The Secrets of Rosa Lee by Jodi Thomas

Just Finished:
Synopsis: Everyone assumes Rosa Lee Altman lived a life without passion. But buried secrets are meant to be revealed. And no one is prepared for what they discover beneath Rosa Lee’s overgrown roses — or how her legacy will change their lives with love.

The once beautiful Altman home sits empty, its gardens overgrown, its windows boarded up — an old lady, now silent, surrounded by what passes for progress in Clifton Creek, Texas. But if some of the townsfolk have their way, this lovely reminder of times past will be sold off to the highest bidder.

When a group of community members with little in common is chosen to decide the fate of “the old Altman place,” they soon learn that this home is more than bricks and mortar. It’s also a place that harbors a love so strong, it still has the power to change the entire town.

My Thoughts: Jodi Thomas is a great storyteller. Her stories have a way of keeping people engaged and involved in what the characters are doing. What I like most is that her stories aren’t just about the male and female relationships, they also encompass entire communities. This story is no different.

In Clifton Creek, we have Sidney Dickerson, and orphaned professor nearing her 40th birthday, Sloan McCormick, a loner who is in town on business; Ada May and Beth Ann Rogers, retired schoolteachers who have a knack for getting into trouble (and creating some great laugh out loud moments for this reader); Lora Whitman, a newly divorced young woman trying to break free of her overbearing mother; Billy Hatcher, a young man trying to break free of a reputation he didn’t earn; Micah Parker, a widowed pastor living alone with his young son, and Randi Howard, a widowed local woman who owns a neighborhood bar. This group, with the exception of Sloan and Randi, has the unenviable task of deciding the fate of the Altman home, the former residence of the founder of Clifton Creek.

The group is immediately drawn together from a catastrophe at their first meeting and it seems hardship and sabotage follows them as they continue to meet to decide the fate of this house. As they grow closer, they become a makeshift family and support each other as some of the committee members make discoveries about themselves and their pasts that they never saw coming.

Verdict: This was Good. I should also mention that this is a loose follow-up to The Widows of Wichita County, which I still haven’t read. I think Rosa Lee is probably better than I give it credit for, but I just had problems getting through it. Mostly because my mind kept straying to what I was going to read next, so I wasn’t concentrating on what I should have been. I may have to re-read this again. You know. In the perfect world where I actually finish reading everything in my TBR pile.

Twisted Creek by Jodi Thomas

Just Finished:
Synopsis: Bad luck’s been biting at Allie Daniels’s heels all her life, so when she inherits a tiny cafe in a small Texas community she’s sure there’s a catch. But Allie brings her grandmother along, and the cafe gives Nana a chance to do what she does best – cook. As the pair settle in to make the best of what surely must be a mistake in an old man’s will, the people of the town drop by. Lonely folk discover there’s always a “table for one” available, with down-home food to warm the soul. An old maid, a shy young man, and a drifter, slowly become the family Allie never had. When trouble comes, Allie finds she’s not alone anymore — and that, sometimes, the only cure for bad luck is the courage to love.

My Thoughts: I loved this story from beginning to end. Allie and Nana find themselves in a run-down cabin at Twisted Creek that doubles as a general store and a café. And though they are new to the area, they are not strangers to the people who live at Twisted Creek. Allie’s Uncle Jefferson, spoke of her often and so when he passed away, folks expected Allie and welcomed her as only a small community would do. And the small community soon engulfs Allie and Nana as one of their own, forming a make-shift family.

The cast of characters includes Willie, the fisherman who always stinks of the river; Mrs. Deats, the eccentric rich woman who lives alone at the top of the hill; Thomas, a young man living in his family’s home living inside his books and searching for direction in his life; Mary Lynn, a woman nearing middle age who is wrestling with demons from her past; Paul, a banker who is relearning how to live his life; the Landry brothers, former miners who spend their days fishing and eating; and Luke, the grandson of Jefferson’s best friend and who has more going on than what it seems.

The story was very easy to follow ~ it flowed nicely and the world-building was done slowly. The tale was told in two parts, really. Allie’s part of the story was told in 1st person; Luke’s part of the story was told in 3rd person. Yes, there was romance, but the story encompassed more than that. It was a story of friendship, of family, of community, and of just finding a place to belong.

