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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Romance Novels are Ideal to Read When You Have to Read in Spurts
When it’s hot and I’m feeling a bit wilted, I tend to read romance novels that don’t demand too much from me. This is especially true when I have to spend a lot of time waiting. I had numerous computer problems this week. I used several tiny slices of time to read just a few pages while I was waiting for scans and reboots.
Light romance novels are just right when you have to read in spurts. A mystery or thriller I can’t put down tempts me not to go back to work when I should. So during my trouble shooting waiting times, I sometimes read romances.
All Romances Aren’t of Equal Quality
Many of what we consider the best romances aren’t romances at all. They are novels that include romance and we remember those romantic scenes, even though they may be only part of the plot. I think of Jane Erye and Gone with the Wind as examples. They are classics because they are about much more than romance.
If you Google “romance genre,” most sources agree that a romance novel focuses on the love relationship between the two main characters and that the ending satisfies the reader. In other words, there should be a happy ending. When people read romances, that’s what they usually expect.
The digital romances I read this week on my Kindle varied in quality. All were free, since they were daily promotions. Some were worth exactly what I paid for them. Some I enjoyed, even though it was obvious that the author stuck close to a typical formula.
When I read a romance, I’m happy if it’s clean if I care about the characters, and if the plot seems to evolve from who the characters are. I don’t expect much more when I’m reading for escape. I read romance novels when I want to have something to do during commercials, or while I wait for my computer to work. Romances or short stories are my choices when I don’t want to get involved with a novel I can’t put down when it’s time to get back to work.
Don’t Waste Your Time or Money on These
I normally enjoy mail order bride romances. I read quite a few of them. I thought I was getting a good deal when Mail Order Bride: Clean Romance and the Call of Marriagewas offered free during an Amazon promotion. It got some good reviews so I gave this 13 short story set a try. Amazon classified it as Western Christian Inspirational Historical Romance Short Stories. The stories did not inspire me. The first few weren’t too bad, but the more I read the worse they seemed to get.
As an ex-English teacher the spelling and grammatical errors bothered me a lot.The author really needed an editor to catch mistakes the spellcheck didn’t . I think what bothered me most among the mistakes was the use of the wrong pronoun. Too many times the author is talking about a woman, and then referring to her later in the sentence or in the next one as he. Or a man will later be referred to as a she. This leaves me going back to reread to see if I misunderstood. This happened many times over the course of these stories.
You may find some of these stories amusing, and they may keep you entertained for a few minutes, but in the end you will probably wish you’d spent your time reading something better. I certainly wouldn’t pay to buy this.
The Best Romance in the Bunch
My Father’s House by Rose C. Johnson is set mostly in rural Georgia. There are also scenes in New York, Canada, and Detroit. The settings in the novel are not just places where things happen. They take on personalities of their own in how they influence the protagonist, Lily Rose Cates. Georgia is where Lily Rose thrives. Detroit, and Manny who took her there, together kill her spirit.
Lily Rose was born in a small town in Georgia in 1964. She is a country girl in every way.Her mother fell into depression when Lily Rose was born and never recovered. Lily’s father brought Annie Ruth to come five days a week to help raise her. When her older brother James Michael left to become a missionary her mother’s spirit seemed to all but die.
Lily’s father, though, believed in her and made her world perfect. That helped her believe in herself. Her early years were idyllic. She was Daddy’s girl. When she was sixteen her world crashed when her father died of a heart attack while mowing the lawn. His last words to her were, “‘Lily Rose, you’re gonna be all right.'”
Annie Ruth continued to take care of her and her mother. Her father had provided for their support in his estate. Annie Ruth explained to Lily Rose what she needed to know just when she needed to know it. She did the real mothering. One theme of this book is the importance of support from family and friends when one faces life changes. Lily Rose faced many of them.
When Lily graduated from college, her closest friends moved on and married. She stayed in the cottage the three of them had shared. She got a part-time job in a flower store and wrote for the local paper. She felt very much alone. Then her cousin Maggie called and invited her for a visit in New York.
The visit with Maggie lifted her spirits, but it also led to some of the worse years of her life. On a Friday night they had dinner at Valenti’s — an iconic Italian restaurant. Their waiter, who introduced himself as Manuel, paid Lily Rose a great deal of attention. At the end of the meal, he asked for her phone number. She was sure she was in love.
When she got home, he did call. Often. She learned that he was a lawyer in Detroit — not a waiter in New York. He had only been visiting his brother who owned Valenti’s the night they met. They had a whirlwind courtship. It seemed almost enchanted. Manuel wined and dined Lily Rose and brought her diamonds. The only thing that put a damper on it was was a visit home to Annie Ruth so she could meet him. The instant Annie Ruth met him, her smile vanished.
