Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield

A Christian Romance Series for the Christmas Season

During the busy Christmas season, these historical Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield will entertain you and engage your brain. You will meet delightful families, and watch their children grow older and some of them court and marry. There’s enough suspense to keep you reading, but not so much that you can’t put the book down to do necessary chores.

Review of Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield
Victorian House Decorated for Christmas © B. Radisavljevic

One thing I really appreciated about the books in the Hardman Holidays Romance Series were the clues the author left for me. I like to try to figure out what will happen as a the book unfolds. Shanna Hatfield dropped enough hints for me to make reasonable guesses that turned out to be very close to what did happen. There is enough suspense to keep me reading, but not enough to keep me awake all night if I don’t finish the book before bedtime. There are also no dramatic twists at the end that have no foreshadowing. One can see cause and effect.

The Setting : Hardman, Oregon

The small town of Hardman still exists, but it’s been a ghost town town since a railroad to Heppner was completed in the 1920’s. In the book Hardman was the center of social life and commerce for the farmers and related tradespeople who supplied the needs of the community.

The Characters

Luke and Filly Granger

We first meet Luke Granger, owner and manager of the Hardman bank, in Book 1: The Christmas Bargain. He has a big heart — so big that he  reluctantly accepts a disreputable farmer’s daughter in payment for an overdue loan — mostly for the daughter’s sake. Then he marries her. Luke and Filly’ home is often a scene in most of the books that follow, since most characters have some connection with the Granger family.


Ginny Granger,  Blake Stratton, and Their Parents

In The Christmas Token we meet Ginny Granger, Luke’s sister. She lives with Luke and Filly when she wants to get away from an unwise romantic entanglement with Nigel in New York. He’s from a wealthy family, but has no love for Ginny or anyone but himself. Unfortunately, he tricked her into signing an engagement contract before she left for Hardman to escape him.

Meanwhile it seems everyone in Hardman is trying to get Ginny and her ex-love, Blake Stratton, back together. They had fallen in love when Ginny and her parents Greg and Dora Granger had lived in Hardman. Dora was a snob who like to wear ridiculous hats. She believed Blake Stratton wasn’t good enough for Ginny and the move to New York was designed to separate the two, breaking both their hearts. Just as it appears Ginny and Blake may finally be headed for happiness, Nigel reappears to claim Ginny as his bride. All Ginny and Blake’s friends work together to thwart his scheme.


Arlan Guthry and Alexandra Janowski

Luke Granger’s assistant manager at the bank lives an orderly life and is engaged to the town’s school teacher, Edna Bevins. His future is all laid out for him until he’s riding up a hill and  hears what appears to be an argument, a woman’s angry cry, and a loud slap. He spurs on his horse Orion  until he sees a very fancy wagon with a broken wheel and a beautiful woman wearing pants holding a top hat. She is Alex the Amazing, trying to escape a murderer who is after her. The elaborate wagon is where she presents her traveling magic show. But now she begins to work her magic on Arlan’s heart.

When Edna leaves town to care for her mother who had been struck by a runaway buggy, the town convinces Alex,  a trained teacher, to substitute for Edna until she returns in a few months. Alex is stuck in town anyway while her wagon is being repaired.

Meanwhile she uses her magic skills to advantage in her classroom.  She enchants both her students and Arlan. But what will happen when Edna Bevins returns? See her story, one of my favorites in this series, in the book below.


Adam Guthry and Tia Devereux

We meet Arlan’s brother Adam and Tia Devereux when Adam, a Columbia River pilot, returns to Hardman for the funeral of a close mutual friend. Tia had broken Adam’s heart. While he was planning to propose, Tia ran off and married the son of a prominent judge in Portland. There she had all the advantages of wealth.

Now Tia was a widow with a young son. She had returned to Hardman when her grandmother died and decided to stay and raise her son Toby in the town she loved, away from his elite grandparents.

Now all Adam wanted to do was get away from Tia  before she could hurt him again. But before he could escape back to Portland, little Toby won his heart. When Tia’s father-in-law filed to take custody of Toby on the pretext that Tia was alone in the world and couldn’t properly raise him, Adam stepped in to help. He did still love her.

The only way Tia can legally retain custody is being married, and so Adam proposed a marriage of convenience. Would it ever become the real marriage both wanted and wouldn’t admit? Or would Toby’s influential grandfather’s thugs succeed in getting them out of his way and grabbing Toby?  How will Adam protect protect them all?  Find out in The Christmas Vow.


Tom Grove and Fred Decker

We first meet Tom Grove and Fred Decker in the class Alex is teaching in the book The Christmas Calamity. Both the teen boys had caused problems for the previous teacher. Alex had better control of the class. She stood up to Fred, the ringleader of the older boys, and Tom started to behave. Fred continued to be a problem, even when he ditched school.

Later in that book Alex saves Fred’s life after his father had beaten him almost to death. In the next book we follow the boys’ lives as they grow up. In books 5 and 6 in the Hardman Holidays Christmas Romance series we watch as each falls in love and courts a wife. Neither boy thinks he’s worthy of the woman he loves, but the women disagree.

Naturally the course of love doesn’t run smoothly for either young man. The woman Tom loves is already engaged to a man she left back east.  Can he win her away from him?

Fred loves Elsa,  a  bakery owner new to Hardman. Unfortunately an outlaw believes she’s really a woman of ill repute who disappeared years ago from the infamous Red Lantern Saloon.  The two women resemble each other. The outlaw believes Elsa can lead him to the treasure hidden by Fred’s father’s old gang. It’s up to Fred and the town to find and rescue her when the outlaws kidnap her.

Grayson Carter and Claire Baker

The next book in the seven book series, The Christmas Melody, will be released on December 28. You can preorder it now and meet two new characters.  Grayson Carter wants to be left alone with his daughter Maddie on his thousand acres, and the lovely Claire Baker determines to draw him into the holiday festivities. Will Christmas magic draw them to each other?

