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Let It Snow–love, snow, and family

Let It Snow

by Sue Moorcroft

Let It SnowCome along for a peek at a British view of Christmas and snow with side trips to Switzerland where Lily and the Middletones, a motley crew of adults and teens, really experience snow with accumulated depth. They embark on a trip that displays the musical talents of the informal singing group as well as Lily’s work as an exhibition artist at a Swiss Christmas Market in Sue Moorcroft’s Let It Snow.

There are lots of complex relationships to watch develop. The back story is critical as Lily and Zinnia are sisters with two “mums,” Patsie and Roma, a situation that caused them grief from classmates as children and later from other adults. Zinnia’s biological father was an anonymous sperm donor, but Lily discovers as an adult that her conception was the result of a heterosexual affair between her mother and a much older man. Her desire to meet her other family upsets both her mothers and her sister, and she is fearful of how her brothers will respond to meeting her. Lily’s family situation gets tied into the pub she works at part time and her business endeavors in Switzerland. Lily has a romantic entanglement with Isaac, the temporary manager of the pub. Their relationship gets complicated when Isaac’s ex re-enters the picture.

I enjoyed watching the intermingling of lives and surprising conflicts that prove to make the story even more interesting. Moorcroft is a master of enticement with setting and mood. I really wanted to be at that Swiss Christmas Market with expensive cuckoo clocks and chocolates. I had visions of hot chocolate, bratwurst, and fondue (but not all at the same time) transferring to my tastebuds. When Lily stood up for herself, I was proud. When she was in physical or emotional pain, I felt for her. Lots of good outcomes make for a happy conclusion, but this tale is close enough to life that not everyone experiences a fairytale ending.

An added bonus to this story is the inclusion of some excitable kids—it is Christmas, after all. An equally enthusiastic Dalmatian named Doggo  accompanies his humans to Switzerland and is quite accommodating to whatever adventures come his way.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Publication:   September 26, 2019—Avon Books (U.K.)

Memorable Lines:

Feelings don’t always take account of right or logic or justice. They come from inside and sometimes they’re all that matter.

As they reached the car park, fresh flakes of snow began, stinging skin like love bites from the Snow Queen.

‘Pretty,’ Lily breathed, eyes reflecting the thousand lights suspended like stars in the night sky above rows of stalls like little red chalets with snow on the roofs. Each stall glittered with stars and lanterns so the entire market seemed luminous.

You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times

You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times

by Max Lucado

you'll get through thisI have always been fascinated by the Biblical story of Joseph, from the coat of many colors to saving Egypt and his people from famine. The story includes pride and arrogance, bad parenting, attempted fratricide, slavery, temptations, false accusations, jail, forgotten promises, a rise to power, revenge, and forgiveness. Joseph’s life was a roller coaster ride. There had to be a lot of times when Joseph could have questioned God, “Why me?”

Max Lucado uses Joseph’s story to speak to those who are hurting, who find themselves in a pit of despair. In You’ll Get Through This, Lucado offers the hope found in the Bible that what was intended for evil can be used by God for good. Lucado is the ultimate storyteller, and he brings in stories of people he knows and those he has met to demonstrate his points. With chapters like “Stupid Won’t Fix Stupid” and “Is God Good When Life Isn’t?”,  Lucado’s book is Biblical, practical, and inspirational. I read it at the pace of a chapter a day with more than a few sneak peeks ahead, and I plan on rereading it. There is so much help and understanding rooted in its pages for both men and women who are facing life’s challenges. 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction, Self-Help

Notes: To aid readers who want to use You’ll Get Through This for book or Bible study, there are added “Questions for Reflection” at the end of the book to accompany each chapter.

Publication:   September 10, 2013—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

You’ll get through this.

It won’t be painless.

It won’t be quick.

But God will use this mess for good.

Don’t be foolish or naive.

But don’t despair either.

With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to discover his heart. To discover his heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up.

God is plotting for our good. In all the setbacks and slip-ups, he is ordaining the best for our future. Every event of our days is designed to draw us toward our God and our destiny.

Murder at the Marina–family secrets

Murder at the Marina

Murder at the Marina

Kelly Jackson grew up on a Wyoming ranch enjoying barrel racing, but moved to Redwood Cove in Northern California where she manages the Redwood Cove B&B and is an honorary member of the Silver Sentinels, a group of senior citizens who solve crime to help their community. In this cozy mystery they are called on to help two of their own, the Russian brothers Rudy and Ivan, who have a cloud of murder over their heads.

