Friday, August 28, 2015

"With This Spark" historical collection of novellas by the Seekers of Seekerville

The Seekers of Seekerville have put together another lovely collection of historical novellas.

With This Spark"Texas Tea" by Mary Connealy: Connealy returns to her original Lassoed in Texas series to look in on Luke, the youngest of the five Reeves boys (not including the children that were born after) from Calico Canyon and Libby, Hannah's little sister/daughter (don't worry--it gets explained) from Gingham Mountain. Being as these were some of the first books I read by the author, I enjoyed catching up on what happens to the kids as they grow up.

"The Pastor Takes a Wife" by Ruth Logan Herne: I really liked Hattie, the seamstress who hires Macy, even knowing that Macy knows little about sewing. That woman is gem and positively steals the show. Well, she and Chickie, the pastor's daughter, who's an awfully cute little bugger.  For any woman who has had or ever desired a child, this one will have quite the emotional tug.*

"Castaway with the Cowboy" by Pam Hillman: There's a touch of Swiss Family Robinson and The Black Stallion in this island romance! Though taking place in the Caribbean, it has a very western feel, what with the cowboy title character.

"Lifetime Investment" by Myra Johnson: This one stands out in that its main characters are newlyweds rather than first falling in love. And, as is the case for most newlyweds, happily ever after is a little rocky after all. Just about anyone who's ever been married can relate--finding that balance of when to give and when to take, learning to compromise, and, maybe biggest of all, communication.


Overall, it could do with another edit through for some grammatical issues and unclear sentences, but the stories are an enjoyable collection of westerns. "The Pastor Takes a Wife" wins for emotional impact, while "Texas Tea" has the most humor. "Castaway with the Cowboy" has the most creative storyline, and "Lifetime Investment" is the most relatable.

*Note: the story of Moses is in Exodus, not Genesis

Monday, August 24, 2015

Julie Klassen's "Lady Maybe" - a twisty, Gothic romance

Lady Maybe  -     By: Julie Klassen
A man, his wife, and her companion enter a carriage one tempestuous day, racing along the cliffs to an undisclosed location. Yet in the height of the storm, the carriage slips and tumbles off the cliff to the channel below. The body of the driver is recovered, and two of the three passengers--insensible and gravely injured though they are--are rescued, while the third vanishes in the waves. And then our heroine awakens, disoriented and confused about her very identity . . . 

Wow, this book is hard to review without spoilers. Things are not always what they seem, especially with so much deception going on. It struck me as a very Victoria Holt-style Gothic romance--just when things feel like they might become predictable, BAM, sneaky plot twist.

At last, an author who does justice to the ending! In many books, the author tries to keep the momentum going through the climax to the very end, but it can end up feeling unsatisfactorily rushed. This one, however, indulges in the reflection that the complex story demands, and believe me, our heroine needs time to reflect and choose what will be best for her and hers. And until the very end, I did not know what she would choose--it is not often I can say that!

As I have come to expect with Julie Klassen, she does not hesitate to deal with sin, from deception (which we find forgivable under the right circumstances) to those that, as Christians, we hate to associate with: lust, adultery, children out of wedlock. She is not afraid to acknowledge that good people make poor choices, but such actions are not glorified. Once done, they cannot be undone, but they can be forgiven, and life will move on. However, such choices always have consequences. And those consequences make not only a rich, meaty story, but a moving--and perhaps even convicting--one as well.

*I do have to note, that while it is Christian fiction with a surprisingly poignant message, there are a couple scenes that are a bit steamier than an average Christian romance; nothing explicit, but if you are sensitive about such things, then perhaps you should pass on this one and try another of the author's novels, such as The Tutor's Daughter (my personal favorite), instead.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"A Lady of Esteem" by Kristi Ann Hunter - an e-novella introduction to her series

Cover ArtAmelia Stalwood, for all that she is the ward of a gentleman, has only ever known the friendship of servants. When an effort to help a friend with the dusting inadvertently lands her in the arms of a notoriously rakish marquise, suddenly her life gets turned on end. In spite of her efforts to remain in obscurity, she somehow acquires influential friends, who drag her into society, whether she is ready for it or not. But what will society think of her?

I am delighted to discover another author of Christian romantic comedies, this time one who focuses on the Regency era. This was a charming novella, and even with a strong dose of humor, the author worked in a significant message on what being washed clean by Jesus really means.

I highly enjoyed this introduction to the author's upcoming series, both the story and her writing style. I will definitely not miss A Noble Masquerade! Miranda (the upcoming heroine) and the rest of the Hawthornes have been introduced, so now I am eagerly awaiting their stories too.

