Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review of "The Promise"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: "The Promise" is a tale in which love and sacrifice exist alongside deceit and hidden agendas. This was a very different story from many that I have read. It was the unique plot, as described in the summary, that initially piqued my interest and my desire to read more. The fact that it was based on someone's real life experiences made me more intrigued. I knew from the description that Mallory would be lured to an unstable area of Pakistan under false pretenses and find herself in a dangerous situation. Her journey to Pakistan begins just before the half-way point of the novel. The first half of the plot builds up to Mallory's trip, and I expected it to occur earlier. As a reader, knowing the pivotal decision that was forthcoming, made me impatient for it to begin. I kept wondering when Mallory was finally going to travel to Pakistan and felt like the inevitable dragged out a few chapters too long. However, Beth Wiseman does a great job in developing Mallory's motives and conveying the emotions that make her vulnerable to an elaborate scam. It's easy to think "this would never happen to me;" but given the right circumstances, I believe most of us could be conned to some extent. The chapters preceding Mallory's trip made me understand how and why she was motivated to take such drastic action. Wiseman also built suspense for the situation that Mallory was entering in Pakistan. It was clear from the beginning that Mallory would be just a pawn in underhanded schemes, but the specifics remained a mystery.

The second half of "The Promise" brought the action and suspense. I was frustrated at times when Mallory just couldn't see the truth of a situation. As the reader, it was easy to see that Abdul was a less than charming man, despite his handsome appearance and flattery. Some of Mallory's decisions made me want to jump in the pages and make her see the truth. I definitely remained engaged until the very end as the tension ebbed in the very final pages.

I found "The Promise" to be a welcome departure from the books that I usually read. It was just slightly out of the box from my normal reading selections. It was refreshing to read a novel that isn't about two characters falling in love. Mallory is in an established relationship. While love plays a role in the plot, the dynamic between her and her boyfriend is different than that of two characters falling in love. It was refreshing for romance to take a backseat and to witness love reacting to adversity under trying circumstances.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from LitFuse. 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.

About the book: Mallory's search for happiness leads her to a faraway place. There she finds heartache, betrayal---and danger.

Mallory Hammond is determined that no one will stand in the way of her goal---to save a life. She had that chance years ago, and she failed to take it, leaving her adrift and in search of the real meaning of her life. Finally, she meets a man online from a volatile corner of the world who offers her the chance to find that purpose. But she will have to leave everyone she loves behind in order to take it.

Tate Webber has loved Mallory for many years. He understands that Mallory will never be happy with him until her deepest heart's desire is satisfied. When Mallory decides to travel across the world to fulfill her dreams, Tate begs her not to go but tries to give her the space she needs. Mallory embarks on her dangerous journey only to discover how swiftly and easily promises can be broken. And Mallory can only pray that she will make it out alive.

Inspired by actual events, The Promise is a riveting love story that asks the question: how far will we go for love?

Purchase a copy: 

Beth Wiseman is the best-selling author of the Daughters of the Promise series and the Land of Canaan series. Having sold over 1.3 million books, her novels have held spots on multiple Bestseller lists. She was the recipient of the prestigious Carol Award in 2011 and 2013. In 2013 she took home the coveted Holt Medallion. Her first book in the Land of Canaan series--Seek Me With All Your Heart--was selected as the 2011 Women of Faith Book of the Year. Beth lives in Texas with her family.

Find Beth online: websiteFacebookTwitter

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review of "Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin' Cornbread"

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review: Mary Jane Hathaway combines two nearly irresistible subjects: southern charm and Jane Austen.  What happens when "Jane Austen Takes the South"?  Her stories find life with modern day characters and a few southern side dishes.  Hathaway puts a fresh spin on Austen and southern romances with a mixed race couple.  Each character has their own unique style, while staying true to their Austen counterparts.  Lucy Crawford and Jeremiah Chevy play the roles that parallel those of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Though the specifics of their lives differ, this retelling of "Persuasion" follows its inspiration very closely in the major details.  As a result, there weren't many surprises in the plot.  I enjoyed the story and the journey of Lucy and Jeremiah, but knowing the path of the plot made the reading experience less exciting.