Once they were alone, Annie Ruth warned Lily Rose that he was trouble. When she found out Manny had proposed, she said privately, “‘Don’t get tangled up in the briers with that man.'”
The author offers many clues to foreshadow what will happen in the marriage, and there is enough complexity in the plot to hold your interest to the end. Although I started reading in spurts, I went back to the book when I had larger blocks of time and I was just too hot to enjoy more demanding reading.
I recommend this book as a Christian romance that is inspirational, but not preachy. You will be able to predict what will happen in the marriage, but not how the characters will solve their problems. This book will especially appeal to those who have lived in small towns and those who appreciate clean rather than explicit romances. I hope you will enjoy In My Father’s House as much as I did.
Rose C. Johnson also wrote a devotional I’m hoping to read soon — God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea.
In Greening of a Heart, Stepheny Houghtlin shows us not just one heart, but several that need healing. All of them are part of or tied to the restoration of the garden of the vicarage of St. John the Baptist Church in the Catswold Village of Burford. Burford and the church are real. You might want to check out the websites linked to so you can picture the setting before you read this. These sites say nothing about a garden. The church, however is the setting for some important scenes, since Hannah and Martin live in the vicarage.
Tom Bastin took the picture of the church St. John The Baptist Church you see above. You can also see many other scenes from Burford in his Flicker Album Burford.
The Cast of Major Characters
Hannah Winchester, an American: The vicars’ wife and mother of Anne and Christopher
The Reverend Martin Winchester: Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, father of Anne and Christopher
Malcolm Thomas: Martin’s old college friend, now also his Bishop
Brother Gregory: Monk at St. Edward’s House and spiritual counselor to Martin
Anne: Daughter of Hannah and Martin, wife of Geoffrey Bentley, mother of James and Kate
Geoffrey Charles Bentley IV: Anne’s husband and father of James and Kate
Christopher: Brother of Anne and son of Martin and Hannah, single
Henry Bernard: On a research sabbatical from Kew Gardens in London. Hannah hired him to help with the heavy work in the garden during its restoration. Single
Madeline Thompson, widow: An old college friend of Hannah’s who is Hannah’s sounding board in the book. She is a catalyst in helping many characters find direction
Christine Bennett: Never married, older parishioner, critical of Hannah’s garden restoration. Lives across the road from the vicarage and has her own garden. She is no longer speaking to Hannah since garden work began.
Robert K Myers: Deceased former Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, who originally designed the garden Hannah is restoring. Close friend of Christine.
Emma Barksdale: Another parishioner, close friend of Christine and Hannah. She doesn’t understand why Christine is so critical of Hannah’s garden restoration project
Samuel White: Senior Warden at St. John the Baptist Church, single, close friend of Martin and Hannah. He appears to be secretly in love with Hannah
Lucy and Randy Talbot: Henry lives with them in Burford while he works for Hannah
Many men who are working to restore the garden and coach house, and their wives and children
Other parishioners, including Lynn Spencer, who likes to make trouble with her gossip, and her husband Mark, who is much kinder
Margaret Clover: New in town, just bought the Bay Tree Inn. She plans to use it to serve healthy meals such as those that helped cure her cancer. Divorced
Caroline Clover: Margaret’s daughter, who will be the chef at the Bay Tree Inn
A Troubled Marriage
As the book opens, we learn that Hannah and Martin Winchester have a troubled marriage. Martin is burned out as a priest and a husband, since he has let his work dominate their lives. Hannah is wondering what happened to the man who courted her and laughed with her when they were first married. Now he rarely laughs at all. They now sleep in separate bedrooms. The author describes it this way:
“The image of one of her garden walls, where stacked stone had shifted and sagged over time, reminded her of their relationship.”
Although they shared a common faith as members of the Church of England, they did not express it the same way. Hannah’s family had been “high church” with services closer to those in the Catholic Church. Martin was “low church” and did not believe in icons and incense, or “smells and bells.” This was occasionally a source of conflict.
Whereas Hannah had been an independent American woman while in college, now, with an empty nest, Martin seems to think she is incapable of managing her life without his input. He has become stern and impatient with her. He is no longer interested in sharing memories of their courting days and other carefree times, as they had in the early years of their marriage. There had been no intimacy for so long that Hannah had begun to think of Martin almost as a guest in her home, more a priest than a husband.
