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Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday (Valerie Woerner)
Most days motherhood often looks like bottomless piles of laundry; a sink full of dishes; sleepless nights; and unshowered, nonstop, endless days. If that’s all there is, then no wonder “Grumpy Mom” sometimes sneaks into your heart and home.  If you can relate, you’re in good company—Valerie Woerner gets it and has experienced Grumpy Mom more often than she’d care to admit. In Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, Valerie shares what she’s learned so far about sending Grumpy Mom packing and embracing a joyful, intentional motherhood that is so much better than you thought possible.  As you journey with Valerie, you’ll be inspired and equipped to find energy in the most unlikely places, pursue your own dreams, be set free from mom guilt, feel content despite unfinished to-do lists, spend purposeful time with God amid the daily chaos, and discover more joyous moments of motherhood.  So, take a holiday from Grumpy Mom, and enjoy life as the mom God made you to be.

This book wasn't what I was so much better!  This will be my mother-to-be gift for the foreseeable future.  As one who is no longer deep into the trenches, it's easy to look back and see how spot-on the author is with her depiction of life with littles.  She talks to us like a tough-talking friend who only wants the best, and challenges us to overcome the lies and misconceptions society has fed us.  At the end of each chapter are a couple of actions points that summarize the chapter's main points and give us something specific to work on.  Motherhood is hard, and it's especially hard when you're the only adult in a house full of little ones, but we often make it even harder than it has to be....I wish I'd had this book ten years ago.

A Silken Thread (Kim Vogel Sawyer)
Eighteen-year-old Laurel Millard, youngest of seven children, is expected to stay home and "take care of Mama" by her older siblings, but Laurel has dreams of starting her own family. Operating a silk loom at the Atlanta Exposition will give her the chance to capture the heart of a man wealthy enough to take care of Laurel and any children she might bear, as well as her mother.  Langdon Rochester's parents have given him an ultimatum: settle down with a wife or lose his family inheritance. At the Exposition, Langdon meets Laurel. Marrying her would satisfy his parents's command, she would look lovely on his arm for social events, and in her besotted state, he believes she would overlook him continuing pursuing rowdy adventures with his unmarried buddies. Langdon decides to woo Laurel. Willie Sharp is not well-off and must take on an extra job at the Atlanta Exposition as a security guard. When mischief-makers cause trouble in the Women's Building, Willie is put in charge of keeping the building secure. He enjoys visiting with Laurel, who seems like the little sister he never had, but his feelings for Laurel change to something much deeper. Can Willie convince Laurel that he can give her better life--even with so little to offer?

Kim has a way of describing things so that you feel you're the main character, experiencing the setting and seeing the world through her eyes.  Many authors do this, but she does it in a subtle way that makes it feel more authentic.  In this book, we experience Georgia just before the turn of the century.  The Civil War has ended, but racism is alive and well in Atlanta, and it plays out on the stage of the International Exposition.  Told through four viewpoints, the story covers multiple perspectives on racism, focusing on offering love and respect for all our fellow men.  We learn lessons about grace, when and how to respond to difficult situations, and how social status isn't always everything.  Though this story was set over a century ago, it's interesting to draw the parallels between that time period and now.

Amish Reunion (four stories)
Their True Home by Amy Clipston
When Marlene Bawell moved from Bird-in-Hand ten years ago, she was in the deepest of mourning for her mother. Now her family has moved back so her father can seek employment after being laid off. To help save money, Marlene works at the hardware store owned by Rudy Swarey’s father. She knew Rudy growing up and had a secret crush on him, though he never seemed to notice her. But just as a friendship between them begins to blossom, her life is once again turned upside down. Will Marlene ever have a chance to find her own true home?
A Reunion of Hearts by Beth Wiseman
Ruth and Gideon Beiler experienced one of life’s most tragic events. Unable to get past their grief, the couple abandoned their Amish faith and went in different directions, though neither could bear to formally dissolve the marriage. When their loved ones reach out to them to come home for a family reunion, Ruth has reason to believe that Gideon won’t be there. Gideon also thinks that Ruth has declined the invitation. Family and friends are rooting for them to reunite, but will it all be enough for Ruth and Gideon to get past their grief and recapture a time when they were in love and had a bright future ahead of them?
A Chance to Remember by Kathleen Fuller
Cevilla Schlabach, Birch Creek’s resident octogenarian matchmaker, is surprised when Richard, a man from her Englisch past, arrives in Birch Creek for a visit. While he and Cevilla take several walks down memory lane, they wonder what the future holds for them at this stage of life—friendship, or the possibility of something else?
Mended Hearts by Kelly Irvin
At eighteen Hannah Kauffman made a terrible mistake. Her parents and members of her Jamesport Amish community say they’ve forgiven her. But she feels their eyes following her everywhere she goes with eighteen-month-old Evie. Thaddeus, Evie’s father, escaped this fate by running away from Jamesport. Now that Thaddeus is gone, Hannah’s old friend Phillip is stepping up to be by her side. He has waited patiently for Hannah to realize just how much he cares for her. But when Thaddeus returns after two years, Hannah can’t deny the love she feels for him. Does the fact that Phillip has waited patiently for her all this time mean that she owes him something? Can she trust either one of them? Can she trust herself? She has repented and been forgiven by the One who is most important—her heavenly Father. But is she willing to risk making more mistakes by opening herself up to love?

