Monday, December 28, 2015

Margaret Brownley's "Calico Spy" - sweet and humorous

Calico Spy  -     By: Margaret Brownley
Even weeks after the murder of two Harvey Girls, Sheriff Branch Whitman is getting nowhere on the case, so Harvey calls in a Pinkerton detective. Branch has never liked the Pinkertons, but he might make an exception this time for the pretty agent masquerading as one of Harvey's waitresses. Will they be able to track down the murderer? Or will another Harvey Girl--maybe a red-headed agent--be caught instead?

It was fun reading a story involving TWO of the more unusual--but factual--jobs for women: Pinkerton agent and Harvey Girl. Harvey Girls, the waitresses at Mr. Harvey's rail-side restaurants, were held to a very high moral standard, while Pinkerton agents (even the males) were not necessarily known for their scruples. But Pinkerton was the first to recruit women as agents, and Harvey turned waitressing into a respectable occupation. Neither job was easy (both TONS of work), so it's impressive Katie manages to do both as well as she does. I enjoyed all the tidbits about the waitresses and female agents sprinkled throughout the book (and the series).

Plenty of humor and some sweet scenes, especially about Branch and his love for his son. It was fun getting to know the other Harvey staff beneath their proper exteriors, as well as the colorful locals that frequent the establishment. A fun, sweet read.

Thank you Barbour and NetGalley for providing an e-copy to review; I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Undercover Ladies
1. Petticoat Detective
2. Undercover Bride
3. Calico Spy 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christian Fiction Favorites of 2015!

The historical novels were overwhelmingly my favorites this year (no surprise, as it is my preferred genre. But I mean they were exceptionally good this time.) September won for the most favorites in a single month: 4  of my top 10 historicals were published that month. For reasons why they were chosen, feel free to follow the links to my reviews of the books.

Historical: The Mistress of Tall Acre A Noble Masquerade

The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton (WaterBrook, April); The Pathfinders, book 1 - Colonial

The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz (Revell, September) - Colonial

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House, September); Hawthorne House, book 1 - Regency
To Win Her Favor, Belle Meade Plantation Series #2 -eBook   -     By: Tamera Alexander
A Worthy Pursuit In Good Company
To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander (Zondervan, May); Belle Meade Plantation, book 2 - Reconstruction

A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House, June) - Late 1800's

In Good Company by Jen Turano (Bethany House, July); A Class of Their Own, book 2 - Late 1800's

The Lost Heiress Not by Sight Through Waters Deep

The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House, September); Ladies of the Manor, book 1 - Edwardian (1900's)

Not by Sight by Kate Breslin (Bethany House, August) - WWI

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin (Revell, August); Waves of Freedom, book 1 - WWII

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke (Tyndale, September) - WWII, 1970's

Secrets She Kept  -     By: Cathy Gohlke

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey (Bethany House, February); Alaskan Courage, book 5

And my favorite new-to-me reads that were not published this year included the charming novel by Lynn Austin A Proper Pursuit (2007), the moving Wings of a Dream (2012) by Anne Mateer, which spoke to my situation at the time, and an old classic The Blue Castle (1926) by Lucy Maude Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame). How could I not have read these before?

A Proper Pursuit Wings of a Dream The Blue Castle

Friday, December 18, 2015

"A Singular and Whimsical Problem" by Rachel McMillan - a fun introduction to a new mystery series!

A Singular and Whimsical Problem - eBook  -     By: Rachel McMillan
While satisfying, private investigation--at least, for two female detectives in 1910 Toronto--is not necessarily lucrative. To pay the bills, sometimes one has to take whatever case is offered, even if it is so ignoble as tracking down a one-eared cat. But for Merinda Herringford and Jemima Watts, no case remains so simple for long . . . One missing cat turns into several missing young women, and it's all tied to the St. Jerome's Reformatory for Vagrant and Incorrigible Females.

For such a short piece of fiction, the author manages to cram in some fascinating historical bits about 1910 Toronto, like the Morality Squad, based off the actual Morality Police, which had the power to arrest people for such immoral practices as drunkenness and women walking alone after dark. I had to pause in the middle of reading just to look it up - it sounded too ridiculous to be true, which in fiction is a good indication that it really is true. And sure enough, it is based on fact, even if the author put her own spin on it. It certainly has potential to be recurring problem for our two morally questionable lady detectives (who dare to don the disguises of men on occasion!)