The Role of The Garden In Greening of the Heart
Hannah’s Garden Restoration Project
The book begins in the vicarage garden, with Hannah pulling weeds. She aspires to gain recognition as an authority on plants someday. She has accumulated a library of gardening books and has visited other gardens whenever there was time.
She is in the process of restoring the garden the late previous vicar, Robert Myers, designed and planted. She is hoping that as she works on the garden restoration, it will bring her closer to Martin again. She expected they would make decisions together, but he shows little interest, preferring to let Hannah make the decisions.
Martin’s Dreaded Lunch Date
Martin is about to leave for a lunch date with Malcolm, his friend and bishop. Malcolm had called Hannah earlier with concerns about Martin’s health and state of mind. Hannah knows Malcolm is going to tell Martin to take a leave of absence. She also knows Martin will be disconsolate after the meeting.
Henry Arrives in Burford
Meanwhile, Henry Bernard is on his way to Burford from London to meet Hannah. He hopes she will hire him to help with the garden restoration. He is also looking for information about a photograph he’d found while cleaning up his grandmother’s home after she died. The photo is of a young priest who is his own mirror image. He arrives in time to have a quick look inside the church before meeting Hannah, but Hannah is already there watering the altar flowers and she had seen him come in. She noticed he was touching a remembrance plaque on the wall, which she later discovered was for Robert Myers.
She engages Henry in conversation and he says he’s her 2 pm appointment. Henry tells her he’s taking a sabbatical from his work at Kew Gardens to study the influence of clergy gardeners on the development of English gardens. People believed Robert Myers had integrated spiritual elements into his gardening activities. Henry said many clergymen considered gardening both work and prayer.
Henry impresses Hannah she and hires him after negotiating terms of employment. Hannah tells Henry he’s an answer to her prayers. He silently disagrees, thinking that it wasn’t her prayers, but his own detective work that brought him to her.
Martin Returns Home after Lunch Date
After Henry leaves, Hannah returns home to find Martin is back from his lunch date and he’s devastated, as she expected him to be. Malcolm has sent him to take a course in Jerusalem that will be part of a three-month leave from his ministry. Malcolm hopes this will restore Martin’s health, energy, and heart for preaching again. Hannah hopes it will restore her husband to her.
Who is Henry Really?
Why did he want to come to Burford? More than one character in the book raises this question. Anne seemed not to trust Henry. Lynn Spencer chided Hannah for hiring someone she knew nothing about. Hannah, however, had no reason to be suspicious and she let the criticism roll off her. A savvy reader will have a pretty good idea early in the book who Henry is, but the author does not completely reveal it until much later.
The Garden Party
Will There Be Trouble?
Hannah goes back to preparations for her garden party the next Saturday. She has invited everyone to the Winchesters’ Garden Opening. Hannah is hoping there will not be trouble since she knows some parishioners have been upset with her project. Christine Bennett, usually not a critical person, has been most vocal in her complaints. She had accused Hannah of ruining Robert Myers’ garden, and Hannah had reminded her that it no longer belonged to Robert Myers. Christine had not spoken to her since. Emma Barksdale, a friend of both, had told Christine to behave at the party. Madeline has warned Henry to steer clear of Christine.
For the most part, the party turns out to be a success as, Madeline, Hannah’s oldest friend, had come to help. A few incidents had marred it, however. She and Martin had quarreled just before the party because he thought he needed to tell her how to act with the guests. Henry has impressed Madeline, but Hannah’s daughter Anne wants him fired because she had dated him years ago and he had left her alone at a party he’d invited her to.
Hannah Speaks, Martin Prays, but Not Everyone Is Happy
Hannah welcomes everyone. She explains that she restored the garden to honor the memory of her mother who had died ten years ago and that her inheritance from her mother was helping to pay for the restoration. The guests applaud, but Christine does not join in. Martin prays for everyone involved with the garden restoration and for the future ministry of the church.
Hannah then joins Lynn and Mark Spencer at the punch table and Lynn immediately gets on Hannah’s case about hiring “a complete stranger” to work for her. Mark tries to intervene, but Lynn keeps meddling. Hannah justifies her decision to hire Henry by explaining his qualifications. Lynn still thinks Hannah shouldn’t have hired someone she knows nothing about.
The guests stop to shake Martin’s hand as they are leaving, and Christine isn’t able to hide her negative feelings. The other guests seem pleased.
The day after the party, Henry takes a bouquet of daffodils to Christine’s house to try to get acquainted with her and try to find out why she is so negative. The reader sees a new side of Christine during this visit.
