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?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review: "A Worthy Pursuit" by Karen Witemeyer

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review:  After reading a few of Karen Witemeyer's previous books, I have developed an expectation for a novel with likable characters and a steady plot that creates a light, satisfying read.  In her latest release, "A Worthy Pursuit," Karen Witemeyer delivers an emotional story that is both charming and action-packed.  This novel not only met, but exceeded my expectations.  I was charmed by the children and their interactions with Charlotte and Stone.  The dynamic relationships that developed between the characters provided humorous and heart-warming moments.  Since the story is told from both Charlotte's and Stone's perspectives,  it captures the spectrum of emotions and the insecurities they face as they question each other's motives.   I was drawn to both characters, and I enjoyed their tender moments with the children as much as the  love story that developed between Charlotte and Stone.  In true western and dime novel fashion, Charlotte and Stone encounter danger and deceit.  Through these trials, Charlotte must learn to trust, and the tender relationship that they begin to build produces some swoon-worthy moments.  Both the dangerous pursuit of Charlotte and Lily and the budding relationships kept me turning the pages.   

"A Worthy Pursuit" lives up to its name because it is worthy of readers' time and attention.   I am eagerly awaiting Karen Witemeyer's next release; but in the meantime, I know that her other novels will be worthy reads as well.   

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany 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 the Bethany House Publishers: A teacher on the run. A bounty hunter in pursuit. Can two enemies learn to trust each other before they both lose what they hold most dear?

Stone Hammond is the best tracker in Texas. He never comes home empty-handed. So when a wealthy railroad investor hires him to find his abducted granddaughter, Stone eagerly accepts.

Charlotte Atherton, former headmistress of Sullivan's Academy for Exceptional Youths, will do anything to keep her charges safe, especially the orphaned girl entrusted to her care. Charlotte promised Lily's mother she'd keep the girl away from her unscrupulous grandfather, and nothing will stop Charlotte from fulfilling that pledge. Not even the handsome bounty hunter with surprisingly honest eyes who comes looking for them.

When Miss Atherton produces documentation that shows her to be Lily's legal guardian, Stone must reevaluate everything he's been led to believe. Is she villain or victim? 

Then a new danger forces Charlotte to trust the man sent to destroy her. Stone vows to protect what he once sought to tear apart. Besides, he's ready to start a new pursuit: winning Charlotte's heart.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" by Melanie Dobson

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review: "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" is filled with mysteries and tangles of deceit.  Melanie Dobson creates a plot with three generations of layers to sort through.  Dobson definitely thought outside-of-the box when writing "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor." There isn't much that is predictable or ordinary in the plot. Amid the quaint cottages and country lanes of England, Dobson weaves a story shadowed with darkness and pain.  Stories of the past slowly unfold in the present for Heather Toulson, who uncovers shocking revelations about her family and shares some of her own.

The novel started a bit slow, especially in the present day scenes. There were some detailed passages about art restoration that I skimmed, but the pace picked up within several chapters. Secrets and lies are continuously present and create an engaging, yet heavy read. There is a pattern of deceit that emerges among all three generations, and the results are thought-provoking. They can also be disturbing.  This is especially true of Libby's role in the novel. Through Libby, Dobson sheds light on the stigma attached to children who were deemed "abnormal" by society in the 1950's and 1960's. As a reader, I couldn't understand Libby's decisions, which made me feel like an outsider. I was left feeling sympathetic to her character and very perplexed by certain interactions between Libby and other characters. The history of the Doyle family is plagued by painful twists, which could have been avoided through truth. It seems a bit unrealistic that each woman would follow such similar life paths, and the plot almost sounds like a soap opera when you tell someone all of the details. Regardless, it is easy to keep turning the pages while seeking resolution.

It would be unrealistic to end "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" with complete and perfect closure. There are broken hearts that cannot be mended and relationships that cannot be fully repaired.  Dobson gives readers a hopeful conclusion for Heather and her family, finally on the mend, thanks to lessons learned from long buried secrets.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Howard Books 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 Howard Books: When Heather Toulson returns to her parents’ cottage in the English countryside, she uncovers long-hidden secrets about her family history and stumbles onto the truth about a sixty-year-old murder.

Libby, a free spirit who can’t be tamed by her parents, finds solace with her neighbor Oliver, the son of Lord Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor. Libby finds herself pregnant and alone when her father kicks her out and Oliver mysteriously drowns in a nearby river. Though theories spread across the English countryside, no one is ever held responsible for Oliver’s death.

