Monday, December 28, 2015

Margaret Brownley's "Calico Spy" - sweet and humorous

Calico Spy  -     By: Margaret Brownley
Even weeks after the murder of two Harvey Girls, Sheriff Branch Whitman is getting nowhere on the case, so Harvey calls in a Pinkerton detective. Branch has never liked the Pinkertons, but he might make an exception this time for the pretty agent masquerading as one of Harvey's waitresses. Will they be able to track down the murderer? Or will another Harvey Girl--maybe a red-headed agent--be caught instead?

It was fun reading a story involving TWO of the more unusual--but factual--jobs for women: Pinkerton agent and Harvey Girl. Harvey Girls, the waitresses at Mr. Harvey's rail-side restaurants, were held to a very high moral standard, while Pinkerton agents (even the males) were not necessarily known for their scruples. But Pinkerton was the first to recruit women as agents, and Harvey turned waitressing into a respectable occupation. Neither job was easy (both TONS of work), so it's impressive Katie manages to do both as well as she does. I enjoyed all the tidbits about the waitresses and female agents sprinkled throughout the book (and the series).

Plenty of humor and some sweet scenes, especially about Branch and his love for his son. It was fun getting to know the other Harvey staff beneath their proper exteriors, as well as the colorful locals that frequent the establishment. A fun, sweet read.

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

Undercover Ladies
1. Petticoat Detective
2. Undercover Bride
3. Calico Spy 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christian Fiction Favorites of 2015!

The historical novels were overwhelmingly my favorites this year (no surprise, as it is my preferred genre. But I mean they were exceptionally good this time.) September won for the most favorites in a single month: 4  of my top 10 historicals were published that month. For reasons why they were chosen, feel free to follow the links to my reviews of the books.

Historical: The Mistress of Tall Acre A Noble Masquerade

The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton (WaterBrook, April); The Pathfinders, book 1 - Colonial

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

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House, September); Hawthorne House, book 1 - Regency
To Win Her Favor, Belle Meade Plantation Series #2 -eBook   -     By: Tamera Alexander
A Worthy Pursuit In Good Company
To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander (Zondervan, May); Belle Meade Plantation, book 2 - Reconstruction

A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House, June) - Late 1800's

In Good Company by Jen Turano (Bethany House, July); A Class of Their Own, book 2 - Late 1800's

The Lost Heiress Not by Sight Through Waters Deep

The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House, September); Ladies of the Manor, book 1 - Edwardian (1900's)

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

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

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke (Tyndale, September) - WWII, 1970's

Secrets She Kept  -     By: Cathy Gohlke

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey (Bethany House, February); Alaskan Courage, book 5

And my favorite new-to-me reads that were not published this year included the charming novel by Lynn Austin A Proper Pursuit (2007), the moving Wings of a Dream (2012) by Anne Mateer, which spoke to my situation at the time, and an old classic The Blue Castle (1926) by Lucy Maude Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame). How could I not have read these before?

A Proper Pursuit Wings of a Dream The Blue Castle

Friday, December 18, 2015

"A Singular and Whimsical Problem" by Rachel McMillan - a fun introduction to a new mystery series!

A Singular and Whimsical Problem - eBook  -     By: Rachel McMillan
While satisfying, private investigation--at least, for two female detectives in 1910 Toronto--is not necessarily lucrative. To pay the bills, sometimes one has to take whatever case is offered, even if it is so ignoble as tracking down a one-eared cat. But for Merinda Herringford and Jemima Watts, no case remains so simple for long . . . One missing cat turns into several missing young women, and it's all tied to the St. Jerome's Reformatory for Vagrant and Incorrigible Females.

For such a short piece of fiction, the author manages to cram in some fascinating historical bits about 1910 Toronto, like the Morality Squad, based off the actual Morality Police, which had the power to arrest people for such immoral practices as drunkenness and women walking alone after dark. I had to pause in the middle of reading just to look it up - it sounded too ridiculous to be true, which in fiction is a good indication that it really is true. And sure enough, it is based on fact, even if the author put her own spin on it. It certainly has potential to be recurring problem for our two morally questionable lady detectives (who dare to don the disguises of men on occasion!)

I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of the Watson-ish half of the duo - proper, empathetic Jem, as opposed to Merinda's more Holmesian personality. She's the sort who is easy to relate to and adds a fun commentary on Merinda's calculating actions. The mystery had some nice little twists in it that I had not anticipated, which bodes well for the upcoming stories in the series.

Now after this taste of the characters and their associates, I can't wait to read the full-length novels!

Herringford & Watts Mysteries
0.5: "A Singular and Whimsical Problem" (novella)
1. A Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder
1.5: "A Dubious and Questionable Memory" (novella)
2. A Lesson in Love and Murder
2.5: "A Conductor of Light" (short story)
3. The White Feather Murders 

Monday, December 14, 2015

"The Painter's Daughter" by Julie Klassen - a story of moral failure, consequences, and grace

Cover ArtInitially cherished by an enamored gentleman painter, Sophie Dupont  is abruptly abandoned unwed and pregnant while he flits off to Italy in pursuit of his muse. The same day he leaves, his responsible younger brother shows up in pursuit. Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to fixing his brother's messes, but this time he surprises even himself by offering his name to save Sophie from scandal. Will her beloved Wesley return in time to salvage her reputation? Or should give up her love by pledging her life to his brother?

Klassen is an excellent storyteller. She takes life in all its painful messiness--people's failures, mistakes, foolish choices--and shows that redemption is possible. She never glorifies a person's moral failures--they always have consequences. But there is always room for grace, even for people you might want to push over a cliff.

Growth and character development are not limited to the main characters (nor, for that matter, are secrets). Even the secondary characters see change over the course of the novel. For instance, I didn't care for Lt. Keith at first, but because he pursues change for his life, by the end I was completely won to his side.

