“Confessions from an Arranged Marriage”

I will admit, when I picked up this book, I figured that “arranged marriage” meant that they had been intended for each other since birth.  A few pages in, and I realized that wasn’t the case.

Then I thought, “Ok, maybe she secretly loves him and will trap him into a marriage.”  Again….not the case.

So then I decided to just go along for the ride and stop trying to predict how the book was going to go.  I’m glad I did.

Minerva doesn’t like the Marquess of Blakeney.  In fact, he is treated kind of as a laughingstock by her.  He was previously engaged to her sister, and she was subjected to unending stories about horses and hunting.  After the engagement failed, he left London for a few years.  They become reacquainted at her coming out ball, which is being held at his parents’ house, due to the close relationship between the families.

However, things don’t go according to plan.  Partway through the night, Minerva has a migraine, takes some medicine, and lays down in the library.  An intoxicated Blakeney decides to play a trick on a friend, and thinks that Minerva is someone else when he begins to seduce her.  Minerva wakes up as an audience appears in the library door. This means that the incident can’t be hidden and the two are forced to marry.

For Minerva, this is worrisome.  She doesn’t know Blakeney well, but her impression is that he is lazy and probably not very smart, even though he graduated from college.  Blakeney doesn’t think much of Minerva, especially since she is passionate about politics, which is one thing his family does well – even though he doesn’t have any interest in it.

However much these two individuals don’t see eye to eye, they must learn how to live together and create some sort of relationship.  Add the following to the mix – a “best friend” who seems a little slimy and untrustworthy, the death of a father, spies, secrets that have been hidden since school, and families who don’t trust the new spouse – and you get an interesting story that brings you in to the characters’ lives so you feel like you are there with them.  That makes for a good story.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

“The Smiley Book of Colors”

This book, by Ruth Kaiser, is so cute and ingenious.  It’s about how it’s your decision what your attitude is like, but it’s written so simply that kids could definitely understand it.  Plus, each pair of pages is about a different color AND each picture is a smiley face of some sort.  Everything is coordinated…it’s awesome!

I read this with my 4-year old tonight and we spent the majority of the time picking out the smiley faces and determining what they were made of.  She got all of the colors right (except white, which I can understand because it was white letters on a blue page).  I couldn’t turn the page until she had found every smiley and we figured out what the smiley was made out of.

This book would be great for preschoolers and under (to be read to) and probably ok for a kindergartener or first grader to read to a younger sibling.  The message is a good one that could resonate with anyone – even adults.

I received this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

“The House at the End of Ladybug Lane” – A Lesson in Acceptance

Elise Primavera’s book The House at the End of Ladybug Lane is a delightful story of a young lady named Angelina who can’t help but get dirty and be messy.  Her parents are neat freaks, and a child doesn’t really fit their “neat” world.

One night, Angelina makes a wish, and a ladybug godmother appears.  However, there’s a problem…she’s slightly hard of hearing.  “I want a pet” becomes “I want a pest” and poof – there’s a pest in the house.  A pest that bakes the most delicious deserts, but a pest nonetheless.  On throughout the night Angelina tries to make herself understood, but the godmother just can’t get it right.

The results are quite astonishing, and the illustrations (by Valeria Docampo) are phenomenal.  My daughter liked picking out all of the little details (finding the ladybug, the pest, seeing what had happened, etc.).

The story boils down to how the expectations of the parents, while good-intentioned and well-meaning, may not fit the personality of the child.  The child may be doing their best to comply, but just can’t seem to get it right.  Rather than continually criticize the child, or be frustrated because they don’t meet the parents’ expectations, maybe the expectations should change to suit the child.

I received this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

“Cross My Heart”

Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould is targeted at ages 12 and up.  I am significantly over 12 and I enjoyed it a lot.  Laura della Scala was sent to the convent as a young girl so that her family could afford to launch her sister on society.  In Renaissance Venice, she anticipated staying there for the rest of her life, only able to correspond in writing with her sister.  When she finds out her sister is betrothed to a man named Vincenzo, she is happy for her since it seems as though her sister is happy.

However, she is removed from the convent on orders from her father.  She arrives home after being gone for a number of years to find her sister dead and unmarried.  Laura is forced to take her sister’s place in the marriage…..and Vincenzo isn’t a young handsome man, but rather a withered old man who holds a lot of power…and her family needs the connection to regain its fortunes.

Laura ends up being connected to the Segreta, a group of women who can make things happen, in exchange for a secret, but it has to be a good secret.  If you betray the existence of the group, your life is forfeit.  Members are identified only by the mask they wear, and any indication that you know who is behind the mask is not recommended.

Throughout the book, I was drawn in my the vivid language and the pictures the words evoked.  The plot twists and turns (often unexpectedly) and the ending is satisfying.  I will definitely pick up other books by this author.

