Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Jody Hedlund: Together Forever

By Kelly Bridgewater

Marianne Neumann has one goal in life: to find her lost younger sister, Sophie. When Marianne takes a job as a placing agent with the Children's Aid Society in 1858 New York, she not only hopes to give children a better life but seeks to discover whether Sophie ended up leaving the city on an orphan train.

Andrew Brady, her fellow agent on her first placing trip, is a former schoolteacher who has an easy way with the children--firm but tender and funny. Underneath his handsome charm, though, seems to linger a grief that won't go away--and a secret from his past that he keeps hidden. As the two team up placing orphans amid small railroad towns in Illinois, they find themselves growing ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy threatens to upend all their work and change one of their lives forever.

From Amazon

My Thoughts:

Together Forever is Jody Hedlund's second full length novel in her orphan train series. With historical romance, I expect to be taken for a journey through some historical event or element and follow two characters as they fall in love. With Hedlund's story, Together Forever, she definitely does that.

The writing is clear and concise. I had no problem visualizing the settings and roaming around the countryside with the main characters and all the orphans. She does allow me to understand and see the character's different emotions and internal dialogue as they work through situations.

At the beginning of the story, Hedlund spends a little time giving backstory. She starts the story with action then explains the life of the orphans to lead them to their current situation, then she jumps back into a little action, then repeats the same backstory, a little action, more backstory before jumping into the forward moving story. This took me out of the story instantly. Delete the first couple of chapters and weave in the backstory as they story moves along. Only once.

As for the characters, Marianne and Drew, I really didn't empathize with either character. The characters you meet at the beginning of the novel are the same at the end of the novel. No transformation at all. They didn't learn anything or change at all. They were static characters. Marianne is a sweet, loving woman who desires to find her missing sister and tries to look for clues in the opening chapter. But after that, she really doesn't do anything in the rest of the novel to keep looking for her missing sister. Similarly, Drew knows how to put enough force to keep the orphans in line, but he also has a tender heart to show them he loves them.

The romance bothered me the most. Marianne and Drew got engaged pretty quickly in the book and the sparks fly all over the page, confusing me and probably Marianne and Drew too. I found their courtship really unrealistic even though there were a number of obstacles in their way throughout the rest of the novel.

The historical element of placing orphans outside the city to learn skills and to be educated is a neat idea. I have never heard of it. But the way the story was written, I wasn't really interested in what was going on with the orphans. They didn't appear to be the main part of the novel. The story centered around Marianne and Drew and their unbelievable romance.

Overall, Together Forever by Jody Hedlund surrounds a historical element I didn't know happened. While the synopsis gripped my attention, the plot, characters, and romance fell short for me. I really had a hard time paying attention and couldn't wait for the novel to be over with, so I could read something better.

I received a complimentary copy of Together Forever by Jody Hedlund from Bethany House Publishers, but the opinions stated are all my own.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 28, 2018

Karen Barnett: Where the Fire Falls

By Kelly Bridgewater

Watercolorist Olivia Rutherford has shed her humble beginnings to fashion her image as an avant-garde artist to appeal to the region's wealthy art-collectors. When she lands a lucrative contract painting illustrations of Yosemite National Park for a travel magazine, including its nightly one-of-a-kind Firefall event, she hopes the money will lift Olivia and her sisters out of poverty.

    After false accusations cost him everything, former minister Clark Johnson has found purpose as a backcountry guide in this natural cathedral of granite and trees. Now he's faced with the opportunity to become a National Parks Ranger, but is it his true calling?

    As Clark opens Olivia's eyes to the wonders of Yosemite, she discovers the people are as vital to the park's story as its vistas--a revelation that may bring her charade to an end.

From Amazon

My Thoughts:

Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett is the second book in her A Vintage National Parks Novels series. I have enjoyed the first book, The Road to Paradise, and I couldn't wait to dive back into a story in a setting that I haven't explored. The characters of Olivia and Clark jump off the page. Right from the beginning, I wanted to know more about the back story of Olivia. She intrigued me. Clark was a little different. I didn't learn a lot about his back story or the lack of one right away, which was okay for me. The plot captured my attention and had me flipping through the story. I had a hard time putting the novel down. I loved how Barnett showed her love of this setting through the eyes of Clark. I felt like I was right there with Clark and Olivia as they traveled to scenic parks of the park to paint. A mystery appeared toward the end of the novel, and I loved it. It didn't feel out of place. I actually felt like Barnett wrapped her mystery in the historical novel without any faults. The romance sparkled but bloomed toward the end during the mystery element.

