Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sweet (and Painful) Memories -- The Memory Jar

Sarah Shelter works as a baker at the West Kootenai Kraft and Grocery and watches the young Amish bachelors who come each year to live a few months in Montana for the chance to gain resident status and hunt wild game.  Many of the bachelors also leave West Kootenai with brides.

For years, Sarah has saved little items in her memory jar, something that is even more special to her since the death of her best friend Patty a few years earlier. Sarah's painful memories threaten to hold her back from finding love and from pursuing her dreams of someday running her own bakery.

Then she meets Jathan Schrock.  Will this young bachelor from Holmes County, Ohio, help her use the memories from her jar to move out of her past and into the future she has long dreamed of?

Tricia Goyer has written a heartwarming story in The Memory Jar, with characters experiencing a variety of life's joys and hurts.  Following Sarah and Jathan through the ups and downs of their relationship is a touching journey filled with both disappointment and fulfillment.  This is a great read for fans of Amish fiction -- or anyone who enjoys a well-written story of hope and love.

Thanks to Tricia Goyer for providing me a copy of The Memory Jar.  I am happy to give this book a five-star recommendation.

View the book trailer below.


About Tricia Goyer:

Tricia Goyer is the author of thirty books including Songbird Under a German Moon, The Swiss Courier, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like MomSense and Thriving Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas where they are part of the ministry of FamilyLife.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Welcome to Amish Vines and Orchards -- A Season for Tending

If you are wanting a book where all the loose ends get tied up in a neat, story-book ending and everyone lives happily ever after . . . well, you might want to try something else.  But, if you're looking for an engaging story filled with complex characters trying to find their way through joys and struggles to follow their dreams and God's direction . . . Cindy Woodsmall's A Season for Tending could be just the one!

Rhoda Byler is a young woman with a "gift" that causes her problems with others in her Old Order Amish community and with her Englisch neighbors.  And she struggles with guilt over the death of her younger sister.  Her only source of real joy is in the fruits and herbs she grows for her canning business, and she runs the risk of losing those.

Samuel King -- along with his brothers Jacob and Eli -- is running his family's apple orchard, and keeping it profitable has become a formidable challenge.  Irresponsible actions, family secrets, and natural tragedies make the job grow more and more difficult.

Samuel's younger sister Leah is pushing all limits during her rumschpringe and trying the patience of her family members.  When she wakes up in Rhoda's garden after a night of bad partying, one thing leads to another in forming a connection between Kings' Orchard and Rhode Side Stands.

As always, Cindy Woodsmall has written a great story.  Taking her husband's family history with apple orchards as a setting for an intriguing Amish story was a perfect way to blend two things in which you can feel her passion.  Her characters and plot keep you moving at a pace that is unpredictable and exciting.  And there are many unanswered questions that make the wait well worthwhile for the next installment in the Amish Vines and Orchards series.  I definitely give A Season for Tending a five star rating!

As a special bonus, there are a couple of recipes in the back of the book, courtesy of Sherry Gore, an author, editor and member of a Beachy Amish Mennonite church in Sarasota, Florida.

(This book was provided free of charge by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review.)

Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times  and CBA best-selling author of numerous works of fiction and one work of nonfiction whose connection with the Amish community has been featured widely in national media and throughout Christian news outlets.  She lives outside Atlanta with her family.

Learn more about Cindy here.

Please rank my review below.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Spend Time with the Lord -- At the Feet of Jesus

Like Mary, Jesus' friend from Bethany, do you long to find the "better thing"?  In At the Feet of Jesus Joanna Weaver offers a way to help you do just that.  In short, manageable daily readings, she shares simple, yet thought-provoking, devotional ideas and leads you to scripture for further reflection.

In addition to a year's worth of daily devotionals, bonus features in the book include "Going Deeper" segments and a yearly Bible reading plan.  Each "Going Deeper" section gives practical suggestions for improving your time with God.  The Bible reading plan alternates between Old and New Testament passages, listing two passages per day which would easily conform to morning and evening readings.

Much of the material in these devotional readings comes from other books by Joanna Weaver -- Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit, and Lazarus Awakening.  I have not yet had the opportunity to read those books but look forward to doing so after reading At the Feet of Jesus.

(This book was provided free of charge by Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my honest review.) 

Find out what other readers think of At the Feet of Jesus here.

About At the Feet of Jesus

You were made for more than serving God; you were made to "know" Him.

Intimacy with God--to know Him and be known by Him. It is what our hearts desperately need, but somehow life conspires to keep us busy and distracted.

For anyone who struggles when it comes to daily devotions, "At the Feet of Jesus" extends an irresistible invitation to set aside your duties and find the amazing peace and incredible joy that come from time alone with Him. Drawn from Joanna Weaver's beloved Bethany trilogy, each reading in this 365-day devotional includes a Bible reading passage and reflection question. All-new material and "Going Deeper" sidebars are also woven throughout.