 The Christmas Quandary: Sweet Historical Holiday Romance (Hardman Holidays Book 5) The Christmas Confection: (A Sweet Victorian Holiday Romance) (Hardman Holidays Book 6) The Christmas Melody (Hardman Holidays Book 7)

 

My Review of the Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances

Overall, I enjoyed reading this series as light escape fiction. Although pegged as a Christian series, it seems we saw a lot more sensual thoughts than spiritual ones. There were  plenty of Christian trappings — church activities, blessings before meals, and prayers when people were in trouble or needed something. Neighbors did help each other out and in that way demonstrated their faith. But I didn’t see people struggling with the hard questions in life and applying their faith to them as much as I’ve seen this in the work of many other Christian romance writers. (Beverly Lewis, Janette Oke, etc.)

I did appreciate that the main male characters loved and respected their wives and behaved playfully with their children. The children of the main characters  respected their parents and other adults in authority over them and were for the most part kind to their siblings. Both adults and children tended to tease others in their age group or family in a healthy way.

Some of the romantic scenes were quite sensual (definitely at least PG). The characters just reigned in their emotions before they got too far out of control. I personally would have liked less sensuality and more discussion of real issues in the relationships. Your preference may be different.

The plots were not realistic, but I’m willing to go along with the author in this kind of light reading. There were a few misuses of words an editor should have  caught. And the author was much too fond of the word “waggle.”

The author also used another technique that personally jars me.  The characters put up their own obstacles to their dreams coming true. As they longingly look at the ones they love, THEY decide the love is hopeless and can never be. They then accept this as fact and repeat constantly lines such as these:

From The Christmas Confection:

“It was crazy to ask her to go  with him. Stupid to allow his dreams to surface when he knew they’d never come true.” Chapter Six

“He knew she only saw him as a friend, one she could depend on when the rest of her world crumbled around her. And that’s all he could ever hope to be.” Chapter Nine

As the characters continued to falsely read each other’s minds, they themselves built the walls that separated them. Without these walls, the author would have few obstacles for the characters to overcome in their romance.  Shanna Hatfield is by no means alone in using this literary device. Far too many romance writers do it.

That being said, I enjoyed getting to know the characters, even if some seemed too good to be true. I liked watching the children grow older and the adults experience some personal growth. I loved seeing some solid family relationships. The books had enough suspense to hold my interest and the endings were all happy.

Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield: A review of the Hardman Holiday Romance Series

Get the Whole Hardman Christmas Romance Series

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The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

Tess Discovers She Has Family at Bella Vista

Except for her mother Shannon who is rarely around, Tess Delaney has no family. She  makes her living searching the world for stolen treasures. She helps families fill in the blanks of their family histories. So far, though, she hasn’t been able to fill in the blanks in her own family history.

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

Her exciting but high-pressure job at Sheffield Auction house in San Francisco satisfies her. As the book opens Tess is about to interview for a promotion that would take her to New York.  She loves her job, but she has no close friends – just work acquaintances.

As Tess waits for  her appointment, she has a visitor, Dominic Rossi. He informs her that she has a grandfather, one Magnus Johansen. He is in a coma because he fell off a ladder. His will leaves her half his estate in Sonoma County – Bella Vista – which contains a villa and working  apple orchard. The other half goes to her half sister Isabel — a sister she never knew she had.

The news sends Tess into a full-fledged panic attack and Dominic takes her to the ER. The interview is delayed. Later Dominic takes her to Bella Vista to meet Isabel.

Meeting the Family at Bella Vista

Tess  never knew who her father was. Shannon’s mother, her Nana, raised Tess, since Shannon’s job kept her away for weeks at a time. As a child, Tess considered Nana’s antique shop, Things Forgotten, as her home. Now Nana is gone and all Tess has left of her is her huge antique desk.

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Book Review
All Tess had left of her Nana was the antique desk from her shop., Things Forgotten.

As her newly-discovered half-sister Isabel helps Tess fill in her family tree, even more questions beg to be answered. How is it she and Isabel were born on the exact same day? Erik Johansen fathered both of them but they have different mothers?

As Magnus Johansen lies in a comma, Isabel and Tess discover he is about to lose Bella Vista because of poor money management.  Will the sisters find a way to save it?

What of the handsome Dominic and his two children? Will they become a bigger part of Tess’s life? Should Tess quit the job she loves and find a way to open the  antique shop she’s always wanted — at Bella Vista? Will Magnus ever wake up? The first volume of the Bella Vista Chronicles, The Apple Orchard, answers these questions and makes you want to read the sequel.

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

 

The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs

I don’t want to tell you too much about this sequel to The Apple Orchard because it might tell you more than you want to know about how that first book ends. Whereas The Apple Orchard focuses mainly on Tess’s story, The Beekeeper’s Ball focuses on Isabel. It also introduces two important  new characters, beekeeper Jamie Westfall, and famous journalist Cormac O’Neill. Cormac has come to write a biography of Magnus Johansen, who has come out of his coma.

As The Beekeeper’s Ball ends, the author leaves the door open for another book in the series that focuses on Erik Johansen, father of Tess and Isabel. Cormac has what appears to be a recent photo of Erik on a distant beach. Is it possible he’s still alive? I’d love to read that story

I would also I’d like to what’s next in Jamie’s story. She arrived at Bella Vista young, pregnant, and homeless. Much of her story is told in  The Beekeeper’s Ball, but there is much more I’d like to know about Jamie beyond this book.  Please Ms. Wiggs, add these stories to the series.


My Opinion

I loved the main characters and the author made me care a lot about what happened to them.  The Beekeeper’s Ball tells us much more than The Apple Orchard  about Magnus and his relationship with Annalise and Eva. We see details of how the Johansen family and those in the Resistance suffered during Hitler’s occupation of Denmark.

If we only saw this suffering, the book might be too heavy. But Wiggs also gives us a lovely setting in Bella Vista for contrast. At Bella Vista we see beauty, life, kindness, and healing . This helps make up for the depressing examples of death and loss  in the chapters set in Denmark. We see both heroism and cruelty in Nazi-occupied Denmark. At Bella Vista we find an abundance of acceptance and love.