***this novella is FREE at Christianbook.com and Amazon!***

Hawthorne House
0.5: "A Lady of Esteem" (free novella prequel)
1. A Noble Masquerade
2. An Elegant Facade
3. An Uncommon Courtship 
4. An Inconvenient Beauty

Monday, August 17, 2015

Thomas Locke's "Trial Run" - more the sci-fi thriller than romantic suspense

Cover ArtThomas Locke begins a new speculative fiction series with a focus on telepathy. Dr. Gabriella Speciale has assembled an international team of elite scientists with one goal in mind--to create and control out-of-body experiences that transcend the limits of time and space. Reese Clawson's mind-bending experiments aim to explode the boundaries of human consciousness--and annihilate the opposition in the process. When a terrifying discovery and a string of failed tests threaten to dismantle both programs, the key to survival may reside in the mind of a gifted grad student whose unsettling dreams have thrust him into the center of a dangerous battle for control.

I now have a better understanding of the term "speculative fiction." This book is not quite traditional science fiction (no androids or space travel or far-future technology), though it is heavy on futuristic science. It's one of those that sounds plausible, but it isn't actually within the realm of reality. A bit like how Jurassic Park is full of plausible-sounding science that doesn't work in real life. In any case, this is not a romantic suspense. It is more along the lines of the movie Paycheck.

Before reading this book, I recommend reading "Double Edge," the free novella prequel.* It introduces a couple of the main characters, plus it explains exactly how the out-of-body experiments--the ascents--work, which helps bring clarity to this story.

Since we don't find out what precisely is at stake until well into the story, it feels like the first part is largely a very long setup (which is not to say it is lacking in action, as it is not!). As this is the first book in a series, I didn't mind that so much. While the story ends in a good place, there are enough loose ends that you know the series has someplace to go.

I did expect more of a Christian bent to the novel; God doesn't figure into it at all. I feel like it ought to be allegorical, but if so, I haven't made the connection. If you like Ted Dekker's novel Black, then this one will probably appeal to you, though as I said, it is less heavy on the allegory. 

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.

* "Double Edge"is free at Christianbook and Amazon.

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Luther and Katharina" by Jody Hedlund - a unique perspective on the Reformer and his Wife

http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9781601427625?height=450&alt=no_cover_b4b.gifOf the great heroes of Protestantism, Martin Luther is one of the most well-known. But have you ever heard of his wife?

Katharina von Bora has spent all but five years of her life in Abbey and knows nothing but being a nun, until some of Martin Luther's tracts on reformation are smuggled inside. Suddenly, her desires for life have changed, and she, along with a number of other young nuns, flee the abbey and pray to escape the harsh Abbot that rules it. Martin Luther himself takes them in, at least until they can be married or returned to their families. However, in spite of their squabbles and differences, a strange attraction forms between the aristocratic Katharina and the penniless priest Martin Luther . . .

I really enjoyed the author's return to novels based off of real love stories--in this case Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora. There's something about knowing that so much of the story--especially the odd and shocking things--really happened that particularly appeals to me, as a lover of both history and novels.  It's also encouraging to read about what real people faced in pursuit of love, and to know that God's hand was (and is) present, working things to our good.

Though the medieval period is not my favorite historical period, this book captured the culture and religious and political upheaval in such a way as to completely hold my attention and make it quite enjoyable. With this author, I trust historical details to be accurate, but there were some surprises for me. It reveals just how corrupt the church had become and why reformation was imperative. The marriage customs were shocking. Physical consummation immediately following the engagement weeks before the wedding? With a witness in the room?! Gah! It definitely goes against my conservative upbringing and prudish nature, but thankfully the author portrays such things tastefully, and they did not detract from the story.

I don't think that Martin Luther would ever be the man for me, but he and Katharina certainly make fireworks together with their strong personalities. Both are portrayed well. Even though Katharina grew up a nun, she still maintained her class and status within the Abbey walls, so her pride and sense of class superiority fit her character. Luther, though a hero of Protestantism, is not glorified, but rather his imperfections are made pretty clear. For a man who lives on and fights through words, he can truly put his foot in his mouth.

I highly enjoyed this glimpse into the personal life and romance of Luther and his wife; it offers a different perspective on the man, and more importantly, introduces us to the remarkable woman he married. It is also the winner of the 2016 Christy Award for best Historical Romance.

Thank you Blogging for Books 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.

More Info from the publisher on the book.

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Through Water's Deep" by Sarah Sundin - a rich WWII mystery

Cover ArtThe first of the Waves of Freedom books begins when background-loving Mary Stirling, who works as a secretary in the Boston Navy Yard, runs into her old classmate Jim Avery, now an ensign in the Navy. When evidence of sabotage appears both in the Navy Yard and on Jim's ship, the two work together to uncover the culprit whenever Jim is back in port. But Jim's duties on the destroyer frequently take him out to the.dangerous Atlantic, leaving Mary alone to continue sleuthing while a saboteur is in her midst. What will it take for the US to officially join the war? With dangers at home and at sea, will Jim and Mary survive to see the US declare war?

