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review 2019-01-23 00:06
Tales of a Cosmic Possum by Sheila Ingle
Tales of a Cosmic Possum - Sheila Ingle

Sheila Ingle’s husband John was brought up in Ingle Holler in Union, South Carolina, with eight other Ingle families. They worked together in the mills, shared their gardens, attended church, and enjoyed the playing and singing of the songs from the Grand Ole Opry. When five of the brothers went off to war, those who couldn’t fight took care of their families. The Ingles stuck together, just like they were taught in the Appalachian hills of Erwin, Tennessee. Love of God, love of family, and love of country were modeled in each home. In fact, one year Make Ingle put his sons and grandsons together to build Hillside Baptist Church. Adults kept up with the newspapers and the radios; world happenings were important. Any type of sickness brought a barrage of soup and cornbread, because children still had to eat. On those twenty acres, the children played in the creek, cowboys and Indians, and hide-and-seek. They built their own wagons and sleds to race down the hill on the dry, hickory leaves. All the boys learned to shoot a .22 caliber, and John’s mother Lois could light a match with her shots. Living in Ingle Holler was home, where each one was accepted.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In Tales of Cosmic Possum, author Sheila Ingle writes a celebratory biography of the Ingle family, her husband's people. The branch of the family tree we as readers get to know originated in Erwin, Tennessee but later relocated to Union, South Carolina on a piece of land that came to be known as Ingle Holler. In this holler, family members could grow up expecting a true Appalachian upbringing. As the years pass over the course of the book, readers are introduced to generations of cotton mill workers -- many dropping out of school by the 3rd grade to join the rest of the family in the mills --  humble and hard-working folk dedicated to their families, regardless of how much or how little they had. Scattered throughout these tales are also neat little historical notes (ie. the reference to Peter Pan peanut butter being sold in tin cans in the 1930s -- I didn't know the brand even dated back that far!)

 

 

Sometimes it was difficult to remember back to those early years 37 years ago. The skinny auburn-haired girl, afraid of the dark and her own shadow, had matured into a woman who was a right good spinner and fit as a fiddle. Her third grade education had not held her back.

 

"Julie", chapter discussing the grandmother of Sheila Ingle's husband, John

 

 

Though considered one continuous non-fiction piece, the chapters are set up to showcase one particular member of the Ingle family (per chapter) and a story unique to them. But the stories are so moving, so richly infused with life & spirit, the reader quickly gets immersed in the lives of these people long gone. Sheila Ingle's writing is so inviting, offers such a sense of inclusion to readers, that this work of biography moves more like a collection of interconnected short stories. I guess, in a sense, they are! The very last chapter focuses on Sheila Ingle's mother-in-law.

 

Relevant black and white photos are included in some of the chapters to enhance the scenes described. There are also several pages of additional photos of family members at the back of the book. 

 

Collectively, the chapters span the years between early 1900s - 1950s, chapters full of heartwarming stories of neighbor helping neighbor, even when it seems like you have nothing to offer. Sheila Ingle, through the stories of her husband's family, illustrates that though one may have meager physical possessions on hand, you may be surprised to realize that, in fact, there is nearly always something within your ability or means that can be of use to someone in need. These are the types of books we need more of in this day and age! 

 

*Note to animal lovers though: Early on in the book, during Fannie's story, there is description of Fannie witnessing the hanging -- literal hanging -- execution of a circus elephant who trampled its handler to death after being startled. The imagery, as you can imagine, is pretty disturbing.