Sixty years later, Heather Toulson, returning to her family’s cottage in the shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, is filled with mixed emotions. She’s mourning her father’s passing but can’t let go of the anger and resentment over their strained relationship. Adding to her confusion, Heather has an uneasy reunion with her first love, all while sorting through her family’s belongings left behind in the cottage. What she uncovers will change everything she thought she knew about her family’s history.

Award-winning author Melanie Dobson seamlessly weaves the past and present together, fluidly unraveling the decades-old mystery and reveals how the characters are connected in shocking ways. 

Set in a charming world of thatched cottages, lush gardens, and lovely summer evenings, this romantic and historical mystery brings to light the secrets and heartaches that have divided a family for generations.

Review: "Irish Meadows" by Susan Anne Mason

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review: "Irish Meadows" is the first in the "Courage to Dream" series by Susan Anne Mason.  The series title is definitely more compelling than the rather generic book title, and is reflective of the novels theme's of strength and following one's heart. Brianna and Colleen O'Leary certainly need fortitude to forge their own paths and overcome their father's overbearing nature. Mr. O'Leary is insensitive, demanding, and completely exasperating. As unlikable as his character can be, he is a symbol of anything that holds us backs from pursuing our dreams.  I think that dreamers, like me, will take away encouragement from the pages of "Irish Meadows," and that makes the read worthwhile.

"Irish Meadows" is an enjoyable and quick read.  I like the overall message of the novel, but ultimately feel like I missed out on a true connection to the characters. Mason tells the stories of both Brianna and Colleen, switching perspectives between the two sisters and their suitors. The changes in scenes and perspectives keep the plot from dragging, but also makes the flow feel choppy.  When I started reading, I expected Colleen to be a secondary character whose story would continue in the second novel.  I soon learned that she would share the spotlight with Brianna. Colleen undergoes significant personality changes, but the transition is quite sudden. She and her suitor have backstories strong enough to fill the pages of their own book. Both Colleen's and Brianna's stories are significant and interesting, but perhaps would prove even stronger told separately.

Readers looking for just one love story will find two romances playing out with plenty of tension within the pages. Susan Ann Mason promises a revisit to the O'Leary clan in 2016, with the release of the second novel in the series.

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: 

1911, Long Island, New York 

Faced With an Uncertain Future, Sometimes All You Have Left Is the Courage to Dream

Brianna and Colleen O'Leary know their Irish immigrant father expects them to marry well. Recently he's put even more pressure on them, insinuating that the very future of their Long Island horse farm, Irish Meadows, rests in their ability to land prosperous husbands. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna, a quiet girl with a quick mind, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry--as long as her father's choice meets her exacting standards of the ideal groom. When former stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from business school and distant relative Rylan Montgomery visits Long Island during his seminary training, the two men quickly complicate everyone's plans. 

As the farm slips ever closer to ruin, James O'Leary grows more desperate. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to avoid being pawns in their father's machinations and instead follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: "Love's Rescue" by Christine Johnson

Rating: 3 Stars

Review: "Love's Rescue" is a seaside romance written to carry readers away to the sweltering Florida Keys on waves of intrigue and emotion.  I enjoyed this book, but it didn't leave a lasting impression on me.  The novel caught my attention at the beginning, both in the prologue and through the first few chapters when the perils of life at sea and in the historic Florida Keys are brought to life in vivid detail. From hurricanes to shipwrecks, Christine Johnson showcases Key West in a historic light.  The snippets of Key West and seafaring history were highlights of the novel.  

There was potential for "Love's Rescue" to venture into deep emotional waters.  The plot dips into topics like physical disability, slavery, and deceit just enough to add interest to the plot, but it never ventured as far below the surface as I hoped. Likewise, there were a few characters who I wanted to know better, especially Elizabeth's brother, Charlie. Elizabeth is a heroine that is both likeable and frustrating.  There were many times that I wanted her to follow her heart rather than the guidance of others.  Rourke is a stand-out character, and definitely a hero that readers will find dashing and romantic. 

"Love's Rescue" is a pleasurable read set beside the alluring and tempestuous ocean.  Johnson promises more romance and adventure as the "Keys of Promise" series continues.    

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell 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 Revell: Can a girl enamored with the adventurous seas ever be content with the tame life of a Southern belle? 

When her mother dies, Elizabeth Benjamin heads home to Key West, determined to transform herself into the perfect Southern belle her parents always wished her to be. But nothing goes according to plan. Her brother resents her, the servants do not obey her, and Rourke O'Malley, the dashing man she vowed to forget, refuses to relinquish his hold on her heart. Worst of all, it becomes painfully obvious that her father is not the man he appears to be.

