Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of "The Tutor's Daughter" by Julie Klassen

Rating: 5 Stars
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Summary from Bethany House: Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father when his boarding school fails, accompanies him to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the two younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte at night, only to find the music room empty? And who begins sneaking into her bedchamber, leaving behind strange mementoes?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry Weston, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember the studious Miss Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her....

When suspicious acts escalate, can Emma figure out which brother to blame and which to trust with her heart?

Filled with page-turning suspense, The Tutor's Daughter takes readers to the windswept Cornwall coast--a place infamous for shipwrecks and superstitions--where danger lurks, faith is tested, and romance awaits.

Review: Julie Klassen has created a novel Reminiscent of "Northanger Abbey" and "Jane Eyre." "The Tutor's Daughter" is exciting, mysterious, and charming.  Klassen captures British dialogue to perfection, and pays homage to Jane Austen and similar authors.  With a plot and characters that could step straight out of a British movie, "The Tutor's Daughter," is intriguing and memorable.

Mystery abounds as soon as Emma Smallwood and her father arrive at Ebbington Manor.  From residents who harbor secrets to unusual nighttime noises, the mystery builds into something more menacing.  Uncovering the answers kept me glued to the novel, as did the relationship budding between Emma and a certain Weston son. The romance is one of restrain and unexpressed feelings, which adds another element of anticipation.

Book-lovers can relate to Emma's bookish ways, and I related to her character on a few levels.  She is a dreamer, who relies on novels to live out her adventures.  Over the course of the novel, Emma learns to take risks and strengthen her faith. The result for Emma and the reader is sigh-worthy.

Klassen paints a dramatic scene for "The Tutor's Daughter" on the rugged coast of Cornwall, England.  The power and danger of the rocky coast mimics the underlying, deadly currents in Ebbington Manor.  The ocean is the background for several climatic and pivotal moments, adding to their drama and suspense.

"The Tutor's Daughter" is one of my favorite Julie Klassen novels to date. It is certainly a "must-read" for fans of historical fiction and delicious British dramas.

I received a complimentary copy of  from Netgalley, courtesy of Baker Publishing Group. 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.”

Read an Excerpt: 
The Tutors Daughter

Review of "A Wreath of Snow" by Liz Curtis Higgs

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary from WaterBrook Multnomah: Christmas Eve 1894

All Margaret Campbell wants for Christmas is a safe journey home. When her plans for a festive holiday with her family in Stirling crumble beneath the weight of her brother’s bitterness, the young schoolteacher wants nothing more than to return to the students she loves and the town house she calls home. 

Then an unexpected detour places her in the path of Gordon Shaw, a handsome newspaperman from Glasgow, who struggles under a burden of remorse and shame. 

When the secret of their shared history is revealed, will it leave them tangled in a knot of regret? Or might their past hold the threads that will bind their future together?

As warm as a woolen scarf on a cold winter’s eve, A Wreath of Snow is a tender story of love and forgiveness, wrapped in a celebration of all things Scottish, all things Victorian, and, especially, all things Christmas.

Review: Liz Curtis Higgs' Christmas novella, "A Wreath of Snow," is a heartwarming holiday tale with themes of love and reconciliation.  It is the perfect length for the busy holiday season, but does not fall short of expectations, like many short novels. Higgs treats readers to a fully developed plot, that is well thought-out and progresses at a pleasant pace. Both main characters, Margaret and Gordon, carry shackles of guilt from a shared tragedy.  As circumstances cause their paths to intersect once again, their wounds are unexpectedly reopened.  The shared conflict creates a cohesive plot, and Margaret's and Gordon's personal experiences add extra interest.  

True to her style, Higgs incorporates historical detail that makes the Scottish setting come to life. Although Christmas is a couple of months away, this novella put me in holiday spirit.  Its meaningful messages will resonate even more with readers around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Although snow blankets the Scottish village of Stirling, "A Wreath of Snow" will leave you with that warm and content holiday feeling.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah 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.”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review of "All Things New" by Lynn Austin

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Summary from Bethany House: The war is over. The South has lost.