One theme that permeates both books is the importance of delicious food served attractively. Each book is divided into parts that consist of several chapters. In The Apple Orchard there is at least one  recipe at the beginning of each part. Each part of The Beekeeper’s Ball opens with a quote about beekeeping followed by a recipe that contains honey.

I want to read many more by Susan Wiggs. Her books have heart and well-developed characters I can’t help caring about. Her plots are complex and well-crafted. I suspect whichever of her books I choose to read next, I won’t be disappointed.  So far I’ve read those below. Please click on any image for more information on purchasing any of the books.

 The Apple Orchard (The Bella Vista Chronicles) The Beekeeper’s Ball (The Bella Vista Chronicles) Family Tree: A Novel

Have you read any books by Susan Wiggs? If so, please share your opinion of the ones you’ve read. Do you have a favorite?

Relax and Unwind with These 3 Romance Novels

Light Romance Novels Make for Relaxing  Reading

I admit to reading light romances when I want to relax. Sometimes I just don’t feel like thinking hard about what I’m reading. I  want pure entertainment, and I prefer reading to television. I’m also addicted to free or bargain books. Some of these were free for a limited time on Amazon and some still may be free. Some I paid for after getting hooked on the series. Some I got free directly from the authors, but that did not influence my reviews. I always give my honest opinion.

Review of Olivia by Kate Palmer, a Western Hearts Series Romance
Quarter Horses

Olivia by Kate Palmer

Olivia is Book 3 in the Western Hearts Series.  Olivia Neilson unwillingly agrees to help run her father’s ranch while he’s away. She is a renowned horse trainer who dreams of having her own stable to breed and train horses. She is also engaged to Shane Chapman, a rich real estate investor. They are partners in forming Sterling Shoes Stables. They are building training and boarding facilities during the six months Olivia is running her parents’ ranch in Cedar Creek, an hour away from Sterling Shoes Stables, closer to the city.

Olivia has promised Shane to come to the city to join him when he wines and dines potential investors. At the first of these dinners, she hears Shane promise a couple of investors a quicker return on their investment than is reasonable. They also seem to expect her to train race horses, which she’s never done.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Shane’s investors appear with horses Olivia and her father’s new partner, the Cedar Creek vet Adam, do not expect and did not authorize. Olivia senses something is not right. Then two creepy men start following Olivia. Shane never seems to have satisfactory answers when she asks about these incidents.

Is Shane not what he appears to be? Is Olivia in danger? What can Adam do to help her?

This clean Christian romance with a touch of mystery fully engaged me. I couldn’t put the book down until the plot resolved itself. Click images to check prices at Amazon.

Snowed Inn: Western Hearts Series NovellaSnowed Inn: Western Hearts Series NovellaStorm (Western Hearts Series) (Volume 2)Storm (Western Hearts Series) (Volume 2)
Olivia: Western Hearts SeriesOlivia: Western Hearts SeriesAlexis: Western Hearts SeriesAlexis: Western Hearts Series

The Mutt and the Matchmaker: A Short Amusing Romance Novella

This light-hearted novella first introduces us to Jane Bly, who has given up on finding Mr. Right. Armani Vasquez, a self-proclaimed psychic matchmaker decides Jane is the perfect match for Tom Hanlon, a Private Investigator who is trying to catch a thief.  Add Tom’s Aunt Ruby and her neighbor’s Maltese to the mix along with Jane’s fearful foster dog Calamity, and you have the recipe for a wacky romantic mystery.

This is a quick read and amusing if you don’t have anything better to read, but it has no depth and the plot is highly unrealistic. The best thing about it was the free promotional price. It kept me amused while I rode the stationary bike at the gym. It’s the first book in a three-book series by JB Lynn.  If you love a mix of mystery and romance and want some light reading, this series may be for you.

 

A Matchmaker Mystery (3 Book Series)A Matchmaker Mystery (3 Book Series)

Romance: Love’s Unfading Light by Naomi Rawlings

I saved my favorite book for last. This Christian historical romance is set in historic Eagle Harbor on Lake Superior. It introduces a cast of unforgettable characters, many of whom fish or work in the nearby copper mines to support themselves.  The theme of God’s providence runs through the book but is not intrusive.

Tressa, Otis, Colin, Erik, and the Sheriff

Widow Tressa Dannel discovers her cheating scoundrel of a husband, Otis, has left her with a mountain of debt. Tressa has been earning money to pay the mortgage on her bakery, where she and her son Colin live. Someone had stolen her savings three times and the banker, Erik Ranulfson,  is about to foreclose. Sheriff Jenkins isn’t very helpful in finding the thief.

Finley McCabe and Reed Herod: The unwanted Suitor and The Brothel Owner

Finley McCabe, an uncouth man Tressa despises, keeps proposing and forcing unwanted attention on her. Reed Herod, the owner of a brothel Otis frequented, is pressuring Tressa to prostitute herself to pay off Otis’s debt to him.  There is no way Tressa will agree to either of these options.

The Heartless Creditor, Bryon Sinclair

Otis borrowed money from wealthy merchant Bryon Sinclair to buy a new ship and then had gambled it away. Tressa inherited the gambling debt when Otis died. Bryon insists Tressa earn the money to pay off Otis’ debts as a cook on one of his ships.  This would separate her from her ten-year-old son Colin.  He could forgive Tressa’s debt and never feel it, but he won’t. Instead of showing compassion, he flaunts his wealth and power.

Colin Lost, Mac Meets Tressa

Now Colin is nowhere to be found. He’s not with his friends, and Tressa has to search for him. First, though, she has to mix another batch of dough. As she reaches for a wooden spoon her utensil canister falls to the floor. As she searches on her hands and knees for her errant rolling pin, Colin enters, startling her. Her head comes up against the counter and knocks the glob of sourdough into her lap, leaving her head throbbing.

Into this mess walked  Mac Oakton, the assistant lighthouse keeper,  to buy some bread.  He laughed and grabbed the heavy flour sack that was about to fall off the counter. That is how Mac and Tressa met. They soon became friends. ( Learn more about the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and its keepers here. )


 Great BIG Canvas Poster Print of Eagle Harbor Lighthouse


Mac sympathized with Tressa because his father had been much like Otis. His best friend Elijah Cummings’ father, Hiram had taken Mac in, so Elijah was like a brother to him. Hiram had died in a shipwreck and they all still missed him.