 

FTC Disclaimer: Ambassador International kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2019-01-22 21:46
Coast Guard Sweetheart (Coast Guard #2) by Lisa Carter
Coast Guard Sweetheart (Love Inspired Large Print) - Lisa Carter

Second Chance Sailor: When coast guard officer Sawyer Kole is stationed again in Kiptohanock, Virginia, he's ready to prove to Honey Duer that he's a changed man and the right man for her. But it's not smooth sailing when a hurricane blows their way. To save the family inn she's restored to perfection, Honey will ride out the storm. But can she handle the turbulence of seeing Sawyer again? Years ago he walked away, taking her dreams of love. Now as Hurricane Zelda barrels down, Honey may have no choice but to trust Sawyer to save her life and just maybe her heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Picking up several years after where Lisa Carter's Coast Guard Courtship left off, Coast Guard Sweetheart revisits one of the side stories from the first book: that of Honey (sister of Amelia from Book 1, *Honey's real name is Beatrice, but picked up the nickname due to her hair color) and that fouled up romance Amelia's beau Braeden helped Honey push through. The troublemaker guy in that scenario, Coast Guard Petty Officer Sawyer Kole, is back in town (with Braeden as his boss) and wants to make things right between him and Honey.

 

Wouldn't you know, she doesn't want to hear it! Or so she's trying to convince herself. Wouldn't you want to hear what story was behind a former flame abandoning you three years earlier? Not the least bit curious, Honey? You KNOW she is! But she's in no rush to give him the satisfaction. Their re-acquaintance comes about via a pretty funny food fight (but SUCH a waste of donuts!). But the two have no choice but to put differences aside and work together when their town faces the arrival of Hurricane Zelda and Honey's newly restored inn sits right in the line of fire. 

 

Having thoroughly enjoyed Lisa Carter's first installment in this series, I was really looking forward to seeing where the characters ended up here. Though all the elements seemed to be in place for a strong follow-up, sadly this one just did not serve up the same magic as its predecessor. The humor, charming as all get out in Coast Guard Courtship, just fell flat here, felt a little on the canned side. Further, the plot wasn't nearly as much fun. While it seemed promising, opening a story with a food fight, things quickly fizzled out from there. Even with a hurricane in the mix --- you'd expect some great tension or amazing chats or something right? --- nope, even there it was about as interesting as bath water. 

 

Pretty quickly, Honey's relentless bickering grows tiresome. Not cute. She complains that Sawyer never explained his absence, then when he tries she shuts it down with an "I don't want to hear it"... but then encourages him to try again, but then hardly lets him finish a thought before she's verbally laying into him again. Her level of anger grows unreasonable but she continues to harp on with the "Why won't you talk to me?" Girl, have you only heard your side of things? This whole story has been set up for him to tell his side! UGH, even Max chimes in with a "Stop being a big baby, Aunt Honey." You tell her, kid! Another character takes it further with "Bitterness does not become you, Beatrice."

 

In terms of dialogue, the writing just gets progressively more cringey as the reader progresses. But if you're really into nighttime soaps, the overkill dramatics might not strike you as problematic. I will note a few highlights though. 1) This novel does touch upon the heartbreak of siblings split up within the foster system and later left unable to reunite with each other as adults because of sealed records. 2) The closing scene was undeniably sweet and romantic. Hard not to pull a grin out of me at the description of a modern couple slow dancing to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". 3) MAX. It was so great to see Max again in this series. Max is doing great and he totally made it worthwhile to hang in there and keep reading! 

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review 2019-01-22 20:40
Coast Guard Courtship (Coast Guard #1) by Lisa Carter
Coast Guard Courtship (Love Inspired Large Print) - Lisa Carter

Coast Guard Officer Braeden Scott's life is all about freedom and adventure. Being assigned to a tiny Virginia coastal village is the last thing he wants. But thanks to a feisty redhead, he's soon discovering the charms of a small-town life. Amelia Duer is all about home and hearth. Taking care of others is her whole world. As Braeden spends more time with her and her nephew, his hopes for a family begin to resurface. Could Amelia prove to be the anchor this charming Coastie needs to stop wandering and create a home for good?