Discover for yourself the riches that come from spending a portion of each day alone with God. At the feet of Jesus--where true life begins

Includes a unique One-Year Bible Reading Guide.

Link to buy the book: http://ow.ly/erC31  

About Joanna Weaver

With more than one million books in print, Joanna Weaver is the best-selling author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit, Lazarus Awakening, and the award-winning gift book With This Ring. Her books have been translated into several languages around the world.

Weaver's articles have appeared in such publications as Focus on the Family, Guideposts, and In Touch. She has also appeared on a number of national TV and radio broadcasts such as The Harvest Show, Midday Connection, HomeWord and others.

She is also a highly sought-after speaker and shares her message at intimate gatherings and several high-profile events each year.

As much as she loves writing and speaking, her greatest joy is found in being a pastor's wife and a mother. The parents of three, Joanna and her pastor husband, John, live in Montana. 

Learn more about Joanna Weaver and her books at www.JoannaWeaverBooks.com. Readers can also keep up with her via Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrate the release of At the Feet of Jesus with Joanna Weaver by entering to win an iPad and RSVPing for the "True Life" Webcast Event on 11/8!

One blessed winner will receive:
  • An iPad
  • The Year in Bethany Trilogy (Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit and Lazarus Awakening 
  • At the Feet of Jesus for YOU and Five of your friends.
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 7th. Winner will be announced at the "True Life" Live Webcast Event on November 8th. Connect with author Joanna Weaver and her special guest for an evening of encouragement, laughter and a Q&A! There will also be gift certificates and books given away to participants.

So grab your copy of At the Feet of Jesus (or one of Joanna's other books) and join Joanna on evening of November 8th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the books - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 8th!

Bible Stories for Little Ones -- My First Handy Bible

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and illustrated by:
and the book:

Hendrickson Publishers (January 31, 2012)

***Special thanks to Rick Roberson for sending me a review copy.***


My First Handy Bible aims to communicate God's character and His love to the youngest of children, ages one to three. Beautifully illustrated in bright full color, My First Handy Bible has a cheerful padded hardcover with 61 child-friendly hardback pages and a handle and clasp that make it easy for small hands to tote and manipulate. The timeless stories are retold in simple sentences by author and artist Cecilie Olesen, illustrated by author and illustrator Gustavo Mazali and designed by Ben Alex, a C. S. Lewis Gold Medal winner author and designer.

Website for Book

Product Details:
List Price: $12.95
Hardcover: 61 pages
Publisher: Hendrickson Publishers (January 31, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8772473045
ISBN-13: 978-8772473048

AND NOW...SOME SAMPLE PAGES (Click on images to enlarge):


This is a nice little Bible story book for toddlers.  The bright, colorful illustrations should catch the attention of children, and the stories are short enough for their brief attention spans.  The "board" format makes the book sturdy enough for the expected rough handling by little ones.

There are a couple of concerns I have about the book.  The plastic handle and latch are good ideas, but I am concerned that the latch might not hold up to much opening and closing without breaking.  Also, in the story of David as a shepherd boy, there is an awkward sentence:  "He took well care of his sheep."  I'm not sure if the story was written in some language other than English and then suffered a mistake in translation, or if this was the result of some other type of editing error.

Neither of these problems, though, is serious, and I look forward to sharing My First Handy Bible with my young grandson.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Good Eating -- The Amish Family Cookbook

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers; Spi edition (October 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***


Jerry Eicher’s bestselling Amish fiction (more than 210,000 in combined sales) includes The Adams County Trilogy, the Hannah’s Heart books, and the Little Valley Series. After a traditional Amish childhood, Jerry taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. Since then he’s been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. Jerry lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia.

Tina Eicher was born and married in the Amish faith, surrounded by a mother and sisters who were great Amish cooks. At fellowship meals and family gatherings, Tina’s dishes receive high praise and usually return empty. She and her husband, Jerry Eicher, author of several bestselling Amish fiction titles, are the parents of four children and live in Virginia.

Visit the author's website.


From bestselling author Jerry Eicher (more than 350,000 books sold) and his wife, Tina, comes this warm and inviting peek into an Amish kitchen, complete with recipes, Amish proverbs, and a dash of Amish humor. Readers will laugh, pray, and eat robustly with The Amish Family Cookbook at their side.

Product Details:
List Price: $ 14.99
Spiral-bound: 272 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers; Spi edition (October 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736943773
ISBN-13: 978-0736943772


This is a great collection of recipes with some Amish wisdom and humor thrown in for good measure!  It would make a nice addition to anyone's recipe collection, especially to those with an interest in the Amish way of life. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another Visit to Canaan -- His Love Endures Forever

Book Description

An unplanned pregnancy. An absent father. Can love really endure all things?

