Book Review: Tea With Emma

 Tea With Emma by Diane Moody is a story within a story.

The outer story has writer Lucy Alexander with writer’s block ever since her beloved aunt died. When Lucy’s father sends her the teacup collection that her aunt had willed to her, Lucy is reminded of their special times together and of the Jane Austen book her aunt had bought for her.

Then Lucy is inspired: she can write a series of stories based on each of the cups. The first one is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

Next comes the first story, Tea With Emma.

Two lifelong friends, Maddie and Lanie, are just returning from a trip to England. Maddie is inspired to open an English tea shop, and Lanie has agreed to help her. Their giggling and carrying on in the plane annoys the seatmate in front of them, an English professor. In a comedy or errors, the girls and the professor keep running into each other, with near-disastrous results.

When Maddie goes home to her grandmother in Texas, whom she has taken care of since the latter had a stroke, she lays out her plans for the tea room and gets her grandmother’s blessing. She soon discovers that the grumpy professor lives across the street. She tries to befriend him, but he rejects her efforts.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, but evidently missing what Emma had learned by the end, Maddie feels God’s mission for her life is to be a matchmaker. She encourages Lanie towards the contractor and away from an online computer geek. It does not go well.

Meanwhile the professor has to come to grips with the issues in his life which have made him so cranky.

My thoughts:

I thought the premise would make for a fun, touching story, but I just didn’t connect any of the characters, except maybe the grandmother and the computer guy. Maddie and Lanie seemed juvenile, Maddie seemed pushy, and the professor was just a grouch, at least until he got his heart right. And the transformation from irritation with Maddie to falling in love with her just seemed too quick and unrealistic. Of course, this is a novella, so things had to happen a little faster than they would have in a longer novel.

I enjoyed the theme of letting God have control and following His direction. Both Maddie and the professor became more likeable by the end of the story. I know Jane Austen’s Emma goes through a similar learning curve, but I always found Emma sophisticated and likeable even while I disliked her actions and motivations at the beginning.

Reviews on Amazon were mixed, with some people loving the story and others not, so it may just be a matter of personalities not appealing to everyone. So don’t let me discourage you from trying the book, especially as it’s free for the Kindle at the moment. I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

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Book Review: Back Home Again

Back HomeIn Back Home Again: Tales from the Grace Chapel Inn by Melody Carlson, Alice Howard is a middle-aged single woman who has lived with her father in the old family home for years. Now her father has passed away, and her sisters have come home for the funeral. The house has been left to the three of them equally, and as they discuss what to do with it, they hit upon the idea of converting it to a bed-and-breakfast.

Their first obstacle is a meddling aunt and small-town resistance to anything new. Then, the three sisters are so different, and two of them in particular disagree over every little aspect. Alice tries to be a peacemaker between her two sisters and her family and the town.

The sisters, their aunt, and the town learn to come together, forgive, and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

This is the first book in a series of over thirty, authored by various writers. A light, pleasant read.

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Book Review: The Pattern Artist

Pattern ArtistIn The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser, Annie Wood left her dysfunctional family to go into service as a housemaid in England in 1911. She had a knack for sewing and alteration and hoped those skills would pave her way towards becoming a lady’s maid. She accompanied the family on a visit to America, and a number of factors worked together to compel her to run away with a couple of friends to see what life had to offer in this country.

Their first few days are rough, but then Annie lands a job at Macy’s Department Store in the sewing department. Her suggestions for her customers are noticed favorably by her managers, but negatively by a jealous coworker. A Butterick pattern salesman sees her potential and recruits her to join his company as a pattern designer.

Annie’s path is not always smooth, though. A number of obstacles, dangers, and a tragedy block her way. But she hopes, with hard work, determination, and a faith just beginning to bud, that she might find her own American dream. She learns “Humble beginnings are a badge of honor. It’s not where you begin, but where you end up” (p. 187).

