Shannon Symonds Book Reviews

Safe House by Shannon Symonds is a 2017 Whiney Nominee!

About the Story:
She thought reaching the Promised Land would mean an end to her problems, but it was only the beginning. With her loved ones divided and her people in danger, Hannah’s faith is now faltering more with each passing day. Can she find the courage to stand by her convictions? Or will the conflicts from their past lead the Nephite people into a war against their own family?

Excerpt:
The men moved close and carefully picked up the young man, who, such a short time before, had been full of life and promise.It was a saddened group who began to make their way back to the village.Nephi had risen to his feet and was staring off into the trees.Hannah paused beside him. “Is that all there is to this life, Brother Nephi?Pain and suffering?”He looked at her. “There is pain, yes, Sister Hannah. And suffering to be sure.It is sad that we need the opposition to remind us of our duty. To turn our hearts to our God.” He sighed. “But much of our suffering is brought on by the choices of men. The evil choices of men.

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About the author: Diane Stringam Tolley


Raised on a ranch on the great Canadian prairies, where normal life included–but was not limited to–a loaded civil war cannon used as a counterweight on the garage door, and at least one headless chicken, Diane Stringam Tolley has been penning stories since Mrs. Hainsworth’s grade six class. Her working life as a journalist was spent writing other peoples articles and stories. Now, in retirement, she writes her own. A House Divided is her 11th novel.

My Review:
A House Divided is easy to pick up and hard to put down. It starts with a surprising hook and the action keeps going until the end. But the story has deeper meanings which I found uplifting. The story is based on characters found in the Book of Mormon. There is LDS content, which I find clean and enjoyable. Although there are battle scenes and action, they are all tastefully well done.

A House Divided is the second in a series, and a Whitney Nominee which is listed as Christian, historical, and a romance. The first book in the series is Daughter of Ishmael: Promised Land, Broken Heart. Although the reader’s experience would be enhanced by reading both books, A House Divided is well written and can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Diane has a gift for keeping the story moving at a fast-pace while creating believable characters and complicated relationships. Although the main character, Hannah, faces insurmountable odds the reader learns the power of faith, how a Prophet leads his people, and why obedience, love, and forgiveness lead to unexpected miracles. Diane does a skillful job of creating a fascinating picture of the past that drew me in.

I enjoyed the story of survival and the interactions between the characters.  There are some priceless quotes, which I will let you find, rather than spoil the wonder of Diane’s beautiful thoughts. I always want more romance, but the story was inspiring and I sincerely enjoyed this Sunday afternoon read. I give it a 5 out of 5 stars.

Author Interview:

1-Who or what inspired you to become an author?

Raised in a large family of storytellers, I caught the bug like one would a cold. One learned to participate out of self-defense. And living on a Boer War era ranch provided no end of grist to my storytelling mill.

2-Who are some of your favorite authors? Do these authors inspire your own writing?

One of my favorites is Madeleine Brent. Her stories always featured strong female leads—each with a unique ability that eventually ‘saves the day’. Because of her, the women in my books are strong without being hard. An important difference.

3-What inspired you to start writing biblical fiction? 

I love the scriptures. The stories are unparalleled still, even with the plethora (real word) of works that are published every. Single. Day. But because the scriptures are told largely from a male point of view, I always wondered what the women were doing. I love a background story and there is no one more ‘background’ than the women behind these great men of the scriptures.

4-When you are not writing, what other “hats” do you wear?

Oh, golly. Wife. Mom. Grandma. Seminary teacher. Playwright. (Also children’s theatre director and/or referee.) Writing mentor. Blogger. Promoter (more wishful than actual at the moment). Musician. Biking companion/confidante. And chief-cook-and-bottle-washer. (Gotta wash those bottles!)

5-What inspired the idea for A House Divided?

Have you ever wondered if anyone regretted their decisions? I mean the major, life-changing-and-not-for-the-better decisions? I pictured the wife of Lemuel and wondered if she ever had regrets about her husband’s (and by association—her) decisions to follow Laman. Did she sit by a fire in her later life, watching her children dance about it painted in blood, and have regrets? Or imagine might-have-beens? A House Divided was Hannah’s chance to make the different decisions later in life. Still not easy. But right.

6-What do you want readers to take away from reading A House Divided?

I want readers to know that making the major, good decisions is seldom (almost never) easy. That great sacrifice comes first. And even after one sacrifices, the rewards don’t always look like you pictured. But are always—ALWAYS—worth it.

7-What is your current WIP? What can you tell us about it?

I’ve just finished working on the story of God’s Tree. A take-off on the Tree of Life.

If it was discovered by a small boy.

And if he had the faith—and courage—to do something about it.