I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher through Edelweiss.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“Bittersweet Surrender” or “How Life Can Turn Things Around”

Carly hasn’t had it very easy the last few years.  She has undergone treatment for breast cancer (without insurance), her husband walked out, her best friend died, her dad died, her brother keeps hitting her up for money, her business’ financials are messed up (she runs a chocolate spa), and to top it all off, her stepmom has decided to move in with her.  Wow…I’m tired and worn out just looking at that list!

Even though she could let all of this get her down, she tries hard to focus on improving things.  She has hired her best friend’s husband (who is an accountant) to look at the books and straighten things out; she takes advantage of her stepmom moving in as a way to eat healthier; she survived breast cancer; and she has decided to stand up to her brother.

For a few months, she has been corresponding via email with her brother’s best friend from high school.  She had a crush on him in high school, but he was too cool for her.  Lucky for her, he is moving back with his teenage daughter.  That is her other reason for getting in shape and eating better.

However, nothing goes as it should.  The mystery of why Carly’s business is having problems is spread through the entire book, with an ending that is a surprise.  People Carly has relied upon for years turn out to be not so reliable, and things she thought she knew turn out not to be true.  But what I think hurts Carly the most is how those who are closest to her have ended up letting her down over the last few years.  She has to find the strength within herself to move beyond her past and her current struggles and find happiness.

This book was provided as part of the Booksneeze program, in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

“All the Pleasures of the Season”

This was a quick read.  Lady Miranda Archer has had her debut season.  She is trying to do what is right for her family and live up to their expectations.   Her family is no stranger to scandal and she just wanted to be the normal child.  So she picks a man who has been pursuing her all season that by all appearances would be a good match.  Her sister has been pushing for him and her family approves…except her brother.

However, there’s a problem.  Miranda doesn’t really like him.  She doesn’t know him all that well, and there’s just something about him that strikes her as “off”.  She would prefer to be marrying Gilbert, who is a second son and destined for the armed forces.  The problem is that she doesn’t think anyone in her family would support that match.

Miranda begins to understand what marriage to her selected fiance would mean and tries to get out of it.

There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters, but I would be interested in reading more from this author.  I enjoyed the book and it was a great little read during all of the holiday chaos.

I was provided with this book from Edelweiss.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“A Regency Holiday”

One thing I like about reading books through a review service like NetGalley is finding new authors that I end up liking, new genres that broaden my horizons, and finding common threads between authors.  This was true with my latest book – another anthology, which I usually don’t read, by 4 authors I hadn’t heard of before.

A Regency Christmas is an anthology of 4 Regency-era Christmas stories: “Coventry’s Christmas” by Rebecca Hagan Lee; “Star of Wonder” by Lynn Kerstan; “A Christmas Homecoming” by Allison Lane; and “Home for Christmas” by Alicia Rasley.   Even though I usually don’t read anthologies, I liked all of the stories in this book.  They all had a sense of people realizing their lives needed to be different – usually at the instigation of someone unexpected.

In “Coventry’s Christmas”, Amabel leaves her home to travel to her guardian’s house.  Her father remarried and her step-mother is pretty and jealous, especially after Amabel’s father dies.  There are limited eligible men in Amabel’s hometown, so Amabel has to leave.  Unfortunately for her, the original guardian her father selected died a number of years ago, leaving his son Deverell in charge.  He doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but he hides a heart that means well under all of the dissolute living he has done.  Frankly, the sweetest part to me was a letter that Deverell wrote as a pre-teen to Amabel’s father (after his father died), and then the corresponding letter Amabel’s father wrote when Deverell reached his majority.

“Star of Wonder” is about a journey.  A journey a man has been on since he was 14, and which ends when he arrives at Stella Bryar’s home at Christmas search for something he claims her father stole before he died.  It’s a journey that Stella has to be willing to take within herself, to understand who her father was, and to right a wrong done so many years ago.

Sometimes coming home forces you to see the truth.  In “A Christmas Homecoming” Alex comes home to deal with his family estate.  He comes face-to-face with the woman who jilted him six years before, a cousin who has issues, a houseful of potential brides (invited by his grandmother), and a mother who is just coming out of her grief over the death of Alex’s father.  Alex is forced to confront the truth of the various situations, and not just rely on his perceptions of what happened – including the woman who jilted him.

I probably enjoyed reading “Home for Christmas” the most.  Justin arrives at Verity’s house in search of a knife that Verity advertised in the paper.  He is “hijacked” when he arrives by her.  She needs him to pose as her husband during her visit with her father.  The deal is that Justin will get the knife after a successful visit.  There are layers upon layers of deception and untruth in this story – on all sides.  Verity isn’t completely truthful with Justin, her father, or herself.  Justin has been living a lie for so many years that for him to tell the complete truth could cause a lot of damage to those he loves.  Verity’s father can’t see the blessings in front of his face.