As family secrets come to light, Elizabeth is faced with a difficult choice: to perform her duty and abandon her dreams, or to leave her life of privilege behind to chase the man her father sees as little better than a pirate.

From the first emotional page, author Christine Johnson throws you into a world of impossible choices, hidden desires, and heart-melting romance in the steamy South.

Review: "Hearts Made Whole" by Jody Hedlund

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: One of my favorite childhood books was about a lighthouse keeper's daughter tending the light for her father.  Jody Hedlund's "Hearts Made Whole" reminded me of that book and quickly pulled me into its pages.  I love that the Beacons of Hope series is comprised of unique stand-alone novels, with the common connection of a handmade cross that is passed from one character in need of hope to another. Another common thread is Hedlund's seamless incorporation of historically-inspired people and places into a work of fiction.  

"Hearts Made Whole" offers an ideal balance of pain, romance, and  suspense. The characters face daunting prejudices and challenges that create an interesting and engaging plot. Hedlund's character development is full of strength and depth. All of the characters, both main and secondary, good and bad, fill their roles to perfection. One of the most pivotal characters is Ryan Chambers, a Civil War veteran who suffers from physical and emotional ravages of battle.  His story is one to break and warm hearts, and he is the perfect protagonist for a novel titled "Hearts Made Whole." Caroline is a strong, yet vulnerable, female lead.  It is refreshing to read about a female taking on what was considered a man's job.  So often we see the male lead rescuing the female, but in "Hearts Made Whole," Ryan often depends on Caroline's strength. Through both Caroline and Ryan, Hedlund shows the healing power of faith and love.  

The "Beacons of Hope" series conveys messages of hope to readers.  "Love Unexpected," and "Hearts Made Whole" are the first two full-length novels in the series, preceded by a novella, "Out of the Storm."  Although they are all set in Michigan lighthouses, their plots are unique.  "Hearts Made Whole" is my favorite in the series so far.  My level of emotional connection with the characters and their stories was strong and my attention never waned as I read about Ryan and Caroline's defeats and triumphs.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House 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 Bethany House: 

1865, Windmill Point, Michigan

Can She Forgive the Hurting Man Who Costs Her the Role She Loves

After her father's death, Caroline Taylor has grown confident running the Windmill Point Lighthouse. But in 1865 Michigan, women aren't supposed to have such roles, so it's only a matter of time before the lighthouse inspector appoints a new keeper--even though Caroline has nowhere else to go and no other job available to her.

Ryan Chambers is a Civil War veteran still haunted by the horrors of battle. He's secured the position of lighthouse keeper mostly for the isolation--the chance to hide from his past is appealing. He's not expecting the current keeper to be a feisty and beautiful woman who's angry with him for taking her job and for his inability to properly run the light. When his failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he's in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he's unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Caroline feels drawn to this wounded soul, but with both of them relying on that single position, can they look past their loss to a future filled with hope...and possibly love?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: "On Shifting Sand" by Allison Pittman

Rating: 5 Stars

Review:  I could almost feel the sting of dust particles as I read Allison Pittman's newest release "On Shifting Sand."  Novel after novel, Pittman proves herself more than adept at creating plots that will impact readers into the depths of their hearts.  Every aspect, from the history to the setting to the characters, is created in fully-developed detail.  I never know what path one of Pittman's novels will take, but I know that I will always find history, pain, depth, hope, and faith along the way.  

Set during the Dust Bowl, "On Shifting Sand" brings the period of history to life.  Although the Dust Bowl is a topic I remember learning about in history classes, I never realized how significantly the people who lived through it were affected. Pittman doesn't spare readers from the loss and suffering that defined the Dust Bowl.  The dust is as much a part of the story as any character, always present with a sense of foreboding.

Nola Merrill's self-destruction is as constant as the dust storms that plaque her community.  Her sins accumulate like the dust, and it is hard to witness her decisions. The burden of her choices weighs heavily on Nola, and heavy on readers as well.  Pittman digs deep into the the topics of betrayal and adultery.  As readers, we watch Nola choose to break her marriage vows.  Through her, we witness the strong temptation to sin and the equally strong guilt that accompanies that sin.  Anyone looking for an idealized, happy read won't find it in the pages of "On Shifting Sand."  What Pittman delivers is heart-breaking, but so much more memorable and powerful for its directness.  Nola's story is not sugar-coated, nor does it end with a tidy epilogue of perfect lives.  When I finished reading the last page, I hoped to read more about Nola and her family. It seems like their story could continue for at least a few hundred more pages. Though readers may be left contemplating the future of Nola and her family, "On Shifting Sand" closes with a promise of hope and forgiveness of all who seek it, and those are promises that will endure longer than any story.