More Than the Garden Grows
Madeline’s words act as catalysts to the ideas and actions of many characters in the book. Madeline was the one who encouraged Hannah to restore the garden. At one point before the garden party, Hannah tells Madeline, “I’ve lost touch with my own dreams and it scares me. Growing old is bad enough, but I wake up and think of wasted days where nothing I’ve done is of any consequence…. I need to reinvent myself.”
Madeline spins a tale about a driver telling a couple of strangers he is lost. One of the men responded, ‘No, you’re not, you’re here.’
Madeline adds, “If we spend our days always thinking of what we’ve missed, what might have been, we miss the now of our lives, too. You aren’t lost, Hannah, you’re here. In this moment, we’re here, looking at this beautiful garden emerging around us. Perhaps …being lost is not a bad thing, but an opportunity to notice new places you have never been, actually looking at the things you pass by. “
Characters Grow as Part of the Community
Greening of the Heart is a story of people interacting and growing through the process. The church community and those in the wider community of the village around it begin to know themselves better. They make decisions, face unacknowledged truths about themselves, and find solutions to their problems through their conversations with others and by observing their behavior.
An example of this is Anne’s marriage to Geoffrey. The reader sees immediately that the marriage has severe problems. It is only as Anne observes the relationship between other couples that she realizes how troubled her marriage is. Geoffrey is a snob who has tried to keep Anne from her family and any friends that won’t enhance his social standing. He also stifles Anne and their children.
Although Anne has observed the growing distance between her parents, she realizes that Geoffrey’s life is all about impressing people he considers important, whereas her father’s life is about serving his congregation to the extent there’s nothing left for his wife. Geoffrey is harsh with her and with the children, who withdraw in his presence. Anne has smiled through Geoffrey’s rants and cried when she was alone. Anne never saw her father even say a harsh word to her mother.
She decides to seek counsel from her mother and she finally reconciles with Henry for the sake of her mother. It is her brother Christopher that motivates her to heed Madeline’s advice to get a job so she can be self-sufficient. She decides to do it.
Anne sees how loving the relationships between the workmen and their wives are. She observes the other young couples expressing affection and treating their spouses with respect. Anne’s observations and conversations with her new friends and her mother help her see that she must change her interactions with Geoffrey. How that relationship will turn out is still up in the air at the end of the book.
We see more examples of growth during interaction throughout the book. The relationship between Henry and Christine leads to the reconciliation between Christine and Hannah. Madeline’s words influence almost all the main characters.
Madeline is good at discerning who can help whom and then doing her best to bring them together and plant scenarios in their minds until they see new possibilities. This results in the idea that the garden might produce the vegetables used by the Clovers in the kitchen at the Bay Tree Inn. Later Hannah comes up with the idea of using that relationship between the inn and the vicarage garden to gain added revenue for both by giving garden tours in cooperation with Margaret Clover, ending with lunch back at the inn.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Martin is interacting with a new community of people. Their influence, and a frank letter from Hannah, are helping him see himself and his marriage in a new light, and he wants to save it.
I got very involved in this book. I began to really care about these new book friends. If you enjoy books that are more character than plot based, if you like watching people examine their lives with a mind to understand themselves and others, you will find this a rewarding read. You will see people falling in love, reconciling their differences, and experiencing spiritual and marital renewal through relationships begun in a garden.
If you thrive on relationships with people and like to observe positive changes in their lives, you will want to read Greening of the Heart. It will make you think about your own life and relationships as you watch the drama unfold. If you are also a gardener, this book will have an added layer of meaning for you. If you enjoyed reading the Mitford Series or Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fanny Flagg, I would also expect you to find Greening of the Heart appealing. If you haven’t read any of these, what are you waiting for? You won’t want to miss any of these books.
Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge deals with a dysfunctional family, and specifically the relationship between three sisters and their mother. Their father had sexually abused the oldest sister Monica when she was a child. Now she is a famous actress confined to a wheelchair. Her mother Betty, a battered wife, had known about the abuse, but not stopped it.
Anna, the most responsible sister, is trying to lose the extra pounds that have always made her feel ugly in comparison to her gorgeous sister. She cares for Monica during the day and their mother Betty at night.
Monica pays Anna very little but makes heavy demands on her time and energy. Anna puts up with it because it’s the only way she can afford help in caring for Betty, who has dementia and can’t be left alone. Anna would love to be free to live her own life again, but Anna hasn’t the heart to put her mother in a nursing home.
Monica’s money enables Anna to hire Edna to help Betty during the day. Arcela is paid to help Monica during the night when Anna can’t be with her. The third sister, Liz, does very little to help Anna with Monica or her mother. She is a divorcee with a child.