Amazon.com

 

 

NC based writer Lisa Carter places her Coast Guard centered romance in the small town of Kiptohanock, Virginia, where CG officer Braeden Scott gets stationed and quickly finds himself tangled up with feisty redhead Amelia Duer. Being a redhead myself, I had to chuckle at one point in the story where a comment is made about redheaded women in general being "insidious" LOL 

 

He filled his lungs with the bracing sea air. Not so bad. Not the most exciting place he'd ever been quartered, but as long as he could hear the crash of the waves, he'd do fine...Braeden's first love, the sea, remained the only love in his life that hadn't let him down. Give Braeden his boat, the rhythm of the sea and, as one poet had phrased it, "a star to steer by," and he was good. Better than good. Women were trouble he didn't need in his life.

 

Amelia runs her father's charter fishing business since her father decided to take up part time work in a boat repair shop. Running the shop serves as a perfect excuse for Amelia to keep a close eye on her dad as he recovers from a recent heart attack. She grew up in the kind of family where her father never got the son he wanted, so he raised her as he would a boy, turning her into his "fishing buddy", as he liked to think of her. Developing that bond early on has served them well now as they move into the adult phase of parent-child friendship.

 

Braeden's first impression of her is that she's not terribly feminine but certainly admirably gutsy and "tough as a sea barnacle"... the type of compliment that wants to make you say, "Thanks.. I think...". When Braeden rents out a boat shed property without first informing Amelia, she ends up nearly taking him out with a harpoon! (A simple misunderstanding... you'll see.... )

 

Braeden loves a life full of adventure and wild experiences while Amelia is all about having stability and a home & community where she can firmly root. She has reasons for insisting on a firm home base: she lost her mother to cancer and her sister to a drunk driver, leading to Amelia becoming the guardian of her five year old nephew, Max, who is battling leukemia. Max's father is also in the Coast Guard... or at least was... his role in this story is sort of that of "deadbeat dad who abandoned the family".

 

Trying to do her best, Amelia is struggling with Max while he works this phase where he answers all her instructions with "you're not my real mom". There's added pressure on her since she took out loans against her father's business to cover the cost of Max's chemo treatments. Now finding herself unbelievably stressed out and deeply in debt, there's an added layer of tension since her remaining family members grow to see her as someone generally too salty to associate with. 

 

While the arrival of Braeden is an unexpected upset to the routine at first, he proves to be a nice distraction from all the heavier dealings in Amelia's days. There IS something about him that she can't help but be drawn to, but thanks to the whole situation with Max's father, Amelia also happens to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Coast Guard fellas. Then there's the difference in faith between them -- While Amelia finds great comfort in fellowship, Braeden isn't much of a church-goer (but he has his reasons for being so).

 

Braeden unknowingly finds the ways to her heart ... largely by just being himself. He shows willingness to spend so much quality time with Max (such as teaching him how to swim), helping Amelia's sister, Beatrice aka "Honey" navigate out of her own Coast Guard romance gone sour, AND encourages Amelia to pursue art as a career, at the very least as a side gig. While she does love creating paintings of local seascapes and townspeople, Amelia has strong fears of taking her work public... but perhaps with Braeden's support to bolster her, anything is possible! It's also tough not to fall for a guy who insists on teaching the generation coming up about respecting women:

 

"Yeah, Mimi. Leave us guys alone." Max propped his hand on his small hip and jutted it, Honey-style. "We don't need you. Braeden's got this. Go away."

 

She blinked. Braeden frowned. He locked eyes with Max. "Let's you and me get one thing straight, Candidate Duer. Women are to be respected, cherished, and protected." Braeden threw Amelia a glance before his gaze returned to Max. "If I ever hear you disrespect your aunt Mimi or any other woman ever again, you can forget swim lessons or anything else from this Coastie."

 

The starch went out of her carrot-topped nephew. He drew a circle in the water with his toe. "Sorry, Mimi."