Danielle Kent is anything but Amish. But as destiny would have it, she has fallen in love with an Amish man.

Now she’s 18, pregnant, and hopeful that the child’s Amish father—Matthew Lapp—will do the right thing and marry her. She knows Matthew plans to leave his Colorado settlement for a life in the Englisch world. But that plan never included a baby.

When Matthew walks away from her and their unborn child, she has nowhere to turn. Her unlikely friendship with Levi offers some comfort—yet they have so little in common. This wasn’t the plan she had for her life, and she has never felt so alone. She doesn’t want to be pregnant. Doesn’t want to be Amish. Doesn’t want to trust God.

And yet.

God has plans beyond what her mind can imagine . . . loving plans to show a lost young woman that His love never fails but endures forever.

My Thoughts about the Book

Beth Wiseman delivers another engaging story set in an Amish community in Colorado.  Danielle is the troubled, abused teenager who in a previous Land of Canaan novel showed up at the home of fun, quirky Martha and found her way into Martha's heart. 

Love is not something Danielle has experienced much in her young life.  She believes that she and Matthew, the father of her baby, are in love and dreams of having a family and giving her child a mother's love like she never had.  When Matthew walks away, she experiences rejection all over again.

Danielle is taken totally by surprise when Levi -- her best friend who is also Amish -- tells her that he believes God has called him to marry her and raise her child as his own.  She has no desire to be Amish and can't believe Levi would walk away from his Amish life for her.  Is there any way for this seemingly impossible situation to be resolved?

As always, Beth's characters are people you care about and want to get to know better.  Watching Danielle work through difficult choices kept me very involved in the story.  There was a sense of real struggle -- and yet a gentleness -- in the way her feelings toward God played out, with help from other characters where she would not have expected it.  And beautiful examples of enduring love and forgiveness were important elements of this sweet story. 

Trilogies seem to be common in Amish fiction series, but I have a sneaky suspicion that there is more to come from the Land of Canaan after this third book.  I think Beth left the door open for more -- and I certainly look forward to another visit with these friends!

(I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in return for my honest review.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Time for Christmas Stories -- Christmas at Holly Hill

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms (September 4, 2012)

***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***


Martha Rogers’s novel Not on the Menu debuted on May 1, 2007, as a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Her series Winds Across the Prairie debuted in 2010 with Becoming Lucy, Morning for Dove, Finding Becky, and Caroline’s Choice. Her other credits include stories in anthologies with Wayne Holmes, Karen Holmes, and Debra White Smith; several articles in Christian magazines; devotionals in six books of devotions; and eight Bible studies. Martha served as editor of a monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state president. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom she writes a weekly devotional. Martha and her husband are active members of First Baptist Church.

Visit the author's website.


Can Clayton Barlow prove he has changed his ways in time for Christmas?

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town’s trust.

Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him.

As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton’s relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (September 4, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1616388374

ISBN-13: 978-1616388379


Prairie Grove, Kansas, October 1898

Home for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Clay’s heart pumped blood through his veins at a

frantic pace. After serving five years for his part in a bank robbery, he’d be home for his two favorite holidays. The question looming in his soul was whether he’d be welcomed by anyone other than his parents.

The train hissed and steamed its way into the station with a blast of the whistle as Clay peered through the window. When the cars came to a screeching stop, he remained in his seat, fear gripping his heart. The conductor stopped in the aisle.

“Son, this is your stop. Time to get off.”

Clay willed himself to stand and make his way down the aisle. No one would be here to greet him since no one knew he’d be on the train. He’d planned it all as a surprise, espe- cially for his mother. He stepped to the platform, gripping the handle of the small bag containing all his worldly possessions. Around him the trees wore their best fall colors in welcome, and as Clay made his way to the street in front of the depot, he drank in the sight he’d seen only in his dreams for the past five years.

The good citizens of Prairie Grove moved about on their way to one place or another, oblivious to his presence. The livery still stood close to the station with the post office nearby, and right next to it a new addition announced itself in gold letters. The telegraph office was now the Prairie Grove Telephone and Telegraph center. His hometown had grown more than he realized.

He spotted the hotel and the Red Garter Saloon a few blocks away, then he breathed deeply of the fresh smell of baking bread drifting from the bakery next to his father’s store. The green and yellow letters on the sign hanging in front welcomed customers to Barlow’s General Store, still the only mercantile in town. A slight breeze

sent the sign swinging with a creak he heard from his position near the depot. Dust whirls danced across the street where he’d once played with other boys his age.

By Christmas those streets would most likely be filled with snow, and snowball fights would be the game of the day at the school. His days at the red clapboard schoolhouse had been some of the happiest of life. He viewed the bell tower of the school at the end of the street and could almost hear the sound of it clanging in his memory.