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.

Summary from Tyndale House Publishers: Long before anyone would christen it “The Dust Bowl,” Nola Merrill senses the destruction. She’s been drying up bit by bit since the day her mother died, leaving her to be raised by a father who withholds his affection the way God keeps a grip on the Oklahoma rain. A hasty marriage to Russ, a young preacher, didn’t bring the escape she desired. Now, twelve years later with two children to raise, new seeds of dissatisfaction take root.

When Jim, a mysterious drifter and long-lost friend from her husband’s past, takes refuge in their home, Nola slowly springs to life under his attentions until a single, reckless encounter brings her to commit the ultimate betrayal of her marriage. For months Nola withers in the wake of the sin she so desperately tries to bury. Guilt and shame consume her physically and spiritually, until an opportunity arises that will bring the family far from the drought and dust of Oklahoma. Or so she thinks. As the storms follow, she is consumed with the burden of her sin and confesses all, hoping to find Russ’s love strong enough to stand the test.

Tyndale's Author Q&A: 

1. What inspired you to write On Shifting Sand?

This is always the hardest question to answer. I loved writing about the dynamics of marriage with my Sister Wife series. But then, a story of a marriage needs conflict, and I’ve yet to see a CBA novel really tackle the idea of adultery in a way that showed it to be a conscientious, willful sin, disassociated from the circumstances of the marriage, or the relationship between the husband and wife. Too often, it was a backstory to justify a divorced character. Or it was a series of close calls, but never fully realized. I wanted to portray it as sin. Pure and simple, but unique in the fact that it reaches beyond the sinner, and carries with it a risk in confession. And then, I wanted to write a story that follows through a journey of restoration—not simply coming back to Christ, but coming back to life. It took a bit for all the pieces to come together, and so many of them weren’t discovered until I was buried in the story. More than any of my books, inspiration for this story came bit by bit.

2. The story is written from the perspective of Nola Merrill, who finds herself in an adulterous relationship. Why did you decide to write the story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator?

I think we are all unreliable narrators in our own lives, especially when it comes to facing our sin. We justify our sin, proclaim ourselves victims, assign blame and downplay responsibility. We can bury ourselves so deeply in guilt, we’re blind to the idea of redemption, so we ignore what God tells us about confession and grace and mercy. We lie to ourselves the same way Nola lies to herself—and, thereby, to the readers. I have no doubt this character will make readers uncomfortable. She made me uncomfortable. They are going to be frustrated with her choices, disappointed by her actions, but I’m OK with that. I think Nola is the realest character I’ve ever created.

3. Why did you decide to set the story during The Dust Bowl? 

When I knew I was going to write a story about adultery, I was determined not to have the adultery resulting from any shortfalls in the characters’ marriage. No neglect, no alienated affection—none of the usual internal problems that might lead a wife to make the choices Nola makes. I needed an external enemy. The Dust Bowl gave me that. The circumstances made it impossible for a woman to fulfill her traditional role of keeping a clean home. The poverty of the Depression made it difficult for her to feed and care for her family. All of that chips away at Nola’s sense of self-worth, and makes her vulnerable to anything—or anyone—for validation. However, it wasn’t until I was in the middle of writing the story that I realized the real power of these storms. The dust and the wind becomes the voice of Nola’s unconfessed sin. It tortures her and follows her. The more photographs and film footage I saw, the more desolation and hopelessness I saw. It was a time and place in desperate need of rain, just as any sinner is in desperate need of Jesus Christ, the Living Water. The setting of the Dust Bowl took on a dimension greater than I imagined at the outset, and grows over the course of the story—just as the storms themselves did.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review: "Finding Me" by Kathryn Cushman

Rating:  3.5 Stars

Review: "Finding Me" by Kathryn Cushman is a story of healing, love, and forgiveness. Kelli Huddleston embarks on a journey to discover her true heritage after she uncovers evidence that her father harbored deep family secrets.  The plot transitions from California to Tennessee, bringing an abundance of small town southern charm.  Everything falls into place perfectly for Kelli to settle into life in Shoal Creek - she finds a job, a place to live, and develops close friendships.  The main conflict in the story is provided by Kelli's emotional struggles as she finds herself and the family that she has never known.  Another source of tension for readers is wondering how Kelli's family will react when they learn her true identity.  "Finding Me" is more of a drama than a romance.  Although there is a potential relationship for Kelli, it doesn't emerge until the later in the novel and remains primarily in the background. 