This book caught my eye because I have enjoyed many of Nancy’s books, plus I used to do a lot of sewing and worked in a fabric shop for years. It was fun to read of how all of that worked in the early 1900s.I had not heard before of the Reform Dress Movement, an effort “started in the 1840s, rejecting the unhealthy confinement of the female form, and promoting practical clothing” (p. 189), but I am glad it helped get rid of corsets and ridiculous fashions like the hobble skirt.The movement plays a part in Annie’s career.

I enjoyed the author’s explanations in the afterword about how she came to include some of the various historic details. And somehow I totally missed the double meaning of the title until I read it in that afterward, but it should have been plain to me. Realizing that made me enjoy the story all the more.

It dawned on me at some point that the family Annie first worked for was in Nancy’s Summerfield (Manor House) series. I have only read the first book in that series so far, but it was fun to make that connection.

Overall quite an enjoyable read!

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Book Review: When the Morning Glory Blooms

Morning Glory When the Morning Glory Blooms by Cynthia Ruchti explores three different, but related, timelines.

The first one, in modern times, involves Becky, whose teenage daughter had a baby out of wedlock. Becky takes care of her grandson so her daughter can finish high school, but she struggles with how much she’s helping and how much she’s enabling her daughter’s lack of sense of responsibility.

In 1951, Ivy just saw her boyfriend off to the Korean War. Then she found out she was pregnant. Now she’s afraid to tell him. She doesn’t want to put him in danger by distracting him, but she’s also afraid he’ll reject her. Ivy works in a nursing home, and one of her patients is Anna. Anna wants Ivy to help write down her story, and at first Ivy acquiesces just to please Anna. But she realizes that Anna is perfectly clear and not at all the dementia patient Ivy had thought. And Anna’s story is not only remarkable in itself, but it touches her own in many ways.

In the 1890s, Anna inherited some property. Her dream: to turn the old home into a haven for unwed mothers. She had little resource except faith. Her plan was not well-received by the community – except for her pastor and his wife, who helped to bring others on board.

As you can see, each of the stories involves unplanned pregnancies. Even though they were handled in different ways in different eras, they still brought complicated and painful consequences. Yet in each story line, those involved found some measure of grace and some maturity and growth through their circumstances.

The three are also connected by morning glories – but I’ll let you discover what that means.

A few quotes:

Your baby’s name is not Regret.

Wouldn’t one think that the forgiven would be quickest to forgive others? That the redeemed would fall over one another in their rush to carry the song of deliverance to those who had yet to hear its calming melody? That those who had found refuge would do everything in their power to light the way for others?

When young women lived with me, they worked beside me both because their help was needed and because work is both healing and character building.

I thought I’d have trouble keeping up with three different threads of story, but Cynthia wove them together well while keeping each distinctive enough to avoid confusion. I enjoyed the humor especially in Becky’s narrative. There were a few surprises: some of the connections between the women turn out to be different from what I had thought they would be. I enjoyed the unfolding of each woman’s story, and the need to extend and receive grace displayed in each one.

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Book Review: My Father’s House

My Father's House My Father’s House by Rose Chandler Johnson begins with the idyllic childhood of Lily Rose Cates in Georgia. Then her father died when she was sixteen, turning her world upside down. Her mother had been not entirely mentally present for some time, a situation made worse by the death of Lily’s father. A lady who took care of their home, Annie Ruth, became a second mother and the main stabilizing influence in Lily’s life.

Milestones pass – high school graduation, friendships, college. Lily has a couple of part-time jobs she likes, but life is pretty tame. She is invited to visit a cousin’s place in New York City and is absolutely mesmerized by all there is to see and do. One highlight is an encounter with a handsome and charming waiter who asks for her number.

To her joy and surprise, the waiter, Manny, does call – only he’s not a waiter. The restaurant was his family’s, and he was just helping out for a while. He’s actually a driven, high-powered lawyer in Detroit. A telephone romance leads to a proposal and a move for Lily Rose. Some incidents and reactions from Manny make Lily uncomfortable, but she’s in love and her courtship is such a whirlwind, she lets them go.

