‘Ashton Park’ by Murray Pura

ap mpSTORY: For fans of the hugely popular Downton Abbey series, comes this equally enthralling story of the Danforth family of Ashton Park.

Among the green hills and trees of Lancashire, only a few miles from the sea, lies the beautiful and ancient estate of Ashton Park.

The year is 1916. The First World War has engulfed Europe and Sir William’s and Lady Elizabeth’s three sons are all in uniform—and their four daughters are involved in various pursuits of the heart and soul.

As the head of a strong Church of England family for generations, Sir William insists the Danforth estate hold morning devotions that include both family and staff. However, he is also an MP and away at Westminster in London whenever Parliament is sitting. During his long absences, Lady Elizabeth discreetly spends time in the company of the head cook of the manor, Mrs. Longstaff, who is her best friend and confidante. This friendship includes visits to a small Baptist church in Liverpool that exposes Lady Elizabeth to a less formal approach to Christian worship and preaching than she is used to and which she comes to enjoy.

Readers will follow Ashton Park’s charming upstairs/downstairs characters through the perils of war and the affairs of the heart with relish—and with an eye to the sequel coming in Fall 2013.

Book One in The Danforths of Lancashire series.

REVIEW: The Danforth family has lived at Ashton Park for many, many generations. Separation between family and staff has always been quite distinct. However, World War I is upon England and many things are changing.

Lord William Danforth and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Danforth are extremely religious and parents to three sons and four daughters. Other members of family live with them as well.

The story includes their children’s relationships that blossom people not of their class. The time of war is explained in detail and how each child finds the one meant for them.

This novel has lots of intertwined stories that keep the reader entertained and interested throughout the book. I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it highly.

Connie for b2b

‘A Reliable Wife’ by Robert Goolrick

arw rgSTORY: Rural Wisconsin, 1909.

In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife.” But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she’s not the “simple, honest woman” that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed.

Her plan is simple: she will win this man’s devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt a passionate man with his own dark secrets has plans of his own for his new wife.

Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.

With echoes of “Wuthering Heights” and “Rebecca,” Robert Goolrick’s intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

REVIEW: I really loved this book. This was a true page-turner because you don’t really know who “the bad guy/gal” is in this story or even if there is one. I cannot really go into this further without making this a spoiler but I highly recommend it. A terrific read.

Connie for b2b

‘The Gates of Rutherford’ by Elizabeth Cooke

tgor ecSTORY: Return to the stately environs of Rutherford Park and the embattled Cavendish family—from the author of The Wild Dark Flowers.

The rain fell softly on the day that she was to be married…Sometimes the longing for the old untouched days at Rutherford would return to her; the innocence of it all, the feeling that England would never change…

Charlotte Cavendish has been dreaming of her old home at Rutherford Park. It is April 1917; she is nineteen years old. And everywhere there is change. The war still rages on the Continent, where her brother fights for the Royal Flying Corps. Her parents’ marriage is in jeopardy, with her mother falling for a charming American in London.

But not all is grim. Charlotte is marrying Preston, the blinded soldier whom she nursed back to health. Her parents couldn’t be happier about this. The young man hails from a well-established and wealthy family in Kent, and he’s solid and respectable. They hope he’s the one to tame their notoriously headstrong daughter.

But as time passes, Charlotte slowly comes to the realization that she is not truly happy. And for a reason she is only just beginning to understand. A reason she dare not reveal to the family—or the world…

REVIEW: 1917 – England

World War I is at its height and there have been so many changes in everyone’s life. Men, both young and mature, have gone to war to fight for their country. The casualties are mounting. Women have joined up to become nurses. Rationing has been put into place. But some places have seen little change.

Rutherford Park is the home of the Cavendish family. Lord and Lady Cavendish are separated. Lady Octavia Cavendish is in love with a wealthy American man and lives openly with him in London. Her husband, Lord William Cavendish, remains at Rutherford stoically waiting and hoping that his wife will return to him. Rutherford Park is beautiful and the remaining workers do all they can to care for it even though the number of them has been greatly reduced due to the war.

Lord and Lady Cavendish have three grown children. Harry, the first born and heir, is currently serving in the war as a pilot. He has been injured and has endured several operations on his leg, and has just been informed by the doctors that he needs an additional operation. Harry had had an affair with a housemaid some years earlier which resulted in her becoming pregnant and she died giving birth to a little girl. His daughter lives at Rutherford under the watchful eye of his sister, Christine. He has been in love with a nurse named Caitlin but has not heard from her in awhile and worries about her safety. He longs to see her again.

Christine Cavendish worries her mother in that she is content to stay at Rutherford caring for her niece. She wants her to come to London and perhaps meet a nice young man. But, Christine is in love – with the stable master’s son who is off to war in a veterinary capacity. She keeps her secret from her parents knowing they would not approve of her marrying “beneath” her.

Charlotte Cavendish has recently married, Michael, a young man she grew to know when she worked with some of the injured men. Michael was blinded but has learned to get on with life. But problems with Michael have forced her to leave him. She has fled to her very good friend, Christine, who is an artist. Even though her mother has told her she needs to return to her husband, Charlotte, while respecting her mother, has essentially replied with something akin to the pot calling the kettle black.

