Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Larkspur Cove by Lisa Wingate

Rating:  4.5 stars

After experiencing a divorce and enduring the loss of the future that she once envisioned for herself, Andrea Henderson moves into her parents' lake house in the riverfront neighborhood of Larkspur Cove.  While trying to rebuild her life and her faith,  Andrea battles self-doubt as she begins a new job, and she questions her adequacy as a mother to a young teenage son.

Through a series of events, Andrea meets Mart McClendon, a game warden at Moses Lake.  He is also building a new life on Moses Lake, but the past continues to haunt him.

Despite their painful pasts, the present pulls them together as they work to uncover the mystery of a young girl who has been taken in by an older man who lives as a hermit in a secluded area.   As they are drawn together by circumstances and a united cause, will Moses Lake revive their hopes and rekindle their faith?

Like the novels in Lisa Wingate's Daily Texas series,  Larkspur Cove is a story that is driven by well-developed characters in a setting that exudes a small-town charm, with just the right dose of quirky humor.  This debut novel is not as light-hearted as the books in her previous series (Talk of the Town, Word Gets Around, Never say Never), but it is an emotionally compelling read that kept me turning the pages.  Each chapter alternates between Andrea's and Mart's perspectives, which provide insights into their thoughts and motivations.  As a reader, I shared their pain, doubts, and joys as they experienced them.  I was drawn to both Andrea's and Mart's stories, but also those of her son, the mysterious child, and the town recluse.

Wingate masterfully creates vivid pictures of life on Moses Lake, that is remarkably real with struggles, sorrow, and triumphs,  but equally inviting because of the sense of community.  The Waterbird Bait and Grocery is the hangout for the locals, and I looked forward to the engaging conversations provided by the local fishermen. They provide just the right flavor to lighten the mood, and they are reminiscent of the presence of  "characters" in real-life that can brighten our day.  The quotes that begin each chapter, which are written on the "wall of wisdom" by residents and visitors, offer insight into the novel, but they are also valuable in our own lives.  Larkspur Cove is both an emotional and satisfying read.

I am looking forward to visiting Moses Lake again in Lisa Wingate's next book in the series, Blue Moon Bay.  It is scheduled to be released in February 2012.

I  received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell

Rating: 4.5 stars

Siri Mitchell delivers yet another stunning historical novel with her newest release, A Heart Most Worthy. The year is 1918 in the bustling metropolis of Boston.  For the rich, Boston overflows with grandeur and wealth; for immigrants, life is defined by hard lives, hardships, and hard work.  A Heart Most Worthy follows the lives of three young immigrant women working in Madame Fortier's prestigious dress shop. Julietta, Annamaria, and Luciana each have very distinct personalities and each face their own stuggles, but they are united by their common dream of a better life and the possibility of true love.

A Heart Most Worthy is a novel most worthy of praise and a prominent place on one's bookshelf.  Siri Mitchell employs a clear and unique narrator's voice throughout the novel.  The effect is engaging, charming, and conversational without being overly casual.  Rather than remaining an outsider, the narrator invites the reader into her confidence, almost like telling a tale in her parlor.  The narrator's omniscent perspective, also allows the reader a personal relationship with each of the main characters.  Each young woman's story is separate and distinct, but Mitchell masterfully weaves them together into a cohesive novel. 

Like Mitchell's other historical novels, A Heart Most Worthy is characterized by vivid descriptions and historical details.  This quality makes the novel realistic and memorable. I was particularly impressed by the detailed depictions of the dresses created in Madame Fortier's dress shop.  To view such elegant hand-work in real life would be awe-inspiring. As it is, I am captivated by the beautiful creation featured on the cover art work.  It is the perfect first impression for an equally well-crafted novel.

I  received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Perfect Spring Cake

If you are looking for a tantalizing spring dessert, this coconut-sour cream cake is a simple but delicious cake that will earn rave reviews. Enjoy!

Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad

Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis from
When spunky Marguerite Westing discovers that her family will summer at Lake Manawa in 1895, she couldn't be more thrilled. It is the perfect way to escape her agonizingly boring suitor, Roger Gordon. It's also where she stumbles upon two new loves: sailing, and sailing instructor Trip Andrews. But this summer of fun turns to turmoil as her father's gambling problems threaten to ruin the family forever. Will free-spirited Marguerite marry Roger to save her father's name and fortune? Or will she follow her heart--even if it means abandoning the family she loves? Author Lorna Seilstad's fresh and entertaining voice will whisk readers away to a breezy lakeside summer holiday. Full of sharp wit and blossoming romance, Making Waves is the first book in the LAKE MANAWA SUMMERS series.

B-Squared’s Review:
Making Waves is a light and refreshing read, perfect for the summer months.  Seilstad presents historical details about the charming Lake Manawa area without bogging the plot down with too many heavy details.  I enjoyed reading the descriptions of 19th century summer life on Lake Manawa and was intrigued to discover in the author's notes that it was an actual resort area in the past. Seilstad preserves a bit of Iowa history through this series, and her obvious love for local history shines through in the novel's lush details.