In conclusion, Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett is a captivating story taking place in the Yosemite National Park with loveable characters. This story kept me up, and I eagerly await the third book in the series. Fans of historical romance, I believe, will love this story. I sure did!

I received a complimentary copy of Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett from Waterbrook Publishing, but the opinions stated are all my own.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Day

By Kelly Bridgewater

Memorial Day.

Happy Memorial Day!

This weekend is the opening of swimming pools and starts the official summer season.

Time of bar-b-ques and spending time outside of school.

Time to cut grass. EVERY WEEK.

Gardens. Fresh produce. YUM!!!

Time for my boys to play outside.

More time to work outside, planting flowers and removing the dead trees from our woods and planting three for every one we have taken down.

Nieces and Nephews come spend the week with us.

I look forward to all these things, but I'm not looking forward to the heat and humidity.

Why can't summer stay in the seventies during the day and slip into the fifties at night? Then I wouldn't mind summer so much.

Anyway, however you define the beginning of summer, I pray you have a fun time and make memories with your family and love ones.

How about you? What defines summer for you?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Heidi Chiavorli: The Hidden Side

By Kelly Bridgewater

New York, 2016
Natalie Abbott offers answers for hurting listeners on her popular radio program. But she struggles to connect with her teenagers, with her daughter in an unhealthy relationship and her son uncommunicative and isolated. When one member of the family commits an unspeakable act, Natalie is forced to uncover who she truly is under the façade of her radio persona.

New York, 1776
Mercy Howard is shocked when her fiancé, Nathan Hale, is arrested and hanged as a spy. When she’s asked to join the revolutionary spy ring in Manhattan, she sees an opportunity to avenge Nathan’s death. But keeping her true loyalties hidden grows increasingly harder as the charming Major John Andre of the King’s Army becomes more to her than a target for intelligence.

Mercy’s journals comfort Natalie from across the centuries as both women struggle with their own secrets and shame, wondering how deep God’s mercy extends.

Image result for The Hidden Side Heidi Chiavaroli

My Thoughts:

The Hidden Side the second novel by author, Heidi Chiavorli. I haven't gotten around to reading her first novel, but I think I will want to pick that up soon. With The Hidden Side, I was introduced to Chiavorli's writing and now understand why good things are being said about her writing.  With a women's fiction novel, I expect to be touched by a difficult topic and dive deep into the character's emotions. Chiavorli does a good job at creating a timely story with deep characters.

My favorite thing about her writing is the transformation of the characters as they move through the story. In the beginning, the character claim a faith and belief in God, but then a crisis strikes, and they are tested. Their faith deepens as they struggle and grow closer to God. Some novels I have read, the deep desire to question and seek God appears fake and forced by the author, but I believe Chiavorli's  dug really deep and created an authentic character.

I enjoyed the character of Mealynn. I personally related to her the most. Being a mother, I thought I would empathize with Natalie, but I didn't. . I empathized with Natalie as she pondered what  she could have done differently when raising Chris. I empathize with the twin of Chris. I could feel Maelynn's hurt and anger as she walked through this difficult time in her teenage life. While the character of Mercy is the historical character, I really didn't empathize with her or enjoy her story. After reading the complete story, I still am confused on what Mercy's story has to do with the other one. I understand Natalie and Maelynn read the journal, but what did it have to do with the modern day story.

I enjoyed the contemporary timeline. It was very timely and important for this day with all the school shootings. Chiavorli's perspective with the mother, father, and sister of a shooter is different than anything I have ever read, and I felt swept up into the action within the first chapter. This was a wonderful book to spend a day or longer with.

