Review: The Amish Christmas Kitchen by Long, Baker, Beckstrand

This book is a collection of three novellas that center around Amish kitchens at Christmas time. 

Baking Love on Ice Mountain introduced Clara, who managed to bake up a storm even while grieving … and moving on. I enjoyed this well-written story and the mountain setting, as well as the wisdom of the older people being passed down to the next generation. 

The Christmas Bakery on Huckleberry Hill is by one of my most favorite authors, Jennifer Beckstrand. Beckstrand didn’t disappoint, bringing her signature silly grandparent pair Anna and Felty to Katie’s life, ready to be matchmakers once again. I loved that they maintained a sense of humor even when the wrong boy was trying to court sweet Katie – for the wrong reasons… her triple chocolate cakes! 

The Special Christmas Cookie contained a fun twist on one of my favorite tropes – governess/nanny/tutor falls in love with guardian of a sweet child. Problem was, the writing was sloppy. Many repetitive paragraphs and pages should have been cleaned up during editing – especially when it came to telling (in addition to the already sufficient showing) how independent and strong Jonathan wanted to be. 

The three authors send a common message with these novellas: loneliness can be overcome by taking a step forward. Each novella had a character that suffered loneliness because he or she was afraid to reach out. Once they could extend themselves, they found a brighter, more joyful season waiting for them. 

And at the end of each novella, you’ll find a recipe waiting for YOU. 🙂

-calliope

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Review: The Christmas Angel Project by Melody Carlson

This is a charming story of five book club friends whose main connection is friend Abby. When Abby dies, the remaining four need to find a way to carry on. Abby provides that guidance from some angel gifts she’s left for them. 

I was disappointed in the beginning of this book because I could sense the “setting up” of the plot… a little contrived or overplanned. However, by the middle, I loved the direction Carlson took the four women – it seemed natural and authentic. Seeing the women use Abby’s Angels to help them grieve and then use their talents to help others warmed my heart, and it will warm yours, too. 

-calliope

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Review: Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell

When Claire Broussard finds mysterious letters and a plaster death mask in her Louisiana grandmother’s attic, she takes it as a sign she needs to leave her directionless life and head for Paris. 

I was fascinated by the flashbacks to historical Paris, when artists “hired” models to live with them and be their subjects. It was fun to learn this bit of history and have it come to life in a work of fiction. Since I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, even better was reading how it intersected with Claire’s life in modern times. I liked seeing the new excitement in Claire. Blackwell developed Claire’s character well, illustrating how being ultra focused on the mystery of the death mask was part of her grieving process… and proved to be cathartic. 

I loved the ending – maybe predictable for some, but I didn’t guess it ahead of time. I was too enamored with Claire’s new Parisian life – a testament to Blackwell’s ability to draw me in to every facet of the story and keep me there until the next chapter came along. 

-calliope

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Review: Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey

From San Francisco to Salem, Massachusetts, childhood friends Bel and Salem find themselves running away from psychopaths and toward hiding places for clues to a mystery they don’t even understand. In their quest to save their mothers, the presidential candidate, and the world, the women pick up more clues than they bargained for… and they find themselves. 

I’ve long admired Jess Lourey for her cozy mysteries (Murder by Month series, similar to Stephanie Plum books). So when Lourey came out with a gritty, suspenseful thriller I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a happily-ever-after girl and I cover my eyes when a bad guy appears on the page! I took a chance and WOW am I glad I did. Salem’s Cipher is rich with art, history, geography, secret societies, conspiracy theories, federal agents, and cracking codes. I enjoyed the authentic friendship between the women, their mad MacGyver skills, and the sweet Mercy child. 

Even if this isn’t your usual genre, I urge you to take a few trips cross-country with this crew. It’s a little scary, a little bloody, and a lot fun!

-calliope 

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Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan 

Frankie and Matt are so fun!  Frankie is anti-commitment… and Matt’s a little bit in love. Watching them work together and live in the same building is pure entertainment. And Matt is my favorite kind of alpha male – he’s buff, brainy, and full of tender loving care for the women in his life. Frankie appreciates the attention but can’t imagine she deserves it… until her best friends give her a reality check. 

I just love the boy chases girl, boy gets girl storyline. Sarah Morgan surpasses expectations of a predictable romance by developing Frankie’s friendships and family ties, as well as having her come to terms with her past. I also enjoyed the wedding, the Maine seascape, and the welcoming islanders. Oh, and the walks in Central Park!! 

-calliope

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Review: Like a Bee to Honey by Jennifer Beckstrand

I think this third installment of The Honeybee Sisters is my favorite! Josiah is the sweetest, most tender hearted boy. Having loved Rose for four years, he will stop at nothing to make her happy and comfortable. Rose has a few personal hang ups, though, and doesn’t want the expectations that come with a relationship – nor does she think she deserves Josiah. But when trouble starts on the farm, Rose has to depend on others for help- including Josiah. 

Beckstrand put together a wonderful cast of characters who really love each other. Rose and her sisters don’t always agree, but they find cute ways to figure out their problems. Josiah and his best friends rib each other constantly, but are there for each other when push comes to shove. And Aunt Bitsy shows her nurturing side to more than just the girls and their beaus: she helps out a couple of local boys beyond their expectations. 

Though I view this series as sort of light, relaxing reading, Like a Bee to Honey made me cry. The examples of forgiveness were so authentic and heartfelt – and not a preachy moment in the whole book. Beckstrand spoke to my heart through the honeybee sisters, their aunt, and their friends. 

-calliope

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