Seilstad offers the perfect ingredients for a taste of summer: fun, sun, water, sailing, and love.  The setting of Making Waves is the primary element that differentiates this novel from many others.  Marguerite and Trip are charming main characters surprised by what could be more that just a summer love.  All is not well on Lake Manawa, however. Marguerite,Trip, and their families must confront temptations, dangers, and broken hearts.  The element of conflict add more depth and interest to the plot to keep readers engaged. Although there are some predictable moments in the novel, Making Waves is an enjoyable read and a promising beginning to the Lake Manawa Summers series.

Leota's Garden by Francine Rivers

Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis from
Acclaimed Christian fiction writer Francine Rivers's (The Atonement Child) Leota's Garden uses the image of the garden as a metaphor for the cycles of life that the characters experience. While the story revolves around a number of lives, they are all connected through Leota--an 84-year-old grandmother--and her garden, which was once a place of beauty and hope but has in recent years gone to ruin. Beginning in desolation--Leota has been neglected by her self-centered daughter, whose obsession with getting her own daughter into the best college has driven them apart--the novel slowly shows the weaving together of lives in the mysterious ways of grace: a proud and narrow-minded college student ends up learning more from Leota than he'd bargained for, and the granddaughter Leota had never been allowed to know shows up looking for some answers, and even more, looking for Leota herself. A garden blooms, the novel suggests, by getting one's hands a little dirty doing the hard work of love. --Doug Thorpe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

B-Squared’s Review:
Like all of Francine Rivers’ books, Leota’s Garden is a poignant novel that fully engages readers.  This is primarily a story of reconciliation, which blends joy, pain, insecurity, bitterness, and love among a range of other emotions into one thought-provoking plot.  Rivers’ masterful descriptions create vivid images to the central setting in the novel, Leota’s garden. Likewise, the characters are completely realistic and expertly developed. 

In many ways, Leota’s Garden is similar to Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream.  All three novels focus on familial relationships over a span of a few generations and the rifts that can develop through the lack of communication and years of festering bitterness.  Like weeds in a garden, left untended, misunderstandings and hard-feelings, will choke the life out of relationships.  The characters in Leota’s Garden, as well as readers, learn this lesson; and the challenge for both is the same: find the courage to remove the weeds and restore relationships. 

Leota’s Garden is not a light read; readers will embark on a roller coaster of emotions.  While the conclusion leaves promise for the characters’ futures, it also leaves a lingering feeling of sadness, but its applicability to real life makes it a very worthy read.

Note: While Leota’s Garden is now out-of-print, it is available as an e-book.

Lark Rise to Candleford: Season 1

It has happened yet again...

We are engrossed in another British series. This time it is Lark Rise to Candleford.  Fortunately the series spans a few seasons, so we have plenty of opportunities to quench our unending thirst for British tv.  Unfortunately, the show is currently in its last season.  It is sad to think that such an addictive, heartwarming, and family-friendly show is coming to an end; but alas, that is the bleak reality of television industry.  Lark Rise to Candleford combines elements of some of our favorite programs of the past: Little House on the Prairie, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (especially the first few seasons), and Anne of Green Gables. Lark Rise allows viewers to escape to a more innocent time and become part of a warm, welcoming, and sometimes eccentric community while introducing and resolving conflicts that resonate with our modern lives.

Over the past few years we have become increasingly loyal to British period movies and series. We are hard-pressed to find movies, much less television shows, on American tv that are comparable to our favorite British series in plot, scenery, and acting quality. Where are the wholesome programs that were once commonplace on our televisions?  In today's world, do we really need more crime-solving shows or sitcoms with crude humor? If programming is meant to help us escape the stress of real life, it is failing in our book. Shows like Lark Rise to Candleford are gems in the modern world; and hopefully, they won't become too rare.

We just finished Season 1 of Lark Rise to Candleford and are now beginning Season 2. The series starts off a bit slow, but hits its stride after the second or third episode. The series begins in the small farming hamlet of Lark Rise nestled amid rolling fields of golden grains. The Timmons family is bursting at the seams of their cozy cottage and Emma Timmins decides to send her eldest daughter, Laura, to her post-mistress cousin, Dorcas, in Candleford. Candleford is a small but enterprising town; and as a country girl, Laura must adjust to a more "civilized" lifestyle while learning the rules and regulations of the post office.  Lark Rise and Candleford have their prejudices toward one another, and Laura is often caught in the middle.  Throughout the first season, Laura matures through her struggles, and the upcoming seasons promise to bring more growth. Cousin Dorcas takes Laura into her post office family and becomes a strong influence in her life. Dorcas is a woman ahead of her times.  She is a respected business woman who operates a post office and owns a forge, but she also has weaknesses and is nursing a broken heart.

Meanwhile, the rest of the proud citizens of Lark Rise and Candleford have their own quirks and share of trouble, which adds an intriguing and comical dimension to the show.  For fellow fans of British productions, there are a few familiar faces in Lark Rise to Candleford: Brendan Coyle (Nicholas Higgins in North & South and  John Bates in Downton Abbey) plays Laura's father; Claudie Blakley (Charlotte Lucas in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice) portrays Laura's mother; and Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet in the infamous 1995 mini-series Pride & Prejudice) plays Dorcas Lane.

As Cousin Dorcas would say, Lark Rise to Candleford has become our "one true weakness."


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