Friday, September 27, 2013

Review of "Rebellious Heart"

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review:  Jody Hedlund has the gift of bringing history to life in stories inspired by real events. "Rebellious Heart" is loosely based on the love between John and Abigail Adams. The connection to the famous historical figures is not directly tangible, but their fictional counterparts show courage, faith, mercy, and love that the Adamses likely possessed. Hedlund weaves a story of love and mystery that keeps the plot interesting.  Susanna's connection to a runaway indentured servant and Ben's loyalty to the Patriot cause create tense moments. The central mystery revolves around a murder case that impacts the entire town.  It lends a sense of darkness in the details, somewhat reminiscent of Dickens. There are elements of the murder mystery threaded throughout the plot, so I expected a significant climax leading to its resolution. The novel ties up neatly and completely, but almost too easily. 

Susanna and Ben find themselves on opposing sides of the mounting rebellion and living in different social spheres.  Circumstances repeatedly throw them together, creating the perfect recipe for romantic tensions. Ben allows statements that Susanna made when she was just 5 years old to act as a barrier to his growing feelings for her as an adult.  This strikes me as a bit unrealistic, but it is a small detail in the overall story.

"Rebellious Heart" is the second novel I have read in as many weeks that is set around America's fight for independence. Although both books focus on the same topic, they are executed differently to give readers unique views of a pivotal time in history.  Hedlund depicts the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, when loyalties were fractured. Reading about the Revolution has renewed my appreciation for the brave individuals who stand up for justice and freedom. Hedlund reminds her readers that a "rebellious" heart can be an asset to the world when its motives are pure and just. 

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: A Love That Would Shape History Forever

Because she's a woman, higher learning was always closed to Susanna Smith. But her quick mind and quicker tongue never back down from a challenge. And she's determined to marry well, so she'll be able to continue her work with the less fortunate.

Growing up with little to his name, poor country lawyer Benjamin Ross dreams of impacting the world for the better. When introduced to the Smiths he's taken by Susanna's intelligence and independent spirit, but her parents refuse to see him as a suitor for their daughter. 

When the life of a runaway indentured servant is threatened, Susanna is forced to choose between justice and mercy, and Ben becomes her unlikely advisor. But drawing closer to this man of principle and intellect lands her in a dangerous, secret world of rebellion and revolution against everything she once held dear.

Review of "Love's Awakening"

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Review: Laura Frantz continues "The Ballantyne Legacy" in "Love's Awakening," focusing on Ellie, the youngest daughter of Eden and Silas. The title and the cover design evoke the gentle beauty of dawn and the quiet and gradual beginning of a new day. "Love's Awakening" is subtly beautiful, a subdued romance. The direct interaction between Ellie and Jack is somewhat limited. Their story has a "Romeo and Juliet" quality, and despite the differences between the Ballantynes and the Turlocks, there is a sense of rightness to the growing love between Ellie and Jack.  

Frantz goes beyond the romance and adds the drama of forbidden love, prejudice, and social change. "Love's Awakening" is not as gripping as its predecessor, "Love's Reckoning."  It is more predictable in comparison; but in true Frantz style, it is beautifully written and finely crafted.  The history of the abolitionist movement blends seamlessly into the Ballantyne saga.  History can sometimes feel forced, but this is not the case in Frantz's novels.  The Ballantynes' involvement in the abolitionist cause is not surprising, and I could expect nothing less from Eden and Silas, given their history.   Courage and strength are part of the Ballantyne legacy, and so is hardship.  Tragedy finds its way into "Love's Awakening" adding a bittersweet quality to triumph.  While there is a degree of closure with a happy ending, the stage is immediately set for the sequel. But we must wait until 2014 for the new questions to be answered; for now mystery surrounds the ongoing saga. 

“Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell, a division 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.

Summary from Revell: The path to true love lies somewhere between two feuding families

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan--particularly the handsome Jack Turlock--she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Summertime in the Shaker Village

This year we embarked on a road trip for our summer vacation, stopping in Lexington and Harrodsburg, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Abingdon, Virginia.  One of the highlights of our trip was our day spent at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg.  I read about the village in Southern Living several years ago and have wanted to visit it since then.  The area was more picturesque and tranquil than I even imagined, with rolling green hills and pastures stretching to the horizon. The Shaker buildings, most original to the 1850s settlement, were stunning as well.  I have always thought of the Shaker style as simple and unembellished.  While it is simple and functional, it is also refined, stately, and graceful.

The Shakers were socially progressive, believing in equality among all people regardless of gender or race. They were also quite wealthy and self-reliant, even harvesting silk worms to create silk fibers for garments. The Shakers relied on new converts to grow their population, but the majority of potential converts did not make it past their trial period.  It is easy to see why outsiders would have been drawn to the community, but the lifestyle restrictions were quite inflexible.  To experience a taste of the Shaker lifestyle, you can stay in some of the original buildings, and we hope to stay there on a future trip.   This year, we opted to spend a night at the Maple Hill Manor in Springfield, Kentucky.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill - Very aptly named!