How each of these characters handle what life has dealt them is very inspiring. The book follows these characters and many others. Readers are taken to the battlefields and see firsthand the horrors that these men endure. We also see it from the side of a young German man. The inconceivable exhaustion everyone endured is eloquently presented in the novel. It is a story that will stay with readers for a long time to come.

This is the third novel in this series. Book One is “Rutherford Park,” followed by Book Two “The Wild Dark Flowers” and finally, this one, “The Gates of Rutherford Park.” Downton Abbey readers will love this series and I highly recommend it.

Connie for b2b

‘The Thin Pink Line’ by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

ttpl lblSTORY: Jane Taylor is pregnant. Only, not in the conventional sense. It all began when Jane missed her period. Whether it was the clouds in the sky or a major case of pregnancy envy (this year’s concern), Jane doesn’t know. She only knows that she told her best male friend, and began to believe it. Until she got her period and realized she never was. Pregnant.

But that brief glimpse into the other world — the world of smiling faces and courteous men — was just too beautiful not to be a part of . . .and so Jane told a little white lie to her live-in boyfriend, and crossed the line. With the help of a pink Magic Marker she closed the gap that separated her from the positively perfect pregos.

Enter Jane’s world, one of deception and success, Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right, Nutrition Police and tilted uteruses, baby showers and celebrity obstetricians. As Jane spins closer to her due date, she’s got a lot of soul-searching to do — not to mention an appointment with reality . . .

REVIEW: Jane Taylor is single, 29, working as an editor for Churchill & Stewart publishers in the UK. She and Trevor have been living together for some time and enjoying great sex. When her regular cycle is a couple of weeks late, she’s convinced she’s pregnant and is so thrilled she picks up a pregnancy test. When it shows she isn’t pregnant, she buys another one and draws a thin pink line on the test window with a magic marker. After telling everyone she is pregnant, she finds she truly isn’t. So, she decides to carry on with her farce. When Trevor leaves her for her lying, Jane now becomes the pregnant girl dumped by her boyfriend.

“Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice to Deceive” – Sir Walter Scott

This book follows through her entire “pregnancy” along with all of the physical problems that pregnant women have but which she only lies about. A lot of her antics are hysterical but, for me, the whole farce became boring rather quickly.

The ending was a bit of a surprise because the reader certainly wants to know what’s going to happen at the end of the nine months. However, even that was a bit contrived and abrupt.

If you’re looking for a light read with lots of humor, then by all means read this novel. There are lots of characters who keep the story going well. Just don’t expect too much from it.

Connie for b2b

‘Speak Now: or Forever Hold Your Peace’ by Becky Monson

snofhyp bmSTORY: If there’s one thing that Bridgette Reynolds has learned recently, it’s that the perfect shoes, the perfect hair, and the perfect dress do not make for the perfect proposal. In fact, sometimes they make for the not-so-perfect breakup.

Now, Bridgette must do everything in her power to win Adam back. She knows they are meant to be. And nothing will stand in her way—not her friends, not her grandmother, not even the fact that Adam is now engaged to Serene after a whirlwind romance.

Focused on her plan to win Adam back, Bridgette isn’t expecting Ian—her college best friend, her love, her big regret—to come back into her life. They sink back into their comfortable friendship as if no time has passed at all, making Bridgette start to question her feelings for Adam. But Ian has a few secrets of his own . . . secrets that could shatter their friendship once and for all.

Bridgette has to make some major decisions—should she speak now? Or forever hold her peace?

REVIEW: Bridgette works as a server for Edelweiss Catering along with her friend, Ashley and Justin.

Bridgette has been dating Adam Dubois for two years and is certain he will be popping the question soon. So when they meet up for dinner, she is devastated when he breaks up with her and she finds he is going to marry someone else. Heartbroken, she can’t seem to get over it. Since she is still good friends with Adam’s mother, they meet often for lunch and she insists that Bridgette remain part of the family and even wants her to attend Adam’s wedding. Awkward? Oh yeah!

Bridgette’s old college friend comes to town. Ian Davies is an old flame who moved to London after college graduation. Best friends through school, they had a fling but broke up after graduation. Getting together brings back fun memories for both of them and we see their relationship grow through flashbacks.

Bridgette is not sure where her heart truly lies. Is she still in love with Adam or has her heart always belonged to Ian? With the help of her friends and her savvy grandmother with whom she lives, we watch her as she sorts through her feelings trying to decide which man to pursue.

There are a lot of humorous moments and true-to-life events that make the reader nod their head knowing we have all been there at some point. I really enjoyed the way the author introduced the flashbacks in the book. Most of the time I don’t like flashbacks because I find that they can be confusing. But not in this book. Well done, Becky Monson.

I have now read all three of Becky Monson’s novels and was so excited when I saw this new one come out. This is one very talented author and chick lit is definitely her forte. I look forward to reading more from her and hope everyone will grab a copy of this book, sit back and enjoy one of the best reads you have had in a long time.