The thing I love about Sarah Sundin's writing is that she captures the WWII period, conveys a strong spiritual message, and manages a captivating story, all in one. The characters are well rounded, fully developed persons, with realistic fears and faults as well as strengths. This is the author's first story to have a strong mystery component, and I think she succeeds admirably.

I really liked Mary. She's not the run-of-the-mill spunky, outspoken, needs-to-right-every-wrong heroine. Instead, she's selfless and sensible and yet has a sense of adventure; she also has fears and insecurities that tend to hold her back. However, when not overshadowed by a vivacious, overbearing personality, she can hold her own. She's the sort of person you'd find in real life. And the thing I really like: in all her note-taking and actions regarding the saboteur, she always acts sensibly. She doesn't just rush headlong without thinking; she keeps the authorities informed. It doesn't mean she's always safe or believed, but she thinks things through. In her personal life, however, she isn't always so sensible, but then who is in love? Especially when one falls in love and fears that love isn't reciprocated?

As this book takes place in the year leading up to Pearl Harbor, while the US was technically still neutral, there are a lot of heated political opinions, and Sundin captures the controversy over war. For all practical purposes, the US was at war in the Atlantic, but for months the government waffled, with two main groups fighting it out: The Isolationists: we should not go to war; it isn't our fight, and our boys do not need to die in Europe. And the Interventionists: we need to protect our allies and prevent Hitler from ever coming close to our shore; we need to save lives. Of course, there were pro-Nazi groups around too, but they were considered a threat, not a voice.

I definitely am looking forward to the next two books in the series! Both Arch's and Dan's stories have been mildly set up, as we can see already where they struggle (particularly in the romance department).

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.

Waves of Freedom
1. Through Waters Deep
2. Anchor in the Storm ~ about Jim's friend Arch
3. When Tides Turn ~ about Jim's brother Dan


And for fun, here's a video of the cover shoot! Enjoy the big band swing!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Kate Breslin's "Not by Sight" - an intriguing novel of intrigue

Cover ArtIn the midst of WWI, Grace Mabry, a patriotic British suffragette, infiltrates a society ball to distribute white feathers of cowardice to high ranking able-bodied men who had thus far avoided battle, little realizing how handing out one feather will change her life--and the life of an MI5 agent--forever . . .

While I've read a lot of books about WWII, I've read very few about WWI, thus this novel proved illuminating for me. With a focus on spies--with Mata Hari as a prime example--and British agriculture programs, there was a lot to discover! And a couple things struck me as odd, as though brought forward from the past: I had thought invisible inks had gone to the wayside by 1800 (turns out they made a comeback in WWI), and the Splatter Mask mentioned in the story looks like something out of medieval times.

I ended up really liking the band of women comprising the Women's Forage Corps. Each woman has her faults, but each one also proves more than what she initially seems. And while they certainly have their conflicts among themselves, they become a solid support group for each other, standing together when it counts, like true friends should.

The book is aptly named; not only in reference to physical blindness, but also to faith. Symbolism plays a large role in the story--the masks, the costume choices, sight--making for a mature read. It's not just a bit of romantic fluff; it's a story that makes you think.

I really enjoyed this Beauty and the Beast-like tale. Not only are there parallels with the fairy tale, but also allusions to Greek mythology and Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, making it a literary delight, as well as a satisfying romance and historical read. 5 out of 5 stars!

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

And just so you know exactly what kind of mask the book talks about, here's a helpful image:
WWI Splatter Mask  By Gaius Cornelius (Photographed by me. Army Medical Services Museum.) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, August 3, 2015

August 2015 Christian fiction releases!

Among the new releases of Christian fiction coming in August 2015, I can't wait for:

Historical:
Messenger By Moonlight  Not by Sight Through Waters Deep

Messenger by Moonlight by Stephanie Grace Whitson (Faithwords) - Antebellum

When her brothers become riders for the Pony Express, a young woman joins them as a cook at a Pony Express station, little anticipating her role in a mission gone awry.


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

When a patriotic suffragette sneaks into a ball to hand out white feathers of cowardice, passing one to a conscientious objector who secretly works for the British crown, she sets off a chain of events no one could have foreseen.


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

When evidence of sabotage is found on a US destroyer, a Navy ensign and a secretary in the Navy Yard work together to uncover the culprit.
Trial Run
Suspense:

Trial Run by Thomas Locke (Revell); Fault Lines, book 1

Three competing interests race to control a dangerous, unbelievable technology that can twist time itself.