Verdict: This was Excellent. Jodi Thomas is another new-to-me author and I’m really looking forward to reading more of her. I have a few of her westerns tucked away in my TBR stacks, so I plan on digging them out and reading them soon.

Earthly Pleasures by Karen Neches

Just Finished:

Synopsis: Welcome to Heaven. Use your Wishberry to hustle up whatever you want. Have an online chat with God. Visit the attractions such as Retail Rapture, Wrath of God miniature golf and Nocturnal Theater, where your nightly dreams are translated to film.

Your greeter might just be Skye Sebring who will advises her newly dead clients on what to expect now that they’re expired. “Heaven is like a Corona Beer commercial” she assures her clients. “It’s all about contentment.” So different than Earth where chaos reigns. Unfortunately for Skye, she’s been chosen to live her first life. She’s required to attend Earth 101 classes, which teach all of the world’s greatest philosophies through five Beatle songs.

Skye has no interest in Earthly pursuits, until lawyer Ryan Blaine briefly becomes her client after a motorcycle accident. Just as they are getting to know each other, he is revived and sent back to Earth. She follows his life via the TV channel “Earthly Pleasures” but discovers he has a wife as well as a big secret. Why then does he call a show for the lovelorn to talk about the lost love of his life?

My Thoughts: I was intrigued about this book because of a review over at Nath’s blog. Although she was disappointed with it, I still wanted to read it for myself. And, I’ll have you know that I did NOT read the ending of this before I started it, like I ususally do. 🙂

I loved the story the minute I cracked open this book. Neches paints a wonderful and sometimes comical portrait of heaven and the quirky characters that live there.

Skye is a likeable character and I really enjoyed reading about her exploits in her capacity as Greeter in the Hospitality Department of Heaven. Skye believes she’s a new soul that was created in Heaven about a year ago, so she really doesn’t understand the other ethereal being’s fascination with the Earthly Pleasures TV channel (heaven’s version of Reality TV) until she meets the star herself.

Ryan Blaine is the son of a former president and is the star of the Earthly Pleasures station. He dies for about 10 minutes due to a motorcycle accident, but those 10 minutes change Skye’s existence forever.

There were also a lot of side characters that made this story an enjoyable read: Chelsea, the teenage girl who was killed during a freak skateboarding accident; Rhianna, Skye’s best friend; Emily, the mysterious young woman who had been in a coma for the past year; Caroline, Emily’s roommate and caretakers; Mona, the director of the nursing home Emily & Caroline resided in; Wanda, the hot-dog hag who has shares some earth-shattering information with Ryan; Belinda, Emily’s counselor and close friend; and Susan, Ryan’s wife who had mysteriously changed due to a coma resulting from an automobile wreck. These characters all lent their own personalities into this wonderful world that Neches had created.

Did I mention I loved this story? Well, that lasted until the last 5 or 6 chapters. Loose ends seemed to be tidied up too quickly; questions answered too conveniently. But I kept reading, because I was looking forward to “the moment”. You know, the moment we as readers look forward to discovering the minute our protagonists meet. I knew it was coming. And then, it didn’t. The story just ended. No conclusion. A partial HEA because Neches was leading up to the riveting moment that Ryan and Skye finally meet up on the earthly realm. She was starting the process. Ryan discovered who Skye was. He made the first step to try and connect with her. Then……………

Boom. The end. No meeting. No HEA. No nothing. How disappointing.

Verdict: This was Okay. I wish I could rate it higher, but I just felt so cheated by how the novel ended I can’t. It just ended, no conclusion ~ no big moment that I rooted for from the moment Skye met Ryan. Just, The End. In my eyes, an unfinished story.

On Strike for Christmas by Sheila Roberts

Just Finished:
Synopsis: At Christmastime, it seems as though a woman’s work is never done. Trimming the tree, mailing the cards, schlepping to the mall, the endless wrapping—bah humbug! So this year, Joy and Laura and the rest of their knitting group decide to go on strike. If their husbands and families want a nice holiday—filled with parties, decorations, and presents—well, they’ll just have to do it themselves. The boycott soon takes on a life of its own when a reporter picks up the story and more women join in. But as Christmas Day approaches, Joy, Laura, and their husbands confront larger issues in their marriages and discover that a little holiday magic is exactly what they need to come together.

Sheila Roberts gives the best gift of all in this funny, heartwarming novel that touches the very core of Christmas spirit.

