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Book Review: “Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery” by Amanda Cox

Oh my! What a beautiful story Amanda Cox has written for her sophomore novel. It’s quite remarkable. Set over two different time periods: the present day and the years from 1965 into the 1980s, we meet three generations of Clearwater ladies: Glory Ann (or Nan), her daughter Rosemary and the latter’s daughter, Sarah. Cox weaves a compelling small town story of kept secrets, parental expectations, familial loss and forgiveness through the lives of these strong women. All so alike in many respects but also unique I warmed to each of the three for different reasons.

The three ladies lives pivot around the Old Depot Grocery which Glory Ann ran with her husband and both Rosemary and Sarah grew up working in from an early age. It serves as a physical statement of so much life shared between the three but it also served as a mechanism for the three to ‘hide’ their secrets and ‘hide away’ from the possibilities of doing something different with their lives.

It was powerful reminder of the importance of truth but also unconditional familial love that allows forgiveness and redemption. There’s also a strong side note regarding the difficulty of war vets adjusting back to normal life which I enjoyed reading too.

I appreciated how we saw quiet strength in some of the male characters too. Clarence Clearwater was a superb character demonstrating unconditional love not just to his wife and daughters but the community as well. Clay Ashby also was a beautiful illustration of a man of quiet strength, who didn’t push himself onto Sarah, giving her the time and space she needed to grieve her loss and reconcile her past and future aspirations.

Cox managed the different POVS well and I always felt confident in who’s voice I was reading and the time period each scene/chapter was set.

I’m so looking forward to Cox’s next story. She might have become a ‘must read’ author for me.

I received an early ebook copy as part of Revell Reads blogger program via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: The Indebted Earl by Erica Vetsch

I haven’t read any Regency for years and had heard a lot about Vetsch’s Serendipity & Secrets series so was keen to try the 3rd in the series for myself. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Charles Wyvern is a thirty-something naval Captain who had been at sea since he was twelve. He was excellent at his job but inexperienced at almost everything else including love. Sophie Haverly is a daughter of a duke, engaged to marry Charles’ best friend, Rich. Unfortunately, in their final battle, Rich receives critical injuries that he never recoveries from. His last dying wish is for Charles to ensure Sophie is well looked after and taken care of.

Charles is a bit stiff as a character. Vetsch does an excellent job of making him the career-navy man who is frankly a little dull. Sophie, meanwhile, is gregarious, courageous and enchanting. One could not think of a more unlikely couple.

Circumstances throw the two together and soon Charles becomes the Earl of Rothwell due to his estranged uncle’s passing. Not only does he come into a fortune, but three gorgeous girls, who his late uncle had acted as guardian for. Penny, Thea and Betsy really steal this story. Each wonderfully crafted by Vetsch, unique in their characteristics and personalities, they bring the best out in both Charles and Sophie.

In this #Metoo world, I cringed at times at the treatment and accepted position of the women in the story but marvelled at Sophie who is a tremendous character, perhaps a little too mature and responsible for a twenty year old but full of personality and spunk. Charles gradually grew on me as the girls in his life helped take him out of his comfort zone and become aware of things in his personality that he wasn’t previously.

The story is well paced with sufficient drama to keep the reader riveted to the page.

I received an early ebook copy from Kregel via NetGalley as a result of participating in Audra Jennings PR book tour with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: All That We Carried by Erin Bartels

This is a beautifully written story about two estranged sisters who meet for the first time in ten years to go on a hike together in the Porcupine Mountains. Olivia and Melanie are both carrying so much stuff (hence the title) besides their backpacks and they slowly release/share much of it over the course of the hike and the journey home.

Olivia and Melanie are fabulous characters because they could be any of us. There were times I struggled with both of them and by the end I’m really not that fond of either of them but I think that’s the mastery of Bartels writing. We don’t need to especially like them to be able to have empathy for their stories and the losses and grief they’ve experienced in the years they’ve been estranged.