Wow....I had gotten used to the formulaic writing of these four-book omnibuses, but this one really surprised me!  Each of the stories plays around the central theme of reunification of a couple, whether previously romantically involved or not, but all four are very different stories.  One involves friends who have suffered loss, another involves a couple who had a child out of wedlock, and yet another involves the loss of a child.  My favorite, however, involved an elderly couple from different backgrounds -- it was my favorite because I recently read a full-length novel featuring these two (further down the road) and it was so sweet to have this backstory and understand where and how their relationship began.  Many of these stories are tie-ins to full-length novels, or even series, that add interesting tidbits.  If you find one that's connected to something you've read, you'll probably enjoy it the most!  That said, you do not have to have read anything else to both follow and enjoy these stories.

Sweet On You (Becky Wade)
Britt and Zander have been best friends since they met thirteen years ago, but unbeknownst to Britt, Zander has been in love with her for just as long. When Zander's uncle dies of mysterious causes, he returns to Washington to investigate. As they work together to uncover his uncles tangled past, will the truth of what lies between them also come to light?

I'd read the other books in this series and was curious to see the conclusion, the baby Bradford sister and her story.  The author writes with raw emotions, making you feel both the pain and the humor that the characters experience and allowing you to undergo transformations with them.  In this novel, the characters have been together for several years, but need to make that final journey to coupledom.  However, to do so, they have to overcome some issues from their past....a 'sins of the fathers on the sons' type of thing.  At times you'll think you know how it will end and then there's a twist!  But my biggest complaint about this book is how much chocolate I ate while reading's pervasive...there's chocolate mentioned everywhere, and it makes you want some!

The Memory House (Rachel Hauck)
When Beck Holiday lost her father in the North Tower on 9/11, she also lost her memories of him. Eighteen years later, she’s a tough New York City cop burdened with a damaging secret, suspended for misconduct, and struggling to get her life in order. Meanwhile a mysterious letter arrives informing her she’s inherited a house along Florida’s northern coast, and what she discovers there will change her life forever. Matters of the heart only become more complicated when she runs into handsome Bruno Endicott, a driven sports agent who fondly recalls the connection they shared as teenagers. But Beck doesn’t remember that, either.  Decades earlier, widow Everleigh Applegate lives a steady, uneventful life with her widowed mother after a tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, and destroyed her new, young married life. When she runs into old high school friend Don Callahan, she begins to yearn for change. Yet no matter how much she longs to love again, she is hindered by a secret she can never share.  Fifty years separate the women but through the power of love and miracle of faith, they each find healing in a beautiful Victorian known affectionately as The Memory House. 

I'm terrible at keeping all I'm going to say right now is that this book is super-long, and is one of those reads you're going to have to stick with all the way to the end, but is SO WORTH IT because of the surprise twists at the end!  (No peeking ahead.  It wouldn't make sense without the story anyway.)  Anywho - there are four perspectives here, but they're not difficult to keep straight, told from present-day and the 1960s.  People are drawn to this house to overcome tragedies, and it works...they heal and find happiness.  The house plays a role in the healing, and faith is an underlying factor here, in a subtle way, as it shows how God's plan always works out his way.  I've read one other book by the author, and surprise twists at the end seem to be her works!

Glory Road (Lauren Denton)
Nearly a decade after her husband’s affair drove her back home to South Alabama, Jessie McBride has the stable life she wants—operating her garden shop, Twig, next door to her house on Glory Road, and keeping up with her teenage daughter and spunky mother. But the unexpected arrival of two men makes Jessie question whether she’s really happy with the status quo.  When handsome, wealthy businessman Sumner Tate asks her to arrange flowers for his daughter’s lavish wedding, Jessie finds herself drawn to his continued attention. Then Ben Bradley, her lingering what-could-have-been from high school, moves back to the red dirt road, and she feels her heart pulled in directions she never expected.  Meanwhile, Jessie’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Evan, is approaching the start of high school and navigating a new world of emotions—particularly as they relate to the cute new guy who’s moved in just down the road. At the same time, Jessie’s mother, Gus, is suffering increasingly frequent memory lapses and faces a frightening, uncertain future.  In one summer, everything will change. But for these three strong Southern women, the roots they’ve planted on Glory Road will give life to the adventures waiting just around the curve.