I received this book through NetGalley.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“A Clockwork Christmas” – Stories of Redemption and Love

I have never read a “steampunk” book before.  This was an interesting group of stories for me as I learned about this world of Victorian invention and ingenuity.  It is a group of four stories: Crime Wave in a Corset, This Winter Heart, Wanted: One Scoundrel, and Far from Broken.  I liked 3 out of the 4 stories a lot.  Wanted: One Scoundrel was probably my least favorite out of the 4.

In Crime Wave in a Corset, we meet a young lady who has been a thief most of her life.  She recently stole a Faberge egg from a university professor, who wants it back.  However, in order to get it back, she will have to break into the home of a well-known Irish crime lord.  While planning the theft, she has to learn that some of the walls she has built should be breached.   This was my favorite story.

In This Winter Heart, we meet a mother and her child who are going back to the child’s father’s home, as they have fallen on hard times.  The mother’s secret destroyed their marriage and the father doesn’t realize he has a son.  While there, she is hurt while rescuing their son.  They have to realize what is important and what the definition of “human” is.  This was my third favorite story.

Wanted: One Scoundrel is the story of an Australian suffragette, whose father is extremely wealthy.  She wants to start a political party, but needs a man to be the figurehead.  She finds one, but he is not who he appears to be.  She needs to learn that being independent doesn’t mean being subservient.  This was my least favorite story.

Far from Broken is the story of a woman’s will to survive.  Her husband is a spy for the government.  She was taken as a way to control him, and ended up being tortured almost to death.  He made a deal with the government for her care, and now they both have to come to terms with the agreement.  This was my second favorite story.

I received this book through the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“The Shadow of Your Smile” and How Important Are Your Memories?

I have read some of Susan May Warren’s books before and liked them.  “The Shadow of Your Smile” is one of her Deep Haven novels, which luckily for me, can be read independently and still understand the stories.  Noelle and Eli have been married for 25 years.  They had 3 children, one of whom died in a robbery 3 years prior to this book taking place.  Ever since then, their marriage has struggled…as Noelle buried herself in grief, Eli buried himself in fishing, hunting, anything to take him away from their house.

On a wintery day, Noelle is on her way home from a mysterious meeting.  She stops at a shop for a coffee and while she is there, interrupts a robbery where the cashier dies.  As she is running out the door to catch a passing trucker, she falls, hits her head, and is knocked unconscious.  When she comes to in the hospital, she has lost 25 years of her life.  She doesn’t recognize Eli, her sons, her best friend, her home.

What ensues is a journey for Noelle and Eli.  A journey back to why they got married in the first place.  A journey to work through their grief of losing their daughter…this time as a family.  A journey to re-discover what is important to them and what they each may have given up as they moved through life together.

A question (in various forms) appears throughout the book – “Should Noelle get her memory back?”  Does Noelle need to regain all 25 years of memories in order to move forward with her life?  Does Eli want Noelle to regain those memories?  If those memories return, what happens to the relationship they have built since she lost them?

How important are memories as you go through life?

I received this book through the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“The Harvest of Grace”

Sylvia has a good life.  She is Old Order Amish and although her father has no sons, he has allowed her to help him with some of the farm duties, even listening to her when it comes to management of the cow herd.  She has taken over the breeding of the herd and has been successful.  Her beau Elam has also been talking to Sylvia’s dad in preparation of their marriage.  However, Sylvia is betrayed when she asks Elam for a bit more time before getting married.

Several years later, Sylvia is forced to leave her family’s farm because of Elam.  She takes a job at the Blank’s farm several hours away.   They have problems with their entire operation and are hoping that Sylvia can help turn things around.  Their daughter recently died and their son has been absent for a while.   But they don’t tell her the whole truth.

Aaron Blank is a recovering alcoholic who is trying to find his passion.  He worked his family’s farm for a number of years while his father battled a debilitating illness and got burned out.  He is coming back to the farm to show his parents that they need to sell the farm and move with him to help him with an appliance business.

His goals are counter to what Sylvia wants.  She is the link between Aaron and his parents.  His parents have come to rely on her and trust her opinion. As she gets to know Aaron, she has to facilitate a connection between Aaron and his parents, while keeping her own past secret from him.

I didn’t realize that it was the 3rd book in a series when I started reading it.  However, that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book, as the author provides enough backstory as characters are introduced that you are able to at least kind of catch up.  The characters from the other books play an important part in this book, but I wanted to focus my review on Sylvia and Aaron.

I enjoyed reading this book.  The message of forgiveness throughout is very realistically written.  I will definitely read other books by this author.

I was provided this book by Waterbrook’s Blogging for Books program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.