Doubt lodged in Clay’s throat, but he kept walking to the store. When he stepped through the door, it could well have

been ten years ago when he helped Pa. He inhaled the familiar smells of coal oil, fresh ground coffee, fabric dye, and pepper- mint candy. Nothing had changed.

Then he spotted his ma. He observed her for a minute or two, savoring the sight of her graying hair and slight frame. She didn’t move as fast as she once had, and she stopped to catch her breath after placing some items on a shelf.

From the corner of his eye he saw his father coming from the storeroom. A good five inches shorter than Clay, Pa’s sturdy frame handled the box in his arms with ease. He turned to set the box on the counter, and Clay cringed the moment his father recognized him. The meeting he both dreaded and anticipated had come.

Pa didn’t move from behind the counter. He simply stared for what seemed an eternity but in reality amounted to only seconds. His words barely reached Clay’s ears. “Son, you’ve come home.”

At Clay’s nod his father stepped around the counter and called to Ma. “Cora, our boy is home.”

A can clattered to the floor, and his mother turned with hands to her mouth. She hurried toward him and hugged him. “Thank You, Lord, for bringing him home safe.” Tears glis- tened in her eyes. “I’ve waited and waited for this moment to come.” She reached up and placed her hands on each side of his face then kissed his cheeks.

Heat rose in his face, but Ma’s arms and kisses were the welcome he’d hoped for in the past few days of travel. His arms went around her thin frame. She’d lost a good deal of weight since the last time he’d seen her, and that bothered him more than his earlier observations.

He glanced up at his father. His graying hair had thinned some, and his eyes held both a welcome and uncertainty. Gaining Pa’s trust would take time.

His parents stood in front of him and shook their heads. Pa wrapped his arm around Ma. “We’ve waited a long time for this day. Thank God you made it home.”

Clay didn’t know what God had to do with anything, since it had been Pa who had turned Clay over to the authorities five years ago. The road back would be long and hard, but then that’s no more than he’d expected.

Ma grabbed his hands. “Are you planning on staying here in Prairie Grove with us? You’re not going to get mixed up with those . . . those . . . thieves again, are you?”

Before Clay could answer, Pa added his own sentiments. “If you do decide to stay, I expect you to stay away from them. If you don’t, you won’t be welcome here.”

Clay stiffened but kept his voice neutral. “I understand, Pa, but I’m not going to get mixed up with Karl’s gang again. I would like to stay as long as you’ll have me.”

Or until the townspeople ran him off. Two older women in the corner eyed him and whispered between themselves. The prodigal had returned, but not everyone welcomed him. He nodded to the ladies, who immediately turned their backs. So much for the town’s greeting.

“Of course we want you to live here with us,” Ma said, not even seeming to notice the ladies. “Now let’s go upstairs and get you settled in. I know you’re hungry. You always were, and I have supper almost ready.” She held onto his arm and led him to the stairway up to the living quarters above the store.

A voice calling his name stopped him at the bottom. He odded for his mother to go on up and turned to find an old riend, Jimmy Shanks, grinning from ear to ear. “It is you, Clay Barlow.” The blond-headed young man reached out to grasp Clay’s hand.

“Yeah, it’s me. I decided to come home, Jimmy.” He grasped the outstretched hand and blinked at the strength in the grasp.

“It’s James now, and I’m married to Grace Ann Higgins.” Clay had to chuckle at that revelation. Grace Ann had run

away from Jimmy every time he’d tried to get close.

“So, you finally got Grace Ann’s attention. I’m glad since you always liked her.”

“You’ll have to come out to the house for dinner some night so we can catch up on old times.”

“I’ll think on that, Jimmy . . . James.” Not much to catch up on from his side since he’d been behind prison bars for five years. “And you’d better check with Grace Ann. She might not cotton to having an ex-con at her dinner table.”

James blinked. “Don’t you worry none about that; we’ll always be friends.” He stepped back and picked up his pur- chase. “Had to pick up some coal oil. With the days getting shorter, we need more of it.”

Clay walked with him to the door and stepped outside with James, who shook Clay’s hand once again. “I’m so glad you’re home. This is one Christmas your parents will be glad to celebrate.” With a grin and a salute he stepped down to the street and mounted his horse. “See you around, Clay.”

If he’d stayed good friends with Jimmy instead of getting mixed up with Karl, things would have been much different. Still, the warm welcome from his old friend and the greeting from his parents lightened the load in Clay’s heart.

If Pa would have him, Clay wanted to work again in the tore. Being locked up with bad food, hard cots, little sunshine, and no privacy motivated him to stay out of trouble. He’d had a lot of time to think in prison, and one thing remained sure and steadfast. Clayton Barlow would not end up behind bars ever again.