When Mac sees how desperate Tressa’s situation is, he wants to help, but she won’t let him. She is also determined never to marry again. She doesn’t want any man to control her life and all she owns as Otis did. About all she will let Mac do is care for Colin if she has to work on the ship to pay Mr. Sinclair.

Mac and Elijah both believe God is in control, even as their own plans to buy a shipyard together in Port Huron and move there fall apart. Mac wants to marry Tressa, but she only wants to move away from a town she believes despises her. Her creditors are taking her to court in a few days, and only Judge Matherson can determine how much she has to pay to whom. He has a history of siding with men.

My Review and Recommendation

Naomi Rawlings grabbed my attention with Love’s Unfading Light immediately. Although I had started the book on the stationary bike at the gym, I couldn’t put it down to get any work done after I got home. I finished it before bed.

The Eagle Harbor setting in this novel plays a large role in shaping the characters. Eagle Harbor is a real place and you can read more about it and its history here.  In this small fishing village and mining town, everyone knows everyone else and usually has an opinion about their neighbors.  There is a wide gulf between the lives of the rich people who have power and those who earn their living as fishermen, miners, and small business owners.

The characters were well-developed. It was easy to care about Mac, Tressa, Elijah, and their many friends. It was also easy to mentally boo Bryon Sinclair and Reed Herod, the heartless villains. Had this been a drama, they would both have been trying to tie Tressa to the railroad tracks as the train approached. Mac would have gotten there just before the train to untie her.

The banker, Erik Ranulfson, was not a villain, even though he felt he had to foreclose if Tressa could not pay the mortgage. The grocer, Mr. Foley, also had a heart. You see the good in these men as they interact with Tressa and other characters.

The plot was intricate, with many subplots neatly woven into it. The author left just enough hints scattered through the book to allow readers to anticipate how these would build.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Eagle Harbor (5 Book Romance Series)Eagle Harbor (5 Book Series)


As I read the book, I knew I had met some of the characters before. Sure enough, I had read Love’s Sure Dawn, Book 3 in the Eagle Harbor Series, a year ago. I liked it even more than Love’s Unfading Light. I hope to read the rest of this series soon. I highly recommend getting the entire series at once, because if you like Christian historical romance you will want to read them all.

 

 

Grab One of these Romances Now for a Reading Treat

 

 Olivia: Western Hearts SeriesCheck Price The Mutt and the Matchmaker: A Matchmaker Mystery NovellaCheck Price Eagle Harbor Series Box Set 1-3: Historical Christian RomanceCheck Price

See more of my romance reviews:

Relax and Unwind with These 3 Romance Novels

 

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Christian Books for Adolescent Girls

Books of Special Interest to Families with Adolescent Girls

These Christian books can lead to great discussions between adolescent girls and their mothers. The themes are rarely presented as well in the other books for adolescent girls I’ve read. The heroines develop deeper Christian character as they deal with social issues, peer pressure, faith, obedience, and friends. 

Books for Adolescent Girls

 A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock.

A Room of my Own is set during the Depression, and Virginia, the daughter of a prominent physician, does not feel the Depression personally at first. Her family is well-off, and physicians are never laid off. But suddenly, her Uncle Jim loses his job at the grain mill, and Virginia must give up her room and share a bed with her younger sisters so that Uncle Jim, Aunt Sally, and their children can live with them — in HER room. 

This makes the Depression more personal, and it becomes even more alarming when Uncle Jim becomes involved in organizing a labor union for the mill workers (which finally results in a violent strike).  Virginia’s father begins to take her along on his calls to “Soo City” — a shantytown populated by the newly homeless along with the older hobo residents. The climax occurs when Virginia must choose between saving her father from sure danger and warning the residents of “Soo City” that the sheriff is going to burn their homes.

I suggest this book because it introduces many important themes. One is how blind we can be to the needs of others, blaming them for their needs, when we ourselves are not hurting. This can be especially evident in adolescent lives.

We can also see that personal knowledge can chase away prejudices and generalizations about people. Here are some of the historic/economic themes in this book worth discussing:

  •  how to best help the poor
  • why labor unions were formed
  • whether violence is ever justified in trying to correct social ills
  • the effects of the Great Depression.

Though the central character of this book is a girl, there is much here for boys, as well. There are plenty of male characters for them to identify with, including the good doctor himself.

Because there is violence in the book, parents should only give it to children of at least adolescent age who can handle mature themes. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for families with adolescent girls. 

Books for Adolescent Girls by Janet Oke

Janet Oke is best known for her western romances and a series of children’s animal stories that focus on character qualities. The books I recommend for teen girls go way beyond her usual romantic themes.

The Tender Years

The first is The Tender Years. Strangely enough, the protagonist of this book is also named Virgina. She has a persistent problem with peer pressure. The exciting Jenny, who leads the “in” group at Virginia’s school, has picked Virginia as her special friend. Virginia doesn’t want to lose that favored position even though Jenny’s schemes often get her in trouble with her parents. 

Virginia’s supportive but firm Christian family provides appropriate consequences when she breaks the rules, so Virginia tries to obey. She succeeds for a time, but one day the pressure is too great. She lets herself be talked into a very risky situation — a ride in a “borrowed” raft with the gang. Virginia’s father had warned her that the creek was high and very dangerous.  Virginia knew if she wanted to stay Jenny’s best friend she’d better show up for the raft ride. So, instead of going directly home from school as she was told, with heavy heart Virginia went to the creek.

As the gang waited for Jenny, their ringleader, to arrive, Virginia became more and more concerned about the time. When Jenny finally arrived, Virginia got into an argument with her, stood her ground, and left. Later, when Virginia hears that the raft overturned in the swift current, she is consumed with guilt — especially when one of her friends dies as a result and Jenny is badly injured.

