Monday, September 29, 2014

Lisa Norato's "The Promise Keeper" - a seafaring suspense

The Promise Keeper (Sea Heroes of Duxbury)In the first of her thrilling, new series, Sea Heroes of Duxbury, The Promise Keeper is a suspenseful tale set in 1820's Massachusetts.  Iris Moon, the beloved and curious daughter of a retired ship's captain, has be mystified by the keeper of the new lighthouse on the island across the way.  Keeper Jonathan Mayne has been a year at his post, yet she has never met him, nor does anyone save her father know anything about him.  When she finally gives into her curiosity and rows over to meet him, his enigmatic comments lead her to believe they knew each other long ago.  But Johnny isn't the only person from the past to come to Duxbury - a man who knew Iris' mother, who is bent on revenge against the Moon family, has also washed up on shore . . .

Though not based on any particular piece of American history, the story is full of details regarding this little-known period of peace between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  While it does not speak to the politics of the day, it touches on fashion, architecture, the New England ship industry, the importance of lighthouses on the East Coast and how they worked, and even debtor's prison.  I enjoyed reading about this time and place so far removed from the world in which we live today. 

This novel speaks to something everyone has suffered from at some point - fear.  Coming from an abusive home, Lady Moon, Iris' mother, never lost the fear of her past catching up with her.  After his accident, Johnny understands better what Lady Moon went through - he too is plagued by fears that are far worse than any injuries he has sustained.  Fear robs one of peace and steals one's hope, but as Johnny comes to realize, God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.

Maybe I am being influenced by the cover art, but the story has a slightly ethereal feel to it.  More than a love story, it echoes the classical romances of the mid-1800's with its heroism, imagination, and depictions of untameable nature.  There is a much stronger element of suspense than I was expecting, but it makes for a captivating tale. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Where Treetops Glisten," a WWII novella collection by Goyer, Putman, and Sundin great writers of Christian WWII fiction have collaborated in a WWII and Christmas-themed novella collection, focusing on the Turner family of Lafayette, Indiana.  Of the five children, only three have lived to see the war, and each bears scars from the loss of their siblings.  Each tries to do their part for the war effort, whether it's serving at the front or at home.

In Cara Putman's "White Christmas," after the death of her boyfriend, Abigail Turner is determined to avoid men and the heartache of death.  However, a careworn factory worker rescues her from being mowed down in the street, and she feels stirred to help him save his home farm. This story really brings to life the Home Front, especially how the country was balancing the effects of war with the slow recovery from the Depression, which still clung to the country.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Sarah Sundin focuses on Pete Turner, home safe from his combat tour in the air force, but drained from all the death he saw.  To his surprise, a little girl makes him smile again, as does her widowed mother - but will the woman he bullied as a child forgive him and give him a chance at love?  The pastor's advice to Pete stuck out to me, as there are always times in which we feel dried up inside - when you're empty, give; the more you give, the more God will fill you up.

Tricia Goyer's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" follows combat nurse Merry Turner as the front lines move through the Netherlands towards Belgium.  To her surprise, she glimpses someone who looks like the man who betrayed her heart and her country.  I enjoyed the fresh overseas setting in this story; Lafayette is still close to Merry's heart, but this tale offers a different view of it through her memories.

The authors did an excellent job making this a tight-knit collection.  Not only is it all centered around one family, but certain themes carry through the whole collection.  It's clear they worked closely together to make the details true through each story; the mother, father, and grandmother feel like the same characters as they appear in each tale, as does the city of Lafayette. I really enjoyed the historic details that the authors included; the title songs of each of the stories debuted in the year the story takes place, and each song has a small roll in the tale. While each story has a unique spiritual theme, there again is a common thread tying them together - the fear of loss.  Giving that fear up to God and trusting in spite of it - that's what we all need to do when faced with any fear.

Where Treetops Glisten is a heart-warming collection to remind us what our nation and its people went through to keep it safe, provide spiritual encouragement, and gear us up for Christmas.