The incorporation of American history offers a departure from Austen.  Lucy and Jeremiah are less interested in England's Regency period and much more focused on America's Civil War era. Some of the Civil War scenes coincide with the more romantic moments in the novel.  All paths of the plot lead to the final proposal scene, which has both "Persuasion" and Civil War influences.  One of my favorite scenes of "Persuasion" is the closing proposal scene, and "Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin' Cornbread" was just as satisfying, but refreshingly unique as well.  Mary Jane Hathaway pays homage to one of history's most beloved authors and brings fresh beauty to a story of lost love and second chances. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Howard Books 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 Simon & Schuster: A lively Southern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, featuring Lucy Crawford, who is thrown back into the path of her first love while on a quest to save her beloved family home.

Lucy Crawford is part of a wealthy, well-respected Southern family with a long local history. But since Lucy’s mother passed away, the family home, a gorgeous antebellum mansion, has fallen into disrepair and the depth of her father’s debts is only starting to be understood. Selling the family home may be the only option—until her Aunt Olympia floats the idea of using Crawford house to hold the local free medical clinic, which has just lost its space. As if turning the plantation home into a clinic isn’t bad enough, Lucy is shocked and dismayed to see that the doctor who will be manning the clinic is none other than Jeremiah Chevy—her first love. 

Lucy and Jeremiah were high school sweethearts, but Jeremiah was from the wrong side of the tracks. His family was redneck and proud, and Lucy was persuaded to dump him. He eventually left town on a scholarship, and now, ten years later, he’s returned as part of the rural physician program. And suddenly, their paths cross once again. While Lucy’s family still sees Jeremiah as trash, she sees something else in him—as do several of the other eligible ladies in town. Will he be able to forgive the past? Can she be persuaded to give love a chance this time around?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review of "Playing by Heart"

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: Anne Mateer's "Playing by Heart" is a novel that tugged at my heart strings.  I was reminded that an emotionally driven plot can be as captivating as action and adventure.  Mateer led me to care about the characters in the early chapters; and by the end of the novel, I was emotionally invested in the outcome.  What struck me about the plot was the realism of the scenarios shaping the lives of each character.  Lula and Chet were endearing leads who faced real-life decisions and problems. Their families each had their own difficulties that became integral notes in the overall song of the story.  By the end of "Playing by Heart," every character made an impact on me.  My connection to Lulu and Chet was one of the strongest I've had to two protagonists.  The alternating first person perspectives allowed me to emphasize and understand their emotions and actions.  I felt a camaraderie with Lulu who was striving to find her place and purpose in life.  The details of Chet's life gripped my heart. His dedication to his mother and basketball team were admirable. Both Chet and Lulu grew significantly over the course of the book, and their love story was so beautifully portrayed as a product of their growth.  I was completely charmed by them and their romance.

The setting on America's homefront during World War I offered a different perspective on the war's impact.  Chet's decision not to enlist in the army gave insight to the personal and public doubts that men in his position would have faced.  His struggles with guilt, uncertainty, and his mother's bitterness created raw emotions that transcended the pages.

I was concerned initially that the basketball focus would be dull for someone who isn't a basketball fan. Mateer was light on the technical details of the sport, while providing enough detail to bring the games to life.  I was surprised to find myself excited by the game scenes, anxiously awaiting the outcome.  Anne Mateer succeeded once again in holding my interest with a meaningful story full of heart. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House 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 Bethany House: Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything.

With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn't even consider those real subjects!

Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.

However, the more time she spends around Jewel's family, the girls' basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she's given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she'd expected.

Review of "Lizzy and Jane"

Rating: 4 Stars
Review: In "Dear Mr. Knightley,"  Katherine Reay showed readers that she doesn't shy away from weighty emotional topics. "Lizzy and Jane" is more evidence of her ability to confront tough subjects and create a memorable reading experience. Though the title suggests that Reay's latest novel is inspired by "Pride and Prejudice" the sisterly relationship is very different from that of their namesakes. Reay's Lizzy and Jane have a distant relationship, and Jane's battle with cancer heightens the stress. Their journey is one of physical and emotional healing, portrayed with realistic detail. The plot takes us where few authors venture - into the life of a family affected by cancer and into the treatment center where patients, families, and nurses are fighting to defeat a formidable foe. It is a topic that is relevant to today's readers, but definitely makes "Lizzy and Jane" a weighty read. Reay portrays real-life family dynamics shaped by present fears and scars from the past.  The relationship between Lizzy and Jane is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, with moments of healing mixed with moments of hurt. They can cut each other with a careless comment, but also offer comfort that only a sister can provide.  Although their bond is not as ideal as Austen's famous sisters, it is reflective of real life and creates a strong message of forgiveness and love. 
Reay's talent for crafting fully imagined scenes is evident throughout "Lizzy and Jane."  Jane's illness and Lizzy's passion for cooking and literature are portrayed in dynamic detail, and blend to create a cohesive plot. Cancer plays a huge role in the story, impacting nearly every action, even Lizzy's culinary skills. Lizzy's experiments with recipes that will be palatable for Jane are described from preparation to completion, emphasizing the ingredients, aromas, and flavors. Reay's incorporation of classic literary figures, like Hemingway and Austen, is creative and adds a new dimension to the cooking scenes.  Whether in Lizzy's restaurant, in Jane's kitchen, or in social situations, food is a constant presence and character itself.  I became a bit bored during the food passages, and eventually skimmed them.  Foodies and cooks, however, will likely find them interesting and engaging.

