Friday, July 31, 2015

Susan Anne Mason's "Irish Meadows"

Cover ArtFocusing on the O'Leary family--Irish immigrants who have overcome poverty to reach genuine wealth in New York--Irish Meadows describes their fight to maintain that success. Breanna O'Leary wants to go to college, but even more she desperately wants to be valued by her family, instead always shoved into the background. Colleen, her older sister, simply wants to marry the man who can give her the most of everything, never mind who she hurts in the process. And Gilbert Whelan, the unofficially adopted son of the O'Leary family, desires to make a name for himself and his deceased father. But their desires don't necessarily line up with the plans of the O'Leary patriarch, and they must fight if they don't want to become pawns in his game to win back success.

A lot of times in books, people make pretty dumb choices (not that we EVER do in real life), but it really bothers me when the logic behind their choices is unsound. However, with this story, I always felt that the characters' reasoning made sense. They still do foolish things, and their motivations may or may not be pure, but given their options, I can understand why they do what they do. Take Gilbert--he has noble intentions, but he makes some idiotic choices out of love and loyalty to the family who basically adopted him. Colleen, a quite selfish and manipulative young woman at the beginning, is willing to take the surest route to success, no matter who gets hurt. Do I agree with her methods? No, but given her character, her actions totally make sense.

In spite of the fact Colleen starts out as a rather awful, mean-spirited flirt, I actually ended up liking her (and her predicament) the most, such that I wish  little more time could have been spent on her and Rylan. And Rylan is such a dear.

The two girls and their forbidden romances strike a fine contrast throughout the novel. Though technically Colleen's is the more impossible romance (forbidden by the church), in some ways it is the simpler of the two; it develops first into friendship and then blossoms through mutual respect and caring. Brianna's, on the other hand, though they've been friends forever, becomes rife with insecurity as they are forced to confront emotional baggage that they both carry. Not that it goes easy for either of them!

I enjoyed this look at the American Dream, how an immigrant family was able to grasp success and now fight to hold on to it. I look forward to the next 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.

Courage to Dream
1. Irish Meadows
2. A Worthy Heart

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thomas Locke's "Double Edge": a short story of mysterious experiments that sets the hook for the upcoming novel

Double EdgeCharlie Hazard leaves his guard post at a community center for what he thinks is just another risk-containment job, but the beautiful woman who asks him to come cannot--or will not--reveal any more than her first name and a plea for him to come. Keeping her safe is his first priority, even if she isn't a client yet, but between dangers on the road and mysterious psychological experiments, Charlie is in for a night he could never have seen coming . . .

Trial Run, Library EditionThough just a short story, "Double Edge" packs a punch. It offers a taste of the mysterious, a world of science beyond what the average citizen could ever guess. It is believable science fiction in the same way that Crichton's Jurassic Park is believable--something close to our world that we could almost imagine is true. Perhaps someone IS developing these mysterious psychological processes, hidden behind closed doors, preparing to test on ordinary people . . . but will it be for good or evil?

Something about the flavor of the story put me in mind of the film Paycheck starring Ben Affleck - those who enjoy that sort of tale will find this story most appealing. It gives us a taste of what is to come yet gives little away, hooking the reader and leaving them hungry for answers. The short story sets up Locke's upcoming novel Trial Run beautifully.


***Double Edge is FREE on Christianbook.com and Amazon!***

Friday, July 24, 2015

"A Bride At Last" by Melissa Jagears

Cover ArtIn the third of the Unexpected Bride series, Silas Jonesy--the man whose mail order bride abandoned him seven months after the wedding--discovers at his wife's deathbed that she bore a son. The timing is right to be his child, but there's another man claiming the boy is his. And there's Kate, a fiery schoolteacher who loves young Anthony like her own son, who would prefer that neither man claiming to be his father would take him away. When Anthony takes matters into his own hands, can they work together to do what's best for him?


I'm glad that, although Kate initially appeared to be one of those people who explosively forms an opinion and staunchly never budges, she turned out to be a much more reasonable person, proving my first impressions wrong. Considering that her first impressions of Silas are also off-base, and that she must reevaluate her opinions of him partway through, I was amused by the parallels of our positions. Silas, however, I really liked from the first. He's so wounded and scared, yet he oozes "sweetheart" from his very pores. How could a woman NOT fall in love with him?

