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; http://www.gotomn.com/racing/minn500.htm



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.

https://bethanyfiction.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/bingofinal.jpg 
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 http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9781601427328?height=450&alt=no_cover_b4b.gif 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

http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9781601425003?height=450&alt=no_cover_b4b.gifIn 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

Extras:

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