Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: "The Bronte Plot" by Katherine Reay

Rating: 3 Stars

Review: Katherine Reay explores personalities and emotions with characters whose lives are far from perfect. There is another common thread in Reay's novels: an abiding love for classic literature from the likes of Jane Austen and The Bronte Sisters.  Those of us who adore such classics, and books in general, will find at least one connection to Reay's plots and characters.

"The Bronte Plot" centers on the Lucy Alling, a young woman trying to find her way in the world, but making poor decisions along the way.  Her tendencies to embellish and fabricate the truth leads her on a journey of self-discovery and some new revelations about her family. The focus on Lucy's decisions and the consequences is dominant throughout the book.  After a point, the discussions and analysis of Lucy's character becomes redundant and slows the plot.  I have mixed feelings about Lucy. I felt that I should have connected more with her character given the close study of her personality, but I never fully understood or liked her. The emphasis on Lucy's habitual lying overshadows other aspects of her character and parts of the plot.  

After reading the entire story, I am left wondering why a love interest is introduced for Lucy.  James enters the story early, sweeping Lucy off her feet.  Their whirlwind romance is glossed over. On one page, Lucy is accepting an invitation to dinner; on the next,they have been dating for a few weeks. Details about their relationship are left vague, while other details, like Lucy's low ponytail, are repeated several times in the novel's beginning.  Interaction between James and Lucy is absent from much of the plot, with James becoming a physical presence again towards the end. The conclusion offers promise for their relationship without complete closure. Not every book needs a love story, and I think "The Bronte Plot" could stand without the more vague romance between James and Lucy. 

"The Bronte Plot" excels in the depiction of England, from London to the countryside.  Fans of classic British novels and literary greats will be swept away by Reay's descriptions.  The plot definitely took me places where I dream of travelling. Although my connection with Lucy was limited at times, I found common ties with her tourist side.  I fully enjoyed the inns, moors, and historic sites that Lucy explored.  The relationships she develops along her journey are also significant, especially with James's grandmother, Helen.  Helen is an example of strength and courage for both Lucy and readers, and her character makes a significant impact on the story.

Katherine Reay creates unique stories with characters who are reflective of real life with their scars and flaws. "The Bronte Plot" is a fairly quick read that journeys through England and also through the consequences of one's decisions.  I wasn't left completely satisfied; but with Reay's detailed writing, other readers may quickly form a connection to the novel's heroine. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Summary from Thomas Nelson: When Lucy’s secret is unearthed, her world begins to crumble. But it may be the best thing that has ever happened to her.

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious liberties to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend, James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.
In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother, Helen, hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.
As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom as Helen confronts ghosts from her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of impossible circumstances.
Now Lucy must face her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review: "The Mistress of Tall Acre" by Laura Frantz

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: Laura Frantz brings to life some of Virginia's most historical towns in her latest release, "The Mistress of Tall Acre." Post-Revolutionary War Williamsburg, Alexandria, and Richmond are mentioned frequently with the typical Frantz attention to detail. As a fan of historic homes, it was easy for me to envision the stately plantations of Three Chimneys and Tall Acres, two stalwart witnesses to their residents' lives. Frantz, as usual, does a masterful job of melding historical facts with a fictional plot. She teaches readers about various nuances of the political and social climate just after the Revolutionary War, but the lessons are cloaked in an intriguing and romantic plot.

The romantic premise of the plot, a marriage of convenience, is one that we have read many times in various forms.  Although the details are always different, as readers, we know the basic path that such a plot will follow.  Frantz throws in some surprises and suspense to sprout questions in readers' minds. Toward the end, I began wondering if there would be a resolution or if the story of Seamus and Sophie would continue in another novel. Both Seamus and Sophie are well thought-out characters who can easily capture readers, hearts. It is Seamus's daughter, Lily Cate, who can really melt hearts with her sweet disposition.  She is the center of many heartwarming scenes and added another dimension of love to the story.