While reading the story, I couldn't help but at times feel the romance wasn't quite safe . . . like in The Apothecary's Daughter and Lady Maybe, there were times in which I couldn't quite be certain who the heroine would end up with. I knew who I wanted her to be with--who I was pretty sure she SHOULD be with--but there was just enough of a seed of doubt that I couldn't be completely certain. And when the story is balanced so precariously, there is no option but to finish it!

I like the slightly Gothic touch to the story--it isn't as strong as some of her previous novels, but it is definitely present. That touch of mystery and slightly ominous feel that not everything is as it seems . . . Excellent, as always. 5 out of 5 stars!

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.

Friday, December 11, 2015

"At Love's Bidding" by Regina Jennings - an amusing tale of culture clash

Cover ArtWhen Miranda's grandfather sells a priceless painting to an anonymous bidder without realizing the painting had been swapped, it's up to them to get it back. But in their pursuit of the painting, they purchase an auction house not full of priceless art, but of livestock. Wyatt Ballentine, the auctioneer, had hopes of buying the sales barn himself, but now he's stuck with two city slickers trying to run his business, and a right mess they're making of it too. Can they figure out how to work together to find the painting and keep the situation from, if possible, getting any worse?

Talk about culture clash and perspective. Miranda comes from a fairly wealthy family (upper middle class), but because they have to work for a living they will never attain the upper echelons of society. In the eyes of the society, they're little better than those who work at the docks. But by the standards of Pine Gap, Missouri, they're far beyond even the most wealthy citizens of the village. And that--along with big city versus backwoods rural village--makes for some highly entertaining and wince-worthy culture clashes between Miranda and Wyatt. And her grandfather and . . . everyone.

Though there is quite a bit of humor and exciting bit of danger, there are some sober themes in the story. Miranda's grandfather, though often a source of humor, is continually sinking deeper into what I'm pretty sure is dementia, and his actions and thoughts are not always representative of the kind, hardworking businessman he once was.

But then, in contrast, there's Cornelius the phrenologist, who studies the shapes of people's heads to determine personality and talents . . . one of the more ridiculous pseudosciences of the last two centuries. I admit, I rather enjoyed that it plays a part in the story.

All I can say is, the next book better be about Betsy Huckabee. Nosy mite that she is, she almost stole the show from Miranda, and it was fun to see how she's grown since the previous 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.

Ozark Mountain Romance
1. A Most Inconvenient Marriage
2. At Love's Bidding
2.5 "Her Dearly Unintended" from the novella collection With This Ring?
3. For the Record

Monday, December 7, 2015

Elizabeth Camden's "Until the Dawn" - a story of contrasts

Cover ArtDierenpark has been abandoned by the Vandermark family--but maintained by a small band of local servants--for decades. And over the years, small liberties have been taken for the sake of the village's inhabitants. But those liberties come to a crashing halt when the cynical Quentin Vandermark and his young son arrive to demolish their supposedly cursed estate. Sophie wants desperately to preserve the estate--her only purpose in life is currently set up on the roof of the old house. Though they are instantly at odds, Quentin and Sophie find common ground in his troubled son. But given the trouble associated with the estate, could there something to the supposed curse? And will uncovering its dark history help or hurt?

It's a battle between superstition and science; the intangible and the tangible. And where does God fit in? I enjoyed the all the contrasts--how the Vandermarks seem cursed, yet their ancestral home Dierenpark seems blessed; the juxtaposition of rational and irrational schools of thought; the light that Sophie brings and the darkness Quentin exudes.

It's easy to feel for Sophie. She's sweet and kind and beautiful, and she would make an amazing wife and mother, yet even those who love her don't think she can amount to anything--not even manage to be a wife, if her three failed engagements are any indication. And as much as she tries to maintain a chipper view of life, she feels the hurt and discouragement flung her way, and feels the pain of her oft-trampled dreams.

The mystery, rooted deep in the past, offers an element of unpredictability to the story; to fully understand the present, they have to uncover the past, even if it involves darker dealings than they had dreamed. As Quentin is a self-proclaimed atheist, as opposed to Sophie's abiding faith, the author boldly takes a stand for Christianity in all its rational and irrational glory. Yet the message is simple, taken from John 15:17: "This I command you, that you love one another." Like the other contrasts of the story, the message is simple yet complex at the same time.

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

Check out "Toward the Sunrise," the free novella prequel to Until the Dawn.

Friday, December 4, 2015

December 2015 Christian fiction releases!

Exciting new Christian fiction releases that are coming just in time for Christmas:

The Painter's Daughter At Love's Bidding Until the Dawn
The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen (Bethany House) - Regency

A painter's daughter finds herself pregnant by their artist guest, but it is his responsible brother--who is always cleaning up his brother's messes--who offers to wed her and salvage her reputation.

At Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings (Bethany House) - Late 1800's

While helping with her grandfather's auction house, a young woman accidentally sells a valuable painting, which sends them on a goosechase to the Ozarks, where they purchase a whole auction house to prevent it from moving again. Except, as they discover upon arrival, the auction house doesn't deal in art, but in livestock . . .

Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House) - Late 1800's
A Singular and Whimsical Problem (Herringford and Watts Mysteries #.5)

When a gentleman returns to his family's supposedly haunted estate after a generations-long absence, he is furious with the locals who have used it as a tourist destination. But in spite of his anger, he can't help noticing the woman who reaches out to his young son.

"A Singular and Whimsical Problem" by Rachel McMillan (Harvest House) - 1900's; Herringford & Watts Mysteries, 0.5 (novella prequel)

What begins as a search for a missing cat by a pair of female private investigators turns into a mystery involving suffragettes and the disappearances of several institutionalized "Incorrigible Females."