The rest of the book deals with the healing process — not only for Virginia but for her friend Jenny. Virginia’s parents want her to reach out to Jenny with the love of Christ since Jenny has no home life. She has no mother at home and her father is an alcoholic.

There are many subplots that add interest to this book, and I found it difficult to put it down. The main themes are obedience and peer pressure and the conflicts between the two in the mind of an adolescent. This book would be good to read with preteen girls and up, for there is much to discuss.

The Tender Years is the first of four books in the Prairie Legacy Series. I’ve read all four because I became very interested in Virginia’s life. I think you won’t want to stop after you read the first book either, so you might want to get them all at once. There are links to the individual books if you click the image above.

Return to Harmony by Janette Oke

Return to Harmony is another of my favorite Janette Oke books (with T. David Bunn). It is the story of the friendship between Bethan and Jodie, two Christian girls, as they grow into young women.

The book begins in Harmony, North Carolina in 1915. Harmony is a very small town. The population was under 350 back then. It was and still is primarily a community of small farms. Bethan was very content to live there. Jodie was hoping to leave someday. 

Bethan and Jodie became friends the day Bethan had found a puppy and was sobbing because her mother said she couldn’t keep it. Then the school bully, Kirsten, tried to torment the puppy and Bethan, her favorite victim. Jodie sprang to Bethan’s defense, and from then on the girls were fast friends. Jodie knew just the person who really needed a puppy and led Bethan to Mr. Russel, a Civil War veteran who lived alone.  He said the girls could visit the puppy anytime, and they often did.

Jodie was protective of her smaller friend, who was often picked on at school because she had a lazy eye. She knew Bethan hated having to wear her dreaded eye patch — especially at school. On the days she had to wear it, she also had to carry a spare. When Jodie saw how unhappy Bethan was on the day of the school spelling bee, Jodie wore the spare patch during the spelling bee, which she won, to show her solidarity with Bethan.

Jodie and Bethan were very different. Jodie was academically gifted and loved school. Bethan’s eye problem made reading hard for her and she didn’t do well in school at all. Just before the spelling bee Jodie had overheard her teacher and Bethan’s talking in the hallway. Bethan’s teacher was afraid she’d have to hold Bethan back at the end of the year. Jodie interceded for her friend and said she would tutor her, and her teacher agreed to try that.

Tragically, Jodie’s mother Louise catches polio not too long after that. Bethan stayed by her side during the period when Jodie was not allowed in to see her mother. Day after day the two girls sat together in silence at Jodie’s, gazing through her mother’s window in the afternoons, watching her struggle to breathe.

On the ninth day,  Louise expresses her love to Jodie and her father and dies. After that, Jodie tells Bethan God let her down when He took her mother and she stops praying and won’t let Bethan talk to her about faith anymore. Her grieving is long and hard, but Bethan is with her through it. Bethan never stops praying for Jodie.

By this time Jodie’s father, who was always quiet except with Louise, has retreated into his own world and hardly ever says a word to Jodie. Were it not for Bethan and her family, Jodie would be completely alone. Neither had any other real friends.

As it became apparent that war would soon break out in Europe, Bethan’s family became concerned that Bethan’s brother Dylan would soon reach the age of conscription. The girls were also growing up. They were now sixteen. Though Bethan loved living in Harmony and desired nothing more than to find a loving husband and spend her life there, Jodie wanted to go to college and become a scientist. She also wanted to be a city girl.

Dylan is finally drafted, but the war is almost over, so he really doesn’t see the fighting. Instead, he repairs engines and decides he wants a career in the new automotive industry. It’s not long before he’s home again. At his welcome home party, he notices that Jodie is now a young lady, no longer just a kid. The two fall in love and get engaged.

It is apparent to Bethan and her mother, though, that Jodie has abandoned her Christian faith. Dylan is still a committed Christian.  At the request of her mother, Bethan talks to her brother about their concerns. Dylan, who was trying not to face this issue, finally admits he has also seen this. He breaks the engagement and broken-hearted Jodie won’t forgive Bethan. Instead, she walks out of her life saying she never wants to see Bethan again.

Jodie takes the train to Raleigh to study chemistry at the university on a scholarship. Bethan is devastated by the separation. Jodie also feels completely alone since she is the only girl studying chemistry and she is ostracized by her male classmates. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

This book can be a catalyst for discussion on complicated issues. These include the meaning and responsibilities of Christian friendship, why God lets bad things happen to good people, how to help a grieving person, and the importance of being equally yoked in a marriage. I’d like to see this book in the hands of all Christian adolescent girls. 

 A Room of My Own (Legacy Editions) (Volume 2) The Tender Years (A Prairie Legacy, Book 1) (Volume 1) Return to Harmony New Kid in Town (Janette Oke’s Animal Friends)

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Books for Adolescent Girls

Review of It is Well, How WWII Affected One Family

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart

We’ve all heard the saying that war is hell. It Is Well, by James D. Shipman takes us to  Wake Island when it is attacked by Japan and to Fort Benning, Georgia for a brutal look at basic training. Then we move to Europe for a taste of fighting in Sherman tanks. We also see how widowed father Jonathan Beecher worries about his two sons who are involved overseas and his daughter who seems headed for trouble at home.  In the midst of all this he is fighting to save his hardware store. The war makes inventory hard to acquire and more expensive.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Review of It is Well by James Shipman
Sherman Tank, in Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay.com

I don’t usually read war novels, but this book seemed the best of my six choices to read  free on my Kindle before release this month, through my Prime membership, . The book is easy to understand, but I found it emotionally hard to read. The only book that affected me somewhat the same way was Andersonville, by Mac Kinlay Kantor.

The story of the Andersonville Fortress which the Confederates used as a concentration camp for Union prisoners during the Civil War is now available in DVD. My stomach and emotions would not be strong enough to watch it.  I didn’t feel like eating for two weeks after I read it. Fortunately, It Is Well is not quite as graphic, but it is still a vivid picture of what those in war zones faced and what their families suffered at home during World War II.