"Finding Me" is a novel that I enjoyed for its unique plot. There are times that the flow feels interrupted by the changes in perspective from Kelli to a few of the other characters.  Since the novel is entitled "Finding Me," I think Kelli's perspective combined with her journal entries would be just as impactful. Each character plays an important role in Kelli's journey, so their perspectives aren't unwelcome, but the perspective changes are, at times, quick and frequent. The depth that Cushman brings to Kelli's story is undeniable, and she builds a plot that makes the reader question how Kelli's tale will unfold.  The conclusion is sweet and full of promise for the characters' futures, while leaving some details to the reader's imagination.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House. 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:  What would you do if you learned your life was a lie? 

All her life, Kelli Huddleston has been told the story of a fire--a fire that killed her mother and two siblings when she was an infant. After her father's death though, she uncovers evidence of a different story, including clippings about a boat accident that killed a young father and his infant daughter. And Kelli quietly realizes the story of her life has been a fiction. 

How far would you go to discover the truth?

Armed with only a few pictures of what she thinks might be her family, Kelli crosses the country to Tennessee, determined to uncover the truth about what happened over twenty years ago in a small southern town. When the trip threatens to open doors to the past better left shut, and her plans for the future are jeopardized, Kelli is faced with an agonizing choice that will change her life forever.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: "Justified" by Varina Denman

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: After reading "Jaded," the first novel in Varina Denman's "Mended Hearts" series, I immediately began "Justified."  I was so invested in the characters, that I put other books aside in favor of jumping right into the second novel.  Although "Justified" can stand on its own, readers will miss out on the strong character connection developed in "Jaded."

Denman proves to be a very gifted storyteller, creating plots that feel like real life. Trapp is like a snapshot of life in most towns, big or small.  We can probably all relate to the judgmental and gossipy behavior of some of Trapp's townfolk.  Like "Jaded," "Justified" is built on messages of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.  Though the themes and the setting are the same, the details of the stories are unique.  

Denman's character development quickly draws readers into the lives of not only the main characters, but also the secondary characters. For me, the "Mended Hearts" series is the ideal style for a series: each novel has a new story at the center of the plot, but there are subplots and characters that form a common bond throughout each novel. Taking center stage in this novel are Fawn Blaylock and JohnScott Pickett.  JohnScott establishes himself as a loveable character with the thoughtful ways of a southern gentleman.  Anyone who isn't won over by him in the first novel, will certainly become fans by the end of this novel.  Fawn doesn't easily gain favor in "Jaded," but as Denman uncovers the vulnerable side of Fawn's personality, she quickly becomes more likeable. I enjoyed watching her grow into a strong and forgiving young woman. 

Set against the hot and dusty background of northwest Texas, "Justified" is a novel that I highly recommend.  It deals with serious topics like abusive relationships and prejudice, but Denman never allows the plot to become too heavy.  There is a sense of hope that spans the length of the book, and Denman shows that the presence of hope and faith can lead us to beauty and love.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook 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 David C. Cook: When the privileged daughter of a Texas rancher becomes pregnant by her abusive boyfriend, her small town casts judgment... except for one man who reaches out with tender strength as she learns to forgive herself.

In a forgotten town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her sins. Yet a yearning in her soul instills hope for a second chance when the head football coach treats her with gentle respect.

Varina Denman's novel Justified perfectly captures the rhythm and romance of life in a small town. It is the story of a woman searching for renewal, a man looking beyond what others see, and a community struggling to understand them both

Review of "Together With You"

Rating:  4 Stars

Review:  Although Victoria Bylin has written many novels,  "Together With You" marks the second novel published by Bethany House and my first introduction to her writing.  "Together With You" is a novel that is multi-layered and rich in self-discovery, forgiveness, redemption, and nurturing relationships. The title and cover might suggest a simple and light-hearted love story, but the first chapter reveals deeper issues.  While Dr. Ryan Tremaine has a thriving medical business, his family is broken, and he is struggling from the guilt, pain, and consequences unleashed after having an affair that destroyed his marriage and his integrity.  Carly Mason is a compassionate college student and former social worker living far from her Kentucky roots.  After finding Dr. Tremaine's young daughter, Penny, Carly interacts with her in a warm manner that tugs at both the reader's and Ryan's hearts.  Despite Carly's reluctance to become emotionally invested in Penny, the relationship that develops between them has lasting effects on Penny and each member of the family.  

Victoria Bylin skillfully draws readers into the pain, joy, heartache, and struggles that can exist within a family and individual's hearts.  From Ryan's pain to the hurt and anger boiling within his young teenage son and the jumbled thoughts of young Penny, "Together With You" is a serious and thought-provoking novel.   Yet, these characters only represent a portion of the complete story.  Carly is a young woman who enters their home and seems to have the conviction and ability to meld each of their lives together.  Readers realize that she is also struggling with guilt from her past and a faith that has been tested.  