Learn more here:
Buy A House Divided on AMAZON

 

The Amish Christmas Candle

by Jennifer Beckstrand
Aunt Bitsy may be Amish, but she has blue hair one day, green hair the next and a colorful personality to match. Aunt Bitsy returned to her quaint Amish village to raise her 3 orphaned nieces. Now that they are married and working on their own families, it is time for Aunti Bitsy to find her own happy ending.
The Amish Christmas Candle is part of the Honeybee series by Jennifer Beckstrand, and at the same time, a stand-alone clean, family fiction, and romance.
This holiday season the snow is flying, the Christmas goodies are baking, and love is in the air at Aunt Bitsy’s warm and cozy farmhouse. If you love romance, Hallmark movies, wonderful food, and a good belly laugh, you will love the Amish Christmas Candle, a Honeybee Christmas story.
I love Jennifer’s stories and this is no exception. Once again, Jennifer has managed to tell a story that immerses you in the Amish culture while sharing a deeper message in a fun and humorous way. Bitsy keeps you laughing, while at the same time you feel protective of this middle-aged woman. She manages to maintain her individuality in a society which pressures her to conform.  But can she maintain it and find love?
Yost is a widower who has been told by the whole town Bitsy is trouble. The storyline draws you in as you wonder if he can fall in love with Bitsy as she is, blue hair and all. Can Yost really see in Bitsy the strength, love, and beauty so obvious to the reader?
This book is best read by a crackling fire on a snowy night. If you really want to enjoy it, make Jennifer Beckstrand’s recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes for dinner and read while you sip hot cocoa and mini marshmallows for dessert. I give this book a solid 5, and love that it is clean and something my young niece and mother would both enjoy.
Find The Amish Christmas Candle HERE.

Sweet As Honey

After reading a book by Jennifer Beckstrand, I begged her to let me share with you! Several authors and I have been talking about the joys of good, clean entertainment. Jennifer writes Amish romances! I just finished my first, and I am about to devour another.

Sweet as Honey,” is not only a sweet read, it is a reflection of the author. This summer I lost my younger sister Stacy to cancer. During the very tender moments of mourning, I met Jennifer Beckstrand. She was a friend of my sisters. Jennifer was as kind as the characters in her book and so I couldn’t wait to see what her books, or an Amish romance, was all about.

Jennifer’s book had some unexpected twists for an Amish romance. I started to read with preconceived notions about the Amish community. I felt I was pretty educated, but by the end of the book, I realized Jennifer had written a story about love, the typical challenges of choosing who to spend your life with, a little bit of danger and deception all set in an Amish community. The story was not the religion, but the religion enriched the story. I had a lot to learn about the Amish community.

The main characters in “Sweet as Honey,” are three Amish sisters raised by Aunt Bitsy, who doesn’t conform to all Amish traditions.In the story, Lily, one of the Honeybee ‘Schwesters’ or sisters is pursued by two young men.

It is little things in the story like Aunt Bitsy’s quirks that give it appeal and actually make it more plausible. The characters in Jennifer’s books are believable, easy to connect with and like all human beings, flawed. Their flaws made them charming and made me want to see them succeed.

Without spoiling anything, Jennifer did a great job of gradually giving us more and more reason to cheer on one suitor over another. There is intrigue, and little hints as to the true nature of the young men all through the story. As someone who has worked in social service and listened to countless women, I found her story to be both credible and well crafted. She did a great job of introducing a true villain and a loveable human hero.

One of the delightful parts of the story is the details surrounding honey bees and the fun recipes in the back of the book. I am sure I gained 5 pounds just reading about all the yummy food and healthy meals eaten in this book. It is clearly well researched. Amish terminology is sprinkled throughout, as well as traditions, in a way that kept me enthralled.

I not only recommend Jennifer’s books as good entertainment; I have already started another in the series. Jennifer’s book was clean and rated G, as in good for any great girl over age 14. If it has swearing in it, it is in the language spoken by the Amish community and didn’t translate as a problem for me. There is a little violence where a mouse is concerned, but not to worry, no actual mouse was harmed in the making of this book.

Jennifer allowed me to interview her. Enjoy reading about the very interesting author who chose to write clean romance novels set in the Amish community. While you do that, I am going to mix up a batch of her Honey Cookies!

Jennifer Beckstrand’s Interview

  1. I really enjoyed reading “Sweet as Honey.”  I also enjoyed reading about you on your blog and finding out you have 6 children. Because I have 6 children, I feel qualified to ask with such a full life what inspires you when you write about young love?

 I’ve never really thought about it that way, but you’re right. I love writing about young love. The wonder of finding that person who makes you feel complete, makes you wildly happy, has always been very satisfying to write about. I certainly have lots of inspiration around me as my oldest daughter is thirty-one, and my youngest son is twenty. Three of my children are still unmarried, and for several years, dating and romance have surrounded me. And of course, I still remember the thrill of meeting my husband and falling in love so completely. There’s nothing like that feeling.

  1. I gained a great respect for your ability to use Amish terms and write about a people living a unique lifestyle in our present day and age. If you spent time with the Amish community doing research, what was your favorite experience or memory?