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing a free book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Book-related links:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Prelude for a Lord" by Camille Elliot - a musical mystery

Prelude for a Lord  -     By: Camille Elliot
Camille Elliot's Prelude for a Lord is a refreshing regency with a spark of adventure.  Lady Alethea Sutherton, a confirmed spinster, takes delight in quiet living and music, especially her violin, an instrument inappropriate for ladies of quality.  Exiled to Bath with a cantankerous aunt, Alethea is accosted by a man trying to acquire her violin.  In an effort to find out more about her instrument's history and why it is so desirable to the thief, she consults the dark and brooding Lord Dommick, a brilliant violinist and composer himself.  As attempts to steal the violin escalate in violence, Alethea finds herself relying more and more on the Baron.  Can they protect the violin and their families, or will she be forced to give up everything she holds most dear?

I generally enjoy regencies, and the musical theme clinched this one for me.  While I do not play the violin, it was fun to read a book devoted to a musical instrument (and I have to say it just wouldn't have been the same with a Steinway instead of a Stradivarius).  Both her passion for music and the way the music moves Alethea is beautifully described, and I couldn't help but dust my flute off in response. 

I loved the camaraderie of Lord Dommick's quartet (though one member is off fighting Napoleon, and so we only hear of the other three talk about him).  Since the three who are in England are always together, fighting off attackers, rescuing Alethea and Clare, and making music together, I thought of them as the three musketeers - all for one and one for all.  Through it all, they bicker, joke, and ultimately support each other, exhibiting an authentic friendship. 

Like many, Alethea assumes all the neglect and  injustices in her life are proof that God doesn't care.  However, a wise woman tells her, "We most often base our experience with God on the actions of others.  But you must not mistake human frailty for divine relationship."  People have free will, and God won't take it away; that means many innocents suffer the consequences of their actions.  However, it doesn't mean God isn't there supporting us through the circumstances and showering us with His love. 

Rather than the simple, sweet romance I was expecting, this novel is touched with humor and has a strong element of mystery and suspense.  There are moments of terror, despair, hope, and wit.  It has a different tone than many other regencies; I have read others that felt more authentic, but this one has an appealing spark of adventure.  I'd say there is a great potential for a following novel or three, and I hope the author continues!

Thank you Zondervan and GoodReads for providing a free copy through the First Reads program; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Love's Fortune" by Laura Frantz - a warm conclusion to the series

Cover ArtThe final novel of the Ballantyne Legacy, Love's Fortune follows Rowena, called Wren - the Ballantyne grandchild who grew up in the poor mountains of Kentucky rather than in a house of privilege in Pittsburgh.  When her widowed father decides to return to his family in the north, Wren has no choice but to come along.  Thrust into society by virtue of belonging to one of the leading families of Pittsburgh, Wren has trouble living up to the expectations of her name, and all she longs for is the simple life they left behind.  Steamship pilot James Sackett proves a friend in navigating the waters of society, but death threats haunt him for his part in the abolitionist movement.  Not wishing to subject a woman - particularly not a Ballantyne - to his roots and present circumstances, he does his duty parading her before the eligible bachelors of the city.  But will Wren stay to live up to her family's expectations, or will she flee for the simplicity of home?

As always, Frantz in rich in her research and historical detail of the time.  Not only does she paint a detailed picture of steamboats and sooty, industrial Pittsburgh, but she also goes into depth over the decadence and rigidity of pre-war high society.  As Wren learns all the rules of etiquette, which seem aimed at turning one into an emotionless china doll, it's no wonder she feels suffocated!  The opulence exhibited at parties was astounding - cigars wrapped in or made of paper money, all the women given jewels with dinner; it was (for the elite) an incredibly decadent time in which to live. 

I very much enjoyed meeting Izannah, the daughter of Ellie Ballantyne Turlock; if I could change one thing, it would be to lengthen the story to include a little more about her, especially near the end.  As essentially the only two granddaughters, and of close age besides, Izannah and Wren have the potential to form a lasting bond, but also the potential to become rivals.  I was surprised by Izannah's relationships with the men of the story, but it added an unforeseen depth.

When Wren is dragged from her home to a place and lifestyle she has never seen, her father showing a side that she did not know existed, her whole world is turned on end.  Wren's response to the circumstances begs us to question our own.  When our lives are turned upside down, do we run away back to what was comfortable?  Do we grudgingly stay and pout?  Or do we make the most of our circumstances, living each day for the Lord and not for man? 