 

This is one well-balanced romance! It's part of Harlequin's "Love Inspired" line, so there are Christian themes mildly discussed within the plot, while also incorporating plenty of humor and warm & cuddly courtship scenes. Sometimes titles within this line tend to run a bit heavy on the sap but this one got it just right. To balance out the sweet, there are more serious topics woven in. Max's story as he battles leukemia has its bittersweet notes, but not to Afterschool Special levels. Still, that scene with Max getting attached to a Black Lab only to be told maybe a dog isn't a great idea, and him snapping back with "I'm gonna die anyway"... Kid put a chip in this heart of mine! Then there's the tough moments that circle Coast Guard life itself  --- the blessings of ships ceremony where a bell is rung for each crew member lost to sea, and the intensity that builds around responding to mayday calls. It's all in here! 

 

By story's close, the reader is left waiting to hear the results of Max's latest tests... but since he makes an appearance in Book 2, it looks like the prognosis is good! 

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review 2019-01-10 10:33
The Orphan's Wish - Melanie Dickerson

Orphaned and alone, Aladdin travels from the streets of his Arab homeland to a strange, faraway place. Growing up in an orphanage, he meets young Lady Kirstyn, whose father is the powerful Duke of Hagenheim. Despite the difference in their stations, Aladdin quickly becomes Kirstyn’s favorite companion, and their childhood friendship grows into a bond that time and opposition cannot break. Even as a child, Aladdin works hard, learning all he can from his teachers. Through his integrity, intelligence, and sheer tenacity, he earns a position serving as the duke’s steward. But that isn’t enough to erase the shame of being forced to steal as a small child—or the fact that he’s an orphan with no status. If he ever wants to feel equal to his beautiful and generous friend Kirstyn, he must leave Hagenheim and seek his fortune. Yet once Aladdin departs, Lady Kirstyn becomes a pawn in a terrible plot. Now, Aladdin and Kirstyn must rely on their bond to save her from unexpected danger. But will saving Kirstyn cost Aladdin his newfound status and everything he’s worked so hard to obtain?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

In this re-imagining of the classic tale Aladdin, Dickerson takes Aladdin out of his original setting and moves him to Hagenheim, Germany in the 1400s, where he finds a place of sorts with the Duke of Hagenheim's family. Aladdin, orphaned at a young age, is taken in by the priest of Hagenheim Cathedral. Through this connection, Aladdin meets Lady Kirstyn, the duke's daughter. Both little children at the time, Aladdin comes to her rescue one day during a game where he thinks she is being bullied. Moved by his attention to her, Kirstyn befriends him and the two fast become constant companions. 

 

Fast forward a few years, and Aladdin now works as the duke's steward while also being Kirstyn's best friend, indulging in her many privileged whims. While he cares for Kirstyn, Aladdin does find enough of a sense of fulfillment from his current life situation. He explains to Kirstyn that he does not wish to be seen merely as a lowly servant his entire life, but instead wants to make something of himself, find success (and hopefully wealth) on his own terms. He breaks it to her that he intends to leave town to find his fortune. Rather than being encouraging and understanding, Kirstyn falls into a whiny fit and makes it all about her, only focusing on how this change will affect HER and HER wants. (Trust me, you'll be begging for a Jasmine return during this ridiculous pout fest). As kindly as possible, in so many words Aladdin tells her she'll just have to get over it because his mind is made up.

 

He goes off, finds work apprenticing with a merchant in Lüneberg, a neighboring town. Aladdin moves in with the merchant's family and is soon doing quite well for himself. He proves to have quite the business & finance acumen, inspiring the merchant to suggest Aladdin one day being his successor. For years, Aladdin had silently been throwing around the dream of one day marrying Kirstyn but previously had felt that to be impossible, with their difference in class stations. But should he do well with this business, it may be an opportunity after all! The thought drives his dedication to only work harder.

 

All is going very nicely until Aladdin gets word that Kirstyn has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. From there, everything else is dropped, so beginning Aladdin's efforts to bring his maybe-one-day-wife back home to safety. 

