The Toymaker, by Kay Springsteen


springsteenI spent Christmas Day reading, “The Toymaker” by Kay Springsteen.  Springsteen’s prose is so smooth it all but disappears, letting the story take center stage.  To me that is the mark of an excellent writer.  Her words painted vivid pictures in my mind.   The story’s main characters, Lady Ivy and Philip Green — or rather, Noel Phillip Vincent Greenstone, the Twelfth Duke of Greenbriar — are vividly drawn, very human, and very likable.   I very much enjoyed reading this book.

“The Toymaker” isn’t a page turner.  I had no trouble putting it down as I moved through the day, but every time I paused the gentle story called to me. The romantic stumbling block in the story was a little contrived and could have been solved easily, but that seems to be a time honored romance story tradition and was easily forgiveable.  All-in-all, “The Toymaker” by Kay Springsteen  was the perfect, leisurely Christmas Day story and for the most part I read it while sitting in front of the fireplace draped in a fluffy blanket.

Amazon’s book blurb:

Lady Ivy Plumthorne, elder daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Wythorpe, is a worry to her parents. Desiring only that she be as happily wed as her younger sister, they’ve spent the past year parading prospective suitors in front of her. When she finds none of the suitors… suitable, her parents despair she will ever find the perfect husband. With Christmas approaching, they find one more prospective suitor, the Duke of Greenbriar. Only problem is, Ivy’s already met the man of her dreams… and he’s a toymaker. Noel Phillip Vincent Greenstone, the Twelfth Duke of Greenbriar, wasn’t cut out to be a duke. He preferred crafting toys that made children happy. So that’s just what he did. And as Phillip Green, he traveled freely about, visiting shops and orphanages, and making no child went without a toy of his or her own. But a few chance meetings with Lady Ivy and he knows he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. The problem is, she needs to marry a nobleman and she only knows him as Phillip the Toymaker. He needs a plan, and fast. The world needs to meet the reclusive Duke of Greenbriar, so Phillip plans his own coming out. But how will Ivy react when she learns the truth?

About the Author (Amazon bio)

k springsteenKay Springsteen is a romance junkie and a chocolate addict, who makes her home in Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains. She can and does write anywhere, and often incorporates little oddities of her every day life into her stories. Her family has learned the hard way to maintain a low profile in order to stay off her radar, for fear they will find themselves crafted into her latest novel. Kay is a Christian, who is passionate about all life. She has been an outspoken advocate for homeless persons, shelter pets, the environment, military and first responder personnel, community outreach, education, and people of all ages who have disabilities.

Kay can often be found taking long hikes in the mountains with one or two of her terrific rescue dogs, but she’s just as content to stay home gardening or simply spending time with her wonderful family. You might even find her at Starbucks writing. But if she sees you, watch out! You might just end up in one of her books. She believes in magic and real-life fairy tales, and the romance of life, and knows everyone has a happily ever after waiting out there somewhere. But until you get to it, why not pick up a good book and think about the possibilities?

Astraea Press is a royalty paying e-publisher dedicated to supplying clean reading material to an eager public.  I received this book free of charge from Kay Springsteen and with no strings attached.  This review was not purchased and reflects my honest, unsolicited opinion.

Two Room Flat, by Jill Urbach

Two-Room Flat"Two Room Flat" is totally romantic, a little bit spicy, a little bit risque, yet a sweet, smut-free read. I thoroughly enjoyed Jill Urbach’s debut novel. Claire is a fun and funny character, and Adam is dreamy and exasperating all at once. The story progresses naturally and I found myself turning pages quickly, laughing one minute, holding my breath the next, shedding tears, then laughing all over again. Urbach’s deft hand at balancing tension and humor impressed me. Her pacing was impeccable.

If you are a Princess Diana fan you will doubly love this story because you will find kindred spirits in both the main character (Claire) and the author (Urbach). While the many famous London settings and historical details enhance “Two Room Flat,” they do not over-power it, so even if you aren’t a fan of England’s royal family chances are good you will still be charmed by this story.

UrbackJill Urbach is a woman of many talents. She is an novelist, an actress, a singer, a song writer, a girl scout leader, a gardener, and a third grade teacher — which all come after her her first passion — being an outstanding wife and mother. Jill lives on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest (you can read a bit about it in her novel).

Amazon book blurb:

Spicy fiction made novelist Claire Gissler a star, but she can’t pen a sentence to save her life since her husband’s accidental death two years ago. Now, deeply in debt, her only hope of reviving her crumbling career is to flee small town America for big city London. Trouble is, she can’t afford the move. That is, not until hand-some Adam Lambright — her husband’s best friend and the man she blames for his death — offers to let her stay in his flat… with him.

Adam Lambright used to know how to smile, how to have fun, how to love, but that was before watching his best friend die and his wife wither away from cancer. Now, ticked off at God, he’s vowed never to love again. That doesn’t mean he can’t help out his best friend’s widow. Besides, her life’s more of a mess than his own.

