Friday, March 21, 2014
She's rooted deep. He flies free.
Local-foods chef Claire Halford envisions turning Green Acres Farm into an event destination. Weddings prove trickier than she imagined when the first one comes with a ruggedly handsome brother-of-the-bride, who has everything but a fixed address. Oh, and faith in God.
Noel Kenzie loves the freedom his reforestation company affords him. Why worry about deep stuff like God and commitment when he's in his prime? Except there's a woman who might make it worth giving up his wings...and digging in some roots. If he dares.
This is the second in Valerie Comer's 'Farm Fresh Romance' series. Those who read 'Raspberries and Vinegar' will remember Claire as the practical and undemonstrative chef, whose dream of making a go of the self-sustained lifestyle farm is nonetheless huge. This is her story.
Wanting to earn a bit more money to put into the project, she applies for a temporary position as chef with a reforestation group. The boss, Noel Kenzie, turns out to be undeniably attractive.
The two main characters are different from each other in many ways. She values the security of home and hearth, while he is a free-spirited wanderer with a thirst for adventure. In fact, the one thing they have in common is a mutual agreement that they should keep well away from each other. It's very easy and satisfying to read.
Although Claire's aversion to traveling seems extreme, given her common sense, we understand when we read the snippets about her upbringing. It doesn't take the reader long to figure out that Noel is the right man for her. I originally liked him for his humour and patience with the other women in his life; Amber, his little sister, who still has a tendency to pout and throw tantrums, even though she's soon to be married, and Jess, his foreman, who keeps teasing him about his crush on Claire until the joke gets really old.
My favourite parts of the story may be the insights we get into the rigours of the hospitality industry. As my teenage daughter wants to follow that path, it was eye-opening. The three original girls, Jo, Claire and Sierra, decide to begin catering for weddings and functions. It's soon obvious to the reader that their dream takes lots of intelligence, forethought, dedication and meticulous detail. Perhaps these books work so well because we all appreciate it when hard work is offset by a little romance.
I'm looking forward to Sierra's story in the third book.
Thanks to the author for a free review copy.
Wild Mint Tea (A Farm Fresh Romance) available from Amazon
Saturday, March 8, 2014
A Southern Novel of Second Chances From a distance, the Harlans appear to be the perfect Southern family. Wealth and local fame mask the drama and dysfunction swirling through their family line. But as the summer heats up, a flood tide of long hidden secrets surface. Devastation from a rape followed by the murder of two family members brings three generations of the Harlans together on their pecan plantation in Bay Spring, Alabama. Chief among them is Anniston, who by the time she turned thirteen thought she’d seen it all. But as her heart awakens to the possibility of love, she begins to deal with her loneliness and grief. This tender coming-of-age tale, inspired by the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13, shows how true healing and hope comes only from God. Though our earthly family can wound and disappoint, our heavenly Father brings freedom to those long held captive through His mercy and grace.
This is a beautiful book which reminded me a little of a modern "To Kill a Mockingbird" with its similar deep south setting. The main character, Anniston, is a wise and perceptive young girl, a bit like Scout Finch. Her family, the Harlans, are the cream of the district, but hiding a terrible legacy like a simmering volcano, making us wonder when it will erupt, and what we will discover.
We quickly find out that it's partly based loosely on the Biblical story of King David's daughter, Tamar, with Anniston's Aunt Comfort as Tamar, and her brothers Cole and Rey (Anniston's father) taking Amnon and Absalom's roles.
The beautiful writing style is not to be skim read, as descriptions and observations are often symbolic of something occurring in the plot. A good example is Anniston's memories of her father's words, telling her why pecan growers need to be slow and leisurely, noticing the small things in life. Some of the treasures Jed gives her are also significant, such as the geode, which is ostentatious on the outside but a sparkling treasure within.
The story is full of interesting character studies. Princella, the grandmother, is a lady who reminds me of Cruella DeVil, but shows brief flashes of vulnerability. You can't help wondering at the magnitude of all she must keep hidden, and the final revelation inspires questions. She obviously thinks she'd put her past behind her and 'made it', yet the story is written so readers can't help reacting with repugnance at her unnatural behaviour, such as carrying on as usual when her two sons have just killed each other.
Even though the brothers were in the story for such a short time, they were well-rounded characters whose influence, either evil or good, never stopped. How sorry I felt about Rey's family losing him, even though he just had a few lines at the beginning of the story. We still get a sense of just what sort of a man he was, which was excellent writing.
When we do learn Princella's secret, we can't help wondering whether we've just made the crime of judging by appearances, since we were unaware of the depth of her past hurt until then, not that this consideration makes us like her any better. Her personality was warped by events from her past. Yet other characters, such as Jed, have chosen to react completely differently to a traumatic past. And much of the story deals with Comfort, and whether or not she will let pain overwhelm her or find a way to push through.
It's an engrossing read which I recommend. The horror and tragedy is matched just as hugely by hope and heroism. For every Cole or Jimmy presented, there's a Solly or Jed to balance him out. We are left with beautiful images, such as when the children saved the fish.
And like all good books, there's something for the reader to take away for themselves. One of my favourites was Ernestine telling Anni about Jacob's ladder and reminding her to look for the ladders in her own life, 'places where the sky opens and you can feel angels pulling pain outta your soul and replacing it with a song.'
I received a copy from NetGalley and David C Cook in return for an honest review.
How Sweet the Sound: A Novel available from Amazon
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Life in Sweden seems like an endless winter for three sisters after their mother's death and father's suicide. Elin feels the weight of responsibility for her sisters' welfare, and when circumstances become unbearable, she writes to her relatives in Chicago, pleading for help.
Joining sixteen million other immigrants who left their homelands for America between 1890 and 1920, Elin, Kirsten, and Sofia begin the long, difficult journey. Enduring the ocean voyage in steerage and detention on Ellis Island, their story is America's story. And in a journey fraught with hardships, each woman will come to understand her secret longings and the meaning of home.
Three orphaned teenage sisters are forced by circumstances to leave their homeland, Sweden, and migrate to America. The novel deals with their passage and first couple of months in Chicago.
Elin, the eldest, feels highly responsible for the other two and bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. Sometimes she comes across to both herself and the reader as a weary old woman instead of a pretty nineteen year old. Kirsten, the middle sister, is bold, statuesque and fun-loving, but has a broken heart and desperate secret which comes to light in the detention centre. Sofia, the youngest, is what we might now call an HSP (highly sensitive person), who feels things very deeply and allows the others to look out for her interests just because that's the way things have always been done.
I found it a lovely read, with a bit of romance and several interesting twists and turns. The highlight, for me, was the relationship between Sofia and Ludwig, which began in the detention centre. I've never comes across another love story quite so unique. She's Swedish, he's German, they cannot understand a word from each other but manage an ingenious way of communicating through Bible verses. And every so often, I found myself sitting back with a smile, reminding myself that as an English speaker, I'd be able to understand neither of them, yet I'm totally sold on their story. He's definitely a resourceful and admirable young guy.
The bond between the sisters, and the way the point of view shifts between the three of them from chapter to chapter is enjoyable.