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!

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Vendetta" by Lisa Harris - an intense, well-played suspense

Cover ArtIn Vendetta, Lisa Harris introduces us to the heroine of her latest series, The Nikki Boyd Files. An agent on the Missing Persons Task Force, Nikki has been mourning the disappearance of her sister for years. When a photograph of the missing girl shows up at the crime scene, she recognizes similarities to her sister's disappearance. As she hunts the abductor, suddenly she starts feeling like the hunted . . .

While I have enjoyed Harris's previous books, this one really stood out to me and is my favorite by far. Maybe it's because I love it when nature plays a significant role in the story--in this case, the rugged Smoky Mountains and Appalachian Trail provide much of the setting. But additionally, the abduction case is not only intense and well written, but also went a different direction than I expected. I love it in a mystery/suspense when the author manages to pull off a significant plot twist like that.

As the series is entirely focused on Nikki Boyd and not each individual book on a different character, I'm glad the author takes some things slow--like Nikki's romantic relationship. When the focus of a book is on the suspense and mystery, it can be hard to develop a realistic romance too, especially in, say, a 48-hour time frame. But this time, with a series to stretch it over, we can see the romance develop naturally. Not to mention there are some serious hurdles to get over . . .

Given that this is a series, I enjoyed that there are still some threads (in addition to the romance) to pursue in future novels--not everything is wrapped up into a neat package in the end. And I liked Nikki's thoughts on the bad things that happen, of which she has had her fair share:
"Sometimes there truly is nothing you can do to change your circumstances. Sometimes all you can do is hold on for dear life and pray that God will help you find a way through the storm. Sometimes he shows you a way to escape, and sometimes he walks through the fire with you. But I'm starting to realize that as much as I've battled with God, nothing that happens here on this earth changes who God is." (276)
I definitely recommend this suspense novel, and look forward to Nikki Boyd's future cases!

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

Nikki Boyd Files
1. Vendetta
2. Missing
3. Pursued 
4. Vanishing Point

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cathy Gohlke's "Secrets She Kept" - a profound story of WWII Germany and its aftermath

Secrets She Kept  -     By: Cathy Gohlke
Hannah Sterling wants to understand why her mother didn't love her or her father or anyone. But as a German woman - a Jewish sympathizer - who survived WWII, Lieselotte Sommer had many secrets that she kept, not the least from her own daughter. After her death, Hannah goes on a journey to discover who her mother was, only to discover secrets that will shake the very foundations of what she thought was true about her life.

The story alternates perspective each chapter, daughter, mother, daughter, mother. Despite Hannah's anger at her unfeeling mother, by the end of chapter two I was fully Lieselotte's side  - what happened to her to steal the love, joy, and hope from her? To make her into someone who was unable to show emotion to her own flesh and blood? While much of Lieselotte's story is revealed from her own viewpoint, I like that Hannah, on her quest, makes discoveries that Lieselotte didn't necessarily know.

I like the different perspective of this story - the "modern" story of the daughter takes place in the '70's, a time not often explored in literature. But more importantly, it provides the chance to explore how Germany had changed - and not changed - in the three decades following what will likely always be known as the most heinous crime of history. The regrets people held for what they did or did not do, the things that others never regretted, in spite of choices of "unthinkable opportunistic evil." The secrets each and every person kept.

It's a book of contradictions, yet the contradictions are true. The best-kept secrets can still be made known. Even people who have done unspeakable things can be loving and loved. People you love can do unspeakable things. And even the most loving, forgiving people sometimes need supernatural help to extend forgiveness.

There are a lot of excellent WWII novels out there, and some of the most profound fiction I've read focuses on that war. This book ranks with the best of them - definitely worthy of the 2016 Christy Award for historical fiction! 5 out of 5 stars!

Thank you Tyndale 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.

If you've liked any of the following novels, then I highly recommend reading Secrets She Kept. Or if you like this one, then I highly recommend the following novels as well. Each exemplifies a well-told story, profound truths, and incredible attention to WWII history:

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke
Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer
The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron
A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

Monday, October 12, 2015

"A Respectable Actress" by Dorothy Love - not what I was expecting

A Respectable Actress  -     By: Dorothy Love
A last minute change to the script leaves actress India Hartley onstage with a smoking gun and a dead leading man. To protect her, her attorney, Philip Sinclair, brings her to his island plantation to await her trial. However, things are not all as they appear. Secrets riddle the household, and memories of life before the War Between States rule the hearts of the island dwellers.Will India receive a fair trial, and will the truth prevail?

