Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review....Murder Simply Brewed

Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman
Review by Kara Grant  **4 stars**
Info from

Spring has arrived in Middlebury, Indiana, and Amber Wright can see profits in sight for her collection of Amish artisan shops—until she receives a call that Ethan Gray is dead. Hurrying over to A Simple Blend, she finds a single hole in the front window and Mr. Gray dead from an apparent heart attack. All the money is still in his register. Hannah Troyer takes over the shop’s duties, and she and Amber become fast friends as well as amateur sleuths. The police believe Gray’s death to be a by-product of vandalism, but Amber and Hannah aren’t so easily convinced.

Old Testament clues that don’t add up, a neighbor who is pulled into the midst of the investigation, a town with secrets to hide, and blossoming romance—all will combine to push Amber and Hannah into unfamiliar roles in order to solve a mystery and bring peace to the Amish community.

My Comments
I was so thrilled to get a review copy of this book, I’ve read so many of Chapman’s books and they never disappoint.  She has a unique talent of mixing Amish and Englischer characters within a small community and having her readers fall in love with these characters.  I didn’t connect with Murder Simply Brewed as much as I hoped I would, but I still really enjoyed what can be easily described as a cozy mystery.

The two women in this book are Amber and Hannah.  They make an unlikely bond in this story that becomes a sweet friendship as they investigate a death in their community that the police deem is not a murder, but natural causes.  However there are just too many “coincidences” related to Ethan Grey’s death that put Amber in a sleuthing role despite the risks that go with it.  Hannah doesn’t get as involved, but she does share any new information with Amber and they rely on each other throughout the story.  Both women are very observant and eager to resolve the entire situation.  The only question I have is, was Hannah finally able to taste the coffee she prepared or maybe that’s for the next book?

I couldn’t believe some of the pranks in this book; some were totally outrageous while others were utterly creepy!  Even though the story started out slow for me, once these pranks were put into motion I was eager to find out what would happen next. 

My two favorite characters were Tate and Elizabeth.  They are both incredibly supportive of Amber and had me smiling. 

There was a sweet romance between Tate and Amber and Jesse and Hannah.  However, I really enjoyed reading more about Tate and Amber even though they start out as total opposites in personality.  Tate is still grieving his late wife when the story begins, but he ends up helping Amber with the investigation and I just loved the scenes they have together.  Leo the cat was also an enhancement to the story.

Even though I didn’t connect with this story as I’d hoped to, it’s still accurate to say that anything Chapman writes is wonderfully entertaining and always illustrates what it means to have faith in God no matter what culture you’re from.  The characters keep things interesting, I had no idea who the culprit was, the police had me suspicious because of their nonchalant attitude towards Amber, the romance is subtle but perfectly done, the friendships are pure delight, the Amish community stick together and help each other in such precious ways, and even when you discover who the “villain” is there is forgiveness available for this person.  I’m grateful for authors like Chapman and I know her readers will enjoy this book as I did!

I want to thank BookLook Bloggers and Zondervan for the review copy received.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions expressed are my own.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Spotlight: Meet the Woman Behind the Cover Dress in A Beauty So Rare

Meet the Woman Behind the Cover Dress
by Tamera Alexander

Dear friends,
Have you ever wanted to meet the woman who sewed the dress on a novel cover? Then please allow me to introduce you to Beth Schoenherr, the ever-so-talented seamstress who sewed Eleanor Braddock’s dress for the cover of A Beauty So Rare.

I’m thrilled that Beth was willing to share about her experience in making the dress, and I love the behind-the-scenes glimpses she shares. I hope you will, too!

Tamera: Where did inspiration for the dress for A Beauty So Rare come from (both the style and color)?

Beth: The style, of course, was determined by the post–Civil War timing of the story.

I believe the cover designer and editors talked about a garden setting and felt pink would look lovely against the backdrop of the green foliage and other flowers, which it does! I then had the fun of finding the right shade of pink to keep it a believable color for the time. Hot pink or neon pink, of course, would never do!

Tamera: Um, no. LOL! Not even Adelicia Acklen could have coerced Eleanor into neon pink! ; )

Tamera: Have you made dresses for photo shoots before?

Beth: I started doing period costumes for men, women, and children in amateur theater in 1999 and then had opportunities in the following years to progress to working in the costume shop of a professional theater. This is my first costume for a photo shoot, however.