The Beecher Family before Pearl Harbor

Jonathan Beecher lived with his two sons, Matthew and Luke, and his daughter Mary, in Snohomish, a small town near the coast of Washington State, just southeast of Everett.  Jonathan’s wife Helen had died of cancer when the book opens and the family is together for the funeral. Helen had made Jonathan promise before she died that he would never remarry.

Although Jonathan urges Matthew to stay home and help him at the store, Matthew opts to return to his job as a civilian construction worker in the Philippines. He tells his father he will probably return home in April of 1942, when his job is done. He is then transferred to Wake Island.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Review of It is Well by James Shipman
Map of Pacific Islands, Including Wake Island, Public Domain, 1919

Jonathan had had high hopes for Matthew. He was intelligent and knew how to apply himself, but had no desire to go to college as his father  wanted him to. So Jonathan pinned his hopes on Mary, who was also intelligent enough to go to college.

She was very helpful at home and at the store, but she disappointed him by welcoming the attentions of a much older policeman Jonathan knew was up to no good. Mary appeared to be willing to accept the counsel of her father not to date him, but she then later eloped with him. As Jonathan suspected, he turned out to be abusive.

Luke, the younger son was lazy. He tried to get through life with his good looks and smooth talking. He was also a prankster who had little respect for authority and often got into trouble. His father worried he’d never be a productive person. He knew he couldn’t rely on Luke for any help at all.

Pearl Harbor Changes Everything for the Family

The Beecher family attended the Snohomish Free Methodist Church where Jonathan is a pillar. After the service on December 7, 1941, his friend the pastor introduces him to a new church member, Sarah Gilbertson, a widow with a daughter. He explains that Sarah will be helping out at the church, and that Jonathan may be seeing her on the days he mows the lawn.

As they are talking, Jonathan notices a commotion in the church yard with a crowd gathering. He goes to see what’s causing the excitement and learns the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.  The young men are already talking about enlisting . Jonathan knows Luke, and tells him not to go, or at least to wait a bit to see if they really will need him. Luke, being Luke, doesn’t listen. He has no idea what the Army is like. He believes it is one more adventure he can get through without much work or effort, so he enlists.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Review of It is Well by James Shipman
Pearl Harbor Attack, Photo by Paul Walsh, Flickr Commons CC 2.0 Generic License

After he is living alone again, Jonathan is lonely. He and Sarah become friends with the understanding that they can never become more than friends. Sarah is not happy with that, and neither is Jonathan, but he feels bound before God by his promise to Helen not to marry again.

All Is Not Well at Home or Overseas or at Fort Benning

The Japanese invade Wake Island and Matthew had to learn to stand alone in the face of circumstances he’d never imagined he’d have to face. Luke discovers his disrespect for authority has severe consequences in the Army. For me, painful as it was to read, the important part of the book was watching these boys grow into what they needed to be.

Mary also learned that her disregard of her father’s guidance has made her life miserable and dangerous. Jonathan, meanwhile, knows he has fallen in love with Sarah and crosses the line by kissing her. Then he is filled with guilt and knows he needs to go back to just being friends. Sarah is not willing and breaks the relationship.

Meanwhile, the hardware store is more in debt every day. Supplies cost more because of the war that makes nails and  other tools scarce. His customers have less to spend because of the war. Jonathan is trying to save his business.

The reader watches as the  characters fight their own internal and external battles. Most begin to realize that the faith they have is weak or non-existent. They begin to seek God as best they can.  They see how poorly equipped they are to survive physically or emotionally with no hope. By the end, all the characters have grown in character through what they have suffered.

 M4 Sherman Tank Print ABH Pearl Harbor Acrylic Print Pearl Harbor Memorial Print USS Arizona Burning In Pearl Harbor Poster WW2 Sherman Tank Poster

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My Opinion of It Is Well

This book is very well-written with complex characters whose lives you want to follow. The author shows every bit as much as he tells. Even though I don’t like war stories, especially battle scenes and human misery, this book drew me in and I couldn’t put it down.

I was a war baby sheltered in America. My own dad was rejected by the Army because he had flat feet, so I never heard any first-hand war stories. This book opened my eyes to what our infantry can experience in battle and the enormity of their physical and mental anguish. And I was only reading about it. They live it. No wonder so many come home unable to share their experiences except with their Army buddies!

Although though the plot was engaging, it was merely the vehicle to show us how the characters matured as they faced their inner and external demons. I won’t be a spoiler and tell you how the book ends. I’m hoping you will take this journey of discovery yourself.

The Kindle edition was the first Kindle novel I’ve read in a while that still has the X-Ray feature. I miss it when a book doesn’t have it — especially if it’s a book I want to review. Kindle books aren’t as easy to scan and flip through as paper books, and the X-Ray feature makes it easier to remember all the characters and important parts of the plot.

 It Is Well: A Novel Andersonville Andersonville

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My Recommendations

I would recommend It Is Well to those who enjoy realistic historical fiction, especially that which relates to World War II. There is blood and gore, as you might expect, and cruelty. It was hard for me to read those parts. I am more sensitive to these things than most people I know. Yet each of these episodes contributes to the growth of the characters. They aren’t there just to be sensational.

I would not recommend this to people suffering from depression since there aren’t many happy moments until near the end. These were not happy times. The book is realistic and doesn’t paint a rosy picture of war at home or abroad. It does portray the devastating effect war has on all involved, including civilians. If you’d like to better understand what we now call “the greatest generation,” I urge you to read this book.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Book Review of It is Well by James Shipman
I’m designed to pin on Pinterest.

National Read a Book Day Should be Every Day

National Read a Book Day

I have been unable to discover who decided September 6 is National Read a Book Day, but it really doesn’t matter. People should be reading books every day. Most teachers, librarians and booksellers would agree. My nose has always been in a book. I can’t understand why more people aren’t  turning off the TV. I’ve always found reading more entertaining.

Life Without Books?

As one who’s always been surrounded by books, I  don’t want to think how dull life would be without them. I usually read three to five books a week. I’m currently reading A Lady of High Regard by Tracie Peterson, a Christian historical romance.  As I write this it’s still free in the Kindle edition, but the price could go up any time.