Anna resents the way Monica dominates her life and constantly puts her down. Monica belittles her about her plump figure and unstylish clothes. As the book unfolds you soon understand as you watch Anna and Monica interact what a toxic situation Anna is in.
Monica is an alcoholic. Anna can no longer face dealing with the drunken Monica. She finally persuades a reluctant Liz to join her for an intervention. She wants to insist Monica enter a live-in rehab program.
Liz resists but finally agrees. She and Anna participate in group therapy during family week as part of the treatment plan. In the therapy process Anna and Liz learn much more about each other and begin to build a better relationship. Anna also falls in love with Marc, one of the therapists there. He reveals he has a wife he still loves who is in a mental institution.
After Monica comes home from rehab, she seems to be abstaining for a while, but then starts drinking again. After a confrontation where Anna hands in her resignation, she returns home exhausted physically and mentally and goes to bed early. It is Arcela’s night off, so Monica is alone. The next morning Monica is found dead in her swimming pool. Anna is arrested for her murder. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.
Ironically, just as it appears Anna might finally find happiness, it seems she may have to spend the rest of her life in prison. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next — to Anna, to Liz, to Mark, to Betty and to all the characters in the subplots I didn’t introduce.
My Response to the Book and Recommendation
This book held my interest from beginning to end. I so wanted to see Anna stand up to Monica, who uses every bit of her acting talent to continue to manipulate Anna and keep her from having a satisfying life. Anyone who has ever lived with or had an alcoholic in the family can relate to Anna’s discouragement and frustration. The romance with Marc, Anna’s arrest, the search for the real killer, and watching the murder hearing made it hard for me to put the book down until the end.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has suffered abuse from alcoholics or family members as a child or adult. Friends and those trying to help such people will also find this book meaningful. Most people will find someone in this book that reminds them of someone they know.
After reading Wish Come True, I’d like to go back and read the other books in the Carson Springs Series . Although Wish Come True can easily stand alone, I wish I’d read the two earlier books in the series first. I just stumbled upon this book, but you can start at the beginning. You can also save by buying all three books at once for your Kindle. I have a Kindle Paperwhite, which I reviewed in Should You Buy a Kindle Paperwhite?
I thoroughly enjoyed this romance mystery, Morning Comes Softly –the story of a lonely Louisiana librarian, Mary Warner, who took a risk to find love. While her library pages were putting newspapers away one day, they happened to seea personal ad for a wife placed by a Montana rancher, Travis Thompson, who was caring for his brother’s orphaned children after he and his wife had been killed in a drunk driving accident. The pages encourage Mary to apply, but she rebuffs them. She had given up on the idea of ever finding a husband and at first she rejected the idea. Then she began to realize she did want marriage and children and the thought of the orphaned children of the rancher’s brother and his wife touched her heart.
Travis loves his brother’s three children, but doesn’t know the first thing about parenting and he can’t cook. He realizes he can’t be a real father to the children while running the ranch, and he’s afraid the social workers who check on the children will put them in foster care if he doesn’t satisfy them that someone capable will be looking after them. He has been persuaded by his friends to place the ad, and as a last resort, he does.
Mary takes the risk of answering the ad, and a correspondence develops between Travis and Mary, in which even the children have input. After several letters have gone back and forth, there is finally a phone call, and Mary goes to the ranch to meet them and marry Travis.
The wedding is just the first step to turning five people into a family. I can relate because my husband and I adopted two older children. We also cared for my oldest nephew for the year his parents could not be home with him. It’s never an easy adjustment to build a family from from people who have not all lived with each other before. Love comes softly. Mary learns to love Travis and the children. She is not so sure that all of them love her back. Step-parents have to earn love and trust from their step-children.
Mary’s relationship with Travis is also awkward because neither seems anxious at first to consummate the marriage. Travis really wanted a caretaker for his children more than he wanted a real wife. He is obsessed with finding the drunk driver who is responsible for the death of his brother and sister-in-law, and spends most of his free time doing his own investigation. That is also a major thread in this book. He has promised himself and his brother’s oldest son that he will find and bring that person to justice. Things come to a head when the sheriff closes the investigation.
I had a good idea who the killer was from the time the subplot reached its climax. The author dropped plenty of clues from which the reader can figure it out. The question is whether Travis can forgive. Until he can, it doesn’t appear the marriage will ever become healthy either.
