Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October 2015 Christian fiction releases

The (in my opinion) exciting Christian fiction releases for October 2015:

Reviews to come!

Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion  -     By: Jody Hedlund
Fire and Ice A Respectable Actress  -     By: Dorothy Love
Luther and Katherina by Jody Hedlund (WaterBrook) - Medieval

With a focus on the romance, this story is based on the real love story between Martin Luther and the runaway nun Katharina von Bora.

Fire and Ice by Mary Connealy (Bethany House) - Reconstruction; Wild At Heart, book 3

A female homesteader who has been posing as a man since fighting in the War Between States is caught out by her neighbor, a man who needs access through her land to provide for his own cattle.

A Respectable Actress by Dorothy Love (Thomas Nelson) - Late 1800's

And actress is accused of murder when one of her fellow actors is shot onstage, and a southern lawyer agrees to defend and protect her.

"Toward the Sunrise" by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House) - Late 1800's; Until the Dawn e-novella prequel

After her expulsion from medical college, an impulsive young woman finds herself relying on her family's attorney for help.

A Refuge at Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky (Multnomah) - Edwardian; Edwardian Brides, book 3

In the midst of WWI, a young British woman helps harbor orphans at her family's estate, only to learn caring for them is more difficult than she was anticipating.
Toward the Sunrise: An Until the Dawn Novella - eBook  -     By: Elizabeth Camden
NEW! #3: A Refuge at Highland Hall   -     By: Carrie Turansky

Vendetta by Lisa Harris (Revell); Nikki Boyd Files, book 1
Murder at the Courthouse
An investigator in the missing persons task force discovers that her current case holds distinct similarities to the disappearance of her own sister years before.

Murder at the Courthouse by A. H. Gabhart (Revell); The Hidden Springs Mysteries, book 1

Happily for the deputy sheriff, nothing ever happens in his small hometown--until  body is discovered on the courthouse steps in this cozy mystery.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Lost Heiress" by Roseanna M. White - a rich Edwardian mystery

Cover Art
Roseanna M. White begins her Edwardian series with a rich mystery. Brought up in the belief that she was the illegitimate daughter of a singer and a Monaco prince, Brook learns that she is truly the long-missing daughter of an English nobleman. With only her close friend Justin to help her transition from Monaco's sunny shores to dark, gloomy England, Brook tries to find her place in a household of people who don't all believe she is who she claims to be. However, when danger threatens her life, it becomes clear that the mystery surrounding her disappearance and her mother's death is more important than anyone had dreamed.

Remember the not-actually-Disney-but-really-Don-Bluth animated movie Anastasia? The optimistic film in which a decade or so after the Russian Revolution, the missing princess is found? This book reminded me of that, crossed with the cursed jewel obsession of Victoria Holt's Gothic romance Pride of the Peacock. I enjoyed how the mystery begins rather simply and then accelerates as the story unfolds until it reaches a spectacular climax.

The only minor confusion was with all the noblemen and their myriad of names (given name, title, nickname, new title upon inheritance, etc). For that, I blame British society more than the author, since they're the ones who came up with the crazy system. But at least I was able to keep track of the important men. And Brook.

I appreciate that the romance is developed from close friendship, and it is believably rocky with all the transitions going on in their lives. But it is a good romance, blended beautifully into a rich, meaty story, with a fine balance of mystery, character development, and historic detail. Though at 435 pages it is a bit longer than the average novel, the length does justice to the tale. I'm looking forward to the next in the series! 5 out of 5 stars!

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.

Ladies of the Manor
1. The Lost Heiress
2. The Reluctant Duchess
3. A Lady Unrivaled

Monday, September 21, 2015

Laura Frantz's "The Colonel's Lady" - Revolutionary War on the Kentucky Frontier

Cover Art
In Laura Frantz's third novel of the Kentucky frontier, she focuses on the life of the soldiers stationed in the wilderness. With no more reason to stay in her home in Virginia, Roxanna Rowen makes the dangerous journey to join her father at the fort in Kentucky where he is stationed, only to discover he has been killed on a campaign. Penniless, with no safe passage through the dangerous frontier, Roxanna is forced to remain at the fort, where she temporarily takes over her father's job: serving as scrivener to Colonel Cassius McLinn, the fort commander. Roxanna recognizes his love for her father, but little does she realize the terrible secret he is hiding about her father's death.

I love Frantz's depiction of frontier life - I feel so grounded in the setting, it's like I'm there, both in time and place. Most of that is thanks to her grasp of historical detail, which lays foundation of the story. And she doesn't sugarcoat the bad: this novel is quite revealing as to the dismal existence of a soldier on the frontier, where alcohol was one of the few ways to escape from the pain of injuries, sickness (such as dysentery and malaria), and loss of friends in the many skirmishes of the war. And if alcohol didn't cut it, desertion and suicide were the main alternatives.