Merry Warner stepped onto the boardwalk up the street from the school where she taught. The wonderful aroma of cin- namon stopped her in front of the bakery. Cinnamon buns for breakfast in the morning would make up for her being late this afternoon. She hurried up to the counter where Mr. Brooks placed fresh pies into the case. On second thought, two pecan pies for supper tonight would be even better.

She grinned at the baker, who reminded her of the pictures she’d seen of Santa Claus, right down to the white beard and rosy cheeks. “I’ll have two of those pecan pies. I’m sure Mama will appreciate them for supper tonight.”

“Good choice, Miss Warner. We had a good crop of pecans this year, so Mrs. Brooks is busy with recipes using the nuts.” Mr. Brooks placed each pie in a paper bag then tied the top closed with string. “There, that should make them easier to carry.”

She plunked several coins onto the counter and picked up her purchase. “I hope she makes some of that pumpkin bread for the holidays.”

Mr. Brooks laughed. “Oh, she will. I’m sure of that. You have a nice evening now, and tell your ma I said hello.”

Merry nodded and hurried out to be on her way. She

stopped short when she spotted a man standing in front of the eneral store next door. A gasp escaped her lips, and her heart skipped a beat. He looked just like Clay Barlow, but Clay was in prison. Surely she would have heard if he had come home.

He turned, and his gaze locked with hers. Recognition shot through her with streaks of delight that dissipated almost as soon as they began. No one but Clay had eyes so dark a brown that they penetrated to her very soul.

How could Clay be out of prison already? Then she counted and realized five years had indeed passed since he’d gone away. When Grandma Collins had said she needed Mama and Papa to come back and take care of the orphanage at Holly Hill, Merry’s heart had been torn apart. She loved Barton Creek and wanted to stay there, but the memory of her years in Prairie Grove beckoned for her to return. One of those memories included Clay Barlow and the schoolgirl crush she’d had on him before he got involved with Karl Laramie’s gang.

Shoving aside her misgivings, she gave in to her delight and ran up to hug Clay. “Clay Barlow, it’s been too many years.” Heat filled her face, and she jumped back. She was no longer a sixteen-year-old girl but a young woman who should practice better manners befitting her age.

Clay’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Merry?”

“Yes. We moved  back to Holly Hill last summer after Grandpa died. I’m so glad you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be here too.” He stepped back. “It . . . it’s nice to see you. I . . . I . . . ” His voice trailed off, and he glanced over her shoulder. Without another word he bolted through the door to the store.

Merry stood with her mouth agape. How rude. Then she urned and saw three women staring at her with disapproval written all over them. Mrs. Pennyfeather, wife of the school superintendent, shook her head and frowned.

Heat rose in Merry’s face again. They’d seen her greeting Clay. No sense in trying to apologize. Mrs. Pennyfeather wouldn’t listen anyway. Merry gathered up her pies and fled up the hill toward Holly Hill Home for Children. Along the way her thoughts whirled. She had never expected to see Clay again, figuring that he’d be too ashamed to come back to his hometown. What could his return mean?

She burst through the door then closed it and braced her- self against the smooth wood. Her heart pounded not only from the long walk but also from seeing Clay again.

Imogene and Eileen raced over to grab her around the waist. The blonde-haired ten-year-old-twins wore matching blue-and-white striped dresses with white pinafores over them.

Eileen eyed the bags in Merry’s hands. “You went by the bakery. What did you bring?” She reached for one of the bags.

Merry held it high. “Not until after supper. Then we’ll have pecan pie.”

Imogene jumped up and down, her pigtails bouncing on her shoulders. “That’s my favorite. Oh, I love you, Merry.” The young girl wrapped her arms about Merry’s waist again.

Emmaline appeared with a stack of silverware in  her hands. “It’s about time you got here. Mama Warner could use your help.”

Merry set the pie bags on a table near the door and unwound Imogene’s arms. “I’m sorry I’m late. I stayed at the school to prepare the lessons for tomorrow. Did you know we have ten different varieties of trees around our school building?”

Emmaline shook her head. “No, and I don’t care right now. Are you going to help me or not?”

“Yes, I’m on my way.” Merry removed her shawl and bonnet then hung them on a hook by the door in the entry hall. She picked up the pies and made her way to the kitchen. Emmaline plunked the silverware onto the table behind Merry. At thir- teen Emmaline had begun to rebel against doing so many chores around the home, but Mama could usually get her to cooperate.

Merry sighed and pushed open the swinging door into the kitchen. She kissed her mother’s plump cheek. “Sorry I’m late. I got detained at school.”

Mama ladled stew into bowls and set them on a tray. “I figured as much. Check the cornbread for me. Supper’s about ready.”