I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book. I admired Mary’s determination to take a risk and commit herself to making a very unusual marriage work. I genuinely liked her as a person. It was a bit harder to identify with Travis’s hatred for the person responsible for the accident that killed his brother, though I appreciated his willingness to commit himself to taking in his dead brother’s children. It’s hard not to love the children as each responds individually and age-appropriately to the loss of their parents and being thrust into a newly forming family. I even felt a bit sorry for the “villain” and his family, though I won’t spill the beans as to their identities. I don’t want to spoil your own detective work.
If you like romance with a touch of mystery and you enjoy watching families with a rough start overcome their relationship problems, I believe you won’t want to miss Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber.
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Wilson meets Mark Fripp while they are both living at Fort Benning. They are both Army children. They fall in love as much as teens are able to fall in love, but after only six weeks, Mark has to leave when his father is transferred to Italy. Jessica and Mark email each other for a time, but then the emails from Mark stop coming and Jessica believes he no longer loves her. He actually does try to email her, but she’s not getting them, and can’t answer him. Her heart is broken.
Both their fathers die in the Battle of Kirkuk in 2003 in Iraq while serving in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, but neither knows the other’s father had died. Both are separately dealing with the grief of missing each other and losing their fathers in the same year. Both had been using military emails to communicate and the accounts were taken away when their fathers died. That is part of what happened to their communication.
We learn this story as Jessica tells it to her troubled sixteen-year-old daughter Chelsea after she has run away from home during a period of depression after a break-up with her boyfriend. She was found and returned, but Jessica was afraid she might leave again. She seemed to have turned into a different girl, one who had dropped out of her extracurricular activities and taken up bad habits. Once Chelsea was back home, Jessica had tried everything she knew to help her, including therapy, church, and horseback riding lessons, but none of it seemed to help. Jessica is afraid of losing Chelsea every time she leaves home alone. It appears Chelsea believes Jessica cannot understand the pain she feels after the break-up.
Jessica decides to force Chelsea to take a three-hour drive back to Fort Benning where she, Jesssica, had fallen in love. It is isolated enough there so that she may get the chance to tell Chelsea her own story of heartbreak without having her jump out of the car and run away.
When the story opens, it is 2013. Jessica is living with her widowed sister Jill whose husband has died in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, leaving her with three children at home. They live a block from Jessica’s mother Clara and her second husband Paul. Jessica helps Jill with the children and their activities and works seasonally at an animal rescue center. Jessica is engaged to a wealthy rancher, Blake McCormick, even though what she feels for him is a much different kind of love than that she had felt for Mark.
Mark had also had a miserable ten years of grief. He was living in Arizona in Navajo Nation after being discharged from the Air Forces’s 55th Rescue Squadron two years earlier. He had been disqualified for further service after an accident in Afghnistan that left him colorblind after his other injuries had healed. He missed the Air Force, and felt like damaged goods because of the discharge. For two years he had been chasing opportunities for new thrills in risky activities.
Now he wanted to go to Capetown, South Africa to to jump from the Blouskrans Bridge, the highest one on earth at 708 feet. But first he had one more thing to do. He had found out where Jessica was living and he wanted to go and see her. He had never gotten over losing her and hoped they could yet pick up the pieces of their relationship. He hopped on his Honda VFR Interceptor with a ticket to Capetown in his pocket, and headed for Atlanta to find Jessica. As Jessica told Chelsea at the beginning of her story, ‘I was engaged…and then my past came walking in the back door.’
To see what happened you need to read Come Find Me. I hope you will. The characters are memorable and show you who they are. There are very few of them I would not want at my dinner table, and I believe you will enjoy meeting them and watching them work out what they want most in life.
It seems the protagonist or a main character of almost every noveI I have read recently has either been molested or abused as a child or both. I almost feel like an anomaly for having had a normal childhood with two parents who stayed married to each other, loved me, and protected me. As I read these novels, I’m also very grateful I had this kind of childhood. Leilani (Lei) Texeira had been abused as a child. Her mother had preferred drugs to mothering after her husband Wayne had gotten her hooked and then been sent to prison for dealing drugs when Lei was five. Charlie Kwon had moved in with her mother and molested Lei for six months, often when she was bathing. As Lei put it, ‘Charlie’d had a way of getting to her, twisting everything he did to her into something she’d wanted.’ When Charlie broke up with Lei’s mom, she overdosed, and Lei was sent to live with her Aunty Rosario in California when she was nine. It was the best thing that ever happened to her. But she continued to have flashbacks to the bathtub scenes throughout Blood Orchids.