Josephine Weatherly struggles to pick up the pieces of her life when her family returns to their Virginia plantation. But the realities of life after the war cannot be denied: her home and land are but a shell of their previous grandeur; death has claimed her father and brother; and her remaining brother, Daniel, has returned home bitter and broken. 

Her life of privilege, a long-ago dream.

Josephine soon realizes that life is now a matter of daily survival--and recognizes that Lizzie, as one of the few remaining servants, is the one she must rely on to teach her all she needs to know. Josephine's mother, too, vows to rebuild White Oak--but a bitter hatred fuels her. 

Can hope--and a battered faith in God--survive amid the devastation?

Review: I was first introduced to Lynn Austin's work several years ago when I read "Candle in the Darkness."  I was impressed by her portrayal of the Civil War era and the depth of Austin's writing.  When I picked up "All Things New," I wondered how it would compare to the "Refiner's Fire" series.  Although the basis of the setting is the same, "All Things New" is original and absorbing.

Austin has a talent for relaying stories from various perspectives and layering them into one cohesive novel. Josephine, Eugenia, and Lizzie each bring unique experiences and backgrounds to "All Things New," and I enjoyed each of them.  Austin keeps the story engaging by alternating the focus of each chapter to one of the three women. Change and fear are common elements in the lives of Jo, Eugenia, and Lizzie as they attempt to rebuild their lives following the Civil War. Jospehine and her mother, Eugenia, find themselves nearly destitute and constrained by pre-war expectations. Meanwhile, as a former slave, Lizzie is battling the dream of freedom and prejudices of Southern society. Each character steadily grows and develops as the novel progresses.  The intertwining of their lives and their reactions to challenges create a multi-dimensional plot.

The primary and secondary characters have faced four years of devastating war and now face a vastly altered lifestyle.  As a result, emotions are strong and complex. Fear, love, faith, prejudice, hatred, forgiveness, bitterness, self-pity, hope, and healing are among the topics addressed in the novel.  Austin incorporates a range of riveting moments in "All Things New."  Some are emotional and introspective, others are action-oriented; they are all compelling.  Lynn Austin has once again written a well-developed, must-read novel with poignant themes.

I received a complimentary copy of  from Netgalley, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers. 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.”

Review of "A Promise to Love" by Serena B. Miller

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Summary from Revell: Can a marriage of convenience ever become one of true love?
Ingrid Larsen arrives in Michigan in 1871 with little more than the clothes on her back and a determination to find her brother, who has disappeared into the dangerous lumber camps. Destitute and barely hanging on to hope, the young Swedish immigrant crosses paths with Joshua Hunter, a newly widowed farmer with eyes the color of the ocean she had crossed and five rambunctious children to raise on his own.

Marriage would solve both of their problems, and Ingrid finds herself proposing in broken English to a man she barely knows. Many difficulties lie ahead--but the hardest battle of all will be winning the heart of her new husband.

Review: Serena B. Miller treats readers to a gentle story of love and sacrifice in “A Promise to Love.” She portrays life in 1870s Michigan with historical detail, and many of the events are based on actual occurrences.  A plot based on a marriage of convenience is relatively common, but the circumstances surrounding Ingrid’s and Joshua’s relationship make it unique. Their love blossoms from a partnership, shared grievances, and Ingrid’s tender nurturing. It is a departure from the more romantic leanings of other novels, despite the fact that Ingrid falls in love with Joshua at first sight.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review of "Borders of the Heart" by Chris Fabry

Rating: 5 Stars
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Summary from Tyndale: Desperate to escape haunting memories, J. D. Jessup travels from Nashville to Tucson and volunteers on an organic farm. The hardened landowner has one prevailing rule: If J. D. sees an “illegal,” call the border patrol. But when an early morning ride along the fence line leads him to a beautiful young woman named Maria, near death in the desert, his heart pulls him in another direction. Longing to atone for the choices that drove him to Tucson, J. D. hides her and unleashes a chain of deadly events he could never have imagined. Soon they are running from a killer and fighting for their lives. As secrets of their pasts emerge, J. D. realizes that saving Maria may be the only way to save himself.