Grandma Collins opened up the bakery sacks. “Pecan pie—now that’s going to make for a good dessert. Thank you, Merry.”

“I figured since I was so late coming home, I might as well contribute something to the meal.” Merry opened the oven door and removed two pans of cornbread. She set them on the counter and reached up to the shelf to grab a plate for serving it. She turned one pan onto the counter then cut it into squares and arranged them on the plate.

“Mama, did you know Clay Barlow came home?”

The ladle stopped, dripping stew back into the pot. Mama stood still for a few seconds, as did Grandma. “No, I didn’t. Has it been five years already?” She shook her head. “Such promise that boy had before he got into so much trouble. Where did you see him?”

“Outside the store. I’m . . . I’m afraid I made a spectacle of myself. I ran up and hugged him because I was so glad to see him back. The problem is, Mrs. Pennyfeather and her friends saw the whole thing. They weren’t too happy about it either.”

Mama laid the spoon aside and reached over to pat Merry’s shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll get over it. How did he seem?”

“I don’t know. Embarrassed to see me, I guess. He didn’t say much.”

Mama nodded sagely. “It’s been seven years since we moved away from Holly Hill and went to Barton Creek. You were only sixteen when you thought you were so in love with him. Being in prison changes a man, so he won’t be that same boy you liked so much back then.”

“I know, Mama. It just seems strange that he would be released and come home not long after we moved back home.” Grandma shook her head. “I don’t know what

happened to that boy. I always liked him. Maybe he’s learned his lesson and will make something of himself yet.”

Papa chose that minute to swing open the back door and enter the kitchen with Henry and Kenny. The boys’ arms were filled with logs for the fire. Papa planted a kiss on Mama’s fore- head then motioned to the boys, who had unloaded their wood into the bin near the stove. “Let’s get washed up and have some of Mama’s stew.”

Merry finished piling the cornbread onto a plate and headed to the dining room with it. More talk with Mama and Grandma about Clay would have to wait until they were alone.

She settled in for dinner with her family. Although none of the children were actually her brothers or sisters, every one of them held that place in her heart after the few months she’d been back here with them. Emmaline and Henry had lived at the orphanage the longest, with Kenny and Robert next, but those two had been babies when her family had left. The rest were new to her, but she’d grown to love them quickly. Each one had their own tale of tragedy and loss.

Papa stood behind his chair and bowed his head to ask the blessing on the meal. Papa never varied his blessing, using the one his pa had taught him growing up. Merry only half listened to the familiar words until Papa took a new turn. “And Father, we ask thy blessings on young Clay Barlow. Guide him on the right path now that he’s served his time and come home. May we act and think kindly toward him. Amen.”

Merry swallowed hard and blinked her eyes. She lifted her gaze to her father’s and saw understanding in their blue depths. Around her the others clamored to know who Clay was and why Papa prayed for him. She bit her lip and bowed her head. No man or boy had claimed her heart like Clay. From the encounter this afternoon, she realized he still pos- sessed a piece of it, and she had no idea what to do with that revelation.

Christmas at Holly Hill was my first Christmas story of the year, and it was an enjoyable read.  Set in a small Kansas town in the late 1800's, I often imagined myself visiting a Little House on the Prairie type  setting and was sure that things would turn out well in the end.  Much of the outcome was predictable -- as Christmas stories often are -- but there were plenty of interesting characters and action along the way to keep me engaged in the story.  If you're looking for a nice story to get you started into the Christmas season, I would recommend you give this one a try.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Worth the Wait -- River of Mercy

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***


 BJ Hoff’s bestselling historical novels continue to cross the boundaries of religion, language, and culture to capture a worldwide reading audience. Her books include Song of Erin and American Anthem and such popular series as The Riverhaven Years, The Mountain Song Legacy, and The Emerald Ballad. Hoff’s stories, although set in the past, are always relevant to the present. Whether her characters move about in small country towns or metropolitan areas, reside in Amish settlements or in coal company houses, she creates communities where people can form relationships, raise families, pursue their faith, and experience the mountains and valleys of life. BJ and her husband make their home in Ohio.

Visit the author's website.


In this third book in the Riverhaven Years trilogy young Gideon Kanagy faces a challenge and an unexpected romance. Meanwhile, Gideon’s sister, Rachel, and the "outsider" Jeremiah Gant add to the drama with their own dilemma and its repercussions for the entire Riverhaven community.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736924205

ISBN-13: 978-0736924207



Too Many Long Nights

I feel like one who treads alone

Some banquet hall, deserted.

Thomas Moore

Amish settlement near Riverhaven, Ohio

November 1856

Rachel Brenneman had always liked to walk by the river at twilight.