Though this story lacks the wildness of her Kentucky novels, Frantz proves she can write as intense a story in the drawing rooms of high society as in the wild woods of the frontier.  Brimming with love, sorrow, and strength, Love's Fortune  is a satisfying conclusion to the Ballantyne Legacy. 

Thank you Revell for providing a free book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Ballantyne Legacy:
1. Love's Reckoning
2. Love's Awakening
3. Love's Fortune

Behind the scenes of the cover shoot:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"A Bride in Store" by Melissa Jagears - a story of strong relationships

A Bride in StoreThe second novel by Melissa Jagears, A Bride in Store, two separate dreams are given a chance to unite in love.  After her train is held up, Eliza Cantrell arrives in town penniless, and her groom isn't even there to help her.  William Stanton, her groom's business partner, takes her under wing until Axel gets home again, whenever that will be, but Eliza proves much better at running a store than William ever will be.  His dream has always been to be a doctor, but funds for school are slim.  Working all day with Eliza, William finds himself falling for the practical woman, but he won't steal another man's bride, no matter how much he likes her and she seems to like him back.  Besides, her dream of running a store doesn't fit at all with his of being a doctor.  When Axel comes back to town, will they go their separate ways, or does God have a different plan in mind?

William is a marvelous hero - passionate yet restrained, compassionate yet able to stand up and fight.  Even if he has the business sense of a rock, his sense of honor and ability to flee temptation, however hard it may be, make him all the more dashing.  I had a harder time connecting with Eliza; she is a very practical, efficient person, and business has always been her life.  She comes far by the end of the story - tempering her business acumen with compassion and thinking of others instead of just herself.  However, like all couples should be, William and Eliza are better together than separate. 

William struggles with fighting for his dream.  He doesn't have enough money, he doesn't have enough knowledge, he hasn't studied enough, people have died under his watch when he could have - should have - done more.  His conclusion is that he shouldn't be a doctor.  But everyone trusts him, comes to him for doctoring, and believes he is meant to be a doctor.  And in his heart of hearts, he knows he wants to be one and always has.  Sometimes you just have to trust God and go for it, not listen to all the lies the devil throws your way.  

Jagears writes an in-depth story with a well-laid plot.  The relationships between her characters are strongly developed, and you know that if these were real people, they would be among those with the most successful marriages.  Compassion, hope, and sacrifice all play a role in their journey, creating a strong, heart-warming bond.

Thank you Bethany House for providing a free book in exchange for review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Unexpected Brides
1. A Bride for Keeps
2. A Bride in Store
3. A Bride at Last

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lynette Eason's "Nowhere to Turn" - attention-grabbing, action-packed suspense

Nowhere to Turn
In the second of Lynette Eason's Hidden Identity series, Dani Harding, an abused wife and mother to a deaf son, finally gets up the courage to leave her husband, an FBI agent.  On the run, she hears of her husband's sudden death, and so, supposing they are safe, returns home.  However, her husband, a dirty agent, had many secrets that come back to haunt her, and Dani flees again, this time with the help of Adam Buchanan of Operation Refuge.  They know Dani's stalker brother-in-law is after her, but he isn't the only one - the problem is, they don't know who the others are or how they keep finding them.  Wherever they hide, danger swiftly follows; can Adam find a way to save Dani and her son, even if there is nowhere to turn?

Like the book before it, Nowhere to Turn flows like an action movie - every scene is fast-paced and action-packed; every moment that it seems like things could slow down, something happens to ramp up the intensity.  Even near the end, when I thought all was safe - bam!  Eason does an excellent job capturing a reader's attention and not letting go until the very last page. 

I really enjoyed the twisty-complexity of the plot; rather than one villain, there is a host of people after Dani and the things her husband left in the safe.  Amongst all the dirty agents and their cohorts, who is playing who?  Which one is going to come out on top?  Are they all still dancing to the tune of Dani's husband, even from the grave?

I liked the inclusion of Simon, the intelligent but deaf child; his handicap adds depth and suspense to the story. There is not a heavy Christian message, but Dani's circumstances encourage us to keep trusting, whatever the circumstances and however long one must endure them.  An attention-grabbing, action-packed suspense! 