For fans of southern women's fiction, this book will warm your heart.  The story is told through the perspectives of three generations of women who live together in small-town Alabama.  The grandmother is suffering through beginning-stage Alzheimers, the mother runs a garden shop and is fumbling through her second-go-round at love, and the daughter is dealing with all the drama of starting high school.  Though it uses multiple voices, it is easy to follow.  The voices are distinct enough that, even if you miss the chapter title telling who is speaking, it is easy to know which story you are jumping into.  The author does a great job of setting the scene....if you're from the south, you'll experience feelings of comfort, and if you've never visited, you'll get a feel of what it's like to live in a sleepy, southern town.  I wasn't sure which way the ending would go, but I like how some of the stories wrapped up very sweetly.
Courting Mr. Emerson by [Carlson, Melody]Courting Mr. Emerson (Melody Carlson)
When the fun-loving and spontaneous artist Willow West meets buttoned-up, retired English teacher George Emerson, it's not exactly love at first sight. Though she does find the obsessive-compulsive man intriguing. Making it her mission to get him to loosen up and embrace life, she embarks on what seems like a lost cause--and finds herself falling for him in the process.  A confirmed bachelor, George vacillates between irritation and attraction whenever Willow is around--which to him seems like all too often. He's not interested in expanding his horizons or making new friends; it just hurts too much when you lose them.  But as the summer progresses, George feels his defenses crumbling. The question is, will his change of heart be too late for Willow?  With her signature heart and touches of humor, fan favorite Melody Carlson pens a story of two delightfully eccentric characters who get a second chance at life and love.

Melody Carlson always creates a refreshing read that is light-hearted, yet leaves you thinking about the big picture long after the last page!  In this book, we have main characters that include a retiring teacher, his young pupil, the boy's grandmother, and the boy's long-lost mother...who is truly lost.  There are other minor characters who weave in and out of the story, giving the impression that it could end differently than you originally thought, but each has a reason for being there.  All of the characters undergo life events, some more traumatic than others, that lead to a change of heart and spirit.  Each helps, and each receives help, and it works out beautifully.  Though her books are short and sweet, the author always leaves us pondering questions about our own lives...

Daughters of Northern Shores (Joanne Bischof)
Aven Norgaard understands courage. Orphaned within an Irish workhouse, then widowed at just nineteen, she voyaged to America where she was wooed and wed by Thor Norgaard, a Deaf man in rural Appalachia. That the Lord saw her along the winding journey and that Aven now carries Thor's child are blessings beyond measure. Yet while Thor holds her heart, it is his younger brother and rival who haunts her memories. Haakon--whose selfish choices shattered her trust in him.  Having fled the Norgaard orchard after trying to take Aven as his own, Haakon sails on the North Atlantic ice trade, where his soul is plagued with regrets that distance cannot heal. Not even the beautiful Norwegian woman he's pursued can ease the torment. When the winds bear him home after four years away, Haakon finds the family on the brink of tragedy. A decades-old feud with the neighboring farm has wrenched them into the fiercest confrontation on Blackbird Mountain since the Civil War. Haakon's cunning and strength hold the power to seal many fates, including Thor's--which is already imperiled due to a grave illness brought to him at the first prick of warfare.  Now Haakon faces the hardest choice of his life. One that shapes a battlefield where pride must be broken enough to be restored, and where a prodigal son may finally know the healing peace of surrender and the boundless gift of forgiveness. And when it comes to the woman he left behind in Norway, he just might discover that while his heart belongs to a daughter of the north, she's been awaiting him on shores more distant than the land he's fighting for.

With vivid imagery, the author brings us into the 19th century of both Norway and Appalachia.  We left off at the end of the first book with Haakon kind of ruining the ending, and this book is about his return and his quest for forgiveness and redemption.  Aven and Thor have spent the past four years building a life together, but are facing some tumultuous times, and it's interesting to see how Haakon's return - with it's element of Prodigal Son - plays into that trouble.  The author's setting, however, does not end with her scenic descriptions...she also describes in detail several abuses, including domestic and drug abuse.  While it's not overly graphic, it is something the reader should know going into it.  While this could be read as a stand-alone, I would not recommend trying it without reading the first book in the series.