Tamera: How cool, Beth. I’m so grateful for your work on this dress. Well done!

Tamera: Do you have an appreciation for period clothing? And if yes, what’s your favorite style of women’s dresses from history?

Beth: I do enjoy period clothing. I don’t think I can pick one favorite style though. I just enjoy the various and changing silhouettes and fabrics throughout the history of fashion.

Tamera: Understandable. I have many "favorites," too!

Tamera: What’s the most challenging dress you’ve created for a cover (and what was most challenging about it)? Also, what has been your most challenging sewing project in general?

Beth: As I mentioned, this is the first dress I have made for a cover. It has been really fun and exciting to create this dress from scratch and then see it on the cover of this book. A new experience I had when making this dress was the cartridge pleats at the back of the skirt. The pattern called for the front and side pieces of the skirt to be pleated to fit into the waistband and left only a five-inch opening in the back of the waistband. Then I had to fit the 50-inch-wide piece of fabric for the back part of the skirt into that five-inch opening. I thought, “There is no way I’m going to get that much fabric into that little space.” But the cartridge pleats worked fabulously at neatly pleating 50” down to 5”.

The most challenging costume I worked on was a waistcoat designed and then cut out by someone else and given to me to sew. Not a single piece matched up in size to its coordinating piece. There was no extra fabric to work with so I had to just rework the pieces I had while making sure the finished garment would still fit the actor it was designed for. Definitely a “make it work” project!

Finally, probably the most thrilling dress I got to make was the first complete dress for a play at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Many of my costumes prior to that had to be remakes of existing dresses or costumes due to tight budgets. But I was graciously given the opportunity to sew, from start to finish, the schoolteacher dress in Little House on the Prairie: The Musical, which premiered at the Guthrie and then went on to tour nationally. It was so exciting to see the professionally-designed dress come together step-by-step and then to see it on stage.

Tamera: Wow, Beth, I bet that was a rewarding experience with Little House on the Prairie: the Musical. Congratulations! I’ve always admired people who know how to sew, and sew well!

Thank you for sharing your talent and time with us––and with the cover of my latest novel.


For more "behind the scenes" glimpses from the photo shoot for A Beauty So Rare, visit Tamera's blog.

***Also, check out Tamera’s post on Overcoming With God and a chance to win a copy of her new book! ***

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review....A Beauty So Rare

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander
Review by Kara Grant  **5 stars**
Info from

From the USA Today bestselling author of To Whisper Her Name and A Lasting Impression comes a moving historical novel about a bold young woman drawn to a group of people forgotten by Nashville society--and to the one man with whom she has no business falling in love.

Eleanor Braddock, a spinster--plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty--has long since dismissed any hope of marriage. But when a dying soldier whispers his final words, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. But this compassionate deed takes a harsh turn, and Eleanor finds herself dependent upon the richest woman in America and the most despised woman in Nashville--her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, mistress of Belmont Mansion. A clandestine act of kindness leads Eleanor to an unlikely path for her life--building a home for destitute widows and children from the Civil War. And while Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve.

Gerhard Marcus Gottfried, Archduke of the House of Habsburg and fourth in line to the Austrian throne, arrives in Nashville in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Collaborating with botanist Luther Burbank, Marcus seeks to combine his own passion for nature with his expertise in architecture. But his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widow's and children's home run contrary to the wishes of practical, frugal Eleanor, who sees his ideas as costly nonsense.

Yet as the construction project continues, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground--and a love neither of them expected. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor to marry, and even if he were, someone who knows Marcus's secrets is about to reveal them all.

My Comments

What a DE-LIGHT-FUL book!!  Goodness, this is my first time reading Alexander’s work, but I sensed something SOOOOOO special about this story I couldn’t pass it up…..indeed, EVERY part of this book was wonderfully written and tangibly enjoyed from the FIRST page!  I am NOT a fan of pink, but I couldn’t stop looking at that BEAUTIFUL cover while reading and the story never failed to keep my attention through almost 500 pages.  It was such an amazing read that I even forgot to take notes!  Yes, this book is FILLED with excellent food and dishes, but mostly it appeals to the reader’s heart through Eleanor and the amazing character she is.

