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?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review of "Mist of Midnight"

Rating: 4 Stars

ReviewIf "Mist of Midnight" is any indication, Sandra Byrd's new series "The Daughters of Hampshire" will be full of Gothic style suspense.  "Mist of Midnight" is as veiled in mystery as the title suggests with layers upon layers of intrigue.  Rebecca Ravenshaw returns to England following a deadly uprising in India, only to discover that a now deceased impostor has stolen her identity. In the first couple of chapters, the central questions are established:  who was Rebecca's impostor and how did she truly die? Those mysteries set the basis for the rest of the novel. It seems that deadly danger lurks around every corner, waiting to pounce on Rebecca. Characters and their actions are constantly in question, until truth is revealed.  

Byrd tells the story solely from Rebecca's perspective, which keeps the suspense high. As readers, we can only speculate about the motives of each character and form our own theories about some of the suspicious occurrences.  While I appreciate the first person point-of-view for the added element of mystery, it let me down in the love story.  The further I progressed in the novel, the more I realized that there was only one love interest for Rebecca; however, he was also a character whose intentions were in question. The interaction between him and Rebecca is limited, and hindered by Rebecca's uncertainty about trusting him. Ultimately, I felt no satisfaction when their love finally developed. In fact, I would have been less disappointed if Rebecca had chosen to remain single. The mystery soared above the romance, and kept me interested in the book.  Byrd threw in some unexpected twists when all of the simmering mysteries were answered.  True to a Gothic-inspired novel, there are some eerie scenes, like strange lights in the mist and late night visits to graves.  The fear factor is very light, but adds enough intrigue to keep readers coming back for more.

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 Howard Books: In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes. 

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father's investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”? 

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless. 


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