My Thoughts: It all started with an innocent idea.

Joy and Bob are empty-nesters. Joy, who loved the Christmas holidays, was tired of her Bob Humbug husband’s attitude towards the festivities so she decided to go on strike. Since her husband didn’t seem to appreciate the work behind the holiday anyways, if he wanted a Christmas he could do all the work, right? But then Joy took the idea to her knitting group, The Stitch ‘N Bitch, and the fun really began.

Joy’s neighbor, Laura, was tired of all the work that went into the holidays. Her husband, Glen, enjoyed entertaining but did none of the work behind it. Also, Glen and Laura have two young children ~~ Amy, aged 4; and Tyler, aged 2. So, when Laura goes on strike, it’s up to Glen to do all of the Christmas prep alone ~ including photos with Santa, decorations, Advent Calendars, Christmas Cards, etc., etc. Glen’s antics alone were enough to make this an enjoyable read.

Although the story is primarily about Joy and Laura, there are the other ladies in the knitting club ~~ Sharon, who had 3 boys……well, 4 if you include her husband, Pete. Sharon is frazzled and tired of trying to be the perfect wife and making the holidays joyful for everyone but her. Kay, who is married to Jack and has two step-children. Kay does all the shopping, including the gifts that are supposed to be coming from her husband. Carol, who was widowed after 35 years of marriage and is spending her 2nd Christmas alone just shakes her head and wishes she had the problems that the other ladies of the knitting group had. Debbie and Jerri round out the rest of the group, though are not featured as prominently as the rest of the ladies on strike.

Journalist Rosemary and her photographer Rick cover the story for the Holly Herald and the strike eventually ends up affecting the staffers with surprising results. Soon, it seems the whole town of Holly is involved in the strike and throughout it all the men, as well as the women, learn valuable lessons about Christmas, patience, acceptance, and love.

Verdict: This was Very Good ~ almost Excellent, in fact. I loved the lengths these women went to in order to get a little recognition and to see the men try to accomplish the tasks that were previously taken for granted made for a hilarious read.

A Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith

Just Finished:

Synopsis: Kara Whittenbrook is an unlikely heiress. Down-to-earth and lovably quirky, she’s never fit in with the stodgy Whittenbrook clan of Connecticut. Growing up at her parents’ rainforest preserve in Brazil, she has a quaintly off-beat view of life. Now her beloved parents have died in a plane crash, and Kara’s learned a stunning truth.

She was adopted.

Her birth parents are Mac and Lily Tolbert. They live and work on a backwater cattle ranch in northern Florida. Ranch owner Ben Thocco is running out of time and money. He’s going to need a miracle in order to save the ranch and care for the likable crew of unusual hands he employs, including Kara’s parents and his own fragile brother, Joey.

My Thoughts: I very much enjoyed this story. It was told in first-person, alternating between Kara’s version of things, and Ben’s version of things. From the start, I was sucked in and could not put this book down. I loved the friendships that were a large part of this story ~~ between Ben and Kara; Kara and Mac & Lily, and also between Ben’s workers.

Mac & Lily stole my heart. They were Kara’s birth parents. Mac had a birth defect due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and stuttered; Lily was born “normal” but was shaken as a baby so she was a bit simple minded and walked with a limp. They were such sweet, sweet characters ~ I’m not sure how anyone could read this book and not love them. Joey was Ben’s younger brother and had Down’s Syndrome. He had a childlike view of the world and was consistently optimistic. Lula & Miriam were retired mermaids ~ throwbacks to the days when swimming in a mermaid costume in a small pool viewed by diners was considered glamorous. Roy and Dale were an African-American couple who dressed and mimicked the legendary western couple Roy Rogers & Dale Evans. Dale had a fascination with Jesus ~~ everything begins and ends with Jesus. Cheech, Possum, and Bigfoot round out the outcast cowhands that Ben employed at his ranch. They were such a large band of outcasts, and together they formed a family. The story was sweet, heartfelt, and did offer several laugh-out-loud moments.

The only thing that I really didn’t like was during Kara’s dialogue mentioning being related to or meeting famous icons. That’s probably just my thing, but it did tend to distract me when it happened. There were also a lot of too good to be true, over the top moments, but if anyone deserved good things to happen for them, it was the characters in this book.