Review: Gripping is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Chris Fabry's latest novel, Borders of the Heart.  Fabry never bores his readers with cliche plots or typical characters, and he layers his books with meaningful themes.  Borders of the Heart is action-packed and fast moving, with danger and suspense around nearly every turn.  This novel certainly has more violence and killing than most books I read, but it is not graphic.  In a story involving drug cartels and a subculture pervaded by evil, violence is expected.  Without it, the authenticity of the plot would suffer.  

The border of Mexico can be a tumultuous and dangerous area, and Fabry takes readers on a tense adventure with J.D. Jessup as he finds himself in deadly situations. From the beginning of the novel, I was drawn in by the mystery surrounding Maria and J.D.'s efforts to save her.  We all struggle with the "right" way to handle certain situations, but the circumstances in Borders of the Heart are far more extreme than routine decisions.  It is easy to understand J.D.'s constant debate over helping Maria and turning her into the authorities. The plot magnifies the fact that our choices are always accompanied by consequences that affect not only us, but others as well. 

Fabry treats readers to an unconventional love story in the midst of all of the action.  The quick pace of the adventure is tempered by introspective moments when we learn about J.D.'s and Maria's pasts.  Both characters have shortcomings and emotional scars, which make them three-dimensional. Character development is intricately incorporated with mystery and thrill. Learning about Maria and J.D. kept me glued to the pages as much as any other aspect of the plot.  Once again, Chris Fabry has created a novel that will appeal to a diverse range of readers - women and men alike. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers 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.

Book Trailer: 


Author Q & A from Tyndale: 
Chris Fabry
Borders of the Heart-

Q: Your newest novel, Borders of the Heart, addresses heavy topics such as illegal immigration, the U.S./Mexico drug trade and the cost of compassion. Where did you get your inspiration for the book?
A: Our family moved to Arizona in 2008 and since then I’ve known I wanted to write about this area of the country, a rich, desert existence with problems and possibilities. This book is not as much an “issue” book as it is a book about people who have to deal with lots of those issues as part of their daily lives. I don’t have an ax to grind on the topics, but I did want to show how real people are affected by these contemporary topics.

Q: Several of the characters in Borders of the Heart are dealing with things from their past. What lessons do your characters learn along the way?
A: The past is huge for each of us. I’m convinced many are “stuck” by something in the past that holds us back from being all God wants us to be. A reader will walk through that process with the main character, J.D., and I’m hoping they’ll see an authentic struggle.

Q: J.D. Jessup is faced with a very difficult moral dilemma when he weighs the decision to follow his boss’ very clear direction or his own heart when he discovers Maria near death. What lessons does this story provide for your readers?
A: Every choice we make in life comes with a cost. If we say yes to one thing, we may have to say no to something else. The choice J.D. makes is a good choice, and even good choices can lead to disastrous and deadly results. Can you believe that God is involved in even the difficult circumstances? I think that’s a huge reveal in this story for me. Does everything have to work out perfectly in the end in order for God to be glorified?

Q: How does the concept of redemption figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about redemption? Why or why not?
A: A lot of people don’t like the word “saved.” It’s old fashioned and not in vogue. I think the term is loaded with truth because if you’re on the verge of death and someone “saves” you, you know exactly what that means and how grateful you would be. Characters in this story get rescued from certain death and when the stakes are that high, I can’t help but get emotionally involved in the story.

Q: How does the concept of grace figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about grace? Why or why not?
A: Grace is when we’re treated better than we deserve. Yes, characters discover that in the book as well. I love the concept of grace in such a gritty, tough story because you’re not expecting it. You’re expecting A+B=C and when grace invades, it catches you by surprise.