 

Ohhh, the issues I had with this book. First off, the quiet but annoyingly present whitewashing of one of my favorite childhood fables. Good lord, could this have been made any more white-bread boring?! I've been working my way through Dickerson's Hagenheim series --- the whole series meant to be re-imaginings of classic stories --- and while some of them have been just okay, some have been really enjoyable. So while I had my doubts about this one, I gave her the benefit of the doubt since the one I read before this, about a landlocked Little Mermaid, was actually a lot of fun (even though, again, I had my doubts about that one, taking a mermaid out of the water... but Dickerson made that one work, surprisingly!).

 

Let me just say, I'm not hating on the German setting itself. I married into a German family, clearly I'm down with the culture :-) But Germany in the context of ALADDIN -- an ARABIAN fable --- nah, didn't work for me. All the magic, allure, sand, desert winds, mystical stories ... all gone here. Instead, Dickerson gives us a whiny, spoiled brat of a female lead, her family all-around serving a heaping helping of white saviour complex,  and pretty much all the non-white characters have been made servants or criminals. Aladdin falls in love with Kirstyn in all her blonde-haired, blue-eyed glory. Later on, when the merchant's daughter develops an interest in him, Dickerson writes of how Aladdin finds her "pretty" with her dark hair and small mouth, but not nearly as beautiful as Kirstyn with her "pale blond hair, full lips and large blue eyes". YAWN. Aladdin has had his traditionally Muslim beliefs canceled and is now preaching the importance of strict Christian morals. There is virtually NO trace of the original story except for the use of the names Aladdin and Abu (Abu here is a small homeless child Aladdin looks after). Maybe, if you really stretch, you could liken Kirstyn's kidnapping to the time Jafar tried to keep Jasmine captive... but that's about it.

 

Beyond that, let's talk about the writing itself:

 

* Historical "say what now?" moments:  IE. Dickerson writes, regarding Kirstyn, "She was only sixteen and marriage seemed like something far in the future." Marriage at 16 far-fetched in the 1400s? Where if you took good care of yourself, you MAYBE made it to 40?! LOL 

 

* The dialogue in general: UGH, SO MELODRAMATIC. Reminded me of silent film emoting. Not every moment of the day is that *OMG* *SWOON* *SCOWL* *GASP*

 

* All around boring or head-knock-into-wall inducing characters: IE. Anna to her violent boyfriend: "You promise not to hit me again?"... proceeds to believe him... *eyeroll*

 

* The same few sentiments are repeated over and over again to convince the reader that Kirstyn and Aladdin are totally headed for forever love: Mainly, 1) They love long walks in the woods and 2) They of course understand each other better than anyone else in the world. Problem is, they spend the majority of the book spending ZERO time together, sooo... 

 

Lastly, while I understand this book is published through a Christian publisher (so some religious elements are to be expected at some point), here the religious undertones were not well done (as to feel natural to the story's enviroment / set up), instead coming off much too forced. The ending scenes are especially heavy-handed.

 

I'll continue on with the series installments, but this one was a definite disappointment.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2019-01-06 09:59
A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz
A Bound Heart - Laura Frantz

Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning--together. Laura Frantz's prose sparkles with authenticity and deep feeling as she digs into her own family history to share this breathless tale of love, exile, and courage in Colonial America.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up together on the Isle of Kerrera, Scotland. Now it's the year of 1752 and Magnus is laird of Kerrera Castle while Lark is the castle beekeeper, herbalist and manager of the castle stillroom. When Magnus's young wife, Isla, suffers her 6th miscarriage, he goes to Lark requesting something that will not only bring his wife physical comfort while her body mends but also something to help her successfully bring a child to term. Lark certainly has elixirs for pain management, but getting a pregnancy to stick? That's trickier. She seeks counsel from her grandmother, who trained her in the ways of medicinal plants. Lark's grandmother vaguely remembers something that may work, but she's struggling to recall the full recipe. 

 

When Lark's cousin goes into labor (this is a baby-making lovin' place, people!) Lark rushes to assist. Upon her return to Kerrera Castle, she finds the place in an uproar. Castle staff tell a wild story about Lady Isla apparently going mad from something, running off, her body later discovered at the bottom of a cliff. To Lark's shock and horror, fingers point to her as the culprit, even though several voices come to her defense, noting that she wasn't even in the area when all this went down!