There had been a time during the People’s early years at Riverhaven when she gave no thought to walking alone, day or night. After she and Eli were married, the two of them liked to stroll along the bank of the Ohio in the evening, discussing their day, planning the workweek, dreaming of the future. After Eli’s death, however, Rachel no longer went out alone after dark, although sometimes she and her ten-year-old sister, Fannie, took a picnic lunch in the early afternoon and sat watching the fine big boats and smaller vessels that traveled the great Ohio to unknown places.

Now though, venturing away from the community no longer felt safe, even in the middle of the day. In truth, there was nowhere that felt safe, not after the deadly attack on Phoebe Esch and the other troubles recently visited upon the People. At night, especially, Rachel stayed inside, sitting alone in her bedroom with the window scarcely open in deference to the weather, which had recently turned cold.

November was a lonely month. Rachel still loved to listen to the river from insider her home, but the nighttime sounds—the distant lapping of the water, the blast from a boat’s horn, the night creatures in communion with one another—never failed to set off a stirring of remembrance and an ache in her heart. Yet she couldn’t resist sitting there night after night, watching and listening, trying not to let her memories struggle to the surface of her thoughts, trying not to let new hope ignite the ashes of her dreams…

Trying not to think of Jeremiah.

But how could she not think of him? How did a woman love a man, even if their love was forbidden, and not see his face in her mind or hear his voice in her ear or remember the imprint of his smile upon her thoughts?

Common sense seemed to tell her it should be easy to put the man out of her head. They couldn’t be alone with each other. They couldn’t even pass the time of day unless they were in the company of others. If they happened to meet by accident, they were expected to separate as quickly as possible.

Yet even with all the rules and restrictions that kept them apart, Jeremiah Gant was still a part of her life. He flowed through her heart and traced the current of her days as surely and completely as the Ohio flowed through the valley, winding its way through the land, coursing through the days and lives of Rachel and the other Plain people.

Lately, there had been talk of leaving. Two years and more of unrest and harassment and threats— even death—had begun to wear on the Riverhaven Amish. It was rumored that talks were taking place among the church leaders, discussions of whether to remain in this once-peaceful valley that had become home to the entire community or to consider moving on.

There was no thought of fighting back, of seeking out the unknown adversaries and taking a stand against them. Even if the People could identify their tormenters, they would not confront them. The Amish were a people of nonresistance. They would not fight, not even to protect their own lives. It wasn’t their way. To strike out at another individual under any circumstances was strictly against the Ordnung, the unwritten but strict code that guided how they were to live.

The only person Rachel had ever known to defy the rule against fighting, even in self-defense, was Eli, her deceased husband. He’d gone against the Amish way when he defended Rachel against those who ambushed them on another November night, now four years gone. He had fought with desperation and all his strength, only to die at the hands of their attackers while allowing Rachel to escape.

She knew it was a grievous sin to have such a thought, but many had been the time she wished she could have died alongside Eli that terrible night rather than live through the grief-hollowed, barren days that followed his death. She had been totally devoted to Eli. Their marriage had been good, for they had been close friends as well as husband and wife. Rachel had thought she could never love another man after losing Eli.

And then Jeremiah Gant had come to Riverhaven, turning her life around, enabling her to love again— only to have that love forbidden. Even though Jeremiah had made it known he would willingly convert to the Amish faith, Bishop Graber refused to grant permission, once again leaving Rachel with a lost love and a broken heart.

Perhaps it would be better if they were to leave Riverhaven…leave the fear and the dread and the pain-filled memories behind.

Leave Jeremiah…

The thought stabbed her heart. Could she really face never seeing him again? Never again hear him say her name in that soft and special way he had of making it as tender as a touch? Never again see the smile that was meant for her alone?

In truth, it wasn’t only Jeremiah she would miss if they were to leave this fertile Ohio valley. She loved the land, the gentle hills, the singing river. She had come here when she was still a child, come from another place that had never truly been home to her. Here in Riverhaven though, she had felt welcome and accepted. At peace. At home.

At least for a time. It was almost as if she had become a part of the land itself. Even the thought of leaving made her sad beyond telling.

She sighed, knowing she should stir and make ready for bed, even though she felt far too restless for sleep. Would this be another of too many nights when her thoughts tormented her, circling like birds of prey, evoking an uneasiness and anxiety that would give her no peace?

Finally she stood, securing the window to ward off the cold, even though she sensed that the chill snaking through her had little to do with the night air. All too familiar with this icy wind of loneliness, she knew there was no warmth that could ease its punishing sting.


Three years was a long time to wait for the finale to Rachel's and Gant's story -- but it was worth the wait!

BJ Hoff is an excellent storyteller who has shared an Amish series with characters and a setting a little out of the ordinary for typical Amish stories.  The struggles of the Riverhaven Amish community and their Englisch neighbors make for a captivating story with some mystery and uncertainty about how the difficult issues will be resolved.  The overlapping thread of the slave movement through the underground railroad adds another interesting element to the story.