Thank you Revell for providing a free book in exchange for an honest review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Hidden Identity
1. No One to Trust
2. Nowhere to Turn
3. No Place to Hide 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"A Light in the Wilderness" by Jane Kirkpatrick - a journey to freedom

Cover ArtBased on the life of a real black woman who followed the Oregon Trail, A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick is a tale of injustice and the pursuit of freedom.  Letitia Carson treasures her freedom papers above all else; though many still treat her as a slave, she knows she is a free human being.  As she grows to trust Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant, and his kind neighbors, the Hawkins', she agrees to leave Missouri and its hate of blacks for far-off Oregon.  Sometimes her friendship with Nancy Hawkins is all that holds Letitia together, and vice versa, as they travel the rough and dangerous trail to a new life.  Once there, an old Indian woman from a dying tribe provides more comfort as she and Davey eke out a living in this free land.  But as a black woman, will she ever truly be free?

As with other works by the author, this one follows closely to history, even as far as the crazy laws governing the territories, the states, and even the country.  Blacks could not legally marry whites, they could not testify against a white, and they could not, for a time, even legally live in the Oregon territory.  It is encouraging to read about a real woman who challenged these laws, who stood up for her rights as a human being long before the civil rights movement. 

One thing I've found about Kirkpatrick's writing is that the story isn't safe - she writes history how it happened, not how I wish it would be.  Death, mistreatment, injustice - they are not picky about whom they terrorize; in reality, sometimes the wrong people die.  So when I began reading this book, I truly could not guess where it was going or who would live and who would die - only that it would follow Letitia in her pursuit of true freedom. 

While this is not a romance-heavy story, it is a good example of a real marriage. Like any couple, Letitia and Davey have their ups and downs, with different ideas of how a marriage should work - how money should be spent, how to communicate, how to survive disappointment.  They really have to work at it.  Though they commit to each other, the lack of legal binding means there is always that faint fear that the other might give up and leave.  I could see similarities between Letitia and friends today who, though they live with a boyfriend, lack the legal binding of marriage to secure them the rights of a married couple - however strongly committed, there is a lack of security there that the legally wed do not have. 

A detailed account of the Oregon Trail as well as pre-Civil War treatment of free blacks, this book is a fascinating journey through history.  For anyone who enjoys fiction based on real people and events, I highly recommend this novel. 

Thank you Revell for providing a free book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Related Novels:
The Memory Weaver
This Road We Traveled 

Monday, September 1, 2014

September 2014 Releases!

Exciting christian fiction releases for September 2014!

Historical Fiction:

Tried and TrueA Light in the WildernessLove's Fortune

A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick (Revell) - Antebellum

Based on a true story, three women - a freed slave, a young wife, and an old Indian woman - learn to overcome prejudice and embrace freedom in the Oregon Territory. 

Love's Fortune by Laura Frantz (Revell) - Antebellum; Ballantyne Legacy, book 3

Journeying to stay with family she has never met, a young woman tries to find a place amongst her relations and the high society in which they live, turning to a steamship pilot for the friendship she craves.  

Tried and True by Mary Connealy (Bethany House) - Late 1800's; Wild at Heart, book 1

The youngest of three sisters who masqueraded as boys to fight in the Civil War, a young woman acquires land under the special exemption for soldiers, but her claim isn't entirely legal and there are a number of men who would see her off of it. 

A Bride in Store by Melissa Jagears (Bethany House) - Late 1800's; Unexpected Brides, book 2

Robbed of her dowry and arriving a week early only to discover her groom is absent, a mail-order bride ends up under the care of her groom's inept business partner and must help run the store until her groom returns. 

Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer (Bethany House) -WWI

When family responsibility drags a young woman away from her dreams, she is stuck with a teaching position in music and basketball - a sport she does not know - and is forced to rely on the boys' basketball coach in order to do her job.

Where Treetops Glisten by Sarah Sundin, Cara Putman, and Tricia Goyer (WaterBrook Multnomah) - WWII

Three novellas by noteworthy WWII-fiction writers focus on courage and romance over Christmas during WWII.

Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia GoyerA Bride in StorePlaying by Heart
Nowhere to Turn
Contemporary Mystery/Suspense:

Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason (Revell);
Hidden Identity, book 2

An abusive husband once took something valuable from a dangerous man, and now his widow and son are fleeing for their lives, trying to find someplace safe to hide.