When we meet Lei in the first book of the Lei Crime Series, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1), she is a rookie in the South Hilo Police Department in Hawaii. She is pulling a young woman’s body out of the water as her partner, Pono, is phoning in her grisly discovery. After Lei pulls a second girl from the water it is evident they have been murdered, and Detective Michael Stevens, from Los Angeles, and his partner Jeremy Ito, are put in charge of the case.
Lei isn’t happy about that. Since she discovered the bodies, she wants to be involved in helping to find the murderer. Finally, Stevens allows her to help since the help he has requested from other departments has not been given. Lei and Stevens spend more time together as the case unfolds. As the book (and series) progresses, much of it deals with the growing attraction between Lei and Michael Stevens.
Meanwhile, Lei has discovered she has a stalker who puts threatening notes in her mailbox and on her porch. Even though she has a security system and a pet Rottweiler, Keiki, she is still afraid. She wonders if her neighbor, Tom Watanabe is her stalker since she thinks he looks at her in a creepy way. The reader sees several possible suspects besides Tom. I’m not going to spoil the book for you by mentioning them, but I did suspect the right people. I like that the author gave me enough clues to figure out who the killer was.
We see the murder of Mary, another woman police officer and a friend and classmate of Lei before the killer lets readers know that Lei herself will be his next target. I have trouble with books like this because they use a technique that builds suspense to the point that I can’t handle it. The reader knows from almost the beginning that a serial killer is responsible for the deaths of the two girls Lei and Pono found drowned.
Throughout the book there are passages where the killer speaks (in italics), savoring his mementos from his victims and the photos of them he has so carefully posed. He also lets the reader know ahead of time that there will soon be another killing and in some cases, who it will be. I’m sure this technique appeals to some readers who enjoy the suspense and the anticipation of the next murder. I don’t. I prefer books where the body is found and the detectives go to work methodically to find the killer as we follow in their steps and think with them. In this book, the reader knows more than the police. I empathize too much and can’t stand knowing a character I’ve gotten to know is going to be grabbed and probably killed and that I will have to watch it happen.
Were it not for that, I would have found the book a fast-moving and entertaining escape. I just don’t consider being scared over and over entertaining the way some people do. I did enjoy the interaction between Lei and Pono and watching the romance between Lei and Stevens develop.
Lei has frequent flashbacks to the abuse she faced as a child, and what happened back then affects her ability to trust Stevens and her ambivalence creates tension. Stevens considers Lei’s willingness to take initiative in her work a strong point. She is also impulsive, though, and takes unnecessary risks.
At one point when she thinks her stalker has just put a note on her porch when she’s already dressed for bed, she turns Keiki loose and pursues on foot — a really dumb thing to do. It doesn’t end happily, and it results in her being disciplined by her boss and being forced into counseling. The counseling turns out to be a good thing. It continues into the second book after Lei has begun to see its value
I am about halfway through the second book in the series, Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2). I don’t think I will be able to finish it because the inner stress it produces in me is worse than even that in Blood Orchids. That same technique of letting the killer share his thoughts is used there, and Lei continues to take off on risky solo investigations on her own that could get her killed. I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity
I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity of the mysterious Timekeeper. I would recommend this series to those who relish suspense and thrive on thrillers. The police detective work is thorough and chances are you will predict the killer if you pay attention to the clues the author lets you see. Toby Neal knows how to create a mood that draws the reader into the book from the first page.
Despite my resistance to the suspense leading to witnessing violence, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1) kept me turning the pages, and I couldn’t put it down even when I wanted to. The author made me care about so much about the characters that I may sneak to the end of Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2)
just to see what happens. I suspect Lei will find herself in a very dangerous position it will take all her strength and survival instincts to get out of. I don’t want to watch, which is why I’ll skip the dramatic build-up and climax and just see how it is all resolved. In spite of the past pain in her life, Lei is a very caring detective who wants justice for the victims of the vicious. I think you will enjoy getting to know her.
Today I will offer my fellow bookworms an assortment of mini-reviews on the most recent mysteries I have read. First, though, are some things you should know about my personal reading tastes so you can determine how similar yours might be
I tend to like mysteries that focus on police detectives or professional PI’s but a couple of my favorite authors feature amateur sleuths and/or cats. Among these are the Midnight Louie series and the Benni Harper series. Both feature amateurs who seem to always be finding bodies in the course of their everyday lives and feel compelled to find out who killed them with or without police cooperation, and I love both these series. I think it’s because the characters are intelligent people and don’t take as many stupid risks or engage in the silliness I’ve seen in some cozy mysteries.