The tender and tentative relationship that develops between Carly and Ryan is masterfully developed between them as they work to respect each other, their differences, and their past mistakes.  The conclusion of "Together With You" offers readers a powerful message of forgiveness and of building faith and family.  

Victoria Bylin delivers a serious and reflective novel that will likely stir each reader's heart. Although "Together With You" was the first novel that I have read by her,  I anticipate reading more of Victoria Bylin's books in the future, beginning with  "Until I Found You," which was released May 2014.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House 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 Bethany House:   Sometimes the most unexpected love can be exactly what a heart needs...

When a Lost Child warning blares over the mall's PA system, Carly Mason finds the little girl playing with a stuffed rabbit. Something about Penny Tremaine is different. An ex-social worker, Carly recognizes that the child suffers fetal alcohol effects, and a piece of Carly's past suddenly confronts her. Never again will she become personally involved with a client. The risks are far too great. But something about Penny--and Penny's handsome father--tugs at Carly's heart.
Dr. Ryan Tremaine is trying to put his life back together. With his ex-wife remarried and on a trip far away, his two teenage sons and Penny are living under his roof full time. Ryan has put his faith in his Sink-or-Swim list, a plan to reconnect with his children. The first step: recruit Carly Mason to be Penny's nanny.
Ryan never anticipated being so drawn to Carly, an attraction Carly seems to fight as much as he does. Could Carly be the missing piece that helps his family stay afloat, or will their blossoming romance only complicate things further?

Known for her realistic and engaging characters, Victoria Bylin delivers an emotion-packed story reminiscent of The Sound of Music, one that reminds us all to believe in the power of faith and love.

Book Review: "Jaded" by Varina Denman

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: Varina Denman delivers a promising debut with "Jaded," the first novel in the three book "Mended Hearts" series. "Jaded" is full of genuine emotion that pulls at heart strings and encourages introspection. The message of faith is stronger than what is found in many novels, but it is presented in a non-preachy manner.  The town of Trapp pulled me into its community and captured my interest with its social dynamics and secrets. Denman creates a cast of characters that are reflective of real life.  We've all probably met or behaved like some of the Trapp townsfolk.  It is that level of personal relevancy that makes "Jaded" impactful.

Ruthie and Dodd's relationship is more than a simple love story.  Their interactions bring layers of complexity and depth. I definitely found their relationship to be more realistic than many that are portrayed in novels.  Ruthie and Dodd's love story goes far beyond physical attraction and delves into deeper issues and emotions.  The journey is filled with ups and downs; and along the way. I became invested in not only Ruthie, Dodd, and their families, but in all of the Trapp citizens. When I read the final page of "Jaded," I immediately downloaded the next book in the series "Justified."  There are plenty of other stories waiting to be told in more detail, and I am ready to read them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook 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 David C. Cook: As a child, Ruthie was shunned by the local congregation. Thirteen years later, Ruthie's heart begins to stir when an attractive single preacher arrives. But their relationship is bitterly opposed—unearthing a string of secrets which threaten to turn the church, the town, and her world upside-down.

Jaded is the rare novel that is both love story between a woman and man ... and God and His church. Plunging deep into the waters of shame, forgiveness and restoration, it will resonate with every woman who's experienced a loss of heart ... and a thirst for hope.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Review of "Married 'til Monday"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: If a book was judged by its title alone, I would guess that "Married 'til Monday" would be a light and fun romance.  Denise Hunter gives readers much more in book 4 of "The Chapel Springs Romance" series.  Readers of the previous novels in the series will be familiar with Ryan and his past with his ex-wife, Abby. Although this can be read as a stand-alone novel, there is a sense of connection to the McKinley family that can only be developed after reading all of the preceding books. Reconnecting with past characters is almost like enjoying an extended epilogue, while hearing a new tale that has been waiting to be told.

Hunter combines humor, fun, and romance with emotional depth to capture readers.  The scenario of "Married 'til Monday" is completely different than the other Chapel Springs Romances. Between a failed marriage, broken hearts, and a long distance road trip in a tiny car, there is a lot of opportunity for revealing emotional conversations alongside romantic attraction. There are some funny scenes to lighten the mood, but the emotional journey of Ryan and Abby is most memorable.  They are both carrying heavy baggage from their marriage, and as more of Abby's childhood is revealed, the baggage gets heavier. I always appreciate the way that Denise Hunter develops her characters with dimension that makes them realistic and engaging. "Married 'til Monday" is no exception, and Ryan, Abby, and their struggles become very real throughout the novel.