Centre Family Dwelling, the second largest building in KY in the 1850s.
Only the state capitol building was larger.
Interior of the Centre Family Dwelling

Basement in the Centre Family Dwelling
One staircase for men and one for women
Shaker Brooms - These are all handmade using the
Shaker method and stand on their own.

Main meeting space in the Centre Family Dwelling

A place for everything

Silk worms on mulberry leaves

Beautiful winding staircase in the Trustees' Building

Harrodsburg, Kentucky and The Old Kentucky Fudge Company

The Old Kentucky Fudge Company and Good Eats Eatery are located in an old pharmacy.
The built-ins are original and still have the nameplates on the drawers for the herbs and
medicines that would have been store in them, 

 Maple Hill Manor, Circa 1851

Review of "A Home for My Heart"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Anne Mateer tugs on heartstrings in "A Home for My Heart," a gentle love story. The characters and setting combine to create a tender plot. Although it is slow in places, there is enough conflict to keep attention and interest.  Not only is Sadie nursing a breaking heart and settling into a new job, but the futures of the Raystown Home and its children are at stake.  It was nearly impossible not to be moved by the plight of the orphans and think about real-life orphans of the past and the present. Sadie's love and care for her charges adds sentiment and reflects genuine emotion, which makes her a realistic character. I related to the doubts and challenges that plagued Sadie as the new Raystown matron.  At some point, we all search for our unique path in life, the home for our heart. Mateer shows that our right path may not always be the one we dream of for ourselves and it may be more rocky than smooth.

Mateer has a talent for writing love stories that don't focus solely on romance, and "A Home for My Heart" is an excellent example. Sadie's passion for orphaned children takes precedence over romantic love. The relationship between Sadie and her beau, Blaine, is already established at the beginning of the novel. Their love is put to the test when their plans diverge. Although the relationship between Sadie and Blaine suffers a rift that lasts throughout the plot, it allows their love to grow in a manner that is more emotional and less physical.  Because the story is told from Sadie's perspective only, it is hard to be certain of Blaine's emotions, but his actions demonstrate his love in ways that more physical scenes cannot.  I appreciate that Mateer chooses to build a deeper love between her characters and focus on many types of love, not just that of a romantic nature.

"A Home for My Heart" is not overly exciting or eventful, but its focus on everyday issues and challenges make it more realistic.  I have enjoyed Anne Mateer's other novels more, but this is a touching story that evokes emotion.

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: A sweet story of hope and love set against the poignant backdrop of a 1910 orphanage.

Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children, pouring all her energy into caring for the boys and girls who live there and dreaming of the day she'll marry her beau, Blaine, and have children of her own. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the esteemed job of running the orphanage.

There's one glitch. The matron cannot be married. She must focus her attention on the financial, legal, and logistical matters of the Home. Sadie's heart is torn. Should she give up her plans for a life with Blaine in order to continue serving these children who have no one else? Does she, a young woman who was once an orphan herself, have what it takes to succeed in such a challenging career? And when the future of the Home begins to look bleak, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review of Longing for Home

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review:  After reading many favorable reviews about Sarah Eden's novels, I eagerly anticipated reading, "Longing for Home: A Proper Romance."  Set in the small town of Hope Springs, Wyoming Territory,  the novel is anything but small in its scope of weighty issues regarding relationships.   Katie enters town with the hope of securing a position as a housekeeper with Joseph Archer and earning enough money to finally return to her childhood home of Ireland.  As the novel progresses, it becomes evident that the town is scarred by discrimination and prejudices.  Like the political turmoil and famine that Katie left behind in Ireland,  she finds herself in the middle of mounting tension within the town. Her presence has only become fuel for the growing fire of hatred that wishes to consume all hope from the town.  Despite these circumstances,  Katie finds her heart opening to friendships and the interest of two men.   She faces inner struggles as she yearns for the love, friendship, and acceptance that she has experienced as a young child.  Her past been scarred by tragedy,  loss, and rejection, and she struggles to find peace and forgiveness. 

Sarah Eden masterfully weaves historical details and Katie's past in Ireland, within the pages of "Longing for Home."  I was drawn to Katie's plight and hoping for a "happily ever after" ending for this novel.  I even found myself torn between the two men, Tavish and Joseph, who possibly offer Katie an opportunity to find love and happiness.  Like the town and Katie, both men struggle with their own pasts and personal circumstances.  Sarah Eden shows that, like real-life, there are sometimes no simple solutions and neatly packaged "happily ever afters."  While "Longing for Home" has somewhat of a conclusion,  there are many unanswered questions and perhaps deadly consequences for each resident in the tension-filled town of Hope Springs.  Only the sequel to "Longing for Home" will hold some of these answers within its pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing 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 Shadow Mountain Publishing:    Twenty-six-year-old Katie Macauley needs to convince the influential Joseph Archer to hold true to his word and keep her on his payroll as his housekeeper—despite her Irish roots. When Joseph agrees to keep Katie as his housekeeper, the feud between the Irish immigrants and frontiersmen in the 1870 Wyoming Territory erupts anew, and Katie becomes the reluctant figurehead of hope for the Irish townsfolk. As the violence escalates throughout the town, Katie must choose between the two men who have been vying for her love—though only one might be able to restore hope to her own heart.


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