Besides being a well developed romance, there is a strong spiritual thread to the tale. Cass doesn't know how to forgive himself, and once he shares his guilt, Roxanna can scarcely forgive him. The story begs the question, "How much are you willing to forgive?" Even knowing that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, there are things that seem impossible to forgive by ourselves. Perhaps they are impossible to forgive, at least without the supernatural help of our savior.

Like The Frontiersman's Daughter and Courting Morrow Little, it is a stupendous historical romance, with both joy and heartache, danger and safety in the Lord.  A beautiful novel.

Friday, September 18, 2015

"The Frontiersman's Daughter" by Laura Frantz - hearkens back to some favorite books from childhood

Cover ArtIn her debut novel, Laura Frantz tells the story of a young woman coming of age on the Kentucky frontier. The first white child born in the settlement, Lael Click is at home in the woods and feels hemmed in by the fort walls. Troubles with the Shawnee send her inside the fort and even back east, where her heart longs for home and the simple settlement life of her childhood. Even when she returns home, can she trust her heart to know what is best? Or will she always long for that which might have been rather than what is?

This is the third or fourth time that I've read The Frontiersman's Daughter, and it is still one of my favorite reads. More expansive than just a romance, it encompasses Lael's coming of age, her struggles to find her place, letting go of the past, and yes, falling in love.

There's a magic to the early, wild frontier in Frantz's prose--beauty, simplicity, danger. A sense that boldness will get you far, but only if it is tempered with respect. The way she paints her world makes me want to travel back in time to experience it myself.

Lael is a strong heroine. She's strong in ways that I want to be strong, and weak in areas that make me hurt for her. She struggles with bitterness and grudges, but she recognizes the meanness within herself and strives to be better. She's very human, and for someone who has never been lost in her life, she is so lost.

The novel brings to mind some of my favorite books from childhood: Indian Captive by Lois Lenski, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare. For anyone who grew up loving those books, The Frontiersman's Daughter will appeal to that nostalgia while providing a beautiful read geared toward an adult audience. See also A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz!

Monday, September 14, 2015

"The Memory Weaver" by Jane Kirkpatrick - a journey to healing

Cover ArtJane Kirkpatrick writes another moving tale of the Pacific Northwest, this time based on the life of the first living white child born west of the Rockies. In the years following her mother's death, Eliza Spalding is still trying to cope with the trauma of surviving a massacre and the hostage situation that followed when she was only twelve. Without her mother's tempering presence, Eliza feels trapped in her controlling father's home, raising her siblings and caring for the household. With memories hounding her and no mother to guide her, she decides to take her life into her own hands, little realizing that it will lead her back to her haunted past.

This is not a romance, nor really a memoir; it's more the story of a woman's path to healing after trauma reshaped her life and the lives of her family. It's a gentle story, a thinking story. A story about real people and real events, which don't always line up with what would have made a happier, more story-like tale. But it is a satisfying story nonetheless.

I know that grief and trauma can take all forms, and the author does a good job describing different coping mechanisms. Eliza, her father, her husband, her friend Nancy--each copes with trauma in their own way. Aspects of Nancy's symptoms reminded me of my cousin after my uncle died in an accident--simple routines that don't really make sense, yet somehow help to cope. With God's help, one can improve. Our experiences shape us so that we can never be who we once were, but over time we can find healing and become someone new.

I like the point the author makes about memories. Memories change over time, and the things we remember may not have happened at all. Or they did happen, but we did not see the big picture, and our interpretations of the memory become skewed. And for a woman who, at twelve years old, survived a massacre and then became the interpreter between the hostages and their captors--under such trauma, how many memories can remain pure and clear?

"Some of what I remembered was not my own story. It was twisted like tobacco strands, tangled with a dozen other memories of people who were here and others who were not even part of the terror." (309)

I enjoyed several subtle references to the author's other books written about real people in the Oregon Territory during that time - the religious colony from Missouri that settled there (Emma of Aurora) and the first known black woman in the territory (A Light in the Wilderness).

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.

Related novels:
Emma of Aurora
A Light in the Wilderness
This Road We Traveled

Friday, September 11, 2015

"A Noble Masquerade" by Kristi Ann Hunter - a delightful Regency-era novel of etiquette and espionage

Cover Art Lady Miranda Hawthorne does not fit the mold of the typical Regency noblewoman: her emotions are far too volatile to be respectable. And, scandalously, she has been secretly penning letters to her older brother's best friend since she was eight. Not that she ever sent them, mind; it has merely been a form of release for all her pent-up thoughts. Until, that is, her brother's new valet mails the most recent with the rest of the post, and the Duke of Marshington writes back. As the war with France rages on and spies operate across England, Miranda finds herself intrigued by both the mysterious Duke and her brother's suspicious valet.