Their first few days are bliss until Manny has to go back to work, leaving Lily lonely trying to get accustomed not only to a new city, but a new situation, style of home and life, everything. Before long, Manny’s dark side comes out bit by bit. Lily realizes that she can no longer brush off or overlook his actions. Manny has become unpredictable and dangerous, and Lily decides to leave with the help of a friend.

Lily goes back to Georgia to a home of her father’s that she had inherited but had not told Manny about.  She knows Manny will come looking for her, but for a while she has time to heal, stabilize, and rediscover her roots and her faith.

This was a wonderfully told story with a strong sense of place. The description of the Southern setting makes one want to settle in a rocking chair on the porch with a glass of sweet iced tea. I was drawn right in and looked forward to each new chapter, sorrowing with Lily over the loss of her father and her marriage, rejoicing as she grew.

There were a few too many references to Lily and Manny’s intimacy for my tastes, but none of that was explicit, and what was said did make sense in context. Then in the second half of the book, there are a number of instances of an unmarried man and woman staying overnight in a cabin and home. None of the other characters seems to have a problem with that: I would have loved for at least one of them to object. The author prevents anything from happening between them. And there’s an odd incident where Lilly almost seems to be saying she visited her father in heaven in a dream.

But other than those caveats, I thought this was a lovely story.

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Book Review: Looking Into You

Looking Into YouIn Looking Into You by Chris Fabry, Paige Redwine is an English professor at a college in Nashville. Only her parents know her secret: some twenty years before, she became pregnant and placed her baby for adoption at the insistence of her parents. Told that the father of her baby died, Paige had no choice but to go on with her life. But she feels stuck: she’s supposed to be finishing her dissertation on a mother’s love in literature, but she can’t seem to make progress. She also feels stuck in a relationship with a nice man who wants to be more than friends, but she can’t seem to move forward.

Then one day a coworker tells her about a documentary she saw about a nursing home’s residents and workers (told in Every Waking Moment). Among the nursing home staff was a girl in her twenties who had been placed for adoption but ended up being passed through the system. The girl had nystagmus, which caused her eyes to move rapidly, and when overwhelmed she made a typing motion with her hands. She wasn’t very expressive, but she had an unusual way with the residents, especially those who couldn’t or didn’t communicate. Paige is jolted when she learns the girl’s name: Treha, the unusual name she had purposefully given the baby she had placed for adoption.

Shaken, Paige finds and watches the documentary. But even now, knowing where her daughter is and what she has been through, Paige is hesitant to reach out. But then, “indecision made the decision” for her: suddenly Treha shows up as a student in one of Paige’s classes, unaware that Paige is her mother.

The point of view switches back and forth between Paige and Treha, and also occasionally to Miriam, Treha’s boss at the nursing home. I enjoyed seeing both sides as mother and daughter learn to overcome their fears to reach out and have a crash course in mother-daughter relationships. I’m glad Fabry didn’t paint this too rosy: every relationship has its rough spots, and both women had a lot to learn in relating to one another. “Grace allows you to see yourself in light of the past, not in the shadow of it.”

This book drew me in right away, and the ordeals of both women touched my heart. I think this book could be read as a stand-alone – I had forgotten much of Every Waking Moment when I started this book. But I’d recommend them both.

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Book Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice

Illusionist On New Year’s Eve in 1926, a medium in Massachusetts advertises that he will raise a man from the dead.  Though someone does rise from the newly unearthed coffin, he immediately falls down dead. The FBI treat the case as a homicide, and their investigation takes them to other vaudevillian performers, particularly Wren Lockhart. Wren is an illusionist who apprenticed under Harry Houdini. But interest in her goes beyond her stage work: the dead man had the name of Jennifer Charles in his vest pocket, Wren’s real name which she has tried to keep buried. FBI agent Elliot Matthews works with Wren to gain more information helpful to the case, but Wren reveals as little as possible, wary of bringing her past to light.

