One Perfect Spring by Irene Hannon

Claire Summers works hard to balance her job as an elementary school teacher and her role as a single mother to her eleven year old daughter, Haley.  With her free time, she does handyman jobs around their crumbling house to save money.  After a bad marriage, she has sworn off men for a while… until her daughter writes a letter to a local philanthropic businessman and changes everything.  Keith Watson spends longs hours in the office working for his kind boss, which leaves little time for social activities.  When Keith stumbles upon Haley’s letter asking for help locating the son her neighbor gave up for adoption years ago, he dismisses it as childish fantasy.  But his boss has other ideas and pushes Keith to take on this task.  As Keith reluctantly digs into the past, he realizes he has his own demons to face.  Claire and Keith find their lives intertwining one spring in ways they never expected, as one little girl’s kindhearted request touches several lives and leads to surprising endings.

This contemporary romance novel has predictable parts, but Irene Hannon also includes unexpected plot twists that keep the story interesting.  The characters are all struggling with varying issues, whether it is regret for past mistakes, lingering and debilitating sickness, buried pain and abuse, or forgiveness for others’ wrongs, which allow parts of the novel to be realistic and identifiable.  Ms. Hannon does a nice job of intertwining the stories of the various characters, allowing each to find healing through their interactions with each other.  The book elicits both smiles and emotional reactions, allowing the reader to enjoy a novel that is not surface-based but has deeper concepts and communications.  The writing style is simple but the book flows well and is easy to read.  Overall, it is an enjoyable story, although some of the histories of the characters have much too convenient similarities and at times, the plot slows a bit.  Nevertheless, this novel is a good contemporary story and is recommended for those who wish to read an interesting romance.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

The Pelican Bride by Beth White

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French-born Genevieve Gaillain and her sister Aimee board the Pelican as mail order brides in 1704, to escape persecution in France and find new life in the New World.  Both have promised to marry a Canadian, but upon reaching their destination, they find the scrawny, rustic men are much different than their imaginings.  The settlement is primitive, at best, and both struggle to carve out a home in this wilderness.  Genevieve wishes for peace to worship in her own way, but when she falls in love with the mysterious Tristan Lanier, a man who has made enemies of the Crown, peace may be further off than she envisioned.  And the secret she harbors may hurt others as well as destroy the very colony itself.  Tristan works to keep the colony safe from nearby tensions with the British, Spanish, and Native Americans even as he and Genevieve realize the enemy may be within their own walls.

The Pelican Bride reads at a fast pace, the tale bursting with mystery and suspense over the motives and actions of each character.  The intricate plot is full of fascinating historical detail and the setting and time period of the story is interesting, especially since it is a less commonly written era.  There are many character names to process, however, so the reader must pay close attention in order to not be lost along the way.  Overall, the novel contains realistic scenarios that include people struggling to carve out a home and life in the vast New World among the political and religious dangers lurking in the shadows.  Genevieve’s sister is frustrating in her selfishness, but the lessons learned by all create a relatively good ending to the story.  On the whole, the novel is exciting and a worthy read.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quotes from A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

Picking a favorite quote from a great novel is like choosing a favorite dessert — there are so many to pick from, so many delicious choices, that selecting just one is nearly impossible.  However, the following quote (no spoilers, I promise!) sums up a reoccurring theme from the wonderful novel A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander.

“[Eleanor] paused briefly to finger one of the flowers, and her focus slipped down the stem to the scar marking the place where Marcus had originally grafted the two flowers together.  She knew that, with time, and as the plant grew stronger, the slight imperfection would become less noticeable.  All of the grafted plants bore scars–evidence of the cutting, and also of the healing around it.  But what beauty had come from both.

If you have not picked up a copy of this historical novel yet, do so today!  You will not be disappointed!

Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

Endearing and humorous Ellis Eton tries, she really does.  She intends to do better in her college classes, to not disappoint her parents’ expectations, to accomplish just one task with skillful ease.  But sometimes it is hard to concentrate and sometimes she just cannot keep her promises, because other things demand her attention.  And to make matters worse, the star football player at Harvard and her neighbor, Griff, has his sights set on her and Ellis knows she is just not the girl for him.  Perhaps things would be better if she moved to Hollywood and did the one thing she knows she is good at – acting.  So when a look-alike friend asks this Boston socialite to fill in for her at her job, Ellis agrees, thinking this would be a perfect chance to practice her acting skills and earn a little cash to make the trip west.  However, she does not expect it to be so hard, with all the cords and levers and buttons.  Her first day is confusing and she accidently overhears a private conversation that threatens none other than Griff Philips.  When handsome and conflicted policeman Jack Flanigan asks her what she knows, Ellis’s suspicions are confirmed.  As she stumbles to stop this evil plot before it is too late, she learns to find her place amidst the hustle and bustle of the Roaring Twenties and discovers what her heart truly desires.