I cut my bookworm teeth on picture books. Later I read my way through most of the juvenile section at the public library near my home. I walked there nearly every day. The librarian “didn’t notice” when I had checked more than the total books I was allowed at one time. By the time I hit high school, I was reading  my way through any nonfiction books in the adult section I found interesting. You might conclude I was a voracious reader and you would be right.

Television  Lost when Competing with Reading

When I was very young, TV was new. I was  six years old when the first neighbor bought one and we all gathered to watch Beanie and Cecil on the Leakin’ Lena. Here’s a sample show of the type we saw — the original black and white puppet version.

Is it no wonder that I preferred the Thornton Burgess animal stories?  TV shows for children in those days could not compete for my attention with Amanda, by Wolf Von Trutzschler. It was my all time favorite picture book. Amanda was a friendly snake who wanted to help all the other animals, most of whom loved her. Her best friend was Archibald, a monkey, who acted as her hands. The pictures in that book will stay with me forever. The book is now collectible and expensive, but I wanted you to see the cover anyway. I’m glad I still have my copy, even though it’s worn out.

 Amanda by Von Trutzschler, Wolf (1990) Hardcover

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 Some of my   favorite stories and poems came from  the big orange Childcraft books (1954 edition) Mom had on the shelf. I poured over the folk and fairy tales, adventure stories, and illustrated poems day after day.

Among other books I loved was Make Way for Ducklings,  a book no child should miss. I loved the scene where the policeman held back  traffic so the duck family could safely cross the street.

The Little Golden Books are Unforgettable

Back then there were not many quality picture books, but we did have the Little Golden Books. Some of my favorites are still available today.  These books sold for only a quarter when first published. I had a large assortment. These are the illustrations stored in my mind. For the most part, these are the editions I loved.  Newer editions of The Three Little Kittens have dropped a few pages deemed politically incorrect today.

Noises and Mr. Flibberty-jib was one of my favorite books because  noise bothers me, too. That’s one reason I moved to the country, just like he did. I made my mother read me The Taxi That Hurried over and over. I wanted that taxi to get to the train station on time.  The Poky Little Puppy appeals to the children who like to stop and observe what they see, even if it makes them late for dinner.

 Classic Characters of Little Golden Books: The Poky Little Puppy, Tootle, The Saggy Baggy Elephant, Tawny Scrawny Lion, and Scuffy the Tugboat The Poky Little Puppy (A Little Golden Book Classic) Noises and Mr. Flibberty-Jib (A Little Golden Book) The Taxi That Hurried Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (A Little Golden Book) Three Little Kittens Little Golden Book 50th Anniversary Edition (50th Anniversary Commemorative Facisimile Edition) Walt Disney’s Dumbo (Little Golden Books)

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My Preteen and Teen Years: Books vs TV

As I grew older, my parents watched westerns and variety shows. I sometimes watched Hometown Jamboree with them, since I liked Tennessee Ernie Ford.  My parents didn’t join me when I watched the Mickey Mouse Club .

Annette Funicello was about my age, and I idolized her.  She finally got her own series on the Mickey Mouse Club. Disney featured Annette’s series in a collector’s DVD set.  It includes biographical information on Annette, as well. I read her autobiography, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, not long before  she died.  It satisfied my search for more information about the  person I had identified with so much during my middle school years.

 A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story

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My family  watched Lawrence Welk and I loved the Lennon Sisters. I recently read their autobiography, Same Song, Separate Voices, written by all four of them, and loved it. They grew up in Los Angeles County, as I did, and they weren’t rich. I had watched them sing on Lawrence Welk for years and the book showed me how they got started,  what those years meant to them, and what came after them. Every fan should read this book.  This video shows the sisters when they were young on the Lawrence Welk Show, as I knew them.

As a preteen, I spent most of my free time in my room devouring the historical fiction of Gladys Malvern. I had loved Behold Your Queen — the fictionalized version of the Bible‘s Esther.  I wanted to read all Malvern’s books. Now they are available in Kindle editions.  I see I missed some my library didn’t have. Nancy Drew was also required reading when I was young, so I read through the original series.

I still preferred books to television when in my teens. The only shows I really cared about were comedies. Our Miss Brooks was my favorite. I love to laugh, and that’s something Eve Arden always makes me do. Other shows I watched were I Love Lucy, and the Burns and Allen show. Those shows accounted for about 90 minutes a week, so I had lots of time left to read. Most of my friends read, too, so we shared book recommendations.

What I Read While I Was in College

I continued to read classic fiction. I was an English major, so a lot of the fiction and poetry I read was assigned. If I enjoyed authors, I tried to read more of their books. I read German poets in the original.

College was also a time of spiritual inquiry for me. By my junior year I had returned to faith in Christ after a three-year period of exploring other religions. I read a lot of Christian nonfiction to better understand my faith and inspire me to live it out in everyday life. The books I read in college were the classics of evangelical students in the 1960’s, and I had the privilege of meeting some of their authors at conferences.

One of these was John R. W. Stott, a prominent Anglican priest and world-renowned Bible teacher. His most well-known book is Basic Christianity.  His writing is alive with truth and challenges to apply it to life.

I also met Elizabeth Elliot, first missionary and later a college professor.  She was widowed three times. Her most famous book is Through Gates of Splendor, the story of the martyrdom of her husband and four other American missionaries in a jungle in Ecuador. After his death, she edited and published his journals.  Shadow of the Almighty reveals the innermost thoughts of a man totally committed to following Christ — even to death.  It required careful and thoughtful reading.

The End of the Spear is a movie that tells the story of the five missionaries’ deaths from the point of view of the Waodani warrior who led the raid that killed them. The movie also reveals the good that came from this martyrdom.

 End Of The Spear Through Gates of Splendor Let Me Be a Woman Shadow Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (Lives of Faith) The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture) Basic Christianity Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 5-8

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Reading Beyond College

You now know some of the books that satisfied my need for stories and knowledge during my youth. I will skip the years of early marriage and parenting. I have shared some of what I’m reading now in other reviews on this blog. Most of the books here are now available in Kindle editions.  That means you could actually buy a book today for National Read a Book Day.  If you don’t have a Kindle yet, I review the one I use here.