Bartels does a brilliant job taking the reader hiking. I always felt I was along for the hike, bruises, blisters and bears and all, just from my comfy chair. Bartels presents the picturesque surrounds of forest, trails, waterfalls and the magnificence of Lake Superior in all their glory. I was excited to return to the story each day.

There’s some intriguing messages about God, destiny, fairness, life being more than just ourselves and life after death. Bartels didn’t wrap it up nicely by giving us any answers rather prompts us to think for ourselves how we’d respond with the questions the sisters contemplated. Further, the story didn’t end with everything resolved. Yes, both women appeared to have made positive steps in the right direction for themselves and their relationship but for one in particular, there’s definitely hope for the future but no clear path to what that might look like.

And that’s life, isn’t it? Lots of questions, lots of mystery and opportunity to explore beyond our own little worlds to discover the natural beauty of the world but also the hope and joy that comes with choosing to believe there is something more than what each of us carries.

I received an early ebook copy of the story via NetGalley as part of the Revell Reads Blogging team without any expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Persian Betrayal by Terry Brennan

This is a thrilling continuation of The Ishmael Covenant. I’d encourage any readers to read that one first before diving into the second. This story builds upon the first one and is a tremendous mix of fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, Middle Eastern political tensions, America’s role in global affairs and supernatural intervention.

Brennan gets the chance to further develop his main characters. Brian Mullaney and Atticus Cleveland are excellent characters; men conflicted in their roles both because of their family situations and their Christian belief in the Word of God. It’s inspiring and convicting. How would I response if placed in a similar conflict?

The story moves fast. Brennan uses short scenes to keep us engaged with all the various players in Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Washington DC. It can be confusing at first but all the moving pieces soon begin to gel in one’s mind the longer the story goes.

I particularly enjoyed the stronger supernatural aspect of this story. We met the Turk in book one and what an evil creature he is. He continues to wreak havoc in order to wrest control of the Vilna Gaon box and prophesy away from the good guys. And then we’re introduced to Bayard, an equally imposing knight in shimmering armour. I’m looking forward to what these two bring in Book three.

I also appreciated how Brennan developed Mullaney’s faith in this story. He handled this very well and I hope we see more of this in the next edition with his relationship with God playing an even more influential role.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and so I trust Mr Brennan will get book 3 out soon so we can all discover how this riveting drama ends.

I received a PDF copy of the story from Kregel working alongside ‘I Read with Audra’ blog tour with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker

I loved Smucker’s previous novel and was looking forward to this one. However, this was a real struggle for me as I didn’t really understand what it was about for much of it. Smucker explains in his note at the end that it’s a mirror to Dante’s Inferno and not having read that I didn’t get the connection.

Smucker’s writing is excellent in his ability to draw the reader into his scenes. I felt part of the story throughout it and I expect it was this quality that kept me turning the pages. We see the story through Dan’s eyes as he and his forsaken community of nine attempt to start again having escaped some nightmare which no one can apparently remember. Until a strange young lady arrives and then everyone starts to dream. About Dan and his brother, Adam, who is lost in the place they left.

Ever so slowly the group is challenged to deal with their dreams while Dan sets off in search of Adam. Meanwhile, this strange young lady continues to play a pivotal role far beyond this group. But who is she?

I struggled because so little is said and I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters which made it a battle to continue.

Clearly, from some of the other reviews there are plenty of readers who ‘got it’ and enjoyed the story. I think it’s likely to one of those ‘you either love it or don’t’, they’ll be little in between. The themes of forgiveness and hope are present plus dealing with one’s past and being able to move on. Forgiveness and unforgiveness are such strong ‘soul ties’ that they play an incredibly important role in one’s ability to lead lives of wholeness. I appreciate that Smucker wrote a story of redemption but wish I enjoyed the story more.

As another reviewer stated I wonder if this would work better as a short story, say 150 pages, so liking the characters is less important in making a statement about redemption and forgiveness.

However, I’m not discouraged from reading Smucker’s next story simply because of the quality of his writing and the issues he grapples with.

I received an early release ebook version from Revell Reads via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.