"The Mistress of Tall Acre" is a novel that I certainly recommend to readers. I don't consider this one of my favorite Laura Frantz novels because the plot didn't feel as unique and compelling as in some of her other novels. Books like "Love's Awakening" and "The Colonel's Lady" are ones that I could pick up again and read as if they are new novels, relishing the layers of dimension and detail. "The Mistress of Tall Acre" is one that most likely wouldn't hold many surprises for me as a re-read. Regardless, it is a well-written novel, definitely worthy of reading at least once.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Summary from Revell: There can be only one mistress of Tall Acre . . .

The American Revolution is finally over, and Sophie Menzies is starved for good news. When her nearest neighbor, General Seamus Ogilvy, finally comes home to Tall Acre, she hopes it is a sign of better days to come. But the general is now a widower with a small daughter in desperate need of a mother. Nearly destitute, Sophie agrees to marry Seamus and become the mistress of Tall Acre in what seems a safe, sensible arrangement. But when a woman from the general's past returns without warning, the ties that bind this fledgling family together will be strained to the utmost. When all is said and done, who will be the rightful mistress of Tall Acre?

Triumph and tragedy, loyalty and betrayal--you will find it all in the rich pages of this newest novel from the talented pen of Laura Frantz.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Review: "The Memory Weaver" by Jane Kirkpatrick

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review: "The Memory Weaver" is an emotional story of healing that takes readers on a journey through the western frontier.  Jane Kirkpatrick introduces the real-life Saplding family, who served as missionaries to the Nez Perce and survived a deadly Cayuse Indian attack. Knowing that the plot is inspired by actual events makes the story more meaningful.  Although this is a work of fiction, Kirkpatrick gives us a realistic vision of what life must have been like for Eliza as she grew into womanhood still haunted by visions of the Indian attacks.  

"The Memory Weaver" spans a few decades from the beginning to the end, with a focus on family dynamics, memories, and healing. I was very drawn into the story initially, but, my engagement began to wane towards the end of the novel. The entire novel feels like a diary, letting us into the emotions of Eliza's daily life. The first half of the novel is more focused on details of Eliza's seemingly ever-changing life and her struggles with her impulsive husband. The pace started to feel slower as I went deeper into the second half as Eliza's memories and emotional healing took precedence.  Eliza's healing is impactful and poses questions about how we perceive past events in our own lives.  As Eliza discovers, her memories are not always accurate, and sometimes misconceptions create more pain than reality. Kirpatrick definitely provides readers with something to ponder and discuss.  

I appreciate "The Memory Keeper" for its realism and historical focus.  Eliza's story brims with perspectives of the American West that aren't always seen in fictional novels.  Kirkpatrick does not romanticize life on the frontier or even the specifics of Eliza's life, like her marriage to Andrew Warren. Eliza's tale is one of many peaks and valleys, which combine to create a portrait of a true pioneer woman.   

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Summary from Baker Publishing Group: Eliza Spalding Warren was just a child when she was taken hostage by the Cayuse Indians during a massacre in 1847. Now a mother of two, Eliza faces a new kind of dislocation; her impulsive husband wants to make a new start in another territory, which will mean leaving her beloved home and her mother's grave--and returning to the land of her captivity. 

Haunted by memories and hounded by struggle, Eliza longs to know how her mother dealt with the trauma of their ordeal. As she searches the pages of her mother's diary, Eliza is stunned to find that her own recollections tell only part of the story.

Based on true events, The Memory Weaver is New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick's latest literary journey into the past, where threads of western landscapes, family, and faith weave a tapestry of hope inside every pioneering woman's heart. Get swept up in this emotional story of the memories that entangle us and the healing that awaits us when we bravely unravel the threads of the past.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: "Not by Sight" by Kate Breslin

Rating: 4 Stars
Review:  Set in England during World War I, "Not by Sight" gives readers a new perspective on the home front war effort.  This is not a typical war story, and Kate Breslin never places readers in the midst of the battlefields. Instead she takes us to the English countryside where members of Women's Forage Corps venture out of traditional female roles to help with the war effort.