"Married 'til Monday" is not a typical romance.  It is a tale of a broken marriage and two ex-spouses in need of healing and forgiveness.  After catching glimpses of Ryan in the other Chapel Springs Romance books, I was anticipating reading his story.  Denise Hunter delivered another solid story that will capture hearts.

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: With a big anniversary party in the works for her parents, Ryan will pretend to be Abby's husband for just one last weekend.

Ryan McKinley has tried to move on from his ex-wife, Abby. He’s sulked, he’s gotten angry, and ultimately he bought her dream house. Big mistake. Living alone in the massive 2-story has only made him miss her more. When her parents call him out of the blue about their anniversary party in Summer Harbor, Maine, Ryan believes God has dropped a golden opportunity straight in his lap.
Abby McKinley never exactly told her parents about the divorce. A strained relationship with her dad has culminated in a distant relationship with her parents, but she’s finally succumbed to her mom’s pressure to make the drive for their 35th-anniversary party.
Then Ryan shows up on her doorstep, looking as devastatingly handsome as ever. When he insists he’s going to Seabrook, with or without her, Abby knows she can’t say no. Her parents still think they’re married and now Ryan knows it too. Besides, he only wants to check in with his best friend from college—her cousin Beau, who just lost his dad. It’s just a one-week road-trip with the man who broke her heart. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review of "An Uncertain Choice"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: "An Uncertain Choice" is Jody Hedlund's debut novel in the Young Adult market.  The plot is a combination of traditional fairy tale meets "The Bachelor."  Lady Rosemarie is a young ruler bound by an ancient vow to enter a convent on her eighteenth birthday. Her only escape from such a solitary fate is finding true love and marrying before she turns eighteen. Enter three knights tasked with winning Lady Rosemarie's heart. The story has enough clean romance and adventure to grab the attention of young readers. Hedlund introduces some of the depth and historical detail that defines her adult novels, but in a manner that is more suited to younger audiences.

The story begins with a scene of Medieval torture and a valiant rescue by a brave knight. That sets the scene for the ribbons of danger and excitement that weave throughout the novel. True to any fairy tale, there are sinister characters carrying out dark schemes. It is quite easy to figure out the person behind various deadly and dangerous situations. The mastermind behind certain events isn't actually revealed until the end of the novel, but most readers won't be surprised by the revelation. The tension created by the events is engaging, and Hedlund gives glimpses into the horrors of Medieval life. Hedlund reveals realities of life beyond castle walls as Lady Rosemarie ventures into poor sections of her kingdom, mingling among the poor. Lady Rosemarie displays a compassionate heart, making her an admirable heroine for teenage readers.

Descriptions of starving citizens, punishment, and dark dungeons are tempered by a more lighthearted quest for Lady Rosemarie to find true love. Rosemarie is presented with three knights to save her from a solitary life. The knights' attempts to woo Lady Rosemarie add some fun and humor to the plot. For me, this aspect of the plot most defines "An Uncertain Choice" as a young adult novel. The concept of the ancient vow is also too much of a fairy tale concept for me.  Still, "An Uncertain Choice" is a quick, quality read. Readers who want to discover more about Lady Rosemarie's parents and the ancient vow can read more in the prequel, "The Vow."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zonderkidz-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 Zondervan: Due to her parents’ promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, shortly before her birthday, a friend of her father’s enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents’ will left a second choice—if Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow. 

Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the knights’ arrival results in a series of attacks within her land, she begins to wonder if the convent is the best place after all. If only one of the knights—the one who appears the most guilty—had not already captured her heart.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review of "To Win Her Favor"

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: I love Tamera Alexander's novels for their historical detail and depth.  Her Belle Meade Plantation and Belmont Mansion series have both captured my interest because they are set in one of my favorite places, Nashville, Tennessee.  "To Win Her Favor" is Alexander's latest release in the Belle Meade Plantation series, and one of my favorite recent reads with its expertly layered plot.  For romance fans, there is a heartwarming and sometimes sizzling love story between the two main characters, Maggie and Cullen.  Below the surface of their attraction, is a powerful message of overcoming prejudice.   Love, courage, and forgiveness are common themes which make this novel undeniably meaningful. 