I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of the Watson-ish half of the duo - proper, empathetic Jem, as opposed to Merinda's more Holmesian personality. She's the sort who is easy to relate to and adds a fun commentary on Merinda's calculating actions. The mystery had some nice little twists in it that I had not anticipated, which bodes well for the upcoming stories in the series.

Now after this taste of the characters and their associates, I can't wait to read the full-length novels!

Herringford & Watts Mysteries
0.5: "A Singular and Whimsical Problem" (novella)
1. A Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder
1.5: "A Dubious and Questionable Memory" (novella)
2. A Lesson in Love and Murder
2.5: "A Conductor of Light" (short story)
3. The White Feather Murders 

Monday, December 14, 2015

"The Painter's Daughter" by Julie Klassen - a story of moral failure, consequences, and grace

Cover ArtInitially cherished by an enamored gentleman painter, Sophie Dupont  is abruptly abandoned unwed and pregnant while he flits off to Italy in pursuit of his muse. The same day he leaves, his responsible younger brother shows up in pursuit. Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to fixing his brother's messes, but this time he surprises even himself by offering his name to save Sophie from scandal. Will her beloved Wesley return in time to salvage her reputation? Or should give up her love by pledging her life to his brother?

Klassen is an excellent storyteller. She takes life in all its painful messiness--people's failures, mistakes, foolish choices--and shows that redemption is possible. She never glorifies a person's moral failures--they always have consequences. But there is always room for grace, even for people you might want to push over a cliff.

Growth and character development are not limited to the main characters (nor, for that matter, are secrets). Even the secondary characters see change over the course of the novel. For instance, I didn't care for Lt. Keith at first, but because he pursues change for his life, by the end I was completely won to his side.

While reading the story, I couldn't help but at times feel the romance wasn't quite safe . . . like in The Apothecary's Daughter and Lady Maybe, there were times in which I couldn't quite be certain who the heroine would end up with. I knew who I wanted her to be with--who I was pretty sure she SHOULD be with--but there was just enough of a seed of doubt that I couldn't be completely certain. And when the story is balanced so precariously, there is no option but to finish it!

I like the slightly Gothic touch to the story--it isn't as strong as some of her previous novels, but it is definitely present. That touch of mystery and slightly ominous feel that not everything is as it seems . . . Excellent, as always. 5 out of 5 stars!

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

"At Love's Bidding" by Regina Jennings - an amusing tale of culture clash

Cover ArtWhen Miranda's grandfather sells a priceless painting to an anonymous bidder without realizing the painting had been swapped, it's up to them to get it back. But in their pursuit of the painting, they purchase an auction house not full of priceless art, but of livestock. Wyatt Ballentine, the auctioneer, had hopes of buying the sales barn himself, but now he's stuck with two city slickers trying to run his business, and a right mess they're making of it too. Can they figure out how to work together to find the painting and keep the situation from, if possible, getting any worse?

Talk about culture clash and perspective. Miranda comes from a fairly wealthy family (upper middle class), but because they have to work for a living they will never attain the upper echelons of society. In the eyes of the society, they're little better than those who work at the docks. But by the standards of Pine Gap, Missouri, they're far beyond even the most wealthy citizens of the village. And that--along with big city versus backwoods rural village--makes for some highly entertaining and wince-worthy culture clashes between Miranda and Wyatt. And her grandfather and . . . everyone.

Though there is quite a bit of humor and exciting bit of danger, there are some sober themes in the story. Miranda's grandfather, though often a source of humor, is continually sinking deeper into what I'm pretty sure is dementia, and his actions and thoughts are not always representative of the kind, hardworking businessman he once was.

But then, in contrast, there's Cornelius the phrenologist, who studies the shapes of people's heads to determine personality and talents . . . one of the more ridiculous pseudosciences of the last two centuries. I admit, I rather enjoyed that it plays a part in the story.