Parenting Beyond the Rules (Connie Albers)
Parenting teens is one of the most challenging seasons of parenting, isn’t it? While this can be a difficult time of transition for parents and teens, there is hope. You can parent well and build a stronger relationship even through the teen years.  After 30 years of parenting five children and 20 years of working with teens, Connie Albers has witnessed the negative impact of well-intentioned but misguided parenting styles, all focused on managing teens rather than guiding them. But through learning to focus on the hearts of your teens, you can avoid those pitfalls and build relationships that last beyond the transition years as you intentionally learn about, connect with, and listen to your teens. In a world filled with distractions and devices, it is possible to guide their hearts and remain the primary influence in their lives. In Parenting beyond the Rules, you will discover how to raise a teen according to his or her strengths, talents, and personality type, as these things equip teens to manage life.

I loved it.  As a counselor who works with teens, this is the kind of thing that parents today need to read.  We're so focused on making sure that there are safe spaces, and no one's feelings get hurt, that we forget to look at how this plays out in the long game...twenty years down the road.  We need to build our teens up, discipline them when they need it, and give them the space they so desperately need to grow.  The author does a fantastic job of providing real-world examples of how to do just this, without parenting from a place of fear.  It's a scary world out there, sure, but if we don't give our teens the chance to grow up at home, they're going to have to do it without any supervision or assistance from us when they leave home.....either that, or live in the basement forever.  :(

The Baggage Handler by David  RawlingsThe Baggage Handler (David Rawlings)
When three people take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, their lives change forever.
A hothead businessman coming to the city for a showdown meeting to save his job.
A mother of three hoping to survive the days at her sister's house before her niece’s wedding.
And a young artist pursuing his father’s dream so he can keep his own alive.
When David, Gillian, and Michael each take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, the airline directs them to retrieve their bags at a mysterious facility in a deserted part of the city. There they meet the enigmatic Baggage Handler, who shows them there is more in their baggage than what they have packed, and carrying it with them is slowing them down in ways they can’t imagine. And they must deal with it before they can leave.  In this modern-day parable about the burdens that weigh us down, David Rawlings issues an inspiring invitation to lighten the load.

In the same vein as The Five Times I Met Myself or The Last Lecture, this book asks the reader to honestly assess their life and what baggage is holding them back.  It's presented through three characters - and you'll probably find that one, or more, of the characters are in situations you can relate to - and then these characters are put through a 'Dr. Phil-esque' rigamarole with the Baggage Handler.  In some areas, it gets a little cheesy, but the overall point of the book is to take a good, long look in the mirror, identify those things that you can't seem to overcome (whether it's your own issues or someone else's that you've taken on), and try to move beyond them.  The book does have a few twists toward the end.

Almost Home (Valerie Fraser Luesse)
With America's entrance into the Second World War, the town of Blackberry Springs, Alabama, has exploded virtually overnight. Workers from all over are coming south for jobs in Uncle Sam's munitions plants--and they're bringing their pasts with them, right into Dolly Chandler's grand but fading family home turned boardinghouse. An estranged young couple from the Midwest, unemployed professors from Chicago, a widower from Mississippi, a shattered young veteran struggling to heal from the war--they're all hoping Dolly's house will help them find their way back to the lives they left behind. But the house has a past of its own. When tragedy strikes, Dolly's only hope will be the circle of friends under her roof and their ability to discover the truth about what happened to a young bride who lived there a century before.

I fell into the middle of this story of heartbreak, tragedy, mystery, and overcoming! It's actually two stories interwoven into one....the present-tense story of Dolly and her boarders, and the past-tense story of the pirate Chauvin and his mysterious disappearance. The first is set in WW2, while the second is set in the mid-1800s and told through diary entries and present-day gossip. It was a four-star book for me right up until the very end, when it took a surprising twist and tied everything up beautifully!!! (No spoilers here...just read it.)

Far Side of the Sea (Kate Breslin)
In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life--a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.  Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel's half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel's diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.  When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives.

Set against the backdrop of World War I, this is a love story set amongst a mystery and espionage.  After receiving a communication from (presumably) the woman he loves, Colin ends up working with her sister, Johanna, to try and save her.  As is the case with war-time romances, the best laid plans fall to the wayside and the pair ends up building a relationship and a deep trust and love while surrounded by an air of distrust.  I won’t say how the story ends, or which girl it ends with as the final love interest, but it does have a lot of mystery and twists and turns tucked into these pages!  Breslin does an amazing job of bringing WWI to life.  Similar to in High as the Heavens, she writes with such a vivid blending of the fiction and historical events that it feels like you’re really in the era!

*I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.*