Alexander focuses on the less-than-idyllic side of the South's history, when prejudice ran rampant against not only African-Americans, but also those of different nationalities.  I didn't realize the discrimination faced by the Irish until reading "To Win Her Favor." From more passive actions, like social snubs, to physical violence, like lynchings, Alexander captures the harsh social climate of the post-Civil War south.  Her descriptions of physical violence are not graphic, but convey the cruelty and pain that hatred breeds.  Maggie and Cullen's perspectives provide two social views. Maggie is a native Tennessean, from a once prominent Nashville family, and Cullen is an Irishman with a painful past. Maggie really grows from a sheltered young woman into a compassionate and courageous woman as the story progresses and Cullen opens her eyes to society's injustices.

The supporting characters play integral roles in completing the plot. Among the most memorable are the former slaves and their families who work at Linden Downs. The injustices and cruelties that they suffer represent only a minuscule fraction of what was experienced in real life, but are thought-provoking nonetheless.  Alexander does a excellent job of portraying Maggie's growing love and respect for the Linden Down employees. Cullen helps her to grow into a stronger and more compassionate woman, while Cullen learns to find peace with his past through Maggie.  Their business-relationship marriage shows the blossoming of true love and an ideal partnership when two truly are better than one. 

Prejudice is a dark nemesis throughout the book, and the concluding chapters will leave readers tense, awaiting its defeat. There are moments that will break hearts and moments that will warm hearts. "To Win Her Favor" is the perfect combination of love, pain, and triumph to engage readers.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan 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 Zondervan: A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who can help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing for good.

An Irish-born son far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and start a farm, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden’s father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the annual Drayton Stakes at Nashville’s racetrack––the richest race run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance, and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder, Maggie’s father––aging, yet wily as ever––makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail––Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.  Cullen and Maggie need each other in order to achieve their dreams. But their stubborn, wounded hearts––and the escalating violence from a "secret society" responsible for lynchings and midnight raids––may prove too much for even two determined souls.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review of "Beyond All Dreams"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review: I love visiting libraries, and the Library of Congress is one of my favorite.  When I learned that "Beyond All Dreams" is set in the Library of Congress, I immediately put it on my reading list. Elizabeth Camden's attention to historical detail brought the library to life at the pivotal point in its history when it transitions from the Capitol into it's own opulent surroundings. I definitely felt a deeper connection to the setting of the novel since I have visited the Library of Congress a few times and was able to clearly envision its design. The building has always captured my interest with its history and beauty, but I have never considered the stories of its past librarians and patrons. "Beyond All Dreams" gave me a new perspective into the history of the Library of Congress and the men and women who have worked there.  I definitely learned some information that I don't recall hearing on a tour; and the next time I enter the Library of Congress, my thoughts will go beyond an awe of the impressive design.  

While the setting of "Beyond All Dreams" is what I will likely remember most, the plot within is also interesting.  Alice O'Brien and Luke Callahan are characters with unique back-stories that play important roles in adding some tension and depth to the plot.  Alice's job as a librarian and Luke's position as a Congressman are ideal for capturing the political environment of Washington D.C. in the late 1890s.  Anna's search for the truth regarding the disappearance of her father's ship gives mystery to the plot, especially when we learn early-on that the government does not want the truth revealed. Cameo appearances by such figures as William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, add authenticity to the plot, and a sense of "time travel" that I love.  

Alice and Luke are an unconventional couple. Anna's quiet ways were easy for me to relate to since I am also an introvert.  Luke never completely won me over because he often came across to me as cocky and flashy.  Some of his fashion choices raised my eyebrows too. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to read a love story in which opposites attract.  Anna's friend, Neville, and Luke's nephew, Philip, each offered their own subplots that complimented the main story.  

"Beyond All Dreams" is a great read for historical fiction fans.  Elizabeth Camden provides historical information in an entertaining plot.  Anyone with a love of books and libraries will find treasures within the pages as they delve into the Library of Congress with Anna. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House 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 Bethany House: Anna O'Brien leads a predictable and quiet life as a map librarian at the illustrious Library of Congress until she stumbles across the baffling mystery of a ship disappeared at sea. Thwarted in her attempts to uncover information, her determination outweighs her shyness and she turns to a dashing congressman for help.

Luke Callahan was one of the nation's most powerful congressmen before his promising career was shadowed in scandal. Eager to share in a new cause and intrigued by the winsome librarian, he joins forces with Anna to solve the mystery of the lost ship. Opposites in every way, Anna and Luke are unexpectedly drawn to each other despite the strict rules forbidding Anna from any romantic entanglements with members of Congress. 

From the gilded halls of the Capitol where powerful men shape the future of the nation, to the scholarly archives of the nation's finest library, Anna and Luke are soon embroiled in secrets much bigger and more perilous than they ever imagined. Is bringing the truth to light worth risking all they've ever dreamed for their futures?


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