After the Shadows by Amanda Cabot

After the Shadows, #1
By Amanda Cabot / Revell

Tragedies turn lives upside down with long reaching consequences. The dark shadows they cast are joy robbers. Sad individuals either succumb to the heavy weight of the event’s sadness or they find paths out to a new-found and unexpected sense of joy.

      The main characters in After the Shadows, Emily Leland and Craig Ferguson are true overcomers. Both lost spouses. Emily was bound to a controlling and abusive husband. Upon his sudden death, she returned to her family home only to discover her father had just died. Now she experiences a double tragedy. Craig Ferguson’s wife, and mother to his son, was the apple of his eye. Her death due to a fatal accident, caused his world to unravel. Her memory was everywhere. He struggled to raise his son amidst the heartache and constant reminders. Trained as a school teacher, he accepted a job in Sweetwater Crossing Texas. The new job required him to relocate. He was thrilled to accept this change.The move offered a brighter future for Craig and his son, Noah. 

   Emily and Craig both forge a new path. Craig insists on respecting the students’ self esteem and turns heads in town when he refuses to make students stand in corners and wear dunce caps. He welcomes children of all abilities to join in and take part in his lessons. As a former public school librarian, I appreciated this up-to-date view of educators and this character’s commitment to working with students with a variety of learning styles. 

Out of necessity, Emily uses her hospitality and baking skills to  open a boarding house. Within days of returning to her family home, she has multiple boarders and guests willing to enjoy her meals.
Soon a mystery is afoot. Older residents are dying sudden deaths. Even her father’s death seems suspicious. Emily and Craig join forces to uncover the truth. 

There are clues that raise suspicion on a few characters. But the red herrings built into the plot keep you guessing until the very end. The mystery is eventually solved. The criminal’s motive is unique. 

The author does a wonderful job weaving the dynamics of family relationships into the story. We can expect to see these characters in future books in the Secrets of Sweetwater Crossing series. 

The setting of this book is the late 19th century. It opens in 1882. One interesting twist to the plot involves morphine. We learn from historical accounts that injectable morphine was widely used during the U.S. Civil War to the point that many veterans at the war’s end returned home with drug addictions. For many, this habit of substance abuse became a tough obstacle preventing them from rebuilding a healthy post-war life. There are many subplots to this novel, and these facts play a role.  

I look forward to the sequels in this series. I have read four Amanda Cabot novels. I’ve enjoyed each one. The setting of each novel draws me in. The books always have a great pace and a full roster of memorable characters.

Great Reads!

090894: Saving Mrs. Roosevelt: WWII Heroines Saving Mrs. Roosevelt: WWII Heroines
By Candice Sue Patterson / Barbour Publishing

The setting and the characters caught my attention. I enjoyed this mystery book. The plot was realistic with some great twists and turns. Readers who enjoy WWII historical fiction would enjoy their time reading this book. The main character exemplified pluck, perseverance, and a sharp mind. Each character was fully drawn out. I would recommend this book.

Until Leaves Fall in Paris

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Until Leaves Fall in Paris
By Sarah Sundin / Revell

Historical Fiction fans will love this book. Until Leaves fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin draws readers into a unique WWII setting. Her main characters are American expatriates who were long standing residents of the American Colony in Paris. One protagonist, Lucie Girard, is a former ballerina who studied and danced with a ballet company in Paris. In 1940, as the Nazi military conquests increase, many expats flee and return to the U.S. Lucie chooses to remain in Paris. As a Christian American, she feels more secure. She buys a bookstore since it appears her career with the ballet company will end. The purchase solves her need to make a living. Her payment to the former owners pays their passage back to America. Lucie is thrilled to complete this sale since it opens a door to safety for the former owners who are long time family friends. The former owners are Jewish. A decision to remain in Paris would likely be a death sentence for this older Jewish couple.

Paul Aubrey is an engineer and automaker. He is an American expatriate as well. Once the Germans arrive in Paris, they negotiate a contract with Paul to oversee the production of trucks. According to the terms of the contract the trucks are to be used only in civilian transport activities. Paul suspects the Germans may be making alterations to his trucks. He worries that they are repurposing them for the war effort. This leads Paul and some of his employees to adopt a variety of techniques to slow down the production line and even commit sabotage.

Each main character shows in many instances that they are good people. They are considerate of others. They tap into their sense of creativity to see their businesses succeed. They treat their employees fairly. Paul and Lucie meet through the bookstore. They develop a strong romantic bond that grows throughout the story.

The author includes many subplots. These storylines help us understand the complexity of everyday life in Paris during the war years. We meet resistors, some militant and others more subtle. We learn about the collaborators. The description of banned books and burning books provokes the ire of book lovers and champions of free speech.