I have done a great deal of research in Amish communities in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. I love meeting the people and hearing their stories. My favorite memory comes from my first visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We had dinner with an Amish family, and they were so gracious and kind, willing to answer all my questions and let me into their lives. I was struck by how “normal” they were. They had hopes and dream for their children, they loved being with family, and they worked hard to make a living off the land—real “salt-of-the-earth” kind of people. The experience gave me a springboard for all my books because I discovered that at the heart of things, Amish or Englisch, we are much more alike than we are different. I strive to make my characters believable human beings facing human problems in the context of their Amish beliefs.

  1.  In a world filled with graphic entertainment, why do you choose to write clean romance novels? Have you been pressured to change?

The only time I felt pressure to put steamy content in my books was when I was first getting started and people kept telling me that readers won’t buy romance novels that don’t have sex in them. As I have discovered, that isn’t true at all. Many readers want sweet, inspirational romances that elevate the notion of love. I don’t feel good about putting sex in my novels—I never want to feel ashamed to let anyone read my books. This is not to say anything against any other writer. It’s just how I have chosen to share my stories.

  1. In your book, you mention food a few times. In fact, I am sure I gained ten pounds just reading it! I was overjoyed to find recipes at the end of the book. Can you tell us something about the recipes? Where did they come from? Have you tried them all?

Oh, yes! The recipes I put in Sweet as Honey are some of my personal favorites, some I have made for my own family for years. I make the granola when we have lots of houseguests because it is a delicious, nutritious, and easy breakfast for lots of people. The honey curry chicken was one of our family’s favorites when I had little kids. It was something everyone—surprisingly—would eat. I love food, and I wanted to make it a big part of my Honeybee Sisters books. Nothing brings people together like a good meal.

  1. Aunt Bitsy plays a very wise, protective and caring part of the story. She is devoted to her 3 nieces. You chose to give Aunt Bitsy a great deal of character. Is she based on anyone you know?

When I was a little girl, our family lived just down the street from my dad’s oldest sibling, Beatrice. Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Max were fruit farmers. They had five children including a little caboose who was just a few months older than I was. My cousin Christine and I were inseparable. I spent hours at her house and she spent hours at mine playing dress up, jacks, hopscotch, and our favorite game: beauty pageant. My mother’s mother died very young, and Aunt Beatrice was a second mother to my mom. She was an amazing cook, though as a six-year-old, I never appreciated any food that had green things in it. Aunt Beatrice had a heart of gold. She would have done anything for anybody, but she was also a no-nonsense, strong woman who lived a full and wonderful life. Aendi Bitsy is loosely based on my Aunt Beatrice—although, to my knowledge, Aunt Beatrice never colored her hair urine yellow.

  1. If you could give a young woman advice about finding and keeping love, what would you say?

I’m a big believer in finding someone who behaves the same in public as in private. I always told my girls to watch how any boy treats his mother and the other women in his life. If he’s kind and respectful and loving to them, he will treat his wife with that same respect. I also think that humility is an important trait to look for. If your partner is willing to see where they could improve and if you are also willing, your marriage will be that much stronger. The other quality I believe is essential in a mate is hard work. If the person you marry is willing to work hard, you’ll get through just about anything.

  1. This book is part of a set. Where can readers find the other books in the set? Do you have more planned?

To find out more about my books, go to jenniferbeckstrand.com. You’ll find information about me and my books plus my dad’s blog about farming and my sister’s blog on quilting and raising chickens (she has a very interesting life). You’ll also find lots of recipes, Amish and Englisch.

The Honeybee Sisters series is set in the fictional town of Bienenstock, Wisconsin. Aunt Bitsy’s love story comes out on September 26 as part of a novella collection called “An Amish Christmas Candle.” It’s quite romantic and quite hilarious. An Amish widower thinks he’s going to turn Aunt Bitsy into a well-behaved, proper Amish wife. He’s got another thing coming!

I just signed a contract for three more books in the Honeybee Sisters series about a family of five brothers. The two youngest brothers are tired of sharing a bedroom and hatch a plan to get their oldest three brothers married off and out of the house. The first of those books is scheduled for release early in 2019.

That seems pretty far away, but never fear, there’s lots of Huckleberry Hill romance between now and then.

You can also find out about my Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series on my website. Anna and Felty Helmuth are well into their eighties when they decide that their grandchildren need help finding spouses. Anna knits pot holders and cooks strange dishes like banana jalapeno bread and asparagus raisin casserole. Felty likes to play the license plate game and makes up lyrics to songs when he can’t remember the words. This unlikely pair of matchmakers will leave you laughing and renew your faith in the power of love. My next Huckleberry Hill romance, A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill, comes out in December of 2017.

While you’re visiting my website, sign up for my newsletter to get the latest news about new book releases, special offers and giveaways, and of course, some delicious Amish recipes.

http://www.jenniferbeckstrand.com
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