Grace Mabry is an unlikely WFC worker, stepping out of her privileged life into a life of manual labor. As expected, the scenario leads to several mishaps as Grace strives to serve her country. Her fortitude in the face of uncertainty and disapproval quickly establish Grace as a good-hearted character who is easily likeable. It is not as easy to judge the motives of some of the other workers at the farm, and therein lies some of the plot's suspense. The main source of suspense is the mystery of the espionage ring and the potential ties to Grace's family.  Overall, the tension remains low until the final chapters when secrets are exposed.

Romantic tension, however, runs high as Jack Benningham and Grace spend time together. Breslin uses Jack's and Grace's outings to introduce readers to the beauty of the English countryside. Grace's descriptive narration is sometimes a little florid and the circumstances contrived, but they paint a complete and lovely landscape. The love story is an interesting one, partially reminiscent of "Beauty and the Beast." Jack reminded me of Mr. Rochester from "Jane Eyre" with his biting remarks and melancholy demeanor. He is a memorable hero in circumstance and appearance. With a face covered by a mask, his looks are initially more harsh than handsome. It is always refreshing to read a romance that develops based on factors other than outward appearances. The journey of Jack and Grace is one of healing and courage which is encouraging and heart-warming to follow.

Compared to Kate Breslin's novel "For Such a Time," "Not by Sight" is slower and less gripping novel. The summary suggests that the plot is full of danger and intrigue, but it is actually quite low-key. It is still a meaningful story that provides a look into a less covered niche of history.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through Net Galley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
Summary from Bethany House: In the spring of 1917, all of Britain's attention is on the WWI war front and the thousands of young men serving their country on the front lines. Jack Benningham, dashing heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke, is young and able-bodied but refuses to enlist despite the contempt of his peers.

A wealthy young suffragette, Grace Mabry will do anything to assist her country's cause. Men like Jack infuriate her when she thinks of her own brother fighting in the trenches of France, so she has no reservations about handing him a white feather of cowardice at a posh masquerade ball.

But Grace could not anticipate the danger and betrayal set into motion by her actions, and soon she and Jack are forced to learn the true meaning of courage when the war raging overseas suddenly strikes much closer to home and their fervent beliefs become a matter of life and death.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: "The Sea Keeper's Daughters" by Lisa Wingate

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review: Ocean breezes, sand beneath your feet, the calls of seagulls...You'll experience them all in "The Sea Keeper's Daughter."  It is also a story that will tug at your heart and keep you turning page after page.  Lisa Wingate paints a picture of the quaint seaside community of Manteo, North Carolina with precision and incorporates small details and characters from her previous novels in the "Carolina Chronicles" series.  The connection brings more of a real-life dimension to the plot, creating a community that past readers can relate to, but not hindering the experience for new readers.

I am a big fan of stories-within-stories when they are well-crafted.  The combination of present day and historical settings gives us the best of both worlds. "The Sea Keepers's Daughters" tells the tale of modern day restaurant owner, Whitney Monroe, and Alice Lorring, a writer during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.  Lisa Wingate executes both stories in pleasing harmony, each with its own distinct conflicts, but merging into a cohesive story.

Alice's tale is told through a series of torn letters that Whitney finds hidden among family collections. The mending of Alice's letters coincides with Whitney's emotional healing and the improving relationship with her stepfather.  Like the letters, Whitney arrives to Roanoke Island damaged and torn, but finds healing through the island and its residents. Whitney and Alice have compelling stories, equally capable of holding readers' interest waiting to see how the conflicts resolve.  I enjoyed seeing the mountains of North Carolina through the eyes of Alice, and I found myself especially moved by the trials that she faced on her journey. The first person perspective of her letters makes her experiences feel more personal, while also providing a touch of family mystery.

The conclusion to "The Sea Keeper's Daughters" wraps up quite quickly. I wasn't ready for the end, and wanted even more details about Alice. Despite this, the final pages are heart-warming and bring the entire story together into an ideal summer read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers through Net Galley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

Summary from Tyndale: From modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny.

Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at the Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a Depression-era love story change everything?


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