Love Comes Calling is another gem by Siri Mitchell!  Ellis is a most endearing character, her sweet heart in the right place even if her actions are sometimes muddled and cause more problems than anything else.  The author’s note mentions that Ellis struggles with ADHD, which explains her scatter-brained mind perfectly.  This character trait only serves to make the novel amusing and enjoyable, however.  Ms. Mitchell does a most fantastic job of not only researching accurate historical details of Boston in the 1920’s, but of also skillfully capturing the mindset of a generation liberated by world-wide changes after WWI.  The story is riveting and fast-paced, even allowing this reader to finish the entire novel in one sitting!  The flaws of the characters are realistic, but Ellis and Griff are adorable in their desire to make the world a better place.  With such real life struggles and issues that are applicable today, this story is immensely enjoyable.  Another highly recommended novel from Siri Mitchell!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Eleanor Braddock’s Savory Custard – right from the pages of A Beauty So Rare!

It’s a delight to share the savory custard (which was more of a quiche) Eleanor Braddock creates in A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander!ABSR2

Eleanor Braddocks Savory Custard

(or Ham and Cheddar Quiche)

From the novel A Beauty So Rare

by Tamera Alexander

http://www.TameraAlexander.com

Most people think quiche originated in France. Not so. It’s originally a German dish and people referred to them as “savory custards” in the 19th century. Which is accurate since the egg-based mixture forms a luscious-like custard as it bakes.

In my novel, A Beauty So Rare, the second standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series, the heroine, Eleanor Braddock, is “a cook with a dream.” But her dreams don’t quite turn out like she thinks they will. However, her savories always do!

I hope you enjoy this recipe (or “receipt” as recipes were called in the 1800s) from A Beauty So Rare. For more about A Beauty So Rare and for recipes from all my novels, visit http://www.TameraAlexander.com.

Ingredients

1 old-fashioned unbaked pie crust (recipe below)

1 large onion, diced (or sliced if you like larger pieces of onion in your savory)

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound cooked ham diced into cubes (if using bacon, use 8 slices, fried chewy, not too crisp)

8 large eggs

1-1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half

1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste (I always go heavier on the pepper, personal preference)

1 3/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Instructions

Sauté onion in the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Chop the ham into bite-sized pieces (or fry your bacon until chewy, then chop). Set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie crust and press into a deep dish pie plate. A medium-sized iron skillet works wonderfully for making a savory custard (and is what Eleanor used). The crust comes out divine. I just happened to use a pie plate this time.

Whip the eggs, cream, salt and pepper in a large bowl, then mix in the onions, ham (or bacon), and cheese. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Cover the pie plate (or skillet) lightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quiche is set and the crust is golden brown. QUICK BAKING TIPS: The quiche may still seem a little loose when you first remove it from the oven, but it will firm up nicely once removed from the heat. Also, watch that lovely crust so the edges don’t get overly brown. I use a silicone pie crust shield if that starts to happen. Those are a fabulous invention (but foil crimped around the edges works just as well).

Remove from the oven and allow the savory custard to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before diving in. It’s so good, and just like Eleanor Braddock would make. It’s also delicious left over and warmed up the next day.

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  Eleanor Braddocks Old-Fashioned Pie Crust

(makes two large crusts)

From the novel A Beauty So Rare

by Tamera Alexander

http://www.TameraAlexander.com

This is a wonderful crust that I’ve been using for years. Eleanor would likely have used lard in place of Crisco (since lard was cheaper than butter in her day), and you may too, if you prefer. Yes, lard is still available on most grocery shelves, although I’m pretty sure I just felt you shudder!

This pie crust “freezes beautifully ” as they say in Steel Magnolias (instructions on freezing below), so even though I may need only one pie crust at the moment, I always use this recipe and make a second, and freeze it for later. Makes that next pie (or savory custard) go twice as fast!