All I can say is, the next book better be about Betsy Huckabee. Nosy mite that she is, she almost stole the show from Miranda, and it was fun to see how she's grown since the previous book.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing an e-copy for review; I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Ozark Mountain Romance
1. A Most Inconvenient Marriage
2. At Love's Bidding
2.5 "Her Dearly Unintended" from the novella collection With This Ring?
3. For the Record

Monday, December 7, 2015

Elizabeth Camden's "Until the Dawn" - a story of contrasts

Cover ArtDierenpark has been abandoned by the Vandermark family--but maintained by a small band of local servants--for decades. And over the years, small liberties have been taken for the sake of the village's inhabitants. But those liberties come to a crashing halt when the cynical Quentin Vandermark and his young son arrive to demolish their supposedly cursed estate. Sophie wants desperately to preserve the estate--her only purpose in life is currently set up on the roof of the old house. Though they are instantly at odds, Quentin and Sophie find common ground in his troubled son. But given the trouble associated with the estate, could there something to the supposed curse? And will uncovering its dark history help or hurt?

It's a battle between superstition and science; the intangible and the tangible. And where does God fit in? I enjoyed the all the contrasts--how the Vandermarks seem cursed, yet their ancestral home Dierenpark seems blessed; the juxtaposition of rational and irrational schools of thought; the light that Sophie brings and the darkness Quentin exudes.

It's easy to feel for Sophie. She's sweet and kind and beautiful, and she would make an amazing wife and mother, yet even those who love her don't think she can amount to anything--not even manage to be a wife, if her three failed engagements are any indication. And as much as she tries to maintain a chipper view of life, she feels the hurt and discouragement flung her way, and feels the pain of her oft-trampled dreams.

The mystery, rooted deep in the past, offers an element of unpredictability to the story; to fully understand the present, they have to uncover the past, even if it involves darker dealings than they had dreamed. As Quentin is a self-proclaimed atheist, as opposed to Sophie's abiding faith, the author boldly takes a stand for Christianity in all its rational and irrational glory. Yet the message is simple, taken from John 15:17: "This I command you, that you love one another." Like the other contrasts of the story, the message is simple yet complex at the same time.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing an e-copy to review; I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Check out "Toward the Sunrise," the free novella prequel to Until the Dawn.

Friday, December 4, 2015

December 2015 Christian fiction releases!

Exciting new Christian fiction releases that are coming just in time for Christmas:

The Painter's Daughter At Love's Bidding Until the Dawn
The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen (Bethany House) - Regency

A painter's daughter finds herself pregnant by their artist guest, but it is his responsible brother--who is always cleaning up his brother's messes--who offers to wed her and salvage her reputation.

At Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings (Bethany House) - Late 1800's

While helping with her grandfather's auction house, a young woman accidentally sells a valuable painting, which sends them on a goosechase to the Ozarks, where they purchase a whole auction house to prevent it from moving again. Except, as they discover upon arrival, the auction house doesn't deal in art, but in livestock . . .

Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House) - Late 1800's
A Singular and Whimsical Problem (Herringford and Watts Mysteries #.5)

When a gentleman returns to his family's supposedly haunted estate after a generations-long absence, he is furious with the locals who have used it as a tourist destination. But in spite of his anger, he can't help noticing the woman who reaches out to his young son.

"A Singular and Whimsical Problem" by Rachel McMillan (Harvest House) - 1900's; Herringford & Watts Mysteries, 0.5 (novella prequel)

What begins as a search for a missing cat by a pair of female private investigators turns into a mystery involving suffragettes and the disappearances of several institutionalized "Incorrigible Females."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Anne Mateer's "At Every Turn" - an Edwardian-era trip to the races

Cover ArtCaught up in a whirlwind of religious enthusiasm, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. However, her wealthy father has no intention of forking over the cash to anything related to the church, and suddenly Alyce has to earn that money on her own. With no real skills but her ability to drive an automobile, and no talent at saving cash, Alyce looks to be in trouble . . . until she hits on the idea of driving her father's car in the races. With the aid of Webster, her father's mechanic, she might just have a chance to pull it off--if she hasn't placed her trust in the wrong people.