The book begins with Eleanor being a volunteer for the wounded during war in 1864 and this entire scene resonates with her in such a way that she remembers it throughout the story.  She even makes a promise to one dying soldier and she doesn’t give up the unlikelihood of fulfilling this promise no matter how many years it takes to do so.  Most people would’ve given up after a few attempts, there was no one to keep her accountable and no one would’ve been the wiser about such a failed attempt.  However, I believe this promise is one of many instances that strengthens Eleanor’s faith and even brings her much needed healing about love.

The Prodigal Son by Joseph Mozier

Eleanor must move in with her aunt later in the story after leaving her father and his ailing mind in an asylum; the scene is powerfully written and my heart ached EXACTLY as Eleanor did in leaving her precious Papa to the hands of the capable medical staff.  My heart broke even as I read that part. 

I do have to say regarding Aunt Adelicia that I was surprised at how welcoming her aunt is when Eleanor moves in.  I really thought the aunt would be cordial, cold, and distant, but she is quite the opposite.  Even with her own agenda to guide Eleanor with, this aunt really felt like a surrogate mom in so many ways.  I didn’t always agree with her methods/intentions, but I respected their relationship and believed that Adelicia was truly determined to see Eleanor entrusted in a solid arrangement.  Though she was not my favorite character in the story, she did keep the plot interesting.

I have no interest in Botany or plant life, but I was taken in with Marcus’s passion towards flowers and his brilliant ways of creating the perfect specimens.  I didn’t agree with keeping his secrets so tightly hidden, but I did understand his reasons.  More than once he had my sympathies and I had no trouble falling for his character as the man for Eleanor.  He really was Mr. Darcy to Eleanor’s Elizabeth! (I found Eleanor very similar to Elizabeth Bennett, especially in how she enjoyed walking so much)  He understood everything about her heart and endeavored to give her whatever her heart desired, it became his mission throughout to make her smile.  Sigh…..

apple strudel :)

My heart melted over and over again at Eleanor’s cooking for the widows and the children.  Oh my, this book is so utterly touching and honoring to fallen soldiers.   With the incredible descriptions, the reader feels like you’re THERE with these beautiful souls that Eleanor comes to love as her own family.  Mr. Stover, Naomi and Caleb, Mr. Fitch (wow to those donuts), and even Nurse Smith who takes care of Theodore…..I was amazed by the resilience of this community as they blessed Eleanor and made her dreams come true in a TOTALLY different way than she expected!

Without a doubt, Eleanor was my hero through and through!  She is compassionate, diligent, fiercely independent, giving, has an amazing heart that would rival ANY royal, faithful, trustworthy, has an adorable sense of humor, utterly intelligent, hardworking, passionate for people and cooking, and always determined to do the right thing.  I never ONCE saw her as plain or unappealing, she is so very tall and completely unconventional as a Southern woman, but that only made her MORE appealing and special!  Seeing the world through her eyes in this novel moved me more than once and touched me more than I would’ve thought possible for a fictional character.  This is my first read by Alexander, but I’m convinced it won’t be my last.  I highly recommend this book even if historical fiction is not your typical genre, it will definitely win you over and leave you smiling.  Every single part of the plot was addressed, each character got their individual conclusions, and the ending to this story leaves you feeling warm all over.  I’m thrilled I got the chance to review this and I’m grateful for the love found in these pages.  *also included are discussion questions and a note from the author describing historical facts in the book*

I want to thank the author and Bethany House Publishers for the review copy provided.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Spotlight....Recipes from A Beauty So Rare

Eleanor Braddock’s Savory Custard (or Ham and Cheddar Quiche) From the novel
A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

I’m delighted to share recipes from Tamera’s newest book, A Beauty So Rare!  Not only do we readers get a wonderful story, but yummy dishes as well.  Also, if you make this quiche, you’re encouraged to take a photo and send it to Tamera on facebook or her website…..she’d love to connect with you, enjoy!!

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


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


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.

Eleanor Braddock’s Old-Fashioned Pie Crust (makes two large crusts)
From the novel A Beauty So Rare
by Tamera Alexander

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! 

1 ½ cups Crisco (or lard)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

5 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

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 the 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 ½ inch 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

 Recipes From Tamera’s Novels

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Spotlight....Exclusive Video on Inspiration Behind A Beauty So Rare

Check out this beautifully spoken description on what inspired Tamera to write A Beauty So Rare; really loved what Tamera spoke about in this brief video and it made the story sound that much more intriguing.  Will be reviewing this book soon, meanwhile I’m loving this behind the scenes information!