It is a requirement for any novel inspired by Austen to contain a dashing hero. "Lizzy and Jane" has two heroes - one for each sister.  Jane's Peter is more understated, but still Austen-worthy. While he has flaws and doesn't seem like the most devoted husband in the beginning, his quiet care and love for Jane is soon evident. Nick takes the spotlight with his steadfast personality and respect for both Lizzy and Jane.  If readers aren't won over by Nick by the end of the novel, they will find him hard to resist when he quotes from "Persuasion."  The path to any Austen devotee's heart is most assuredly through her verses, and Reay blended perfectly with Austen for a savory ending.  
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: Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you've run out of ways to escape.
At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She's lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.
When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she's losing her dream.
And her means of escape.
When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.
As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

Review of "The Covered Deep"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: Brandy Vallance's debut novel, "The Covered Deep," is rich with details and veiled in secrets. Faith and forgiveness are predominant themes throughout the novel. Vallance describes the Holy Land with vivid realism and gives a two-fold historical view of the area - the area's actual biblical history and the area as it would have been in the late 1870s.  The setting of the novel was definitely one of the highlights for me.  I love the opportunity to "see" places from different perspectives, especially when that perspective is from a bygone era.  "The Covered Deep" reminded me of Lisa T. Bergren's Grand Tour series with its expedition to far off lands and a dashing guide to share his knowledge.

Bianca goes on the trip searching for love, and finds herself instantly attracted to the historian, Paul. Although I am usually bothered by the two lead characters developing a romantic interest early in the novel, there are enough hindrances to their love to keep it from blossoming too soon. My opinion of both Paul and Bianca fluctuated throughout the book. I took me a few chapters to warm up to Paul's character.  Although he seemed gentlemanly, I wasn't sure if he was playing a role in Sir Adrian's underlying scheme.  Paul's character took on more depth as the plot progressed and more of his point-of-view was revealed.  I began to empathize with him, and then found myself perplexed by Bianca.  In the opening chapter, Bianca appeared as an innocent dreamer and book lover with an adventurous side yearning to see the world beyond her Kentucky home.  Her personality seemed to change midway through the novel, and some of her endearing qualities became less obvious.  It was frustrating to watch Bianca preaching forgiveness numerous times, but failing to show forgiveness.  There were times that I was quite put off by her behavior, but it ultimately brought the central themes together.

The message of "The Covered Deep" is a powerful one that gives the title true meaning.  There are a few references throughout to past sins being "covered deep" and forgiven. Vallance shows that it isn't always easy for us to practice forgiveness, whether it's forgiving ourselves or others. There is a air of mystery that lends emotional tension to the novel. When Bianca first meets her travel group in New York City, it is clear that the organizer, Sir Adrian, has an agenda and her travel mates have guarded secrets. As the story unfolds, layers of deceit and mistakes are revealed.

I finished the novel feeling a disconnect with Bianca and some of the other characters, but learning their motives and connections kept me interested. Two definite highlights were the solid lesson of faith and the well-researched and well-presented history. "The Covered Deep" is a promising debut and an interesting read for those who enjoy historical romances.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Worthy Publishing 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 Worthy Publishing: An incurably romantic bookworm from Appalachia wins a contest and travels to England and the Holy Land in search of the perfect romantic hero. Set in 1877.
Bianca Marshal is holding out for the perfect husband. Finding a man that meets the requirements of her “must-have” list in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains has proven impossible. Bianca’s mama insists that there’s no such thing as a perfect true love, and that Bianca’s ideal man is pure fiction. On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Bianca discovers a devastating statistic: her chance of marrying is now only eighteen percent. Unwilling to accept spinsterhood, Bianca enters an essay contest that propels her into a whirlwind search for her soulmate. Via the opulence of London and the mysteries of the Holy Land, Bianca’s true love will be revealed, but not without a heavy price.


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