I liked the ending. Very much. But getting there was a trial for me--not because it was boring, or that I disliked the heroine, or that it made me mad, but mainly because I have an acute sense of embarrassment for people, both fictional and real, and Alyce triggered it. She constantly teeters on the rim of the bowl of embarrassment, making promises she can't necessarily keep, putting her trust in sketchy people, resorting to deception to hide her driving. But most of all, she's one of those people that causes a stir wherever she goes, simply by being her unconventional, enthusiastic self, and that leaves plenty of room for embarrassing (albeit sometimes humorous) situations.

There were definitely some good lessons to be learned about pride and honesty. I liked that Alyce's heart is in the right place, even if she doesn't always make the wisest decisions. And while she is a bit too trusting, I think it is better to trust too much than to be suspicious of everyone.

If you have any interest in car racing or the early automobile industry, this should be a fun read. I wondered for a long while how driving could be so tiring--what's 150 miles? An easy 3-hour trip or less. But it did occur to me eventually that those early cars likely did not have power steering, [relatively] comfy seats, the ease of automatic shifting, and all the smooth-working inner systems that have by now been perfected by the auto industry. In fact, I bet long stints in the car were utterly miserable. It's probably incredible that Alyce likes it and can do it!

Think Downton Abbey--namely Lady Sybil, with all her passion and heart for good causes--falling in love at high speed not just with the chauffeur, but with the chauffeuring itself.
O’Dell Shields photo. Noel Allard collection;

Above: Dario Resta and his mechanic at the 1916 Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a race in which Alyce competes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 reading challenge

The start of the year is always full of people accepting reading challenges. After seeing this one put together by Bethany House, I thought it would be fun to do - less stressful than making a certain book number goal. This is just sixteen books (which, without further criteria, I could manage in less than six weeks), but they have various stipulations. 
As Love Blooms Wings of a Dream Beauty (Folktales, #1)
As Love Blooms by Lorna Seilstad: in my state (MN)
Wings of a Dream by Anne Mateer: makes me cry
Beauty by Robin McKinley: a book I loved as a child
The Princess and the Goblin Cover Art Love's Rescue
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald: my best friend recommends
The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick: has a great cover (isn't beautiful in its simplicity
                                                                                    and color?)
Love's Rescue by Christine Johnson: features someone who shares my eyecolor (blue-grey)
Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor The Lost Heiress
Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore: over 500 pages (750, actually)
The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M White: begins a series (Ladies of the Manor)
Things Not Seen by Jon Bloom: a genre I don't normally read (nonfiction)
Rasmus and the Vagabond A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House, #1)
Rasmus and the Vagabond by Astrid Lindgren: has a child main character
The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton: favorite time period (Colonial)
A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter, written by an author I've never heard of
The Scarlet Pimpernel  My Stubborn Heart Through Waters Deep
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy: was made into a movie
My Stubborn Heart: reminds me of someone I love (in appearance, personality, and situation.
                                      Apparently what she needs is a hockey player.)
Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin: includes a Christmas scene
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maude Montgomery: a classic I'd never read
The Blue Castle

Friday, November 20, 2015

Becky Wade's "Love in the Details" - a poignant, well-written novella

During their freshman year of college, Holly broke up with Josh to give him a chance at a better life--and he went on to become a millionaire genius in the IT world, while she stayed home in small-town Texas. Now, eight years later, Holly is acting as wedding coordinator at her church, and Josh flies home from Paris to be best man in his friend's wedding. Both still in love with the other, neither completely over the hurt--will they get past the fear and follow God's timing in their lives?

Love in the Details: A November Wedding Story - eBook  -     By: Becky Wade
I love Becky wade's style of humor. Even though it's a moving story and swoon-worthy romance, Holly's perspective on life has such a delightful touch of humor. I also enjoyed the subtle encouragement to writers (Holly being a novelist) - "Well, it didn't look like genius would be forthcoming today. She'd settle for mediocre hogwash. Then, at least, she'd have something to work with. Hard to edit and revise blank pages." (46) - So true.

If you want a sample of Wade's writing, this is absolutely true to her novels, but on a smaller scale - funny, poignant, romantic, with an emotional punch and uplifting spiritual thread. And hard to remain dry-eyed all the way through. And if you want a high quality novella, then absolutely read this one. It's rare that I think a novella would not be improved by lengthening it, but this is one of the few - any longer, and it might actually lose impact. It's perfect as it is. 5 stars!