Ingredients

1 ½cups Crisco (or lard)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

5 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

In a large bowl, using a pastry cutter (or two knives will do the job), gradually work the Crisco into the flour for 3 to 4 minutes until it resembles coarse meal. In a smaller bowl, whip the egg and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir gently until all ingredients are blended well.

Halve the dough. Form 2 evenly-sized balls of dough and place each into large sealable plastic bags. Using a rolling pin, slightly flatten each to about 1/2 inch thickness to make rolling easier later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. (If you’re using the crusts immediately, it’s still a good idea to let them chill in the freezer for about 15- 20 minutes. They’ll be much easier to work with.)

When you’re ready to roll the dough for your crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes (if it’s frozen). On a well-floured surface, roll the dough, starting at the center and working your way out. Sprinkle flour over the top of the dough if it’s too moist. If the dough starts to stick to the countertop, use a metal spatula and gently scrape it up and flip it over and continue rolling until it’s about ½inch larger in diameter than your pie plate (or iron skillet).

Using a spatula, carefully lift the dough from the surface of the counter into the pie pan. (I sometimes fold my well-floured dough in half and then “unfold” it onto iron skillet. Or you can lop it over your rolling pin. That works well, too.) Gently press the dough against the sides of the pan or skillet, getting it all tucked in. Then crimp the edges in whatever way you prefer. And now, you’re ready for that yummy savory custard filling above, or maybe for a fruit pie.

If you make this recipe (or if you’ve read A Beauty So Rare), I’d love to hear from you. You can write me through my website at http://www.tameraalexander.com/contact.html.

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

The color pink, thirteen strudels, a worn handkerchief, and two stubborn individuals create a most delightful tale.

Eleanor Braddock knows she is plain and her practical sensibilities have convinced her that at age thirty, she will probably never marry.  The Civil War has taken away more than eligible men, however, it has also robbed her of her home and her family.  Destitute and feeling helpless, she travels to Nashville to stay with her aunt, the formidable Adelicia Acklen Cheatham.  She is able to secure a place for her ailing father at a nearby asylum and struggles to find her place in her aunt’s lavish society.  Her greatest desire is to open a restaurant, using her cooking talents to serve patrons and hopefully earn her independence.  Aunt Adelicia, however, has different plans.  She wishes to maintain a promise to Eleanor’s father and see Eleanor properly married, thus forbidding Eleanor from opening her business.  A chance meeting and several months later, Eleanor finds herself caring and cooking for destitute widows and children, haunted by memories of the recent war.  When the project escalates, she is able to procure assistance from her aunt’s wealthy friends and secure the services of one mysterious architect and botanist, Marcus Gottfried.  A deepening friendship with Marcus, however, is not encouraged by Eleanor’s aunt, who intends for her to marry a dull but wealthy widower.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come from Austria to Nashville to pursue his own dreams, instead of following the restricting path his father and uncle have laid out for him.  He is amused by Adelicia Cheatham’s request for a special pink rose, but the time spent grafting his plants on her estate allows him to develop a friendship with the intriguing Eleanor.  Marcus keeps his royal heritage a secret in order to enjoy life as a working man and is thrilled to partner with Eleanor and combine his love of nature with his love of architecture to build a home for the widows and children.  As they clash over designs for the new women’s and children’s home, however, he realizes he must make a choice about his impending responsibilities to the crown and his growing love for Eleanor.  In addition, both he and Eleanor have secrets that could forever ruin their deepening affection.  They must decide between following the demands of others, yielding to the fears that plague them, or freely giving in to their hearts’ desire.

A Beauty So Rare is another treasure by Tamera Alexander!  This author does such a wonderful job of choosing the best words to create vivid scenes and dialogues that allow the reader to be transported back into history.  Once again, Ms. Alexander researches the setting of this Nashville novel and the very real history of Adelicia Acklen Cheatham incredibly thoroughly.  Both Eleanor and Marcus have realistic hardships and flaws but also possess such sweet, caring hearts that cause readers to fall in love with them.  Eleanor’s father struggles with dementia, a horrible and very legitimate disease that readers are not only familiar with, but may have had first-hand experience caring for a family member riddled by the same sickness.  There are even a few cameo appearances of favorite characters from Ms. Alexander’s previous novels, although this particular book can stand alone.  This novel contains enough secrets and mysterious pasts to keep the reader guessing as to the final moments of the story and thus maintain interest in the detailed plot of Eleanor and Marcus.  It is always such a joy to read Ms. Alexander’s novels, and this story is no exception, its length allowing the reader to enjoy a plot with significant depth.  She has excellent writing style and does not rush the story to its conclusion.  A most highly recommended novel and a new favorite!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