There was a lot about this story that didn't quite match what I was expecting. It is not really a suspense, though there are a number of suspenseful moments. There is a mystery, though it is often passive; India isn't strictly in the heart of it investigating like in, say, a cozy mystery. There is, of course, some romance, but it isn't the focus of the story. Based on the title and the fact that, historically, acting was not a profession known for respectability, I was expecting more to do with India's reputation, and that any hint of immorality on her part would have jeopardized her case; however, there isn't any focus on her personal reputation. The pacing of the novel felt irregular, with the climax happening too soon, or maybe the ending stretching too long.

I did like how the author based many aspects of the story on history (especially some of the more unbelievable parts; it's funny how truth is often stranger than fiction). The trial was one of my favorite parts, with some interesting historical details, such as at the time, the accused was not allowed to testify on her own behalf. 

The biggest surprise was that though the book is published by Thomas Nelson, a christian publishing company, there is no faith message, the main character really has no faith in God, and church is used purely as an opportunity for India to discuss possible business. Not what I was expecting in a supposedly christian novel. It is a clean read, but I wouldn't describe it as christian.

It wasn't a bad story. It just didn't quite fit any pattern that I was expecting.

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

Mary Connealy's "Fire and Ice"

Cover ArtIn the final Wild at Heart novel, about three sisters who dressed as men and fought in the Civil War, Bailey Wilde finally meets her match. Granted, she has Gage Coulter over a barrel: he bought the lush grazing land in a box canyon, but he didn't think to buy the land in front of the only opening, where Bailey strategically built her cabin. Gage won't stoop to break the law, but he'll do just about anything else to wrestle a way in, even if it means blowing up a mountain. But when someone sets a trap for Gage, he and Bailey have to work together to figure out who's after him, and maybe find a solution to their land war--and their stubborn hearts--in the process.

Of the three sisters, Bailey intrigued me most, mostly since she is the least transparent of the three. I know she was changed by the Civil War (as they all were), but she was always so tight-lipped about her experiences. And now I know why. Given that this is a romantic comedy, the story can't get too heavy and bogged down by war reminiscences, but there is enough about Bailey's place in the fighting--the terror, the bloodlust, the blind obedience--that even in those brief passages, it's easy to see how war changes a person. To the point where, by the time it was over, it was hard to say who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

I enjoyed the way Bailey and Gage play off each other - between their stubbornness, hot temper, and abilities at evasion, they are similar enough to know just how and where to push to get a reaction, yet their ability to read each other and recognize their wounds forges a bond that had been impossible with anyone else, even Bailey's sisters. When they actually work together, they make an intimidating pair.

The story definitely went in a direction I was not expecting, or at least for reasons I would never have anticipated (hah. Who'd've thought that's what could scare Gage into action?), which in itself was amusing. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed Connealy's romantic comedy with cowboys, and look forward to whatever she has coming next!

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.

Wild at Heart
1. Tried & True
2. Now & Forever
3. Fire & Ice

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ann Gabhart's "Murder at the Courthouse" - a small town cozy mystery

Cover ArtHidden Springs: a quiet, small town where nothing dangerous or exciting ever happens, just like Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane likes it. Except when an unknown body appears on the courthouse steps, with no way it could be anything but a murder. Suddenly Michael has to track down a murderer in a town where everyone has a theory but no one actually knows anything. And an unexpected discovery leads him to believe that there are dark secrets hidden beneath the surface of Hidden Springs that he never suspected . . .

I really like Michael. He's not the traditional cozy mystery sleuth that's more witty and clever than everyone else. Instead, he's a hometown guy - quiet, but with a quiet that comes with the peace of knowing he's where he belongs. He's not puffed up, looking to be the top man in the force; he knows that he can make in difference in the position he's in, and he doesn't need more. And it's clear that even when dealing with people he doesn't like, he tries to maintain peace, even if the only way is to just walk away. But he's not afraid to put his foot down when he has to.

What really made the book for me was that though there's humor in the story (and the opening scene was brilliant), there's gravity too. Murder never is, was, or will be right, and it should not be treated with levity. And to find that someone you knew and trusted is guilty of it, that's hard. Painful. Wounding. Finding that balance between humor and gravity is tricky in a murder mystery, but the author does a good job with it.

I quite enjoyed the introduction to Hidden Springs, with all its small-town quaintness, nosiness, and secrets. I look forward to what's ahead for Michael!

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

**And I am pleased to note, I guessed the correct murderer from the very beginning! Not that I had much to base it on, but maybe by rereading the book I could actually find evidence to support my successful hunch.

Hidden Springs Mysteries 
1. Murder at the Courthouse
2. Murder Comes by Mail