This book is replete with Russian culture and some history as the area hosts the Russian Heritage Festival. We also learn of the aristocratic family background of the brothers. The most fun and exciting part of the story is the inclusion of a remarkable Cossack riding team. I felt like I was right there watching their amazing feats. There are many possible suspects, and danger lurks in surprising places. I could read the book again just for the fun and entertainment of the last third, which would be meaningless without the development that occurs in the first part of the book. If you enjoy watching an investigation unfold, read Janet Finsilver’s Murder at the Marina where there are many pathways to the truth and clues for the sleuths to chart as they track down the murderers. 

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Kelly Jackson Mystery Series, but worked well for me as a standalone

Publication:   April 2, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

The smells and sounds of the sea mixed together—an orchestra of sensation. Ocean mist covered my face and my skin tingled from its cool touch.

“You all give generously of your time and your caring. It’s your nature. Accepting a gift is a form of giving.”

The Rancher’s Homecoming–inspiration on a Montana ranch

The Rancher’s Homecoming

by Anna J. Stewart

The Rancher's HomecomingWhat a great final book in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series! Anna J. Stewart has the job of continuing the story and finalizing this series in her book The Rancher’s Homecoming. Stewart does a fantastic job with both tasks.

Chance Blackwell considers himself the black sheep of the Blackwell family because he never enjoyed riding horses (blasphemy on a ranch!), he loves music, and he eloped with the foreman’s daughter, hoping never to return. Life is full of surprises, however, and Chance’s wife, Maura, passes away from cancer leaving him with a hole in his heart and an adorable preschooler, and without  an inspiration for his songs. His grandfather, Big E, continues to manipulate behind the scenes, and Chance is forced to return to Falcon Creek to cast the deciding vote on the sale of the ranch.

The story moves quickly ahead while the reader gets glimpses into the past to see reasons for various characters’ actions. The relationship between Chance and Katie, his wife’s sister, who is also the acting foreman of the ranch, becomes complicated. The always likable sister-in-laws band together to try to make things better on several fronts. Will Big E ever explain himself? Has he changed? What influence does he have over Katie? Can the Blackwell brothers trust her? Should Chance vote to sell, hurting Ethan and Ty, or vote to retain the property, hurting Ben and Jon? Life is complicated, and so is the plot of The Rancher’s Homecoming.

This book is another in the series that lives up to its “heartwarming” moniker. Interesting characters, beautiful Montana setting, and a nice balance between introspection and action combine to make this a great read. If you haven’t read this series yet, I strongly recommend you put it on your TBR list for 2019!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Anna J. Stewart, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #5 in Return of the Blackwell Brothers but will work as a standalone because of brief explanations of characters and past events as the book progresses

Publication:   December 1, 2018—Harlequin Publishing

Memorable Lines:

There was nothing for him here. Nothing except bitter memories of a place where he never belonged and a family he’d never fit into. Forget being a square peg in a round hole. For Chance, he’d always felt like a banjo in an orchestra.

The melody found itself, as it always did, skipping and hopping its way through his mind like stones across a still lake.

The late-summer air brushed over them, warm and welcoming, as the river rushed beyond them and meandered through Blackwell land as easily as a bee to its hive.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you libraries aren’t important. It’s where our dreams wait to be discovered.”

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée–lying never pays

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée

by Amy Vastine

The Rancher's Fake FianceeIf you have read the other books in this series, by now you know that Big E’s plan to get his grandsons to return to the Blackwell Ranch in Falcon Creek, Montana, has a chance of working. You also realize that Tyler Blackwell, one of the younger twins in the family and an advertising executive in Portland, Oregon, will be the focus of this book. What you won’t be prepared for is the bold lie he tells to try to avoid returning to the ranch. You have to smile when a character thinks “What could possibly go wrong?”

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée by Amy Vastine is a sweet romance with a lot of relationship ups and downs along the way. All of the Blackwell brothers were affected by the death of their parents when they were young, and Tyler is no exception. He has to work through the feelings and perceptions of his ten year old self that remained with him as he matured. His fake fiancée, Hadley, is a likable character and fits in so well with the Blackwell brothers and their wives and fiancées. Unfortunately, Tyler drags Hadley into a sham relationship for his purposes, and she agrees in order to achieve a promotion that she lost due to nepotism. Of course, the truth is bound to come out, but watching it emerge is fascinating. The author uses the events in the plot to develop the characters and give the reader a chance to relate to them and their struggles. The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée lives up to expectations as a Harlequin Heartwarming romance—clean, fun, and positive. I truly didn’t want to put this book down.