The author does a good job portraying addiction--not just to alcohol, but to other things that have become habits. However, what I think the author did best was working out Kate and Silas' relationship. Kate's penchant for leaving when things aren't great is in direct conflict with Silas' fear of being abandoned. Those two have a lot to work out together in order for a relationship to survive, and Jagears writes it in an incredibly realistic way--she doesn't take the easy way out. And even then, like in all relationships, it takes faith for them to succeed.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing an e-book for review; I was not required to make the review 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, July 20, 2015

"The Curiosity Keeper" by Sarah E. Ladd - a Gothic-style romance

#1: The Curiosity Keeper  -     By: Sarah E. Ladd
When a famous uncut ruby is stolen from his father, Jonathan Gilchrist is put in charge of finding it, lest, given his father's debts, their estate be sold and his sister lose her dowry. The search leads him to a ramshackle curiosity shop, largely run by the proprietor's enchanting daughter. Certain that Camille Iverness knows more than she claims, Jonathan offers to help her when she is forced to flee. Is she the innocent she seems, or does she truly hold the key to the ruby?

To my pleasure, this story has leanings toward a Gothic romance: a twisty, dark mystery, an independent heroine, and a precious stone men will do anything to possess. While the romance, of course, goes as expected, I enjoyed the unpredictability of the plot surrounding it. Is Camille's father the villain the Gilchrists believe him to be? What will Camille do when she flees London? How will they find the ruby when no one seems to know where it is?

Besides enjoying the main characters, I liked how the author depicts Penelope Gilchrist--somewhat selfish and entitled, yes, and prone to manipulation, but not irredeemable. There is a heart under there, but insecurity and fear often overrule it. I hope there will be a book about her in the future; given a chance to grow up a little more, she could become a character worthy of her own story.

I really liked the ending. How to put this without writing any spoilers? Hmmm. I liked the ending because it left me slightly dissatisfied, yet not disappointed . . . like the difference between quenching one's thirst with straight water and water with a hint of lemon - both are good, both rehydrate, but straight water leaves one thirsting for a little bit more. It's good to know the author has more books coming! 4.5 stars!

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

Treasures of Surrey
1. The Curiosity Keeper
2. Dawn at Emberwilde
3. A Stranger at Fellsworth 

Friday, July 17, 2015

"To Capture Her Heart" by Rebecca DeMarino - review and giveaway!

Cover ArtIn the second of the Southold Chronicles, Heather Flower, princess of the Montaucketts, is kidnapped during her wedding and left to die by a rival tribe. Rescued by the Dutchman Dirk van Buren and returned to her family and friends in Southold. While grieving her murdered groom, Heather Flower finds herself pursued by two white men: her rescuer and her dear friend Ben Horton. Their rivalry is heightened by war between England and Holland, and Heather Flower stands in the middle. Which man will she choose?

While I vaguely remembered the Dutch had settled New York before the English, I didn't know much more than that; thus the war between the English and Dutch in the New World made for an interesting read. However, it's hard for me to understand why the boys are all so keen to fight, when anytime they receive news of the war in Europe--be it of battle or peace--it is weeks or months after the fact. Ben is positively spoiling for a fight against Dirk, when really, the politics affecting their home countries have no practical effect on the remote colonists so far away; there is plenty room for everyone and no excuse for war. But then, it is a good depiction of how senseless war often is.

I do wish there had been more focus on Dirk--for someone who is technically one of the main characters, he rarely makes an appearance. Ben is in the spotlight far more often, as well as Ben's mother, Mary. While it is nice to follow up on the Horton family, I'd rather have had some of Mary's time (or Barnabas's time) devoted to Dirk, given that his and Ben's rivalry for Heather Flower is the main focus of the plot.

It does a good job depicting the history and early politics of Long Island, which proved considerably more complex than I had anticipated. I liked the emotional tug of the first book in the series more, but this one really delves into early colonial history, capturing the racial, political, and religious tensions that abounded.