When Wren and Agent Matthews are chased and shot at in a car, the case expands from the one magic trick gone wrong on New Year’s Eve. Is someone after Wren to gain Houdini’s secrets? Or is someone wreaking revenge for the part Houdini and Wren played in debunking a medium’s claims? Or has someone uncovered Wren’s carefully buried secrets?

The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron kept me on the edge of my seat with multiple twists and turns and the revelation of new information along the way. Wren’s history is told in flashbacks which jumped around to different parts of her life. They could have been confusing, but I made it a point to look at the date beginning every chapter to try to keep on track.

Besides the mystery and suspense elements, I loved Wren’s development through the story as she slowly learns to trust Matthews. I also enjoyed that there were several layers to the story. The faith element first shows up in Wren’s insistence that only one man ever raised anyone from the dead and that her profession wasn’t magic but illusion. After that her faith is more undercurrent than overt, but its expression becomes more vivid near the end.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

There cannot be dark without the light that will overcome it. Whatever darkness there is, God’s light shines brighter. It has to. He’s the Hero in every story–especially this one.

Kristy’s first two books were set during WWII, the third one took place in a circus, and now this one centers around illusionists and vaudeville. Though I also enjoy authors who write in particular time eras or niches, I love that Kristy’s subject matter is unexpected and often largely unexplored until now.

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Book Review: Anchor in the Storm

AnchorIn Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin, Lillian Avery looks forward to her first job as a professional pharmacist in Boston in 1941. Her new boss had not wanted to hire a woman, but a male pharmacist wasn’t available. He’s also aggravated about employing a “cripple,” though Lillian’s wooden leg doesn’t hinder her work in the least.

While Lillian sets out to prove her value at work, she fends off attention from her brother’s best friend, Arch Vandenberg. Arch is rich and good-looking, but Lillian feels these attributes are hindrances rather than attractions. Besides, for reasons of her own, she doesn’t trust any man and will never allow herself to be weak.

Arch is an Ensign recently assigned to a destroyer along with Jim Avery, Lillian’s brother. Jim and Arch had survived an attack on their previous destroyer, but Arch has been battling flashbacks, shaking hands, and a fear of being trapped below decks. He can’t tell anyone, though, both because he is an officer, and because he might be ejected from the Navy.

Arch hates his family’s wealth and plans to give his inheritance away when he gets it. He’s tired of girls who only show interest because of his family’s money. Lillian seems different, but they get off to a wrong start. Arch decides to just befriend her with the hopes that eventually she’ll be open to him as more than a friend.

While Lillian notices some odd prescriptions at the pharmacy, Arch notices odd behavior on the ship: men acting groggy, almost drunk, and not performing their duties well. Lillian tries to alert a detective to her suspicions, but he doesn’t believe she has enough evidence. Lillian and Arch decide to investigate together and compare notes. But their findings might be just as dangerous as the war.

My thoughts:

I don’t like to read romance just for the sake of romance, especially giddy, silly romances.  Sarah’s stories have much more to them, and I love that. They are neither silly nor giddy. Lillian and Arch have much to work through, mentally as well as spiritually, and the plot line involves more than their romance. I always love the way Sarah includes a lot of historical data about WWII but without becoming stuffy or didactic. The mystery plot line was well-done and the faith element was natural and realistic. I enjoyed the book very much.

This book is the second in the Waves of Freedom series, the first being Through Waters Deep. Though some characters from the first book appear in the second, and it’s enjoyable to read both, the second can be understood well as a stand-alone book.

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Book Review: Another Way Home

Another Way Home Another Way Home by Deborah Raney is the third in her Chicory Inn series involving the family of empty nesters Grant and Audrey Whitman, who have turned their family home into a bed and breakfast. (The first was Home to Chicory Lane; the second, Two Roads Home.) Though the whole family of their adult children, sons- and daughter-in-law, and grandchildren are in every book, each book in the series focuses on one particular child and his or her family.

