Monday, June 27, 2016

"The Ringmaster's Wife" by Kristy Cambron - an enchanting tale

The Ringmaster's Wife  -     By: Kristy Cambron
Lady Rosamund Easlinglongs for a different life than that of the dying aristocracy in which she has been brought up. When her parents sell her trick-riding horse to the Ringling Brothers Circus, she defies her parents' expectations and escorts the horse to America to help with its training. As the training progresses, the circus gets into her blood ad Rosamund herself joins the act under the Big Top--but not everyone wants her there.

Part history and a lot imagination, The Ringmaster's Wife is mostly about Rosamund, but flashbacks to Mable Burton Ringling's life--as she meets John Ringling, falls in love, and becomes part of the heart of the circus--add to the story. There are a lot of parallels between Rosamund and Mable, yet also aspects in which they come from opposite ends of life, such as Mable rising from a farm girl to become American royalty, whereas Rosamund begins life as a lady to a landed estate and gives it up to become the least in the circus.

I expected Rosamund to be more spoiled, more selfish, more disillusioned by circus life, but she surprised me--she's really a pleasant person, willing to work hard for her dream. It's not a simple love of horses that drives her to abandon her upbringing, but rather the memories and dreams of a love she had shared. She has doubts and fears like anyone, but I liked her and respected her far more than I anticipated from reading the book blurb.

There isn't a strong spiritual lesson, but there is quiet faith worked effortlessly throughout the story, expressed by characters and circumstances. Biblical principles without them having to be spelled out with book and verse numbers. Grace, forgiveness, dreams--all play a significant role in the story. That touch of bittersweet to the ending really sealed it for me. 5 out of 5 stars!

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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"My Brother's Crown" by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould

#1: My Brother's Crown  -     By: Mindy Starns Clark, Lesile Gould
In this time-split novel about the Talbot family, Renee Talbot, a forensic scientist, is home to Virginia for the donation of a family document--a pamphlet that aided the Huguenots in their escape from persecution--to the Smithsonian. However, besides the known map and hints for escaping Huguenots, there appears to be a second code hidden in the pamphlet, one designed by her ancestor's brother as a special code with his sister, and the discovery intrigues Renee. Armed with recent advancements in technology, she also wants to check out an old crime scene that has haunted her and her three cousins since childhood. In the late seventeenth century France, Catherine and her Huguenot family are trying to find a way to avoid persecution without the loss of the fortune and business the family has amassed, but Catherine is appalled to discover her brother's consideration of conversion to the Catholic faith. With her fiance inclined to always follow her brother's lead, Catherine is unsure where the future will lead--but she knows she cannot convert to Catholicism. But where does that leave her relationship with Pierre?

Generally speaking I prefer historical novels to contemporary, but I actually found myself more fascinated by the contemporary storyline in this book than the historical (which was kind of too bad, since the historical dominates the story, and the contemporary is the one that was decidedly NOT wrapped up. Presumably it will be continued through the series - probably over four books). So now I have to wait to find out what happens next.

I was surprised to find a murder mystery in the contemporary storyline; I wouldn't say it's a suspense at this point, but it certainly has potential to become one. It's an intriguing mystery that goes back to the cousins' childhood, only now--nearly two decades later--being brought back into the light. I really want to know where it goes! I also enjoyed the cryptology aspect of the storyline as Renee tries to crack the code to see what message is hidden in the pamphlet.

The historical storyline reminded me of stories of the French Revolution and Civil War, with underground groups moving the persecuted peoples to safety. This has the novelty of being about a time period that I know very little about--I don't recall ever even hearing about the Huguenots in school, only in my reading since then. It was a fascinating glimpse of the history. However, I was a bit frustrated with how naive, headstrong, and childish Catherine was (a deadly combination for common sense), though Jules and Pierre annoyed me too, since they never entrusted her with anything that might improve her naivete and maturity. However, I'm interested in seeing what happens next in the Talbot family line, and how they end up with in the paper business in Virginia.

Cousins of the Dove
1. My Brother's Crown
2. My Sister's Prayer
3. My Daughter's Legacy (2017)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Karen Witemeyer's "No Other Will Do" - a fun western

No Other Will Do (Ladies of Harper’s Station, #1)Emma Chandler, raised by an aunt to believe that men are unnecessary, starts up a women's colony as a safe haven for abused women. However, when someone starts trying to drive the women out, there's only one man she knows she can call on: a childhood friend, Malachi Shaw, an explosives expert working for the railroad. As the trouble escalates, the ladies of Harper's Station have to make a decision: risk safety to stay and fight, or leave the only safe haven some of them have ever known.

I always love a Karen Witemeyer novel. Adventure, humor, and heart can be found in each story, and this is no exception. But added to it, we have a touch of mystery and suspense as they try to figure out who's behind the threats and who might be an accomplice. The story flew by!

This story reminded me of the good old movie Westerns, but turned on its head with women being the bulk of the cast. In fact, the beginning reminded me a little of The Magnificent Seven, though Malachi is only one man, not seven. And in the good, Old West tradition, you'll find some spectacular fist-fighting and gunfights.