If you opt for picture books, I hope you will get physical books rather than eBooks. I think real books provide a better reading experience for children and allow for better interaction with the pictures.

No matter what day today is when you read this, go read a book and help your children to do the same. Take a trip to the library to celebrate Read a Book Day. Then take your treasures home and read them. Enjoy.

National Read a Book Day Should be Every Day

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Short Reviews from Recent Reading

One of my challenges is that if I read a lot, I don’t always have time to stop and review a book I’ve finished,   and these books tend to pile up because reading is more relaxing than writing about what I just read.

pix-sweden-713021_640-houseI finally read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I wish I hadn’t. Although I enjoy mysteries, I don’t enjoy people being tortured and mutilated as recreation. If you like thrillers, this is likely to keep your spine tingling, especially near the conclusion .

Much of the book is set in Sweden.  The two main characters are Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libel, and a brilliant but unconventional helper, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius at internet research, legal and illegal, and a master analyzer of the data she finds. Mikael has been hired by a wealthy Swede, Vanger, with a large and dysfunctional family to find out who in his family killed his missing niece years ago. Mikael is to live on the Vanger estate under the pretense of writing a biography of Vanger, with access to most of the family.

The only character I liked very much in this book was Lisbeth, who was a ward of the state whose appointed guardian was raping her as a condition for giving her access to some of her money. The only part of the book I sort of enjoyed  was when Lisbeth used her wits to fight back and get her revenge and get free of him.

I pretty much agree with this New York Times review of the book.  It shows me again that being on the Best Seller List does not mean a book is worth the time spent reading it. It seems to me that too many people are putting poison into their  brains. I will not read more by this author. But if you don’t mind rape and torture scenes as a mystery is solved, and seeing  some sexually abusive sadists in action, you might be able to stomach this better than I did. To each his own. I don’t recommend it.


I recently finished The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King. I checked it out from the library because I needed a book to take to a waiting room and my Kindle battery was dead. It’s another book I think was a waste of my time. The major problem was that the characters were not developed very well and I didn’t really care about any of them.

The plot was also unrealistic, at least to me. It was set in San Francisco, and the victim, William Gilbert, was an eccentric Sherlock Holmes fan whose living room was like a replica of Holme’s Victorian sitting room. The murder appears to be related to a manuscript Gilbert believed was an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story by Doyle and he was trying to authenticate it when he was murdered. Suspects included his  friends in the Sherlockian Dinner Club that met once a month, some of whom knew about the manuscript and had even read it.

The manuscript described a murder that very much resembled Gilbert’s murder, right down  to the place the body was discovered. The reader is treated to a chance to read it along with Detective Kate Martinelli – a story within a story. Unfortunately, when I read this I wasn’t in the mood for long descriptive passages, intricate subplots, and having to work to keep all the characters straight. To top it off, I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan. There was just nothing in this book  to grab my attention and make me care. I finished it because I had started it, but I had to force myself. The book gets mixed reviews on Amazon.  I suppose we get out of a book what we bring to it. If you like all things Sherlock Holmes, this book may interest you more than it did me.

pix-the-white-house-269734_640I was more interested in  Elliott Roosevelt’s mystery novels. I just learned they were actually written and researched by William Harrington, who also wrote novels I’ve read listing Margaret Truman as the author.  I  just did a bit of research on both Ellliott Roosevelt and William Harrison and have concluded neither is someone I would enjoy knowing.

Harrison was a competent researcher, and from what I’ve read in memoirs of other figures mentioned in Murder in Georgetown, many incidents mentioned may well be true. They are certainly realistic, except for the part about Eleanor Roosevelt getting personally involved in solving murders.

Much of the book was set in the White House in 1935. Prohibition has ended, but it’s obvious the White House didn’t take it very seriously even when it was law. We meet Joseph Kennedy, who sees that the White House always gets the best booze when it’s important, and the author often brings him into the story .

A major part of the plot turns out to be bank corruption at the highest level. The real killer of Sargent Peavey, a member of the federal treasury board, tries to frame a young Jewess, Jessica Dee, who had been smuggled into the country from Poland.   Mrs. Roosevelt had recommended Senator Huey Long hire Jessica as a secretary.  Since he was  F.D.R.’s main political opponent, Eleanor was hoping Jessica could keep her informed about what was happening in Long’s office.

When Jessica was arrested for Peavey’s murder because her earring was found at the scene, and some other non-conclusive evidence, Mrs. Roosevelt works with the detectives to try to find the real killer.  She doesn’t believe for a moment Jessica is guilty,

The reader witnesses some of the political intrigue behind the scenes in the Roosevelt White House and is party to the local gossip. We learn that politicians and the people who are involved with them are as crooked as we suspected.

I learned outside this book that Elliott himself, the credited author and the son of Eleanor and F.D.R, was involved in his own share of scandal,  and that was not fiction. He ( and Harrington as well) probably shared the casual morals of his characters. It seemed most characters believed it didn’t matter what you did, as long as you were discreet enough so that no one who wasn’t supposed to know ever found out. Jessica could have been cleared much earlier had she been willing to reveal whom she had been with when two of the three murders with the same weapon had been committed.

This was not a thriller – just a picture of discrete police investigations, including some in the White House, and some visits to dives and dark alleys. The reader sees more questioning than dangerous pursuits of criminals. I prefer novels like this that let me see what the investigators see so I can draw my own conclusions and see if I was right.   In this case, I had it solved by the time the police did,  though I  didn’t have all the motivations until the last scenes.

This book is out of print and there are some cheap copies left on Amazon as I write this. If you enjoy murder mysteries with some political intrigue set in the White House, I think you might enjoy Murder in Georgetown.  Since I’m currently so busy, I was glad that I could read a couple of chapters at a time to relax without feeling I had to rush to the end. If you need a real page-turner, this is isn’t it, but it’s just right if you want to take reading breaks during the day and be able to go back to what you were doing without being frustrated.