What Follows After by Dan Walsh

One fall day in the early 1960’s, young Colt and Timmy Harrison devise a plan to run away from their separated parents to their favorite aunt and uncle’s house.  They hope their drastic act can restore their parents’ relationship and create a happy family once again.  But when Timmy is abducted from a diner a few hours into their journey, Colt suddenly discovers that doing things on his own was not wise.  His parents, Scott and Gina, must work together to find their lost son, and in the process, learn to forgive each other and repair their relationship.  What Follows After is an easy read and moves at a fast pace, allowing the reader to flip the pages quickly to discover if little Timmy will be safely found.  However, the tone of the novel is almost condescending, introducing cliché comments as means to preach ideals necessary to maintain a perfect marriage.  In addition, the topic of a scared little boy locked in a dark place is difficult to read, especially since this situation endures almost the entire novel.  It is a relief to finally read a happy ending of a restored family who learned to value each other despite difficult circumstances.  However, this novel leaves the reader dissatisfied and is only average at best.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Sincerely Yours by Jane Kirkpatrick, Amanda Cabot, Laurie Alice Eakes, and Ann Shorey

Sincerely Yours is a novella collection of four short stories in which four young women find their lives changed after receiving a letter signed with the valediction, “sincerely yours.”  This common theme ties the four stories together nicely, despite the very different time periods and plots.  The new paths of each woman entail exciting adventures among rivers, drawing rooms, inns, and hospitals and will perhaps even lead to everlasting love.

Moonlight Promise by Laurie Alice Eakes

Camilla Renfrew responds to a letter from a friend who offers protection after a false accusation leaves her running from the law.  She finds herself drawn to the mysterious captain of a steamboat bound for her destination.  The setting of the first story is interesting and the dangers involved for both characters make the plot exciting.  However, the flow of this novella is a little choppy and forced, pushing the characters toward each other in an awkward fashion.  Although not uncommon for a novella, the ending was a bit too neat and unrealistic.

Lessons in Love by Ann Shorey

Marigold Montgomery Bentley uses her initials when writing articles for a popular magazine, causing everyone to assume she is a man.  However, when the editor writes her a letter asking to meet, M. M. Bentley finds herself desperately trying to continue the rouse to save her writing career.  This is the most well-written and enjoyable of the four novellas.  The characters are likable and the plot is entertaining even as it gives its readers a glimpse into women’s roles in the late nineteenth century.  As is the case with most novellas, the romance is quick and tidy, but the inward strength of the characters and their complimentary life goals makes their love believable and sweet.

One Little Word by Amanda Cabot

Lorraine Caldwell receives a letter from her brother for the first time in several years and the note of pleading in his tone causes her to join him at the remote and beautiful Lilac Inn.  Instead of spending a short time with her brother as intended, Lorraine instead discovers she is attracted to the mystifying carousel carver and thus extends her stay as she discerns what matters most in life.  This particular novella is fascinating as it details the unique process of creating a carousel.  The descriptions allow the reader to visualize the beautiful colors and hard work involved in the creation of the carousel.  The love between the characters develops quickly and the ending is rather unrealistic in its neatness, but the short story is enjoyable.

A Saving Grace by Jane Kirkpatrick

Grace Hathaway travels to save her friend from a remote and mysterious hospital after the woman’s young daughter sends a letter begging Grace for help.  Upon her arrival, Grace discovers the hospital promises rapid healing but instead only serves to harm the patients; she thus seeks the help of a doctor who has a secret of his own.  Although this novella at first seems mysterious and exciting, it quickly becomes almost creepy as Grace discovers the horrible practices used to “cure” the patients.  The plot is not enjoyable and the horrifying conditions and physiological mind games of the hospital do not create a pleasant scene for romance.  This short story could stand alone as the tone was so different from the lighthearted and sweet storylines of the first three novellas. (This author is offering a giveaway! See the details here: http://janeswordsofencouragement.blogspot.com/)

 

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.