It isn't a heavy-handed feminist piece, though some characters certainly have no need for men. Rather, it's a celebration of what women can do together, and knowing their personal limitations--knowing when a task is beyond them and that it's okay to ask for help. I look forward to continuing stories of the other ladies of Harper's Station!

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.

Ladies of Harper's Station
1. No Other Will Do
1.5: Worth the Wait
2. Heart on the Line
2.5 "The Love Knot" - found in the Hearts Entwined novella collection

Monday, June 13, 2016

"From This Moment" by Elizabeth Camden - corruption and conspiracies

Cover ArtIn From This Moment, Elizabeth Camden takes history and romance and entwines it with a nice dose of suspense. Romulus White wants only one woman as illustrator for his illustrious scientific magazine: Stella White. And she's just arrived in Boston from London. Stella, on the other hand, has no interest in working for Romulus. All her thoughts are centered on her sister's murder, though no one but she believes it was murder. When she discovers Romulus has the connections she needs to further her investigation, she bargains with him for his help, little anticipating the trouble she is bringing down on his head.

Dealing with corruption in the government always adds suspense to a tale; you never know who is in on a plot or how they can pull strings to attack just about any aspect of one's life in an effort to dissuade one from investigation. Corruption and conspiracy play beautifully together in this historical romance. It was excellently done.

Stella tends to have a tactlessly one-track mind, which in some ways is helpful for dealing with Romulus (who gets distracted by anything and everything), but it verges on callus and selfish, such as when Romulus has genuine concerns that require immediate attention--concerns that will affect more than just himself--and Stella, one thing on her mind, goes straight to demanding his aid and attention. I've known some people just like her, and frustrating though they can be, other aspects of their personality balance it out and I can't help liking them anyway. Same goes for Stella.

There is less of a spiritual aspect to this story than in some of the author's other books, but as always, Camden delivers in well-developed characters and romance. The prequel novella "Summer of Dreams" has a greater part to play in this novel than I expected, adding extra depth to the subplot about Romulus's cousin Evelyn.

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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Elizabeth Camden's "Summer of Dreams" - a prequel to the upcoming novel From This Moment

Summer of DreamsDaughter of a general, Evelyn White just wants to attend college to become an engineer and NEVER marry a military man, but a brilliant West Point cadet has her questioning her resolve. Evelyn and Clyde feel instant attraction toward one another as they spend one magical summer together. As their lives become more entwined, their friend Romulus's begins to come undone. When faced with helping Romulus at the expense of his own future, which one will Clyde choose? And when nothing turns out the way Evelyn planned, where will that leave her own future?

From This MomentCamden specializes in female characters who pursue unusual careers--and a female engineer in the late 1800's certainly qualifies as unusual. Granted, Evelyn isn't technically allowed to pursue engineering, but she has an astounding knowledge of hydraulics for someone self-taught. I really liked Clyde, who is willing to sacrifice what is important to him for the better of others. The glimpse of West Point was interesting, especially after reading Siri Mitchell's novel Flirtation Walk, which also took place there, albeit a couple decades earlier.

I read this story with the knowledge that the upcoming book From This Moment is about Evelyn's cousin Romulus, and though he is not the focus of this novella, it gives us an ample look into his strengths and faults, his quirky personality. I certainly look forward to reading his story and finding how he has changed in the intervening years!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sarah E. Ladd's "Dawn at Emberwilde" - a warm and gentle Regency shadowed with mystery

#2: Dawn at Emberwilde  -     By: Sarah E. Ladd
A junior teacher in a school, Isabel Creston discovers she has family she never knew existed, and they're willing to take her under their wing. With few options, she and her little sister join them at Emberwilde, but rumors of a haunted wood and the sense of intrigue dampen their enthusiasm. With her family set on finding a match for her, will she ever learn the comforts of a home and security?

I've been enjoying the darker, more Gothic tone to the series. There's a sense of foreboding right from the start that not all is as it should be, with a suitably haunted wood to suppress curiosity (or heighten it . . . )  I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery aspects--both about Isabel's family and the smuggling operation--though I did wish more had been included about her father's motives in leaving Isabel in deliberate ignorance.

I liked the cast of supporting characters; they're pretty well developed, with differing personalities and motives. I would like to know what happens to Isabel's cousin, if she finds a measure of joy in her upcoming marriage, or if something better awaits her. Miranda, too, for that matter--if she can find love again. It's not often that I care so much about the futures of the supporting cast.

There isn't a very strong faith element--mostly just through Isabel's friend Sarah--but the story is warm and gentle, and the romance sweet and clean.

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.

Treasures of Surrey
1. The Curiosity Keeper
2. Dawn at Emberwilde 
3. A Stranger at Fellsworth 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New Christian Fiction June 2016!

Exciting releases for June 2016:

No Other Will Do From This Moment The Ringmaster's Wife  -     By: Kristy Cambron
No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House)

When someone violently tries to drive out the inhabitants of a woman's colony, a suffragette discovers that she might just need a man after all.

From This Moment by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House)

A publisher has been determinedly pursuing a certain artist for his magazine, but the only way he can catch her is to help her solve the mystery of her sister's death.

The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron (Thomas Nelson)

When her aristocratic family's estate falls on hard times, a young woman follows her favorite horse to America, where it is sold to the Ringling traveling circus.