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

Southold Chronicles
1. A Place in His Heart
2. To Capture Her Heart
3. (coming 2016) 

To Capture Her Heart Book Launch  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Among the Fair Magnolias: four southern love stories

From the months leading up to the Civil War to the years rebuilding afterward, Among the Fair Magnolias depicts the South--both its beauty and ugliness--in this collection of four love stories. I couldn't resist picking up this collection for the sake of Tamera Alexander's novella, and in turn it introduced me to three other writers of historical fiction.

"A Heart So True" by Dorothy Love: I always enjoy a fresh setting, and a marshy island off South Carolina, with a focus on rice plantations instead of the characteristic cotton and tobacco of the South, was a pleasant surprise. While I am generally not into politics, the discussions and worries over secession was new perspective for me, and I liked that that oft-neglected aspect of the antebellum South formed the backdrop of the story. After reading this story, I am definitely interested in reading more of the author's works.

Coming in JULY"To Mend a Dream" by Tamera Alexander: In the author's novel To Win Her Favor, she introduced Savannah, a friend of the heroine in severely reduced circumstances, and it was a pleasure to discover that that same woman is the heroine of this story. Even though it is significantly shorter than the author's novels, it it still holds true to her characteristic richness and developed characters. It's not often that a novel, let alone a novella, brings tears to my eyes, but this one did. It speaks such a promise of hope and restoration.

"Love Beyond Limits" by Elizabeth Musser: This story surprised me. At the beginning I thought I knew exactly where it was going, and I was hesitant to believe such a short page limit could do the story justice. But then somewhere past the middle I had a sudden suspicion that I had pegged this story all wrong . . .

"An Outlaw's Heart" by Shelley Gray: Not only is it the story with the most humor, it also has the strongest masculine presence of the collection. Taking place near San Antonio, it isn't what I generally consider the South--not in the same way as South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia--but it was a sweet tale of restoration.

Though the stories in this collection cover nearly a twenty-year time frame, it is clear that from before Lincoln was elected to even a dozen years after the Civil War, the war was affecting people's lives. Bound together by Southern heritage and an underlying thread of faith, these four stories make a lovely collection of historical fiction.

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

Related books:

Belle Meade Plantation novels by Tamera Alexander
1. To Whisper Her Name
2. To Win Her Favor
2.5 "To Mend a Dream"
3. To Wager Her Heart

Belmont Mansion novels by Tamera Alexander (related to the Belle Meade novels)
1. A Lasting Impression
2. A Beauty So Rare
3. A Note Yet Unsung

Carnton Mansion
0.5: "Christmas at Carnton" (novella)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Patricia Bradley's "Gone Without A Trace"

Gone without a TraceIn the the third Logan Point suspense novel, homicide detective Livy Reynolds has been teetering on the brink of unfit for duty since she shot a teen in the line of duty a couple months earlier. Just when she is forced to take leave from her job, a private investigator from Texas shows up looking for a missing girl--a girl whose disappearance is eerily similar to Livy's cousin Robyn's disappearance a couple years earlier. Given a second shot at finding Robyn, Livy teams up with Alex, in spite of bearing a law enforcer's stereotypical dislike for PI's. But can they find the missing girl--and what happened to Robyn--before it's too late?

I enjoyed that this book is devoted to a mystery that had been introduced in the first book of the series, though it has not been a focus until now. It finally provides closure for all the main characters of the series, as (if I remember the relationships correctly) the missing Robyn is sister-in-law of Taylor (Shadows of the Past), cousin of Ben (A Promise to Protect), and cousin of Livy.

Though Livy and Alex are billed as the main characters, there are other characters with almost as much focus as them. I'm still trying to decide how I feel about that; part of me would have preferred it to be split into two books so each could have their own separate story, but on the other hand, it fit well this way and made sense. Maybe I'm just afraid that this is the last book in the series.

Given that the story takes place in less than two weeks, the romance moves a little fast. And I'm still not sure how the image of the striking hawk actually connected with the villain, but I may have been reading too fast and just missed it. However, the mystery of the villain's identity kept me guessing until the end, and the suspense was intense.