This time the spotlight shines on middle daughter Danae and her husband Dallas. They have been trying to conceive for years with no results except tension in their marriage and resentment and hurt on Danae’s part. She’s particularly stung when sister Corrinne becomes pregnant – again – unexpectedly without even trying. Danae can’t keep her resentment from showing, and Corrinne feels guilty and unsure when to even announce her news to the family. Though the family empathizes and tries to be sensitive,  Danae resents their well-meaning questions and concerns and sympathy. Dallas especially feels he has to constantly walk on eggshells around Danae. Dallas won’t even discuss the possibility of adoption, for reasons which he won’t share, even though he himself was adopted and raised by a loving family.

Danae decides they should stop fertility treatments and the quest to have a baby for a while. To try to occupy herself, she responds to an announcement at church asking for volunteers at a women’s shelter. There she becomes friends with another older volunteer, Bertha, and gets involved in the lives of one of the women there and her son.

I don’t want to say any more than that so as not to give the story away.

I love how Deborah doesn’t sugarcoat any of the facets of the story. All of the characters’ struggles are gritty and realistic while they seek for God’s direction, provision, and grace.

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Book Review: Sins of the Past

Sins of the Past Sins of the Past is a collection of three “romantic suspense” novellas by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Eason. The characters and stories are unrelated except that each main character’s current dilemma is a result of or related to something in his or her past.

In “Missing” by Dee Henderson, Wyoming police chief John Graham received word that his mother was missing from her retirement community in Chicago. He flew back to Chicago from Wyoming. Initial reports showed no foul play or evidence of a robbery or a sudden attack. John begins to fear that someone from his undercover days in Chicago is taking revenge on him through his mother. He works with Lieutenant Sharon Noble to find his mother and her kidnapper.

In “Shadowed” by Dani Pettrey, competitive open-water swimmer Libby Jennings goes for a pleasure ride to see dolphins when the skipper of the boat sees a dead body in the water. When they pull the body in, Libby finds it is one of her competitors, Kat. Kat was from Russia and the two women had had some conflicts in the past, but Libby hates to see Kat dead. Libby works with the local law enforcement of small town Yancey, Alaska, to find out what happened. Since this story takes place in the Cold War era, investigators suspect ties to Communist intrigue as well.

In “Blackout” by Lynette Eason, Macey Adams has been suffering from migraines and memory loss since a horrific accident several years earlier. But just when bits and pieces of her memory begin to return, she finds herself in danger. Her brother-in-law had died trying to help her regain her memories, so she closes herself off from others so as not to put anyone else in danger. But a police officer-neighbor comes to her aid when he hears her screaming after a home intrusion, and together they investigate who might be trying to do Macey harm and why.

My thoughts:

The draw for me in this book was Dee Henderson. Suspense and crime drama aren’t my first choice of book genres, but I discovered Dee years ago while looking for Christian fiction that my mom might be interested in, and I think I have read all of Dee’s books since then. I very much enjoyed her story, though I figured out the culprit early on. I was surprised as to the person’s motives, though. I had not read either of the other two authors before. There were a couple of odd sentences in Dani’s story (one example: “He looked her in the eye, the depth of his heart wading in them”) and a few too many “She looked at his lips, which she wished were pressing hers” kind of statements. There seemed to me to be a couple of illogical aspects in the last two stories (a civilian heavily involved in a murder investigation, someone who is being stalked taking out the garbage alone behind her building at work). But overall I did enjoy these stories, too. Lynette’s particularly started off right in the middle of a tense scene and drew me right in. I appreciated that the characters in the first two stories acted “Christianly” (to borrow Rebekah‘s word), yet in a natural way. There wasn’t much from a Christian nature in the third except for a couple of prayers or acknowledgments of God’s intervention.

If you like stories that are clean, Christian, and suspenseful, you might like these books. One advantage of novella collections is the opportunity to sample writing from a few different authors.

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