Verdict: This was Very Good. It was my first novel by Deborah Smith and I’m looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

The Wednesday Letters by Jason Wright

Just Finished:

Synopsis: Jack and Laurel have been married for 39 years. They’ve lived a good life and appear to have had the perfect marriage. With his wife cradled in his arms, and before Jack takes his last breath, he scribbles his last “Wednesday Letter.” When their adult children arrive to arrange the funeral, they discover boxes and boxes full of love letters that their father wrote to their mother each week on Wednesday. As they begin to open and read the letters, the children uncover the shocking truth about the past. In addition, each one must deal with the present-day challenges. Matthew has a troubled marriage, Samantha is a single mother, and Malcolm is the black sheep of the family who has returned home after a mysterious two-year absence. The Wednesday Letters has a powerful message about forgiveness and quietly beckons for readers to start writing their own “Wednesday Letters.”

Why I Read It: Because of a review that Mad did of this book on her blog.

My Thoughts: I started this story pretty much knowing the idea, but I assumed that the story would be told virtually through all of the letters. I was wrong. Yes, the letters were an amazing part of this story, but it was so much more than that. It was so many things. It was about family, forgiveness, love, lost love, faith, home, friendship, and community. And with those you get everything. I felt connected to these people ~ to Jack and Laurel, their children, and their abundance of friends. Yes, the story was mainly about Jack and Laurel, but also about their children and how they dealt with the loss of their parents.

I loved the interaction between Malcolm, Matthew, and Samantha. Visualizing them sitting around the dining room table and reading the letters and discovering a part of their parents that they never knew. I laughed several times reading about the escapades of Jack and Laurel in their youth, some discoveries were heartbreaking, some had me laughing so hard I cried, some gave me several “Awww” moments at the sweet, sentimental way that Jason Wright pulled me into this story.

Verdict: This was Very Good. So good, in fact, that I definitely want to read Jason’s other book, Christmas Jars. If you’re in the mood for a good story that touches just about every part of you, than I urge you to give this a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Between Friends

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Recommended by: I found it in my TBR closet.

From the Back Cover (courtesy of Debbie Macomber tells the story of a remarkable friendship — and tells it in a remarkable way. Between Friends is a story in which every woman will recognize herself . . . and her best friend.

The friendship between Jillian Lawton and Lesley Adamski begins in the postwar era of the 1950s. As they grow up, their circumstances, their choices — and their mistakes — take them in virtually opposite directions. Lesley gets pregnant and marries young, living a cramped life defined by the demands of small children, not enough money, an unfaithful husband. Jillian lives those years on a college campus shaken by the Vietnam War and then as an idealistic young lawyer in New York City.

Over the years and across the miles, through marriage, children, divorce and widowhood, Jillian and Lesley remain close, sharing every grief and every joy. There are no secrets between friends . . .

What I Liked:I liked the style of this book. The story is told through journal entries, newspaper clippings, letters, memos, and emails through the course of 50 years. I’ve never read a Macomber story written in this style before, and it was a nice change.

I love the emotions of this story. It’s been a time since I’ve cried over a book. But, this book is just so emotionally charged ~ there were quite a few times, I just couldn’t help it. Macomber’s stories are usually pretty heart-felt, but wow.

I also liked the inclusion of major historical events in the book. Everything from Civil Rights, JFK, presidential elections, etc., etc., were included. It made me connect with the main characters even more.

What I Didn’t Like: Ok, I know I’m from a different era than the main characters in this book ~ but I completely did not like the relationship between Lesley and her husband, Buck. If someone treated me the way he treated her ~ I’d be gone. And I’d damned sure would have never married him. So I have to wonder, in this particular situation, is she strong…or is she spineless?

Another small thing, is I would have liked to have seen the relationships that the women built in the 90’s explored more. It seemed like the last 50 pages or so, Ms. Macomber was in a rush to finish the book. Journal entries, etc., skipped large amounts of time, so I almost felt like I was cheated out of knowing something.

Verdict: Despite the small things I didn’t like, I loved this book and would rate it as Excellent.

Question: Romances play a back burner to the friendship that was shared between these two women. So, that got me to wondering. Do you have a best friend, and if so how did you meet him or her? Is your best friend also your longest friendship, or have you been blessed enough to meet others who’ve touched your life along the way?

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