Connie for b2b

‘Finding Infinity’ by Susan Kiernan-Lewis

fi sklSTORY: After losing her husband and launching her only child off to college, Liddy James faces the likelihood of yet another dream deferred, when she opens up a French cupcake bakery in the little town of Infinity, Georgia.

With the possible exception of one very handsome, if enigmatic DEA agent, her arrival from the “big city” of Atlanta is met with a less than hospitable welcome.

(Originally entitled “Life After Paris.”)

REVIEW: Recently widowed, Liddy sold her large home in Atlanta and moved to the small town of Infinity, Georgia. Her original plans and dreams of spending an extended period of time in Paris were dashed when her mother fell and needed to be moved into an assisted living home until she was fully healed.

With her usual optimism, Liddy decides to rent a building and open a French cupcake store called “Le Cupcake.” Baking and decorating cupcakes had always been a passion for her and this seemed like a good way to establish herself in this new town. Unfortunately, it seemed that others thought differently. Even with her advertising, decorating the building and even standing outside with free samples could not bring in any customers.

Liddy had purchased a horse named Sugar when she first moved to Infinity. She kept him in a barn and loved to visit and ride him. It was a hobby that she had always loved and while the purchase of Sugar was an extravagant one, it was something that made Liddy happy. Shortly after moving to Infinity, Liddy met DEA Agent, Tucker.

He also had a horse that he kept at the same stable and they enjoyed riding their horses together. Their attraction grew but was sidelined when Liddy found he was involved with another woman. Along with Liddy’s cupcake business fizzling, things began to happen to her that placed her in great danger.

It appeared that the town of Infinity wanted her gone at any cost. Without giving away too much of this great plot, I found that this novel was extremely well written and Liddy a very optimistic character. I think that anyone will enjoy this terrific novel and not want to put it down until they are finished.

Connie for b2b

‘A Refuge at Highland Hall’ by Carrie Turansky

arahh  ctSTORY: In this third and final book in the Edwardian Brides Series, you’ll be swept away to England and France in 1915 as the Ramsey family and their staff and friends face the dramatic challenges and losses of World War One, yet they also experience the hope and triumph that comes as they put their trust in God to carry them through.

Penny Ramsey helps the family welcome a group of orphaned children to Highland Hall, but she soon discovers caring for them is more difficult than she’d expected. She writes to Alex Goodwin, a daring British pilot, who chases German zeppelins across the sky over the Front Line in France, and longs for the day she will see him again. You’ll be delighted by two pure and heartwarming romances: Penny and Alex, and Lydia Chambers and Marius Ritter, a lady’s maid and a prisoner of war. But most of all I hope you’ll be inspired by the characters’ examples of trusting God through the trials they face.

Fans of “Downton Abbey” will find many of the same elements in this series: A wealthy, aristocratic family living on a large English country estate with romance, conflicts, and family drama; and loyal servants with troubles and heartaches of their own.

REVIEW: 1915

Penelope (Penny) Ramsey is nursing her broken heart when the man she loved, Theo Anderson, said that he had fallen in love with a French woman and wanted to marry her. Such is the pain that many people are facing during this terrible war time.

Penny’s sister, Kate, is married to Jon Ramsey who is a doctor working on the war-wounded soldiers that have been sent to London. Kate is the cousin of Sir William Ramsey, Baronet of Highland Hall who is married to, Julia, the former governess of his children Andrew and Millie. After losing his wife, William hired Julia to teach his children. He then fell in love with her and married her. Afterward, they adopted a number of children who did not have a family. Thus, Highland Hall is filled with the sounds of happy children.

As the war is calling more men to the battlefields, Jon Ramsey and Sir William have decided to stay in London where Jon can treat his patients and William can keep his finger on the pulse of the events of the war. Thus, they have sent their wives, children and other family members to live at Highland Hall where they will be safe. Alex Goodwin is a friend of both Jon and Julia. A pilot, he recently crashed his plane and was treated by Jon. Soon, he will be heading back to the battlefields. He has met Penny and the two of them have formed an immediately friendship. As Alex does not have a loving and close family, Penny has promised to write to him and pray for him.

After having two failed pregnancies, Julia wants nothing more than to have a baby of her own. Kate is expecting and is having a difficult pregnancy. She is much larger than she should be for the stage of her pregnancy and the women do all they can to see that she rests.

The women care for the children at Highland Hall making sure that they receive the teaching that they should, in addition to enjoying organized activities outside.

We see that the downstairs workers do all they can to maintain things as they always have been at the Hall. With the shortage of certain items, that is not always easy.

The book intertwines many different stories with each of the characters that makes for very intriguing and wholesome reading. I was extremely impressed with the descriptions of the battles that were fought and even the obviously precise research that the author has done to detail the planes and cities involved in the fighting.

This is Book 3 of the Highland Hall Series. Book 1 is “The Governess of Highland Hall” and Book 2 is “The Daughter of Highland Hall.” Downton Abbey fans will love this trio of novels.

Connie for b2b