Seeing no other possible option, Claire moves to London. In that exciting city, she faces the challenges of rebuilding her career — and the attentions of her sexy English publicist. But, it’s her growing feelings for Adam that present the biggest challenge: learn to forgive or face heartbreak once again.

Jill’s book trailer for Two Room Flat shows off her many talents — and the talents of her family as well. Watch the credits carefully. You’ll find the names of both her daughters and her husband.

To learn more about Jill Urbach, be sure to visit her website, JillUrbach.com (radio and text interview spots, and video from assorted singing gigs, including a great duet with her handsome husband, Andy) and like her Facebook page.

Beulah the Bull, by C.C. Troy

BeulahI loved Beulah the Bull, by C.C. Troy.  I read it in one sitting with a great big, silly grin plastered on my face.  I even laughed out loud from time to time.

Susan Ann Jones considers her name unremarkable and applies that description to herself as well.  When she loses the only job she’s ever known, she does some truly remarkable things, although the first one was accidental. On a whim Susan bid on and purchased a 5 acre tract of land sight unseen.  Then, in a fit of rebellion over her too neat, too tidy, too structured, too ordinary life, Susan packs herself and her seven pound purse dog off to Northern Arizona for a bit of camping.  Their first night in their tent — sort of — was hysterical, and their first morning was even better because that’s when they met their new best-friend, a two thousand pound British White Bull named Beulah.  Beulah is an unlikely angel, but he befriends Brady the dog and opens Susan’s, mind to hope and new possibilities.

C.C. Troy’s story telling is smooth and her prose is flawless.  Her storytelling voice is so authentic that somewhere around chapter three I began doubting I was reading fiction and had to double check the credits.   Fiction it is, and her first book at that.  I certainly hope she has more in the wings.  This was a great read — fast, light-hearted, and “laugh-out-loud” funny, but with a message of hope in the midst of failure, and finding joy in unlikely circumstances

I highly recommend this book.

Twerp, by Mark Goldblatt

twerpTwerp is a Random House Book for Young Readers — or the young at heart. This was a rollicking read. Julian Twerski is a wonderfully fun character and I loved the time I spent in his neighborhood. While Julian was busy figuring out what it means to be a friend, and what it takes to have friends — and enemies — I relived my own childhood.

The story begins when Julian, who was suspended from school for bullying, is instructed to write about the incident. Julian thinks he’s been given a great way to get out of reading Shakespeare, but the assignment, which turns into the diary of his sixth grade year, leads him to look at his friends in ways he had never before considered. Suddenly he’s looking at his best-friend, Lonnie, and seeing someone he isn’t certain he likes. Then a beautiful girl comes along and complicates things even more.

I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, especially adults who have fond memories of their own childhood. If you enjoy reliving the angst and elation of your formative years, Twerp is definitely the book for you.

The Widow’s End

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is an excellent writer.  Her voice, in The Widow’s End is period perfect.  I didn’t stumble over a single phrase or find a comma out of place.  Reading her prose was a pleasure.  It flowed smoothly from page to page and pulled me through the story to the end of the book.

I chose to review The Widow’s End because the book blurb piqued my interest:

When widow Katie Lafferty arrives at the Pythian House, a home for widows and orphans, she has little hope for the future. She soon learns the reality offers more grueling work than she could have imagined. One of the few bright spots in her daily drudgery is Latin Master Everett Brown at the school across the street. As Katie struggles to conform to the rules and settle into her new life, she looks forward to her chance meetings with Mr. Brown When she fails to meet the standards of the home, her future becomes even more uncertain. If she has a knight in shining armor, it’s Everett Brown.

That enticed me to read the first chapter, which was offered free on the review site.  The first chapter hooked me.  I wanted to learn more about Katie Lafferty, the Pythian House, her conflict there, and the knightly Latin Master, Everett Brown.   I downloaded the book, I read it from end to end in just a couple of hours, and put it down still wanting to know more.

The conflict in the book had great potential, but in every instance it was defused before I had ample reason to grow concerned.  Not once did I find myself wondering how Katie was going to get out of her predicament.  This was a gentle, sweet, story and I do not consider the time I spent reading it wasted, but it did not tug on my emotions.

Everett Brown’s dramatic rescue of Katie from her confinement in her room at the Pythian House would have been much more swoon worthy if Katie had actually been in her room for more than a few hours, had missed more than one meal, and had a more concrete consequence hanging over her head then being put out of a home she had no wish to stay in anyway.  Even Everett knew she wasn’t in serious trouble, because he took the time to secure Katie safe lodging before rushing to her rescue.

In short, this novel has the potential for excellence, but it hasn’t been fleshed out enough.  I will definitely read the next Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy novel, in hopes that her story crafting has grown.  I know it will someday match the excellent quality of her prose.