her?

The Brides of the Big Valley is comprised of three novellas, gentle stories combined to make an interesting tale for a calm afternoon’s reading. The characters are likable and the plots are not overly predictable. God and faith are an important part of these tales.

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:  4/5

Category: Christian Fiction, Romance

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

Memorable Lines:

I bet Rose Mary would say anything is possible with the Lord’s help. But can He truly help me through my relationship with Dad, by repairing the bridge across the chasm that exists between us?

She’d been too trusting of others when she was young, which caused her to be suspicious of disloyalty. No matter how nice she was to others, she didn’t receive kindness in return. That was why it was easier for her to not even try.

When life gets at its worst or drags us down, reading God’s Word provides guidance on good living.”

Criminally Cocoa–disappointing

Criminally Cocoa

by Amanda Flowers

Criminally CocoaI have read books in two different series by Amanda Flowers and generally find her plots intriguing, her characters interesting, and her writing style excellent. Criminally Cocoa, except for the kitschy title, was disappointing. Normally I like the rare cozy mystery that doesn’t revolve around a murder. No murder here, but no plot success either. Flowers and her characters kept strolling through the same territory with two themes (Amish girl in the big city and the success or failure of a new cooking show) over and over again. Fortunately this book is a novella. Otherwise, I would have broken my own rule for my book world and not finished the book. I did complete it, but only so I could write a proper review.

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

Rating: 2/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Novella in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series

Recipe for Bailey’s Easy Easter Birds’ Nests included.

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Kensington Press

The Forgiving Jar–the power of forgiveness

The Forgiving Jar

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Forgiving JarMysterious prayer jars filled with Bible verses and notes of faith are an inspiration to two young ladies whose paths cross when one, in an act of desperation, assumes the identity of the other. Michelle, who pretends to be Sara, finds a hope jar in the barn of the Amish couple she is deceiving. Sara, their true granddaughter, finds a forgiving jar in the basement of their house. Regardless of who hid the treasure filled canning jars, God uses the messages in the jars to give hope, inspire forgiveness, and lead the women into a relationship with Him.

Having enjoyed The Hope Jar, I looked forward to continuing the tale in The Forgiving Jar and was not disappointed. Unanswered questions in the first book were mostly answered in the second, and closure was brought to all of the relationship issues. The characters in the first book continue into the second like meeting up again with old friends. I especially like the loving and patient spirit of Sara’s Amish grandparents, Will and Mary Ruth Lapp, who, according to Amish tradition, do not evangelize but “tried by their actions and deeds to be an example of what it meant to be a Christian.” The characters are realistically portrayed as they struggle to overcome old, deep-seated hurts through forgiveness which is not depicted lightly as an easy thing to do.

I recommend The Hope Jar and The Forgiving Jar as a pair. Readers will smile, root for the characters at various times in the story, be saddened over events past and present, and be happy that, as promised, God works out even the bad in their pasts for good.

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: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Christian

Notes: 1. The Prayer Jars #2. I strongly recommend reading The Hope Jar first.

  2. There are recipes and discussion questions at the end of the book.

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

Memorable Lines:

Michelle took a deep breath, enjoying the scents of the season. The fragrance of dried leaves still lingered from autumn, and the tang of wood smoke drifting out of chimneys from nearby homes permeated the air.

“The problem with guilt is until we let go, our thoughts can be consumed with it—sometimes to the point of it making us sick or affecting our relationships with others.”

She wished she could shut the door on her memories as easily as she closed the door on the winter’s cold.

The Hope Jar–longing for love

The Hope Jar

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Hope JarSara grows up with her mother, her stepfather (from age six), and her doted upon half-brother. She has lots of unanswered questions about her biological father. When her mother passes away, Sara learns she has grandparents she has never met. In a letter her deceased mother encourages her to find them.

Michelle was taken away from abusive parents and separated from her brothers as all the children were put in foster care. As a young adult she finds herself unemployed, out of money, and in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend.

Through a misunderstanding, these two girls’ lives cross in Amish country in Pennsylvania. Just how long can Michelle, craving love and family, deceive Sara’s Amish grandparents? She is overridden with guilt. How will Sara feel about this familial triangle of which she should have been a part? Along the way in this interesting story, Michelle and the reader learn a lot about the Amish way of life. There is potential romance with an Amish man who is considering leaving the Amish traditions to become “English” and with a seminary student studying to be a pastor. Unfortunately Michelle’s deception makes it difficult for her to form relationships. 

The Hope Jar by Wanda E. Brunstetter has a few problems. The first should have been caught by an editor (and may have been in the edited final version). At one point Michelle, talking to herself, lists her abusers  and includes her foster parents. This contradicts all the other references to the foster parents which indicate a fairly normal teenage/parent relationship.  The second is the length of time it takes Michelle to leave her newly adopted home. Within the story that period gets a little repetitive although the author does add events to try to move the story along. Thirdly, things are left unresolved for both Michelle and Sara in respect to the Amish community and the grandparents. Those issues, however, will probably be resolved in the next book in the series, The Forgiving Jar, which is due for publication on February 1, 2019. I do like The Hope Jar well enough that I will be reading the next book.

I particularly like the device this book employs—prayer jars. These are old canning jars containing slips of paper that someone has written Bible verses and prayers on. Through reading a few of these at a time, Michelle begins to learn about the Christian faith, the desperate writer of the notes, and the way to healing for her soul.

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: 4/5

Category: Christian, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: Although marketed as General Fiction, it is really a book women would prefer. There is romance, but the book is free of sex, profanity, and violence. It is the first book in The Prayer Jars Series.

Publication:   August 1, 2018—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Brad had the gift of discernment, and his intuitions about people were usually correct. His mother often said he would make a good minister because he understood people and could almost see into the windows of their souls. Brad saw his intuitions as a gift from God—one that would help him counsel and minister to people.

It hurt to think that her own flesh-and-blood parents had never cared much about nurturing their children or meeting their needs. Michelle’s mom and dad had so many problems they could barely function at times, much less provide a stable environment for their family.

“I don’t mean to feel bitter, but the hurt in my heart has festered like an embedded splinter. I heard it said once that hurt fertilizes bitterness, making it grow like a weed.”

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