Thank you Zondervan and NetGalley for providing an e-copy for review; I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"A Flying Affair" by Carla Stewart - a fun taste of the Roaring Twenties

A Flying Affair  -     By: Carla Stewart
After one taste of flight, Mitty Humphreys has completely caught the flying bug. Balancing her passion for aviation with her family's Saddlebred business tricky, when she loves both, but it becomes even more difficult when trick pilot Ames Dewberry reappears in her life. To complicate matters further, Bobby York, son of a family friend, also turns up to give flying lessons at the airfield. Falling in love has never been on her radar, but suddenly she has two men competing not only with each other, but also with her love of horses and flight for her affections--and it's anyone's guess which of them will win out.

If I were to sum the story up in one word, it would have to be Fast. The author does a good job bringing out the frenzied pace of the Roaring Twenties, both in Mitty and in the tone of the story. When Mitty gets interested in something, she jumps into it. She's not one to wait around when she can do something right now. She is absolutely a risk-taker, though she eventually learns to be wiser in which risks she takes. And the world around her is racing at a frenzied pace--aviation taking off not just for men, but for women in all kinds of publicity stunts. Investments are skyrocketing. People all over are teetering on the edge of the laws of prohibition.

I enjoyed the tug between Mitty's two loves--horses and flying. While aviation is her passion, horses are her roots. She loves both worlds, and she is good in both worlds. It's a rare person who only has one interest in life, and Mitty is realistically not one of them. Contrary to my expectations, I ended up liking Calista, Mitty's competition and fellow female aviator. It was encouraging to read about how close and supportive the women aviators were, even though they were also fierce competitors--their love of the sport surpassed any rivalry.

The thing I didn't care for was Mitty's choices in the romance department; she moves fast, like in every other aspect of her life, and not always wisely. It fits her personality, but I don't think I would read this novel just for the romance. There is a minor faith thread to the story, though not anything too profound. This is the first book I've read by the author, and I doubt it will be my last. I got the impression that some of the secondary characters might have had stories of their own, though it didn't impede the story in any way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Nancy Mehl's "Rising Darkness"

Rising DarknessIn the third Finding Sanctuary suspense, Sophie Wittenbauer, following lead that might break open her investigative reporting career, finds herself confronting her Mennonite past--in more ways than one. Not only is she searching for a long-missing murderer in a town founded by Mennonites, but Jonathon Wiese, a young man from her hometown who knows her disgraceful past, now resides in the Sanctuary. Will she have a chance to ferret out the murderer before her cover is completely blown? Or will her ambition be her doom?

I was a bit slow on the uptake, given that it's been a couple years, but I eventually realized that this book has close ties to Mehl's Road to Kingdom series, especially the novel Unbreakable. I like that Sophie and Jonathon are given a second chance at healing and happiness. It isn't necessary to read the earlier books or Road to Kingdom series, but if you want the complete backstory, that would be the way to go.

Within two chapters I was squirming from all the lies piling up. I read books; I know how it goes: truth will out, every time, and it will not go well when it does. However, Mehl's revealing of the truth proved less painful than I expected--quite a relief. I didn't really like Sophie at first--mostly because of her love of ambition over people--but she grows a lot as she is forced to confront that ambition, her fears, and her past. And once one uncovers more of her backstory, it makes it clear just how much she has to overcome.

I thought this quote to be insightful: "Every human being on the face of the planet makes a daily choice to trust. Life doesn't really encourage it, you know." (location 132/153) No, life does not make it easy to trust, but that's where faith steps in.

I'm anti-voluntary villain confessions, but otherwise I liked the ending--I think it finishes on just the right note. A good mystery/suspense.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for an e-copy to review; I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Finding Sanctuary
1. Gathering Shadows
2. Deadly Echoes
3. Rising Darkness 

Monday, November 9, 2015

"A Refuge at Highland Hall" by Carrie Turansky the final Edwardian Brides novel, Penny Ramsey has been helping her sister and her husband corral eight adopted orphans, but when the Great War reaches London, she, her sister, and the children take refuge at their old home, Highland Hall. Responsibility for the rambunctious orphans falls on Penny while her sister struggles with her pregnancy, but Penny has one consolation: letters from the dashing pilot Alex Goodwin. But fatalities are high among the pilots--will Alex return unscathed so their friendship has a chance to turn into something deeper?