I would recommend this book -- and the entire series -- to anyone who enjoys Amish and/or historical fiction.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sharing the Joy!

So, here's a post that has almost nothing to do with reading -- but a whole lot to do with joy!  I've just spent the past week in Arkansas with my family -- particularly my newborn granddaughter Layla and her 16-month-old brother Brayden.  It just doesn't get much better than this!  (Can you tell that Nana is having a good time?)

As you can see, though, there is a book in the picture.  Whether or not he shares his Nana's love for reading when he's older, Brayden really enjoys being read to now.  You don't always get to finish the book before he's off to get another one.  But that's OK.  With the repeated readings of classics like Down by the Station; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; This Little Piggy; and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes you learn how the story ends even without getting to the last page every time.  And those few moments with each book are priceless!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Page-Turning Suspense -- When a Heart Stops

When a Heart Stops keeps your heart racing and your mind guessing.  Lynette Eason grabs you on page one and keeps you in suspense to the very end -- and even longer! 

Serena Hopkins deals with death on a daily basis in her job as a medical examiner.  But when death strikes too close to home, her job becomes anything but routine.  Working with Dominic Allen, an FBI agent and former high school crush, to find a serial killer adds even more excitement to the case.  In a sick, frightening game, finding and stopping the players is a life-and-death race.

When a Heart Stops picks up right where the drama of When the Smoke Clears left off in Lynette Eason's Deadly Reunions series.  In fact, this series is one where the individual books would not work so well as stand alones.  If you like to have all the loose ends tied up in a neat package at the end of the story, you might want to wait until you can read all three books at once.  However, if you enjoy ongoing suspense and major teasers stretching into the wait for the next story -- this is a great series!  I don't know when the conclusion of the series is coming out, but I'm anxiously waiting getting the answers to some mighty big questions.

Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

(This book was provided free from the publisher for my honest review.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Child's Introduction to Amish Life -- Life with Lily

How do you grow the next generation of Amish fiction readers?  One way is to introduce them at an early age to The Adventures of Lily Lapp.  The series is co-authored by a bestselling writer of Amish fiction (Suzanne Woods Fisher) and a former Amish (Mary Ann Kinsinger) whose memories form the basis for the stories.

Life with Lily is a charming story about a lovely little Amish girl.  Lily Lapp is six years old when the story begins, and she seems to find adventure and important lessons in the day-to-day routines of life. 

This book, directed toward children ages 8-12, is also a fun read for adult fans of Amish stories.  It could easily be treated as a collection of short stories with short chapters that make easy reading for young readers and would likely hold the attention of pre-readers as well.  Englisch children will find Lily to be much like them in many ways while also learning about differences in her Amish world.  Watching Lily grow through the four novels in this series will be a delightful adventure, one to be shared by readers of all ages.

Young readers can have additional fun with Lily by visiting her website:  www.AdventuresofLilyLapp.com 

(This book was provided free from Revell Publishers for my honest review.)

Bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher and debut author Mary Ann Kinsinger introduce readers to 6-year-old Lily Lapp in Life with Lily, the first book in The Adventures of Lily Lapp series. It combines the real-life stories of growing up Amish from Kinsinger’s childhood with Fisher’s critically-acclaimed writing. The first of four novels that chronicle the gentle way of the Amish through the eyes of a young girl, Life with Lily gives children ages 8-12 a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Amish.

Kinsinger was raised in a happy Old Order Amish home in western Pennsylvania. After she and her husband made the difficult decision to leave the Amish, she started the blog A Joyful Chaos as a way to capture her childhood memories. “I was told almost every day by readers that they would love if I published my memories in a book,” says Kinsinger.I love how dreams can come true bigger and better than I could have imagined.” After becoming friends with Fisher through her blog, the pair jumped at the opportunity to collaborate on a children’s series.

“The Lily books are more than just another good children’s series,” says Fisher. “They’re a little slice of America, a peek into the world of a happy Amish family, fun and foibles. I have a sneaking hunch that children of all ages will quickly grow attached to Lily.”

 Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, The Keeper and The Haven, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Christy Award nominee and is the host of an internet radio show called Amish Wisdom. She lives in California. Visit her website www.suzannewoodsfisher.com and follow her on twitter @suzannewfisher.

Mary Ann Kinsinger was raised Old Order Amish in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. She met and married her husband, whom she knew from school days and started a family. After they chose to leave the Amish church, Mary Ann began a blog, A Joyful Chaos, as a way to capture her warm memories of her childhood for her own children. From the start, this blog found a ready audience and even captured the attention of key media players, such as the influential blog AmishAmerica and the New York Times. She lives in Pennsylvania.