As always, Big E is brought into the story in the epilogue where we get a glimpse of more of his hopefully well-intentioned machinations. If only he had shown this level of concern and understanding when the boys were growing up!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Amy Vastine, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #4 in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series, but it works well as a standalone because the author is efficient in bringing readers up to date. Warning: if you do read this as a standalone, you will find yourself wanting to read the other books in this five book series!

Publication: November 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

Being nice to people encouraged them to be nice back. It was something her father had taught her since she was little…It didn’t matter how important someone’s job was, everyone was treated with the same respect.

There was no way he could tell the truth. This was why lying was such a bad idea. It never ended with one lie. They always multiplied until no one could remember what the truth was anymore.

He wasn’t supposed to think about her because he didn’t have to see her every day, but her void was as strong as her presence.

The Rancher’s Redemption–doing the right thing

The Rancher’s Redemption

by Melinda Curtis

The Rancher's RedemptionWhen Ben Blackwell returns from New York City to Falcon Creek to help save his brothers and the Blackwell Ranch, he plans on a quick win in a water rights issue that was supposedly resolved fire years before. He didn’t plan on battling his old friend, Rachel, now a lawyer and single mom, as she tries to gain back her family’s water rights before the Double T Ranch folds. He never planned on confronting himself and the ethics of his past.

The Ranchers’ Redemption has well developed characters in Rachel and Ben. The plot moves quickly from one event to the next. As Rachel and Ben wrestle with their own goals and with an unwilling attraction to each other, they grow and change. There is more than a little humor throughout the book. The author, Melinda Curtis, has a way with language, writing word pictures that encourage smiles, an appreciation of the modern west, and an understanding of the challenges of being a single mother with too many responsibilities. Curtis very effectively uses a technique of inserting italicized phrases and sentences to indicate what Rachel and Ben are thinking or what Big E, Ben’s grandfather, might have said to him as he was growing up or even in the current situation. Big E had a major influence on Ben, but as Ben spends time on the ranch as an adult, the influences of his deceased parents come more to the front for him. He has some ethical decisions to make about the ranch, his family, and his life. Can this big-city lawyer, hardened by losing his parents and being jilted at the altar, make decisions with his heart?

Once I started reading The Rancher’s Redemption, I didn’t want to put it down. I was amazed at the clever turns of phrase found in the first fifty pages. There are lots of flashbacks to Ben and Rachel’s childhood that were revealing as they provided insights into the driving forces for these characters’ motivations. Interesting characters, both minor and major, good writing, humor, fast moving plot with a dual focus on ranching and the law, moral dilemmas, and messy friendships—this book is a complete package. We even get to meet Zoe, Big E’s current wife. I would have liked to know more of her story to understand her motivations, but it would have been too much to ask within the confines of this book. The author made a good choice in bringing in that storyline but not developing it extensively as that would have been a distraction to the main plot.

As in the previous two books is this series, The Rancher’s Redemption ends with an epilogue that follows Big E in his mysterious and unconventional journey to make things right in his family. Once more, the brief epilogue holds a surprise and leads the reader to ponder what might happen next, eagerly anticipating the fourth book in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers.

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Melinda Curtis, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #3 in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers. It could work as a standalone as the author throws in a lot of tidbits of information that would help a reader get up to speed on the series’ background or jog their memory on details.

Publication:  October 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

She marched across the ravaged carrots and torn-up grass, scrunching her eyes against the threat of tears, because ranchers didn’t cry. Not over ruined wool and silk.

Hearing Ben’s voice, the bull turned and charged the trees. He wasn’t the brightest steak-on-a-hoof. He slammed into the wrong tree.

Judge Edwards waved him to silence with more irritation than a traffic cop outside the final night of the annual rodeo in Bozeman.

The Rockies towered in the distance. There was nothing dishonest about those mountains. They were hard but they were fair, treating everyone equally. His parents had been honest and fair. But somewhere along the line, Big E had bumped Ben’s sense of right and wrong out of the black and white and into the land of the gray.

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