Turansky does an excellent job putting history at the forefront of this novel. WWI generally receives significantly less attention than WWII, so it's interesting to learn about the differences between the two wars. I especially enjoyed learning about beginnings of air warfare.

I really liked the inclusion of the German internment camp. One often hears of the internment camps in Germany during the World Wars, but the reality is that other nations had them too--including the US and Great Britain. And it wasn't for just POWs; immigrants and citizens of German descent were rounded up and imprisoned unfairly, and they were often not treated well. I appreciate Turansky's diligence to bring this less noble side of the war to the light, juxtaposed against the bravery and heroism of the troops.

The chaos caused by all the children made for some fun and realistic conflict, and it was nice to follow up on Julia and Kate, heroines of the previous novels. However, I didn't think that Alex's issues with his family were completely resolved; I didn't notice an explanation as to the missing letters between him and them, and there didn't seem to be a definitive reconciliation between him and his mother. Was the stepfather to blame for the continued rift? Was it all just his mother's way of getting away from the past? I would have liked more of an explanation there.

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

Edwardian Brides
1. The Governess of Highland Hall
2. The Daughter of Highland Hall
3. A Refuge at Highland Hall


Friday, November 6, 2015

Janice Thompson's "Every Girl Gets Confused" - both entertaining and applicable

Cover Art
In the second Brides With Style novel, all is going swimmingly for Katie Fisher--new boyfriend, new job, new city. Except that Brady needs another surgery on his knee, and he's closing her out. Her mom is bugging her to come back home. And her ex-boyfriend suddenly seems to have forgotten he's an EX. With pressure coming from all directions, and not a little on her plate, it's no wonder Katie's a bit confused . . .

While I was figuring on a funny story (and don't get me wrong, it was!), I had not anticipated something so applicable to my life, which made for a rather more reflective story than I'd expected.

I really liked the aspect of Brady's surgery and depression (not that I was happy for him, but I thought it was well written and true to life). Having been in Katie's place supporting the man one loves as he struggles with not being able to do the job he wants, I could really sympathize with her. As I have also learned in life, it demonstrates how important dreams and careers are for our men, and subsequently, how our important our support is to them, even when it's hard to know what he really needs to pull him from depression or how to encourage him without it making him more depressed.

And the talk about seasons of life. Could there be anything more apropos? I feel like we've finally just started moving out of the above season.

Getting on to less personal matters, there's a lot of truth to the story in that feelings are not always so easy to sort out as romances generally depict. They're messy. Even if you have found someone new whom you love very much, that doesn't necessarily stop you from having feelings for someone you used to love. Just because Katie is committed to Brady doesn't mean twenty years of friendship with Casey never happened.

And oh my word, there are some hilarious--and some horrifying (in a humorous way)--scenes in this story. (Blue-tooth soap opera, oh my.) And images that won't be leaving my mind any time soon. Definitely entertaining.

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

 Brides With Style
1. Every Bride Needs a Groom
2. Every Girl Gets Confused
3. Every Bride Has Her Day 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Janice Thompson's "Every Bride Needs a Groom" - a funny story out of an embarrassing predicament

Cover ArtIn the first Brides With Style book, Katie Fischer writes the winning essay for a dream wedding dress--the only problem is, on the day she wins, her not-quite-a-fiance becomes decidedly Not A Groom. So with no marriage prospects whatsoever, Katie decides she has to do the right thing and explain that she can't accept the dress. However, pressure comes from a number of quarters to accept it anyway. But then, what will happen when the pro basketball player who is running the shop--a perfect gentleman who could be more than a friend--finds out her embarrassing story?

Oh the horror--the embarrassment--the dread! I can only imagine that horrible, sinking, pit-of-the-stomach feeling of winning something so incredible as a multi-thousand dollar wedding dress, only to suddenly have no prospect of a groom. And to have to explain why you can't accept it? [shudder]. It is a situation I'm glad I should never have to face.

But the story is definitely focused on the humor of the situation, not the drama. And there certainly is humor!