Q: Borders of the Heart clearly demonstrates that sometimes there is a cost to compassion. What made this an important story element for you? Why was it important for you to show that sometimes there is a cost for us when we behave compassionately?
A: You’ve heard the saying, “Freedom isn’t free.” The one who acts with compassion usually absorbs the pain of someone else. This is a picture of the cross, of the sacrifice made for us in Christ. This is another thread you’ll discover throughout the story.

Q: Have you ever been faced with a real-life hard choice or ethical dilemma like your main character J.D.?  If so, what was your dilemma and did you feel like you made the right choice?
A: I’ve never had to decide whether to leave a person for dead or not, but I think every day we have a chance to sacrifice. Sometimes it’s a small thing, like taking time for your children when you have something REALLY important, like writing a few more paragraphs. I haven’t always passed those tests. My contention is, the details of everyday life will show what we’ll do with the big decisions. If you choose well in the small moments, the moments when no one is looking, you’ll choose well when a huge decision comes your way. Conversely, if you don’t see the little things as important, you might not make a good decision with the big decision.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Borders of the Heart?
A: Borders of the Heart is at its core a love story. You will root for J.D. and Maria to survive and solve the mystery of what’s really going on in Tucson. And I hope readers will take away the truth that what looks impossible to people is possible with God’s power. Even if something looks hopeless, it’s really not when God is involved.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tales of a Western Adventure: Part II

My vacation dreams for the past few years have revolved around England.  We considered going this summer, but with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics, and the high cost of plane travel, we decided against it and moved on to "Option B."  The American west has actually been a fascination of ours for years, and our excitement grew as we researched and planned our trip.  As much as I would love to see England and surround myself in British accents, I cannot imagine that I would feel any more inspired and awed by the English countryside.  The west has lassoed me; and its hold is as tight today, a few months after the trip, as it was when I returned home.

I will never forget the drive to the town of West Yellowstone, with my rear view mirror framing the picturesque snow-capped Teton range and miles of potato fields on both sides of the road. I have never enjoyed looking in the rear view mirror as I did during those few hours.  When we finally arrived in West Yellowstone, the small town was a welcome sight.  It is the quintessential western tourist town, with locally owned hotels, a couple of small grocery stores, lots of tourist shops, slanted street parking, and stoplights that turn into blinking caution lights after 9:00 pm.

We were filled with anticipation the next morning as we drove through the western entrance gate and into one of the nation's most famous parks.  I could hardly believe that we were actually in Yellowstone after months of planning and dreaming.  One of the downfalls to being a very thorough trip planner, is that you can build up your expectations to such a high level, reality falls short. At first, we were a little skeptical that Yellowstone would live up to our dreams. We saw lodgepole pines for a few miles, but then a glimmer of brilliant blue caught our eyes.  The Madison River was tranquilly flowing, creating a gentle melody as it tumbled over pebbles.  I have never seen a river on the east coast that is as pure, crisp, and clear as the Madison   Our breath was taken away for the first of many times on our trip.  A bit further down the road, we witnessed a huge herd of bison taking a drink in the river.  That was the first of many bison sightings, and we happily checked wildlife sighting number 1 of off our list.

The awe inspiring moments continued through the first day.  It was like time magically slows in the park. When I reflect on how much we experienced on just our first day it the park, it amazes me. The diversity cannot be described in words; it must be seen first hand.

Bison herd at the Madison River

One of the bison "guards."

The Yellowstone River

The bacteria mats at the fountain paint pots.

Our first geyser sighting.  We couldn't capture the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs).
The white area in the foreground  is sulfur.  Just a few feet away, wildflowers and grass were growing. 

The Excelsior Geyser Crater near the Grand Prismatic Spring. 

Stunning - The Grand Prismatic Spring

Old Faithful

West Thumb on Yellowstone Lake.  The sulfur covered ground and
 blue springs were a  beautiful contrast to the lake. 

Black Pool at West Thumb.  This was my favorite pool;
you could actually see into the crater.

LeHardy Rapids.  Each July, trout brave the power of these rapids to
 swim upstream.  That would be an amazing sight!

A bison at the Mud Volcano.

The pure and sparkling Madison River

What a way to end the day - Sunset over Yellowstone. 


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