I don’t like reading a lot of profanity but will tolerate some if consistent with the characters’ otherwise likable personalities. I don’t want to read page after page of it, though. Neither do I enjoy a lot of bedroom scenes — especially those that seem to be there for no good reason that contributes to the plot. I would prefer to follow the process of solving the crime and not have to see violence, blood, and gore unless it helps me in trying to figure out who the murderer is.
I read a lot of Christian inspirational fiction, but have discovered it is not all of equal quality. For example, I did not get much inspiration from Tears Fall at Night even though many people say they did. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer, since it showed how a consistent witness of walking the walk may be the best way to win over someone who is resistant to preaching. I found the characters believable and enjoyed getting to know them.
Now that you know where I’m coming from with regard to fiction, here are some comments on my recent reading.
52 Steps to Murder by Steve Demaree
52 Steps to Murder (Book 1 Dekker Cozy Mystery Series)
by Steve Demaree , was clean, as far as mysteries go, but slow moving, especially at the beginning. The detectives, Cy and Lou, were Christians and prayed each morning before they left their homes. Lou often received a “word from God” each morning that usually turned out to be a clue in solving the case. I wish, though, that these men had also paid attention to the Scriptures that told them how to treat their bodies.
I felt that Cy Dekker, lead detective for the Hilldale Police Department, and his partner, Lou Murdock, were not all that concerned about their lack of fitness and their tendency to overeat. Cy made a big deal out of how difficult it was to climb the 52 stairs to the hilltop homes he often needed to visit during the investigation. This was humorous, but also a bit pathetic. I understand though, that on the detectives’ schedule, a fitness program and healthy meals weren’t always practical. I suppose the author also thought the humor helped break the tedium of climbing all the stairs each day.
Another source of humor was Cy’s ongoing effort to escape from his unattractive single neighbor who lay in wait for him with her little poodle Twinkle Toes every morning as he left for work. Although these encounters offered comic relief, it still bothered me that Cy had no problem insulting Heloise Humphert at each encounter. It was also unbelievable that any woman would act the way Heloise did in misinterpreting everything Cy did and said. I have to admit, though, that these encounters did relieve some of the book’s tension. I’m sure that’s the real reason Demaree included them. I just think it detracts from the image of Cy and Lou as Christians.
The mystery itself involved two women who had been poisoned, but the timetable was such that it seemed to eliminate everyone who could have committed the crime. That is it did until the detectives learned of the underground tunnels that were common knowledge among the neighbors. Suspects had many ways to come and go unseen by anyone. I won’t spoil the ending, but I was interested enough to keep reading. I probably will read more in this series. This isn’t as exciting as the In Death Series by J. D. Robb, but I’ve read far worse detective novels than this. The investigative work was very thorough.
My first introduction to the Dekker Cozy Mystery series was
I downloaded this free from Amazon. It was first published in 1906 and is now in the public domain. If you are only used to reading literature written in the past few decades, you might find the manners and language in this book a bit antiquated. After a few pages of reading, however, I expect you will be drawn into the book.
We meet young medical school graduate James Elliot on the road walking from his home village of Gresham 25 miles to the village of Alton, where he will begin his practice of small town medicine assisting Doctor Thomas Gordon (‘Doc’). He will live in the doctor’s home, along with the doctor’s widowed sister and her daughter.
James soon discovers that everyone seems to have secrets they are keeping from each other, and you will become as curious to learn them as James is. There is the hint of the first one when James meets a lovely young woman on his way to Alton and rescues her from a mysterious man who seems to embody evil. It turns out that she is Clemency, Doc Gordon’s niece, and they will meet again in the doctor’s house. James realizes he should act like he is meeting her there for the first time. There are several more encounters with the mystery man to come, and it’s obvious that Clemency must be kept out of his sight, but we don’t learn why until the end of the book.
Another theme in this book was the illness of the doctor’s sister, Mrs. Ewing. James could tell she was ill, but Doc denied it when James asked what was wrong. I was surprised that near the end of the book, the author dealt with the moral dilemma posed by assisted suicide.
James, Doc, Clemency, and Mrs. Ewing are all decent people. The last three suffer because of all the secrets surrounding them and their past pain. They care about the ethics and morals of their day, though Doc often tries to escape his pain with Apple Jack.
This book may not appeal to modern readers, but once I got into it I found it hard to put it down. It certainly doesn’t cost anything to download the free eBook and decide for yourself if it’s worth reading. Just click the book image above to get to a download page.
That’s enough books for one post. I’d be interested in your opinions if you have read any of these. Feel free to comment. My taste may be different from yours, but not necessarily better. Reading is a personal experience.