Overall, Heidi Chiavorli's second book The Hidden Side was all about taking a different viewpoint on a hot topic. Maelynn was the character I related to the most. The historical story felt out of place. Even though the contemporary story captured my attention. I believe fans of Rachel Hauck, Beth K. Vogt, or Laura McNeil would enjoy this women's fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavorli from Tyndale Publishing, but the opinions stated are all my own.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 21, 2018

Catherine West: Where Hope Begins

By Kelly Bridgewater

Sometimes we’re allowed to glimpse the beauty within the brokenness . . .

Savannah Barrington has always found solace at her parents’ lake house in the Berkshires, and it’s the place that she runs to when her husband of over twenty years leaves her. Though her world is shaken, and the future uncertain, she finds hope through an old woman’s wisdom, a little girl’s laughter, and a man who’s willing to risk his own heart to prove to Savannah that she is worthy of love.

But soon Savannah is given a challenge she can’t run away from: Forgiving the unforgivable. Amidst the ancient gardens and musty bookstores of the small town she’s sought refuge in, she must reconcile with the grief that haunts her, the God pursuing her, and the wounds of the past that might be healed after all.

Where Hope Begins is the story of grace in the midst of brokenness, pointing us to the miracles that await when we look beyond our own expectations.

From Amazon

My Thoughts:

I have read a number of Catherine West's novels, so I knew West really digs down deep into the emotions of her characters and allows me, as the reader, to empathize with them. With her newest release Where Hope Begins, I felt the same way. I couldn't imagine the hurt Savannah has to endure as she struggles with her husband's cheating and the loss of a child. I have never lost a child, but I have lost a Daddy, so I understand how deep the hurt goes.

I really empathized with Savannah as the hurt kept being shoved in her face. I really enjoyed how realistic West made the children's hurt too. Kids of divorce, at any age, still feel betrayed and cheated. I know firsthand because my parents divorced after I left for college and no kids were left at home. This is becoming more and more common with the baby boomers. Divorce during the empty nest syndrome. The parents finally see each other because there is no kids to distract them, and they don't like what they have left to deal with. So this story is timely and important.

I wish there was more to Kevin's side of the story. I would really like to see, not just hear from his mouth, why he cheated. What drew him to the other women? West is good at diving into the character's emotions, so I think she could do a great job at discovering this.

The plot was wrapped differently than most stories where the cheating spouse isn't trying to justify his reasons. I really enjoyed seeing the story from Savannah's perspective and watching her keep busy to better herself and move on. I finished the story in a day and a half, so I really enjoyed it

Overall, Where Hope Begins by Catherine West is a timely, yet important story of a failed marriage and dealing with the loss of someone. Filled with an interesting cast of characters, I felt like I was enduring my sister's struggle and watching her cope. I can't wait to see what West comes up with next.

I received a complimentary copy of Where Hope Begins by Catherine West from Thomas Nelson Publishing, but the opinions stated are all my own.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 18, 2018

Reviewing Dilemma

By Kelly Bridgewater

Two weeks ago, I talked about the physical problem I have with buying more real books.

Last week, I talked about the problem I have with downloading digital books to my Kindle.

Today, I want to talk about my reviewing books.

If you have been following my blog for a while, I do ALOT of reviews. It is nice to get the books months before they are published. It is nice to share and make noise for some great books and share my opinions with the world.

What is better for a book-lover like me? I read the books, then I hope someone will read my review and be inclined to purchase a copy for themselves.

I receive a number of likes and helpful thumb ups on my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads all the time. At least, four or five a day. It is affirming for the work I do.

I'm also excited to get the email, stating the next book or books to review for the next month. I'm always jumping on another book to get my hands on. It depends on if I liked it enough to slip it on my bookshelf. But I also get digital copies on my Kindle, which fills my cloud.

Plus, these books get read before my Kindle and physical purchases because I have made a promise to the companies to have them read and reviewed by the time they are published.

It takes a lot of time to read all these review copies. I keep telling myself I'm going to read and review less, but then the next email comes in, and I pick another book.

The cycle continues.

(Don't get me wrong. I LOVE spreading the word about great books. I LOVE being able to help authors make noise for their hard work.)

How about you? Do you review for publishing companies? Do you keep picking books even though you have a lot to read already?