I enjoyed the family dynamics, from the romantic (but a little crotchety) grandmother, to the overwhelmed mother-of-three cousin, to the three annoying brothers, to the estranged great-aunt, to the mother who's a little too protective of her full-grown babies . . . It makes for a humorous cast. But I liked Katie most of all, who tries to be honest about her situation and has trouble not letting everyone push her around. She's a great narrator, grasping the humor of the situation, but still honest with herself.

And to put a very masculine man in charge of a prestigious bridal shop--inspired. Just because a guy is good at sports doesn't mean he can't be good with brides too.

It's a cute story. I could almost see it ending there, if I didn't know there was a second book to the series.

Thank you Revell and NetGalley for providing an e-copy to review; I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Brides With Style
1. Every Bride Needs a Groom
2. Every Girl Gets Confused
3. Every Bride Has Her Day

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Jocelyn Green's "Spy of Richmond" - my favorite of this intense series

In the final Heroines behind the Lines novel, Sophie Kent, daughter of a wealthy Richmond slaveholder, has a dangerous loyalty to the Union, right in the heart of the Confederate capitol. Compelled to fight for her beliefs, she risks everything to spy on the Confederacy. When her old friend freelance journalist Harrison Caldwell turns up with a twin to one of the Kent slaves, Sophie finds encouragement--and new avenues--to continue her charade. However, it becomes all the more difficult when she realizes that to maintain her cover, she must deny her heart.

Spy of Richmond is an intense conclusion to the series. Due to all the connections between books--repeat secondary characters, cameos, and overlapping tales--I think it is more fulfilling to read the others first (besides that they are great literature), but the story is sufficiently strong to stand on its own.

#4: Spy of Richmond  -     By: Jocelyn Green
I really liked how this book is so strongly connected; the plot lines of the secondary characters intertwine quickly with the major, so that the story has a solid, cohesive feel. While Sophie is an entirely new character, Harrison, Bella, and Abraham all appeared as secondary characters in Widow of Gettysburg. Bella and Abraham's story is continued, but the focus of the book is clearly on Sophie and Harrison, who take part in some incredible historic events.

Like in the other novels, Green molds her story over the rigid details of history, yet it never feels like a history lesson, even though it is packed with so many different details of Richmond's role in the war. From prison outbreaks to spy rings to the underground railroad--it is full of fascinating details.

The book deals with one of the hazier aspects of war: spies. The issue with spying is that so easily people get hurt; in order to effectively gather intelligence, one must make a practice to deceive, even those one loves. So under what circumstances do the ends justify the means? I think Sophie has the right answer: she is convicted by lying and practicing deception, yet she is convicted more by doing nothing to help the Union, which she feels in her soul is in the right. I think at times she may have gone too far, but in general she makes the right decision. But it is a fine line she treads.

As always, Green's writing is excellent, and her intense research unparalleled. This one just might be my favorite of the series. 5 out of 5 stars!

Heroines Behind the Lines
1. Wedded to War
2. Widow of Gettysburg
3. Yankee in Atlanta
4. Spy of Richmond

Friday, October 23, 2015

Elizabeth Camden's "Toward the Sunrise" a prequel novella to "Until the Dawn"

Toward the Sunrise: An Until the Dawn Novella - eBook  -     By: Elizabeth Camden
Elizabeth Camden's first novella takes her typical intensity and condenses it into a novella. Julia Broeder is in her final year of medical school, soon to follow her dream and become a missionary doctor overseas, when one rash action gets her expelled. Sent home to the Vandermark's estate, where Julia's family have been caretakers for generations, Julia enlists the wealthy family's attorney to help her appeal the expulsion. But in the meantime, she has been considering other options . . . Will she choose the easy or the hard path?

This is a well written novella. Given such a short word limit, the characters are well developed--strong, passionate, and compassionate--but not without faults. Humor touches the story, but the dreams and fears of the characters are the focus.What are willing to do to make your dreams come true? Are you willing to go so far as to admit you were wrong and beg forgiveness?

It sets the scene nicely for the upcoming novel, Until the Dawn, about Sophie van Riijn, the close friend of Julia Broeder. Not only is the setting established--the ancient Vandermark estate--but also its wealthy and potentially ruthless owners. And, all the more intriguing, there is definitely a mystery about the haunted estate and why the Vandermarks abandoned it so completely decades ago. I'm excited to see where the novel takes us!