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

Logan Point
1. Shadows of the Past
2. A Promise to Protect
3. Gone Without a Trace
4. Silence in the Dark

Monday, July 6, 2015

"In Good Company" by Jen Turano - an absolute delight

Cover ArtBy society standards, Millie Longfellow is probably the worst nanny to ever roam the earth. She has been fired from more jobs than anyone else at the job agency. But then, Everett Mulberry's wards are probably the worst children on the planet, if one goes by the number of nannies they've gone through in the past few months, and the job agency isn't keen to help him anymore either. Out of options, Everett is forced to hire Millie to watch his wards


With a nod to The Sound of Music, In Good Company is a delightful, fairy tale-like story that warms the insides and tickles the funny bone. Turano's characteristic humor is in full force--I love the situations Millie finds herself in, and those devious children make for an endless supply of amusement. However, the infectious humor does not prevent some tender moments of hurt and healing.

One thing I really admire about Millie is that even though she should have the self-esteem of a lonely, wet, abandoned puppy after being fired from so many jobs, she still knows her worth. She knows that she is a good nanny, and she knows that it isn't her love of children--exhibited both in tenderness and the ability to discipline--that gets her fired; it is simply her unconventional methods, of which society does not generally approve. It is encouraging to see someone go about her job with the confidence, yet she is not puffed up in pride or false humility.

There are a number of themes that are fairly stereotypical to romances--the Wicked Other Woman, the servant falling for the employer, winning over the children to win over the parent--but Turano combines them into a delightful tale that warms the heart. For a good, clean, Christian romantic comedy, look no further! And I have to add, after reading this one, I'm looking forward even more to the next book in the series (about the intriguing Lucetta) and unraveling her mysterious past.

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.

A Class of Their Own
1. After a Fashion
2. In Good Company
3. Playing the Part

Friday, July 3, 2015

July 2015 Christian Fiction releases!

Exciting releases in Christian Fiction coming out this July:

Historical:
To Capture Her Heart A Lady of Esteem Lady Maybe  -     By: Julie Klassen
To Capture Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino (Revell) - Colonial; Southold Chronicles, book 2

A native woman is rescued from a rival tribe by a handsome Dutchman, but she finds her heart torn between him and a close English friend.


"A Lady of Esteem" by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House) - Regency; Hawthorne House, book 0.5

In the free e-novella introduction to the Hawthorne House series, a young woman, after growing up only in the company of friendly servants, is thrust into the harsh reality of society.


Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen (Berkley) - Regency

After a woman's carriage is swept over a cliff, she is washed up on shore with a strong case of amnesia. As she slowly recovers, her memories do too, but what will she do when she remembers just who she is?


The Curiosity Keeper (Treasures of Surrey, #1) ATFM Best A Bride at Last
The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah E. Ladd (Thomas Nelson) - Regency; Treasures of Surrey, book 1

A missing jewel leads a reluctant heir to a village curiosity shop and the shop girl who may hold the key to finding it.


Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories novella collection by Tamera Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser (Thomas Nelson) - Civil War/Reconstruction

These four southern Civil War-era loves stories include a novella spin-off of Tamera Alexander's latest Belle Meade Plantation novel.


A Bride At Last by Melissa Jagears (Bethany House) - Late 1800's; Unexpected Brides, book 3

 A wounded man, abandoned years ago by his mail-order bride, discovers that his wife has died and has left a son. Since another man claims to be the boy's father, he enlists the help of his son's teacher to prove his paternity.


 In Good Company Irish Meadows Gone without a Trace
In Good Company by Jen Turano (Bethany House) - late 1800's; A Class of Their Own, book 2
A widower's last resort at finding a governess for his children, who have run off all previous governesses, is to hire the one woman that everyone else fires. Can the impossible governess make headway with his impossible children?


Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason (Bethany House) -early 1900's; Courage to Dream, book 1

An Irish immigrant puts pressure on his two daughters to marry well and save their horse farm, but both girls have a different dream for their futures.


Contemporary Suspense:

Gone Without a Trace by Patricia Bradley (Revell); Logan Point, book 3

When a private investigator contacts a homicide detective about a missing persons case in her jurisdiction, the case proves eerily similar to her cousin's disappearance two years before.