This book does not get bogged down in the gruesome details of war. Readers are spared descriptions of this nature. The action at the last part of the book is filled with suspense as our main characters escape. Each has to dodge grave obstacles that threaten to block their safe passage. After seeing the characters through this action packed time period, I was glad the final destination was a happy ending in America.

I recommend this book to my reading buddies. I reviewed a paperback copy supplied to me by the publisher Revell.

Lights Out by Natalie Walters

I read an electronic version of the Advanced Reader’s Copy of Lights Out by Natalie Walters. First I would emphasize that the characters were well drawn out with strong and very different identities. The cybersleuth, Kekoa steals the show with his upbeat dialogue. Lyla is another full of life character who doesn’t pull any punches. I was a little surprised at the amount of romantic content. I chose the book to read because I thought it was a mystery. From the start, the loop back to romantic notions appears frequently. This swing in the action from modern day espionage to matters of the heart I found too much in the beginning. I hung with it and eventually warmed up to the story with greater engagement.

The main characters, Jack Hudson and Brynn Taylor, are competent professionals in the business of tracking down threats to our government and way of life. Each individual has a multilayered backstory that is 100% believable and wins you over to their side. As a CIA analyst, Brynn shows she is competent at her job. Jack Hudson, a private contractor, who specializes in identifying and resolving security threats, is surrounded by a top-notch and caring team. When they join forces, the plot thickens as there is a missing person to find amidst Brynn and Jack’s blossoming relationship. This duo went through CIA agent training eight years ago and began a relationship. But choices made at the program’s end, caused a break-up and Jack moved on with a broken heart. Now they are thrown together to find a missing Egyptian operative whose disappearance has caused alarm at all levels of homeland security. As they chase down clues, one Egyptian American contact is poisoned and murdered. Brynn narrowly escapes multiple threats with her life and only minor broken bones. Jack’s quick thinking saves her from fatal consequences.

The contemporary setting accurately portrays just how complicated things are in the area of foreign relations. It takes place in a post 9/11 World and its impact is evident. Both in the political sphere and in Brynn’s personal life. Her father, a firefighter, survived the attacks, but was injured and was unable to do his job due to the injuries. She felt the tragedy on a personal level in addition to responding to it as an American Citizen. This experience drove her to serving in the CIA and doing whatever was possible to avoid another terrorist attack in the future.

The setting is based in greater Washington DC. This part makes sense. There are just a few jumps to a setting in Egypt and a human traffickers home in Georgia that seem choppy.

The author shows she writes on an advanced level when focusing on contemporary topics with an ample dose of technology woven into the plot. There’s an implied Christian theme and the story is told with appropriate language throuhgout. It is a novel with fast paced action, likable characters, and a satisfying plot. Lights out is Book #1 in a series on Jack Hudson’s private agency dedicated to national security.

Dreams Rekindled

735360: Dreams Rekindled #2Dreams Rekindled #2
By Amanda Cabot / Revell
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Dreams Rekindled is Book #2 in the Mesquite Springs series. I had read Book #1 and enjoyed it. A reader can easily jump into book two and not miss a beat in the story’s flow. My dilemma with this book is that I found the beginning slow. I anticipate fast action beginnings in Amanda Cabot’s books but this description doesn’t fit Dreams Rekindled. I would say the author intended to introduce Laura to us, but all the swooning and talk of marriage was frustrating. The simmering warm up in Dreams Rekindled surprised me. By mid-stream, the plot quickened and was multi-layered with mystery. The protagonists, Dorothy Clark and Brandon Holloway, are well developed and their family histories and future goals are interesting. I found this aspect of the novel extremely satisfying. Dorothy dreams of becoming a writer and finds great success on her chosen career path. The close look at her mom’s mental health during a period of loss was full of empathy and good sense. Brandon clearly is one of the good guys; hard-working, personable, smart, and open-minded. His sense of duty to responsible journalism and supplying a respectable newspaper to members of Texas Hill Country communities of the 1850’s is admirable. The villains in the story are believable and the fast pace action at the end gives the story a strong finish. I appreciated the wisdom and grace Pastor Coleman and his wife displayed under pressure. Cabot has successfully woven into her story some essential tenets of the Christian faith such as forgiveness and transformation. I think on balance, the exceptional ingredients of the book outweigh the sluggish start. I received a print book from the publisher Revell in exchange for my honest review.

The Women’s March By Jennifer Chiaverini

A Novel of the 1913 Woman’s Procession

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On Sale July 27, 2021. Pre-order now at your favorite Independent Bookstore. A great new release from Jennifer Chiaverini

A must read! Such a wise choice to focus mostly on The Women’s March with important investigations into the point of view of Black Women, Western Women Voters, Southern Women, and a look at events in England. A watershed time in US History and the focus on the events leading up to and after The Women’s March kept the focus tight. The research is excellent. The intro lays the ground work and moves at a slower pace. You will finish the book with a great appreciation for the historical achievements of these pioneering women. Excellent! I read an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley.