 

It's for naught though... she's the herbalist, and it's suspected that Isla's sudden burst of madness was due to an overdose... but Lark hadn't given her anything yet, so how can that be? At least, nothing that would cause that kind of reaction in a person. What really went down? Lark's guess: Isla, having previously showed signs of depression, turned suicidal. Her parents, not wanting to deal with any social stigma attached to suicide, looked to have a scapegoat to save face for the family name. Lark was the easiest target. 

 

After a short joke of a trial, Isla is found guilty of manslaughter. Rather than the death penalty, she is sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies (Virginia, specifically) for the duration of 3 years. Placed on a womens' transport ship, she gets word that two Kerrera locals are on the mens' transport: Laird Magnus (charged with wearing a kilt, of all things) and Lark's pirate friend, Rory MacPherson (charged with smuggling goods).

 

Magnus uses his connections to pull some strings and have Lark moved to the mens' ship, so that she may serve as the ship's herbalist / botanist. Immediately, Lark's beauty grabs the attention of every man on board, though Rory finds himself unable to shake the sailor's superstition of women on a ship being bad luck. {Considering the events that later unfold, he may have been onto something!}

 

Magnus has his work cut out for him, protecting Lark from the ship's lust-filled men, the main one to watch being Surgeon Alick Blackburn. Magnus and Lark now both being convicted criminals -- guilty or not -- brings them back more on equal footing, as far as societal ranking goes. Lark's family name, MacDougall, was once one of great prestige but later fell out of favor and "time and misfortune turned them common". In recent years, Magnus's family line had taken hard hits as well -- father killed in battle, mother and sister dead from pox, Magnus's wife's struggles with pregnacy... and now she's gone... with Magnus headed to the New World, people may give an impressed nod to his former titled self, but it'll mean little else beyond that outside his homeland. Besides, Magnus hears rumors that he may be sent to a Jamaican estate to serve out his sentence, not Virginia with Lark. Can he manage to find a way to stay with her? If not, can he convince her to wait for his return?

 

Though I have a few other of Frantz's books on my TBR shelf, this is the first of hers I've now read. Inspired by the story of some of Frantz's own ancestors, A Bound Heart lacked a lot of heart IMO. It's not a bad story by any means, but all the 5 star ratings I'm already seeing for it (being offically released just a few days ago) strike me as awfully generous. Frantz has a solidly enjoyable writing style, the novel definitely shows the woman is dedicated to research! The novel is detail-rich, but almost to a fault, as the plot is very slow-going. 

 

Now typically I don't hate a slow-burn novel if a steady increase or layering in plot complications or character histories can be seen. I'm all about being invested in fictional worlds! Unfortunately, this one fell a tad short for me in that department and I found myself not only not attached to the characters but I think at one point I believe I literally fell asleep mid-read. There are little bursts of action here and there but they are SUPER brief. The rest of the story seems to be just general conversing, lots and lots of conversations going down while characters (and readers) wait for their lives to turn eventful. That said, I will say the pace of things noticeably picks up once our primary characters board the transport ships. 

 

The romances -- or the suggestion of pairings, anyway -- tickled me about as much as flat soda. The only character that really struck my interest was Lark's smuggler friend, Captain Rory. He appeared pretty personable in the beginning of the novel, but boy, did he end up showing his true colors towards the end! Trevor grew on me a bit, but he seemed like the type who'd want to pin down Lark's strong, independent nature. As far as Magnus and Lark, there's a sweet friendship there to be admired but the reader isn't really given enough of a backstory between them to really feel much for them beyond that. 

 

The glossary for Scottish terminology provided at the beginning of the book was helpful. While I was already familiar with some of the terms, there were a few in there that I'd never heard used before. Also a nice touch, the quotes from famous poets, novelists and philosophers that Frantz uses to foreshadow each chapter's events. She found some particularly great quotes to reference! 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Revell Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

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