Kristi Ann Hunter's debut novel is a delight. It's always thrilling to find another author who can blend humor with depth. There were multiple times I laughed out loud while reading the story, while at other times I sympathized with Miranda's feeling of inadequacy in the shadow of her mother and little sister.

The romance was impressively well developed. Whenever a story involves a case of masked identity, it's always hard to reconcile what one believes to be the truth with the actual truth--no matter the noble intentions, it's hard to not be wounded by the lies. Hunter goes into greater depth than most in the reconciliation period, providing adequate time for forgiveness and getting to know each other as they really are.

I'm glad to know this is the start of a series based on the Hawthorne family. In the course of one book and a novella, we get a pretty good grasp of the four Hawthorne siblings, and I can only imagine the fun the coming stories will be. Graham, the responsible oldest child, already a Duke; Trent, the affable younger son; Miranda, whose strong emotions fail to fit the mold of a gentlewoman (A Noble Masquerade); and Georgina, the spoiled baby of the family, who just might have more depth than most of her actions lend us to believe. I can't wait for the next!

Fans of Jen Turano and Karen Witemeyer should love this new voice that brings humor to the strict formalities of the regency period.

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

Hawthorne House
0.5 "A Lady of Esteem" - a free novella introduction to the Hawthornes and friends!
1. A Noble Masquerade
2. An Elegant Facade
3. An Uncommon Courtship 
4. An Inconvenient Beauty

Monday, September 7, 2015

Laura Frantz's "The Mistress of Tall Acre" - an enthralling story

Cover ArtIn another colonial masterpiece, Laura Frantz tells a story of the reconstruction following the American Revolution. Sophie Menzies, daughter of a Tory who fled to Scotland at the beginning of the war, is nearly destitute by the time word arrives of the war's end. An outcast in spite of her own personal Patriot leanings, she is waiting for her brother to come home and reclaim their moldering estate. Instead, her nearest neighbor, widower General Seamus Ogilvy, suddenly reappears with his daughter. After one chance encounter with Lily Cate, Sophie becomes a friend and buffer between them, as the long-absent father reacquaints himself with the child he's only briefly met. When mysterious figures appear in the night and Seamus' in-laws fight for custody of the child, Seamus knows he must do something to protect his child, and his lovely neighbor, who is already firmly entrenched in Lily Cate's affections, may just hold the answer.

If there is one thing I've come to expect from a novel by Laura Frantz, it is rich, strong storytelling, to the point that the back cover blurb rarely does justice to the story--there is so much more going on than the short description conveys. Actually, I was halfway through the book when I reread the blurb, wondering if it was even for the same story; up through that point, they had little in common. (The above description is my own, being accurate yet less spoiler-ish.) But regardless of the quality, there is so much more depth and emotion than a mere description can possibly convey. From hope to despair, tenderness to frustration, joy to the sensation of being sucker-punched--it's an emotional journey you don't want to miss.

I enjoyed the history behind the story and how Frantz captures the upheaval following the war--anti-British sentiments still running high, the government in the process of establishment, and people still recovering from the wounds of war. When I think of southern plantations, the Civil War springs first to mind, but many of these estates were already well established at the time of the Revolution, and thus, as this novel proves, the issue of slavery was already a point of contention, even then.

The story was enthralling, the descriptions beautiful; the characters well drawn, and the romance deep yet clean. 5 out of 5 stars!

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Christian Fiction releases September 2015!

The upcoming Christian fiction releases for September 2015 that I am most excited to read (and of which you may expect reviews):

The Mistress of Tall Acre A Noble Masquerade Cover Art

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

At the end of the American Revolution, a destitute woman marries a widowed General to care for his young daughter, but a woman from the past appears to disrupt their fledgling family.

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House) - Regency; Hawthorne House, book 1

In a country embroiled with espionage, a lady approaching spinsterhood becomes intrigued by two mysterious men: a reclusive duke she only knows by reputation and correspondence, and a suspicious valet who is far more than he seems.

The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick (Revell) - late 1800's

When given her mother's diary, a woman who had been taken hostage by the Cayuse as a child discovers that her memories of the massacre are not the whole story.

The Lost Heiress Secrets She Kept
The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House) - Edwardian; Ladies of the Manor, book 1

A young British woman who grew up in Monaco is discovered to possibly be a long-missing heiress, but will she be accepted when she is returned?

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke (Tyndale) - WWII

A woman returns to Germany to uncover her mother's story--a woman whose father ranked high in the Reich but was in love with a man working against the Nazis.