Power Outage = Power Reading

We were all impressed this week when the power stayed constant despite a storm that delivered record snowfall amounts in a short space of time. The snow was deep, but dry. Unlike the storm a few weeks back that was thick and wet. During this previous weather event, snow snapped branches and power lines failed when trees toppled. While it’s an inconvenience, power outages have their own rewards. Just curl up with a few blankets, a battery powered booklight, and revel in reading time. This 18 hour power outage helped me successfully meet my 2020 reading challenge. Thirty books in 52 weeks. I probably read a few more, but those are the ones I recorded. This last power outage revealed one problem with our trusty generator. It’s not big enough to power everything simultaneously. So we rotate through a cycle of powering the furnace and water pump, then the refrigerator and some kitchen outlets. This is how I know I can brew a morning cup of coffee. But this year, no coffee. There wasn’t enough voltage for some reason to bring the coffee maker to life. I was ready to hike out to the neighbors because days just don’t start without “a cup of Joe”. As I grew more irritable and impatient, I finally realized hot chocolate made with boiling water on my gas stove would suffice. Since that day, I decided on an inexpensive solution. My husband doesn’t know it yet, but during our Christmas gift exchange, he’s giving me a stove top percolator. I am truly comforted to know, I can enjoy a cup of coffee with or without power. Here’s to many happy hours of reading in 2021!

photo credit: Amazon and the Colletti Bozeman Percolator Coffee Pot

“Things We Didn’t Say” by Amy Lynn Green

Things We Didn’t Say
By Amy Lynn Green / Bethany House
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I just finished “Things We Didn’t Say” by Amy Lynn Green. Just after its debut day, I was so excited to pick up my copy from the local Indie Bookstore. Later when I flipped open the cover, I  was caught by surprise. “Hold on a second,” I said. “An entire book written in letters? How did I miss this? Will I like it? I don’t know.” I couldn’t recall another similar literary offering that I had read. But upon reflection, I thought of two; The Screwtape Letters and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I enjoyed both of these. With this recollection, I was convinced. An epistolary novel is a  powerful form of expression. 

I got over my initial speed bump and plunged in. With a few page turns, I was all in. There’s great movement in the plot. The multiple points of view made the story rich. At the end, I thought the characters were so vibrant. Each one essential to the story. I had my doubts with Olive’s missives but even her correspondence proved to be a key story element. 

At the conclusion, I thought about the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. Not the returning prodigal son himself, but his brother. The one that would never go in and join the celebration due to his anger and unforgiving nature. I thought the letters did a good job of showing that often when presented with something that threatens our sense of justice we react just like the older brother. We lash out and harbor anger toward the person or situation that has rocked our world. Bitterness defines us. When the German POW’s came to the camp in the villagers’ northern Minnesota community, few were thinking about practicing hospitality, or letting their light shine, or showing God’s love. It was heartwarming to travel along with the characters on their path to greater understanding.

Fun surprises along the way lightened the mood and solved some mysteries. I’ll admit, I’m a little curious about the title. Why is it called “Things We Didn’t’ Say.” To me, the story is complete. It’s a homerun. The letters tell it all. As I think about it, I guess the title stems from the idea that the characters later expressed in letters what they neglected to say in the moment. Words left unspoken due to fear and bad timing. This certainly happened first with Johanna Berglund and Erik Sorenson, and later with Johanna and Peter.

Amy Lynn Green has crafted a thoroughly satisfying story. The book is part of my personal library, but it’s not likely to sit on the shelf for long. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my book buddies.

Winners announced November 12, 2020

2020 Christy Award Finalists

In each category, you’ll find great books to enjoy. Authors and publishers have given us many top quality novels. Page turners you can’t put down. You’ll experience a whole range of emotions with many. You’ll remember stand out quotes long after the back cover flips closed.

As I like to say …. “Bookmarks are for Quitters!”

Finalists in the First Novel Category. Use the link above for a list of all finalists.

Summer News

Since mid summer, my mind’s eye could see only deadlines. Two big projects came due at the end of September. For one I had to use primary sources extensively. With the state archives closed, its been like working with one hand tied behind your back. Microfilms at the historical societies can only be used in one hour appointments. At the state library the materials you look at one week are then quarantined for a week so they are not available until a week later. Patience was required. I managed to meet my deadlines. I am thankful.

Since I often work with many primary sources, I became aware of this 19th amendment display offered by the National Archives. I signed up to receive the display and was able to secure one. I made arrangements to have it on display starting just before August 18th. This date is significant because one hundred years ago on August 18, 1920, Tennessee passed it and became the required 36th state to pass the amendment. The contents of the display were superb. It was easy to set up. It was a bright spot in a very busy summer.